Mancini: We must stick together
Roberto Mancini has called for Manchester City's loyal supporters to stand with his players for their final push towards UEFA Champions League qualification.
City host Sunderland tomorrow sitting fourth in the Premier League table, and know if they stay there they will be able to sit at European football's top table next year, barring an improbable triumph in this season's competition from fifth spot by either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur.
Mancini knows it is imperative to arrest a slump in form that has seen City win just twice in their last seven Premier League games. The Italian has most of his players fit again, which undoubtedly helps, but he realises they may need a kick-start from fans who have grown so used to failure down the years.
"The supporters have to be patient," he said. "Usually they are very good anyway but it is especially important that they stay close to us for the last two months of the season."
The return of captain Carlos Tevez from the groin injury that kept him out of City's defeat at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago could be pivotal. Tevez has scored just once in ten games amid the Blues' troubles, even if Mancini does not believe that alone is a factor in his side's mini-slump.
However, the industrious Argentinian is the pivot around whom most of City's best work tends to happen. "Carlos will be very important in the next three or four weeks if he starts to score again," said Mancini.
It is tempting to start looking ahead to the meeting with Tottenham as being a decider for fourth, just as it was last season. On that occasion, Spurs came out on top thanks to a late Peter Crouch effort and City fans are wary of lightning striking twice.
But Mancini does not want to look ahead that far. He is acutely aware that five games must be negotiated before Harry Redknapp brings his team north, all of them containing their own hazards.
"We meet Spurs, but it is at the end of the season - on 10 May. We have another five games before then, starting tomorrow," observed Mancini. "This will be a very difficult game because Sunderland are a good team, with a good manager. They have done well in the Premier League this season. If we want to win, we will have to play to our best."
Black Cats pose a threat
Like City, Sunderland have had their difficulties since January. The loss of Darren Bent to Aston Villa has hit them hard, even if the £24million transfer fee softened the pain. Asamoah Gyan has taken a little time to settle on Wearside, even if he has scored on ten occasions.
The 25-year-old added another goal to that tally when he weaved his way through England's defence at Wembley on Tuesday night and Mancini places him at the head of a list of players his side need to keep a careful eye on.
"Gyan is a fantastic player," said the Italian. "They also have Sulley Muntari, who is a good midfielder, and Danny Welbeck has just played for England. Sunderland have very good players and play really well on the counter attack, so we will need to be careful."