Mancini targets Manchester parity
Roberto Mancini has no intention of resting until Manchester City rival Manchester United for size. City are for once in the ascendancy heading into a clash against their neighbours as they prepare for tomorrow's eagerly-anticipated derby as the Premier League leaders.
The club have made considerable progress during Mancini's two years in charge and the Italian wants to maintain the current trajectory until City surpass some of Europe's great clubs. He said: "I think that should be our target. When you have Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and you work for this, you want to be like them. I don't know in how many years we can do this but we will work for this. We want to become one of the top clubs in Europe."
City are two points ahead of United at the top of the table having won seven and drawn one of their eight games, scoring a remarkable 27 goals in the process. Yet United are also unbeaten and with their statistics barely a shade worse - the Red Devils have struck 25 times - both sides have the potential to keep the other's goalkeeper busy. Mancini said: "For all the games - scoring three or four goals - this game could finish 0-0, but I think both teams have very good strikers.
"We can score and they can score. I don't [need to] think about this match. I don't speak about it with the players because they know that it is difficult. On Sunday we will meet a strong team, but they know everything about it. I don't think they need me to speak to them about Wayne Rooney, Chicharito [Javier Hernandez], Nani. I think, for me, it is easy."
City famously beat United in last season's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley en route to their first trophy success in 35 years. Yet they must overcome a poor recent record in league derbies to maintain their flying start this term. City have not beaten United in the league since February 2008 with United winning five of the last six contests.
They fought hard on their last visit to Old Trafford in February only to be undone by Rooney's stunning overhead kick 12 minutes from time. Mancini said: "When one player scores a goal like Rooney, you can say 'fantastic'. He scored an incredible goal. I think the last game at Old Trafford was good because we played well, they played well. The match was open until the end but Rooney scored an incredible goal."
Defender Pablo Zabaleta is confident City can overturn recent history to claim a famous win at Old Trafford. The Argentina international has been excited by all the talk in the build-up to the game and feels the team are in good heart after their midweek UEFA Champions League win over Villarreal.
The 26-year-old said: "Always when you win games like that before the derby, it is great for the group, for the squad. We know the expectation is always there before the derby and everybody will be talking about it. We have to be positive and believe we can win. We know we have got a great team.
"Derbies are special games and we are going to Old Trafford to win. We are positive. We are two points ahead of United so we have got the chance to make a bigger difference. It is going to be a huge game that everybody will be talking about."
Zabaleta provided the final pass for Sergio Aguero to score his dramatic late winner against Villarreal on Tuesday but knows he could be back on the bench tomorrow. Mancini has rotated his full-backs frequently throughout the opening weeks of the season and Micah Richards could replace him at right-back to face United.
Zabaleta, however, accepts the situation. He said: "I am always ready to play in any position. I always try to work hard. If the manager decides I have to play in the back or the middle, I don't have a problem."
Mancini also has the option of restoring Mario Balotelli up front. The controversial forward was man of the match against Aston Villa last week but then missed the Villarreal game through suspension. Aguero is firmly in the frame to start after his dramatic substitute's role against Villarreal while Owen Hargreaves, who made his league debut last weekend, will push for a place against his former club. Another ex-United player, Carlos Tevez, is highly unlikely to be recalled as disciplinary proceedings continue.