City seek to steal march on rivals
Manchester City will aim to turn the pressure back on their title rivals on Saturday by re-establishing their slender lead at the top of the Premier League table with victory over Fulham.
City have endured a wobbly start to 2012, exiting both domestic cup competitions while suffering defeats against Sunderland and Everton to leave Roberto Mancini's side level on points with second placed Manchester United. But with United facing a potentially tricky visit to Chelsea on Sunday, and third placed Tottenham travelling to Liverpool on Monday, City could well finish the latest round of fixtures with their noses back in front.
A dejected Mancini blamed himself for City's latest setback, a surprising 1-0 reverse at Everton on Tuesday which allowed United to go level on points with their bitter cross-town rivals. Mancini said he had made "several mistakes" in the build-up to the Everton game which would not be repeated as City aim to preserve their remarkable 100 per cent home record against the Cottagers.
"I acknowledge my mistake. It is important for me to know this because, like this, I can't do the same mistakes in the next game," said Mancini, who nevertheless insisted City were still in the driving seat. "We are on the top again. We have 15 games. It is important next Saturday we win the game at home. We have time."
Cavalry arrives for Red Devils
United meanwhile could welcome back Wayne Rooney, Nani and Ashley Young this weekend for their trip to Stamford Bridge, a venue that has been anything but a happy hunting ground for Sir Alex Ferguson's side in recent seasons.
Although United defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, Ferguson is still riled by the memory of his team's recent league meetings at the venue. Last season a controversial Frank Lampard penalty gave Chelsea a 2-1 win while in 2010 United were left seething by a John Terry winner that Ferguson believed should have been disallowed.
"Games at Chelsea in the last few years have been tough and we've had terrible luck there which has caused us disappointing results," Ferguson said.
The United manager has challenged his players to respond to a series of demanding away fixtures as they bid to overhaul City. "We've done very well away from home this season and we need to be good from now on," Ferguson said.
"We've got some really important away games in the run-in - Chelsea, Tottenham and City. They're going to be crucial games. The players know what they need to do. They know their responsibilities and the standard and expectation at the club, and they have to carry those things with them when they go into games."
Liverpool meanwhile will look to maintain their impressive recent run of results against Spurs at Anfield on Monday, where victory for the Reds would edge them ever closer to the UEFA Champions League qualifying places.
The Merseysiders have responded strongly since being lashed by manager Kenny Dalglish following a tame defeat at Bolton last month, squeezing past Manchester City to reach the League Cup final while knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup last weekend.
A comprehensive 3-0 win at Wolves on Tuesday was the perfect preparation for the visit of third-placed Tottenham, which is expected to see Luis Suarez make his return from an eight-match ban for racist abuse.
Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing said confidence was sky high at Anfield following their sequence of victories. "The results we've had have brought the team closer together," Spearing said. "We've always been a close-knit group and are starting to show that on the pitch. It was just going to take some time before it started showing."