Manchester duo poised for key weekend
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes the destiny of an intriguing battle for the English Premier League title could be decided this weekend.
The mathematics of the situation have become increasingly stark for City, bidding to be crowned champions of England for the first time since 1968, as they have dropped points in recent weeks. They are currently five points behind leaders and reigning champions Manchester United.
And that deficit could be increased to eight points by the time they kick-off against Arsenal on Sunday, should United beat QPR earlier in the day. If that happens, and City lose to Arsenal, the Eastlands club would be eight points behind their local rivals with just six games left.
Mancini, asked if such a scenario would mean the end of the title race, said Thursday: "If we lose against Arsenal and they beat QPR - yes."
City have dropped points in a defeat at Swansea and draws with Stoke and Sunderland but their Italian manager said: "We should think positive for the next seven games. I think it may be more difficult but it is my opinion that this championship is not finished."
For fatalistic City fans, who've so often been left lamenting "it could only happen to us", no member of the current squad sums up the years of on-field disappointments allied to bizarre goings on off the pitch, quite like striker Mario Balotelli.
On his day, the 21-year-old Italian is capable of sublime brilliance but he has an equal aptitude for petulance that has tested the patience of Mancini to breaking point. Thursday saw Mancini urge Balotelli to keep a lower profile after he'd defended him against accusations of a dressing room bust-up with Yaya Toure.
Just hours later though, Balotelli found himself in fresh off-pitch drama when he was involved in a car crash in central Manchester. However, he was reported to have escaped unharmed.
United's straight-forward run-in
United, who are seemingly making serene progress towards a 20th English title, appear to have the easier run-in, with their next three opponents - QPR, Wigan and Aston Villa - all battling to preserve their top-flight status. But a cautious Rio Ferdinand said: "Everyone is saying our run-in looks easy but who would have thought QPR would beat Arsenal last week?"
Tottenham will, temporarily at least, go into third ahead of Arsenal if they get a point at Sunderland on Saturday before the Gunners play City. "We have to be strong if we want to finish third," said Tottenham's former Arsenal defender William Gallas.
The Gunners have endured a see-saw campaign but could yet finish third, which would represent something of a triumph for manager Arsene Wenger, whose judgment was criticised by some Arsenal fans earlier in the campaign.
"Of course you question yourself, and you question what you can do about it, even more than you do when all is going well," Wenger told this month's Official Arsenal Magazine. "But it's these moments when experience helps, because it's important not to question and change the wrong things."
Chelsea will look to back up their midweek UEFA Champions League win against Benfica when they face relegation-threatened Wigan, but the Blues will be without inspirational skipper John Terry because of a rib injury.
Liverpool will look to end their worst run of league results for 59 years against Aston Villa in a match where goalkeeper Alexander Doni is set to make his debut as Pepe Reina starts a three-match ban following his red card against Newcastle.
Wolves, six points adrift at the bottom of the table, travel to Stoke. But with the four teams above Wolves separated by just a point, it's anyone's guess as to who else will be playing in the Championship next term.
Both Blackburn, away to West Brom, and Bolton, at home to Fulham, will fancy their chances of picking up points on Saturday.
English Premier League fixtures
Swansea v Newcastle
Bolton v Fulham
Chelsea v Wigan
Liverpool v Aston Villa
Norwich v Everton
Stoke v Wolves
Sunderland v Tottenham
West Brom v Blackburn
Arsenal v Manchester City
Manchester United v QPR