MANCHESTER CITY boss Mark Hughes has targeted crisis-club Liverpool.
After the heady expectation a summer investment of £120 million (€134m) brought to Eastlands, that was subsequently fuelled by a blistering start to the season, City fans are now adopting a more realistic appraisal of their side.
Instead of believing they can win the title, now they are looking for a trophy, and to smash the Premier League’s cosy top-four cartel.
After half a season of warfare, Hughes has declared Chelsea and Arsenal – both of whom his side have beaten this season – plus champions Manchester United as uncatchable.
But Liverpool are a different story. The Merseyside giants are wobbling badly. And City, tonight’s opponents Tottenham and high-flying Aston Villa are ready to take advantage.
“One team is usually deemed as the most vulnerable – and currently that is Liverpool,” said Hughes.
“It is highly unlikely to change now.
“Teams won’t be challenging for the top two or three. That is not going to happen this year.
“It probably means only one club is going to get into the top four. Maybe it will change in the future. But this season fourth place is one that is up for grabs.”
After a run of eight draws in nine games, City could do with a few victories, even if they have lost fewer games than all their top flight rivals.
Yet White Hart Lane has not been a particularly happy hunting ground in recent years.
City have won only one league game at the famous north London venue since 1991 and Tottenham currently have one of the better sides of recent times thanks to the recruiting skills of Harry Redknapp.
“Spurs have a very good squad with plenty of depth,” said Hughes. “If they are playing to their maximum they will always cause you problems.
“Harry has invested well. He has spent a lot of money but he has brought good players to the club.”
Amongst his signings was Jermain Defoe, who has been on fire lately, scoring five times in the nine-goal rout of Wigan alone. Hughes believes Defoe is performing at a higher level than he has done in his career before, although it is another couple of diminutive forward players who are occupying his mind at present.
Shaun Wright-Phillips has already been ruled out with an ankle injury and the Blues chief fears the damage sustained at Bolton could keep on the sidelines for the weekend encounter with Sunderland.
And Craig Bellamy misses the Spurs clash too following his red card at the Reebok Stadium.
Hughes expressed his displeasure at the time, claiming referee Mark Clattenburg had informed a member of his coaching staff that Bellamy was not one of his favourite players prior to the second-half starting.
That the Welshman was dismissed in controversial circumstances only made Clattenburg’s comments more suspicious from a City perspective.
Now the FA have given Hughes until December 22 to explain his comments.
“I said what I said at the time and I stand by that,” said Hughes. “Now the FA have asked for my version of events so I can’t really discuss it any further.
“But Craig has been one of our top performers this season. To miss him for tomorrow’s game is a blow.”
Some pundits have predicted Hughes will be sacked next summer, particularly if he fails to deliver Champions League football after a summer spending spree that brought the likes of Carlos Tevez and Gareth Barry to the club.
Redknapp, though, believes his opposite number will remain at Eastlands for some time to come.
“I think Mark’s doing a good job there and the people he works for appreciate what he does,” said the Tottenham boss. “I certainly don’t see him going anywhere next season except being at Manchester City again.
“They are playing well. They look what I expected them to be – good, strong with terrific players. How many times have they lost this year? Once. That tells you everything.”
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