Midfielder Samir Nasri believes Manchester City have proved they can stand the heat in the title race.
It was claimed City might be cracking under the pressure when, after leading the Barclays Premier League for five months, they surrendered top spot to champions Manchester United a fortnight ago.
But after their shock loss at Swansea, City showed character with a rousing late fightback against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League — albeit in a losing cause — and then by coming from behind to beat Chelsea in midweek.
The 2-1 defeat of Chelsea, secured by a late winner from Nasri, lifted City back within a point of United and the Frenchman is relishing the battle in the title run-in.
The 24-year-old said: “After Swansea, we could not say anything. We had a really bad game, they played really well, and we were a little bit tired after the trip from Lisbon.
“But after that we recovered and we talked, and said a few things, that we came here to win titles.
“We said that we need to be focused because the 10 games that are left are 10 Champions League finals and we want to win them.
“Since then we have shown great character against Sporting and now against Chelsea.
“There will always be someone there to criticise. Not everyone can like City — there will be some who will say we were weak on Wednesday night.
“But inside the club we believe that we can achieve something together, and that is most important.”
City can reclaim top spot with victory at Stoke today.
City ran out convincing 3-0 winners when the sides met at the Etihad Stadium in December with two goals from Sergio Aguero and one from Adam Johnson.
Nasri has had his critics since his £24m summer move from the Gunners but impressed against Chelsea, capping his display with a sublime finish five minutes from time. Nasri says he thrives in such circumstances.
He said: “I am not nervous. I play football to play in this type of game — (and have) since I was a kid.
“I love football, and on Wednesday, when you see the atmosphere, the crowd, and the football both teams played — everyone wants to play in this kind of game.”
Carlos Tevez, who gave an assist for Nasri’s winner, was appearing for the first time in six months.
Manager Roberto Mancini celebrated with vigour on the touchline and admits the title race is proving emotional.
He said: “Football is beautiful for its emotion.
“From now, every game will be like this, for the last two months.
“It’s not as bad for the players because they think about playing. For the manager it is different — it is like it is for the supporters.
“But this is our job — and it is also the supporters’ job! The emotion is fantastic, when they are positive or negative.”
Tevez is set for another substitute’s role at the Britannia Stadium today as he continues to build up his match fitness but defender Joleon Lescott is still out and captain Vincent Kompany doubtful.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis is backing his players to shine in the spotlight.
Pulis wants to capitalise on any anxiety in the City camp by building on an impressive draw at Tottenham in midweek, albeit one in which they conceded a late equaliser.
Pulis said: “It was disappointing because Tottenham scored so late — you think you’ve done it.
“But they are a good side and for us to go down there and put in the performance we put in, was excellent.
“It is a different game (today). Obviously the stakes are higher, all the pressure is on Man City to win the game.
“If you have a look at the resources Man City have and the money they have spent, the players they have got and the lead they had around Christmas they will be desperately keen to get over the line.
“It is a real ding dong of a game, we are looking forward to it.
“We have the opportunity to have a right crack at them, and that is what we will try to do.”
With Ricardo Fuller still suspended, Pulis could continue with Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters up front, but Cameron Jerome staked a claim with a goal from his makeshift winger’s role on Wednesday.
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