ROBERTO MANCINI believes the next five games will determine the outcome of Manchester City’s season – starting with tonight’s night’s clash with Bolton.
The Italian boss suffered his second league defeat in charge of the club on Saturday when the Citizens went down 2-1 at Hull, dealing a blow to their hopes of Champions League football next season.
But Mancini remains confident that goal is very much within reach as he targets victory against Bolton and Stoke before tougher challenges against Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.
Having described his players as being “on holiday” in the first half at the KC Stadium, Mancini was far more impressed with the fight shown after the break, and believes that is how they must play for the rest of the month and beyond.
“If we continue in this way we can improve but we must recover all of our players now, this is most important.
“February, this month, is a crucial moment with games against Bolton, Stoke, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.” Mancini has been frustrated by the number of injuries he has encountered since taking over, particularly in defence, where Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards and Wayne Bridge have all suffered problems, Kolo Toure spent time at the African Nations Cup, while Joleon Lescott is yet to feature for the Italian.
“I have many players injured and its difficult for me,” he said. “If I have three, four, five players always injured it’s a big problem so we want changes in this situation.”
In the league, Mancini has mostly faced games against teams at the bottom end of the table since coming to City, and therefore games his side were expected to win.
Two defeats have seen him already equal the number suffered by Mark Hughes before he was sacked, but the Italian believes the big money spent by his club have put a target on their backs.
“When City play against Bolton or Hull or Wolverhampton they play always at 200%, but this is good for us because we are growing now and when clubs play against us they are playing against a top squad,” he said.
“If we want to be up there we must play at the same level. They fight for every ball so we must change our mentality.”
Bolton manager Owen Coyle, meanwhile, wants his team to maintain a mean streak during Gary Cahill’s enforced absence.
The influential defender could miss the rest of the season after suffering a blood clot in his arm. It is a devastating blow for Cahill, who was hoping to claim a place in England’s World Cup squad.
The 24-year-old will sit out the match against City after being taken ill last week, which caused him to miss the 0-0 draw with Fulham.
Cahill’s replacement Ireland’s Andy O’Brien looks certain to retain his place in the team, providing he shakes off a thigh problem, and partner Zat Knight at the back.
Coyle said: “You are always disappointed when you lose one of your best players. You want them available all the time.
“When they are not available you go with the ones you have and you look for them to do their best.
“The players wear that shirt with pride here and will give everything they can. I am sure this group will do all in their power to win points.
“Gary suffered a pain in his arm and it became severely swollen on the day of the Fulham game.
“There was no way he could play so we took him straight off to hospital. It turns out he had a blood clot in his arm, so he is going to be out for a number of months.”
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