Manchester City defender Micah Richards expects the team to be given a huge lift by the return of captain Vincent Kompany tonight.
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Kompany has missed City’s last four matches after serving a suspension for his controversial sending off in the FA Cup third-round loss to Manchester United.
Without him, City had to dig deep to claim narrow Barclays Premier League wins over Wigan and Tottenham while they were beaten by Liverpool over two legs in the Carling Cup semi-finals.
The Belgian defender had been in commanding form before his ban and Richards believes his return, for the league leaders’ trip to Everton on Tuesday, is timely.
Richards said: "He has been an unbelievable miss. He is our captain and he and Joleon (Lescott) have been our best central defensive partnership this season.
"He has played well in the big games and is a leader so it will be amazing to have him back and we can’t wait to play with him again.
"He has still been coming in the changing room before games and saying how he feels we can improve, and what he would do if he was on the pitch, so he has still been an influence.
"But it’s not nice for anyone. All the players and staff wanted him to play and he was kicking himself because it was another harsh decision to give him the ban.
"I am sure when he comes back he will give 110% and help us back to winning ways."
Kompany’s return will probably see Richards revert to sharing right-back duties with Pablo Zabaleta after featuring as one of three centre-backs in the second leg against Liverpool last Wednesday.
Richards, who also wore the captain’s armband at Anfield, said: "I have played right-back for the last couple of seasons and am enjoying it but if the manager needs me to play centre-back if there’s an injury or something I will have to do so.
"Vinny is coming back now and he and Joleon have it pretty much sorted out back there, and there will be more competition when Kolo (Toure) comes back."
City manager Roberto Mancini is also thrilled to have Kompany back in the heart of defence.
The Belgium skipper has missed four matches since his controversial dismissal against Manchester United at the beginning of the month.
However, he is now free to assume the captain’s armband and replace youngster Stefan Savic, who retains his manager’s support despite some high-profile mistakes during Kompany’s absence.
"Stefan is a young player and when you are young, you can be in trouble for nothing," said Mancini.
"Stefan should be quiet. He is a good player but he needs to improve."
Kompany is the real deal though, one of the best in Europe in Mancini’s eyes.
"It is important to have Vincent back," he said.
"He is a strong defender, who has improved a lot in the last two or three years.
"He is a leader and our captain, one of the best defenders in Europe now and someone who can still improve a lot."
City’s abysmal Goodison Park record of one win in 13 trips means this is a fixture that Mancini cannot take lightly as his side look to preserve their three-point lead over Manchester United.
However, with 16 games remaining, the Blues chief does concede that the title looks set to be fought out between Manchester’s finest to the exclusion of everyone else.
"It is difficult for the others," he said.
"It is impossible that us and Manchester United can lose all the games.
"There are 16 games and anything can happen, including Tottenham coming back into the title race.
"But at the moment it is City and United."
Everton boss David Moyes hopes his team can catch title favourites Manchester City on an "off night".
Moyes’ side have an excellent record against City, particularly at home, having lost just one of the last 13 Barclays Premier League meetings between the sides at Goodison Park.
Yet Moyes feels City’s dramatic recent rise renders a lot of those statistics as irrelevant and is hoping the league leaders’ difficult January continues.
City still hold a three point lead at the top of the table but have gone out of both domestic cup competitions since the turn of the year and been without some key players.
Moyes said: "I think all sides will go through periods of difficulty during a season and Man City are probably just in a bit of that at the moment.
"They have lost a couple of boys to the African Nations Cup and there have been a couple of disciplinary things which they see haven’t gone their way. It can sometimes just upset the rhythm at the club.
"Let’s hope it is upset because we are going to have to hopefully catch them on an off night and us play very well.
"Over the years we have always had quite a good record against Manchester City.
"The difference is they have improved, and they have improved from last season. You can see that from their league position.
"Their players have got better, there is more belief, more understanding playing alongside each other.
"We are coming up against a far better, far greater Manchester City side than even we played last year."
Relations between the two clubs have been strained in recent times, most notably during and after City’s acrimonious #22million signing of Joleon Lescott from Goodison in summer 2009.
Moyes and City manager Roberto Mancini also clashed on the touchline during Everton’s win at the Etihad Stadium in March 2010 but the Toffees boss has respect for his opposite number’s work.
Moyes said: "I think Barcelona might be a better squad but I don’t know if there is a more expensive squad.
"It has been accumulated very quickly and to be fair to Manchester City, they have done a good job, they have done it really well.
"They have got themselves a team which is going close to winning the Premier League.”
Despite that, Moyes expects his team – trailing in a lowly 14th place 28 points behind City – to compete fully, as they did against them in the reverse fixture last September.
He said: "We lost 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium but I thought we played quite well on the day.
"We limited them up to 75 minutes. We didn’t have many attacking options to cause them many problems but at that time they were scoring freely.
"We lost a goal when we gave the ball away in the middle of the park then they scored in the 90th minute to make it two and (Marouane) Fellaini had one kicked off the line in the last minute.”
Everton’s form ahead of the contest is indifferent with just one win from their last six in the Premier League. The Merseysiders have also managed just three wins from their 11 home fixtures.
They at least go into the game in good heart after seeing off Fulham 2-1 with a hard-working performance in the FA Cup fourth round last Friday.
Moyes said: "We are in the next round of the FA Cup. It doesn’t always matter how you get through, you just want to get in.
"Hopefully, if there is any way it helps us towards the league, then great. You can never tell but hopefully the result gives us a bit of confidence."