Galvanized by a morale-boosting win at West Bromwich and Carlos Tevez’s return from injury, Manchester City hosts crosstown rival Manchester United on Wednesday with renewed belief that it can challenge for the Premier League title.
Article continues below ...
Successive league losses, to Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers, had sparked reports of infighting among the squad and cast doubt on the future of manager Roberto Mancini. But a 2-0 victory at West Brom on Sunday, inspired by Tevez, has put City just five points behind leader Chelsea ahead of this week’s full midweek program.
”It was really important we beat West Brom because it’s very difficult for a team with aspirations of challenging at the top to lose three games in a row,” City captain Kolo Toure said. ”This win has made us very happy and put us in the perfect frame of mind ahead of Wednesday’ derby.
”The derby is a massive game for us and it will be really hard because they are a very strong team, but we will go out to win the match and enjoy it.”
Tevez, fit again after a thigh injury that caused him to miss the 2-1 defeat at Wolves, will be up against the club he left in July 2009, having rejected the chance to stay at Old Trafford after two successful years there.
Since moving across the city, the Argentina striker has scored 30 goals in 45 league matches and is now club captain.
”The Tevez factor does not play any part,” United midfielder Paul Scholes said. ”He was a top player for this club and decided to move elsewhere. That is the end of it.
”The fact is City are a top team. They have spent a lot of money on quality players and had a great start to the season. Maybe they have come unstuck a little bit lately but form does go out of the window on occasions such as this. Anything can happen on derby night.”
Without playing at its best, United has been scraping wins in the Premier League, the latest being a 2-1 victory at home to Wolves courtesy of an injury-time winner by Ji-sung Park. It now finds itself two points behind Chelsea following the leader’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday.
England striker Wayne Rooney will again be missing for United with an ankle injury, Portugal winger Nani is struggling with a groin problem while manager Alex Ferguson will hope to select a number of players who were affected by a virus that swept through Old Trafford at the weekend.
City is without suspended forward Mario Balotelli, who was sent off against West Brom after scoring both goals.
Chelsea will be looking to bounce back from only its second league loss of the season when it hosts west London rival Fulham on Wednesday. Striker Didier Drogba could be recalled by Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti after starting on the bench at Anfield as he was struggling with a fever.
Arsenal, which lost 1-0 at home to Newcastle on Sunday and is now level on points with City, travels to Wolves.
Improving Liverpool looks to make it four league wins in a row when it visits third-from-bottom Wigan but manager Roy Hodgson is refusing to get carried away with his side’s recent upturn in form.
”We have to be very careful. We have to get our feet back on the ground very quickly after the Chelsea victory,” said Hodgson, whose side has jumped up to ninth.
”We now have to make sure any praise does not affect our work. We have to realize we are capable of performances like the one against Chelsea but we are also capable of performances like the one against Blackpool when we were beaten 2-1.”
Elsewhere Wednesday, bottom side West Ham hosts West Brom, Aston Villa is at home to Blackpool, Blackburn is at fifth-place Newcastle and Bolton visits Everton.
On Tuesday, Tottenham hosts Sunderland and Birmingham goes to Stoke.