Mancini won’t rule out Chelsea

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes Chelsea could yet challenge for the Premier League title once their injury problems subside.

Chelsea had won just once in nine games prior to last weekend’s victory over Blackburn and, from a position of superiority, have slipped to fourth, seven points adrift of leaders Manchester United and Mancini’s City.

Yet Mancini, who claimed earlier this season that Chelsea would retain their crown "easily", does not feel Carlo Ancelotti’s men can be written off just yet.

"Chelsea could come back again," said the Italian.

"Maybe at this moment Manchester United are better than them but their problem has been to have so many players injured.

"When they get them all back they have a good team."

Mancini is expected to make changes for Saturday’s game at Aston Villa, who have been bolstered by the big-money arrival of Darren Bent since they were badly outplayed at Eastlands last month.

That game featured quite possibly the hat-trick that expended the least ever amount of energy from Mario Balotelli, who added a close-range tap-in to two penalties.

Unfortunately for Balotelli, he has not played since and is now in the United States having treatment on a knee injury.

And it is the Italy striker’s ongoing fitness problems that cause Mancini concern, rather than the opinionated statements the 20-year-old keeps coming out with.

This week they included a curt dismissal of Wayne Rooney as not even being the best striker in Manchester, let alone the world, and a bold assertion that, following the £27million arrival of Edin Dzeko, City now boast the best forward line in Europe.

"He talks, but he has also scored eight goals in 11 games," observed Mancini.

"The big problem for us is that he has been injured so often. In three or four weeks he will come back and hopefully he can play well in every game.

"I haven’t read the interview so I don’t know what he has said. But he likes to joke sometimes and these things are jokes.

"We live in a free world. If someone wants to say something, it is better that he does. I respect every opinion.

"We are not in a war. We are free to say what we want."