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Rediff.com  » Sports » EPL: Mancini wants City mean streak for Christmas

EPL: Mancini wants City mean streak for Christmas

December 24, 2009 08:59 IST

Manchester City's defence has been particularly charitable in the run-up to Christmas and new manager Roberto Mancini's first task will be to inject some Scrooge-like meanness.

Italian coaches are renowned for their devotion to miserly defending and the former Sampdoria striker will not tolerate donations to Stoke City on Boxing Day as he begins his reign at the world's richest club.

City have conceded three goals in each of their last three league games since beating leaders Chelsea.

"You cannot win games without scoring goals and my teams in Italy never played for 0-0 draws but it is important to defend well too," the 45-year-old Mancini, who won three consecutive Serie A titles as coach of Inter Milan, said as he prepared for the hectic holiday programme in the snowbound north.

"The games come thick and fast over Christmas and New Year but we have five days to work with the back line. For me it is important that the team has a balance."

Last week's 4-3 home win over Sunderland was great entertainment but Mancini knows his side's hopes of rising from sixth place into the top four will depend on plugging the leaks at the back.

"The players can look forward to plenty of hard work and to improving their concentration levels," he said.

The fixtures present Mancini with the ideal chance to endear himself to City fans upset at the brutal axing of Mark Hughes whose side were just six points shy of the top four. City then travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday.

This season's Premier league has been gloriously unpredictable. Chelsea have a four-point lead but they have won just once in four games and were lucky to sneak a point at relegation-threatened West Ham United last week.

Their closest pursuers, champions Manchester United, are still reeling from a 3-0 defeat at Fulham and desperately need a plentiful Christmas period to get back on track.

Chelsea travel to in-form Birmingham City on Saturday before hosting locals rivals Fulham. Both matches will be awkward for Carlo Ancelotti's side who, like City, have been struggling to keep the ball out of their net.

CHRONIC INJURY

United have not been helped by a chronic injury list that has deprived manager Alex Ferguson of virtually his entire defence. After two defeats in three league games they go to Hull City on Sunday before a home game against Wigan Athletic.

"It's a crucial time. We lost against Aston Villa and Fulham but the target is to win our other games before January," left back Patrice Evra, one of United's few fit defenders, told the club's website (www.manutd.com).

"We usually do well during this period and we want to again. It would be great to be in first place before January."

The stuttering form of United and Chelsea, who have already lost eight matches between them, has encouraged third-placed Arsenal who are six points off top spot with a game in hand.

However, a home match against in-form Aston Villa on Sunday will be a stern test for the Gunners. Fourth-placed Villa, like Tottenham Hotspur and City, are hoping to take advantage of Liverpool's malaise to seize at least a top-four finish.

Villa hope to have Emile Heskey fit for part of the Christmas programme after suffering a groin strain against Stoke last week, Villa fourth consecutive league win, although he is more likely to return at home against Liverpool on Tuesday.

Tottenham, in fifth, face several former players at Fulham on Saturday, including striker Bobby Zamora.

The two teams occupying 19th and 20th places meet at Upton Park on Saturday when West Ham United host Portsmouth who hope to challenge the generally accepted rule that if you are bottom at Christmas relegation is a virtual certainty.

Portsmouth, who host Arsenal on Wednesday, look far from doomed after victory over Liverpool and manager Avram Grant is confident his side can join West Bromwich Albion as the only other side to survive having been bottom on Christmas Day.

"It's very important to win games against the teams near us in the league," Grant told Portsmouth's website. "We want to get off the bottom but what's important is where we are at the end of the season, not where we are in January."

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