Nigeria: EPL – Mancini’s Man City Under Pressure

Leadership (Abuja)

Salifu Usman

31 December 2011

English Premier League’s Boxing Day threw up a lot of surprises even though we did not really get any major upsets seven draws were recorded which included Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool being held at home and leaders Manchester City played goalless against West Bromwich Albion.

This weekend, leaders, Manchester City have another tricky trip to the Stadium of Light against inform Sunderland whilst Chelsea and Arsenal may risk another draws against Villa and Queens Park Rangers respectively.

Chelsea will this afternoon welcome Aston Villa to Stamford Bridge, and Andre Villas-Boas sides will definitely seek to end 2011 on a high note. No doubt, Chelsea has failed to lived up to pre-season expectations target by its fans, but still hope that the New Year brings reliefs and better results.

After achieving a crucial 2-1 victory over Manchester City, the Blues had endured three consecutive 1-1 draws to diminish any momentum that game provided. While Aston Villa are averaging barely more than one goal per game this season and have been shut out in five of their last seven matches. They are now in 12th spot on the league’s table with 20 points out of possible 54 from 18 matches played so far this season.

Fifth-placed Arsenal are at home to Queens Park Rangers (QPR), with league’s top scorer, Robin van Persie needing two goals to equal the record of 36 in a calendar year, set by Alan Shearer in 1995. Arsene Wenger’s men let a lead slip in a 1-1 draw against 10-man Wolves at the Emirates Stadium, failing to gain ground on fourth-placed Chelsea, who remain a point ahead.After three straight defeats – to Liverpool, Manchester United and Sunderland, QPR finally gained a point as they drew 1-1 at Swansea City on Tuesday, their first point since a 1-1 home draw against West Bromwich Albion earlier this month. Just three points off relegation zone in 16th, QPR have shown that they are not just a push over any team in the league. Having won three times on the road this season, Arsenal will definitely get it rough against their visitors.

Having seen the Premier League title race wiped open by defending champions, United, league leaders, Man City’s title credentials will face a severe test when they visit resurgence Sunderland and then Liverpool in a three-day span to kick off a hectic month for the big-spending northern club.

Robert Mancini side is still topping the league standings ahead of their City’s rival, Manchester United on a better goal difference, have squandered a five-point advantage in the space of a month. The pressure will be ramped up on big spenders in January, when they also play United in the third round of the FA Cup and Liverpool over two legs in the semifinals of the League Cup. “There is all sorts of pressure and we’re feeling it,” City goalkeeper, Joe Hart said.

With United hosting bottom team Blackburn this weekend and bidding for a sixth straight league win, City are likely to go into the new year second in the table – an unusual position for Mancini’s team this season. City have only lost once in the league this season to Chelsea , but with the fixtures come thick and fast in January as the club aims for silverware in numerous competitions to reward the continued heavy spending by its billionaire Abu Dhabi owners.

Sunday’s trip to Sunderland has a tougher look to it after Martin O’Neill inspired the hosts to seven points from a possible 12 since taking over as manager on December 3. City then host sixth-placed Liverpool two days later, the first of three matches against Kenny Dalglish’s team in January. “To play twice in 48 hours will make a difference at this moment, but we have good concentration and in January that is important,” Mancini told club website.

“I’m confident we can do a good job by the end … United have a strong team but we are strong enough to do this.”

United manager Alex Ferguson hopes to celebrate his 70th birthday in style with a win over Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, although the visitors showed they have the stomach for a relegation fight by battling to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Monday.

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