Sport Soccer

Tuesday 19 November 2019

City face fight to stay fourth

Pablo Zabaleta, left, concedes Manchester City face a fight to retain their Champions League place
Pablo Zabaleta, left, concedes Manchester City face a fight to retain their Champions League place

Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta accepts the fallen champions are facing a battle to finish in the top four.

Zabaleta admits confidence is low with Sunday's derby loss at Manchester United having continued a dismal run which has seen City capitulate in the Barclays Premier League title race.

Manuel Pellegrini's men crashed 4-2 at Old Trafford, a sixth defeat in eight games in all competitions and a result which leaves them fourth and clinging onto a Champions League place.

It is a far cry from the situation on New Year's Day, when the defending champions pulled level with Chelsea at the top with a 3-2 win over Sunderland.

Having been eight points behind just over a month earlier, City appeared to be clicking into gear - but all has suddenly gone wrong. They now trail the leaders by 12 points, having played a game more, and their form continues to offer encouragement for the likes of Southampton and Liverpool below them.

Zabaleta said: "It is time to analyse what we are doing wrong and try to improve for the next few games. There are still 18 points to play for and we must be honest with ourselves and start to push hard, play better and win games, so we can get in the top four.

"When you lose those games it is always really hard, but that is football sometimes. Football is about momentum.

"It seems you lose confidence when you cannot get results and it was a really tough afternoon."

City were chasing a record fifth successive derby win and the occasion initially seemed to rouse them from their recent troubles as they made a blistering start.

Their movement and energy was superb and they claimed a well-worked opening goal through Sergio Aguero after just eight minutes.

But that was as good as it got as United equalised through the excellent Ashley Young and then took complete control. Further goals from the impressive Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Chris Smalling secured a convincing win before Aguero's 100th City goal came as a late consolation.

"It seems we lost confidence and were nervous," said Zabaleta.

"Then it was hard for the team to react and we conceded the second goal.

"In the second half we didn't create many chances and when United scored the third goal the game was over."

Winger Jesus Navas was at a loss to explain City's failure to impose themselves after United pulled back level.

The Spaniard said: "I don't really know (what happened). They scored the equaliser and they were back in the game. We started strong but it wasn't our day and we need to focus on the upcoming games. It's Champions League (qualification at stake) so we have to fight until the end to be in the top four."

PA Media

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