Mancini sights set on Gunners
ROBERTO Mancini's confidence that he can fulfil his promise to guide Manchester City into next season's Champions League is so complete that the Italian believes his side can still leapfrog Arsenal and earn a top-three finish.
While the former Inter Milan manager confessed that Saturday's disappointing 2-1 defeat at Hull triggered his first dressing-room paroxysm since he replaced Mark Hughes at Eastlands in December, he insists he is "more confident" than ever before that, despite now sitting three points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, City remain on course to face Europe's elite next season.
Indeed, so bullish is Mancini's mood that, rather than merely aiming to overhaul Rafael Benitez's side, he believes Arsenal's run of just one point from three games has brought Arsene Wenger's team into City's sights.
"Yes, I was angry after the Hull match," said Mancini. "This is normal after this kind of game. But I am more confident than before about the Champions League. In my first three or four games, we played very well but we had very few players available.
"I am confident when I have all of the squad available we can win at home and win away. You must remember that we have two games in hand. This is an important fact and if we win both of these games, we will be just two points behind Arsenal.
"I think Tottenham, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Arsenal are all fighting for two places in the Champions League. When I have all the players back, we will be better. We have to be really confident."
That Mancini is feeling the strain of City's burgeoning injury crisis, waiting hopefully for his first-choice players to recover their fitness as his side enter what the Italian admits is a "crucial" month of their season could be seen as a tacit indictment of his predecessor's spending policy.
Hughes spent more than £200m in his 18 months at Eastlands as he attempted to build a squad with enough depth and enough quality to challenge the 'big four' and yet, it seems, the Welshman did not bequeath sufficient resources to his heir.
With Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure absent, Mancini has been forced to turn to the inexperienced Belgian Dedryck Boyata as defensive cover.
In attack, Craig Bellamy's continuing knee trouble -- the striker yesterday visited a specialist in London to discover the full extent of his latest set-back -- combined with the decision to allow Robinho to spend the remainder of the season on loan at Santos and Roque Santa Cruz's travails make City look comparatively lightweight.
The Italian, though, is adamant he has the squad to compete, especially after the addition of the veteran Patrick Vieira, who made his debut for the club at the KC Stadium after his free transfer from Inter, to toughen up his midfield.
"I know a lot of money has been spent," said Mancini. "This is a good squad but we have (too many) players injured. For me, though, it is strange that we have only three central midfielders, in Gareth (Barry), Nigel (De Jong) and Stephen (Ireland). It is impossible to play a whole season with three central midfielders. Impossible.
"Sometimes they have been playing well, and sometimes not so well. Now we have Patrick I think our situation could be better. If he stays fit for the rest of the season, we have a very good midfield."
Meanwhile, Gary Cahill is likely to miss the rest of the season after he spent part of the weekend in intensive care following the discovery of a blood clot in his left arm. The Bolton defender, who had been named in Fabio Capello's last two England squads, is now all but certain to miss out on the World Cup in South Africa.
Cahill, who first complained of tightness in his arm last Thursday, was taken to hospital on Saturday and has been placed on medication to thin his blood and prevent clots forming as part of his recovery. He has been instructed to take a complete break from football as any injury, no matter how minor, could become life-threatening.
"With blood clots, you need some medication that thins the blood," said his manager, Owen Coyle. "Obviously, you cannot then play any level of sport in case of a knock that could lead to something life-threatening." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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