Zabaleta: We're aiming to be Etihad invincibles
Defender confident City can set record by winning every home game
Pablo Zabaleta believes Manchester City can become the first Premier League side to win all their home games in a season, continuing their quest by making it 10 in a row against Crystal Palace today.
"There's always a first time to do that,'' Zabaleta said of the pursuit of an Etihad Stadium clean sweep.
The record for most home victories in a 38-game season is 18 shared by Chelsea (2005-06), Manchester United (2010-11) and City themselves in winning the title in 2011-12 (when they dropped two points against Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium). The last team to win all home games in the top flight were Sunderland in storming to the First Division title of 1891-92.
This season, City have beaten Newcastle (4-0), Hull (2-0), United (4-1), Everton (3-1), Norwich (7-0), Tottenham (6-0), Swansea (3-0), Arsenal (6-3) and now Liverpool (2-1).
Zabaleta feels that City can win every home game, even against Chelsea, who visit in February.
"Yes, of course," said right-back Zabaleta. "Whoever we play, we play to win. We feel good and always want to show to the other teams that at the Etihad we are a very strong side.
"There's always a first time to do that. We have to keep working hard and keep very focused on what we are doing. It doesn't matter if we are playing home or away, we need to keep playing with the same intensity and when we play in our best form, we can beat anyone.
"We are in a good way for the title, one point behind the leaders (Arsenal). There's still a long way to go and we cannot relax. We have to play against the best teams in away games so it's going to be very tough."
City captain Vincent Kompany agreed.
"I hope we can win every home game," said the centre-back. "It's an incredible form to be in and incredible way to approach the new year, but we need to maintain this. We have had good runs, especially at home, but this is something we need to carry on."
City's determination is embodied by Zabaleta, who rushed back from a hamstring injury sustained at Leicester City on December 17 to play in the St Stephen's Day defeat of Liverpool.
"He was a high risk, but Pablo is a very important player," said manager Manuel Pellegrini. "He has character and a big heart. The doctors said he could play, and he wanted to do it -- and did it very well."
Zabaleta added: "I didn't feel anything in my hamstring. It was a huge risk to play because normally a small grade one tear takes two weeks to recover and I played after eight days since getting injured.
"It was a hard decision for the manager but as a player you always want to play -- and against the big teams. This was important for me to play, against Liverpool and we didn't have a right-back in the team with Micah (Richards) also injured.
"I told the manager I wanted to play. I was a bit nervous before the game because it was a huge risk, but at the end I'm happy because I didn't feel anything.''
Zabaleta's tackling and forays down the right have made him beloved by City supporters. He was keen to express his appreciation to the City fans for their new song about him: "Oh, Pablo Zabaleta; he is the f****n man; he is an Argentinian; he's harder than Jaap Stam; he plays in blue and white; for Pellegrini's men; and when we win the league; we'll sing this song again."
Zabaleta said: "It's brilliant. Thanks to them. I like the song."
Assuming no reaction to his hamstring, Zabaleta will start against Palace today with Pellegrini continuing to complain about the hectic English calendar.
"I didn't think it was allowed to play twice in 48 hours -- I thought 72 was the least you could do,'' he said.
City will be missing Martin Demichelis against Palace. "He has a muscle problem and we will see how many days he is out,'' said Pellegrini. "But (Matija) Nastasic is fit (after a calf problem) so we have someone in that position.''
Stevan Jovetic is still out with hamstring injury. "He is an important player for us as (Sergio) Aguero is out and we can't play every game with (Alvaro) Negredo and (Edin) Dzeko,'' said Pellegrini.
"Jovetic will be important, we hope, and can recover soon. We hope in the second half of the season he will do well."
Pellegrini added his delight over Joe Hart's good form on his return after a series of high-profile mistakes.
"I don't think Joe ever lost his confidence, either his own or the trust of myself, the rest of the team," Pellegrini said. "He needed a rest and it was very good for him. He has continued to be the best goalkeeper in England.
"It was very useful for him, that's why I did it. Sometimes the players don't think the same way but I think Joe did, and that is why he worked very, very hard in the six weeks he was out of the team." (© Daily Telegraph, London)