Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has warned his players to watch their step as they head for Carrow Road tomorrow – one false move and their lingering title hopes could disappear.
Manchester United’s shock 1-0 defeat to Wigan this week has given the sky blue half of Manchester half-a-chance to wrest the Premier League crown off the head of their bitterest rivals – particularly given the fact that United have yet to travel to the Etihad.
That happens on April 30th in the mother of all Manchester derbies.
Before then, however, City have to travel to the soaring Canaries tomorrow; victory would leave them just two points behind United ahead of their home clash with Aston Villa on Sunday.
And all with that United game still to come.
In short, the stakes could not be higher. But the Canaries’ stunning 2-1 success at Spurs on Easter Monday has only sharpened the edges around tomorrow’s mouth-watering contest.
Mancini knows that unless some of the more wayward minds in his multi-million pound squad focus their thoughts on the Norwich challenge – and grant Paul Lambert’s young City side the respect they now demand – it could all end in tears in East Anglia.
“United is easy,” said the Italian, well aware that tomorrow’s game will hinge hugely on the mental state of his players. They will always come out to play for the big games; as United found to their cost against the Latics, it is how they fare against the so-called lesser teams that will do as much to decide the fate of this season’s title showdown between the two Manchester giants.
“We could lose or we could win, but it is easy,” Mancini told the Press. “Against United or Chelsea, our concentration will be 100%. Norwich will be tough because we have had two days to recover after West Brom.”
The Canaries, of course, are in the lovely position of just sitting back and savouring tomorrow’s occasion – knowing full well that on the back of events at White Hart Lane on Monday a heroes’ welcome awaits this weekend’s under-dogs.
They have absolutely nothing to lose; United have everything to gain if their neighbours fail to demonstrate the kind of dogged, title experience that Messrs Giggs and Scholes brought to the Carrow Road party the other month.
They know how to dig out results in such places; do Balotelli and Co? Or rather Aguero and Co given that Balotelli will be serving out a one-match ban this weekend following his dismissal in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal. Which rather proves the point.
“They have big experience and are a fantastic team. We are nothing,” said Mancini, reaching for that under-dog card. “But sometimes the best team, or the team that has balance, doesn’t win.”
The Premier League’s highest-paid midfielder Yaya Toure is his big injury doubt; word was that there was “a chance” he could lock horns with a Bradley Johnson or a Jonny Howson tomorrow – both of whom might expect to start again after their heroics in the one-way success over Champions League hopefuls Spurs.
Lambert has no such injury worries – other than the usual suspects; one of whom will not now be seen again till the start of next season after Marc Tierney underwent surgery on his groin this week.
His absence at left-back has enabled Adam Drury to roll back the years and enjoy a real purple patch back in the side both points and performance-wise; the question for Lambert tomorrow will be whether or not to re-instate Kyle Naughton into his plans after the full-back was ineligible for the Spurs game.
Otherwise, Canary fans could expect to see an unchanged Norwich line-up on the back of that White Hart Lane success – one in which starring roles are now being assigned for January’s two new-boys, Howson and Ryan Bennett.
“The two lads have been first class,” Lambert told the club’s official website today, as some £5 million worth of January transfer business already looks money well spent.
“Jonny Howson has played at a really decent level for Leeds United and being captain for them is a real big thing.
“Ryan Bennett has come in from Peterborough and looks as if he’s been playing for us for a number of years – his performances have been of a really high standard.”