Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini insists a defeat in Saturday’s crunch clash against leaders Chelsea wouldn’t be a fatal blow to the champions’ chances of retaining the Premier League title.
Pellegrini’s side already trail Chelsea by five points heading into the showdown at Stamford Bridge and a loss would leave them languishing eight points behind with 15 games to play.
But Pellegrini remembers how City, then managed by his predecessor Roberto Mancini, won the title in 2012 despite falling eight points behind Manchester United at a much later stage of the campaign.
He is convinced an equally dramatic fightback is possible even if the result goes against them in west London.
“I think it is a very important game but it is not the game that will decide the title because after that we have to play for 45 points more,” Pellegrini said.
“If you remember some years ago this club won the title after being eight points behind Manchester United, so in football you never know.”
City’s hopes of securing a first win at the Bridge since 2010 were boosted on Friday when Chelsea striker Diego Costa was handed a three-match ban for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can during the League Cup semi-final second leg in midweek.
Not having to face Spain international Costa, who has 17 goals in 19 league appearances this season, is a huge lift for City, who have struggled badly since their own talismanic star, Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure, departed for African Cup of Nations duty.
Toure’s exit has coincided with a run of three games without a win for City, including damaging back-to-back home defeats against Arsenal in the league and then second tier Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, but Pellegrini says his team must take responsibility for filling the void.
“I say always the same thing, in this case for Diego Costa or Yaya, big teams with important squads cannot depend on just one player. I think it is a very important miss for both teams but they have other players to replace him,” Pellegrini said.
– Lampard return –
The controversy over Costa’s ban has overshadowed another intriguing sub-plot — the first return of City midfielder Frank Lampard to his former club.
Blues legend Lampard is Chelsea’s record goalscorer but he wasn’t expected to be back at the Bridge in an opposition shirt when he was released at the end of last season and appeared to have signed a contract with New York FC.
He eventually joined City instead and scored a late equaliser against Chelsea in a 1-1 draw at Eastlands earlier this season.
That has left some uncertainty over what reception the 36-year-old might get at his old ground, but Pellegrini has no doubt he should be applauded.
“He gave so many things to that club. If he couldn’t continue playing there, he can play here. That is not his fault,” he said.
A City defeat would offer encouragement to Southampton and Manchester United that they could leapfrog Pellegrini’s team.
But third-placed Southampton, five points behind City, host Swansea on Sunday with boss Ronald Koeman battling a growing injury list.
Already hit by injuries to Toby Alderweireld, Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sam Gallagher and Jay Rodriguez, the Saints suffered another blow this week when Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long was ruled out for six weeks with fractured ribs.
United, sitting 12 points adrift of Chelsea in fourth place, need to get back on track against bottom of the table Leicester after failing to beat fourth-tier Cambridge in the FA Cup last week.
That lacklustre display underlined United’s problems in attack this season.
Dutch forward Robin van Persie has scored just once in his last six appearances and he lifted the lid on his team’s frustration in some candid comments this week.
“Obviously we are not scoring enough goals, including me,” van Persie said.
“Everyone feels responsible. I do, definitely. This year I have played something like 20 games and I have scored eight goals.
“I am not happy with that. I want to score more.”
Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated)
Chelsea v Manchester City (1730 GMT), Crystal Palace v Everton, Hull v Newcastle (1245 GMT), Liverpool v West Ham, Manchester United v Leicester, Stoke v QPR, Sunderland v Burnley, West Brom v Tottenham
Arsenal v Aston Villa (1330 GMT), Southampton v Swansea (1600 GMT)