African exodus could decide English Premier League, says Mancini

Updated: 17 December 2011 17:23 IST

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes his team can win the Premier League title if they emerge from the loss of key players to the African Cup of Nations still holding onto first place in the table.

Manchester:

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes his team can win the Premier League title if they emerge from the loss of key players to the African Cup of Nations still holding onto first place in the table.

City end a difficult week, in which they saw their unbeaten start to the campaign end at Chelsea on Monday, when they take on title rivals Arsenal at Eastlands.

The response from Mancini's team to their first domestic loss will say much about their resilience and ability to capture the Premier League crown from Manchester United.

But Mancini is looking further ahead, to the African competition which runs from January 21 to February 12 next year and which will cost City the services of brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure.

Midfielder Yaya will be a particular miss for City and Mancini has revealed he has already held talks aimed at keeping him with the club as late as January 16, just six days before the Ivory Coast play their first group game against Sudan.

"I hope that he can remain here until the Wigan game if possible," said Mancini. "Wigan is one week before the start of the African Cup of Nations.

"And if the Ivory Coast get to the Final, he and Kolo would not come back until after the 12th of February.

"For us, this will be a problem. And for this reason, if Yaya and Kolo come back from the African Cup of Nations and we are still top then we can win the title.

"At this moment, United and maybe Tottenham, who are very close, can win the title but the season is long so also Chelsea and Arsenal, maybe Liverpool, can also win.

"We have a lot of games to play in the next 40 days."

Meanwhile, Mancini has played down talk of dressing room unrest among the league leaders after photos emerged of controversial forward Mario Balotelli and Micah Richards involved in a training ground altercation.

"They were boxing!" joked Mancini. "But nothing special happened. It happens in every squad sometimes when you play a practice match.

"I said to Mario, 'Why is it always you?' And he said, 'Because he didn't pass the ball to me!'

"It was really stupid but after two minutes it was forgotten. This can happen with Mario, it has happened with him two, four times. Mario is the king of this but they're not important things."

Mancini has also moved to distance himself from disgruntled forward Carlos Tevez although he insists he still wants to sell the Argentine next month.

Mancini added: "Carlos is in Argentina playing golf, we are here. Why would I think about Carlos at this moment?"

Arsenal, who will play AC Milan in the Champions League while City tussle with holders Porto in the Europa League, will move within six points of their opponents with a victory.

Removal from the Champions League and the end of an unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign was a double dose of bad news for City but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger knows more than most what the consequences are likely to be.

"They had two disappointments but they will want to respond," he said. "Defeats always take a bit of confidence away from you but let's not speculate on any weakness from their part and make sure on our side we are at our best level.

"It is the second big test away from home for us," added the Frenchman, who appeared to have forgotten his side's 8-2 demolition at Manchester United in September, preferring instead to savour October's 5-3 win at Chelsea.

"The one turning point in our season was the away test at Chelsea because we had not won away before that game.

"You could say as well that Chelsea have beaten them and we have beaten Chelsea but football is about the form and performance of the day -- that makes the difference. If we play at our best we can beat them, so let's be at our best on Sunday."

Topics : Football Mark Hughes Alex Ferguson Manchester City Inter Milan English Premier League
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