Man City travel to the South Coast knowing that a win is absolutely vital to maintain their fading title hopes.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini on Friday said he hoped rivals United go all the way in the Champions League as it would boost the Blues’ Premier League hopes.
City head into their trip to Southampton on Saturday nine points behind Alex Ferguson’s side, who host Everton on Sunday, amid doubts that they will be able to pull back the deficit and retain the title they won last year, with 13 games to play.
But despite two draws in their last two outings, Mancini refused to write off his team’s chances and believes a Champions League run for United — which startson Wednesday with a last 16 first leg at Real Madrid — can help City in the league.
“If Manchester United draw or lose (at Southampton), the title race is re-opened. It is clear we need to do better than in the last two games,” he told a news conference.
“It is normal when you play in the Champions League against Real Madrid that you can lose your strength in this game.
“We support Manchester United to go through in the Champions League. At the end of the day, if United win all the games from now to the end in the Premier League they deserve to win.
“This is football. But I am sure we have another chance.”
The Italian coach has been the target of renewed speculation about his future, despite signing a new five-year contract in the close season. But he insisted that he would still be at the Etihad Stadium next season.
“These are stupid things. We have 13 games (left), the season is long. (The situation) can change in two or three games. This is our focus, not to talk about new players. We buy a striker, we sell a defender. This is not true.”
Asked whether he will stay on, Mancini added: “Yes, yes. Why not?”
Since arriving in northwest England at the end of 2009, Mancini has won the FA Cup and the Premier League title in his first two full seasons.
He insisted that he does not have to win the league again for the current campaign to be judged a success, as he thinks City have proven they have been better than both United and European champions Chelsea domestically throughout his period in charge.
“I think that we should work for this. Because like last year where no one believed we could win the title, in the end we won. This year could be the same,” he added.
“We are a strong team. We were unlucky because we lost two or three players in January for the African Cup. Also, if we believe in our job, we can do this.
“I think it is important we are there, on the top always, we fight for the title every year. If another team is better than you, you should accept this.
“But I don’t think in these two years there is a team that has played better than us. Manchester United is a strong team, Chelsea is a strong team but I think in the last two years Manchester City is the team that played better in the Premier League.”
Mancini is hopeful that captain Vincent Kompany will overcome a calf problem to return to the side at St Mary’s, meaning Micah Richards is the only long-term absentee.
The former Inter coach is expecting Yaya Toure to have a significant impact now the Ivory Coast midfielder has returned from the African Nations Cup, following the country’s quarter-final defeat by finalists Nigeria.
Mancini said the former Barcelona midfielder had been sorely missed while he was on international duty.
“Kolo (Toure) was a problem because we had a problem with the defenders, two or three defenders injured. Yaya is an important player for us. Also when he doesn’t play, on the pitch he is important. We’ve missed him a lot in these 20 days.”
Venue St Mary’s, 5.30pm Saturday
Last season N/A
Referee Martin Atkinson
This season’s matches 18 Y71, R1, 4.00 cards per game
Odds Southampton 5-1 Man City 4-6 Draw 16-5
Subs from K Davis, Gazzaniga, Richardson, Forren, Ward-Prowse, Chaplow, S Davis, Do Prado, Lee
Doubtful Lallana (match fitness), Shaw (knee), Clyne (leg)
Injured Fonte (knee, 24 Feb)
Form guide DLDDWD
Disciplinary record Y25 R0
Leading scorer Lambert 11
Subs from Nielsen, Pantilimon, Lescott, K Touré, Sinclair, Kolarov, García, Nasri, Rodwell, Dzeko
Doubtful Kompany (calf)
Injured Richards (knee, unknown)
Form guide DDWWWW
Disciplinary record Y40 R3
Leading scorer Dzeko 11
Southampton have only won one of their last nine home league matches against Manchester City (W1, D3, L5).
This is their first meeting on the south coast since a goalless draw in the Premier League in October 2004.
They have only managed one win in their last nine league games, drawing six of those. They have two points out of a possible nine under manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The Saints have thrown away 24 points from leading positions this season, more than any other side.
Southampton have the worst record in the division against teams in the top half of the table, failing to win in 13 attempts (D5, L8).
Their next three league fixtures after Saturday are all against teams near the bottom: Newcastle (a), QPR (h), Norwch (a).
Rickie Lambert is the top-scoring Englishman in the Premier League this season with 11 goals. He has scored 99 goals in total for Southampton.
City are nine points behind Manchester United for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season.
The defending champions are on a six-match unbeaten run but have drawn successive games. They last went three consecutive league games without a win in March-April last year.
Roberto Mancini’s side have the division’s best defensive record and have kept an unrivalled 11 clean sheets.
However, they have scored 17 fewer league goals than at this stage last season.
Carlos Tevez has failed to score in his last eight league appearances.
Yaya Toure to score first at 15/2: Southampton vs Man City Betting