Roberto Mancini calls on Manchester City to unite
With the Mario Balotelli issue resolved, manager wants team to pull together and put maximum pressure on Man United for title
Agence France-Presse in Manchester
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini will be hoping an air of togetherness can help his team pile the pressure on Manchester United with a win over Reading today.
City are six points behind Premier League leaders United after a 3-2 defeat against Alex Ferguson's side earlier this month.
The champions responded to that setback with an impressive 3-1 win at Newcastle last weekend to keep pace with United, but even that success was quickly tempered by off-field distractions.
Italy striker Mario Balotelli threatened to take City to a Premier League tribunal as he attempted to avoid paying a fine of two weeks wages for his poor disciplinary record last season.
But hours before the hearing Balotelli, who was dropped for the Newcastle match, agreed to pay the fine.
The club are now hoping the episode is behind them as they set their sights on a second successive league title and Mancini insists the controversial forward still has a future at the club.
"We need to have all the players this month as we have a lot of games in two weeks. Mario needs to train," Mancini said. "I don't think he was happy about [being dropped for the Newcastle game], when he starts to show his quality, he will play again."
Since the Manchester derby defeat, Mancini has been adamant that there is still plenty of time to overhaul United.
He is sure that the return of the Champions League, where Ferguson's side face Real Madrid in the last 16, will have a positive effect on his own team's Premier League prospects.
But City also acknowledge that there can be no more slips.
United have a reasonable run of matches, at Swansea, at home to Newcastle and West Brom before travelling to Wigan, over the festive period. And City know that they cannot lose further ground over their four matches against the struggling Royals, at Sunderland and Norwich and at home to Stoke.
Captain Vincent Kompany should return from a hamstring problem against Reading, but Samir Nasri, Aleksander Kolarov, James Milner and Micah Richards will all miss out, while Jack Rodwell is out until the new year after suffering a setback with his own hamstring injury.
Brian McDermott, meanwhile, has called on his Reading players to keep believing despite their miserable run of form.
The Royals sank even further into trouble after being thrashed 5-2 at home by Arsenal on Monday.
McDermott's men are bottom of the table and find themselves six points from safety with almost half of the season already gone.
But after sealing promotion in May following a blistering second half of the campaign which saw them pick up an astonishing 34 points from 39, the Reading boss expects his team to turn their season around in the new year.
"That's what we're looking to do, we're looking to kick on now after Christmas and finish the season as strong as we can and get ourselves away from where we are," McDermott said.
"We've got a lot of points to play for, so we just have to keep doing our stuff and it will turn for us."