BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Roberto Mancini has called on Manchester City to use last week’s victory over Chelsea as inspiration to keep the pressure on Manchester United when the champions travel to Aston Villa on Monday.
Mancini’s team kept alive their slim title hopes with a 2-0 victory over Rafael Benitez’s side last weekend, but United remain firmly in the driving seat after a 4-0 rout of Norwich on Saturday opened up a 15-point lead at the top.
Although Villa are battling against relegation, Mancini feels the clash will be a stiff test of his players’ character because anything less than a victory would effectively end their hopes of retaining the title.
“I think it will be a difficult game. They play for relegation and will be strong. For us, it will be important,” Mancini said.
“If we don’t beat Aston Villa, it is like we didn’t do nothing against Chelsea and for this reason it is important to beat Aston Villa and after to continue to go forward.
“The season is not finished. It is impossible we can think it is finished now, 11 games to the finish. It is our job to play all the games 100 percent and try to win always.”
Mancini has no intention of underestimating Villa and the Italian admits he is surprised to see Paul Lambert’s men struggling at the wrong end of the table.
Villa have been fighting against the drop all season and while Mancini believes the youth of their squad has led them into trouble, he is sure they will not drop into the Championship.
“Aston Villa are in a difficult situation. I don’t know their situation very well. For me they have good players,” he said.
“Maybe they have young players and this is the reason they fight for relegation. Probably they don’t deserve to stay there.”
Mancini does not expect Vincent Kompany to return from a calf problem for the game at Villa Park, but is hopeful that his captain will be back for the FA Cup quarter-final against Barnsley at the weekend.
England midfielder Gareth Barry is ready to return from an ankle injury to face his former club and that just leaves long-term absentee defender Micah Richards on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Villa manager Lambert believes striker Christian Benteke stands a chance of figuring on the PFA Footballer of the Year six-man shortlist after his stunning first season in England.
The Belgium international, signed from Genk for £8 million, has already scored 15 goals this term.
Lambert expects the coveted award to go to Gareth Bale, now odds-on favourite, Robin van Persie or Luis Suarez but feels Benteke stands a chance of also featuring in the reckoning.
“Everyone is looking at Gareth Bale and quite rightly so,” Lambert said.
“Van Persie and Suarez have had brilliant seasons and Michu and Christian have been excellent.
“There’s a few there but I think it (the winner) will come from the first three.”
At 22, Benteke is also eligible for the Young Player of the Year award and Lambert believes both he and Andreas Weimann could feature.
The in-form pair could both be in demand at the end of the season, however Lambert has reminded them the grass is not always greener elsewhere.
“You have to get into their heads and let them know what you think,” he said.
“The thing is, do they want to go to a side where they are sitting in the reserves and don’t get a shot at it?”