Pellegrini challenges City to hunt down Chelsea

Manuel Pellegrini has challenged his Manchester City stars to begin the task of reeling in Premier League leaders Chelsea with a crucial victory at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Pellegrini challenges City to hunt down Chelsea

London: Manuel Pellegrini has challenged his Manchester City stars to begin the task of reeling in Premier League leaders Chelsea with a crucial victory at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Pellegrini`s third placed side have fallen five points behind the Blues after an inconsistent start to their title defence, but the champions have a good opportunity to close the gap this weekend.

City travel to Villa Park knowing a win would move them within two points of Jose Mourinho`s side, who could drop points in a testing London derby against Arsenal 24 hours later.

After City`s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages were hit by a 1-1 draw against Roma in midweek, Pellegrini knows his team need a positive result this weekend to boost morale and keep Chelsea within touching distance.

"We are just starting. It is not good to be five points behind Chelsea," Pellegrini said.

"But in this moment we have one point more than last year. Arsenal were maybe six points ahead of us and we didn`t win the first three games away.

"Things can happen, important things and we will try to continue playing the way we did against Hull.

"If we win tomorrow, yes, I`m happy (with our start). The only game we lost was here against Stoke. It was not in our minds that we could lose that game but that can happen in football."

City will be hoping Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas fails to make Arsenal pay for opting not to re-sign him when he faces his old club at Stamford Bridge.

Once the jewel in the crown of Arsene Wenger`s squad, Spain midfielder Fabregas left the north London side to join boyhood club Barcelona in 2011.

But he was never quite so central a figure with the star-studded Catalan giants and Arsenal had the option to buy back their former captain in pre-season. 

However, with Arsenal`s squad now featuring a clutch of midfield playmakers in Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, to name but three, veteran French boss Wenger -- who this week celebrated his 18th anniversary in charge of the Gunners -- felt he could do without his one-time talisman.

Chelsea, by contrast, were happy to spend £27 million ($46 million) to bring Fabregas back to London, with Blues manager Jose Mourinho boasting it took him just 20 minutes to seal the deal.

So far Chelsea`s investment has been rewarded with seven Fabregas `assists`, the latest in this week`s 1-0 Champions League win at Sporting Lisbon, while Mourinho`s men have won five and drawn one of their six Premier League matches to open up a six-point lead on the Gunners heading into this weekend`s matches.

"Fabregas has made a huge impact. I know you kind of expect that from him but most of our chances come from him opening up defences," Chelsea captain John Terry told the London Evening Standard.

"Not a lot of people can see the passes he does let alone make it."

Meanwhile Fabregas brushed aside all talk of a conflict of loyalties in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.

"I remind you that I played the Champions League final against Barcelona (with Arsenal) and I swear I would have done anything to win that game -- and I have been a Barcelona fan since I was a kid," Fabregas said.

"So I know that when I play against Arsenal I will know who is my (current) team, who are my colleagues and who I defend."

Sunday also sees another man up against his old side when Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino, who only arrived in pre-season, faces former club Southampton -- an impressive second in the table despite also losing several players to bigger clubs. 

Liverpool minus Luis Suarez have taken just seven points from their first six league matches and suffered a Champions League defeat by Basel in midweek.

West Bromwich Albion will fancy their chances at Anfield on Saturday and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitted: "When confidence is low, it can become about the individual, but we have to get back to being a team."

Meanwhile a sign of changing times is that it is Everton, not Manchester United, who had the European tie in midweek -- albeit in the Europa League -- ahead of their clash at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)

Saturday: Aston Villa v Manchester City (1630GMT), Hull v Crystal Palace, Leicester v Burnley, Liverpool v West Brom, Sunderland v Stoke, Swansea v Newcastle

Sunday: Chelsea v Arsenal (1305GMT), Manchester United v Everton (1100GMT), Tottenham v Southampton (1305GMT), West Ham v QPR (1515GMT)

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