Mancini wants away-day cheer for Man City

London: Invincible at home this year, Premier League leaders Manchester City face consecutive away games over Christmas with manager Roberto Mancini wary of offering up unexpected gifts at West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.

City, who lead the table at Christmas for the first time since 1929, drew 1-1 at Liverpool, then lost 2-1 at Chelsea in their last two away league games and Mancini wants a return to winning ways on the road, starting at West Brom on Boxing Day.

"We still have Chelsea, United, Tottenham and Liverpool to come to the Etihad Stadium, but we need to win away games as well, and we have only one point from our last two," Mancini, who is about to experience his third Christmas campaign as City manager, told the club`s website.

"I have a lot of respect for West Bromwich, and I have a lot of respect for (manager) Roy Hodgson - he is one of the best managers in Europe.”

"I think it will be very hard because they play good football. They have had some problems but they have won their last two away games and seem to be in good form, it will be a hard match," added Mancini, whose side lead champions Manchester United by two points.

City have few injury worries ahead of a spell of three games in little more than a week and should have swashbuckling full back Micah Richards available after injury.

While Mancini can boast an embarrassment of riches, United and the rest of the pursuing pack are feeling the pinch a little with injuries and suspensions testing their squads.

United have home games against Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers before concluding their holiday fixtures away at Newcastle United and manager Alex Ferguson, preparing for his 26th Christmas in the Old Trafford hot seat, knows how vital the jam-packed holiday programme can be.

He was boosted by the news that Phil Jones suffered no break to his jaw in the dazzling 5-0 win at Fulham on Wednesday, although winger Ashley Young is sidelined for the clash with Wigan, a fixture United have never dropped a point from.

Despite the statistics, however, Ferguson is a big fan of Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, whose third-from-bottom side will arrive in good heart after morale-boosting home draws with Chelsea and Liverpool.

"I watched Wigan versus Chelsea the other day and I thought Wigan were terrific," he told United`s website.

"It says a lot for Roberto Martinez, he continues to play good football irrespective of what position they`re in. We have a good record against Wigan but we won`t take anything for granted. We need to keep our foot on the pedal."

Injury-hit Tottenham, in third place with 35 points face a trip to Norwich City on Tuesday before a New Year`s Eve clash with another of the promoted sides, Swansea City.

They will be without Rafael van der Vaart and winger Aaron Lennon while striker Jermain Defoe is another struck by a hamstring curse afflicting the north London club as they mount a creditable top-four challenge.

Fourth-placed Chelsea (33 points) are low on defensive options as they prepare for the December 26 derby at home to close neighbours Fulham.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas, who has worries over Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi-Mikel after they limped off in the 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, said he would try to buy a centre back in January.

Until then, however, the Portuguese, like his Tottenham counterpart Redknapp and even United`s Ferguson, must juggle his squad and hope to keep City in his sights.

"They have the squad for sure," Redknapp said of City`s strength in depth. "They are the favourites but Man United won`t be far behind them. But anything can happen still, it`s very close in the top four."

Fifth-placed Arsenal (32 points) will not have to travel out of the capital over the holidays, hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday before London derbies with Queen`s Park Rangers and Fulham.

Liverpool will hope to put the controversy surrounding their support of Luis Suarez, found guilty of racial abuse, behind them with home games against bottom club Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United before their trip to City.

Manager Kenny Dalglish said he had some sympathy for Rovers, the club he took to the league title in 1995, and their beleaguered manager Steve Kean who faced vociferous criticism during his side`s defeat by Bolton Wanderers this week.

"The frustration is understandable in many ways but I don`t think it`s helpful and it`s sad really it has come to that, but that`s the way it is," Dalglish said.

Bureau Report

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