Mancini expects City fight vs. Chelsea
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believes last season's dramatic title success may have had a draining effect on his side.
This season they have struggled to match the intensity of that glorious campaign and their hopes of retaining their crown seem remote. Mancini does not put that down to any collective lack of desire on the part of his players, but accepts intensity could have dropped.
The Italian said: "I think the players always play 100 per cent. I don't think they play just 50 per cent, but this can happen with a team like us, that for 40-odd years didn't win a title.
The year after a team wins a title, it could be that you don't play like when you won the championship, without the same intensity. Maybe you think, 'Okay we are strong, it's enough to play'.
"This can be normal, but I think the players always play at 100 per cent because they want to win the title. Until now, I think United have been better than us, but I think the only difference is that we didn't score enough goals."
With City faltering in their title defense, and with a second successive Champions League failure still fresh in the memory, speculation over Mancini's future has been rife. The Italian has dismissed this on a number of occasions and expressed confidence in his position, based on his record of delivering FA Cup success in 2011 and the Premier League last year.
He has also said finishing runners-up this year would be far from disastrous, particularly with the club still involved in the FA Cup, but that does not mean he intends to settle for it. The 48-year-old said: "We should do our best. We don't know if we can finish in first place, second place or third place.
"We have 12 games and we should do our best from now to the end. Then at the end of the season we will see what's happened. If you ask me if I'm happy to finish in second place, I would not be happy. I would be disappointed, but we have 12 games and we can't think that it's finished now."
The odds on City winning the title lengthened considerably after a damaging defeat at Southampton a fortnight ago. They now face a critical match against third-placed Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium, in which defeat would not only hammer another nail into their challenge, but bring their position in second under threat.
City captain Vincent Kompany remains a doubt for the champions' Barclays Premier League clash with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The Belgium defender has missed four games with a calf injury and manager Roberto Mancini has conceded the problem is taking longer to heal than expected. Midfielder Gareth Barry, who was forced out of last week's FA Cup win over Leeds with an ankle injury, will also be assessed while right-back Micah Richards (knee) remains sidelined.
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard will return to the Blues' squad. Lampard sat out the 1-1 draw with Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday evening but will be considered for the game at the Etihad Stadium.
Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic are in a similar position whilst Demba Ba also returns after being cup-tied.
Manager Rafael Benitez confirmed a couple of his players are nursing knocks but has no fresh injury concerns with only Oriol Romeu (knee) absent.