Barry denies City rift


MANCHESTER, February 23 – Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry has dismissed reports that manager Roberto Mancini has 'lost' the dressing room as the Italian gears up for his biggest week since taking charge at Eastlands.City launch a huge week with an FA Cup replay away to Stoke on Wednesday followed by a trip to Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday.

Yet their stuttering form on the pitch, one win in five outings, has been overshadowed by recent events off it with reports of dressing room unrest regarding Mancini’s training methods.

Mancini has insisted that a training ground disagreement with striker Craig Bellamy is insignificant in comparison to the uncertainty surrounding the duration of Carlos Tevez’s compassionate leave in Argentina.

Bellamy, who was reportedly involved in a heated row with Mancini last week, could start the fifth round replay against Stoke after making a brief appearance as a substitute in the drab goalless draw with Liverpool on Sunday, his first appearance since suffering a knee problem.

But 19-goal top scorer Tevez will be missing for the fourth successive game.

The Argentina international has, however, indicated that he intends to be back in England in time to feature against Chelsea at the weekend following the premature birth of daughter Katie, who had to spend time in intensive care.

It is a crucial few days for Mancini, who was charged with securing a top-four finish and a ticket into next season’s Champions League when he took over from Mark Hughes in December.

Yet England international Barry has played down reports of problems off-the-pitch and believes the incident involving Mancini and Bellamy was blown out of proportion.

Barry said: "There was a slight difference in opinion, not a row. The manager and Craig Bellamy are both winners, and they both have strong opinions. That’s got to be good for the club.

"We’ve had headlines all season. We’re a club that’s in transition and have spent a lot of money to reach the top, so we are going to be news. Headlines come with the territory."

With a quarter-final tie at Chelsea awaiting the winners, Mancini will be hoping City’s fourth meeting with Stoke in two months ends in success.

But in addition to Tevez, City will have to achieve victory at ‘fortress’ Britannia Stadium without the services of Patrick Vieira (suspended) and Adam Johnson (cup-tied).

Stoke have lost only once in 11 outings at home and head into the tie with confidence sky high.

Their 2-1 win at Portsmouth last Saturday means Tony Pulis’s side are unbeaten in seven league games, their most successful run in the top flight since 1975.

Those three points at Fratton Park virtually secured Stoke’s Premier League status for another season. The hosts will definitely be without captain Abdoulaye Faye and full-back Andy Wilkinson. Both are serving suspensions.

Pulis is hoping Danny Higginbotham, who missed the Portsmouth win with an injury, will be fit to take his place in the back four.

The Stoke manager said: "We don’t fear anyone. We’ve given Manchester City two good games lately and we’re capable of giving them another one.

"It won’t be easy. They have some top quality players but we are at home and we have our fans behind us. We’re confident we can get a positive result."