LONDON, England, January 13 – Premier League leaders Manchester City have to wait until Monday to play their next fixture, away to relegation candidates Wigan, and that may be no bad thing for manager Roberto Mancini.
For a start, there is no guarantee reigning champions Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, both three points behind City, will have drawn level with Mancini’s side by the time the Italian’s men kick-off.
And a weekend out of the spotlight will at least mean attention is focused on someone else.
Mancini was incensed when star defender Vincent Kompany, now in the midst of a four-game ban, was sent-off for a two-footed challenge on Nani in holders City’s FA Cup derby defeat by United last weekend, even though the Belgian appeared to win the ball cleanly.
And he was even more furious when no action was taken against Liverpool’s Glen Johnson for a similar challenge on Joleon Lescott during City’s 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg defeat on Wednesday.
Time for a break, perhaps.
Not since the late 1960s have City been crowned champions of England but Tottenham’s wait has been even longer yet.
However, a midweek win over Everton has bolstered the self-belief of everyone at White Hart Lane that they could win the title for the first time since 1961.
Now Tottenham are relishing their upcoming clash with Manchester City but midfielder Rafael van der Vaart remained wary of Wolves.
“When we played Man City in August, they were too good but in the last few games they have not been as consistent and they lost last night too (against Liverpool),” van der Vaart told Thursday’s London Evening Standard.
“Maybe it’s a little bit in their heads. They have invested so much money, so everyone expects they’re going to win it, but we’re still there. Do we believe we can do it? Absolutely.
“The game against City is massive and we are really looking forward to it, but first we must beat Wolves.”
United, meanwhile, face Bolton for the first time since manager Sir Alex Ferguson warned the media attention lavished on star striker Wayne Rooney was reminiscent of that once afforded troubled England midfielder Paul Gascoigne.
In that context, Rooney’s two goals in the Cup win over City were timely and a repeat display against Bolton would not go amiss.
Chelsea, with manager Andre Villas-Boas outlining the unusually modest aim for the Blues of being the best side in London, are at home to in-form Sunderland, resurgent under new boss Martin O’Neill, while Liverpool face Stoke.
Bottom of the table Blackburn face Fulham with manager Steve Kean insisting defender Chris Samba won’t be allowed to leave Ewood Park during the January transfer window.
Saturday’s other games see Aston Villa play Everton and West Brom up against Norwich.
Meanwhile Mark Hughes will take charge of QPR for the first time since replacing the sacked Neil Warnock as manager when they travel to Newcastle on Sunday.
Rangers are only a point above the relegation zone but, having seen what O’Neill has done at Sunderland, Rangers midfielder Shaun Derry is hoping Hughes will have a similar impact at Loftus Road.
“It’s vital that when you make a change, you make it for someone who’s going to come in with that type of pedigree,” Derry said.
“He’s got an aura about him — and so have his staff.”
The day’s other game sees Swansea take on Arsenal, with Gunners fans wondering if Thierry Henry, can carry on from his ‘second’ debut for the club after coming off the bench to score the winner in their FA Cup victory over Leeds.
The 34-year-old Frenchman, Arsenal’s record goalscorer, has returned on a short-term loan deal from New York Red Bulls with Major League Soccer now in its close season.
“I know I scored, but that is not going to happen every time I play,” Henry said.
Swansea will hope he is right.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Aston Villa v Everton, Blackburn v Fulham, Chelsea v Sunderland, Liverpool v Stoke, Man Utd v Bolton, Tottenham v Wolves, West Brom v Norwich
Sunday: Newcastle v QPR (1330GMT), Swansea v Arsenal (1600GMT)
Monday: Wigan v Man City (2000GMT)