LONDON, October 31-Scarred by a run of three games without victory, misfiring Premier League champions Manchester City will attempt to reassert their authority when they host derby rivals Manchester United this weekend.
Having blown a two-goal lead to draw at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, City fell six points behind league leaders Chelsea after losing at West Ham United and were then knocked out of the League Cup by Newcastle United.
Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at home to Newcastle came despite City manager Manuel Pellegrini fielding a strong team, and goalkeeper Joe Hart has called on his team-mates to raise their game against United on Sunday.
“Not everyone’s exactly at their peak at the moment, but we just need a few players, myself included, to step up,” the England goalkeeper, who was rested against Newcastle, told Sky Sports News.
“It will come back. It’s just one of those difficult patches that we’ve gone through many a time. Last season, we had less points and were in a worse position (at this stage of the season), and we won the league.
“We’ve got to look to things like that, but the main thing is to get it right on Sunday.”
David Silva is a doubt for City after going off against Newcastle with a knee injury, but Yaya Toure is expected to feature despite being substituted in the second half as a precaution over a groin complaint.
Wayne Rooney, the leading scorer in Manchester derbies with 11 goals, has completed a three-match suspension and is set to return to the United attack despite reports he has sustained a foot injury.
A 94th-minute equaliser by Robin van Persie earned Louis van Gaal’s United a morale-boosting 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea last weekend.
United lost 4-1 and 3-0 to City last season, but victory at the Etihad would take them to within a point of the champions.
– Sakho doubtful –
After edging fourth-tier Shrewsbury Town 2-1 in the League Cup in mid-week, Chelsea will look to return to winning ways in the league when they host west London rivals Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Chelsea have taken 23 points from a possible 27 to date this season, but with QPR having recorded a timely 2-0 win at home to Aston Villa on Monday, centre-back Gary Cahill says his side cannot afford to be complacent.
“We have a chance to get the right result and hopefully sit back and enjoy Sunday (the Manchester derby), but it’s never easy. You have to prepare right, rest up and make sure we’re ready,” said the England defender.
“Last season we struggled at times against teams people thought we were going to beat. It’s never as easy as that.”
Second-place Southampton, four points below Chelsea, visit Hull City on Saturday, having won 3-2 at Stoke City in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Southampton have belied expectations after losing a glut of key players during the close season and manager Ronald Koeman says he is not concerned about fatigue ahead of the trip to the KC Stadium.
“If you’re a real football player, you’d like to play every three days,” the Dutchman told a press conference on Thursday. “We need this schedule to develop ourselves.”
Fourth-place West Ham could be without leading scorer Diafra Sakho for their trip to Stoke on Saturday, after he injured his shoulder in last weekend’s 2-1 win over City.
Saturday’s early game sees Newcastle host Liverpool, who remain without the injured Daniel Sturridge.
But having seen his side overcome Swansea City in the League Cup on Tuesday, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he is happy with his options in the striking department.
“With Daniel out, of course it is a miss, but it is also an opportunity, as we saw the other night,” he said.
“Fabio Borini was excellent, a real threat, and put in a wonderful cross for the (equalising) goal. And Rickie Lambert, who hasn’t had many opportunities, his goals will come.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, fifth-place Arsenal host winless bottom club Burnley and Swansea visit Everton, while Tottenham Hotspur visit Villa in Sunday’s other game.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Arsenal v Burnley, Chelsea v Queens Park Rangers, Everton v Swansea City, Hull City v Southampton, Leicester City v West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United v Liverpool (1245 GMT), Stoke City v West Ham United
Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur (1600 GMT), Manchester City v Manchester United (1330 GMT)
Monday (2000 GMT):
Crystal Palace v Sunderland