NORWICH (AFP) – Manchester City will look to get their Premier League title challenge back on track when they face Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday.
City’s 20-match unbeaten run, which had yielded 18 victories, came to an end with their 1-0 defeat to title rivals Chelsea at Eastlands on Monday.
While City boss Manuel Pellegrini defended his team’s performance, the result was a major blow to their hopes of winning the title as it stopped them returning to top spot and allowed Jose Mourinho’s third-placed side to move level on points with them.
There could be more movement in the title battle this weekend as leaders Arsenal, currently two points ahead of second placed City, travel to Liverpool and Chelsea entertain Newcastle on Saturday.
City could be five points behind the Gunners by the time they start their match in Norfolk and Pellegrini knows losing further ground would cause significant damage to his team’s title ambitions.
After a difficult start to the season, City’s form on their travels has steadied and they have won five consecutive away matches in the Premier League.
As they look to bounce back from the disappointment against Chelsea, the trip to Norwich and a home match with fellow strugglers Sunderland will be seen as a major opportunity by Pellegrini and his players.
City midfielder Fernandinho has revealed that he will be available again in 15 days after a thigh problem kept him out of the Chelsea defeat.
On Thursday he tweeted: “I would like to quell rumours. I return to play in 15 days or less.”
It remains to be seen whether the Brazilian midfielder will be able to return to action to face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 18.
With James Milner and Jack Rodwell both short of fitness, Pellegrini pressed centre-back Martin Demichelis into a midfield role against Chelsea.
Pellegrini will also monitor the fitness of Alvaro Negredo, who has been struggling with a shoulder problem, and the Spaniard could be replaced by Stevan Jovetic to allow the Montenegro striker a first league start since September.
Argentina striker Sergio Aguero is facing several more weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring problem and French midfielder Samir Nasri is back doing some light training as he steps up his recovery from a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Norwich will kick off only two points ahead of third-bottom West Ham and with the memories of their 7-0 thrashing against City earlier this season still fresh in their memories.
The Canaries contributed two own goals to that early November humiliation at Eastlands and will go into the rematch having won just one of their last 11 fixtures in all competitions.
Despite that dismal run, Norwich manager Chris Hughton is confident his players can put on a better show second time around.
“Manchester City can score goals at will but it’s a really good challenge for us,” he said.
“We have to put everything together and look forward to it. We know that we’ll have a fantastic crowd behind us – we have to give them a performance to cheer about.”
Centre-back Ryan Bennett is a doubt because of a thigh strain, which could open the door for new signing Joseph Yobo to make an instant debut.
The 33-year-old former Everton defender has joined on loan for the rest of the season from Fenerbahce.
“I’m ready to play if the gaffer needs me,” the Nigeria international said.
“I’m very experienced so if called upon I will do my best. Manchester City are a great team of course, but it’s 11 men versus 11 men. Anything can happen on Saturday.”