By Michael Hann
Rejuvenated Manchester City can pile the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea for the first time this season if they beat struggling visitors Crystal Palace on Saturday (2.45pm).
With Chelsea not playing at Stoke City until Monday (10pm), a City victory at the Etihad Stadium against a Palace side who have failed to win their last four Premier League matches would put the champions level on 39 points with Jose Mourinho’s men.
Having trailed leaders Chelsea by eight points at one stage this season, City have won their last five league matches, with Frank Lampard’s strike enough to give Manuel Pellegrini’s side a 1-0 victory at bottom club Leicester City last weekend.
However, City will be without a recognised forward against 16th-placed Palace as Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko all have knocks, while captain and key central defender Vincent Kompany limped off at Leicester with a hamstring injury.
Despite a lack of attacking options, Pellegrini is confident his injury-hit squad can find the perfect striking remedy within their ranks against Neil Warnock’s Palace.
“We’ll work this week with the players that can play in that position,” Pellegrini told reporters. “At the moment we are trying to recover all the players because we have no strikers.
“David Silva, Samir Nasri and the rest of the midfielders can all score so we must see during the week which is the best way to play in the future until we recover our strikers.”
Chelsea, who beat visiting Hull City 2-0 last weekend, have no striking woes but, after allowing their healthy advantage over City to be cut, midfielder Cesc Fabregas has called on his team-mates to keep improving in their quest for the title.
“You can always get better,” the Spaniard told the club’s website (www.chelseafc.com). “We know that and we are trying to improve in training by doing what the manager tells us to do.
“Everyone is very focused and everyone is very professional. Now the next two or three weeks are really important in our season and we have to be up for it.”
Third-placed Manchester United, buoyed by a 3-0 demolition of arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford last weekend, travel to Aston Villa on Saturday (5pm) when fourth-placed West Ham United host basement side Leicester (5pm).
On Sunday, Newcastle United fans will give Sunderland a hostile reception in the Tyne-Wear derby at St James’ Park (3.30pm), before floundering Liverpool, perhaps lifted by their 3-1 Capital One Cup win at Bournemouth in midweek, host sixth-placed Arsenal (6pm).