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Manchester City Vs Birmingham, Sat 13 Nov 2010

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Roberto Mancini insists he would be happy with a fourth-placed finish for Manchester City this season.

The Blues boss has again been forced onto the defensive over his tactics in the dismal derby draw with Manchester United on Wednesday.

Although United hardly carved out a hatful of chances, Mancini has largely been held responsible for the tepid goalless stalemate, and bringing what are perceived to be tactics straight out of Serie A into the Premier League.

Yet Mancini views the outcome as a point gained rather than two lost.

While most of his critics are judging City's performances by the money they have spent and the sight of Chelsea disappearing over the horizon as champions-elect, Mancini's sights are not quite so high.

Having been set a pre-season target of securing Champions League combat next term, the current table, which has City in fourth, four points ahead of next best Newcastle, suits the Italian just fine.

"We are in a good position," said Mancini.

"If the Premier League finished tomorrow I would be happy.

"Our target is to get to the Champions League. But targets can change during the season.

"It is important for us to stay at the top until January because the league can change after that, when the Champions League starts again. Then, maybe Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United will have their focus on this competition."

Not that the City chief views the title as a realistic aspiration.

When he explained earlier in the season that he though Chelsea would finish top "easily", it was interpreted as kidology from Mancini given his team subsequently went out and inflicted a first defeat of the season on Carlo Ancelotti's men.

Yet, ahead of the meeting with United he claimed Manchester's finest were in a battle for second spot. And he is at a loss to understand why his words are still not being taken at face value.

"When I was asked about Wayne Rooney coming to Manchester City, I said that he would stay with United because he is an important player. Where is he staying?" challenged Mancini.

"I said Chelsea would win the title easily.

"They are a strong team. The best team in the league.

"They started the season very well. They won the first five games.

"When you start a season like that it is very difficult for another team to get there."

After two tough games already this week, Mancini intends to make a number of changes for the visit of Birmingham to Eastlands, which will almost certainly include a recall for England winger Adam Johnson.

More expressive tactics are envisaged than were in evidence earlier in the week, although Mancini feels he has nothing to apologise for.

"Our supporters and journalists criticised us but we tried to win," he said.

"We tried to win but we were not on the pitch alone. We had opponents trying to stop us.

"I didn't think it was a boring game. Maybe people prefer 3-3 or 4-4 but this is impossible.

"We must have a balance. You try to score but you must also defend."

Alex McLeish admits Birmingham have to step up Alexander Hleb's training regime if they are to get the best out of the on-loan Barcelona player.

McLeish revealed Hleb has been able to train for less than 20% of the time available to him since his temporary move from the Nou Camp two moths ago.

He has been affected by injury niggles but also a lack of pre-season action and looked a shadow of the player who was a key performer at Arsenal.

McLeish even left Hleb out of his starting line-up for the midweek 3-2 at Stoke and he remained on the substitute's bench for the entire 90 minutes,

McLeish told Press Association Sport: "Alex knows he is a big-time player and there are high expectation levels on him.

"He has got a reputation to preserve but he is not fully fit. He is not 100%. If Hleb was fully fit, we know he would be shrugging off the challenges on him.

"If we can get him top fit, we know that he will be a different player and a player who can make a difference. But I've got to do what is right for the team."

McLeish revealed: "Alexander has been here 70 days and only trained for about 13.

"We have to get that statistic higher to make sure he is at a level where he's going to make a difference. It just little niggles all over.

"The pre-season is crucial for players. If you don't get the right pre-season, the season can become a struggle for them.

"They can pick up niggles and Alex did not have much action pre-season at Barcelona."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Topics:
European News
Football
Manchester City
Premier League
Birmingham

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