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Football | Barclays Premier League

Guardiola news takes heat off Mancini

Roberto Mancini has felt some of the pressure ease on his position as Manchester City manager as he prepares for Saturday's Premier League home game with Fulham.

Not that the club's ambitious owners have grown any less desirous of retaining the league title that is under serious threat from Manchester United's seven-point lead at the top.

But the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager of Bayern Munich has ended mounting speculation that the former Barcelona coach was in line to succeed 41-year-old Mancini should he finish the season without a trophy.

Wealthy rivals Chelsea may have been regarded as front-runners to hire Guardiola once his year's sabbatical was over, but City also appeared to be gearing up for his potential arrival.

The former Barcelona directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain are both now at the Etihad Stadium as chief executive and director of football respectively, although Mancini often made light of the implications in interviews.

While there were reports that a deal with Guardiola had already been reached, his decision to join the German club leaves Mancini in a position of renewed strength as he tackles the job of catching and passing neighbours United.

City will go into the game against Fulham with confidence high after ending a long-standing hoodoo to defeat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium - their first league victory on the London team's home soil since 1975.

Indeed, they have lost only two matches, against Manchester United and Sunderland, in their pursuit of Alex Ferguson's team, whom they face again at Old Trafford at the beginning of April.

Before then, Mancini will look to chip away the lead United have built, and key player David Silva believes that fortune is beginning to smile again on the champions.

City can close the gap to four points by beating Fulham, with United facing a difficult trip to fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur the following day.

"I think in the last few games, it's not that we've improved particularly, it's just that we've had that touch of fortune which maybe we weren't getting earlier on," said the Spain midfielder.

"We are playing well and doing the right things. All we can do is keep going and put United under the pressure of knowing that if they lose a game or drop any points, we will get closer to them.

"If we keep fighting, we hope that they will falter."

Fulham's preparations for the trip to the Etihad have been soured by reports that the relationship between manager Martin Jol and experienced left-back John Arne Riise has broken down.

However, Jol has denied the claims and said: "My relationship with John was fantastic and it's still good.

"But it's the same all the time in England – if the player is not playing then people assume the reason was a bust-up, but I never had a bust-up with any player.

"I have good conversations with players and I had a good conversation with him on Thursday morning again, and there's no problem."

A return of just two wins in 12 league games has undone the Cottagers' positive start to the season and Jol concedes it is asking a lot of his side to kick-start their recovery against City.

"It would be better to get the points against the Wigan Athletics and Southamptons of this world," he said.

"We got two draws (in those matches), so that was disappointing because you can't expect a team like Fulham to rack up six points against Manchester United and Man City, so every point will be a bonus and we will fight for every point."

Mahamadou Diarra and Kerim Frie are both still out but Mladen Petric is expected to return.


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