Champions Manchester City must beat Premier League leaders Chelsea next week if they are going to hold onto their title, according to defender Pablo Zabaleta.
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The Blues arrived in Abu Dhabi for a crucial training camp on Monday, hours after a shock 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal saw them drop five points behind Jose Mourinho’s side at the top of the EPL.
They have been working hard since landing, with tonight’s friendly against Hamburg the culmination of the one-year anniversary
City have the game against the Bundesliga outfit and Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round tie against Middlesbrough to come before the titanic clash at Stamford Bridge on January 31. Lose that and an eight-point gap will emerge, a fact not lost on Argentina international Zabaleta
“Unfortunately, we lost an important game against Arsenal,” the 30-year-old said following an open training session at a sodden
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last night.
“Now we have to play Chelsea, the leaders. We need three points if we are going to fight for the title.”
The trip to the UAE has given City time to re-focus after a disappointing result at the Etihad Stadium.
Captain Vincent Kompany enthused about the mid-season break when asked about its value in tackling the challenges ahead.
“It is massively important,” the Belgium centre-back said. “You get so much out of it.
“For us, it is an 11-month season. It gives us time to be out of it for a bit and it is great for the team spirit.”
City put in an uncharacteristically insipid display against the Gunners, who fully deserved their triumph thanks to a penalty from
Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud’s free header.
Brazil midfielder Fernandinho declared there was no time to wallow, with the next fortnight being “extremely important” in determining their fate.
He said: “We are facing a difficult moment and the two coming weeks will be extremely important for us. It will be great if we can win on Saturday so we can arrive in front of Chelsea with a very high level of confidence within the team.
“This week is also critical as it will help us organise the team and prepare some of the areas in which we failed. We will come into the next games a lot more prepared.”
City took to the Etihad Stadium pitch without talismanic midfielder Yaya Toure, who is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty with
Ivory Coast. Manuel Pellegrini’s men have long struggled in the 31-year-old’s absence, April’s 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion the last time they claimed three points in the top flight without him.
If Les Elephants, as expected, make it to the business end of the competition they could be without him until the home match against Newcastle United on February 21. Summer signing Fernando expects the rest of the squad to step up to ensure Toure’s
absence “will have less impact” in the future.
The 27-year-old former Porto defensive midfielder said: “It goes without saying that Yaya is at an extremely good level and
contributes highly to the team’s results.
“At the same time, Manchester City have hired very good players and we have to count on every single player in the team.
“Definitely, since he left the results have been declining. But we have to hope that in the future his absence will have less impact. We hope to compensate as a team.”