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Game of the week

Manchester City v Newcastle United

Kevin Keegan's fabled powers of motivation will be put to the test this weekend when his former charges Newcastle United clash with relegation-threatened Manchester City at Eastlands.

The adopted Geordie guided Newcastle to a second-placed finish only eight years ago, but the former Magpies forward can expect no sentiment with a Champions League qualification place at stake for the visitors.

His current team City have managed to underwhelm everybody this season and currently languish just three points off the drop zone after suffering from a crisis of confidence. A leaky defence and a misfiring forward line mean that Keegan's side have failed to notch a win since the Manchester derby on March 14.

With Leeds United still determined to avoid the drop City desperately need three points to fend-off the Yorkshire club, who are the only realistic challengers to leapfrog City, and secure their Premiership status.

'People say it is between Leeds and us. Leeds can only afford to lose one of their last three games, two of them are away,' Keegan explained. 'We are in the driving seat but we mustn't get complacent about that. We have two games at home and one away.'

City's future is in their own hands but have a diabolical home record since moving to the City of Manchester Stadium, winning only three matches there all season, and so Newcastle subject to the home pressure hoodoo.

In order to get a result against high-flying Newcastle, Keegan's strike duo of £13million Nicolas Anelka and A.Nother (after £6m Robbie Fowler was dropped) need to find the spark that has been lacking for most of the season.

Anelka was guilty of missing a glut of chances in City's last match, an ill-tempered 1-1 draw with relegation rivals Leicester City, and Keegan sees that kind of impotence in front of goal as indicative of a lack of confidence that has swept through the club.

'When you are playing well you get chances and know you are going to score. You don't even think about missing them,' the former England manager said.

'When you miss chances a little bit of doubt begins to creep in. But that's life.'

At the back things aren't much better. In fact, Alan Hansen, the BBC soccer pundit, described their defence as 'shocking'. Okay, he didn't use his exact catchphrase but he did point the finger at the rearguard as the main reason they are in a relegation fight.

Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne returns from a hernia problem to bolster the rearguard and Sylvain Distin will be in a bullish mood as he makes a return to the Toon. However, the Frenchman's inability to deal with a simple high-ball lead to Leicester's goal and he can expect many more of those up against Newcastle striker Alan Shearer.

The good news for City is that the Magpies' attacking options are looking a little threadbare at the moment. Shola Ameobi is suffering from a niggling groin injury, Craig Bellamy has hamstring trouble and the Welsh whippet's usual replacement Kieron Dyer is sidelined. Micheal Bridges, who has only one start and no goals this season, could get his second start.

The Toon injury plague has spread into virtually every other area of Sir Bobby Robson's side. The sometimes ponderous Hugo Viana is expected to continue his bid to break into Portugal's Euro 2004 squad with another stint in the centre of the Newcastle midfield.

The Barcelos-born, 22-year-old has been desperate for first team football to impress new Portugal boss 'Big Phil' Scolari. His domestic disappointment landed him in hot water earlier this season, when Robson refused to allow him to return to Sporting Lisbon on loan in January.

Recently, Viana came off the bench in the 0-0 draw at Aston Villa, started the UEFA Cup semi-final with Marseille and the 2-1 victory over Chelsea. Injuries have now handed him the chance to continue his claims for a regular place after returning from international duty.

Newcastle and England centre-back Jonathan Woodgate is out for the rest of the season and with Andy O'Brien facing a two-match ban, teenage defender Steven Taylor will fill in after signing a three-year contract earlier this week.

Despite their numerous injury problems Newcastle still managed to put an end to Chelsea's title challenge on Sunday - a result that put themselves into pole-position for a fourth placed finish and a Champions League qualifying spot.

Robson's side have a game in hand on their nearest rivals Liverpool, and a win against Manchester City would put them firmly in the driving seat ahead of the two sides' clash on the final day of the season.

Three points on Saturday would allow Newcastle to have enough breathing space to focus on their UEFA Cup semi-final second leg against Marseille on Thursday. City will be hoping that they have at least on eye on it already.