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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Man City run out of defenders for Chelsea visit

Big-spending Manchester City have run out of fit defenders ahead of the visit of free-scoring Chelsea on Saturday, with Roberto Mancini admitting he is having "big problems" putting a back four together.

• West Brom 2-1 Manchester City

City's talent-heavy squad has caused problems for Mancini when impatient players complained publicly when not selected, but now he faces the strange scenario of not having enough depth to cope with an injury crisis in his defensive stocks.

Mancini only has three fit defenders - Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure - available for Saturday's key fixture, although Micah Richards could recover from a hamstring injury in time to take his place at right back. If not, Zabaleta will move to his preferred right hand side and a midfielder will be pressed into emergency action on the left, with Gareth Barry, James Milner and Adam Johnson among the most likely options.

"We have big problems,'' Mancini said. "I hope that Micah Richards can recover. If not I don't know who can play left-back.''

Mancini admitted the injury crisis had made for a particularly weak team selection for Wednesday's surprise 2-1 loss at West Brom in the Carling Cup as he looked to protect his first team players for the Premier League showdown at Eastlands. Having taking a first-half lead through Jo, City were undone by two goals in as many minutes from Gianni Zuiverloon and Simon Cox.

"We couldn't take any risks,'' he said. "If I had more players available it would be a different team. But when you play like us and Chelsea, on Saturday at 12.45, the time to recover is very short. They would need minimum three days so to play tonight would have been dangerous.''

It is to be hoped owner Sheikh Mansour understands the dilemma. After spending £1billion on City in just over two years, he was presumably hoping for an early end to the club's lengthy trophy drought. That now cannot happen until May at the earliest, although Mancini has no regrets.

"I don't regret making the changes,'' he said. "Saturday is more important, the FA Cup is more important. The Europa League is more important. I did not regard this as a necessary sacrifice. We wanted to win. That is why I had four senior players on the bench. But I knew there was a chance we could lose because we started with six young players. I am happy with these guys. We might have lost the game but they can improve. If they do not play tonight, when will they ever play?''

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