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Four-goal Faris dreams of AFC Cup final


Mancini demands schedule rethink

Roberto Mancini slammed England's congested fixture schedule, claiming players are not "machines" and should not be treated as such.

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As a relative newcomer to these shores, Mancini has reacted with increasing amazement to the demands placed upon England's senior teams. But the Manchester City boss has been left stunned by the scenario which has now unfolded.

Should City draw their FA Cup fifth round tie with Aston Villa on Wednesday, the replay has been scheduled for Monday, March 7, two days after the Blues tackle Wigan in the Premier League at Eastlands and only three before a punishing round trip to Kiev of around 2,800 miles for the Europa League first leg tie with Dynamo.

Either side of this, City must face Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday and then either Everton or Reading in the FA Cup quarter-finals if Villa are successfully disposed of. It is fixture congestion the likes of which Mancini has never encountered before. And the Italian does not believe it is fair.

"In my life I have never seen that a team arrives in February and March and has to play every two days,'' he said. "This is a big problem, not only for us but for all the teams. Something should change because this is impossible for all English players. At every World Cup and European Championships, there is a problem for England because all their players are tired. We should have more respect for them. They are not machines.''

Mancini's words will get a nod of agreement from Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, who have both attacked the schedule in the past. Fabio Capello has recognised it too, although he appears to think it is futile attempting any change due to the competing interests of different governing bodies. Mancini's problems are more acute before of the injuries that have swept through his squad. Already, six senior players are sidelined and they could be joined by Vincent Kompany, who limped out of last night's Europa League win over Aris Salonika with a hip injury.

"At the moment, it is difficult to get performances from my team every three days because I only have 15 players,'' he said. "Usually when I have 18 or 19, I can change six or seven players and keep them all fresh. At this moment, it is impossible because I can only change three or four. I don't know if these matches will eventually catch up with us. We can only use the gaps in between to recover, which we will have to do for every game until we play against Chelsea on March 20.''

For City at least, that Stamford Bridge trip will bring blessed relief, although most of their players will be required for international duty. By then, Mancini will know whether his side are getting ready to push for honours or scrambling to avoid the campaign turning into a massive let-down. Certainly he can expect no favours this weekend from a Fulham side coached by former City boss Mark Hughes, who will be making his first return to Eastlands since his dismissal 14 months ago.

Unlike City's tired players, the Cottagers have only been in action twice over the past three weeks, one of which was a battling draw with Chelsea when Fulham were denied maximum points by Clint Dempsey's injury-time penalty miss. Bobby Zamora is doubtful after going over on his ankle in training, although Mancini is wary of taking anything for granted this weekend even though City have already hammered the Londoners at Craven Cottage.

"Our performance at Fulham was one of the best of the season,'' he said. "I hope we can play like we did that day but I feel Sunday will be a different game because they have got better as the season has gone on.''


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