Roberto Mancini defends Manchester City's sleepless FA Cup preparation

Roberto Mancini defends Manchester City's sleepless FA Cup preparationRoberto Mancini has defended his decision to fly Manchester City's squad back from Ukraine immediately after their Europa League defeat at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday night.

City's charter plane touched down at Manchester airport just before 5am on Friday containing a group of extremely tired players who must prepare for an FA Cup quarter-final at home to Reading on Sunday.

Even so City's manager never contemplated spending Thursday night in a Kiev hotel before returning fully rested. "If we had left on Friday we would have lost another day," he said. "Usually after a game the players don't go to sleep, so we felt it was better to get them back and try to get them right for Sunday.

"The FA Cup is really important to us. It's a really big chance for us to get to Wembley. It's a really difficult tie, though, because Reading have shown what they are capable of by beating Everton.

"One of the difficulties we have at the moment is that we are playing every three days. I hope we can recover in time for Sunday afternoon."

With City trophyless for 35 years and aiming to make their first FA Cup semi-final appearance for 30 years, Mancini knows he could do without being added to Reading's scalps at the start of a potentially season-defining week for his club.

"The FA Cup is totally different and offers us a big chance," he said. "We know how long it's been since the last semi-final so this would be good for us, good for the club and the fans.

"It's a big week coming up in all three competitions. The Europa League [second leg at Eastlands on Thursday] is going to be hard for us but we still have a chance. The next few days will be important."

Nigel de Jong did not disagree. "Reading's a big game," said the Dutchman, lately restored to fitness. "In a way it's good to have another game so soon after Dynamo Kiev because the disappointment we are feeling now can be forgotten and we can give ourselves a huge boost. You could say our defeat in Kiev makes Reading even bigger.

"We can't focus too much on the club being without a trophy for 35 years. We have to think about only the game and not the things which surround it. The fans obviously really want to win a trophy. So do we. We know all about the history of this club so we know how long it's been. We are often reminded about it. Everyone knows what's at stake."

Mario Balotelli has been cleared by City's doctors to feature against Reading after being withdrawn in the second half at Dynamo because of a violent allergic reaction to the type of grass used on the pitch, which caused his face to swell up.

The striker trained with the rest of the squad on Friday after being given tablets to combat an itchy rash. Balotelli has suffered occasionally from the problem in the past.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Louise Taylor, for guardian.co.uk on Saturday 12th March 2011 00.09 Europe/London

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