Carlos Tevez was dropped for Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Sunday because the striker had lost "his condition" during the international break, Roberto Mancini has revealed. Tevez had returned to his native Argentina for a rest as he was not selected in the national squad.
Mancini's decision is the first hint of any discord between the manager and Tevez since the striker apologised in February for refusing to warm-up for a Champions League match at Bayern Munich a year ago. That caused Tevez to miss six months of the season before he returned to help City win the title.
Part of the reason for Tevez's discontent in Bavaria was due to him not being selected by Mancini. The Italian played him for all of Tuesday's League Cup defeat to Aston Villa, perhaps in an attempt to regain his full fitness. How Tevez will react if he does not start at Fulham on Saturday is unknown.
The Italian would not be drawn regarding whether Tevez will be in his XI at Craven Cottage. "Probably, but we have four [strikers]. We play tomorrow, Wednesday [in Champions League] and Saturday," City's manager said.
Tevez started this season the fittest he has been since entering English football six years ago, with goals in City's opening three games. But after resting in his homeland and returning to start at Stoke City and Real Madrid, he was a 68th-minute replacement at the Etihad Stadium against Arsenal.
Asked why the 28-year-old was dropped Mancini seemed to suggest that this was because Tevez was tired after flying home and playing in Argentina's two internationals. "Carlos was better in the first month. Now after the international break, he slow down," he said. "This is normal because he works hard in pre-season, did well. After the international break, his condition was so-so."
When it was put to Mancini that Tevez could not be tired from continual playing as he was not in Argentina's squad, Mancini clarified that his fitness waned when resting during the break. "[This is] because he works well for one month in pre-season. He was fantastic for three or four games he played always. After he went to Argentina maybe for one week he lose his condition."
Although City are unbeaten in the league they stand four points behind the leaders, Chelsea, but Mancini is bullish about their chances of retaining the championship. "We will win the title. It is more difficult second year," he said.
Pressed why he believed the side would improve, Mancini added: "We have injuries in this month. We play two difficult games away against Liverpool and Stoke [each drawn] so we need only to win two or three games in a row. I am sure we have a big chance to win the second title."
City have conceded 14 goals in all competitions, with Mancini appearing to doubt the central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany that had been his first choice last season.
For the high profile games at Liverpool and Real Madrid Lescott was dropped but Mancini said: "This was because they come back from the national team [ahead of Liverpool] and [we] work with 10 players that week. Against Real Madrid because I thought it was better to play a different shape. Joleon Lescott is a player like [Matija] Nastasic, like Kompany."
Pressed if Lescott is still Mancini's first choice, alongside Kompany, he said: "If they deserve to play, it is the first choice. It is the same for everyone, not just Joleon."
Samir Nasri should return at Craven Cottage after making a quicker than expected recovery from the hamstring injury he suffered against Madrid 10 days ago. "Samir is OK," said Mancini before offering an update on his other injured players. "Jack [Rodwell] is injured, he had a problem in the warm-up and he is not available for tomorrow. Micah [Richards] is in training but he is not available. Maicon [is also out with a foot problem]."
Following the defeat by Villa Mancini accused Paul Lambert, the visiting manager, and other managers of lacking the courage to challenge decisions at Old Trafford but not with him after the Scot had a touchline row with the Italian during the Capital One Cup tie.
But Mancini refused to answer any questions on this. "It is not important. I talk enough after the game," he said.
Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov is injured so will not face City.
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image: © Alfonso Jiménez