Belfast Telegraph

Zabaleta hungry as crunch time looms

By Robert Jones

Pablo Zabaleta has acknowledged the second half of the season is when Manchester City have to up their game.

Although their 100 per cent home record remains intact after nine matches it was given a severe examination by Liverpool in a 2-1 win on Boxing Day.

That moved City into second place in the Premier League, just a point behind Arsenal, and with struggling Crystal Palace visiting today there is a chance for them to go top ahead of the Gunners' encounter at Newcastle tomorrow.

"It was a massive win. We played against a very strong side in Liverpool and it was important to get three points and keep winning our home games. I think we did a good job," said Zabaleta.

"We have to push even more now. We know December and January is one of the key points for the big teams to make a difference because we play many games and you need to try to keep winning.

"At the moment we are doing well, are one point behind the leaders and that is why Crystal Palace is also a key game.

"We are comfortable, we feel good and have huge confidence."

City will look to use their dominance at home to overpower Palace. Nine straight wins means the Etihad is formidable place for opposition teams to go, but boss Manuel Pellegrini is conscious they need to avoid complacency.

The Chilean is not happy his side have to play so soon after the Liverpool match and his players unusually underwent a recovery session immediately after the game before all being taken back to the team hotel.

"All the other teams at the top of the table apart from us and Manchester United play 72 hours after," said Pellegrini. "These days we play so closely the rest of the teams must be the same, although not a winter break, no."

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