Vincent Kompany is a major doubt to face Aston Villa on Monday evening due to the recurring calf injury that has ruled the Manchester City captain out for more than a month.
This is the third problem with the muscle Kompany has suffered over the past year and after the recurrence in the first half of City's 1-0 win at Stoke City in an FA Cup fourth-round tie on 26 January, and David Platt, the assistant manager, admitted there is concern at the club regarding the injury.
Roberto Mancini said on Friday: "Vinnie is getting better. We hope we can recover him for the next game. We try for Aston Villa for Monday but it is difficult because he did not train with the team, he trained with the physio."
The Italian believes the FA Cup quarter-final with Barnsley on Sunday week is a more realistic target for Kompany's return. "We hope for the FA Cup," Mancini said. "The calf is a difficult injury because you think you are OK and then you have a problem – the calf is a strange injury."
Gareth Barry, who has not played because of a foot problem since the 3-1 loss at Southampton on 9 February, will return. "He will be OK for Monday," the manager said. "He trained with the team the last two days."
City will again trail Manchester United by 15 points by the time they face Villa if Sir Alex Ferguson's side beat Norwich City on Saturday at Old Trafford. "It will be a difficult game," said Mancini, who is wary of Paul Lambert's team as they are above the drop zone only on goal difference. "They play for relegation and will be strong. Aston Villa is in a difficult situation. Maybe they have young players and this is the reason they fight relegation. Probably they don't deserve to stay there.
"For us, it will be important. If we don't beat Aston Villa, it is like we didn't do nothing against Chelsea and for this reason it is important to beat Villa and, after, to continue to go. The season is not finished. It is impossible we can think it is finished now. [There are] 11 games to the finish. It is our job to play all the games 100% and try to win."
Asked if City's attempt at retaining the title will definitely be over if they do not beat Villa, Mancini said: "Every game will be like this. If we don't win and [United] continue to win, always. When you are 12 points behind it is normal that if you don't lose or don't win and Manchester United win the next game it will be difficult. We should try to win always. It doesn't change our ways: 11 games to play, 33 points, everything is possible.
"Last time we won the title with six games to go, eight points [behind]. When we have another 11 games it is impossible [to give up]. We should do our best from now to the end and after we will see what happens."
There were signs in City's 2-0 defeat of Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday that his team was finally returning to the form that won the championship.
"I am very pleased. We played a really good game and it was important for us to beat Chelsea," said Mancini. "I don't know if it was the best performance. We played other good games – but we played really well."