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Pablo the pick for Mancini

Pablo Zabaleta

Pablo Zabaleta

Roberto Mancini has paid tribute to unsung hero Pablo Zabaleta as he gears up to try and burst Fulham's bubble after their sensational midweek victory over Juventus.

The versatile Argentinian, who has become a firm crowd favourite since his move from Espanyol, has figured in virtually every match since Mancini arrived at the club in December.

Zabaleta's willing work-rate and tenacious tackling have endeared him to fans, who tease him over his lack of goals since a spectacular winner against Wigan 14 months ago.

Mancini said: "It's great for a manager to have a player like Pablo around. He can play in almost every position - maybe not striker, but I'm sure he would do it if I asked him!

"He has done very well in every position I have asked him to play, but for me he is at his best in midfield. I prefer to play him there, but he has been good at left back, right back or anywhere across the midfield.

"It's also important that if I am making changes during a game, I have players like Pablo can change position when I ask them."

City's manager was at Craven Cottage on Thursday night to see Roy Hodgson's side recover from a 4-1 deficit in their Europa League tie to see off Serie A giants Juventus with a huge effort.

He said: "I want a win on Sunday - we have three very important games coming up next week, it's a crucial time for us and three points would be the best way to start.

"It will be a hard game, but if we are fully committed on Sunday and keep our concentration then we have a very good chance of doing well."

Victory is vital in the bid for fourth place. Zabaleta, who switched roles twice at Sunderland, said: "Just hearing the Champions League anthem is exciting! I've not played in it yet and I want to change that with City."  

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