Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez has defended under-pressure Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini ahead of their clash this weekend, describing him as a "great manager".
The two sides meet at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in what is a vital game for both clubs. City are looking to put some pressure on runaway leaders Manchester United, while Chelsea are hoping to consolidate their place in the top four.
Benitez refused to elaborate on how his position has many parallels with Mancini's, only indicating how he hopes to continue his fine run against the champions. Benitez has not lost against City in his last 11 meetings.
"He's a great manager with some experience, so he can do well," Benitez said of Mancini. "I don't talk about other managers. I concentrate on my own job.
"Hopefully we can continue that record. City are a great team. They've improved in the last few years, spent money, have good players, a great manager, and a good atmosphere around the club. It's more difficult to beat them. In the past we were at the top, with a strong mentality and good team, and that's why we maybe beat them. But they don't lose too many points at home now. They are stronger."
City were Benitez's first opponents as Chelsea manager just over three months ago, and the Stamford Bridge boss believes his side have improved and evolved since then.
"Three months is not too much, but the number of games we've played is too much," he said. "It was too early, that game. You want to train with your team and prepare properly, but we didn't have the time. I'd been here two days. It was a game where we didn't have too many chances. Normally, in the rest of the games, we've had more than our opponents. In this one the balance was more difficult.
"If you compare it with this game [on Sunday], we've had a lot of clean sheets and continue scoring goals. We have more balance. In that game we were strong in defence but didn't create too many chances. Now we have more balance. We can still improve, but playing two games a week it's not easy to prepare the team.
"We did tactical work with six or seven players today, young players, so it's not easy preparing every game the way you want to. You can put ideas across in pre-season, normally, but the team are adapting and finding that balance."