Manuel Pellegrini believes Manchester City have regained the consistency and solidity needed to win the Premier League after drawing 0-0 at Leicester City.
Vincent Kompany returned from injury as a substitute on Boxing Day but soon limped off again and faces another three to four weeks out due to a fresh problem with the same calf.
With Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala yet to keep a clean sheet prior to Tuesday, some City fans may have feared the worst facing the league’s joint-highest scorers without their captain.
However, the expensive and often criticised central defensive pairing produced an accomplished display at the King Power Stadium, keeping Leicester’s top scorer Jamie Vardy quiet for much of the game, while the Foxes’ other danger man Riyad Mahrez was also reduced to a bit-part role.
Pellegrini refuted claims his side had played for a draw, though.
He said: “I think we are returning to a very solid and consistent team, which is important.
“One of the good things about tonight is that we kept a clean sheet after many games without. But I am not happy because we came here to try to win the game.
“We went for the three points and I think that we had more possession than Leicester and more attempts and did more things to win the game.
“But of course if you can’t win then it is very important you don’t lose and we were a very solid and consistent team defending against a very difficult team like Leicester who have players in a very good moment and that always scores goals.
“I am not happy but not disappointed also because I think we played well, but we couldn’t score.”
The result leaves the Citizens third in the table, three points behind leaders Arsenal and second-placed Leicester.
Pellegrini’s side remain without an away win in six league outings since a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on September 12, but he expects City to challenge for the title.
He said: “I said when we lost to Arsenal that we prove a lot. We lost that game so it is very difficult when you don’t win to say good things, but we are in a very good position.
“We are going to be involved to the end in the fight for the league. We are in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup and through in the Champions League so I don’t think it is important to split it into home and away. We are very strong at home.
“I don’t think in December you can say who will be in the frame to win the title. At the end of January after six or seven more games maybe we can see more which teams will be involved.”