Manchester City are ready to stake their claim

The Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong believes consistency is the key to winning the title in an increasingly unpredictable league.

Nigel de Jong, centre, says that Manchester City have more quality in their squad than last year. 

Clint Hughes / Getty Images
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When fourth meets sixth at Eastlands today, it is to a backdrop of unprecedented unpredictability. It is one that Nigel de Jong believes offers an opportunity for a new winner of the Premier League.

It might not be Bolton Wanderers, the overachievers who take on Manchester City, but the Holland midfielder, 26, feels that his own club and Tottenham Hotspur could be the new forces to disrupt the league's ancien régime.

Within the space of a few hours last Saturday, the division was led by the three clubs who have won the past 15 titles - Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. But De Jong feels all three could be overhauled by their ambitious challengers.

The mantra of Roberto Mancini, the City manager, is that fourth place is the target. De Jong concurs, but thinks the inability of any one team to string together a run of wins provides a chance for anyone who can prove consistent.

"You can see all the top teams are dropping points - we are, as well - so that means everything is open," he said. "It's not about the 'Big Four' any more. Tottenham are coming, we are coming, so it's exciting. Everybody has a good chance to win it this year."

Bolton, a club who deposed City from the top four for 24 hours two weeks ago, are symbols of the new era, surpassing expectations and, as they showed in defeating Tottenham and holding United, troubling more fancied teams.

City had their own difficulties against their near-neighbours 12 months ago. One of last season's most damaging and eventful draws came at the Reebok Stadium in the last days of Mark Hughes's reign, when City were held 3-3. On their own patch, De Jong said, a repeat will not be countenanced.

"It's a must-win game," he said. "You have to win these kinds of games to keep the pressure on the teams above."

Twelve months on, the difference, he believes, lies in the personnel at Mancini's disposal.

"We have much more quality than we had last year," De Jong said. After three league games without a goal at Eastlands, their fans would appreciate a reminder.

Recalls are at hand for David Silva, Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez, and Mario Balotelli seems ready for his first Premier League start at Eastlands. The promising Italian scored two goals in the midweek Europa League game against Red Bull Salzburg, taking his tally to five goals in the four games he has begun since his summer switch from Inter Milan. De Jong is impressed.

"He gets us a lot of strength in front and also as well a lot of goals," he said. "He's been here for two, two-and-a-half months and he is adapting himself very well in English culture and English football. No doubt he is one of the biggest talents in the world. I think he is going to be an important figure for us."

The American midfielder Stuart Holden is a doubt for Bolton, who know victory would take them above City. These are certainly changing times.

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