MANCHESTER, England, March 14 (Reuters) - Striker Carlos Tevez could feature for Manchester City for the first time since September in next week's Premier League match at home to Chelsea, manager Roberto Mancini said on Wednesday.
The return of the Argentine, whose public fall-out with the title contenders culminated in disciplinary action for an unauthorised three-month absence, would come as City seek to regain top spot after being deposed by Manchester United.
Tevez has been training since returning from Argentina last month and has played in two reserve games, scoring in one, and is close to a comeback after he and the club have sought to put behind them his refusal to warm up during a Champions League match in September.
Asked if Tevez could be available for next Wednesday's league game against fifth-placed Chelsea, Mancini told a news conference: "We will see in the next week. It depends on Carlo.
"If Carlo is OK then probably but it depends on a lot of things."
Bringing Tevez back into the team in front of his own fans will be a real test of whether supporters who burned shirts with his name on are prepared to forgive him and back him in his bid to help City to a first league title since 1968.
While the performances of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli ensured City barely missed their former captain for many months while they set the pace in the Premier League, his return would inject something new for the run-in.
Having lost 1-0 at Swansea City last weekend to allow United to leapfrog them at the summit, Manchester City could use a player whose work rate and goal-scoring prowess has never been in doubt even if his loyalty to the club has.
Tevez is ineligible for Thursday's Europa League last 16 second leg at home to Sporting, when City will be seeking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg in Portugal, as he was not among the players the club registered for the competition.
Another player who might not be available is midfielder Gareth Barry who has been struggling with a back injury and could be rested with the Chelsea game in mind.
"Gareth has had a problem with his back for 20 days. He can't run well," Mancini said. "Probably he needs another two or three days' rest. These players are not like robots, they need to rest."
By the time City entertain Chelsea they could be trailing United by four points, with Alex Ferguson's side heading to relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend. Mancini's men have 66 points from 28 games, with United on 67. (Reporting by Sonia Oxley; Editing by Justin Palmer)