28 August 2014 21:35
Manuel Pellegrini may shuffle his pack against Stoke City as Manchester City look to maintain their 100 per cent Premier League record.
City manager Pellegrini has seen a number of his stars make light of their late return to training from World Cup duty, with an opening 2-0 win at Newcastle United and a more eye-catching 3-1 triumph over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Monday comprising a flawless start to the club’s title defence.
Pellegrini’s well-stocked squad has largely been held in reserve over the opening two matches, with Pablo Zabaleta’s inclusion at Aleksandar Kolarov’s expense the only alteration for Liverpool’s visit.
But with Sergio Aguero twice coming off the bench to score, Fernandinho, James Milner and Jesus Navas awaiting their first league starts of the campaign and close-season recruits Eliaquim Mangala, Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard yet to make their City debuts, there is plenty of room for manoeuvre against a Stoke outfit who are yet to claim a point in east Manchester since their top-flight return in 2008.
In fact, Stoke are still waiting to score a first Premier League goal at City.
And Pellegrini appears keen to share the first-team action around, with a hectic period awaiting on the other side of September’s international break when the UEFA Champions League begins.
“We need the whole squad,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
“During the first three weeks we play one game during the week but, after the players come back from the international break, we have to play seven games in 20 days.
“So it’s very important to take advantage in every day that we work from now until they come back against Arsenal. It’s also important to see if some players will have minutes against Stoke.”
Alvaro Negredo remains City’s only injury absentee with a broken foot, but fellow strikers Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic provide enviable options.
Following an injury-plagued first season in the Premier League, Jovetic enjoyed something of a breakthrough display for City as he netted a goal in each half against Liverpool, and Pellegrini is confident the Montenegro international will be a worthy partner to any of his big hitters as the season progresses.
He said: “At the moment Jovetic is playing with Dzeko as Negredo is injured and Kun [Aguero] is not 100 per cent, but a player like Jovetic can play with anyone as he’s a top player.”
Stoke opened their campaign with a lacklustre home loss to Aston Villa and could only manage a 1-1 draw at Hull City last Sunday, despite playing the majority of the match against 10 men.
Mark Hughes’ team enjoyed a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Portsmouth in the League Cup on Wednesday, with Peter Crouch heading home a 90th-minute cross from Jon Walters after his fellow forward netted a double.
Chelsea loanee Victor Moses also impressed on his debut, giving former City boss Hughes a welcome headache of his own in attack.
“He is in my thoughts for the game on Saturday,” said the Stoke manager of Moses. “He was excellent [against Portsmouth] and he showed why we have brought him into the club.
“He is very strong and powerful, and is able to retain possession in good areas of the pitch. Because of his lack of action we decided to bring him off after 65 minutes.”
Moses’ emergence is a particular plus for Hughes as Bojan Krkic (rib) is an injury doubt alongside Phil Bardsley (knee), with the former Sunderland defender having missed training on Thursday.
United States international Geoff Cameron is out for two weeks with a muscular strain.