15 August 2014 16:26
Manchester City begin their Premier League title defence at Newcastle United on Sunday, although they may be without some key players.
Manuel Pellegrini took to management in England with a minimum of fuss last season, and led City to their second crown in three years, confirmed by a 2-0 win at home to West Ham on the final day.
Having also lifted the League Cup thanks to a 3-1 success over Sunderland at Wembley, the Chilean has set himself a high standard to maintain in his second campaign at the Etihad Stadium.
A number of City’s World Cup stars are struggling for fitness – Sergio Aguero is not expected to feature at St James’ Park with Eliaquim Mangala also yet to get up to full speed following his money-spinning move from Porto.
Despite first-teamers such as Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis also coming into the campaign with little pre-season work under their belts, Pellegrini is remaining cautious.
“We will see tomorrow but not all of them [the players] will be available for Sunday,” he told a media conference.
“Most of them will. Maybe some players need some more days to be 100 per cent but the whole squad is ready to start.
“I am not too happy with our preparations because I think we need more days for the players that arrived late, though it was important for the players to have a good rest after the World Cup.
“Always, this team needs Aguero but it is important for him to make a good pre-season.
“He has had so many months without playing normally so we are trying to make a mix for him: a mix of pre-season training and trying to get him to our level to play for the team.”
City – who hosted Newcastle in their opening match last season – won all three meetings between the two sides during 2013-14, scoring eight goals without reply, while the 2-0 victory in the corresponding fixture in January was overshadowed by Pellegrini being subjected to a volley of expletives from his opposite number Alan Pardew.
Newcastle suffered a dreadful second half of the previous campaign, losing 13 of their final 19 matches, while Pardew courted controversy once more with a seven-match ban for headbutting Hull City’s David Meyler in March.
That dismal run ended Newcastle’s hopes of European qualification as they finished the season in 10th place, and their manager is hoping for a positive start on Sunday.
“We go into it in good spirits with a strong team, and will hopefully give City a better game than we did on the opening day last year,” Pardew said.
Siem de Jong – a new arrival from Ajax – will miss out for the hosts with a calf injury, as will Cheick Tiote.
Papiss Cisse is unavailable with a broken kneecap sustained last term, while Davide Santon and long-term absentee Ryan Taylor (both knee) are also out.
Along with Mangala, City’s only definite absentee will be Alvaro Negredo, who is yet to recover from a broken foot.