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Injuries mount ahead of crunch fixture

24 September 2010

Joleon Lescott is one of a number of prominent City players bitten by the recent injury bug at the club.

Having already dropped seven points — five of which were of the unexpected variety — City find their Premier League title hopes on life support already. On the strength of some impressive showings in some very easy fixtures, Chelsea have sprinted away from the pack, opening up an early four-point lead on their nearest challengers, and look to be leave sputtering City in their wake. A victory over the title favorites tomorrow is really the only chance City have of re-igniting their chances of contending for the top spot.

And the timing for such a critical showdown couldn’t be worse for the home side, whose once-deep squad has been decimated by injuries that already scuppered their Carling Cup hopes. I said earlier this week that a win over Chelsea is the only thing that will lessen the sting of that cup disappointment, and now that’s looking less and less likely.

Roberto Mancini made headlines today with his admission that Chelsea “are probably going to win the Premier League title easily.” He’s not saying anything different from what only the most deluded United and Arsenal fans, but this is being considered the equivalent of raising the white flag at Eastlands.

If you’re looking to find out what’s going on in Mancini’s brain, a much more telling look inside the mentality of the Italian boss can be found in Martin Samuel’s extensive interview in the Daily Mail. It was done prior to City crashing out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday, but it’s still very relevant ahead of tomorrow’s match. His comments there make today’s rosy predictions of a Chelsea cakewalk look like mindgames:

At the moment, Chelsea are the best team, but they must play Champions League every week and it could be difficult come February; it depends on us to be there when that happens.

Seeing his opportunity, former City conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen launched a public attack this week on Mancini’s training methods, blaming them for the rash of injuries. The club bluntly pointed out that “Mr Verheijen appears to have become a regular critic of Roberto Mancini’s training methods, perhaps not entirely coincidentally since his consultancy services at Manchester City were terminated by the club several months ago.”

Verheijen cited Craig Bellamy as a victim of Mancini’s overaggressive training regimen, but statements by Cardiff City boss Dave Jones today appear to place the responsibility more on Bellamy himself than on the City coaching staff for the Welshman’s current knee problems. It certainly does look like bitter words from a disgruntled former employee.

In terms of actual injuries, here’s the City medical report:

Micah Richards (hamstring)
Wayne Bridge (thigh)
Aleksandar Kolarov (ankle)
Shaun Wright-Phillips (knee)
Mario Balotelli (knee)

Late fitness tests
Joleon Lescott (hamstring)
Jérôme Boateng (knee)
Emmanuel Adebayor (leg)

This leaves Mancini with relatively few options. Adam Johnson doesn’t figure to start after playing all 90 minutes of the mid-week cup tie, so expect to see David Silva and James Milner out there supporting Carlos Tévez and surprise inclusion Adebayor in the attack. Gareth Barry may be asked to play left back with Bridge and Kolarov unavailable, Lescott unable to play 90 minutes, and Pablo Zabaleta needed at right back. Here’s what I think the City teamsheet will look like tomorrow morning:

I think both sides will find the back of the net tomorrow. Chelsea haven’t been quite the same machine in their more respectable fixtures this season (2-0 v. Stoke, 3-1 at West Ham) as they’ve been in their other three cupcake fixtures. They should find it much tougher to score against a City defense that has yielded only the idiotic Richards penalty at Sunderland and the joke Blackburn goal resulting from Joe Hart’s miscommunication.

Given all the injuries in the squad right now and Chelsea’s impressive early form, I would say that a point would be a fine result. Unforutnately, City’s recent slip-ups make this a match they really have to win to have any realistic chance of being in the title conversation this season as hoped. And I’m just not sure they’re at the point as a team where they can pull up something like that. I’d like to be pleasantly surprised tomorrow.

I’ll be watching Ian Darke’s debut calling Premier League matches for ESPN Stateside at The Banshee. The result aside, we had an enjoyable time watching the Blackburn match two weeks ago there, and I’m hoping it catches on as a place where Boston area Blues go watch City matches. We’ve scheduled an MCFC Boston viewing for tomorrow, and hopefully the early start doesn’t keep too many people away.

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