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An inconveniently timed must-win

21 October 2010

We’ve already seen City crash out of one cup competition because it happened to come both in the middle of a crucial stretch of league matches and in the midst of an outbreak of injuries at the club. The squad is much healthier nowadays, but the timing of tonight’s Europa League group game against Lech Poznań threatens to derail another trophy quest, with the massive showdown with Arsenal looming less than 72 hours later.

Following the disappointing dropping of points at home against Juventus in the last Europa League match, City can’t afford to slip up again at home. The problem is that Roberto Mancini really needs to rest some of his players for the weekend.

Most of the talk going into this one has centered on Carlos Tévez, an obvious candidate for a night off, having started 11 of City’s 13 total matches this season. However, Gareth Barry isn’t far behind with 10 starts and one substitute appearance for the club, while Nigel de Jong has started 10 matches as well.

Mancini has been talking up Emmanuel Adebayor for some time now, and it would seem this is the perfect opportunity for the Togolese to step up in Tévez’s place while the skipper gets a well deserved rest. Yet yesteday, the manager backtracked on his earlier plans to sit Tévez, indicating a runout could be in store tonight. While his workrate is phenomenal and his energy seemingly inexhaustible, this just seems foolish and unnecessary to me. Leave him on the bench and only call on him if you find yourself needing a goal or two late.

With Patrick Vieira available and de Jong coming off one of his worst performances in a City shirt with his timid, largely invisible showing at Bloomfield Road, The Lawnmower should stay in the shed tonight. Unfortunately for Barry, there’s no real alternative on the left side of the midfield to fill his box-to-box shoes with Michael Johnson still not available, so he’s likely to start yet again. The good news is that Yaya Touré is expected to start after losing a fitness race this past weekend.

In the defense, Kolo Touré and Aleksandar Kolarov are unavailable again, while Jérôme Boateng limped off against Blackpool, meaning we’re likely to see Pablo Zabaleta plugged in at left back, since Wayne Bridge played all 90 minutes in his return from injury four days ago. Here’s the team sheet tonight if I were managing:

This being a workday, I’ll be watching at home on DirecTV’s awesome Europa League package. This should be three points to put City in a great position to win the group, but as anyone who saw Lech Poznań’s performance at Juventus can tell you, there’s some decent quality in the side. Hopefully Mancini gets away with resting some key guys for Arsenal while picking up the win.

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