Manchester City go in to Sunday’s match with Cardiff City suffering a defensive crisis after injuries to Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards ruled them out for the trip to Wales. Kompany suffered a groin injury against Newcastle and is expected to be out for at least three weeks, whilst a hamstring strain will keep Richards out of action for another week.
Matija Nastasic is back in full training after four weeks out with an ankle injury and could play; otherwise City will probably use Javi Garcia in an unfamiliar position alongside Joleon Lescott. Lescott and Garcia finished Monday night’s win but were rarely tested by an insipid Newcastle attack.
Seeing how City cope without Kompany will be an interesting test of Pellegrini’s new-look side. The Belgian is City’s leader on the pitch and their best defender, and they’ve historically struggled without him in the team. His dominant performance against Newcastle suggested he was ready to have a big influence on City’s season but he’ll now miss the trip to Cardiff and the match against Hull.
In his Friday press conference, Manuel Pellegrini said of Kompany’s injury (via The Guardian):
I prefer the doctor to say the last word, but I think at least one month. Nastasic is working normally with the squad and we will see if he starts (against Cardiff on Sunday).
A back four of Zabaleta, Nastasic, Lescott and Clichy seems likely, but if the Serbian is thought not to be fit enough to start Garcia is likely to replace him.
After such a dominant display against Newcastle in their first match, City will be looking to continue their new high-tempo attacking game against Cardiff. Pellegrini is known for setting his sides up to attack and Monday’s 4-0 win offered clear evidence of that. The Chilean wants to see City’s “aggressive” style continue (via The Independent):
I think we played in the way I want my team to play. It is an aggressive team.
During the game we were scoring goals and not playing depending on whether we were winning or losing. We tried to play 90-minute football. I am sure the players are enjoying this way and we will try to continue.
It was just one match but it is very important to continue this way and at the end of the season we will see who has won the title.
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay has spoken of his admiration for City’s squad but insists his side aren’t daunted by the prospect of playing City. He told the Premier League's website:
They're a top, top side. There's a task ahead of us and you can see how quickly they got in their stride with the new manager [on] Monday. I wouldn't say it's daunting, but they've got one of the best squads in the country. We've got to make sure we're competitive.
Craig Bellamy looks set to start against his old club and always provides a serious threat to any side. Matching City’s intensity will be vital if Cardiff want to get something from the game and few players can set the tempo quite like Bellamy. He’s quick and tenacious and will be keen to play well against his former side.
Cardiff have a fully fit squad to choose from.
Cardiff City: Lewis, Marshall, Moore, Brayford, Caulker, Connolly, Hudson, Lappin, McNaughton, Taylor, Turner, Conway, Cowie, Gunnarsson, Kim, Kiss, Medel, Mutch, Noone, Whittingham, Bellamy, Campbell, Cornelius, Gestede, Mason, Maynard, Smith, Velikonja.
Manchester City: Hart, Pantilimon, Wright, Boyata, Clichy, Kolarov, Lescott, Nastasic, Richards, Zabaleta, Barry, Garcia, Fernandinho, Milner, Nasri, Navas, Razak, Rodwell, Silva, Toure, Aguero, Dzeko, Guidetti, Jovetic, Negredo.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity