Newcastle vs. Manchester City: Key Selection Decisions for Manuel Pellegrini

Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 10, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The climax to last season is now a distant memory. Last May, Manchester City managed to overtake Liverpool at the death to secure their second league title in three years, capping a wonderful first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini.

But that means nothing this weekend when the defence of their title begins away at Newcastle.

The last time City won the league, under Roberto Mancini in 2012, the summer spending spree that followed was haphazard poor, leading to a weak title defence. This time around, things look completely different. City have strengthened their squad in key areas and look stronger than last season.

With that kind of strength in depth, though, comes difficult decisions for the manager.

The biggest selection dilemma facing Manuel Pellegrini is arguably in goal. Joe Hart finally has some competition in the form of new signing Willy Caballero, a player Pellegrini knows well from their time together at Malaga.

Hart, you would expect, is in pole position, given he was City’s No. 1 for the majority of the last campaign, performing excellently in the closing months after a six-week absence across November and December.

KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 23: Willy Caballero #13 of Manchester City directs his teammates against the Sporting KC defense on July 23rd at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

He made a series of costly errors early on in Pellegrini's reign, resulting in him being dropped, but credit must go to the England No. 1 for refocusing and improving his form when he was brought back into the side.

However, at Friday’s press conference in Carrington, Pellegrini did reiterate the fact that Caballero has had a much longer and fuller pre-season, which was the reason he started the Community Shield match with Arsenal at Wembley.

He said:

For me it is exactly the same as all the other positions of the team. It is very important for the team to have two good players in every position and then we see every week which player starts every game. We have so many games we need a strong squad.

It's not difficult, it has been very easy for me. Willy Caballero played in the Community Shield because he worked for around 33 days in pre-season and Joe Hart just seven or eight days.

It’s a huge call for Pellegrini, but despite the difficulty in making the choice, it must be a relief to him to finally have the option between two excellent goalkeepers. 

At centre-back, there's a tough decision to make between Matija Nastasic and Martin Demichelis as to who will partner Vincent Kompany.

New signing Eliaquim Mangala needs more time to get fit and ready for the Premier League, so Nastasic or Demichelis will have the chance to show Pellegrini their quality in the meantime.

Demichelis, of course, would be the first choice given his performances in the final months of last season, but his involvement at this summer's World Cup, where he was a finalist with Argentina, has minimised his pre-season.

Nastasic, on the other hand, has had a full pre-season to prepare, playing 195 minutes of the club's US tour and starting in the Community Shield against Arsenal.

On that basis, the Serbian would appear to be favourite to start at Newcastle, except his performance at Wembley was so poor it may mean Demichelis is brought straight back into the side.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 15: Sergio Aguero of Argentina controls the ball against Sead Kolasinac of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana on June 15, 2014 in Ri
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

And then there's Sergio Aguero, a player who, like Demichelis, was involved in the World Cup right up until its conclusion, restricting his pre-season massively. Is it worth risking him, especially when one considers the injury troubles he's had in the last seven months, in the first game of the season?

Stevan Jovetic has been City's best performing player in pre-season, and he, unusually, looks fit and raring to go.

It's possible Pellegrini may opt for him up front alongside Edin Dzeko or he may utilise David Silva in the No. 10 role behind the Bosnian.

City's summer spending spree means they have two quality players for every position. Pellegrini has a job on his hands keeping everyone happy, but they certainly look well-equipped to make a better fist of their title defence than they did in 2012/13.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard.