It’s turning out to be a rather uneasy international break for Manuel Pellegrini. After Vincent Kompany’s injury scare on Wednesday, Pablo Zabaleta is the latest Blue away on international duty incurring fitness problems, as reported by Paul Handler of the Manchester Evening News. A challenge by Lukas Podolski left Zabaleta limping from the field during Argentina’s thrilling 4-2 win over Germany in a match which saw Sergio Aguero open the scoring.
City will be hoping his withdrawal was just a precaution, but it further underlines the importance of the club’s summer transfer activity. Pellegrini has brought in reinforcements which bolster his squad, meaning he now has two quality options in every position.
Bacary Sagna was recruited to challenge Zabaleta at right-back, a long overdue move after two seasons of overreliance on the Argentinian. Zabaleta has shown in that time he is the best right-back in the Premier League, yet there have been fears of burnout after being asked to play too much. Sagna is seen as the answer to that problem.
Zabaleta only missed 11 league games over the course of the last two seasons. Micah Richards, who left the club on deadline day to join Fiorentina, suffered a series of injuries and never regained form, leaving Zabaleta as the only reliable right-back at the club. That kind of pressure can only be sustained for so long, and Zabaleta himself is likely to be relishing Sagna’s arrival.
Sagna's debut was somewhat underwhelming, though. A 1-0 home defeat to Stoke City was a shock to the system, and after a decent start, the Frenchman failed to get forward with any zeal in the second half. It may take some time for him to adapt to City’s style of play, which under Pellegrini has involved the full-backs pushing very high up the pitch and adding to the attacking side of the game.
Sagna appears happy with his decision to move to City, despite it being more difficult to win a regular place in the starting XI than it was at Arsenal, and he sees City as a club that can “boost” his career. He told reporters (via Sky Sports):
I am 31 and this was the right time for me to leave Arsenal. I wanted to see somewhere new, and to boost my career.
I have left a family club, which I joined when I was very young, and where I have known Arsene Wenger all the time.
There are differences between Manchester and London as cities, regarding the weather, and between the two clubs.
But I am now part of a much deeper squad at City, where it's even harder for me to win a first-team place.
It is fair to say that could pose a risk to my place in the France side. But I'm not taking that into consideration. I feel more powerful than ever.
It is what I was looking for. I needed it in order to go the extra mile.
Meanwhile, City had a host of other players involved in international friendlies on Wednesday evening. Joe Hart, whose place in the City first XI came under more scrutiny after his poor attempt at saving Mame Biram Diouf’s winner for Stoke at the weekend, kept a clean sheet for England in their 1-0 win over Norway.
After the arrival of Willy Caballero in the summer, Hart knows his performance level must be high if he is to remain as City’s No. 1. His form last season improved drastically after he was dropped early in the season for a series of costly errors, and a clean sheet for his country will have done much to wipe away some of the negativity he felt after his showing against Stoke.
James Milner was a second-half substitute for England and nearly scored late on. Martin Demichelis was also a part of Argentina's win over Germany, and Edin Dzeko is likely to start for Bosnia on Thursday in their match with Liechtenstein. David Silva and Eliaquim Mangala could be involved for Spain and France, respectively, when the two sides meet Thursday evening.