City star Aguero could return for Stoke clash
MANCHESTER - Agence France-Presse
Sergio Aguero. REUTERS photoSergio Aguero could give Manchester City a fitness boost before their trip to Stoke on Saturday as the Premier League champions prepare for a testing week.
After the potentially tricky clash with Tony Pulis's obdurate team, Roberto Mancini's side face a daunting Champions League showdown with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday.
With two contrasting, yet equally demanding, away games coming up, City boss Roberto Mancini could do with having Argentina striker Aguero, who injured his knee during the opening weekend win over Southampton, available for selection.
He looks certain to start in one or other of the games and there could also be roles for four of the new players signed in transfer deadline week - defenders Maicon and Matija Nastasic, midfielder Javi Garcia and winger Scott Sinclair.
"They're different challenges," said City assistant coach David Platt of his team's next two games. "I think we will see the benefit of having the size and quality of squad we've got because we will be playing every three days right up until Christmas.
"That's when, strategically, you've got to pick the right teams both physically and tactically.
"The balance of the squad is good in terms of the alternatives that we've got. I think we've got more strength in depth than we did have.
"We've got a lot of players to choose from. I think the manager is delighted with the way things have gone." England midfielder Gareth Barry remains City's one high-profile absentee after a hernia operation and his injury has been cited as a reason for the team's poor defensive start to the new campaign, with the Mancini's men having leaked seven goals in their opening four games.
But Platt believes that City's busy end to the transfer window means his squad is now far better equipped to cope with injuries to key personnel.
"You look at it now whichever 11 you pick is strong," he said. "We've got different characteristics that have come in.
"Javi Garcia is a very tactical midfield player who can sit there if we want to play with a three, bolster things there, release Yaya Toure further up the pitch.
"The characteristics of Scott Sinclair will give us another alternative as well, somebody who hugs the touchline, who looks to get in behind people, a little bit of pace.
"The first few games we've been a little disappointed. That's the by-product of doing so well last season and being league champions, that you're disappointed when you concede goals and you're not going on and winning as convincingly perhaps as we would like to." Meanwhile, Michael Owen believes he is fit enough to make his Stoke debut against City despite not starting a competitive game since last November.
The former England striker made just four appearances for Manchester United last season after being dogged by a thigh injury.
But he is ready for action after signing for Stoke last week, despite not having a pre-season as he was released by United at the end of last term.
"Fitness-wise, they've told me I'm up with the lads here, but the one thing I feel is lacking a little bit is my touch because I've not trained with a squad of players for three months," Owen said.
"That will improve over next couple of weeks as I train with team and hopefully then I'll be in top form.
"I don't know what the manager has got in store for me on Saturday. I feel as if I'm fit enough to take part in a game although I'm not quite 100 per cent.
"I hope I can stay fit for the majority of my time here. If that's the case, it's a win-win for everyone."