Our injury crisis may not be as bad as some are fearing. Obviously Santa Cruz and Michael ‘couple of weeks away’ Johnson are out, along with Vincent Kompany. Of the rest, Given, Toure, Bellamy, Tevez and Adebayor could all be fit enough to play.
The midfield has looked strongest in pre-season with De Jong alongside Barry and Ireland playing in front. For a tricky away game, this would provide a solid platform even if it allows for only one striker. Bellamy is probably fittest despite being AWOL for Wales and could well be the man if Adebayor has a problem with his groin.
If Adebayor is fit, then he may get his first competitive start, with his extra height being useful in defending Blackburn’s set pieces.Ã‚Â Robinho and Wright-Phillips could play the flanks, though Petrov and Tevez could both make an appearance from the bench.
If Tevez has been flying in training, Hughes could spring a surprise, which may mean a place on the bench for Wright-Phillips.
With Toure likely to be fit, he could be partnered by Dunne with the Irishman’s strength in the air getting him the nod over Onuoha. The fear is Dunne having to play on the left side of central defence.
I have reservations about Toure’s lack of inches, making his selection a bit of a gamble for this game, but I think Hughes will want to play his new signing. Personally I’d go for Dunne and Onuoha against an Allardyce team with Onuoha taking the left hand side.
With the aerial threat of Blackburn, Richards could get the nod ahead of Zabaleta despite an excellent performance by the Argentinian against Celtic.
“We are just looking forward to the first game of the season,”
“That is the challenge for everyone. We are really chomping at the bit. We are six weeks or so into our pre-season and we just want to get on with it.”
“For us it’s about trying to spoil their party, being that they think that they can come to a place like Blackburn Rovers and beat us comfortably with that kind of spending.
“We’re certainly going to go all out to make sure that’s not the case.”
“It’s important we do our best and kick lumps out of them Ã¢â‚¬â€œ fairly, of course.”
To say this match and this season are hotly anticipated seems an understatement with every man and his dog currently expressing an opinion. With that in mind, I’ve spared the punditry and focused on the possible team. Here’s just a few of the views from elsewhere:
BBC City assessment
Manchester Evening News preview
Manchester Evening News – Hughes views
Teamtalk – Sam Allardyce
Rather than Hughes sticking the words of David Dunn on our dressing room door for motivation, maybe he should put them on the referee’s. It’s up to the officials to make sure any foul play is properly punished and we can get on with playing football. That’s what wins respect for the men in black.
Given, Richards, Toure, Dunne, Bridge, De Jong, Barry, Ireland, Robinho, Wright-Phillips, Bellamy.
Subs: Taylor, Zabaleta, Adebayor, Petrov, Tevez, Onuoha, Ben Haim.
Prediction: We’ve only won once at Ewood Park in the Premier League, and that was inÃ‚Â 2003 (cracking winner by Anelka incidentally), so let’s go for a 3-1 win!
Saturday 8 August, 3.00pm
City round off their pre-season fixtures with the Eastlands tradition of a prestige home fixture. Celtic are this season’s visitors and it promises to be an entertaining game with the Scots doubtless in jubilant mood following their Champions League heroics on Wednesday.
Expect to see them singing the praises of none other than Georgios Samaras, and it’s been a while since anyone did that at Eastlands! The opposing fans should also give a warmer reception to Shay Given and Craig Bellamy than we heard on Wednesday night.
Following today’s Champions League draw pitting his side against Arsenal, Tony Mowbray will probably appreciate the chance to give his side a run out against Premier League opposition, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Celtic in fairly relaxed mode following their midweek exertions.
Hughes on playing Celtic:
“It will be another good test for us.
“Celtic’s confidence will be on a high because they had a fantatic win in midweek. Our game at Rangers was at a better level than we had before, and that is what you want. You need a gradual increase in the intensity.”
For City supporters it’s a last chance to see how the team is coming together, with the possibility of Carlos Tevez making an appearance. Given his lack of training I doubt it will be more than a substitute’s role, but it would still give everyone a boost to see the Argentine in a City shirt.
We could certainly do with a lift after what was a thoroughly disappointing defensive display at Ibrox. There’s been much talk of us attempting to crack the top four this season, but after the shambles on Wednesday night, it’s hard to see us challenging Aresnal or even Villa and Everton.
Hughes spoke afterwards about focusing on the defending in training, but with many of the players disappearing for internationals next week, things need to be in place for the Celtic game. I hope it all comes together, but frankly I have doubts about Hughes’ defensive methods. The players don’t look comfortable and the opposition seem able to create chances to easily.
Of course the real test is next week at Blackburn, but if things don’t improve by then, the pressure on Hughes could soon become unbearable. He’s been allowed a free reign to bring in the players he wanted and set the team up as he liked, but with this comes a higher level of expectation. Excuses that it takes time for new players to gel will only pass muster for a short time in a season where Sheikh Mansour’s millions have given City fans every reason to be optimistic.
Prediction: City 3 Celtic 1.
Wednesday 5 August, 7.45pm
City take on Rangers tonight in the first half of a double header against the Old Firm clubs.
Given the ongoing injuries to Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz, expect to see more of Bellamy and Adebayor trying to forge an understanding, unless Hughes goes for a lone striker set-up.
Gareth Barry looks likely to get a run out after recovering from a minor knock and Kolo Toure should get another opportunity to familiarise himself with his new teammates.
Bellamy and Shay Given are the Blues with Celtic connections who can expect a “warm” reception. Both the Glaswegian giants are known for showing a competitive edge in friendlies, particularly against English opposition, even if Rangers didn’t cover themselves with to much glory in the Emirates Cup last weekend.
Arsenal put three past them and it will be interesting to see if we’re able to do something similar. For all the talk of pre season being about building up fitness, it would be nice to see Hughes’ team bang in a few goals and look the part of top four challengers.
Hughes on tonights game:
“We are looking to step up our preparation now. People have tried to read significance into our results so far because of the focus on us, but those games were more about fitness in the grand scheme of things.
“The players are at different levels because some were still playing internationals in June. You have to be conscious of that. Some will have the majority of the game and others will play a part.
“Don’t imagine that playing the Scots means any less to a Welshman than an Englishman! That old Celtic rivalry comes into it. You look at their stadium and their fans, it’s a great place to play and perfect preparation.”
A convincing result would give everyone that little bit more confidence as we try and shake off the memories of last season’s away form.
Saturday 1 August, 3.00pm
Barnsley v City
Our first pre season fixture on English soil will sadly not be seeing the debuts of Carlos Tevez or Roque Santa Cruz as they continue to be nursed back to fitness. Micah Richards has recovered from swine flu and is said to be raring to go. It remains to be seen whether Kolo Toure will be joining him at the back.
Personally I wouldn’t be surprised to see our latest capture from Arsenal make an appearance as he was fit enough to player for the Gunners at the start of the week. Like the rest of us, Hughes is looking for an improvement on the South African games as the players improve their fitness:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We hope to raise the intensity a little at Barnsley but we still have different players at different fitness levels so we have to be mindful of that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What we have nowÃ‚Â are three good games in a week Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Rangers and Celtic follow Barnsley- and what we intend to do is spread the workload so that everyone will get up to speed.
There’s little point in speculating on the line-up for this fixture as the players will clearly be rotated to give everyone a run out. However I will be hoping to get a first live glimpse of Adebayor and Barry wearing City shirts. We know results aren’t important in these fixtures but it would still be reassuring to see a victory with a few goals, particularly after the Vodacom Challenge.
There will be cash turnstiles at Oakwell for anyone without a ticket.
Official Barnsley site: http://www.barnsleyfc.co.uk/
Barnsley Football Club