After five consecutive league draws, Manchester City travel to Anfield on Saturday to take on a Liverpool side that will likely include Captain Steven Gerrard.
The Citizens will be without winger Martin Petrov, who suffered a knee injury while on international duty with Bulgaria, but could be boosted by the return of Brazilian attacker Robinho. The former Real Madrid star has been missing since September with an ankle injury, but has an outside chance of featuring this weekend. Shay Given, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge returned from international duty without trouble, and so Petrov is City’s only new injury concern. In the absence of Petrov and possibly Robinho too, Craig Bellamy will line up on the left of City’s attack against one of his former teams.
City’s beleaguered defence will be grateful Fernando Torres is not yet available for Rafa Benitez, but the Liverpool Echo reports both Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera could make instant returns after responding well to treatment on the hamstring injuries they received in Liverpool’s last game against Birmingham. Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson are also expected to be involved after regaining fitness, while David N’Gog, who broke his nose playing for France U-21’s, will also be included in Liverpool’s squad. After a shaky display against Burnley, both Lescott and Bridge will be hoping for an easier time against N’Gog and company but as Liverpool also fight to get their push into the Champions League places back on track, the England internationals, together with Kolo Toure and Pablo Zabaleta, will have to be alert against a Liverpool team with something to prove.
Goalkeeper Given had the most strenuous international week of City’s players as his Republic of Ireland team were harshly eliminated from the World Cup play-offs by France, thanks to a handball from Thierry Henry that led to a goal from William Gallas. Given, who this week declared he could stay at City for the rest of his career, became Ireland’s joint record caps holder in the second leg against Les Bleus. Together with Kevin Kilbane, the former Newcastle No. 1 reached the 102 cap mark to go level with former Ireland manager Steve Staunton in the record books. But after Ireland’s disappointment, Given will have to focus on domestic football for the foreseeable future.
The gossip surrounding Robinho’s possible departure from Manchester was leant credence by an unlikely source this week, as the Brazilian’s teammate Roque Santa Cruz told a Spanish radio station the diminutive forward often talks of moving to Barcelona. Speaking to Catalunya Radio, Santa Cruz said: “Of course he talks to us about it. In the English papers there’s a lot of interest about Barca and Robinho is not hiding his desire to play for them one day.” City have continually denied their flagship signing will be leaving when the transfer window opens, but a player of Robinho’s quality who would also be eligible for Barcelona’s Champions League campaign does not come along often and as talk of Robinho’s discontent in England grows, Pep Guardiola may tempt The Blues with a chance to cash in on their player.
Should the rumours linking Robinho to Barcelona come to fruition, Mark Hughes may already have a replacement lined up. Benfica’s Argentine midfielder Angel Di Maria has reportedly interested both Manchester clubs as well as Chelsea. The Eastlands side are said by The Guardian to be ready to offer the Portuguese giants £27m for Di Maria’s services. Both the player and his club have denied there will be movement in January, but should Chelsea follow up their interest in Di Maria before their transfer ban is enforced, the City manager could trump the Londoners with a higher offer.
City used the international break to travel to Abu Dhabi for a friendly against the United Arab Emirates national team, a fixture which saw the winners awarded the Emirates Foundation Cup, but a 1-0 defeat saw Hughes’ men return to Manchester empty-handed. With many of their first team regulars scattered around the globe on international duty, City fielded a team containing many fringe players and youth and reserve team names. Only Zabaleta, Benjani, Stephen Ireland, Stuart Taylor and Nedum Onuoha would have been recognised by most onlookers, and their presence was not enough to overcome a well-drilled UAE side. The decisive goal came from the penalty spot after Taylor brought down UAE Captain Saeed Al Kas in the eighth minute. Mohamed Al Shehhi converted the resulting spot kick. City would surely accept their defeat in Abu Dhabi in return for three points at Anfield on Saturday.