Injuries exacting toll on City defence

Posted by David Mooney

Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty ImagesAn injury forced Stevan Jovetic to depart Manchester City's Capital One Cup match versus Newcastle after just 10 minutes.

On Wednesday evening, Manchester City fans had both their Halloween tricks and treats. The treat was eventual safe passage into the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup, while the trick was having to sit through the whole chuffing game. There clearly was a knack to doing it, because a lot of viewers might have been tempted by the National Paint Drying Championships on the other side.

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It was a bit dull; there should be a medal for those who made the midweek trip and stayed awake to the end.

That said, the opportunity for some fringe players to show off what they can do was the real nub of the matter. With a performance about as interesting as the Annual Air Conditioning Conference in Hemel Hempstead, the argument could be made that very few of them impressed. However, Manuel Pellegrini will have been pleased with the solidity of some of the performances.

We have to start with a negative, though. Following fleeting appearances in a blue shirt earlier in the season -- and one display against England at Wembley -- Stevan Jovetic was given the chance to stake a claim for a first team place. But City appear to have bought one of the unluckiest footballers on the planet (perhaps only behind Valeri Bojinov), as he departed again crocked, just as the clock ticked into double figures.

For the club's final away game in the run of four road trips, Pellegrini shuffled his back-four deck once again, this time looking at a couple of options who haven't really had a look-in this campaign. Micah Richards is only just back from injury and has been competing with 2012-13 player of the season Pablo Zabaleta for his position, while Joleon Lescott has slipped down the pecking order. Let's also not forget Dedryck Boyata, who has been available throughout the Blues' centre-back crisis but hasn't been selected.

In fact, in terms of the Premier League, the Belgian hasn't really had much of an opportunity at City since May 2011 -- playing only a couple of games at the end of that season, with a red card against Arsenal in October 2010 still heavy in the memory. He was sent off after just three minutes for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity -- making a challenge largely out of inexperience.

After that, Roberto Mancini never seemed to properly trust the defender, while Pellegrini has opted against bringing him in to plug a gap in the backline when both first-teamers and backups were injured.

Richards, it has to be said, will struggle to regain his right-back berth if the performances of Zabaleta continue as they did last season. The Englishman hasn't done much wrong when he's been in the team, it's just that the Argentine has been largely excellent since this time last year. There were suggestions he might ease the centre-back issues, but it's never been a position he's excelled at -- though some might say the same for Javi Garcia.

On the other hand, Lescott appears to be fighting for his life at the club. He began the season with three consecutive starts -- against Newcastle, Cardiff and Hull -- and helping the Blues to two clean sheets (even if the second was a little less comfortable than the first). But in the two months since that Hull game, the centre-back has notched up just three more games.

There was always the feeling that Mancini had lost faith in Lescott following the back-header that Djibril Cisse capitalised on in that QPR game. The feeling that there was always a mistake in him seemed to seep around the Etihad, while the emergence of new signing Matija Nastasic appeared to push him down the rankings -- though the two pretty much shared that left centre-back role in 2012-13.

Chopping and changing might be one of City's biggest defensive problems, with 11 different starting combinations so far this season in the 14 games that have been played. Only three games have involved a back four that had previously started together earlier this season.

The Blues have been under the microscope defensively recently and perhaps the best way for Pellegrini to cut out the errors is to have a settled selection. The problem is, as one defender returns to fitness, another one has to make a detour to the treatment room.

So news of Kompany's injury setback is most definitely not welcome.


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