Manuel Pellegrini will ponder a full array of attacking options as Manchester City seek to get their Premier League title bid back on track against struggling Sunderland on Saturday.
Pellegrini has often bemoaned a steady stream of injury problems to the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero as City have struggled for consistency since winning their first five matches of the campaign.
The Spain playmaker and Argentina striker are now back in contention, Aguero having made his return to action from the start of Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Arsenal.
This creates issues of a different kind for Pellegrini, who brushed off complaints from Wilfried Bony that he should have been named in the first XI at Emirates Stadium instead of Aguero.
“Sergio was ready to play [at Arsenal]. He needs minutes,” Pellegrini told a pre-match news conference.
“For three or four games he will not play the 90 minutes. He must be working but he was ready to play.
“I think that every player that doesn’t play is always disappointed. But I am sure that Bony and all the players respect my decision.
“I talk always with all the players about different situations.”
There is encouraging news in terms of City’s increasingly ragged defence for Pellegrini, with captain Vincent Kompany and right-back Pablo Zabaleta available once more following respective calf and knee lay-offs.
Kompany’s season has been plagued by fitness problems but City are unbeaten in the eight Premier League matches started by their skipper, winning six and conceding a solitary goal.
Without him they have lost five of nine to lie six points shy of surprise table-toppers Leicester City, who entertain Pellegrini’s men on Tuesday.
Before then, Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce hopes to place another sizable dent in their title ambitions, although he is not enjoying the same festive fortune as his opposite number on the injury front.
Lee Cattermole is doubtful due to a back problem, while fellow midfielders Sebastian Larsson and Jack Rodwell are unavailable due to a knee complaint and suspension respectively.
“At the moment we have Lee Cattermole still doubtful and Seb Larsson is definitely out,” said Allardyce.
“Younes Kaboul has got a hamstring injury from last Saturday’s game and will probably be out for a number of weeks, so that is a big disappointment.”
Sunderland lie second bottom and five points from safety heading into the match following their 3-1 reverse at Chelsea last time out.
The Wearsiders recorded four successive 1-0 victories at the Stadium of Light against City from August 2010 to November 2013 but they have not beaten the same opponents on the road during the Premier League era.
Key Opta stats:
– Manchester City have lost only one of their last eight Premier League fixtures on Boxing Day (W6 D1) and that was against Sunderland in 2012.
– Former City winger Adam Johnson has scored in his past two Premier League appearances on Boxing Day, against Hull in 2014 and City in 2012.
– If City concede a goal in this game it will mark their longest run without a clean sheet at home in league competition (eight games) since October 1991 (13 games).
– Sunderland have lost their last three Premier League games – they have not lost four in a row since bringing up five consecutive defeats in April 2014.
– The second-bottom club have allowed the most shots on target against them (106) and conceded the most goals (33) in the Premier League this term.