Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is ready to tweak his line-up and tactics once more when the Premier League title-chasers travel to Sunderland.
City return to league action on the back of a week in which they secured a League Cup final berth and progressed to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
Pellegrini used his vast squad to fine effect in those matches, turning around an aggregate deficit against Everton with second-half changes at the Etihad Stadium that saw him field an attacking quintet of David Silva, Jesus Navas, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero during the decisive period of the match.
De Bruyne scored one and made another for Aguero against Everton, but is now on the sidelines having suffered medial knee ligament damage.
Even in the absence of the Belgium international, Silva, Aguero and Yaya Toure rested up as City took Aston Villa apart 4-0 in round four of the FA Cup on Saturday – teenage striker Kelechi Iheanacho netting a hat-trick.
Pellegrini could opt to pair Iheanacho and Aguero together at the Stadium of Light, although the 19-year-old Nigeria international led the line alone at Villa Park ahead of a packed midfield.
City found themselves in the unusual position of having the smaller share of possession in the Villa rout and Pellegrini is keen to make changes that preserve his squad in their chase for honours in the month that Champions League action returns to the agenda.
“I’m very happy with the performance of the team [at Villa] because we made some important changes,” Pellegrini said.
“We’re playing so many important games that I think we needed to rotate the squad.
“It’s very important to have different ways to play. We can’t press high every game because we have so many games it’s impossible.
“We did very well in midfield with [Fabian] Delph, Fernandinho and Fernando.”
That trio is likely to be broken up by Toure’s return, while Pellegrini still has issues to address on the injury front in the form of captain Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov, Wilfried Bony (all calf) and Eliaquim Mangala (hamstring).
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce could hand debuts to new recruits Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri in defence and midfield respectively.
Having arrived from Ligue 1 sides Lorient and Bordeaux, the pair are relishing taking on City, who sit three points behind leaders Leicester City.
Khazri told Sunderland’s official website: “We now have three very important games. In France when you play Paris it is a big game and in England when you play City, Liverpool or United it is the same so I’m very excited.”
Kone added: “I respect Manchester City, however I’m not worried. I just hope to play and show the Sunderland fans what I can do.”
Sunderland are second bottom of the Premier League and four points from safety, although Allardyce has led them to two wins and a draw from their past four league outings.
City have two 4-1 victories over Sunderland in the League Cup and Premier League this season and triumphed by the same margin at the Stadium of light in last term’s corresponding fixture – a result that ended four consecutive 1-0 losses on Wearside.
Key Opta stats:
– Sunderland have won five Premier League home matches against Manchester City. They only have a more prolific record against Stoke City (six).
– Manchester City have scored a league-high 11 goals from outside the box in the Premier League this season.
– Sunderland’s former Manchester City winger Adam Johnson has three Premier League assists in 2016, more than any other player.
– Sergio Aguero has scored 11 goals in his last nine Premier League appearances, including four in the past two outings.
– City and Sunderland have made the joint-most changes to their starting XIs over the course of this Premier League season (60).
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