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Milan friendly victory can lift Man City spirits

SoccerNews in English Premier League, Serie A 8 Aug 2008

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Manchester City boss Mark Hughes will be looking to put speculation about the club's future behind him with a confidence-boosting friendly victory over AC Milan this weekend.

City's pre-season preparations have been overshadowed by owner Thaksin Shinawatra's continuing battle against corruption charges in Thailand and his admission that he will welcome new investors into the club.

Thaksin's ongoing difficulties – his wife was imprisoned for three years last week and his assets remain frozen – have cast doubt over Hughes' transfer kitty, and raised questions about the owner's future plans.

Having brought in two players since succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson in June, the manager will almost certainly be forced to revise the plans he first formulated when he arrived from Blackburn Rovers.

Brazilian striker Jo and former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim are the new additions, although Jo's absence on Olympics duty means the line-up that faces Milan this weekend will be largely unchanged from last season.

But Hughes knows he needs more new faces if his side is to improve on last season's ninth place finish – although a good result against the Italians will lift the squad after a difficult week.

Eriksson's side faltered in the latter stages last year due to insufficient strength in depth to compensate when the likes of Elano and Martin Petrov, outstanding during the opening few months of the campaign, dipped in form.

But, worryingly, the signs suddenly point to the fact that the new manager could be forced to offload players like Vedran Corluka – linked with a seven million pound (nine million euros) move to Tottenham Hotspur – before he can bring in his main targets such as Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz.

Corluka featured in City's midweek, 1-1 draw with Glasgow Celtic when Hughes attempted to distance himself from suggestions the Croatia international is set to leave the club.

“There has been interest shown but he played well and I am pleased with him,” Hughes said. “There will always be speculation surrounding good players like him.”

Hughes has focused his efforts on improving the fitness levels of his squad ahead of an arduous start that includes four games in eight days at the end of August.

And if any inferences can be drawn from his selection against Celtic, the manager appears to be more willing to place his faith in youngsters such as Ched Evans and Daniel Sturridge ahead of last season's expensive disappointments Felipe Caicedo and Nery Castillo.

A clearer picture will emerge against Milan when the manager takes charge of his first game at the City of Manchester Stadium but after a worrying week, Hughes' side could do with timely shot in the arm.

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