Manuel Pellegrini’s head would have sunk last night when he saw Pablo Zabaleta pull up, hit the deck and then thump the ground with frustration after suffering a hamstring injury.
The Argentinian defender is one of the most important players for the club and his absence from any up coming Premier League match leaves Manchester City at a disadvantage because they are better with him than without him.
The extent of Zabaleta’s problem is unclear and City will look into the injury, giving him a timeframe on a return today but it’s likely he will miss the vital Premier League game against Liverpool on Boxing Day.
The natural replacement for Zabaleta would have been Micah Richards, with the only problem being that Richards suffered the same injury during the recent impressive win away at Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
It is possible that Pellegrini could switch Aleksandar Kolarov over to the right hand side of the defence against Liverpool, with Gael Clichy playing at left-back or he could ask one of the more experienced central defenders to play out of position.
Javi Garcia is a good example of a defensively minded player who can cover multiple positions in the defence and while it wouldn’t be ideal, the Spaniard could definitely do a job filling in down the right.
Fortunately for Pellegrini and City, the club have a match against Fulham this weekend which will allow them to look at various options, allowing changes if a tactical tweak doesn’t work at Craven Cottage.
The other option for Pellegrini is to take a youngster and throw him in at the deep end, giving that player a chance to impress and nail down the right-back slot while Zabaleta and Richards are both in the treatment room.
Dedryck Boyata is the man who replaced Zabaleta last night and while he’s not that young any more at 23-years-old, he is still relatively inexperienced but his passion and ambition could help the gamble to pay off.
However, Liverpool’s recent win at Tottenham Hotspur sent out a clear message to plenty who have doubted Brendan Rodgers’ side this season and considering this looks like it’s going to be a very tense title race, Pellegrini is more likely to go with the players he trusts.
image: © smabs sputzer