Wayne Bridge completed only 20 minutes of Manchester City's training session yesterday before limping off, this on the day his manager Roberto Mancini expressed his frustration at the full-back's inability to finish matches without breaking down.
Mancini, whose side could qualify for the Europa League group stage by beating Salzburg tonight, said he could not be blamed for failing to give Bridge more playing time – three starts all season – when the defender kept pulling up injured. "It's very difficult if a player is always injured, it's very difficult that he can play," Mancini said.
"He started to play again in the first game in Salzburg and after 70 minutes he was injured. He played against Blackpool and got injured. He played in Poznan and after 70 minutes he got injured. It's impossible that he can play. Every time he was available he played."
Bridge actually played all of the Blackpool fixture but Mancini had made his point. "It depends on him as he's always injured and he can't finish," the manager said. "If he's available he's part of this group. He's been unlucky. It's a physical problem: always hamstring or groin."
City will next month accept offers for Bridge, who returned to training four days ago having recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in Poznan. The impediment to a move may be the 30-year-old's unwillingness to take the likely cut in pay from around £90,000 a week which would come with a move, though City would gladly have that figure removed from their own pay-roll.
Bridge, one of Mark Hughes' first acquisitions nearly two years ago, arrived at City with a hamstring problem and though Hughes felt that the defender would add greater solidity and mobility to the left flank, his struggles for consistency became symptomatic of the club's defensive troubles under Mancini's predecessor.
After a particularly poor performance in a 3-3 home draw with Burnley shortly before Hughes was sacked, the manager was forced to make a strong defence of the £12m acquisition against claims from the Match of the Day pundits that Bridge's match mark was "minus six". Now, with Aleksandr Kolarov back from injury and looking like one of City's best summer acquisitions, the future for Bridge seems bleak.
Despite the improved away form that has consolidated City's league position, tonight brings them back to Eastlands for the first time since they were booed off after the goalless draw with Birmingham City last month. Mancini urged fans to get behind the side. "Supporters are supporters. When we win they are happy, when we lose they aren't. This is normal. We try and work, improve and win for them always."
He hopes Emmanuel Adebayor, who had a problem in training on Saturday, will be fit, though Yaya Touré is not available after suffering a migraine; he may be fit to face Bolton on Saturday. A win against Group A's bottom side will send City into the knockout stages if Juventus only manage a draw.
Manchester City (possible, 4-4-1-1): Given; Richards, Zabaleta, Lescott, Boyata; Milner, Vieira, De Jong, A Johnson; Silva; Adebayor.
Salzburg (possible, 4-4-2) Tremmel; Mendes da Silva, Afolabi, Schiemer, Sekagya; Pokrivac, Svento, Cziommer, Leitgeb; Zarate, Wallner.
Results so far Juventus 3 Lech Poznan 3; Salzburg 0 Manchester City 2; Lech Poznan 2 Salzburg 0; Manchester City 1 Juventus 1; Manchester City 3 Lech Poznan 1; Salzburg 1 Juventus 1; Lech Poznan 3 Manchester City 1; Juventus 0 Salzburg 0.
Remaining fixtures Tonight: Lech Poznan v Juventus; Manchester City v Red Bull Salzburg. 16 Dec Juventus v Manchester City; Red Bull Salzburg v Lech Poznan