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Premier League

Gym work pays dividends for rejuvenated Manchester City striker Stefan Jovetic

After a difficult first season in the Premier League, he has become the main man at the Etihad

At the club that has better strikers than any other in the Premier League, Stevan Jovetic finds himself pre-eminent, and the Montenegrin said after his two goals against Liverpool on Monday he is repaying the debt to Manchester City for their faith last season.

The 24-year-old was the subject of interest from across Europe after a difficult first season with the Premier League champions. He struggled with hamstring injuries while Alvaro Negredo’s star was in the ascendant and by the end of the season had just 13 league appearances and three league goals to his name. On the back of a strong pre-season and Sergio Aguero’s tentative return to fitness, Jovetic has become the main man.

His two against Liverpool followed a strong performance against Newcastle, and is a far cry from last season when he scored his first league goals in January. “Last year was very, very difficult but that is past and I don’t even think about that,” Jovetic said. “I just concentrate on the future, and the next game, and hope I can continue like this.”

It was Manuel Pellegrini who said that it never crossed his mind to sell the player. Jovetic said: “It is most important when the staff, the coach and the president are satisfied with you. When they believe in you, it is very important, and my way of saying thank you is to play well.”

He added: “The second goal [against Liverpool] was perfection. I played it to [David] Silva, then with Samir [Nasri] and continued, before finishing with my left foot, which is nice. The first goal was also nice. I celebrated with [Aleksandar] Kolarov because he is my very good friend. When I came here he helped me a lot, and we are always together, along with Edin [Dzeko] and Matija [Nastasic]. Kolarov wasn’t on the pitch, so I went to the bench.”

Jovetic says that he has worked in the gym on strengthening his hamstrings, which has made him more durable for the demands of the Premier League. Once the season is in full flow and Aguero is back at full speed it will be hard to keep the Argentine out of the side, but this is a City squad built on the principle of two top players for every position and there will be no shortage of games.

Jovetic was just 19 when he scored twice against Liverpool for Fiorentina in the Champions League in 2009. He scored two more against Bayern Munich the following March and is another of those City players who will be under pressure to deliver in the competition this season.

Pellegrini has managed Jovetic through the difficult times and now sees a player capable of helping City fulfil their ambitions. “He [Jovetic] is a very good player – that’s why we bought him last year [for £22m from Fiorentina],” the City manager said. “He was very unlucky last season, but now it is Alvaro Negredo who has been unlucky.

“This is why we have four strikers, as we play so many games. If you don’t have four, it can be difficult to score goals. I am glad for Stevan because he had a very difficult year, but I have always trusted him. A lot of teams wanted him this year, but we have always said no, he must stay here.”

No Lucas loan: Brazilian’s Napoli deal scuppered

Lucas Leiva’s agonising wait to leave Liverpool for the promise of regular football goes on, with the club’s determination to sell him causing Napoli to give up all hope of a loan deal.

The midfielder did not make the bench for Liverpool’s match at Manchester City on Monday, after starting the opening game against Southampton. The prospect of a reunion with his former manager Rafael Benitez at Napoli appeared to be behind an enigmatic tweet he posted last month, depicting light at the end of a tunnel.

But Napoli’s hopes of taking Lucas on loan have been dashed. They had been optimistic, despite the Brazilian’s feeling there are mixed messages as to whether he has a part to play at Anfield, but only a straight sale is of interest to Liverpool. Benitez signed Lucas from Gremio in 2007 but the Southampton game was only his sixth start in the calendar year.

The players manager Brendan Rodgers is willing to release on loan are the promising 18-year-old winger Jordan Ibe, who is destined for Derby, and the defender Sebastian Coates, who is set for Sunderland.

Lucas’ lack of playing time led to his omission from Brazil’s World Cup squad and he feels he has stagnated. He accepts that Steven Gerrard’s transition into a deep-lying midfielder has left him redundant at the club.

Ian Herbert