Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Premier League

Zabaleta leaves sick father to aid City's ailing defence


Pablo Zabaleta has been able to step away from a vigil at his father's bedside and prepare to return to Manchester City to take up what has suddenly become a critical role in the club's attempts to secure their targeted top-four finish in the Premier League.

Zabaleta had been on indefinite leave of absence from City, missing the last two games before the international break, to be in Argentina after his father, 57-year-old Jorge Ruben Zabaleta, was seriously hurt in a car crash in Buenos Aires.

Zabaleta Snr was in a coma after sustaining serious head, neck and chest injuries and was treated in an intensive-care unit at a hospital in the city of Pergamino after his car left a road and ran into a ditch. But yesterday his son – needed as City face up to the absence of right-backs Micah Richards and Jérôme Boateng for much of the run-in – tweeted that Zabaleta Snr was now out of immediate danger.

"Hi everybody. I want to explain you that my father after 18 days is out of intensive care. Great news, thanks for your support," the utility player declared and it seems he will soon be heading back to Britain with girlfriend Christel Castano.

The City manager, Roberto Mancini, badly needed that news, with the club admitting the inevitable yesterday by disclosing that Richards, who sustained a hamstring injury playing for England Under-21s against Denmark last week, will not be fit for the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United on 16 April. Dedryck Boyata is the other possible emergency right-back and there are even suggestions that young central defender Reece Wabara, who can also play at right-back, might be asked to step in.

The two youngsters appear the most likely contenders to appear against Sunderland on Sunday, as Zabaleta is unlikely to be back in time. The City defender Nedum Onuoha, currently at Sunderland on loan, is not permitted to play in the match.

With Carlos Tevez's fitness for the match in some doubt due to a groin strain, Mancini will also make new attempts to focus Mario Balotelli's mind on the task in hand, though he was not delighted to find the Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, had launched a public attack on the striker on Monday, on the basis of a dart-throwing prank which happened a month ago. City were only able to clarify the timeframe later on Monday.