It has been a summer of spending the likes of which Mark Hughes and Manchester City will never experience again, but the tension ahead of tomorrow's Premier League curtain-raiser at Blackburn built up yesterday following injuries to Emmanuel Adebayor and Shay Given.
Adebayor reported back from Togo's 2-0 midweek defeat to Angola with a groin strain, compounding what has been a frustrating past month for Hughes where his four new goalscoring acquisitions are concerned. Roque Santa Cruz, having recuperated from surgery on his right knee, will visit a consultant on Monday after developing what is understood to be tendinitis in his left. Carlos Tevez has had just 25 minutes of pre-season football after exacerbating a bruised heel by falling in a hotel shower on tour with the club, and Craig Bellamy has been able to take part in only two light training sessions before yesterday as a result of his own knee problems.A strained groin meant Given sat out the Republic of Ireland's 3-0 defeat to Australia on Wednesday.
Hughes is hopeful that both Bellamy and Tevez will be fit for this weekend and while there was no word from the City camp last night about the availability either of Adebayor or Given for the trip to Blackburn, the noises emanating from Hughes' old club yesterday suggested that Ewood Park tomorrow afternoon will not be a place for the faint-hearted.
The Blackburn midfielder David Dunn, who is hopeful of shaking off a thigh injury of his own, said his side will be determined not to respect any reputations which City bring into the game. "The main thing is we will have to be really aggressive against them and knock them about a bit," Dunn said. "It is important we do our best and kick lumps out of them, fairly of course. That is what the manager will be asking from our lads. We have to make Ewood Park again a place no one wants to come to. If we do that, we have good players, and we know we can play football."
Hughes, who is maintaining his push to bring Joleon Lescott to Eastlands in the teeth of the Everton manager David Moyes' opposition, acknowledged only yesterday that there was a certain schadenfreude where City are concerned and that some in the game wanted to see the big- spending club fail. "There's a lot of interest in us and a lot of people want us to succeed and just as many that want us to fail," Hughes said. "We have to live with that and deal with that and it's about making sure that we're the best prepared team in the Premier League – that's what we strive to be. Maybe people have a negative slant on what we're trying to do and sometimes they have the loudest voices."
Though some doubts have developed at City about the value of going back to Everton with a third £22m bid for Lescott, Hughes suggested that City were still seeking conversations at boardroom level, despite the message from the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, to City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, seven days ago that the Merseyside club would not sell. Portsmouth's Sylvain Distin seems the most likely alternative signing and there has been informal communication with a player whom City would hope to convince to move.
Only relegated West Bromwich Albion had a worse away record than City last season and Ewood Park, where Hughes' side snatched a 2-2 draw last Christmas, is precisely the kind of place they need to demonstrate that they do not just perform at home. Hughes is adamant that the greater Premier League experience in his squad will pay off.
"In the vast majority of games last year, when we looked at how many games the team had played in the Premier League as a total, we were way behind [the opposition]," he said. "We had a young and inexperienced side at times and a side with guys that had come from different countries and hadn't played a great deal in this country. We had to address that and we've been able to do that."
Another of the problems facing the City manager yesterday was the willingness of his Bulgarian midfielder Martin Petrov to stay, having suggested to his compatriots on international duty in Latvia that "polishing the bench" was not for him.
Petrov is hardly of the sunniest disposition and Hughes is hoping that this is one of the many instances of overseas quotes being misinterpreted. "Until I've had a chance to speak to him, I don't know," Hughes said. "Martin has got a role to play here. We're not looking to sell him and that will be translated to Martin."
It is of little surprise that Hughes just wants to end the talking and get on with the task in hand. "Everybody's really champing at the bit," he said. "We're six weeks into our pre-season now and we just want to get on with it and start the big kick-off."
Singing the Blues: Injury list
*Manchester City supporters face starting the season at Blackburn tomorrow without the chance to watch any of their new £67m strikeforce. What's wrong with each player, and when will they return?
*Roque Santa Cruz
After recovering from repeated surgery on his right knee, the Paraguay international has now developed tendinitis in his left. Manager Mark Hughes remains hopeful of welcoming back the former Blackburn forward by the end of the month.
The Argentine is yet to recover from an ankle injury he aggravated slipping in the shower. He retains hope of being fit for Ewood Park tomorrow, but may have to wait longer for his debut.
The 25-year old striker sustained a slight groin injury while on duty for Togo in Lisbon this week. The former Arsenal frontman could be out for only a few days, and may return to face Barcelona or Wolves next week.
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