Premier League

Hargreaves could face Aston Villa

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MANCHESTER

Midfielder Owen Hargreaves could feature for Manchester City as boss Roberto Mancini examines the depth of his squad for Saturday's visit of Aston Villa.

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City face a testing eight days with this weekend's Barclays Premier League clash against Aston Villa followed by a crucial Champions League game at home to Villarreal and then the Manchester derby.

With several players only returning from international duty on Thursday, Mancini is concerned about fatigue and expects others to step forward.

Hargreaves, bidding to resurrect his career after three injury-ravaged years at Manchester United, is therefore in contention having worked further on his fitness since a goalscoring debut in last month's Carling Cup defeat of Birmingham.

Mancini said: "We don't have any players injured but we have four or five players very tired. For Aston Villa we will put off some players that are more tired, they will probably stay at home.

"It is important to have a team of players who are ready to fight in every moment."

He added: "Hargreaves is ready to play. Maybe not one (full) game but he is ready."

Hargreaves, 30, who was released by United last summer, played 57 minutes in what was his first competitive match for 10 months against Birmingham.

Striker Sergio Aguero will not be risked by Mancini despite making a good recovery from the groin injury suffered against Blackburn on his last outing.

Fellow forward Mario Balotelli has overcome a back problem and is set to play while controversial forward Carlos Tevez is highly unlikely to feature as disciplinary proceedings continue.

Mancini added: "It is important at the moment to have all the players because we play every three days for one month until the next international break.

"It is also very important to have all the players because I can change every game."

City are joint top of the table after a flying start to the season but Villa will travel to the Etihad Stadium with their own unbeaten record to protect.

Alex McLeish's side trail City by eight points but have proved difficult to beat and Mancini feels the players he selects will have to be on top form.

He said: "It will be very hard. They are good team, they have not lost any games.

"It is important we finish the game with a victory but it will be very hard and we need to play very well.

"I think Alex is a good manager. He knows the Barclays Premier League very well and he has more experience."

Mancini at least has no fears over the form of Spaniard David Villa, who continued his fine start to the campaign with two goals against Scotland in midweek.

He said: "I think he is one of the best players in the world - and for him it is difficult to play all the games.

"I think he has improved a lot in the last year."

Mancini is wary of the threat posed by a number of Villa players, not least former City duo Shay Given and Stephen Ireland.

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Given joined Villa in the summer after losing his place to Joe Hart during a frustrating final season at City.

Ireland left on bad terms just over a year ago as part of the deal which took James Milner in the opposite direction.

When asked during his pre-match press conference whether the pair would have a point to make, Mancini said: "Sure, I think that.

"It is normal, they come to Manchester again and want to do a good job.

"I think Shay will want to have a good game, he is a good keeper.

"(Darren) Bent is a good player, (Gabriel) Agbonlahor is a good player, (Charles) N'Zogbia is a good player, Ireland is playing very well... (Stiliyan) Petrov.

"They are a good team. They have improved from last year.

"They have started the season very well and I think it will be a tough game."

Villa boss McLeish does not expect his side to gain any advantage from the Tevez situation, and pinpointed David Silva as the dangerman.

McLeish knows all about Silva's attacking qualities after seeing him score twice for Spain against Scotland in midweek.

He said: "I don't think the Tevez situation will affect the mindset of the City players. I don't think it would bother the players too much.

"They get on with it because I know in my time as a player that, when managers and players left, the media would say 'it's the end of the world'.

"After about a week or two, after reading all the hype, then you just get on with it.

"As a player you are only really looking after yourself and making sure you are ready and prepared for any game coming up."

McLeish added: "I wouldn't expect Tevez to be in the squad but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it because we know they've got fantastic replacements.

"We know whatever side City put out that they have a very strong team and on paper they should be too strong for most teams in the Premier League.

"We saw that from Silva's performance the other night for Spain and they can even play him up front.

"He is a quality player, he is fantastic, but most of the whole of Spain is fantastic and what a generation of players they have at their disposal.

"He is a great player, has settled in at Manchester City really well after a sticky start.

"I remember Roberto Mancini talking about him, saying it takes foreign players that bit longer to adapt, but you can be sure he has adapted well and he did great for Spain the other night."

McLeish has been impressed with the resurgence this season of striker Gabriel Agbonlahor who has been declared fit to face City after a back problem.

Agbonlahor struggled to show his best form under Gerard Houllier but has netted four goals in seven league games this season.

McLeish said: "I think we gave him the opportunity first and foremost to play.

"Gabby showed some great application from day one at the training ground and that helps and that always counts with me, how hard players work on the training ground.

"I like to see them train the way they play on a Saturday and Gabby right away impressed.

"The other side of it was how best to integrate him with Darren Bent. I am not saying they are the finished article but we have to keep improving and building on it.

"It has been very promising and Gabby was electrifying at times in the Wigan game."

Villa midfielders Stephen Ireland (foot) and Barry Bannan (Achilles) plus defender James Collins (foot) are expected to be available.

But striker Nathan Delfouneso (hamstring) and on-loan Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas (Achilles) are ruled out.

 

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