Manuel Pellegrini was perfectly happy to accept that he might grant two of his summer signings a debut at Arsenal on Saturday. The more contentious issue is whether he will give one to a third.
Because, while selecting Frank Lampard, the most decorated player in the Manchester City squad, or Eliaquim Mangala, the most expensive defender in the history of English football, would be intriguing, neither would prove as controversial as choosing Willy Caballero.
It is not so much a question of who Argentine Caballero is, rather than who he is not.
The goalkeeper’s spot, despite Pellegrini’s preference to have two players in every position, means its practitioners tend to be the first choice and reserve. Which role belongs to incumbent and England No 1 Joe Hart and which to Caballero is the subject of speculation.
Pellegrini spent his first autumn at City becoming increasingly irritated by questions about an out-of-form and then omitted Hart. The arrival of Caballero, a stalwart of the coach’s Malaga teams, suggests a repeat.
“Willy Caballero can be in any team, he’s a very good goalkeeper,” Pellegrini said. “In this moment I’m playing Joe Hart but he will have his opportunity soon.”
How soon is the topic.
City start a pivotal week in their season at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. They then begin their Uefa Champions League campaign against Bayern Munich before hosting Chelsea.
If it is not a make-or-break period, it certainly could be significant, especially as City lost to Stoke City two weeks ago.
Hart was culpable for Mame Biram Diouf’s winner then as he allowed the shot to go through his legs.
He was dropped last season after he was to blame when Fernando Torres scored a decider for Chelsea in October.
Pellegrini said: “I am not waiting for Joe Hart to make a mistake to change him for Willy Caballero.”
The Argentine’s only start came against Arsenal in August’s Community Shield defeat. “Different games, different competitions, different moments,” said Pellegrini, citing the absence of nine City players that day.
Lampard had only just been borrowed from New York City FC while Mangala’s £32 million (Dh190.7m) move from Porto had still not been ratified. Pellegrini then proscribed a period of training for the English midfielder and the French centre-back.
“We have to play three games in a week so we will see if they play in these games,” the City manager said. “Both of them are ready.”
The reality is that Mangala, despite his sizeable fee, is less likely to feature as both Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany are available.
As Pellegrini mulls his options further forward, Lampard, Chelsea’s record goalscorer, could come into consideration.
Defensive midfielder Fernando has been sidelined for two weeks by a groin problem.
Yaya Toure may be deployed as a second striker as one forward, Stevan Jovetic, is hamstrung and another, Alvaro Negredo, has joined Valencia.
Pellegrini argued City’s restrictions in the Champions League, where they can only name 16 non-home-grown players in their squad, necessitated his departure and complained Uefa’s punishment for breaching Financial Fair Play was unjust.
Yet Negredo is gone now and the focus switches to the newcomers awaiting their first chance.
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