MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Sergio Aguero’s loss could be Mario Balotelli’s gain, after the Argentine striker went off injured during his side’s 3-0 win at home to Stoke City.
The New Year’s Day success enabled City to preserve the seven-point gap that separates them from Premier League leaders Manchester United.
It came at a cost, however, with Aguero forced from the fray in the 76th minute after apparently injuring his hamstring.
Manager Roberto Mancini predicted on Tuesday that Aguero would be out for around 10 days, ruling him out of Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Watford and placing his participation in the league game at Arsenal the following weekend in doubt.
One potential replacement is Italian forward Balotelli, the controversial striker who has missed the holiday programme due to a virus.
But Mancini will have to think long and hard about whether to field Balotelli at the Emirates, given his last performance there, when he was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Bacary Sagna.
“Mario is back on the training pitch, he’s trained for the last two or three days, and he looks like he’s shaken the illness off,” said assistant coach David Platt.
“The problem that Mario had is that he was ill, he came back, then he had a relapse with his illness.
“It looks like he’s got past that. He’s got two or three days on the training pitch. There’s every chance he’ll be available for selection come the weekend.”
Aguero has already had one extended spell on the sidelines this season, a knee problem ruling him out for just over a month in late August, and despite the depth in City’s squad, his absence will be keenly felt.
The 24-year-old has been in magnificent form of late but limped off the field minutes after claiming City’s third goal from the penalty spot.
Platt said City would face an anxious 48-hour wait before the injury settles and the club’s medical staff are able to determine the full extent of the problem.
“It’s bad enough that he won’t play Saturday,” said Platt.
“It’s difficult to assess an injury like that for how long it’s going to be. Saturday he will be out. He’ll be doubtful for Arsenal.
“It’s a hamstring. There are different degrees of hamstring, that’s why you need the 48 hours. We’ll just have to see.”
Of greater potential concern to City are the pending losses of Kolo and Yaya Toure, who have played their last club game before leaving for international duty with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations – a tournament that could rule them out of Premier League action for up to six weeks.
“It’s irrelevant whether Yaya disappears or not,” claimed Platt.
“The challenge is to keep winning football matches. We are missing Aguero for the weekend. But we have a squad that we have to choose 11 from and we will expect them to take the points.”
Aguero’s goal against Stoke followed efforts by Pablo Zabaleta and Edin Dzeko either side of half-time that helped City to end Stoke’s 10-match unbeaten league run.
“Someone asked me what the difference was between the two sides, and I said about 220 million ($357 million, 271 million euros),” said Stoke manager Tony Pulis.
“For us to win here, we have to bring our ‘A game’ and City have to be off it. That wasn’t the case today (Tuesday).
“Sometimes you have to open your eyes and look at the reality of everything. They have a bit of a head start over a club like ours.
“I don’t know whether it was because it was the fourth game over the holiday period, but I’m not going to criticise the players. They still worked their socks off.
“You have to give City credit. You give me 220 million now and I’ll come back next year and see how close we are then. We’re human beings and sometimes you’re just not on it.”
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