Europa League preview: Lech Poznan v Manchester City

City take on Lech Poznan once again in the Europa League, and hope to get back to the kind of performance that saw Adebayor net a hat-trick first time round. Avoiding defeat will leave City with an excellent chance of sealing qualification with a home victory over Salzburg.

With all the adverse headlines, our “under pressure” manager might be expected to field his strongest team against Poznan in the hope of getting a resounding result. He won’t. Keeping players fresh for the three Premier League fixtures in six days, starting on Sunday, ensures rotation is key.

This is borne out with the news that the Toure brothers have remained in Manchester to work on their fitness. On current form it’s debatable whether Yaya would be in our strongest side anyway.

Given that the manager is likely to be selecting tonight’s team with Sunday in mind, there’s possible line-ups for both fixtures listed below. If Kolo and Kompany are set to play on Sunday, then Boyata and Lescott could resume their central defensive partnership. They did an excellent job in the last game.

Hopefully we’ll see Aleksandar Kolarov make his first appearance since the opening Premier League fixture. Rushing new signings into the first team doesn’t tend to work, particularly in Premier League fixtures. Hopefully the Serb can be eased in from the bench tonight and on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see whether Bridge and Wright-Phillips feature after reports yesterday that the club might be willing to sell them in January. If they can’t get into the Europa League side then there must be questions about their future.

Bridge has struggled under Mancini as injuries have repeatedly undermined his attempts to find decent form. Shaun’s talent has only flickered for a long time and the writing has been on the wall ever since we were linked with Krasic over the Summer.

Once again the risk is in midfield where the absence of de Jong can leave us vulnerable. Vieira put in one of his best performances last time round and looks sharper than either Barry or Yaya. It’s increasingly tempting to see him play at West Brom on Sunday and add more bite to the central area.

Milner is another who isn’t producing great quality, though resting him doesn’t appear to make any difference. For that reason he’s one player who could play in both fixtures, preferably in a central area where he provides both offensive and defensive qualities.

Mancini’s experiment with a diamond midfield proved a disaster against Wolves and it’s to be hoped he reverts to a more familiar 4-2-3-1. With new players still settling in and others being rotated it helps to have a settled formation.

Players can more easily switch positions within this, and the manager can make subtle changes according to the game situation. When the manager strays to far from 4-2-3-1 the players have looked confused and this, more than anything, leads to disputes between them.

In attack it will again be interesting to see who plays. It’s difficult to tell whether Tevez will be fit for Sunday until he’s been assessed in Manchester.

It may be wise to start with both him and Balotelli on the bench against West Brom. In which case Adebayor could start then, and Jo tonight.

There was talk at the start of the season about Balotelli being used on the left flank, in the Bellamy role. He’s unlikely to offer as much defensively as the Welshman but it might be a better way of easing him into the side.

Roberto Mancini:

“Tomorrow will be a different game to a few weeks ago, the atmosphere will be different and they will probably attack us from the start so we will have pay attention right from the start.”

Incidentally the Poznan ground, Stadion Miejski, translates to “City Stadium”. For anyone thinking of going to Euro 2012, it’s one of the designated stadiums with a capacity of 43,000 and has only recently been completed.

Despite all the external pressure, this is another match where the manager has to show his judgement in selecting a team capable of getting a result without jeopardising the side for the upcoming Premier League matches. A drab 0-0 draw in Poland may do little to ward off the critics, but if it’s followed by victories over West Brom and United, then that’s good enough for us.

Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Richards – Boyata – Lescott – Zabaleta
Vieira – Barry
Wright-Phillips – Milner – Balotelli

Line-up for West Brom:
Boateng – K Toure – Kompany – Bridge
de Jong – Y Toure
Johnson – Milner – Silva

Prediction: 2-1 to City.

Media pressure on Mancini is unwarranted
Europa League player ratings: Lech Poznan v Manchester City

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