Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini admits he is preparing for tonight’s Champions League Group D match at Bayern Munich with thoughts of the Barclays Premier League meeting with Arsenal that follows it in mind.
City have already secured qualification for the knockout stages of the competition and while they can still move up a place to secure top spot in the section ahead of current leaders Bayern, the odds look stacked against them doing it.
The Blues then host Premier League table-toppers Arsenal, who they trail by six points, on Saturday.
Asked yesterday if he regarded the Gunners clash as the priority and was thinking of resting players tonight, Pellegrini said: “Tomorrow we will see the 11 that starts.”
Certainly it appears goalkeeper Joe Hart will start against Bayern in place of Costel Pantilimon.
Hart, previously City’s established No 1, was dropped from the team in October after making a string of high-profile errors, which included mistakes in the 3-1 home loss to Bayern earlier that month.
If he faces the German side again tonight, it will be only his second appearance in the Blues’ last 10 games and Pellegrini has no doubt about the potential significance of the contest for Hart.
“For him it is a very important game,” the Chilean said, before adding: “I am not thinking about the past, just thinking about the future. I trust in him.”
Ian Lawlor, Ireland’s brightest goalkeeping prospect since Shay Given, is back in City’s squad tonight.
The 19-year-old is so highly regarded by Pellegrini and goalkeeping coach Xabier Mancisidor that he could be thrust onto the bench as cover for Hart.
Lawlor’s promotion is the last evidence of his ascent at the Etihad. He has already beaten off competition from England prospect Angus Gunn — their €£300,000 capture from Norwich City — to become first-choice for City’s U21 side.
Meanwhile, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola is not taking things for granted with regard to where his team will finish in the group and has stressed the need for concentration.
The defending champions have won all five of their group games so far, including a dominant 3-1 win at City, who would need to better that result in the Allianz Arena to leapfrog them.
It looks an unlikely prospect, but Guardiola has been keen to emphasise how great a threat he thinks City pose.
The Spaniard said: “Coming second in the group is not really an option for us. It is something we want to avoid.
“I have a lot of confidence in my team, but I also know how dangerous Manchester City are.
“They have incredible players — they can get three or four chances within a few minutes. So we have to really look out for that.”
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