Owen Hargreaves set to make Manchester City debut

21 September 2011 12:09
Manchester City believe Owen Hargreaves has only one psychological hurdle to clear before re-emerging as one of the Barclays Premier League's most dominant central midfielders.

Hargreaves will return to competitive football with a 45-minute run out in the Carling Cup against Birmingham on Wednesday, almost a year since his last attempt to prove himself fit ended after five minutes of a game for City's rivals Manchester United.

On that occasion it was a damaged hamstring that set Hargreaves back but the former England man will make his first start since joining City on a free last month, with new manager Roberto Mancini expressing private astonishment at how quickly he has proved his fitness.

Raring to go: Owen Hargreaves (centre) will make his Manchester City debut

It is understood that Hargreaves has reported no pain in his troublesome knees since joining City, and has not required a single minute of physio time  barring massages since passing his medical at the Etihad Stadium on August 30.

City didn't expect the 30-year-old to be available until next month, hence the decision to leave him out of their Champions League squad until January. But Hargreaves' progress during two weeks of full first-team training has been such that he is on the verge of a comeback three weeks ahead of schedule. 

'Owen's progress has amazed everybody,' a City source told Sportsmail. 'His medical told us he was fit. But we didn't expect him to be ready to play a competitive game this quickly.'

Quick recovery: Roberto Mancini is said to be amazing at Hargreaves' fitness

Mancini considered putting Hargreaves on the bench for the league game at Fulham last weekend, but sensed the former United and Bayern Munich player still had to mentally convince himself he was ready. Yet Hargreaves' training performances since the back end of last week have been so committed that his return is the only hurdle he still has to clear. 

Hargreaves said: 'I just want to get back and play football. That's what I've done for a long time but it's been taken away from me. I'm a competitive person. I like to set my targets high. But I've just got to take it step by step.'

Return: Kolo Toure is back for City

If the run-out goes to plan, Hargreaves could be on the bench at home to Everton on Saturday. Definitely planned is a series of practice matches, designed to get him ready for his first league start after the international break on October 7/8.

Hargreaves will be joined in a strongCity team by Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, and also former captain Kolo Toure, who will play his first football since failing a drugs test last season. Toure was banned for six months after taking a diet pill and the subsequent FA hearing revealed he was suffering from a psychological condition that convinced him he was overweight. 

City,however, have no concerns about Toure's mental or physical condition and last night the club's former midfielder Patrick Vieira now a City ambassador said: 'It has been a really difficult time for him but hopefully that is behind him now and he can get back to doing what he loves. 

'That is what he does best. Not only is he a good football player but he's a good human being, and it will be good to have him back. He has been through one of the most difficult  periods of his career and now he has the opportunityto look forward.'

THE CURSED WINNERS.Birmingham City begin their defence of the Carling Cup on Wednesday. Was that triumph only in February this year?

Yes, that 2-1 win against Arsenal will live long in the memories of Birmingham fans although it must seem a lifetime ago now.

What happened then?

After winning the club's second major trophy there was deemed too little time for a banquet in the capital. Players and staff simply boarded the coach back home. There was no proper party until 24 hours after the next match a 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich.

That was then: Birmingham won the Carling Cup last season

Yes, but those are two minor blips, surely?

Well, what about the fall-out? First, they were relegated from the Premier League and club owner Carson Yeung  was arrested on  money-laundering charges. There was a cash-crisis, precipitating a sell-off of their best players. And their manager Alex McLeish left to join rivals Aston Villa.

So how many players are left from the team of Wembley winners?

Four of the starters Stephen Carr, Liam Ridgewell, Nikola Zigic  and Keith Fahey.

How many are likely to play against Manchester City?

Probably none. Two of them are injured anyway.

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Source: Daily_Mail