Manchester City-Bournemouth Preview
Trips to Bournemouth and Paris might sound like an ideal spring getaway to some, but Manchester City will be all business as they face critical matches across two competitions.
Following Saturday's trip to the Vitality Stadium on Premier League business, City are bound for the Parc des Princes to face Paris-St. Germain in the Champions League.
With the shadow of their first quarterfinal appearance in UEFA's premier competition in club history looming, the onus is on City not to overlook an opponent who provides help in most likely route to return to Champions League for next season.
Into the weekend, Manchester City (15-6-9) occupy fourth place and the final Champions League qualification slot, four points behind third-place Arsenal and one in front of West Ham United and Manchester United.
At present, at least 10 games remain in the managerial reign of Manuel Pellegrini before he is replaced by the incoming Pep Guardiola for next season. Yet oddly there is still time for Pellegrini to cement his place in the pantheon of great City managers, perhaps even as the greatest.
The pursuit of that first Champions League title will influence Saturday's selection, though nowhere near the extent the Chilean boss sacrificed FA Cup participation by fielding a weakened side against Chelsea ahead of City's previous Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev.
Pellegrini's hand, though, may be forced by the growing injury list at the Etihad. Goalkeeper Joe Hart, defender Vincent Kompany (both calf) and midfielders Yaya Toure (heel) and Fabian Delph (Achilles) all have been ruled out, while Kevin De Bruyne (knee) is questionable. French midfielder Samir Nasri, out through injury since October, is in line for an appearance on the south coast and expects a tricky afternoon on his return to action.
"I think teams like Bournemouth play better on tighter pitches because teams like us can exploit space on bigger pitches better by keeping the ball and dictating the game," Nasri told the official club website.
"Games at smaller stadiums tend to be more aggressive with the home fans right on top of you."
Nasri insisted that there could be no room for error come Saturday afternoon.
"It's going to be tough, but we have no choice - we have to win because if we don't we could drop out of the Champions League places and we can't allow that to happen." he said.
Bournemouth (10-8-13) lost 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in their last match before the international break, but that followed a run of three straight wins which positioned the Cherries 13th and a seemingly secure 12 points above the drop. However, with a potential murderer's row of opponents left to face after City, including Chelsea, Manchester United and both sides of Merseyside, the Cherries aren't feeling safe just yet.
It speaks to the rising profile of the club that manager Eddie Howe was a guest on the American-based podcast Men in Blazers this week, and he told them that there was still work to do to maintain Bournemouth's Premier League status for a second season.
"We have put ourselves in a good position so it's in our hands, but we've got to try and finish the job now," said Howe. "As we know in this league, nobody gives you anything - you've got to earn it. And we still feel we need some more points to achieve our target."
Howe is still without long-term injuries Tyrone Mings, Callum Wilson (both knee) while Junior Stanislas (hamstring) has also been ruled out.
Man City smashed Bournemouth 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium in October in the first top-flight meeting between the sides. Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony had the Citizens two up after 11 minutes, but Glenn Murray brought back a goal in the 22nd. It was 4-1 by halftime however; as Sterling completed his hat trick with two more goals. Bony rounded out the scoring in the 89th minute.