Manchester: Vincent Kompany’s return from a calf injury cannot come soon enough for a Manchester City side who have continued to look defensively vulnerable in his absence.
The captain missed an eighth successive match with a calf problem as City lost 2-1 at Arsenal on Monday, a result that has left them six points adrift of leaders Leicester City going into the Christmas programme.
Kompany, though, has returned to full training this week and is in contention to play some part against Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium today.
A quick glance at the statistics will show why City’s supporters are so keen to see him return. In the eight league fixtures in which he has played this season, City have conceded just one goal. In the nine he has missed, they have let in 18.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has played down the suggestion that his defence cannot function without the Belgium international, but his influence is undeniable. “Of course, you always miss good players,” Pellegrini said. “He’s the captain here and if he doesn’t play, then he is an important player we don’t have in our squad. It is the same with Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
"But the most important thing about this team is that we are involved in all four competitions and do not just depend on one player. All of them are very important."
Striker Aguero’s absence was also keenly felt after he picked up a heel injury against Southampton in late November. He returned against Arsenal, but still did not look fully fit, and Pellegrini must decide if he is ready to start two matches in four days, with a trip to Leicester to come on Tuesday. Wilfried Bony, who has been Aguero’s stand-in, will hope to start at least one of those matches. City's performance at Arsenal did little to quell ongoing speculation about Pellegrini's long-term future at the Etihad.