Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini says this weekend’s clash against Liverpool will be a special occasion for Raheem Sterling.
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England forward Sterling is set to face the Reds for the first time on Saturday since his acrimonious and protracted £49million (Dh273m) move from Anfield to City in the summer.
But while former City player James Milner may receive a warm welcome as he returns to the Etihad Stadium with Liverpool, Sterling can expect a different reaction from the visiting fans.
The 20-year-old has settled well at City, and already scored six goals for his new club, and Pellegrini hopes he can embrace the next challenge against his old club.
Pellegrini said: “I always think it is special for all players – not only Raheem – to play against the team they worked for for many players. Maybe for James Milner it will be exactly the same.
“But those situations are part of the career of the player. They are now defending another shirt.”
Pellegrini has been pleased with the progress Sterling, who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with Liverpool, has made at City.
Questions have been asked of his finishing ability but the youngster has started to answer them with a hat-trick against Bournemouth last month and a vital strike at Sevilla in the Champions League.
Pellegrini said: “I always say that Raheem is a very young player. He must improve a lot and in important things. It is important also he can demonstrate it in every game but I am very happy with the way he is playing so far.
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“He is just 20 years old and he has a lot of years to work but he will be a very important player, not only for Manchester City but for England.”
Meanwhile, Pellegrini fears Samir Nasri could miss most of the rest of the season, but hopes Vincent Kompany and David Silva are back in action within a week.
Nasri, who has missed City’s last six games with a hamstring injury, this week revealed via Twitter that he could be out for another three months. Now Pellegrini has revealed the 28-year-old faces a tendon operation after suffering a setback on the training ground, and the lay-off could be longer than feared.
He said: “We don’t have Samir Nasri for four or five months. He has a tendon injury in his right leg so now he must have surgery because it’s an important (serious) injury.”
On Silva and Kompany he added: “It’s a long injury because it’s not a muscle injury. It’s an ankle and for different reasons he can’t be 100 per cent fit. If a player is not comfortable I think that he can’t play. I hope it’s the same as with Vincent, that next week he can be okay.”
City may be the league leaders but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not interested in who is the best in the league – unless it is his own side.
The Reds head to the Etihad Stadium having not won in the league in seven years. Klopp has no time for assessing the merits of this weekend’s opposition with the other teams at the top of the table.
“I don’t care about this. I am not interested in who is the best team in the league for as long as we are not the best team in the league,” he said.
“They are very experienced but the difference between Man City and Liverpool is that at this moment we know nothing about Man City. We don’t know about (the fitness of ) Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Wilfried Bony and so on.
“But we are prepared. We have watched games with all of these players and without these players.”