Flickering City vow to Stoke fires

Champions bidding to turn up the heat against Potters

Andy Hampson

CHAMPIONS Manchester City are hoping to move up a gear as they return to Premier League action this weekend.

Roberto Mancini's men have made a solid start to their title defence, collecting seven points from three games without getting close to their devastating best.

With their mouth-watering Champions League encounter at Real Madrid to come on Tuesday, they will now look to lift the intensity as they travel to Stoke tomorrow.

City's squad will have a different look to it as they reconvene after the international break with their deadline day signings linking up with other senior players for the first time.

First-team coach David Platt feels it is a pity the players have had so little time to work together so far but hopes they all return with fresh enthusiasm.

Platt said: "It is just unfortunate in that way that the market finishes, you buy your players and then they disappear on the international break.

"But it's important to recharge your batteries. Hopefully they'll all come back and they'll have no injuries and we'll have as good as a full complement to choose from for our next game."

Of the deadline-day signings, Brazil full-back Maicon, Spain defensive midfielder Javi Garcia, Great Britain Olympic winger Scott Sinclair and Serbia defender Matija Nastastic will be hoping to feature in some way at the weekend.

After a quiet summer in which the only other major signing was midfielder Jack Rodwell - veteran goalkeeper Richard Wright was also brought in as cover - City now feel they have good squad depth.

Platt said: "We're delighted. I think if you look at the balance of the squad, it's there. If you look at the strength in depth, it's there. The manager is quite pleased with it."

Last season's top scorer Sergio Aguero returned to training this week after a knee injury and is hoping to force his way back into contention.

England midfielder Gareth Barry has continued to train in his recovery from the abdominal problem that kept him out of Euro 2012 but full-back Micah Richards remains sidelined with ankle trouble.

Striker Mario Balotelli also had laser eye surgery during the international break. The club are not expecting a long lay-off but Mancini is yet to say whether he could play this weekend or not. Meanwhile, City's football development executive Patrick Vieira is confident his former Inter Milan team-mate Maicon has plenty to offer City this season.

The Brazilian right-back has joined from Inter for an undisclosed fee and Vieira said: "He is a fantastic player.

"I spent a few years with him at Inter and he has experience and talent.

"He has the ambition to be part of the Brazilian national team for the World Cup.

"It is something really important for him and I am sure he will bring a lot to this football club.

"He is a fantastic character to have around too.

"He has the experience of winning the Italian league and the Champions League and to have him at the football club is fantastic.

"Scott Sinclair is a young, talented player and hopefully coming to City will help him get to another level.

"Jack Rodwell has already played and has done really well so far, and Javi Garcia is also a young talent.

"It is exciting to have these players at the club."