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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Manuel Pellegrini pleased to see Kelechi Iheanacho seize Manchester City chance

Kelechi Iheanacho has shown signs of potential at Manchester City
Kelechi Iheanacho has shown signs of potential at Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini claims he was ready to unleash teenager Kelechi Iheanacho on unsuspecting defences a year ago.

But the Manchester City boss was unable to call on the highly-rated Nigerian striker because of a combination of work permit and injury issues.

Iheanacho, 19, made a big impression on his first City start with a goal and two assists in Wednesday's 5-1 Capital One Cup thrashing of Crystal Palace.

He had previously shown glimpses of his talent by coming off the bench to score against Palace in the Barclays Premier League in September while he also had a goal against Bournemouth harshly disallowed.

Pellegrini, speaking at a press conference to preview this weekend's home clash against Norwich, said: "He didn't impress me because I work with him every day, so I know what he can give to our team. Last season I think he was ready to do it.

"We talked about his work permits but unfortunately for him he had a very serious injury in his ankles. That is why he couldn't play last season. Now he is ready and I am very happy for him to demonstrate what he can do. But it is just one game, he must repeat, he must improve."

Iheanacho shone on City's pre-season tour in the summer of 2014 but faced a long wait for paperwork to be ratified before he could play competitively. When clearance was given towards the latter end of last season, he impressed briefly for City's elite development squad before being hit by injury.

He was promoted to the first-team squad over the summer and, with senior attacking options limited in the absence of top striker Sergio Aguero, was given his chance in midweek.

Pellegrini must now decide whether to retain the youngster in his side to face the Canaries.

He said: "In the way he demonstrates what he can do, of course he has an option to start. It is not an easy position to start in this team because we have a lot of important players like David (Silva), like Kun (Aguero), but in this moment they are not fit, and for me it just depends on the performance of the players who start."

Premier League leaders City will hope to maintain the momentum from midweek although Aguero, Silva, Samir Nasri, Fabian Delph and Gael Clichy remain out and Pablo Zabaleta joined the injury casualties this week.

Pellegrini said: "I think the performance was very good in midweek and we must try to repeat it tomorrow. I never complain about the amount of players that are injured but we have too many players (out), so to continue playing this way is very important for the trust the squad have.

"All the games are difficult in the Premier League. It doesn't matter which position the teams are in. You know you have to play with 100 per cent intensity and a lot concentration. Two or three balls decide the result."

Zabaleta has suffered a medial ligament strain similar to the one which sidelined him for a month earlier in the season but Pellegrini is hopeful his latest problem is not as serious.

He said: "It is not so bad as the first one he had. We have now the international break (coming up) and probably he will be fit to return after the international break."

The performances of Iheanacho on the field and in training have also not gone unnoticed by his team-mates.

Midfielder Yaya Toure, one of the cornerstones of the club's success in recent seasons, has been impressed by his talent and his willingness to learn.

Toure said: "I always say when you put a good player in a great team with good players around him then they will always perform well.

"When I started at Barcelona it was always easy to play with great players and learn as well. They help you to progress.

"I think for me, Iheanacho has the potential to progress and be one of the top players one day. He's young and still learning. I am delighted for him and I always give him advice because Kelechi is fantastic. He is clever, he listens very carefully and he works hard in training."

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