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Talking Points: Will Aguero start at The Hawthorns?

Like a field of untrodden snow, the 2015/16 season lies ahead of us awaiting the studded footprints of the Premier League’s prime protagonists.

For City, the new campaign kicks off at The Hawthorns with a tricky Monday night fixture against Tony Pulis’s West Brom.

What’s at stake? Where might the game be won and lost? Which subplots are the most intriguing? We investigate in this season’s first Talking Points…

Under the radar…

Judging by most of the season previews in publications across the printed and digital press, no-one in the media is expecting much from City this season.

BBC Sport’s pundits feel as though City will be fighting for third place, while out of the Guardian’s stable of journalists, only Daniel Taylor and Barney Ronay are tipping the Blues for title glory.

None of the Daily Mail’s 17 scribes fancy us for the championship, while the Independent’s writers think it’ll be Chelsea’s year once again.

From the more extreme end of the prognostications, former keeper David James thinks Liverpool will run City out of the top four places altogether.

It’s worth remembering that City still have the same nucleus of a squad which has finished in the top two for the past four seasons and should the 1-2-1-2 pattern continue, we’ll be celebrating once more at season’s end.

As countless teams have found out before, claiming back-to-back championships is one of the hardest things to do in football and City may flourish without the pressure of a title defence.

Time will tell of course but it might be profitable to bookmark some articles and favourite some tweets - just in case they come in handy in May…

Positive precedents…

City are unbeaten in their last five trips to The Hawthorns and have won four of the last five visits to the league’s highest ground.

The Baggies have opened their seasons at home for the past five years but have only won one of those five games – against Liverpool in 2012/13.

Our record in recent opening day matches is a lot better – we’re unbeaten in six, winning five in that period.

Add to that the fact that City’s two Premier League title winning seasons have begun with Monday night victories against Swansea in 2011/12 and Newcastle in 2013/14.

However, a word of caution: our last defeat on the opening day came in the Midlands to Aston Villa at the start of 2008/09.

Striking options…

City’s Copa America quartet haven’t managed a minute between them in pre-season so it seems unlikely any of them will see start on Monday night.

In Bacary Sagna, Fernando and one of Jason Denayer or Eliaquim Mangala, Manuel Pellegrini has obvious options in the absence of Pablo Zabaleta, Fernandinho and Martin Demichelis but the striker position looks more ambiguous without Sergio Aguero.

Wilfried Bony is only 45 minutes up on Aguero when it comes to match fitness, so opportunity could knock for Kelechi Iheanacho who was one of City’s top performers in pre-season.

Alternatively, Pellegrini has hinted that Raheem Sterling could be an option up front if required.

All that said, in his pre-match press conference Pellegrini said Aguero was training at 100% after the illness which caused him to miss City Live… we’ll just have to wait to find out at around 7pm on Monday along with everyone else.

Case for the defence…

Without Martin Demichelis, who clocked up most minutes of anyone in sky blue last season, it’s also worth keeping an eye on who starts in the centre of defence.

Eliaquim Mangala will be considered by many to be the favourite to partner Vincent Kompany but Jason Denayer will provide competition after impressing in the second half against Stuttgart.

The Belgian international was officially promoted to the first-team squad following his excellent season-long loan at Celtic last year and it will be interesting to see how many appearances he can clock up in his first Premier League campaign.

Business time…

The oft-touted maxim that pre-season results don’t matter is one of the oldest in football and Manuel would certainly agree that match fitness levels are paramount in any match played before 10 August.

Pellegrini was steadfast in his commitment to giving all members of the first-team squad an average amount of minutes and he was good to his word, substituting off players who were playing well in order to give their positional rivals valuable minutes.

Now it’s time for the serious business – the first of 38 tests after a long summer break starts at 8pm on Monday night: it’s time to put aside the summer transfer sagas, the balance sheet estimations and those empty football-less weekends.

Breathe it in… no sleep ‘til May!

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