x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Friends reunited

The Manchester City boss Mark Hughes faces his old side Blackburn on a high after putting Hull to the sword on Boxing Day.

Manchester City are in high spirit after their 5-1 demolition of Hull City.
Manchester City are in high spirit after their 5-1 demolition of Hull City.

Reunions can serve as reminders of what has been misplaced. Blackburn Rovers could be forgiven for feeling nostalgic upon their first meeting with Mark Hughes since his summer departure. Three successive top 10 finishes under the Welshman represented stability, whereas this season's relegation battle has brought greater insecurity.

As the side Hughes built faces the one he is still in the process of moulding, his former employers can be excused for looking back while his current club are focused on the future. Rovers have regressed since his exit, while Manchester City anticipate progress. Hughes forsook a quieter life at Ewood Park for Manchester City. Ambition has been accompanied by expectation but, in characteristic fashion, City have confounded most predictions.

Following a 2-1 defeat at the division's basement club, West Brom, with a 5-1 demolition of Hull was typical City. This week has showcased a blend of under-achievement and coruscating brilliance that, long-time fans of the club would argue, is entirely in keeping with their history. They have six Premier League victories this season, each by at least three goals. The five-goal salvo against Hull means only Chelsea have outscored City now. Robinho's home form (10 goals in 11 games) is a factor, but with a solitary strike on his travels, the Brazilian is among those who have yet to reproduce such devastation elsewhere. At least City should venture north in good heart after their thumping win

Elano returned from exile to excel but the inspiration came from Stephen Ireland, whose involvement in four goals earned a tribute from Hughes. "We saw the complete midfield performance from Stephen," the manager said. "He has been our shining light this season." The striker Roque Santa Cruz is absent from a Rovers side likely to be deprived of their captain and vice-captain, in Ryan Nelsen and David Dunn respectively.

Their difficulties could be caused by their manager's past. Last season, Blackburn were a unique side where virtually every player was a bargain, the majority of them recruited by Hughes. Virtually all, however, produced inferior performances under his successor, Paul Ince. Now Sam Allardyce's first two games at the helm have brought a significant improvement and a pair of clean sheets. Should City continue in their prolific vein, however, Hughes can show Rovers they are pining for him more than he is missing them.