- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Five weeks after his big-money transfer to Manchester City, Wilfried Bony is ready to play his first match for the English champions and give manager Manuel Pellegrini a selection dilemma up front.

Bony became one of the most expensive African players of all time when he joined City from Swansea for a reported 28 million pounds ($43 million) last month.

However, his involvement in the African Cup on Nations with Ivory Coast - the winner of the tournament - meant City has had to bide its time before playing the Premier League’s most expensive signing in the winter transfer window.

That moment should arrive when Newcastle visits Etihad Stadium for a match that second-place City cannot afford to lose if it is to stay in realistic contention of catching Chelsea, which holds a seven-point lead with 13 games remaining.

Pellegrini may be tempted to start Bony, given the striker has scored three goals in his last two games against Newcastle.

“It’s not easy because I’ve just arrived from Africa and I will have had five days of training before we play Newcastle,” Bony said. “I have to take it step by step and wait for the right opportunity to present itself. If I am needed, I have a good record against Newcastle.”

Bony’s arrival - and the return to City of his international teammate, midfielder Yaya Toure - means Pellegrini will have to tinker with his attack for the last few months of the season.

The Chilean coach has largely done away with his favored 4-4-2 formation in recent months to ensure his midfield isn’t over-run. That has often led to Sergio Aguero playing on his own up front, but it is likely that Pellegrini will eventually pair Aguero and Bony in attack. It remains to be seen who the fall-guy will be in midfield.

City has won only one of its last four league games at home, helping Chelsea pull clear again after having an eight-point lead wiped out by the champions this season.

Chelsea is at home to relegation-threatened Burnley, while the weekend’s standout match sees Southampton host Liverpool - two teams fighting for Champions League qualification.

Here are some more things to know about this weekend’s matches:

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ROONEY’S ROLE

After two months playing in central midfield, Wayne Rooney reverted to his usual position as a forward for the FA Cup match against Preston on Monday.

He found the net - albeit from the penalty spot - to end a nine-game streak without scoring, but he might find himself back in midfield for United’s trip to Swansea on Saturday as striker Robin van Persie is fit after an unspecified injury.

United has received criticism for its performances in recent weeks, but has lost just once in 19 games and is third in the league - five points behind City.

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POYET’S PROMISE

Gus Poyet is the latest manager under pressure in the Premier League - and he has attempted to repair his fractured relationship with disillusioned Sunderland fans by writing an open letter on the club’s website on Thursday.

“I promise you that I care and want to win as much as you do,” Poyet wrote, “and no one thinks more time every day about the team than I do. So I invite all of you to stay positive, to be strong, closer to each other and keep believing in what we started.”

Sunderland is 15th, two points off the relegation zone, and lost at home in its last game to a Queens Park Rangers side which had previously lost all 11 of its away games.

After that game, Poyet appeared to offer a dismissive account of the style of football desired by Black Cats supporters. Sections of Sunderland’s fans chanted, “Gus Poyet, it’s always our fault” during the team’s humiliating FA Cup loss at third-tier club Bradford on Sunday.

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ELSEWHERE

Tim Sherwood officially takes charge of his first game as manager of Aston Villa on Saturday in its home game against Stoke. Villa has dropped into the bottom three and is on a five-match losing run.

Four points separate fourth-place Southampton and seventh-place Liverpool when they meet at St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday. Fifth-place Arsenal is at Crystal Palace and sixth-place Tottenham hosts West Ham.


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