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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 16, 2008

Hughes backs Ben Haim to return to top form

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes is banking on Tal Ben Haim to bounce back from his disappointing spell with Chelsea and become a key player at Eastlands.

The Israel international arrived in the summer after finding himself on the fringes of a side that finished second to Manchester United in the Champions League and the Premier League.

And Hughes believes he has taken a versatile and experienced player on board for the coming campaign.

Ben Haim could revert to central defence tomorrow against Aston Villa as Richard Dunne is suspended after lining up at left-back in the first leg UEFA Cup defeat by FC Midtjylland on Thursday.

Hughes said: 'Ben Haim has been with us only a few weeks but he has fitted in superbly.

'He has a point to prove after what must have been a very frustrating year for him at Chelsea.

'But he has channelled all that into training and his performances so far. He is very versatile and is a good tackler.

'I felt we needed to be a bit more vocal at the back and Tal has already shown that he likes everyone around him to know what he thinks they should be doing.

'His international experience will be vital if we keep progressing in the UEFA Cup as well.'

It is a difficult opening game for City against a side on the rise under manager Martin O'Neill.

Hughes said: 'Martin is someone I have great respect for and he is shaping a good side there.

'But I know City have a good record at Villa in recent years and I am keen to keep that going by getting us off to the best possible start.'

The former Blackburn boss does not expect overnight success, and said: 'It is going to take time.

'We are still working on systems and personnel and what will enable us to sustain a level of performance right from the start to the end of a Premier League season.

'While we are looking to improve the squad if we can, we already have good players here.

'Unfortunately they did not perform in the way we needed against Midtjylland. But we will see an improvement at the weekend.'

Hughes could be tempted to shake things up following that 1-0 defeat in midweek with fit-again striker Valeri Bojinov pushing for a place in the starting line-up.

• Valeri Bojinov has the potential to be 'a match-winner' this season, according Hughes.

Bulgaria striker Bojinov is pushing for a place in the starting line-up against Aston Villa tomorrow after recovering from a long-term knee injury.

Almost a year ago to the day he was looking forward to building on a fine start after arriving from Fiorentina when he damaged ligaments in the derby victory against Manchester United.

Such was the extent of the problem - and his rehabilitation - Bojinov never played for the the first team again in that campaign under Sven-Goran Eriksson.

However he has shown signs in pre-season and most recently in the UEFA Cup first-leg defeat by FC Midtjylland in midweek he could be the answer to City's current problems.

With Jo, Benjani Mwaruwari and Darius Vassell all absent, Hughes is down on numbers in that department.

The City boss decided to start the match against the Danes with teenagers Daniel Sturridge and Felipe Caicedo. The more experienced duo of Rolando Bianchi and Nery Castillo were not even among the substitutes.

Bojinov looked lively when he came off the bench to give Hughes another option.

Hughes said: 'Valeri had a really bad injury but it looks as though he has come through that.

'I think everyone enjoys the way he plays. He plays with a smile on his face and when he scores there is always a great celebration.

'We are delighted he is back. It is like having a new signing as he's had hardly any football here.

'Valeri is looking strong and has the potential to be a match-winner this year. We are looking to bring him on and give him more game time.'

Former Blackburn boss Hughes is hoping to put a difficult week behind him when they face Villa.

City looked short of match fitness and confidence when they lost to the Danish side.

Hughes, however, believes there will be a big improvement in their performance when they open their Premier League campaign.

He said: 'If we start winning games early the confidence in what we say and tell the players will rise as a consequence.

'The spotlight at Blackburn was not as great as here and anything or any issue will be highlighted ten-fold.

'But I am stimulated by the challenge at City. I want to be tested and move a big club forward.'

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