MELBOURNE • Manchester City may have to begin the new English Premier League (EPL) season without star striker Sergio Aguero.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has admitted that the Argentina international and three of his other South American players - centre-back Martin Demichelis, fullback Pablo Zabaleta and midfielder Fernandinho - could miss the start of the season.
He is mindful of giving the four players time off in preparation for a long season, following their exertions at the Copa America in Chile.
The quartet are not likely to feature in City's season opener at West Bromwich Albion on Aug 10, and will face a race to get fully fit in time for the crucial fixture against Chelsea six days later.
Aguero, EPL's top scorer last season with 26 goals, Demichelis and Zabaleta all featured for Argentina in the Copa America final defeat by Chile on July 4.
Fernandinho reached the quarter-finals with Brazil.
The quartet are expected to report back for pre-season training only early next week.
Speaking during City's pre-season tour of Australia, Pellegrini said: "I think in football it's so important to work hard but resting has the same importance.
"You have so many games throughout the year that if you don't give them 30 days after they've finished their internationals, it's very difficult for them to work hard.
"It's more difficult for the South American players because Zabaleta, Demichelis, Aguero and Fernandinho finished later, the first days of July.
"I think when we return to Manchester, they will start their pre-season. Maybe they will not be involved in the first game but I am sure they will work hard and will be involved as soon as they can."
Should the Chilean be without Zabaleta against West Bromwich, he could turn to Bacary Sagna.
Eliaquim Mangala may get the nod to replace Demichelis in the centre of defence.
But the biggest question is who would step in for Aguero. Striker Wilfried Bony did not travel to Australia because of an injury. It is uncertain whether Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic will still be with the club come the start of the season.
An option that is available to Pellegrini is employing Raheem Sterling as a striker.
The new £49 million (S$105 million) signing from Liverpool has played as a striker during his Anfield days and could be given an opportunity to impress up front.