“Three or four days ago we were already done, the champs were Liverpool and now we can be leading,” uttered Pep Guardiola. How quickly fortunes change.
Manchester City are not yet out of the title race. Say it out loud. After all hope seemed lost following a dispirited defeat away to Newcastle, Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions have been thrown a lifeline, their victory over Arsenal being followed up by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool dropping points at West Ham’s London Stadium. Now back on their feet, the “Shark team” must pounce as Liverpudlian blood drips in Premier League waters.
In an ironic twist of the knife for Liverpool fans, City’s participation in a cup final has gifted them with the perfect opportunity to land a crushing blow on Merseyside, with their league game against Everton being moved forward to accommodate a Wembley clash against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. Made to play their league fixture ahead of schedule, Pep Guardiola’s side find themselves breathing down the necks of Klopp’s champions-elect, with the opportunity to lay their claim to the Premier League title on Merseyside, potentially leaving top of the table courtesy of their game-in-hand.
Standing between City and top spot lie Marco Silva’s Everton. The Toffees have endured a tumultuous season under Silva, finding themselves torn between an elusive 7th place finish and the bottom half of the table. Despite having made several high-profile signings such as Richarlison, Yerry Mina or André Gomes, there has been a sense of flattering to deceive, as for all their faux-progressive allure, Silva’s side have consistently looked less than the sum of their parts.
Yet “underperforming sides” seem to be the recipe for City’s downfall this season, what with surprise losses to Crystal Palace, Leicester and Newcastle. Take into account the tight pitch at Goodison Park where (with the exception of last season) City have not fared well historically, and you have all the ingredients of an upset on the horizon.
Everton are without Yerry Mina, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka due to injury. Meanwhile Claudio Bravo, Eliaquim Mangala and Vincent Kompany are the only confirmed absentees for City, with Guardiola insisting the rest of the squad are fit.
City Xtra Line-up Prediction:
Old Mr. Reliable himself, Ederson, takes up his position between the sticks, with hopes to recreate some of the direct long passes that were so successful in this fixture last year.
Though potentially fit, Benjamin Mendy is still unlikely to start at Goodison due to poor match fitness, leaving Fabian Delph free to deputise at left-back. Reverting to a back four after the Arsenal experiment will allow Aymeric Laporte to return to his more natural position in the centre of defence, where he can hope to rekindle his partnership with John Stones, who will be desperate to start after being left out at the weekend. Rounding out the defence, Danilo is more than capable of slotting in at right-back, thus managing a difficult seven days by keeping Kyle Walker fresh for Sunday’s clash with Chelsea.
In the middle of the park, Ilkay Gündogan produced such a fine display at the Etihad that he could very well find himself in the holding role come Wednesday night, giving the colossus that is Fernandinho some well-earned respite. Speaking of rest, Kevin De Bruyne’s last-minute cramps only emphasised the fine line City are currently walking with injuries; David Silva and Bernardo Silva step up to provide the necessary attacking verve.
Finally, City’s front line provides the simplest answer – full rotation. Having warmed the bench last time out, Leroy Sané and Riyad Mahrez will flank Gabriel Jesus as City’s goal threats. For those worried about such wholesale changes, then look no further than the reverse fixture last December. The same front three started that game at the Etihad, resulting in a Jesus brace and a 3-1 winning scoreline.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Benjamin Mendy, Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero.
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