After retaining a major title for the first time in their history on Sunday with a penalty shootout victory over Chelsea, Manchester City will be looking to ensure that their return to Premier League football is just as successful. After eighteen days without a league fixture, all eyes will be on the Etihad to see if Pep Guardiola’s men can continue their spirited title defence against a West Ham United side with quite a few familiar faces…
Since the turn of the new year, some might say that West Ham United haven’t been in the best form. In seven Premier League games, they have won only twice (the most recent against an indulgent Fulham defence) and earned only one a single point away from home. A trip to the Etihad might seem the worst possible scenario in that case but a closer look reveals that their best results have come in titanic games against top-six opposition, with a strong win against Arsenal and a colossal draw against Liverpool.
Masterminded by the charming man that is former Blues boss Manuel Pellegrini, there is sure to be a game plan on the Chilean’s first trip back to Manchester since he left the club in 2016. With fan favourites Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri now plying their trade in claret and blue, City will need to forget the cup celebrations and any sentimentality in favour of making a statement that they are ready to take the challenge to Liverpool in their pursuit Premier League title.
“I want to see tomorrow the desire that we really, really want to win this title. I want to see it.
I don’t care about the way we want to play or successful other things. I want the ‘smell’ in the locker room, in the beginning of the game, during the game, with our fans, now when one competition is over, really we want to win this title.
I want to see their faces tomorrow, my players. After the game, I’ll tell you if I saw something special or not.– Pep Guardiola previews West Ham United
John Stones and Gabriel Jesus are still out although Guardiola said that they are close to getting back and Jesus was even pictured with the team training. Benjamin Mendy is also involved in training and could make the squad along with Fabian Delph. The injuries Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte suffered on Sunday are more serious though, with both expected to be out until the FA Cup match against Swansea. Claudio Bravo remains in rehabilitation from a severe Achilles rupture.
City Xtra Line-up Prediction:
Ederson has to start in goal. He was consistent against Chelsea, if untested and his distribution will be significant in recycling the ball if West Ham choose to push high up the pitch.
When it comes to defence, the injuries are starting to pile up. First choice pairing Stones and Laporte are out so Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi must step up. Though this makes for a great throwback to the Manuel Pellegrini era, it is important that they deliver their best on the ball. Not only can they show how far their game has come under Guardiola’s tenure but it will be pivotal to playing through the press. This leaves a full-back duo of Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko, out of necessity if not on merit. It is not that both of them don’t deserve it. Zinchenko has been in stellar form lately and he was praised effusively by Guardiola. Walker has also looked like he has regained last season’s form although he must still improve on the attacking front.
Danilo was played in Fernandinho’s position and did a decent job in the thirty minutes of extra time against Chelsea – I feel that he will be given the nod again. Kevin de Bruyne is also an option for the deepest midfield berth but he needs a rest at the moment and his minutes must be kept in check in this crucial period. Taking his place in one of the attacking midfield positions is Ilkay Gündogan. He has been in great form lately and improved the team when he was introduced in place of Silva on Sunday. He can offer the nous required to break down West Ham and his late runs into the box along with his chipped balls for the forwards could be an interesting feature of the game. He needs to be partnered by Bernardo Silva, one of the most important players in the team. Bernardo simply has to switch back to a central position because David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne have been struggling of late and his energy will be needed to make up for the absence of Fernandinho.
The front line pretty much picks itself, with Raheem Sterling in great form and Sergio Agüero the only recognized striker who is fit. The third spot has to be given to Leroy Sané, whose form from the bench has been crying out for a start since he scored against Newport County in the FA Cup. He needs to be given license to run at the defence for a full match and he will surely come good if he does.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Phil Foden, Benjamin Mendy, Fabian Delph and Riyad Mahrez.
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