It’s been a week of surprising turmoil for Manchester City F.C. First came links of Pep Guardiola to Juventus, then came the stories of UEFA and all their friends organising investigations into City’s FFP (at the behest of Liverpool’s owners, no less).
We cannot know to what extent Guardiola’s players are aware of the scrutiny the club now finds itself under, but it may not matter. The Blues are in the midst of a title crunch and conscious of financial investigations or not, a Premier League home tie against Watford will provide the perfect opportunity for Guardiola’s team to unleash their frustrations.
Watford will be no pushovers though. Under the command of Javi Gracia, the Hornets have transformed themselves from an inconsistent mid-table side into a strange mirror image of their club captain Troy Deeney, now flourishing going forward whilst having the burly physicality to stave off attacks.
Indeed, Blues need only cast their minds back to December when Guardiola’s team flailed to a 2-1 win at Vicarage Road as evidence of Watford’s stern spirit. That day, City were surely the better team, but their nervous finish allowed Javi Gracia’s stubborn tactics to pay off as Abdoulaye Doucoure narrowly poked in a goal for the home side. If City are to secure their place at the top of the Premier League and make a club statement in the process, they will have to stay on their toes.
It would be easy to say City are simply on a brilliant league run with 5 wins from their last 5 games, yet an even more encouraging statistic might come from the fact that Guardiola’s side have scord 10 goals in their last 3 home games. True, Watford have only lost once in their last 5 games, but the fact that came in the form of a 5-0 away thumping to title-pretenders Liverpool will also bode well for a clash at the Etihad on Saturday night.
It was a mixed bag in Pep’s Friday press conference as he confirmed Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring), John Stones (groin) and Fernandinho (knock) are out of contention with long-time absentees Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph. However, the Catalan did provide a glimmer of hope that Aymeric Laporte could be in line for selection, having returned to training following a knock in the Carabao Cup final.
CITY XTRA LINE-UP PREDICTION:
Surprise, surprise! We’ve picked Ederson in goal! All jokes aside, the brilliant Brazilian removes undroppable for sheer virtue of being one of City’s most potent attacking weapons with his distribution. All hail our goalkeeper.
In defence, given Kyle Walker’s moments of madness away at Bournemouth last Sunday, it might be time to rotate in Danilo, with the Brazilian in line on merit with a couple of great defensive displays this season. A centre back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi may well be the best selection for the physical threats of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray, but it could equally be a matter of necessity with Stones and Laporte both in different phases of injury. And last but certainly not least, Oleksandr Zinchenko is certain to perform admirably at left back.
The midfield is a slightly different prospect now that Kevin De Bruyne is once again ruled out with injury and Fernandinho remains sidelined. In absence of the latter, Ilkay Gündogan will be found at the base of midfield, orchestrating play from deep. This then leaves two spots further forward, which I venture will be filled by the mercurial pair of David Silva and Bernardo Silva. Given this is the core line-up that broke the deadlock against Bournemouth, it remains unlikely Phil Foden will start a Premier League match.
With Bernardo sitting deeper, this could prove the crucial opportunity for Riyad Mahrez to return to the right wing. Yes, his last home game against West Ham didn’t set the world on fire, but on the basis of his match winner on Sunday and a new supplier from the right midfield, I’d back Riyad to continue a string of good form. On the opposite wing, it must finally be time for Leroy Sané to return to the starting XI. Surprisingly struggling for consistent minutes, it is essential the German finds his feet and fast if the Blues are to keep fighting on all fronts. Finally, I’d back Gabriel Jesus to grab a first start since picking up a slight niggle on the rough pitches of Newport County.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Agüero, Phil Foden and Phillipe Sandler.
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