Manchester City welcome Bundesliga strugglers FC Schalke 04 for the second leg of a tense UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday night.
The first leg had everything – five goals, a controversial penalty, a red card, an incredible free-kick and a stunning late winner for Pep Guardiola’s visitors. But make no mistake, it’s the Blues who undeniably have the advantage here. 3-2 up and with two away goals (albeit a few more absentees this time around), Guardiola’s side will be feeling relatively comfortable knowing that Schalke need to score two goals without reply in order to dump City out of the competition.
But who will Guardiola trust to see him safely into the next round? Here’s how I predict we’ll line up on another European night…
As expected, there’s still no Claudio Bravo or Benjamin Mendy, both of whom have missed most of the season with serious injuries. Nicolas Otamendi is, of course, suspended and we’ll likely be without Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho.
As sure as Sterling will continue to surprise pundits everywhere by outperforming Jordan Ibe, Ederson will be in goal against Schalke. It’s a tight call and I’m sure Aro Muric is outraged but I reckon Ederson is our best goalkeeper.
Moving onto the realm of at least some doubt, and I imagine Kyle Walker is already penned in at right-back, with Danilo ready to face Swansea at the weekend.
In the centre of defence, Vincent Kompany would have been a shoo-in had he not missed open training on Monday afternoon, leaving his place to be filled by the surprising return of John Stones. With Nicolas Otamendi suspended following his red card in Germany, Aymeric Laporte will return after a bench appearance on Saturday. Yes, I know both these two have had injury concerns, but who else is there?
Oddly, there’s no doubt who I think will start at left-back. Without wanting to repeat too many of the sentiments in Harry Sidall’s excellent article published yesterday, I’m absolutely infatuated with Oleksandr Zinchenko at the moment. The Ukrainian is in wonderful form and his passing range is proving crucial to building attacks. We need him.
No Fernandinho? No problem – or at least that’s the hope. Ilkay Gundogan will look to continue his good form in 2019 at the base of midfield here, with David Silva and Bernardo Silva forming the dynamic duo ahead of him.
The front three isn’t so straightforward, but the one certainty is that Raheem Sterling needs to start. He can rest against Swansea but right now the Englishman is looking like our most crucial player. After winning us the Watford game with a fifteen-minute hat-trick, leaving him on the bench here would be phenomenally naive.
Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero has been left out of the Argentina squad so should have a good game in his legs here, and it feels like Leroy Sané is overdue a start after the role he played in the first-leg win.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Danilo, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus, Fabian Delph and Phillipe Sandler.
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