Manchester City travel to Wembley to face off against Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s men will look to sure up a spot in the finals, allowing the squad to focus on Premier League and Champions League glory before a May 18th date with either Wolves or Watford.
Manchester City are coming off a 2-0 stroll in the park against Cardiff, where a pair of first-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane dispatched the relegation bound visitors with little stress. The Blues are in fine form at the moment, and they’ll look to build upon an impressive March with a rousing semi-final victory over Brighton on Saturday afternoon.
City and Brighton last locked horns back in September, as goals from Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero helped City cruise to a 2-0 early-season win at the Etihad. All told, City have emerged victorious in three of their last four matches against Brighton, with the lone 2-2 draw coming way back in 2008.
Nevertheless, reaching the semi-final stage of the FA Cup as a recently promoted side is no small feat, and City would be wise to remain focused on the task at hand ahead of next week’s Champions League clash with Tottenham. In fact, few things would derail City’s match confidence quite like a shock exit at the hands of lowly Brighton, who remain outside the relegation zone but certainly far from safety. With that said, in dispatching AFC Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, Derby County, and Millwall, Brighton have hardly faced a murderer’s row of English football giants en route to the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium. City should undoubtedly arrive in London ready to play, but let’s not get it twisted: this should be a comfortable win.
As for City’s squad, Pep Guardiola will be thrilled at the relative fitness of his group at this stage in the campaign and will likely implement a few changes from the midweek fixture against Cardiff. Indeed, with Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, Fernandinho, and Benjamin Mendy all finally fit, predicting a starting XI is a particularly tricky task at the moment. A good problem to have, I suppose.
Meanwhile for Brighton, who as with City staged a miraculous comeback in their quarter-final tie, the squad will be hoping for the return of Jurgen Locadia, who was dropped from the team ahead of the Chelsea match with a calf issue. The Dutch centre-forward has scored a pair of goals in Brighton’s journey to Wembley and can be a dangerous attacking threat down the middle, particularly as a substitute for the reliable Glenn Murray, who returned from injury with a midweek appearance against Chelsea.
Brighton will however be weakened by the likely absences of Pascal Gross and Solly March, the latter of whom scored a critical goal in the quarter-final comeback against Millwall.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
For Manchester City, Ederson is all but guaranteed a spot in the starting XI. With John Stones returning to fitness, I suspect he’ll get the nod at centre-back, as Pep will surely want to give the English defender some match minutes ahead of this month’s chaotic run of fixtures. A rare start for club captain Vincent Kompany will complete the centre-back pairing, with the ever-steady Aymeric Laporte getting the night off against a weak Brighton squad. With Zinchenko and Delph out with injury, it’s possible that Pep will slot Benjamin Mendy into the starting lineup, but I find it doubtful. If City are to get the best of the injury-riddled Frenchman down the stretch, he’ll need to see some substantive minutes against determined opposition, but it’s hard to imagine those minutes will come with a start in the semifinals. Instead, Danilo, who was serviceable when flipped to the left against Cardiff, will get the start in Zinchenko’s absence. Naturally, Kyle Walker will run the flanks on the right.
In the middle of the pitch, expect Ilkay Gündogan to start in the defensive midfield slot, as Pep will likely opt to save Fernandinho’s critical veteran presence for stiffer opposition. I’d tip David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to complete the midfield trio. De Bruyne was brilliant against Cardiff on Wednesday and Pep will hope that a successful semifinal might bring the Belgian fully back to the form he enjoyed last season. This would be his third start in the last week however, so look for youngster Phil Foden to feature as an early substitute, particularly if City find themselves with a comfortable lead.
Up front, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez will complete the team, with Leroy Sane back on the bench and Sergio Aguero still recovering from a minor injury sustained at Fulham last weekend. Mahrez has had a mixed run of appearances for City, but his quickness and skill on the ball should make life difficult for Brighton. The Algerian is brimming with talent, but all too often seems desperate to show City fans how good he can be instead of letting the game come to him. Pep keeps the former Leicester man on a pretty short leash, however, so don’t be surprised if a couple of wild attempts at goal see Mahrez back on the bench for the second half, substituted in favor of Premier League Player of the Month nominee, Bernardo Silva.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Sergio Aguero, Benjamin Mendy, Leroy Sane, Aymeric Laporte, Phil Foden, and Bernardo Silva.