Come on, lads. Pick yourselves up and dust yourselves off. Manchester City players and fans alike, we can’t afford to think about Tottenham Hotspur right now, past or future. We’ve got a game to win.
Like it or not, that is the cold hard truth. For however tired or dazed or confused we all might be from City’s 1-0 loss to Spurs in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, Sunday’s Premier League game against Crystal Palace is a must-win. There can be no false dawns, poor performances or unlucky slips. For despite Liverpool playing Chelsea in a later game at Anfield, Pep Guardiola’s team must keep their foot on the Premier League’s throat. Anything else will surely spell a downward spiral that is beyond repair so close to the end of the season.
As bewildering as it was to see Guardiola concede his style of play in North London earlier in the week, Crystal Palace are not in European competition for good reason. True, they beat us in the reverse fixture earlier this season, but bar a borderline generational goal from Andros Townsend, the Blues would have salvaged a draw whilst playing some of their worst football.
Now with no margin for error, City face the hard task of conserving their energy whilst still running rings around a Palace side newly invigorated by the winter addition of Michy Batshuayi and a good spell of form. If Spurs is to be the cautionary tale, the team must know that the only way to rediscover their own form and grasp the three points is to out-play Roy Hodgson’s stubborn side, sticking by their attacking principles in order to find the extra man and ruthlessly punish any mistakes the Eagles might make.
The news that every City fan will have been praying for came straight from Pep in his Friday press conference – Bernardo Silva is back. Likewise, Oleksandr Zinchenko is “feeling much better”, as Guardiola confirmed that both fan favourites are fit for Sunday.
For Crystal Palace, defender James Tomkins has been ruled out for the rest of the season, whilst Mamadou Sahko is similarly out injured. This leaves the Eagles without either of their starting centre backs, leaving Scott Dann and Martin Kelly likely to deputise. German midfielder Max Meyer will also likely be absent due to illness.
CITY XTRA LINE-UP PREDICTION
Though he’s probably carrying a bruise or two from a steep fall on his side against Spurs, there should be no doubts over seeing Ederson in goal. Though some extremely precautionary nerves might suggest giving Aro Muric a rare appearance, the Brazilian demands to be involved courtesy of his very unique role in Guardiola’s team. That is, the guy is an absolute weapon.
Let’s rip this plaster right off, shall we. If Fabian Delph starts against Palace, I will likely shuffle off of this mortal coil. Okay, I am slightly taking the mick there… but seriously, let’s not start off our backline by including a walking liability. Instead, we can do the logical thing and play converted-midfielder-cult-hero Oleksandr Zinchenko at left back.
My heart says that Benjamin Mendy needs minutes, but my head says he was crocked at Palace away last season so let’s not risk it. Realistically however, with Wilfred Zaha’s ability to swap wings and comfortably ruin anyone on his day, it’s vital to keep a secure unit at the back, something which would risked when starting the bloke who tried to nutmeg a Brighton winger in his first game in months.
Now that we’ve addressed the routine black hole that is City’s left back slot, I think rest and rotation will bring forth the long forgotten partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones once again. The pair were a force to be reckoned with in the first half of last year’s Centurions campaign, and with Stones urgently needing minutes and Otamendi allowing Aymeric Laporte to be cyrogenically frozen until Wednesday night, I back the Englishman and the Argentian to turn Selhurst Park into their own personal San Paulo and take no prisoners.
Right back will hopefully see Danilo take up his natural position in lieu of Kyle Walker. As with left back, City will benefit from a secure backline, which is slighlty more feasibly when Walker is approaching the third game of his ‘Do Something Daft’ playing cycle. Sure, it makes a lot more sense to just say the Englishman can afford to be rotated ahead of a guaranteed full-throttle Champions League match next Wednesday, but in a world where ‘Kyling’ became a verb at last summer’s World Cup, let’s hope that Danilo neither strains a hamstring or generally makes a bit of a tit of himself. Case closed.
The midfield selection continues in the theme of this season in that it revolves around Fernandinho. Via a process of elimination, we know that the upcoming series of games versus Tottenham, Tottenham again and then Manchester United demand Fernandinho’s inclusion, so the Brazilian may well be rested here in the lack of any other alternative. Likewise, given that John Stones is already at centre back, Pep can’t repeat his odd experiment of playing the Englishman in defensive midfield as he did when playing Palace at the Etihad. That leaves Ilkay Gündogan having to anchor the midfield. Simples.
In front of him, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva will occupy the number 8 positions. Kevin will be certainly be happier for the extra minutes than David, but the tight pitch at Selhurst means that precise balls and tight possession will be key to winning the battles in the middle of the park. In the ideal scenario, Kevin and Bernardo Silva could get 45 minutes each, City get the win and we all stay fit for Spurs. A man can dream.
The front three will see Gabriel Jesus start up top, whilst Leroy Sané and Bernardo Silva lurk on their respective left and right wings.
Dare I say it, but it’s a risky strategy putting Leroy’s hot and cold talents up against the consistently exceptional Aaron Wan-Bissaka. However, it really is getting to the point where the German needs game time or else he might well leave for greener pastures. He is often simultaneously the key and the obstacle to City’s attacking success. However, if he can rediscover his best form, there is no question that he could and should be our best winger, if not pushing for our best player.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Benjamin Mendy, Vincent Kompany, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling.
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