On the heels of an absolutely heartbreaking Champions League defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, City have no time to wallow before they return to the Etihad Stadium for yet another crack at the resilient North London side. With the unprecedented Quadruple cruelly swiped off the table by a stoppage time VAR decision, Pep Guardiola will look to turn Wednesday’s devastation into a month’s worth of motivation for his grieving City side.
So . . . something not that chill happened on Wednesday. Let’s quickly recap:
The Quadruple dream is still alive! In a season-defining moment, the Etihad Stadium erupted as Raheem Sterling’s last-gasp, stoppage time winner catapulted City into the Champions League semi-final for the second time in team history. Despite a legitimate offside shout on the final goal, the Blues beat back a determined Spurs side and will look to capitalize on the crushing blow to Tottenham by securing another victory at the Etihad, this time in their quest for Premier League glory…
Offside. No Goal. A soul-crushing defeat to Spurs on Wednesday saw Raheem Sterling’s incredible buzzer-beating goal positively snatched away by VAR in the dying moments of an instant-classic Champions League quarterfinal. Sergio Aguero was indeed millimeters offside in the build up to the goal, and a deafening Etihad Stadium fell silent as Tottenham survived a wild finish to set a date with Ajax in the semi-final. City will be left to pick up the pieces on Saturday lunchtime.
Ah, what could have been . . . .
Alas, we all know what happened. In the wake of such heartbreak, the Cityzens must carry on. City will need a heaping dose of mental strength and veteran leadership in the month’s fixture run-in and a rousing response against Spurs on Saturday is just the antidote that City, and its fans, desperately require.
Will Wednesday’s result doom the Blues? Or will Pep’s men rise from the ashes and conquer the Premier League for a consecutive season? Let’s hope for the latter — there is simply too much left to play for in City’s 2018-19 campaign.
On the injury front, City are lucky to have nearly all of their top squad fit for Saturday’s midday fixture. Oleksandr Zinchenko, the only real injury question for City, is training once again and looks set to feature this weekend. Elsewhere, Benjamin Mendy and Kevin De Bruyne are looking fit and ready to contribute more minutes down the stretch.
For Tottenham, Spurs will again be without the services of talisman Harry Kane, although the squad clearly hasn’t struggled to score in his absence. In fact, for my money Spurs were a more threatening side without Kane, scoring all four of their quarterfinal goals without the all-world English striker on the pitch. While Dele Alli looked a potential doubt for the second leg with a hand injury, he managed to sneak into the starting lineup, and I suspect he’ll assume the same role on Saturday.
The biggest injury question for Spurs is the availability of Moussa Sissoko, who left Wednesday’s match with a groin injury and is a major doubt ahead of this weekend’s clash. A fit Sissoko would bring a huge boost to Spurs midfield. Erik Lamela, who missed out on Wednesday’s Champion’s League action with a hamstring problem, will also need to pass a fitness test if he is to be featured on Saturday.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
As usual, Ederson will get the start in net. At the back, Aymeric Laporte will look to cast aside a mistake-ridden display on Wednesday night and will pair with John Stones in central defense, with the Englishman getting his first start in over two weeks. Meanwhile, Kyle Walker will slot in on the right flank, and I predict Oleksander Zinchenko will feature at left-back for the first time since picking up a thigh strain in City’s 2-0 victory over Cardiff on April 3rd.
In the midfield, Fernandinho will return to the starting lineup and feature in his standard holding midfield role. Elsewhere, Kevin De Bruyne will look to continue a scintillating run of form alongside Bernardo Silva. De Bruyne was my man of the match in Wednesday’s defeat and was unquestionably back to his very best. His tireless effort in the midfield led to three exquisite assists and, while his incredible performance didn’t go ignored, it was undoubtedly overshadowed by the match’s VAR drama. This will be his third start in a week, but Pep will need De Bruyne’s determination and vision if City want to win this one.
Up front, Riyad Mahrez will make his first start since the losing effort against Spurs in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal tie. The Algerian’s struggles are well-documented, but he showed some spark last time out and will likely be more involved on Saturday, as Pep is sure to employ a more attacking approach than he did in the first leg. While fans might continue to clamor for Leroy Sané, the German winger is clearly out of favor at the moment.
Raheem Sterling will play on the left and will be eager to notch another goal or two after Wednesday’s stoppage time catastrophe. Sergio Aguero will complete the side at striker, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gabriel Jesus collect some extended minutes in the second half, as City will need Aguero at full fitness for the midweek Derby.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Gabriel Jesus, Benjamin Mendy, Leroy Sané, Nicolas Otamendi, Phil Foden, and Ilkay Gündogan.
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