With a trio of fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur now a thing of the past, Manchester City cannot afford to rest and recover in their hunt for the Premier League crown. Instead, a derby fixture against Manchester United looms large, with Pep Guardiola’s team knowing that anything but a win will surely hand the league title to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Facing down Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his United side in the Norwegian’s first derby as a manager, City will go to Old Trafford with a one-track mind. Win. Win with desire in order to beat your closest rivals. Win with hunger so you can to make history. Win with anger to spare, so that no one forgets who is the best team in the country.
When speaking in his pre-match press conference, Pep made it clear that that was the only objective (and also firing a few shots at the famous Old Trafford):
“Four games left and we have to win our four games to retain the title. It is not an easy place to go [Old Trafford] but at the same time, it is a nice place to go. We know exactly what we have to do and we’re going to go there to do a big game.”Pep Guardiola
So will City brave the Trafford swamp to surge their way to the title? Or will United transform their woes into winning ways in order to have the last Mancunian laugh in their otherwise forgettable season?
The major news is that Kevin De Bruyne will not be involved in any capacity after suffering a muscular strain in the game against Spurs over the weekend. Whilst it is a small relief that the Belgian has not angered any of his problematic knee issues, he is perhaps the only player who can make their absence sorely felt in a team of such attacking quality.
Benjamin Mendy also did not train in the build up to this game, though there is no news on his absence.
United will be bolstered by the return of Luke Shaw, who is back after serving a two game domestic suspension. Likewise, it is a matter of perspective whether the abscence of Phil Jones would be a hinderence or a help, with the Englishman undergoing assesment following a rough challenge in United’s 4-0 loss to Everton on Easter Sunday.
City Xtra Predicted XI
Ederson has to start in goal, if not purely on merit for his milk-lobbing heroics during last season’s trip to Old Trafford.
Forming the Brazilian’s backline will be Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko. With Walker and Zinchenko surely (if not bizarrely) our first choice full back pairing, I think there’s very little explanation needed when it comes to starting Vinnie against United. Just typing that out gave me chills. With Laporte given greater freedom to utilise his exquistie ball distribution from the back, it is well worth having Kompany on the pitch when it comes to these crunch fixtures. Not only is the Belgian an all-purpose wall, but his record for thumping headers against our red neighbours speaks for itself.
Given Saturday’s demise of Kevin De Bruyne and emergence of Phil Foden, the midfield selection brings a host of new questions. What cannot be questioned is that the big occasion is sure to raise the level of the game beyond a typical league encounter, from the tackles to the sprints to the sheer desire to do your rivals in. It’s for this reason that with the all-action De Bruyne firmly out of contention, there can surely be no better time to start Bernardo Silva in midfield. Though phenomenal out on the wings in recent fixtures, Bernardo has shown time and time again that he is the one to turn to when you need a player to give their 110%.
Playing off of our Portuguese powerhouse, David Silva and Fernandinho will complete the midfield. United’s alarming combination of slow movers and slow thinkers in the middle of the park means that, though David has been far from his mercurial best recently, this game could be made for El Mago. Couple the Spaniard’s incisiveness with the mercilessness of Fernandinho, standing at the ready to halt any swift United counter-attacks, and there seem to be very few scenarios possible in which City do not dominate the midfield entirely.
The obvious gap in the attacking trident left by Bernardo’s shift into the middle means that we should be looking to Leroy Sané to make his first start against a top six side since scoring the winner against Liverpool in January. The German is in dire need of a show of confidence from Pep and should he be left out in the cold again, I fear for his future come the summer window.
Finally, there is no other option but to select Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling. This isn’t meant to be a sleight against Riyad Mahrez or Gabriel Jesus, but more that both the Argentine and the Englishman are the go-to big game players at the club now. Though Agüero needs no justification for this honour, it is worth emphasising how important Sterling has become, and can still be, in light of his tremendous rise this season. Just when you think he can’t step it up, Raheem finds a way.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gündogan, Phil Foden, Danilo.
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