After a disappointing and, quite frankly, maddening result last weekend, Manchester City will look to rebound from a 2-2 draw against Spurs at the Etihad by righting the ship with a convincing display against Bournemouth on the South Coast. Thankfully, there’s every reason to believe that the Blues will emerge victorious on Sunday, having not dropped a point to the Cherries in their last eight meetings.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: VAR overturns a last-gasp, stoppage-time winner for City, foiling a dominant display against Spurs at the Etihad. Sound familiar? Deja-VAR all over again.
That’s right, Manchester City were once again robbed of a thrilling victory in front of their home fans by the ever-so-unfriendly Video Assistant Referee. This time, Aymeric Laporte was ‘correctly’ judged to have handled Kevin De Bruyne’s whipped-in corner ball, which then bounced favorably to Gabriel Jesus, whose deft touch and curled finish would soon be forgotten amidst the ensuing VAR drama. Ultimately, Jesus’ effort was a non-goal that came at the bitter end of a match City truly dominated and undoubtedly deserved to win.
Indeed, notwithstanding the frustrating events of last Saturday, City put forth a dazzling display, which, given the season’s infancy, should absolutely terrify any Premier League side with title ambitions. It’s hardly a stretch to argue that City could have netted four or five goals on Hugo Lloris. Guardiola’s men had no such luck, however, and now once again face an uphill battle to regain the Premier League’s pole position. We’re on to Bournemouth.
Aside from perennially unfit Frenchman Benjamin Mendy, City’s only injury doubt is John Stones, who picked up a minor knock to his thigh muscle and is day to day. According to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, Stones will be out for another week or so, likely precluding his availability against Bournemouth. Guardiola has also confirmed the fitness of Oleksandr Zinchenko, who was a slight question mark after suffering what appeared to be thigh aggravation over the weekend.
As for Bournemouth, the Cherries have a host of early season injuries to contend with, including squad regulars Junior Stanislas, Lewis Cook, and Simon Francis. Nevertheless, Bournemouth managed an away win against Aston Villa last time out and Eddie Howe’s side have given City some trouble in recent contests at the Vitality Stadium, with each of the last two matches on the South Coast being decided by one goal.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
First things first, Ederson gets the call in net for City. As for the back line, expect to see the same group that lined up against Spurs. Nicolas Otamendi was at his strong, physical best last weekend and with John Stones likely unavailable, the General is a virtual lock for the starting XI. As is Aymeric Laporte, who has picked up where he left off in his second full season in a City shirt. Pep has little choice but to start Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back, despite a performance against Spurs that at times had City fans yearning for the pace and precision of Benjamin Mendy, who has recently returned to training. Finally, I expect Kyle Walker to start at right-back, in part because the Englishman has been in rock solid form, and in part because I think it’ll be another match or two before we first see newcomer Joao Cancelo earn a start.
In the midfield, it’s difficult to imagine Pep will want to make any substantial alterations after a rather scintillating performance from last Saturday’s trio. Indeed, it remains to be seen when, if ever, Fernandinho will reclaim the starting defensive midfield slot, but I don’t suspect it will be this weekend. Rodri has looked every bit the successor City hoped he’d be, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll struggle on the ball against a Bournemouth side that settled for an unconvincing draw against Premier League neophytes Sheffield United in their last home game. Kevin De Bruyne is a virtual lock as well, following an all-world display against Spurs in which the Belgian sliced through the defense of the Champions League runners-up like they were a fledgling League Two side. Lastly, our Spanish club captain David Silva will return to the starting line-up seeking a signature away performance at the Vitality Stadium.
Up front, I predict we’ll see two changes from the last outing. Raheem Sterling is all but assured a starting spot on the left wing, but Pep’s options elsewhere are trickier in the best possible way. He could stick with the attacking group from last weekend, who played quite well and looked particularly threatening in the first half, but that would leave Bernardo Silva on the bench for the second time in three matches. We simply can’t have that. Bernardo Silva will slot in on the right wing. Guardiola could also start Gabriel Jesus over talisman Sergio Aguero, which would undoubtedly send pundits (and surely some staffers at City Xtra, as well) into a frenzy. As we know, recent form dominates decision-making in Pep’s world, and that’s why I’ll tip Gabriel Jesus to earn the start this week.
Manchester City Bench: Claudio Bravo, Joao Cancelo, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Aguero.
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