The Blues return to Manchester this weekend to face Watford, in what feels like the first match at the Etihad in ages. It may only be September, but this match is just about a must-win for City, with Liverpool already five points clear at the top of the table. Can the Champions regain their Premier League form against a struggling Watford side? Let’s get back on track!
A successful mid-week trip to Ukraine saw the Blues shrug off their latest injury setback and at least partly exorcise the demons of a far-from-comfortable outing at Norwich last weekend. Indeed, City enjoyed an all-business stroll past Shaktar Donetsk on Wednesday evening, with goals from Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, and Gabriel Jesus carrying the squad to a 3-0 victory in the opening stanza of this season’s Champion’s League campaign. Pep’s men looked every bit the confident team we’ve seen in spurts thus far this season, though steadiness at the back remains a major concern.
Last time out against Watford, Manchester City capped off its Fourmidable 2018-19 season in emphatic style, battering the Hornets in a 6-0 win at Wembley Stadium. Goals from David Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne, and Raheem Sterling (3) put an exclamation mark on a truly historic season for the Blues. Since then, City has more or less continued its winning ways, while Watford has found itself at the bottom of the table, with a pair of draws against Newcastle and Arsenal the only points to their name in this young 2019 Premier League season. All told, City have dominated Watford in recent years, including two 6-0 wins as well as a 5-0 victory. Fans at the Etihad will be hoping for another dominant display on Saturday.
Unfortunately, City’s injury issues continue to mount, particularly in defense. We know that Laporte and Sane’s much-discussed knee injuries will sideline them until the new year, but as we learned from Pep during the week, John Stones has also picked up a muscle problem that should keep him out for another month or so. Despite a crisis in the backline, City did manage to keep a clean sheet against Shaktar on Wednesday. Although, the match did see its fair share of defensive miscues, with each member of the Blues’ defensive unit looking shaky at times. Then again, committing men forward is integral to Pep’s philosophy and occasional exposure at the back is par for the course in Guardiola’s system.
Elsewhere, Phil Foden supposedly has a stomach issue which may preclude his availability against Watford. Look for the youngster to return to action and possibly get the starting nod in midfield against Preston on Tuesday. On a more positive note, Benjamin Mendy finally saw some minutes on Wednesday, as he works his way back to full fitness.
As for the Hornets, they will likely be without team captain Troy Deeney, who remains sidelined after undergoing minor knee surgery in late August. Watford showed impressive resolve last weekend in climbing out of a 2-0 hole to earn a draw with Arsenal at Vicarage Road, and will look to carry over some momentum when they face-off with City. Spanish attacker Gerard Deulofeu was particularly impressive, notching a crucial assist in his Man Of The Match performance.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
Barring a shock decision from Pep, Ederson will surely start between the posts on Saturday. As for the backline, I predict we’ll see just one change from Wednesday’s group, with Joao Cancelo earning his first start for Manchester City. The Portuguese right-back has played sparingly at best this season, but nevertheless seems poised to slot into the starting XI following some solid, but not exactly spectacular performances out of mainstay Kyle Walker. Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho were occasionally exposed in central defense on Wednesday, but Pep is well short of options in that area, and a Premier League start for youngster Eric Garcia might be premature. Oleksandr Zinchenko remains somewhat of a defensive liability on the left, but will still earn a start with Mendy yet to play significant minutes this season. With that said, look for the Frenchman to be the first name off the bench on Saturday.
As for the midfield, I predict we’ll also see one change from the midweek fixture. Rodrigo was fantastically poised against Shaktar and with Fernandinho playing centre-back, Pep has little choice but to give the Spaniard another well-deserved start. Kevin De Bruyne was not quite at his very best against Shaktar, despite a slick assist to Jesus for City’s final goal of the evening. Nevertheless, the Belgian should start on Saturday and will look to add to his impressive assist tally against a Watford defense that has struggled mightily in matches against City. Completing the midfield trio will be club captain David Silva, whose match minutes have evidently been closely monitored this season.
Up front, I predict we’ll see Bernardo Silva swapped for Riyad Mahrez, despite another positive display from the shifty Algerian in Kharkiv. Likewise, considering his early-season goal scoring form, Sergio Aguero surely won’t be left on the bench for a consecutive match. Rounding out the team is sure-fire starter Raheem Sterling, who will hope to follow up a hattrick performance against the Hornets last time out with another dominant outing.
Substitutes: Claudio Bravo, Ilkay Gundogan, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Eric Garcia
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