Following another frustrating weekend of Premier League action which saw City all but surrender their chance of chasing down Liverpool, the Champions League match in Zagreb today could prove a welcome distraction to the domestic difficulties.
Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte remain long-term absentee’s. Sergio Aguero, David Silva and John Stones are also out as Pep Guardiola confirmed yesterday. Oleksandr Zinchenko, however, could make a brief appearance following his injury as Pep Guardiola confirmed he is fit to feature and he has travelled to Croatia. Fernandinho is also suspended for this one.
Dinamo Zagreb’s Bosnian attacking midfielder Amer Gojak has returned to fitness in recent weeks and is available for selection.
Head to Head
The game against Dinamo Zagreb will represent City’s first competitive appearance in Croatia. In the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium, the English champions defeated their Croatian counterparts 2-0. Two Englishmen brought off the bench scored the goals that evening, with Raheem Sterling breaking the deadlock in the 66th minute before Phil Foden sealed the tie in injury-time.
It was a match dominated by City, with 81% possession achieved and twenty shots in comparison to Zagreb’s paltry two. It was only poor finishing that prevented a more comfortable encounter for City. Nevertheless, it would be wise to anticipate Zagreb to be stronger in the familiar setting of Stadion Maksimir and emboldened by the opportunity to leapfrog Shaktar Donetsk into second spot. Plus, in European competitions they are unbeaten at home in their last ten fixtures.
Since the reverse fixture in October, Dinamo Zagreb have won seven and drawn once in the Croatian Prva Liga. Their most recent outing was a 1-0 home success against league minnows Varaždin on Friday evening. In Europe, though, they have failed to win since their initial 4-0 triumph over Atalanta. They enjoyed two entertaining draws involving ten goals with Shaktar before losing 2-0 in Italy.
City approach the tie following the dismal derby defeat on Saturday evening. That compounded our struggling form that has seen only two wins in our last six games. Last season’s aura of near invincibility has evaporated this season. However, in Europe we have fared better and remain undefeated; City even survived the historical event of Kyle Walker’s goalkeeping debut. A repeat of the invigorating performance at Burnley in our most recent midweek fixture will be desired.
Manchester City form (all competitions): LWDDWL
Dinamo Zagreb form (all competitions): WDWLWW
With City’s status as group winners incontestable, the opportunity to rotate will be seized by Pep. He has already confirmed that Phil Foden will start. Eric Garcia should partner Nicolas Otamendi. However, Guardiola will not treat this game lightly.
He will be determined to avoid a malaise setting in after the weekend’s result and recognise the psychological imperative of getting back to winning ways as soon as possible. Expect the high levels of intensity intrinsic to Pep’s tactics. City will look to hound Zagreb from the first whistle and deprive them of the ball, and use the full-backs aggressively to keep the Croatian champions pinned back.
The main threat that will concern Guardiola should be Zagreb’s frontman Mislav Oršić. He has seven Champions League goals this campaign, which includes a hat-trick against Atalanta. The Croatian also has nine goals in his eleven league appearances. Daniel Olmo, Zagreb’s young Spanish playmaker, will be the creative spark in midfield. He has been linked with City in the transfer market this season, and Guardiola has spoken highly of him more than once.
A Spanish quartet led by referee Carlos Del Cerro. He is no stranger to English sides. City will be the fifth Premier League side he has refereed in his last ten European matches. Del Cerro will not be a popular appointment in Manchester; the last time the official was in charge for a City game was in January when Pep Guardiola’s side overcame Schalke 3-2. In that game Schalke received two penalties and Otamendi was sent off.
Follow us on Twitter here for all the match coverage: @City_Xtra
Follow the Author here: @MDgough96