Following a rather disappointing performance which aptly encapsulated Manchester City’s 2019/20 campaign, the Blues look to make a quick turnaround from Saturday’s draw by travelling east and squaring off against Premier League neophytes Sheffield United.
Manchester City came into Saturday’s bout with Crystal Palace in fine form, having won eight of their last nine games in all competitions. Nevertheless, one Cenk Tosun header later and City quickly reverted to its all-too-familiar and not-so-successful “Plan B.” Thoughtless crosses into a crowded six-yard box, sloppy finishing, and careless defending. Sound familiar?
In all of City’s poor performances this season, each of those could be pointed to as an explanation for the disheartening result. Saturday’s 2-2 draw was no exception. While the Blues fought hard and even gained the lead late on, a poor outing from John Stones and continued defensive woes allowed Palace to claw back and secure a point. While hardly any reason to panic, particularly with Aymeric Laporte set to return, it is critical that City remain confident as their Champions league clash with Real Madrid looms large.
As for Sheffield United, the Blades have found a fair bit of success in the top-flight, clearly earning the admiration of Pep Guardiola. Indeed, the new age “noisy neighbours” sit just a point shy of Wolves and that other team from Manchester in the race for Europa League football. Sheffield gave City all they could handle when the two teams played just before the New Year, with a 2-0 score line probably a bit unfair to the traveling Blades. Sheffield earned a hard-fought draw against Arsenal on Saturday and haven’t lost since a 0-2 defeat to league-leaders Liverpool.
With only two days off between the Palace and Sheffield matches, it seems a few first team players may be rested due to small knocks picked up on Saturday. Specifically, Pep has named Benjamin Mendy and John Stones as two players in doubt for contention on Tuesday. Elsewhere, Guardiola has confirmed that, while Laporte is close but not quite ready and Leroy Sane has yet to fully train on grass, the rest of City’s squad is fully fit.
The Blades will hope to see the return of David McGoldrick on Tuesday, who missed out against Arsenal with a foot injury. Elsewhere, manager Chris Wilder has indicated that Sheffield have a fully fit squad to take on City.
City Xtra Predicted XI
As usual, Ederson will start in between the posts. However, following a number of defensive miscues against Palace, it’s likely Pep will shake up City’s defensive unit.
Perennial scapegoat John Stones will surely drop, particularly given the minor muscle injury he picked up on Saturday. Thus, it seems all but guaranteed that Fernandinho will retain his place. Pep could give Nicolas Otamendi an increasingly rare start, or he could entrust youngster Eric Garcia to fend off a determined Blades attack. I predict Guardiola will opt for the latter, which would allow City’s defensive midfielder to join the central defence, if necessary.
At right back, Kyle Walker will give Joao Cancelo a rest and earn a start against his beloved boyhood club. Oleksandr Zinchenko will slot in on the left side, allowing Benjamin Mendy to recover from what Pep has described as “muscle fatigue.”
Further up the pitch, I predict Guardiola will select a familiar midfield trio, albeit without the Silva you’d expect. Rodri will start in defensive midfield, but don’t be surprised to see the Spaniard join Fernandinho and Garcia in central defence, forming the potent back five that City fans have seen utilised with great success in recent weeks. Kevin De Bruyne will join Rodri. Bernardo Silva rounds out the midfield trio, returning to the centre of the pitch after a spell on the right wing against Palace. While Bernardo has yet to find his top form this season, it is this author’s opinion that his best performances have come while marauding the midfield.
Up front, Pep will surely reinstate Riyad Mahrez at the right-wing position, after the Algerian came off the bench on Saturday. Mahrez has been arguably City’s best attacking threat this season and with Raheem Sterling somewhat out of form, City will need to rely on his goal-scoring ability if they’re to leave Bramall Lane with a victory. I predict we’ll see both City strikers earn a start on Tuesday, slotting Gabriel Jesus out wide. With Sergio Aguero seemingly netting every half-chance that comes his way, the City legend is a must-start, even on short rest.
SUBSTITUTES: Bravo, Gundogan, Otamendi, Silva, Sterling, Foden, Cancelo.
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