Manchester City travel to the south coast on Sunday evening to face an in-form Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium. After four wins in five, and a sumptuous victory against the newly crowned champions Liverpool, City will be aiming to take one step closer to certifying second place.
With an FA Cup semi-final just around the corner, Guardiola will be using all those available in the upcoming four games before the bout at Wembley. We expect a hefty amount of squad rotation to combat the counter attacking prowess of Southampton and contain their free-scoring marksman, Danny Ings.
Here’s how we think Guardiola will line up for this one…
After a surprisingly quiet night on Thursday, Ederson is one of the few certainties for this weekend’s fixture. At right-back, I’d expect a start for Joao Cancelo in order to provide Kyle Walker a well-deserved rest after his consistent efforts in the previous three matches. At centre-back, given Aymeric Laporte’s early removal in the 4-0 demolition of Liverpool, Guardiola will be sure to keep City’s elite centre half fit and purring for the remainder of the season.
Joining the Frenchman, we suspect will be Nicolas Otamendi. Eric Garcia performed admirably on Thursday, being entrusted to meet Mane in 1v1s – a hopeful precedent for the remainder of this season and beyond. Nevertheless, John Stones could make his first start in the post-lockdown period but we suspect the aerial prowess of Southampton is something that may require the fine-tuned brutishness of Otamendi. At left-back, Oleksandr Zinchenko must be a shoe-in for this game. Even after such a stellar performance by Benjamin Mendy against Liverpool, playing the Frenchman two times in ten days is a risk.
In the centre of the park, we can only hope our patron saint of tactical fouling Fernandinho will make an appearance, after his two-game suspension. His presence will provide key balance in nullifying any Southampton break away and give ample rest for Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri after their exploits in midweek.
Ahead of the Brazilian, I expect both David Silva and Bernardo Silva to play as the free eight’s. Kevin De Bruyne is very much in need of a rest, even as he chases the record of the most Premier League assists in a single season. Plus, given how both Silva’s started in the 5-0 Burnley victory, we suspect a similar shape will be used this week to break through the Saints low-block.
Onto City’s front three, with winger Riyad Mahrez surely in line for a start this weekend. Surprisingly missing out on a starting place against Liverpool, the Algerian will be sure to produce some magic against Ryan Bertrand. After inspired performances from both Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden on Thursday, there is a case for either of them to start. Even after three consecutive starts, Raheem Sterling’s services will be required this weekend to provide a clear outlet on the left wing and target the defensively vulnerable Kyle Walker-Peters. And finally, after a faltering return to football, Gabriel Jesus will continue his place as City’s number nine.
On the bench, that’d leave: Claudio Bravo, John Stones, Eric Garcia, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. Not some bad back-up’s to say the least.
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