Manchester City are set to face the reigning Primeira Liga champions FC Porto in their opening Champions League fixture at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Following an impressive and hard-fought victory against Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, Guardiola and his men will look to maintain that confidence while aiming to provide adequate squad rotation for the congested fixture list that lies ahead.
With key players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Aymeric Laporte and Gabriel Jesus missing this tie due to injury, here’s our predicted side as the Blues look to get their European ventures off to a winning start…
Ederson. One of the few certainties in this starting line-up, who is coming off a commanding performance on Saturday with a few crucial saves. We can only hope he is less busy in this one.
With Pep Guardiola deploying such a bizarre system to combat the highly talented Arsenal side, Kyle Walker was one of the few who really shone above the rest with an assured performance at right centre-back. It may not have been a complete performance from the Yorkshireman, but he demonstrated his talents at neutralising counter attacks and competent ball progression.
At centre-back, Ruben Dias and Nathan Aké should also keep their spots. We expect their roles to revert to a more conventional centre-back pairing with some fluidity involved when the full backs are pushed forward or inward. Their calmness on the ball and effective reading of the game in defensive transition will be key against a side who will look for surging counter attacks.
Following the news that Benjamin Mendy may be out for a few weeks due to a groin injury, there is an interesting call for Joao Cancelo to fill in after his productive display as a somewhat gadget player on the right-hand flank on the weekend. We expect this to be the case and for the Portuguese international to continue his multifaceted skills on the left-hand side this time.
At the base of midfield, we suspect the fan fearing Rodri & Ilkay Gundogan double pivot to come into play. Their tandem secures an element of defensive solidity as well as establishing competent ball progression during build up play. The duo have not appeared along side one another this season due to Gundogan’s positive COVID-19 test in late September and subsequent minor injuries.
Ahead of them we expect and hope Phil Foden will continue his promising run of starts in the side (five of the last six games in all competitions). With De Bruyne out, Foden provides that versatility and creative edge that some other players in the squad can’t necessarily do in crowded central areas. It would be a big and very welcome statement from Pep Guardiola to trust the young City star with a starting berth at number 10.
On the right-hand side of the front three, we hope there is a consecutive starting spot for Bernardo Silva after his industrious deployment in the centre of midfield against Arsenal. He is still lacking the edge and finesse of his exceptional 2018/19 campaign, but his tenacity and cute link up play are something that will be crucial in the coming months for Guardiola. On the right flank though, his ability to maintain possession and come into central areas to create space and dominate the game along with Foden & Gundogan will be pivotal in finding the forwards in goal scoring positions.
On the opposite flank it can be none other than Raheem Sterling. If only Sterling could be given a week or two’s rest after his exploits in the past couple of seasons – but he simply cannot be benched at this moment in time. His consistent goalscoring and chance creation is something the other players in the squad cannot replicate. Sterling’s speed and trickery are the main assets City will look to amplify against the Porto backline.
Lastly, Sergio Agüero should keep his role as the striker for City. While not looking fully fit against Arsenal, his presence on the pitch was all but needed. Gabriel Jesus appears to be out for another couple of weeks and the false nine experiment has not worked very well in recent memory, especially not when playing at home. Agüero gives City that focal point and that predatory instinct in the box that we will need against a solid side like Porto.
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