Manchester City are set to take part in their biggest game of the season so far, as they host the Premier League champions and current league leaders Liverpool at the Etihad this Sunday.
The first goal of the game will be crucial – City have failed to win after going a goal down in league games so far, and Liverpool have come back to win from a goal down in their last two matches.
Liverpool have had the better start to the season with five wins to City’s three, but the Blues have had the better results at the Etihad in recent seasons, winning comfortably 4-0 a little over four months ago. This really is any team’s game to win.
It’s difficult to predict how Pep Guardiola will set his side up at the best of times, and for big games it’s almost impossible. Nonetheless, we’ve had a go and this is how we think City will line up for this one…
Ederson has kept three clean sheets in a row and while he’s not been the most active player on the pitch, he’s still been called into action. The Brazilian will need to be on the top of his game against the likes of Salah, Mane, and the in-form Diogo Jota, when he starts this weekend.
At right-back Kyle Walker has started every game of the season so far and this match won’t be different. With the performances he’s putting in, it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes on to be City’s player of the season.
Alongside him in the centre of defence we should expect to see the new partnership of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte. They played well together against Sheffield United last week and both were rested in the midweek Champions League game, most likely to freshen them up for this big Premier League clash.
The first out-of-the-box prediction I’m going to make is Nathan Aké startingat left-back. The Dutchman played well in this position against Arsenal and will offer City more defensive solidity than Joao Cancelo or Oleksandr Zinchenko. Also, I don’t expect Guardiola to implement the controversial double-pivot in midfield, so an extra man will be needed at the back.
I do think Rodrigo will start in the centre of midfield. He had one of his best matches in a City shirt against the Blades last week, and was also rested against Olympiacos. Rather than play with Ilkay Gundogan under Rodri’s feet, Bernardo Silva will partner the Spaniard in midfield, using his pace to put out fires wherever he’s needed, and provide link-up play with the left side of City’s attack in Cancelo’s absence.
Ahead of them, captaining the side, will be Kevin De Bruyne. Whilst the midfield maestro hasn’t been reaching the heights we know he can recently, he’s still been picking up assists in most matches.
As for who the front three will be, the unanswered question is whether Gabriel Jesus is fit enough to lead the forward line. After his goal-scoring return midweek, the Brazilian said; “Of course, I need time and a few minutes to get my physical condition back and my energy. But I am so happy to play ten minutes and help the team.”
This leads me to believe Jesus isn’t yet able to start, so Ferran Torres will once again play in the centre of City’s forward line, and can hopefully build on the success he’s had in this position recently.
On the right Riyad Mahrez will look to link up with Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne, cutting inside to give City an additional threat in the box, while Raheem Sterling will do the same out on the left, and offer the pace needed to take on Liverpool’s defence.
That will leave Guardiola with plenty of options on the bench to change the game if needed. As substitutes I’d expect to see; Steffen, Stones, Cancelo, Zinchenko, Gundogan, Foden, and Jesus.
You can follow Brandon on Twitter here: @brandonevans_18
Follow us on Twitter for live match coverage: @City_Xtra