At times this season it’s felt like we’ve been watching a watered down version of what we expect from a Pep Guardiola side. Saturday’s Manchester Derby wasn’t the nail-biting thriller that some were anticipating, but the players have another Premier League game on the horizon to prove they can still shine.
After the goalless draw at Old Trafford, City find themselves languishing in mid-table, with only a game in hand preventing them from being compared to the Manchester United and Chelsea sides who massively dropped-off in seasons past.
Meanwhile, West Brom have looked better in recent games but still found themselves on the losing side. Nineteenth in the table and with some tough fixtures ahead, they need points and quickly.
With Sergio Agüero a doubt, and Eric Garcia and Oleksandr Zinchenko ruled out with injury, here’s how we predict City will line-up…
The games will come thick and fast in the coming weeks, but don’t expect Ederson to be rested for any of them. While occasionally looking stir-crazy between the sticks, he hasn’t got enough credit for the six successive clean sheets the team have kept. City need points on the board so expect to see the Brazilian in net for this match and the rest of the hectic Christmas run-in ahead.
There’s a case to be made for Joao Cancelo at right-back, but I think Kyle Walker will retain his spot. After being rested for the derby, it’s likely Benjamin Mendy will come back into the side at left-back and, while he bombs forward, Walker is better equipped to assist the centre-backs defensively.
With the next match being against a high-flying Southampton side in front of fans at St. Mary’s, I think Guardiola will save the better right and left-footed centre-backs for that one. So my head tells me John Stones and Nathan Aké will partner up against West Brom. Though as the manager recently admitted; all defenders are playing well – making this selection essentially a coin-toss.
Having missed out at the weekend, I reckon Ilkay Gündogan will anchor the midfield alongside Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese is playing better and could be used as a box to box player or in a double-pivot. With Kevin De Bruyne ahead of them this could make for a much more creative midfield than we’ve seen of late, while still having the defensive capabilities to handle the opposition.
As noted by the lads on the City Xtra podcast, Pep’s selection at the weekend left De Bruyne looking pretty lonely in the centre of the pitch. If Bernardo plays in midfield, that would help him out, but so would starting Phil Foden on the right-side of the forward line. When Foden cuts inside, he tends to drop-back more than Mahrez, and to great effect when linking up with Kevin.
As for the other two slots up front, if Guardiola has been truthful about starting players in form, then one or both of Jesus and Sterling deserve to be dropped. I think Ferran Torres plays centrally with Raheem Sterling being best suited (out of those remaining) to play on the left.
With essentially two players fit for every position, that makes this prediction more difficult than most.
Substitutes: Zack Steffan, Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, Rodrigo, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus.
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