This Boxing Day, Manchester City welcome COVID stricken Newcastle United to the Etihad Stadium for what will be the Blues’ first of two games in just three days.
City made it through to their fourth straight Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek with a 4-1 victory away to a dismal Arsenal side – with Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte all finding themselves on the score-sheet.
The League Cup win came just three days after City returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a 1-0 win on the south coast against Ralph Hassenhuttl’s high flying Saints.
Newcastle United are City’s opponents this weekend and Steve Bruce has found himself dealing with a Christmas nightmare in recent weeks. His Newcastle side were dumped out of the League Cup by Brentford on Tuesday night, and have only won one of their last three Premier League games.
The club have also had to deal with a COVID outbreak at the team’s training ground forcing the players into isolation and some players, including Allan Saint-Maximin and James Lascelles to suffer long-term effects from the virus.
Between Saturday and Monday, Blues boss Pep Guardiola will have selected two City sides. Here is how we think he might set-up in the first of those games…
Zack Steffen made his fourth ever Manchester City start against Arsenal, however Ederson will undoubtedly return in net on Saturday. The Brazilian goalkeeper has conceded just one goal in his last four Premier League appearances.
The only defender likely to keep his place from midweek is Ruben Dias, who has already played sixteen times for City and has lost just once when on the field for the Blues. To his right will be Kyle Walker, who came on for the final few minutes at the Emirates.
Despite scoring and looking as assured as ever, Aymeric Laporte will drop out of the team for John Stones. The English centre-back has been a revelation for City so far this season and is currently undroppable. Oleksandr Zinchenko found himself playing in the left-back role at Arsenal, but we should expect Benjamin Mendy to complete the Blues’ back four.
The slightly new-look, more compact and defence minded midfield set-up which has divided opinion will understandably continue. Although one would love to see a more attacking minded, free flowing midfield three, the double pivot will be how City set-up on Saturday. The two who will occupy that pivot will be Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan; the latter didn’t play any part in the week and saw veteran defensive midfielder, Fernandinho, take his place in the starting eleven.
In front of them will be Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian was rested for the cup game after a stellar performance at Southampton at the weekend. The majestic midfielder bagged his 100th City assist in that game and has assisted seven of City’s nineteen Premier League goals so far this season.
Despite playing for just over twenty minutes at Arsenal, one wouldn’t expect the club’s all time goal scorer, Sergio Agüero to start on Saturday. Gabriel Jesus will lead the line for the Blues after ending his goal-drought in the opening 120 seconds of Tuesday’s win.
Either side of the Brazilian will be Raheem Sterling and yes, Phil Foden! After a fantastic performance back on the right last weekend one would hope the scorer of last week’s winner starts in the same position against Newcastle.
Although it has felt as if Guardiola was trying his hardest not to start Phil Foden in the Premier League in recent weeks, one would expect to see him out on the wing on Boxing Day. The “Stockport Iniesta” has started just five league games for City so far this season but after another dominant performance and a stunning goal against Arsenal, surely Guardiola will hand Foden a belated Christmas gift. A sixth Premier League start.
Substitutes: Zack Steffen, Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Ferran Torres and Sergio Agüero.
You can follow Harry on Twitter here: @harrywinters16
Follow us on Twitter for live match coverage: @City_Xtra