Off the back of a turbulent week, with multiple players testing positive for COVID-19, Manchester City travel back to London to face a faltering Chelsea side.
Pep Guardiola enters this pivotal fixture with five squad members out due to their positive tests of Coronavirus. As key cup games linger around the corner, Pep will aim to maximise the squad depth still at his disposal while maintaining the excellent unbeaten run stretching back to late November.
Here’s our predicted team for the crucial tie at Stamford Bridge…
There have been many speculations that Ederson may be one of the most recent positive tests. If that’s the case then the Brazilian shot stopper will have to take a place on the side-lines, opening the door for the American Zack Steffen to claim a first league appearance this season.
As City will be without their rapid right back, Kyle Walker, the Portuguese international Joao Cancelo will surely continue his starting berth after some impressive performances. His ability to perform the typical Pep inverted full back role, but in a greater attacking capacity, provides City with an added edge in the attacking third.
Now onto one of the most stable parts of this starting eleven, which is the continually impressive partnership of Ruben Dias & John Stones. Both provide the brains and the brawn required for the aggressive yet surgical style at the base of any Guardiola side. The seven clean sheets achieved so far this season stems from this excellent pairing rather than the offensive press.
Left-back is where things become somewhat tricky. Nathan Aké performed effectively against Newcastle under minimal pressure or quality, but primarily operates as a stable left sided defender once the side contorts to a 3-1-3-3 posture after establishing dominance in the opponent’s half. Benjamin Mendy could well return for the simple fact that Aké may be a better option in midweek against United’s attacking threats. However, we do feel the Dutchman will be giving the starting role again as Chelsea’s talent in wide areas (Werner, Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic) present a considerable issue in defensive transition.
The midfield three picks itself following the impressive exploits against Newcastle. Of course, Chelsea offers a considerable step up in quality both on and off the ball. However, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan & Kevin De Bruyne all impressed in their last 90 minutes. With Cancelo drifting into the right sided half space in possession, this subsequently shifted Gundogan & De Bruyne to stay very close to one another in the build up play and pick-up cute pockets of space on the left-hand side in between the lines to initiate goal scoring opportunities.
The front three once again presents another issue. Pep still has a generous pool of talented forwards at his disposal but fixture congestion will become a greater theme off the back of the postponed Everton fixture.
Sergio Agüero did get around 15 minutes in the Newcastle tie and has had more time on the training pitch to improve his fitness. Yet his selection feels like a trade off in some ways, if he starts against Chelsea then logic would dictate, he won’t start in mid-week.
Without Agüero, City would invariably turn to Torres to operate as a false 9, but recent gossip indicates the Spaniard could be one of the three recent positive COVID-19 tests. If so, Pep will need to decide between a false 9 or Agüero. We suspect the Argentine will be given the nod for this crucial bout and Pep will therefore elect to go with a false 9 in mid-week if Jesus is not match fit in time.
With the recent news from the Chelsea camp confirming Reece James and Hakim Ziyech will be out this Sunday, Chelsea’s right flank appears somewhat depleted. Presumably, Azpilicueta will be given the starting right back slot and therefore provides a key target for Raheem Sterling to zone in on as he continues to be City’s most dynamic outlet into the opponent’s box.
On the right flank, this could be any manner of Mahrez, Bernardo Silva & Foden. All of them can stake a claim in this fixture as their defensive rigour and dribbling ability will be needed for this difficult match-up against Ben Chilwell. That said, we believe Riyad Mahrez will be given the starting berth as Pep will aim to engineer passing sequences that will expose Chilwell in 1v1 situations with Mahrez – similarly to City’s 3-1 victory over Leicester back in December 2019.
Substitutes: Scott Carson, Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Cole Palmer and Felix Nmecha
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