Wednesday’s glorious victory against Manchester United confirmed that Manchester City remain competing on all four fronts in 2021. Next in line is the hallowed FA Cup, last won in the historic 2018/19 season.
Pep Guardiola will be keen to make amends after last season saw City drop out via an uninspiring performance in the semi-final at the hands of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
We welcome Birmingham City to the Etihad on Saturday afternoon in our opening FA Cup tie of the season. The Championship side, managed by Aitor Karanka, currently sit 18th in the table. They have not won a match since 9th December, and have conceded a total of 14 goals in their prior six games.
With that in mind, and the pressure to rotate the squad, here’s the XI I predict Pep will opt for on Saturday…
In goal, Zack Steffen will start his third consecutive game, despite Ederson returning to training on Saturday – as we revealed exclusively on City Xtra. He made a strong save from a rasping Bruno Fernandes shot and generally looked much more composed at Old Trafford, and he’ll hope to continue that form.
In defence, Kyle Walker will return after he made the bench for the Carabao Cup semi-final after his return from self-isolation. Alongside him, Ruben Dias should earn a well-deserved rest. And, so will his rejuvenated partner, John Stones. In will come a surprise but welcome chance for academy graduate Taylor Harwood-Bellis, and summer signing Nathan Aké should start; however, if he remains unfit, I’d expect Stones to remain in the XI. At left back, Benjamin Mendy’s mini-exile after his New Year’s breach of guidelines will end I think, with the Frenchman starting.
In midfield, we’ll see ever-present Rodri return after a rare appearance on the bench on Wednesday. Next to him, Bernardo Silva too will return, with Ilkay Gundogan rested after a couple of excellent performances. I’d love to have seen Tommy Doyle, but at the time of writing, there is nothing to suggest that he has returned to training after a positive Covid-19 test two weeks ago. The remaining midfielder is a tough call but I’ll guess Phil Foden will drop back into the midfield three for this one, as Kevin De Bruyne has a greater need to be rested.
In the front-three, Riyad Mahrez will likely play on the right-wing after featuring as a false-nine on Wednesday. In the middle, Sergio Agüero will start if he is fit, as Pep Guardiola confirmed after the derby victory. On the left-wing, I reckon Pep will rest Raheem Sterling and play Gabriel Jesus there. Against Birmingham it’s a nice opportunity to start both our strikers, and the Brazilian can put in a decent shift as a winger.
On the substitutes bench, we’ll likely see a healthy mixture of the key stars rested like Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, complemented by youngsters like Felix Nmecha, James Trafford and Luke Mbete.
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