The Champions League recommences for Manchester City as they travel to the Puskas Arena for the first-leg of the Round of 16 knockout phase. The match will be played at a neutral venue in Budapest due to COVID-19 restrictions preventing travel into Germany.
There’s an argument to be made that City gain an advantage from this, as the away goals rule will still be in effect despite both sides having to travel and play in an empty stadium.
Either way, the Blues head into this game in form that could blow away opposition in an country; unbeaten in their last 25 matches, and not losing a single Champions League games so far this season.
Pep Guardiola made five changes from the midweek game at Goodison Park to play Arsenal at the weekend, utilising rotation to keep players fresh while still keeping the core of the squad together.
With as close as a fully fit squad as Pep could ask for, here’s how we think City will line-up on Wednesday…
In goal it’s Ederson. In the Champions League this season he’s kept five clean sheets in six games and only conceded once (to Porto before City’s defence found their footing). It doesn’t feel like the Brazilian has had many match winning saves to make in recent games, but he’ll need to be on his toes here as one mistake can cost the team dearly.
In front of the keeper, the centre of defence should remain unchanged as John Stones and Ruben Dias resume their bromance partnership. Both were outstanding against Arsenal and have undoubtedly been City’s, and maybe football’s, best defensive duo this season. For a game as important as this one I see no reason to make a change.
At right-back I expect Kyle Walker to start. The 30 year-old didn’t have an outstanding game against Everton, but he stood his ground in one-on-one duels and his pace is always a massive asset. With Joao Cancelo starting the last three games in row, Oleksandr Zinchenko will keep his place at left-back and be given the roll of drifting freely around the pitch while in possession.
In midfield, it’s again difficult to argue against playing the three in the best form right now. With Pep recently declaring Fernandinho to be fit for only one game a week, Rodrigo should come back into the side to anchor the midfield. Alongside the Spaniard I’d expect to see the familiar faces of Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. Both have tremendous attacking ability and will to dispossess the opposition at the earliest available opportunity. Together, all three compliment each others’ game incredibly well.
This results in the big call of leaving Kevin De Bruyne on the bench. He didn’t have the best game on his return to the team at the Emirates, with City Xtra rating him the poorest out of the whole team. Right now I think we have midfielders who are performing better as a greater whole, and in the forward line I reckon Guardiola will opt for Gabriel Jesus rather than the false-nine role we’ve seen recently. The young Brazilian’s end product hasn’t been great, but all the other things he brings on and off the ball will earn him a start.
That leaves the wide forward positions to be taken up by Phil Foden, who was well trusted in the group stages of this competition,and Raheem Sterling who’ll captain the team again. All three up front are versatile enough to switch up places if one of the others aren’t finding luck in their starting position.
Substitutes: Zack Steffen, Scott Carson, Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy, Eric Garcia, Aymeric Laporte, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Tommy Doyle, Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Agüero and Ferran Torres.
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