Pellegrini has stated quite clearly in his press conferences that Wednesday’s match in Kiev takes priority over today’s FA Cup 5th round fixture with Chelsea. The wholly illogical scheduling of the match has forced Pellegrini’s hand into playing a weaker team, as many of the ‘squad’ players are out injured. Seven names were notably absent from the EDS’ squad for their 1-0 derby victory over United yesterday: Brandon Barker, Tosin Adarabioyo, Cameron Humphreys, Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia and of course – Bersant Celina, who is expected to start and is deep into negotiations about a new five year contract.
I must admit, I’m not overly enamoured with Pellegrini’s press conference remarks about this “not being a real game.” I think that’s a bit of a disrespectful thing to say, despite the obvious scheduling issues. But, as the saying goes – every cloud has a silver lining, and it’ll at least be exciting to see some of the youngsters play. It is always extremely difficult to ascertain Pellegrini’s intentions from his press conferences, but this time it seems quite clear – he is going to play the kids.
Bacary Sagna is the only player returning from injury after having trained fully with the squad on Friday morning. However, it’s unclear whether he is match fit and thus available for selection, so I’d expect Pablo Zabaleta to start. Demichelis will undoubtedly fill one of the vacant centre back roles now that Vincent Kompany is fit once again, but I’m less sure about who will play alongside the Argentine. Otamendi has played a lot of football over these last 3 months, and deserves a rest – so I’d imagine it’ll be one of Adarabioyo or Humphreys, with the latter the likelier of the two to get the nod.
In midfield I think it will be Fernando at the base, assuming his water-carrier role, flanked by the Garcia’s – Aleix and Manu. Manu has already made an impression with the first team this season scoring against Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup, but Aleix’s name might be slightly less familiar. He is a more of a deeper-lying player than his namesake, cut from a similar cloth to Xavi. He has an excellent range of passing and in all honesty, could become a key squad player under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola.
Bersant Celina is expected to make his first start on the right wing whilst Kelechi Iheanacho will lead the line on his own. The final question mark lingers over the left wing berth – who will Pellegrini pick? If he’s feeling particularly ballsy he could go for Brandon Barker, given that it’s his natural position. However, I think his lack of previous first-team experience could count against him here, with a place on the bench much more likely. I expect Raheem Sterling to start.
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