Perhaps fairly, City’s win against Sunderland on the opening day was deemed scrappy. The events that followed on Tuesday night however, were anything but. A scintillating exhibition of football – an apt way to describe City’s performance in midweek. Not only did the Blues register five goals against Steaua Bucharest, but the football on show at times was as strong as many of us can remember in recent years. It’s important not to get carried away, but given that City could’ve quite easily scored twelve on Tuesday, it’s fair to say that optimism is rife amongst the fans.
If the first two games looked fairly simplistic on paper, this weekend’s trip to Stoke looks anything but. A much improved side in recent years, Mark Hughes’ Potters have transitioned from a very physical, direct side to a much more patient, technical bunch. Perhaps that’ll play into City’s hands, only time will tell, but our record at Stoke isn’t exactly stellar since their arrival into the Premier League.
For City, not a lot has changed since Tuesday night. Bacary Sagna has a small problem according to Pep, so it isn’t entirely clear whether or not he’ll start the contest tomorrow lunchtime. Vincent Kompany is in training, but not ready for action quite yet. Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan are in similar positions to the skipper, not yet match-ready, but training has commenced for the German duo. Joe Hart is again available for selection, despite the constant rumours about his future, with Yaya Toure unlikely to be involved due what appears to be some dissatisfaction from Pep with regards to his ‘intensity off the ball’.
Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic, who was a constant thorn in City’s side in this fixture last season, should be ready for the game tomorrow. Xherdan Shaqiri however is a doubt, another who tormented City earlier this year, during a 2-0 loss at the then named Britannia Stadium (now the Bet365 Stadium). Jack Butland and Glen Johnson will play no part for the visit of Pep’s new-look City side.
Stick or Twist?
So, following two wins from two, what does Pep change for what looks like a tricky lunch-time fixture in Staffordshire? Anything? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Joe Hart is still a City player, for now, but one would expect Willy Caballero to start his third consecutive game this season. During Friday’s press conference, Pep said that Hart is free to leave City if he wishes, but should he not, he must improve. Such improvement is unlikely to have taken place since Tuesday night.
In defence, Guardiola’s comments about a small problem for Bacary Sagna suggest that the Frenchman may not be in enough discomfort to miss out entirely, but perhaps may not fit enough to start. This could mean a second start in a row for Pablo Zabaleta. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are likely to retain their positions in the centre of defence, unless the in-form Aleksander Kolarov is reverted back to the spot in which he performed strongly against Sunderland. On the left, it is hard to see Kolarov dropped, but if he was to be moved into a more central position, it would surely be the job of Gael Clichy to fill in.
In the midfield, it is hard to see anyone other than Fernandinho mopping up in front of the back four. However, the question arises again as to whether Pep will go for a more defensive approach. It’s possible, with the significant threat the Potters possess on either side, Pep may opt for another central midfielder, giving the fullbacks less responsibility in the middle of the pitch, and allowing them to cover their flank sufficiently. Less uncertain though, are starts for Raheem Sterling and Nolito, following excellent performances in Romania. Although, whether or not there is room for both Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva will ultimately depend on whether Pep feels the need for a more defensive-minded midfielder alongside Fernandinho.
Sergio Aguero is sure to start, following an excellent hat-trick in midweek, made even more impressive by his two penalty misses. Disappointment that most players in world football would struggle to overcome, but not Kun.
It is important to note that we don’t know what Pep’s policy on changing the starting XI following a midweek game is. With that in mind though, I predict an unchanged lineup for the game at Saturday lunchtime.
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