Manuel Pellegrini sacked off the FA Cup last season to focus on the Champions League, but Pep Guardiola says he wants to win the “special” FA Cup. City’s attempts to win the FA Cup (for the first time since ending the trophy drought in 2011) begins tomorrow night with a tricky fixture against West Ham. It will be the Blues’ first trip to the London Stadium, and with nine days between this fixture and the next game against Everton, Pep has no reason not to field a strong starting eleven.
The only new injury news to come from Pep’s pre-West Ham press conference is that Vincent Kompany is back training with the group for the first time since suffering a knee injury in November. Kompany isn’t available for tomorrow night’s game but will no doubt have the clash with Spurs in mind for a return, which is just over two weeks away. The only other thing of note to come from Pep’s mouth during his press conference is that he isn’t planning on rotating heavily and will play a strong side.
Who to rest and who to play?
The big conundrum for Pep going into this fixture is: how many of his big players can he afford to drop? I’m sure he’ll be extremely tempted to give all of De Bruyne, Toure and Sterling a rest. They’ve played 354, 359 and 359 minutes respectively from a possible 360 in our last four games, all in the space of sixteen days. It’s a lot of football. But equally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk trying to get through the game without all three. At a push you may be able to do it with just one, but personally I’d play two: Sterling and De Bruyne.
Yaya had to play as the lone holder in Fernandinho’s absence against Burnley and will have expended a lot of energy in doing so, so he’s the one to drop out for me. The obvious choice to replace Yaya would be Fernando, but given Pep’s recent comments about Aleix Garcia needing more game time I think he could get the nod. An FA Cup tie is a slightly less pressurised environment than a Premier League game so this should serve as a good opportunity for Pep to evaluate Garcia in Fernandinho’s deeper position, given we’ll be without the Brazilian for our next four games.
Having themselves enjoyed a rest against Burnley, I fully expect both Silva and Aguero to come straight back into the starting line-up. Aguero’s excellent goal on Friday should give him some much-needed confidence leading into this fixture, with the hope being that Serg is about to spring into one of those goalscoring runs we so desperately need.
The only other inclusions I expect we’ll see is Cabellero for Bravo in net and Stones to return at centre-back to partner Otamendi. As for the full-backs, your guess is as good as mine.
Bearing all that in mind…