Prior to City’s last outing, a relatively comfortable 3–1 win over Hull, it had been just over a month since the blues’ last Premier League victory. Having dropped points at home to Liverpool, away to Arsenal and to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Guardiola’s men have put the spell to bed and now have their sights set on three points at Southampton. As well as a potential winning run that could permanently cement a place in the top four.
Even more front-page than the Champions League qualification race, a blockbuster FA Cup semi-final clash against Arsenal impedingly follows. Crucially, momentum must be gained; heading into the most imperative fixture of City’s campaign so far.
With this knowledge, comes the reoccurring debate about rotation: Who should be rested? How should we set up? What is the mental approach to a penultimate match like this?
Hints from Pep Guardiola’s press conference, the emergence of City underdogs and the little to no new injury news disperses just enough wisdom to the blues of the world in order to hazard a pretty decent guess at this week’s line up.
Despite being all smiles in training and his usual cheery self, Gabriel Jesus is still out of contention for this weekend having still not fully recovered from a broken metatarsal picked up away to Bournemouth back in February. Although, the Brazilian prodigy has been making good progress with his comeback.
Just under two weeks since his return to training was announced, Jesus has looked positive and Guardiola has even hinted at the possibility of the 20-year-old making a shock return to the fold just in time for the FA Cup final, should City get there.
Ilkay Gundogan also misses out on St Marys — a cruciate ligament rupture has kept the German out of the squad since mid-December with his return unlikely to happen till June. However, that doesn’t stop the 26-year-old from staying on track and giving his social media followers plenty of updates.
The latest and last confirmed absentee, Bacary Sagna, has been making strides with his recovery from an adductor problem but Guardiola announced in his press conference that he is set to miss out.
Starting from the back and up, City’s defensive issues are still very much apparent. A needless concession of a soft goal in the last ten minutes against Hull meant the thought of an all-round perfect game went right out the window. A lot of the blame for moments like that often shift towards out of form Claudio Bravo — it has been a nightmare season for the Chilean, not helped by the blues’ lack of defensive solidarity on occasion. But, Guardiola’s mind may be set on the freshness of his team at Wembley in a week’s time, so don’t rule out another start for the 34-year-old. As unlikely as it probably is.
Into the back four now, Guardiola’s latest guilty pleasure of not playing with a proper right-back shows no sign of ending — with Jesus Navas the latest experiment inserted into the role, A City underdog through and through, it’s no secret that the little Spaniard is unlikely to play his way onto the poster place of a young blue’s bedroom wall. But, the former Sevilla winger has been on the receiving end of good critique in the last two games he’s took on the role of a makeshift full-back. He offers pace, decent link up play and yet more threatening width; partnering up with Raheem Sterling for effective results.
Vincent Kompany may also get the nod from Guardiola after the City manager declared the Belgian skipper’s fitness was improving in a press conference. The Spaniard hinted at Kompany’s possible more regular inclusion, stating: “After the game against Chelsea he had a little problem in his legs, and we didn’t want to take the risk, but of course the good news is he was able to play 90 minutes in a tough game at Stamford Bridge at a high level.”
Add Stones and Clichy, two recent favourites of Guardiola, to the back line and that defence is a reasonable bet.
The midfield boats an array of the usual: Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Yaya Touré and Leroy Sané. However, a new ingredient has been added into the midfield recipe, Fabian Delph. Two solid performances from the Englishman, bursting with energy and ambition, have opened the door for yet another City underdog. Delph’s thunderous strike last weekend to cap off a sturdy victory merely highlighted his now re-ignited relevance. The newly conjured enthusiasm, made apparent on the pitch, is exactly why the blues snapped him up from Aston Villa in the first place — a start against Southampton would be just reward for his efforts.
As for Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne’s inclusions — it is likely to be a toss up between them for a place in the centre of attacking midfield; resting Yaya Toure for the FA Cup semi-final.
Sergio Aguero, for me, is a 90% bet to spearhead the front three. Despite scoring 10 goals in 10 games, putting a together a marvellous run of form, the Argentine would certainly benefit from some rest — with Kelechi Iheanacho, in an ideal world, getting the nod he is more than capable of redeeming. Alas, it is still doubtful. Here is my team prediction for Southampton, but why not have a go yourself in the pick your team setting?
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