Venue: Amex Stadium
Date: 12 August 2017
Referee: Michael Oliver
Kick off: 17:30
The wait is finally over, and on Saturday afternoon Manchester City will be returning to action. City have generally been dealt favourable starts in the Premier League, and this theme continues as City play Brighton, who are the bookies favourites to finish in the bottom three.
Brighton are playing their first ever Premier League game, so City will need to make sure that they respect the occasion and do not get complacent. Pep Guardiola’s team come into the year as title favourites, and getting off to a fast start will be key, as City have a tough run of fixtures on the way with games against Liverpool and Everton on the horizon.
Pep’s Formation Dilemma
Last year Pep began his Premier League reign playing his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, but he may look in a different direction in the opening game of this campaign. Pep has spent the pre-season experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation, and it would be highly surprising if City did not use it after such a strong pre-season outing in which they outplayed the likes of Tottenham Hotspur.
City have a lot of positional versatility, so Pep can pretty much play any formation in the world, which makes projecting a City starting XI such a difficult task.
Projecting Brighton’s Formation
Brighton spent the majority of last year playing a 4-4-2 system with Sam Baldock and Tomer Hemed up front, but they are expected to switch to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape this year in order for extra solidity. Brighton were a team who played aggressively on the front foot and whipped in a lot of crosses last year, but with the absence of an extra striker they will likely try and be a counter attacking team and break with pace.
The Seagulls signed Pascal Gross from German club Ingolstadt, and he will likely play in a midfield with Steve Sidwell and Dale Stephens, with Anthony Knockaert and Solly March playing on the wings. Chris Hughton may want to play 4-4-2 and take the game to City, but he is a smart manager and playing a rigid 4-4-2 against a side managed by Pep Guardiola would be tactical suicide.
City must not underestimate Brighton as they are a side with a lot of flair, but they may choose to attack City from set pieces as they have a tall striker and a pair of aggressive center backs in Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. City slipped up against Cardiff in the 13-14 season, and will need to make sure they do not once again underestimate a promoted team.
Breaking a bus down?
Generally, City have found themselves camping on the edge of an opponent’s box, even in away games, and this will likely be the same. Brighton have been a defence-first team under Chris Hughton, and they will likely sit back for the opening 15-20 minutes in order to settle in. An early goal could do wonders for City in this game, as Brighton would almost certainly have to commit more men forwards than they would probably like to.
A new era in midfield?
On Thursday, it was announced by Sammy Lee of Goal that Phil Foden would be a member of the first-team squad this year, and it will be fascinating to see if he plays a role in this game. Giving Foden a short cameo role would be a good way to signal the start of a new era in Manchester, and it would also be a giant middle finger to those who doubt the ability of City’s academy, and their commitment to promoting young players. Foden will almost certainly not be a starter tomorrow, but a cameo from the bench would be an iconic moment in Manchester City’s recent history
I really like Brighton and think they will compete this year, but City really should have enough firepower to win this one, and Brighton will likely lack creativity against City’s well organised team. Brighton are not really a long ball team, but City’s intense pressing will likely force them to become one, and they will struggle to create consistent chances from open play.
I predict a 3-0 win for City, with a debut goal for Leroy Sané, and a brace for Sergio Aguero.
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