In an ideal world, Pellegrini’s men would be easing towards a top four finish now having taken maximum points from relegation threatened Newcastle this week. Unfortunately, little about City’s domestic campaign this season has been ideal and once again we are involved in a scrap just to play Champions League football next season.
Only Samir Nasri is missing for tomorrow’s early kick-off. Pellegrini expects him back for the next league game against Southampton, which is good news given Samir’s impressive form since his return. Nasri’s temporary absence is unfortunate because he is ineligible to play against Real Madrid, meaning he would have been a certain starter against Stoke. Against West Brom and Chelsea, he impressed and in the latter fixture there were signs of a good understanding between he, De Bruyne and Aguero.
The returns of Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy means Pellegrini again has four full-backs to choose from, after only having his back-up pair against Newcastle. Kolarov’s performance in that game really highlighted the importance of Clichy, who has been rock solid this season. David Silva has been in and out of the squad with his ankle problems, but is back for the Stoke game. The return of such a key trio should allow Pellegrini to handle two important games without having to field a severely weakened side tomorrow.
Helping Pellegrini’s cause may be the fact Stoke are ravaged by what he would call “important injuries”. Jack Butland, Xherdan Shaqiri, Glen Johnson, Jon Walters and Marc Wilson are all injured, while Erik Pieters is serving the last match of a suspension. All but Wilson played some part in Stoke’s incredibly easy 2-0 win over City earlier this season. 40-year-old Shay Given, formerly of City, will start in net for the Potters.
Plenty of options, but how to rotate?
Pellegrini intimated in his press conference that he will field a strong side against Stoke, saying he expects Real Madrid (who, to our benefit, are back in the La Liga title race) and the other remaining Champions League teams to do likewise. It’s a tough one for the manager, because has almost everyone available and yet some of the fringe players have let the team down when brought in. With just a few changes against Newcastle, the team looked unable to hold on to the ball and never found its rhythm. And we’re now in a situation where risks could be costly.
Predicting the defence is difficult, other than Demichelis being kept far away. Everyone is fit, meaning Pellegrini can choose from any combination of Zaba/Sagna – Kompany/Otamendi/Mangala – Clichy/Kolarov. Kompany played 90 minutes against Newcastle, and wasn’t particularly good, so Pellegrini may want him to find his form. The Otamendi/Mangala partnership had been doing well, but I am going for Kompany starting alongside Mangala. Mangala is enjoying some of his best form since joining the club and it’d be foolish to drop him now. As for the full-backs, I’ll go with Zabaleta and Clichy to start. With Shaqiri absent, Pellegrini may feel he can risk playing Kolarov at left-back, resting Clichy for Tuesday, but I’m hoping for a “safety first” approach from the Chilean in that position.
Fabian Delph was awful against Newcastle, but in his defence he was out of position on the left. Delph is a central midfielder, one I don’t believe is really good enough for Manchester City, but what’s done is done. He is an option, but I think he may sit out our next two fixtures with everyone else available. Will Pellegrini rest Yaya ahead of Madrid? Possibly, but he did play 90 and 73 minutes against Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, so the manager clearly thinks Yaya’s aging legs can cope with two games in short time. With that in mind, I’m going for Fernandinho and Touré to start in central midfield.
David Silva’s ankle means it’s always a risk to play him in two games close together, so I can see him benched against Stoke before starting on Tuesday. I’m going for De Bruyne, Sterling and Navas to start behind Agüero. Kun is probably due a rest but Bony hasn’t scored a goal since Boxing Day and Pellegrini’s faith in Iheanacho seems to have evaporated for some reason.
Bearing all that in mind, here’s the team I think Pellegrini will go with:
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