This is a huge week for the club. It’s essentially shit or bust. The embarrassing defeat at Southampton has left us with very little margin for error in the league – with a victory over rivals Arsenal absolutely paramount to our hopes of securing Champions League football next season, under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola. But prior to the weekend, we have the small matter of a Champions League semi-final to deal with, at the Santiago Bernabéu against ten (yes, 10) times winners Real Madrid.
Despite a great deal of confusion generated on social media earlier this afternoon (primarily by City it must be said), Yaya Toure is fit for tomorrow’s clash and has travelled with the squad to Madrid. In fact, Pellegrini confirmed in his press conference not too long ago that Toure has trained with the team since Friday and is available for selection. Given the absence of both David Silva and Samir Nasri – City’s two best players at retaining possession, I would imagine that Yaya is an absolute shoe-in to start tomorrow night.
It might mean moving De Bruyne out to the left flank, which is far from ideal. But on balance, I think it’s the right move to make. We really struggled to control the game in the second half of the first-leg, ceding possession far too cheaply – a problem that Yaya should hopefully solve. The presence of both Fernando and Fernandinho behind him should provide enough of a shield to allow Toure to play slightly more further forward, especially with Casemiro absent for Madrid.
There is also of course the possibility of Pellegrini shifting Fernandinho out wide like in Kiev, to accommodate the in-form De Bruyne in his preferred no.10 position. But I think this is unlikely, given Fernandinho’s recent form in central areas. Moreover, if Pellegrini wanted to go for more of a counter-attacking approach, he could drop one of the midfielders for Raheem Sterling, who has enjoyed the Champions League thus far this season. But again, I can’t see this happening. Sterling has looked desperately short of both confidence and fitness in the last couple of weeks, so it would be a big surprise to see him trusted with a starting berth for such a finely poised match.
Pellegrini’s wildcard is Kelechi Iheanacho, the 19 year old who is slowly beginning to get the praise and media attention that he deserves. He was the only shining light to emerge from that absolute shit-shower that was the Southampton game, further underlining his remarkable goalscoring ability. However, his struggle in adapting to the demanding tactical nature of the reverse fixture last week suggest that Kelechi will have to settle for a place on the bench, which I think is best. He could be a game-changing late substitute.
Bearing all that in mind, here is the team I think Pellegrini will go with:
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