Following a scraped win against a plucky Sunderland side on Saturday, it’s all systems go for Pep and the boys. Our visit to Bucharest on Tuesday is sure to be of tremendous importance to the hierarchy at City, as it represents our gateway in the Champions League group stage. And whilst this competition doesn’t always strike a chord with our fans, it may perhaps be anticipated a little bit more sweetly with the new man in charge.
The manager proved himself to be somewhat unpredictable in his first game in charge, as most predicted XI’s went out of the window once the lineup was announced at around 4.30 on Saturday afternoon. The shock inclusion of Aleksander Kolarov baffled many, with Joe Hart’s omission from the starting XI chastised by some. Ultimately though, the side got the job done, with a number of players turning in a strong performance, notably Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and the surprise centre-half, Kolarov. So what does Pep change, if anything for this Champions League qualifier?
There are some significant absences from City’s 21-man squad for the trip to Romania, with Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Elaqium Mangala, Jason Denayer, Wilfried Bony and Leroy Sané all missing from the group, with the latter the only player thought to be missing through injury. There are places for Angelino and Adarabioyo however, with the rest of the squad made up of more familiar faces.
A More Defensive Outlook?
Whilst the Sunderland game didn’t provide the most fluid, breathtaking football that the Etihad has ever seen, there were signs that Guardiola’s game-plan was starting to take shape. A lack of match sharpness at times looked the difference between a cagey, close encounter and a comfortable victory, so you don’t imagine that Pep will make wholesale changes for the game in Bucharest. He may however, change the system slightly to combat the 26-time Liga I Champions.
In goal, the situation couldn’t be more up in the air. Several rumours have circulated since Saturday about Joe Hart’s reaction to being dropped for the Sunderland game. Pep Guardiola denied the claims in a post-match interview, claiming that Hart had acted with professionalism. Whether or not he will be given the chance to impress in this game though, really is anyone’s guess. For me, I think Hart’s time at City is coming to an unfortunate end, and I would expect Willy to man the goal for the second consecutive game.
Defensively, City are still a little bare, though incoming return of Nicolas Otamendi is sure to present Pep with some decisions to make. Aleksander Kolarov was a one-game revelation at centre-back, so he will certainly be in contention to start again. John Stones had a calm, composed and largely comfortable debut, and looks near-certain to play in his first Champions League game. At right-back, Bacary Sagna had a decent game at the weekend, though looked a little uncomfortable at times in his new role as a makeshift central midfielder. That uncomfortableness was especially apparent when you compare his performance with Gael Clichy’s, over on the left-hand side. Pablo Zabaleta will be hoping for a chance to impress, and may well get it. Gael Clichy’s spot looks relatively nailed on, unless Pep decides to give the young Angelino his chance in the starting XI.
In midfield, Pep ignored the concept of caution at the weekend, beginning his reign with both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in central positions, with Fernandinho acting as the anchorman. Out wide were Raheem Sterling, who was excellent, and Nolito, who showed glimpses of what he’s all about. Away in Bucharest though, err on the side of caution, Pep might. Fabian Delph will be hoping for a start following a cameo appearance on Saturday, with Jesus Navas perhaps thinking that he’s done enough to make the XI, following a positive impact from the bench against the Black Cats. I would expect either Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva or Nolito to drop out of the starting line-up to accommodate a slightly more defensive minded midfielder, such as Delph or Fernando. Kevin De Bruyne in particular looked slightly off the pace on Saturday, most likely down to a later return to the squad, after his efforts in the European Championships.
Up top, things look fairly simple, with Sergio Aguero almost certain to start. It could be said that our Argentinian talisman didn’t have the most forceful impact in our league opener though, and may need to sharpen up quickly. At times the game seemed to pass Aguero by, and whilst he place in the XI is by no means precarious, I’m hoping for a little more involvement from Kun. Kelechi Iheanacho’s place in the squad is likely to take its form on the substitutes bench again.
Here is my XI for Tuesday night’s game in Romania:
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