Three wins out of three, eleven goals, only the two conceded – it’s been a pretty tidy start for Pep Guardiola. A stellar performance away at Stoke this weekend capped off an excellent eight days for our new manager. However, the pressure is off slightly for Pep’s fourth game in charge; the return leg of our Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest. Following a 5-0 win in Romania, Guardiola confirmed today that he will rotate the side, which could mean opportunities for some of City’s more out of favour footballers.
Will Joe Hart finally be given a chance to show Pep what he’s missing? Has Yaya Toure done enough running on the training pitch to convince the manager that he’s worth a start? Will there be a shock inclusion for any of City’s younger talents? Who knows? Honestly, predicting this particular line-up is going to be hard work for anybody, so top marks if you manage it.
There isn’t a lot of bad news to speak of at the moment at City, so a slight problem for Bacary Sagna is about as bad it gets. The Frenchman will play no part against Bucharest on Wednesday night. On a brighter note, whilst Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany won’t feature, they are in full training and hopeful of making a return in time for the Manchester derby in September. On a sparkling note, rumours today have circulated that Leroy Sané may be in line to make his City debut on Wednesday, either as a substitute or with what seems an improbable start. There are no new injury concerns, and it looks as if Pep is close to having a full squad of players to select from in the coming weeks.
A game like this doesn’t come around too often, a two-legged affair, where the events in the first leg have effectively ended the tie. Still, Pep will want the victory, so don’t expect radical changes.
Could Joe Hart be given a chance to impress the new manager in a competitive game for the first time? It’s hard to predict, but Willy Caballero’s performances have hardly been outstanding in the three fixtures so far. If I were to take a punt, I would guess that Hart will be given a shot to show what he’s taken on board since Guardiola’s arrival.
Things are tricky when it comes to defence, with a couple of first-teamers missing. At right-back, with the absence of Bacary Sagna, most would probably plump for Pablo Zabaleta to continue his resurgence in a blue shirt. For me though, it’s a good opportunity to give the youngster, Pablo Maffeo a chance to show what he’s all about. On the left, I think it’s a similar story; there are three viable options: Gael Clichy, Aleksander Kolarov and Angelino. Personally, I’d plump for Angelino, with the Kolarov perhaps deserving of a rest. It’s a little cruel on Gael Clichy, who has struggled for minutes since the league opener, but what better chance will Pep get to test out his two young full-backs? In the centre, I expect a rest for Nicolas Otamendi, following his injury, and for me, it’d be nice to see Tosin Adarabioyo given a chance to partner up with John Stones.
In midfield, City boast a few more options. The likes of Fernandinho, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have started in all three of City’s games so far, but I expect most, if not all, of their streaks to come to an end on Wednesday. In the centre of the pitch, I think Fernando and Fabian Delph may be given the nod, with Nolito and Jesus Navas occupying the wings. Whether or not Yaya Toure will be given a chance to impress is anybody’s guess. Personally, I think the Ivorian will start, be it as an advanced midfielder, or a deeper lying playmaker, with perhaps Delph moved forward.
Up front, it’d be astonishing to see Kelechi Iheanacho left out of the starting XI. His cameo at Stoke proved to be fruitful for City, with one assist and a hand in City’s fourth goal too. Sergio Aguero is more than deserving of a rest, with Iheanacho surely salivating for more minutes in a City shirt.
All of that said, Pep is unpredictable at the best of times, so a correct prediction of his starting XI is going to be some ask. Here is my prediction:
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