Despite Liverpool picking up three points, both Arsenal and Spurs were held to bore draws in games they were fancied to win today. This should give a Manchester City side desperately in need of a win some added motivation tomorrow when they host Southampton at the Etihad. So how will Pep line up his troops?
When you employ four full-backs young in life but older men in football, you shouldn’t be too surprised when they start dropping like flies. The left side is OK, with both Aleks Kolarov and Gaël Clichy available, but on the opposite flank both Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna are out with injuries. As far as we know, Fabian Delph is still injured as he has been for much of his time at City to date. Besides those three, Guardiola has everyone else to choose from with Claudio Bravo’s suspension only active in UEFA competitions.
It’s often the case after Champions League games that slightly weary title-chasers slip up, as we saw Spurs and Arsenal do today. For City, however, there should be no excuses because the night after their 4-0 defeat to Barcelona, Sunday’s opposition Southampton were at the famous San Siro, fielding a strong side in a 1-0 defeat to Inter.
Still, Pep must be mindful of the schedule – City play five games in the next couple of weeks, with no respite until the next unwanted international break. Kevin De Bruyne has not missed a minute since his return from injury, and I could see Guardiola giving him a rest tomorrow, especially if he is planning to field a competitive side against United in Wednesday’s League Cup game.
With Sagna and Zaba both sidelined, the question is will Pep give 19-year-old Spaniard, Pablo Maffeo, a game on Sunday, throw Clichy or a midfielder in at right-back, or go with three at the back with Sané or Navas on the right-hand side? It’s so tough to predict the Catalan boss, but despite his reputation for fearlessly fielding youngsters, I reckon he may opt for a back three with Stones, Otamendi and possibly Clichy, giving Kolarov a rest. Kompany is physically fit again, but mentally? He may be phased back in slowly.
City’s resident energizer bunny, Fernandinho, could also do with a rest, but Pep is so reliant on the Brazilian that he will continue to chug along in midfield. The 31-year-old can’t even put his feet up during international breaks now, having played himself back into the Seleção team with his impressive form this season.
Nolito made an impression off the bench against Everton last weekend and was the unlucky sacrifice after Bravo’s sending off in midweek, so should be fresh and deserves a start. Gündoğan still doesn’t look to be at his best, but I’m going with him starting tomorrow then being among the subs against United.
On the right, Pellegrini’s favourite, Jesús Navas, does not seem quite as revered by Pep, but could have a shot of starting. Leroy Sané is showing plenty of promise, though, and I hope Pep goes for his pace and unpredictability. Few defences in England will have figured the 20-year-old out yet and, though still very raw, he looks like he could explode on to the scene at any point.
Sergio Agüero has started the last two games on the bench and SURELY must be set for a full start. Southampton’s defence is very stubborn and fielding Kelechi Iheanacho, who still seems more impactful off the bench than as a starter, would be risky when you have the Premier League’s best striker fit and able. A front three of Kun, Sterling and Nolito – City’s top scorers – could breach the Saints defence.
With all that in mind, here is how I think City will line up:
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