Manchester City face Middlesbrough tomorrow on the heels of an historic win over the mighty Barcelona. The visitors have lost just one of their previous four away games, including an impressive 0-0 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates. They will be without Gaston Ramirez, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season during an impressive display against Bournemouth and is suspended. City will have to be wary of a European hangover, particularly in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the match. So, will Guardiola rotate his team in order to keep bodies and minds fresh?
It’s official, Fabian Delph is still alive. Guardiola revealed earlier this morning that he is back out training on the pitch (alone), after having a mystery operation in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago. It’s been absolutely ages since we’ve heard anything on Delph’s fitness, so yeah, there’s your update. Bacary Sagna isn’t too far off a return either – with Pep suggesting that the Frenchman should be fully fit after the next international break.
Guardiola was also asked about the possibility of Vincent Kompany playing his first ninety minute game since his latest return from injury and having watched the press conference back in full, I’d suggest Kompany will start on Saturday. Pep’s exact response was that ‘maybe Vincent will play, we will have to consult with the medical team tomorrow, like we do for all the players.’ Quite diplomatic from Pep, but his tone / body language seemed a bit of a give-away to me. My guess is that Kompany will start tomorrow, before jetting off for Belgium’s qualifiers – only to get injured again…
Rotation after Barca?
As discussed on today’s podcast, I think the big question for Pep (once again) is whether to play three at the back, or whether to continue with the four that has served us so well in these last two games? Personally, I’d like to see us stick with the back four. It’s no coincidence that we’ve suddenly looked a bit more assured and compact in defence – the flat back four has definitely helped. I think it’s had its benefits slightly further up the pitch too, as our attacking play has looked a lot less congested – which in turn has allowed Gündogan to make those clinical late bursts into the box.
The only problem I can foresee with the back four option, is who plays at right-back if Pep doesn’t trust Maffeo enough to play in a Premier League game? Zabaleta is only just back from injury and although he was absolutely superb on Tuesday night, I’d have some doubts about whether he can reproduce something close to that level having only just returned from injury.
Moving into midfield, Fernandinho is probably quite unlikely to start after hobbling-off vs. Barca with what looked like a hamstring issue. He did train fully with the rest of the squad on Friday morning, but I’d suggest it’s unlikely he’ll start after picking-up a knock. Nolito should come back into the side after spending Tuesday evening on the bench, whilst Leroy Sané could also make a return – after missing-out on our last two matchday squads.
With all that in mind, here is how I think City will line up:
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