Fourteen of Guardiola’s senior players were called up to their respective international sides last week, while several youngsters including Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko, and Angus Gunn were given the opportunity to impress Pep on the international stage.
The major competitive clash of the international break came at the Mineirao Stadium for Brazil’s highly-anticipated showdown with Argentina. The match marked the Brazil national side’s return to Belo Horizonte, the home of the Seleção’s infamous 7-1 capitulation against Germany in the 2014 World Cup under Luiz Felipe Scolari. On the night, it was a difficult 90 minutes for City duo Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi who were unable to deal with the attacking power of Brazil’s front three including loanee Gabriel Jesus alongside Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, who stepped up to the mark in the 3-0 hammering of the Abiceleste.
On Tuesday evening, the South American sides were in action again with qualification leaders Brazil away at Peru in Fernandinho’s debut match as captain of the national side. The Brazilian holding midfielder had only made 5 appearances for the Seleção during his time at Shakhtar Donetsk and since moving to the Etihad, he has made a further 25 appearances in 4 years and has been rewarded with the captaincy. Fernandinho has become an integral part of the national team alongside Gabriel Jesus who is currently Brazil’s top goal scorer in World Cup qualification with 5 goals in 6 caps, and the 19 year-old added to his tally in Lima last night with a man-of-the-match performance, scoring a goal and providing an assist for Renato Augusto in their 2-0 victory over Peru. Meanwhile, Otamendi played a full 90 minutes as Argentina recovered from their setback in Brazil with a 3-0 win without Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta who were unused substitutes.
Back in Europe, a further five Manchester City players were in action at Wembley Stadium for England’s dramatic 2-2 draw at home to Spain. Joe Hart, currently on loan at Torino, remained in net for Gareth Southgate’s men while John Stones and Raheem Sterling both kept their places in the first eleven after their 3-0 win over Scotland. On the other side, La Roja’s ninth most-capped player David Silva who was deemed to be a doubt ahead of the friendly after sustaining a minor toe injury handed Manchester City fans a boost as he played a full 90 mins and Nolito came off the bench after 78 minutes and helped to turn around Spain’s misfortunes as Julen Lopetegui’s men came from behind to score 2 goals in the final 2 minutes through Iago Aspas and long-term Manchester City target Isco.
In Western Europe situate Belgium who under the new guidance of Roberto Martinez have enjoyed a strong start to World Cup qualifying in Group H. The Red Devils, tipped to be one of the major contenders for the World Cup in Russia, ran riot on Sunday evening at the King Badouin Stadium as Roberto Martinez’ side hit 8 past Estonia. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne proved he was versatile as he was selected to play in a deeper number 8 role alongside Axel Witsel and still managed to get an assist to which his performance was lauded after the game by Martinez as ‘outstanding’. On the contrary, despite Belgium’s success, there was more injury woe for Vincent Kompany who was forced to pull out of Belgium’s tie with Netherlands last week due to a reported ‘groin problem’ – the Manchester City captain has now only played a full 90 minutes on two occasions in all competitions since the 26th April this year.
Furthermore, Manchester City were dealt an injury scare with regards to Claudio Bravo who last week limped out of Chile’s 1-1 draw with Colombia. However, last night, Bravo returned to action for Chile’s crucial clash with Uruguay and despite conceding a penalty, the Chilean skipper saved the nation’s blushes with an 88th minute save from the spot from former Barcelona teammate Luis Suárez. The 3-1 victory aided by a brace from reported City target Alexis Sanchez sees Chile leapfrog Colombia into 4th place in South American World Cup Qualification on 20 points, 3 behind Uruguay.
Since Yaya Toure’s retirement from international football, the only Manchester City that travelled to Africa was Kelechi Iheanacho. The Nigerian international played a full 90 minutes as he came up against Leicester duo Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani in a repeat of the 1990 African Cup of Nations Final. However, the result turned in favour for Nigeria on this occasion with Chelsea’s Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel picking up a vital 3 points in last week’s World Cup qualifier. While Yaya contemplates his options at Manchester City, his replacement Ilkay Gundogan featured for Germany in an advanced role in their 0-0 stalemate with Italy at the San Siro. In addition, his international teammate Leroy Sané featured for the Germany U21s and played 90 minutes in both of their games against Turkey and Poland. Angus Gunn also featured at U21 international level over the break for England and he was involved in their 3-2 victory over Italy, while 19 year old Oleksander Zinchenko on loan at PSV made his 9th and 10th competitive international appearance over the break for Ukraine in their victories over Finland and Serbia. Alexandar Kolarov played no part in Serbia’s national side this international break.
Now the international break is over, we approach Crystal Palace with optimism especially with reports from The Guardian claiming that City are confident that the club’s main injury scares, Claudio Bravo and Vincent Kompany, should be fit to feature at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon. We have remarkably been fortunate with regards to injuries this international break and now we press ahead with a pivotal two months of the season where we played 5 of the current top 10 and the current champions Leciester City in the next 10 Premier League games. It’s going to be a busy few months…