Manchester City need just a point tomorrow to ensure a fourth successive qualification for the Champions League round of 16. Standing in the way is the only team that could still send City to the Europa League, Borussia Mönchengladbach, a side the Blues have beaten three times in the past year. City wiped the floor with Die Borussen at the Etihad in September, but last year’s wins were much narrower and logic suggests Wednesday’s game will be more like those. Gladbach led against Barcelona at Borussia-Park in September, before a late surge by the Catalans turned things around, so City must be careful not to underestimate them.
So, with just a point needed, will Pep opt to weaken his side a little or launch an all-out assault on the Germans? While unlikely City can win the group now, they are only two points behind Barcelona and a win over Gladbach would keep the pressure on going into the final Group C matchday when Barça host Gladbach and City welcome Celtic to the Etihad.
The big news from Pep’s presser this afternoon is that Kompany not only suffered a concussion from his collision with Claudio Bravo at the weekend, but damaged his knee in the fall. The City skipper will be out for ‘weeks’ and you just have to wonder if Guardiola will say ‘enough is enough’ or continue to persist with one of City’s greatest, but sadly most injury prone, captains. Pablo Zabaleta also hasn’t travelled after picking up a knock, while Fabian Delph is finally close to a return, but isn’t with the squad. Everyone else named in the Champions League squad is available, with Pablo Maffeo stepping in for Zaba as a secondary right-back option.
Will Pep go full strength?
City have only two full days between the late kickoff against Gladbach and lunchtime kickoff against Burnley on Saturday, giving the group little recovery time once they return to Manchester. Pep rested John Stones and Ilkay Gündoğan at weekend, so you can bet they will be involved tomorrow. But what of the others? My guess is that Pep will put out the strongest side he can tomorrow and if anyone shows signs of fatigue before weekend, he’ll rest them. City have a rare full week to recover between the Burnley and Chelsea games, so there is some respite on the horizon.
Pep usually surprises us in some way – who called Yaya Touré’s return on Saturday? However, it’s hard to see any huge shockers in his lineup tomorrow. I believe he will field the best side he can, with Bravo in net, and the Stones-Otamendi partnership in front. With Zabaleta’s injury, Sagna will start at right-back and perhaps one of the toughest calls is whether it’ll be Kolarov or Clichy on the left. Clichy is the fresher of the two and it may well be him, but Guardiola seems to have more faith in Kolarov and I’m going with the Serb to start, as he did against Barcelona.
Fernandinho will start as usual with Gündoğan also returning in midfield. David Silva was on the bench against Palace, and I see him coming into the side with De Bruyne and Sterling behind Agüero. If I have it all wrong and Pep does decide to risk a slightly weakened team against Gladbach, it’s possible Sané, Navas or Nolito could come into the side, but being just a couple of points behind Barça, I think the City boss may smell blood and have eyes for first place.
With all that in mind, here is how I think City will line up:
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