Saturday’s game between Manchester City and Chelsea is shaping up to be one of the best tactical battles that the Premier League has seen thus far. Both clubs are armed with fantastic technical coaches, and both Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte will be eager to get an early win in over a title rival.
I am yet to correctly predict a Pep Guardiola XI since he joined the Blues in the summer, and my task has not been made any easier by the revelation that City have their whole squad to choose from for tomorrow’s game, boasting a clean bill of health for the first time in an age.
One of the big dilemmas for Pep is the choice of formation – something which will undoubtedly affect the personnel in his starting XI. In the past, Pep has favoured matching the opponents formation in big games, and relied on the ability of his team to make the difference.
However, I think this game has come far too soon for Pep to be experimenting with new formations, particularly against a team that seem so well-drilled, with Chelsea winning their last seven games after an unconvincing start to the campaign. Therefore, I think Pep will go with a similar formation that he has used in the majority of games since he joined the club.
The goalkeeper position picks itself, with Claudio Bravo a shoo-in to start ahead of Willy Caballero.
I expect Bacary Sagna to start ahead of Pablo Zabaleta on the right, and Aleksandar Kolarov to get the nod ahead of Gael Clichy on the opposite flank. If Guardiola does pick Kolarov to start at full-back, the centre-back pairing looks obvious, with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi the only fit senior centre-halves at the club.
Yaya Touré has seized his chance after Pep Guardiola restored him to the match day squad, with two very good performances against Crystal Palace and Burnley. Ilkay Gündoğan however, remains the most likely to start next to Fernandinho in central midfield, with the German impressing in the big games that he has appeared in so far this season.
Kevin De Bruyne is also nailed on to start, and the Belgian will be well up for this one, having been let go by Chelsea back in 2014 under the management of Jose Mourinho. What a mistake that has turned out to be.
Raheem Sterling is expected to start, but is in desperate need of a good performance. The tricky winger started the season excellently, but a recent dip in form has given his doubters some ammunition.
Sergio Agüero is a dead cert to start up front, and the Argentine has a fantastic record against Chelsea, having scored a hat-trick in the reverse fixture last season. Kun will be hoping to build upon his record of nine goals in his twelve games against the Londoners.
Finally, there is the question of whether Pep will go with the tactically disciplined (not mentally disciplined) Nolito on the left, or the elegance of David Silva. I am a big fan of Nolito, but City looked so much more incisive when Silva came on at Turf Moor last weekend, and I think that cameo has given him the edge over his Spanish compatriot.
With all that in mind, here is how I think City will line up:
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