It feels like a lifetime since City were last in Champions League action, and even longer since City played a Champions League game that particularly mattered- and I don’t think even Pep Guardiola is brave enough to field a similar side to that he put out against Celtic, the one which had three teenagers in the starting line-up: Kelechi, Maffeo and Adarabioyo. Monaco, having scored over 100 goals this season, are not to be underestimated under any circumstance. Last year City broke the shackles (largely down to not being drawn against Barcelona) of the last 16 and marched through to the semi-finals and Pep will be hoping to emulate and perhaps improve upon the ghosts of last season: in any case, failure simply cannot be an option tomorrow. So how could Pep line up?
Naturally Gabby Jesus and Gündoğan are out, but Pep also confirmed today that “he didn’t know” if Gael Clichy would make it back for tomorrow’s game after recently suffering with a back injury, and Vincent Kompany will miss the game after sustaining a minor injury, but Pep confirmed he will be back for next week’s replay against Huddersfield. Kolarov came off late at the weekend with what looked like a knock but as he wasn’t mentioned in the press conference so we can assume he is fit, though he may not be 100%. Despite this, the rest of the team are fully fit and Pep has a wide depth of talent to choose from, making my job of predicting his line-up particularly difficult.
Caballero or Bravo?
I think Pep will go for Willy Caballero. It would be crude to simply say ‘look what happened when Bravo played Barcelona to when Willy played them’, but since Pep dropped Bravo after Spurs, Willy played every game but for the one against Huddersfield (where Bravo was fairly impressive, it has to be said). Willy was by no means perfect in the games he played, yet the flow of goals has begun to slow and clean sheets haven’t been as rare as they once were. Therefore I argue there’s significant reason to believe the cult icon that is Willy Caballero will play tomorrow.
The Left-Back Conundrum
For large parts of this season, and indeed previous seasons, City have had a left-back conundrum. Aleks Kolarov or Gael Clichy? This dichotomy, often looked upon as a tortured ‘lesser of two evils’ choice. We’ve looked on as James Milner has gone onto be a reliable left-back for Liverpool and sighed- though I can’t imagine James ‘I’m leaving to play in the centre of midfield’ Milner is particularly happy with this. Anyway, we may have divine intervention: Fernandinho. Pep said today that “he could adapt to many different positions” – a hint at his future at full-back? Some might say that it would take massive courage to put a natural centre midfielder a left-back for such a massive game, but WhoScored gave Fernandinho a 7.92 for his sole left-back performance at Bournemouth last week. Besides, Pep has precedent with helping players retrain into different positions: could Fernandinho be the latest to do so under him?
Yaya Touré: Man, myth, legend
I mentioned at the start that it feels like an age has passed since City have played in the Champions League, but what feels even more distant is Yaya Touré being out in the cold. Since his return to the fray after his explosive start against Palace, Yaya has been excellent, especially when placed in a more defensive role, one which critics used to argue he could never fulfil. Yaya’s ability to do the simple thing effectively, making short passes to keep the team ticking will free up David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to do what they do best – wreak havoc – safe in the knowledge that the defence isn’t totally exposed to Monaco’s pacy, powerful attack.
To cover the rest of the team, I think Sagna will start over Zabaleta despite the latter’s performance against Neymar in November, and the rest of the team more or less picks itself given the few injuries we have. I think that Pep will start Raheem and Leroy to help with defensive cover as much as their ruinous, potent, attacking abilities. Having said all this, would it be surprising if Pep played some formation we’ve not yet seen?
Here’s what I’m going for, how about you?