Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Stoke emphasised a lack of incisiveness from Pep Guardiola’s attacking force. Without David Silva on pitch, Manchester City had reverted to the same form of attacking as under Guardiola’s predecessor – Manuel Pellegrini. Possession-based without any real indication of penetrating the defence. Two dropped points in the Premier League also means that City’s slender hopes of catching league leaders Chelsea in the race for the title have been all but diminished – leaving the season’s focus upon the FA Cup and the Champions League.
Talking ahead of the game on Friday, Guardiola addressed no fresh injury concerns and confirmed that club captain Vincent Kompany would be available for selection, having trained for ‘four days’.
Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan remain sidelined with long-term injuries but, apart from that, Guardiola has the whole squad to choose from when considering who to start at the Riverside.
Expect full strength (except Caballero)
Guardiola’s team selection against Stoke has come into question after City failed to claim all three points. The Spaniard controversially left Silva on the bench and omitted Raheem Sterling from the entire match-day squad, with neither decision a result of any injuries. What is still harder to comprehend is that City were almost at full strength on Wednesday night and still did not get the job done.
Of course, Claudio Bravo will be in goal after cementing himself as the second-choice goalkeeper with an early blunder in the previous round against Huddersfield.
The continuous rotation at right-back leaves that spot up for grabs, but I think that it would be wiser, having watched Pablo Zabaleta unsuccessfully attempt to stop the pace of Scott Sinclair, that Bacary Sagna is pitted against Middlesbrough winger Adama Traore.
Kompany could get a chance in order to rest one of the centre-backs for the Monaco game but it would be a huge risk to play him from the start, considering that the Belgian only returned to full training days ago. It would be much more fruitful to start Aleksandar Kolarov and John Stones alongside eachother in the heart of defence to warm them up for the crucial Monaco match.
Fernandinho really hasn’t been on it since his temporary full-back move, but Guardiola will want him to play in midweek so I think we could see him drop out of the team in favour of Silva, with Yaya Toure returning to the deeper midfield role. Without doubt, Kevin De Bruyne has to be in the line-up for this one – even after an uninspiring display against Stoke.
Sané and Sterling both have the fitness to play on Saturday as well as Wednesday so you can expect both of them to start in the two most important games of the season so far.
Kelechi Iheanacho could be given a chance to prove himself to Guardiola but I feel that it would be unwise to drop, or rest, Sergio Aguero, taking into account his recent goalscoring form.
Here’s the team that I think City will go with: