After a tough couple of games, which resulted in City crashing out of the FA Cup, compounded by the failure to beat our greatest foes, some City fans are willing the season to end. Avoiding a Champions League play-off by finishing third is probably the best we can hope for. This weekend’s game against Middlesbrough is the beginning of what is the final run-in of our season, a run-in which involves us playing no one higher than 8th.
City need to be professional and try to get as many points as possible, but these last games mean that there is chance for some small rotations. This probably makes Pep’s team even more unpredictable than ever, though…
After his electrifying cameo in the derby, Gabby Jesus is most likely ready to start. David Silva trained on Friday so we’ll have to see whether or not he makes the match squad, but it’s pretty likely he’ll have to settle for a spot on the bench if he does indeed make the squad. After seemingly suffering an injury whilst claiming a cross, Claudio Bravo was reported to be out for the rest of the season. Whether that will be his last game for City, who knows, but we’ll at least get the chance to say goodbye to Manchester City legend, Willy Caballero. John Stones hasn’t been mentioned by Pep so we have no idea whether or not he’ll be fit enough to make the squad, but hopefully we’ll see him get to make a couple of appearances before the end of the season, perhaps next to Vincent Kompany. Gündoğan is still out, naturally, but on the off chance you’re reading this Ilkay, we miss you and can’t wait to see you back.
Gabby and Serge
For some months now, a media whirlwind has been behind Sergio Agüero. Manchester City’s talisman, the man with the best goal-to-minute ratio in Premier League history, is facing a new challenge. It was brought to wider attention at Barcelona away, and was further magnified by the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, who was stunning from his first seconds on the pitch. Tens of ‘If I was Agüero I’d leave’ articles from ex-players like Collymore and Fowler emerged.
Then, after Gabby’s injury at Bournemouth, Sergio became the main man again, scoring goal after goal after goal. He scored in some important games, too, like Monaco, Liverpool and Arsenal. Yet, the prodigal son has now returned, and once again Sergio’s place in the side is in doubt. Once again, odds are being slashed on Sergio to leave this summer.
However, Pep has always maintained one thing: that Sergio and Gabriel Jesus could, and would, play together. We’ve seen it at the ends of games we’re chasing, but never from the start, and I think this could be the perfect weekend to try it out. City’s play this season has relied heavily on our wingers, yet both Sané and Sterling have been short of their best in the last few games – this is only natural of course, they’re young. But I think that Pep might see this an opportunity to try playing both of our front men, perhaps with one dropping deeper. Gabby’s movement is to die for, and certainly Sergio has improved in his general link-up play in the past few months, so there is potential.
We saw Sergio briefly succeed next to Tevez and Negredo, so maybe tomorrow is the birth of a new era?
This therefore begs the question of formation change. Gabriel Jesus could play down one side, with either Raheem or Leroy down the other as Gabby is seemingly malleable to most attacking positions. Raheem has played less than Leroy in the past few weeks, mostly down to form, but I think tomorrow Raheem will be given the nod ahead of his German counterpart. In terms of formation I think we could see a fluidity only Pep, Johan Cruyff or Aqua-Man could dream of, with players switching positions to deal with what’s happening in the match.
For example, I could see us adapting to a 4-2-2-2 with Kevin on the left at some point complete with an Agüero/Jesus front two, or a 4-2-3-1 with Kevin centrally and Gabriel Jesus on the left, depending on what’s happening in the match. This is perhaps aided by Silva’s small injury problem, but if he was fit I’d take a punt and suggest that Pep might’ve rested Agüero, who is now within 10 goals of City’s all-time goal scoring record. One more season would do it.
I mentioned in the introduction that City have an easier run-in than some of the other teams. We have Boro (19th), Palace (12th), Leicester (15th), West Brom (8th) and Watford (10th). And as we know, City are likely to bin off quite a few players this summer, with many out of contract. Every game could be ‘their last game’. City’s greatest ever player, Yaya Touré, is on this list, although I’m not sure I’d be letting him leave. But there is something else we know about City – our beautiful knack of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. It would be wonderful for us to not implode at the last hurdle and finish 5th: we can’t be too careful, and we most certainly can’t rotate for fun, like, I don’t know, starting Brahim over Kevin and Ben Agüero over Sergio.
Nonetheless, I could see Kompany being rested in light of his recent injury problems which we are now all hoping are in the past for once and for all. I think Kompany’s eventual full return could see the redeployment of the ‘back 3’, featuring he, Stones and the Renaissance man Nico Otamendi – perhaps there’s argument for it to happen tomorrow, even, but I would rest Kompany after this run in the side.
Yaya Touré, despite his age, played 120 minutes against Arsenal and then was great against United. I could however see Delph, himself returning from long-term injury, stepping into Yaya’s place tomorrow alongside Fernandinho. Furthermore, I could see Navas returning to the right-back position, because despite arguments he could nullify Sterling, his pace might be needed against the silky Adama Traoré, Boro’s biggest threat other than the Beast.
Therefore, here’s the line-up I think Pep could go for:
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