There’s only four games left in City’s season for the Blues to secure Champions League football. Crystal Palace are the first of three opponents that City will play at the Etihad in the coming weeks, and the Eagles have claimed a few big scalps away from home of late. With victories at Anfield and Stamford Bridge in the last month, Sam Allardyce’s men have little to play for, and even less to fear. With the likes of Christian Benteke, Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend in the side, Palace will present City with plenty of specific threats to counter. So, how will Pep Guardiola set his team up tomorrow against a side with plenty of pace on the wings and a man-mountain up front?
City will be without goalkeeper Claudio Bravo for this game. The Chilean suffered an injury in the Manchester derby last week that looks set to rule him out for the remainder of the season. Defensively, City are still missing John Stones for the visit of Palace, the England defender suffered a training injury a few weeks back that ruled him out of City’s trip to Wembley. Whether or not Stones is likely to return for the next game or not is still uncertain. Pep appears to be giving little away with regards to Stones’ condition. Sergio Aguero will also miss the game on Saturday. Kun picked up a knock in last week’s game with Middlesbrough, an injury that could see him miss not only this fixture, but those that follow it. David Silva is back in contention, though Pep himself admitted that the Spaniard was by no means in the perfect condition.
Will Jesus be the Saviour?
Working out Pep’s starting XI is never a particularly easy feat, though injuries do make the task a little bit more realistic this week.
In goal, Willy Caballero is all but certain to start against Palace. The Argentinian goalkeeper had actually found himself dropped by Pep, with Claudio Bravo re-earning his place in the side. Willy has proven to be more than just a bit-part goalkeeper this year though, so there’s no real need to worry there.
Defensively, I’m expecting a slightly more considered approach from Pep with regards to countering specific threats. I think Pablo Zabaleta may well start the game, with Gael Clichy’s pace preferred to Kolarov’s lack of it on the left. With John Stones injured, the centre of defence seems relatively straight forward; Vincent Kompany should start alongside Nicolas Otamendi theoretically. However, I suspect that Pep might prefer Kolarov to Otamendi due to his aerial advantage. That being said, Otamendi is no slouch when it comes to winning his aerial battles.
In the middle of midfield, Yaya Touré and Fernandinho are likely to start. The duo seem City’s most viable pairing in that area, though Fabian Delph’s slight resurgence shouldn’t go unnoticed. Still, I’m expecting the experienced pair of Yaya and ‘Dinho to get the nod. Raheem Sterling seems the only viable option to start on the right, if Pep chooses to play a flat back four. Leroy Sané should occupy City’s left side. If Pep were to tamper with the defence and play three central-defenders, we might be more likely to see a pairing of Navas and Clichy in wing-back positions. Though, after last week’s calamitous first half at Middlesbrough, I’d be surprised. I’m expecting Kevin De Bruyne to start tomorrow, with David Silva on the bench. I see no reason for Pep to rush our Spanish talisman back.
Up front, Gabriel Jesus seems the logical option, though Kelechi Iheanacho is fit and (you’d think) raring to go. Unfortunately for the young Nigerian prospect, Jesus simply looks too sharp and should get the nod. If City are to win games without Aguero, Jesus will truly need to be an inspirational influence.