Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 16 May 2017
Referee: Craig Pawson
Kick off: 20:00
After riding the waves of two successful, but very different home games, City have an automatic Champions League spot in their hands and provided we at least match our rivals results we will retain our place in Europe’s elite competition. City have lost only one game at home all season in all competitions, yet it still feels lacking the imperious demeanour we had in our unbeaten home run through 2011/12. In contrast, West Brom will arrive at the Etihad on Tuesday night hopefully bereft of confidence after their initially great season has ground to somewhat of a halt, winning only once in their last ten games – the 3-1 victory over Arsenal in March. They still are in 8th position and can hold their heads up high for their great start to the campaign, despite the recent drop in form. Hopefully though, City can compound their woes and build upon our recent signs of promise.
Formation and Rotation
The big question that we have on our hands is: to what degree with Pep rotate after such a short turnaround? We know he’s a boss not content with having a best eleven and playing it into the ground, as City have made the most line-up changes of any team in the league this season. Not many can be considered automatic starters in this team, Sergio Agüero is testament to that. But as this is a game we really should be winning, Pep might be tempted to experiment somewhat. Naturally he can’t play Asier Zabaleta alongside Mason De Bruyne with you or I in net, but I think we can certainly expect some of our ‘fringe’ players to get a run out, some of whom might be playing their last ever games at the Etihad. Moreover, Pep might once again try out the fabled Jesus – Agüero partnership. We’ve only seen it at the end of games at the Etihad and away at Middlesbrough, and I think Pep will indeed try it out from the start in one of the last two games. To add to this, we’ve got John Stones back from injury and I’d like to see him play next to Kompany at least once, in spite of Otamendi’s recent form, though Pep has said that ‘Otamendi was asleep’ for Shinji Okazaki’s goal at the weekend.
This summer might be a long one. I can see lots of sagas developing in terms of players signing for City, but just as importantly they’ll be lots of players leaving. Most of them will be released, but they’ll probably be some sales too: Fernando, Hart, Nasri, Bony, Denayer, Delph and Nolito could, and many of them should, be sold this summer. Jesus Navas has been offered a contract but hasn’t actually accepted it yet, and Tuesday will be the last time we get to say goodbye to our outgoing players, unless you’re one of the lucky few going to Watford away. Whilst Yaya Touré has been reportedly offered a new one-year deal; Gael Clichy, Willy Caballero and Bacary Sagna will never have another opportunity to say goodbye to the Etihad as it stands, and we will certainly miss them – some more than others, of course, but it’ll be an emotional one. I really hope they all do get the opportunity to say goodbye, and in a perfect world this game wouldn’t be taking place in the evening, so more people would be able to stay, allowing the outgoing players to receive the standing ovations they deserve, but we don’t live in a perfect world.
In addition to our fringe players, perhaps we could see a few youth players in and around the squad? We saw Aleix Garcia for a half away at Middlesbrough, and although he wasn’t great he certainly wasn’t to blame for the malady of that game, and we haven’t seen him since. Iheanacho, a forgotten man in this striker situation, looks set to leave City this summer though probably on loan. Julian Nagelsmann’s now Champions League bound Hoffenheim and Southampton have been linked, and a long exposure in the first team would be best for the young Nigerian, but hopefully, like with Garcia, we see a little bit of him in the 180 minutes that remain this season.
You may notice a serious omission from my list of players leaving earlier. If you have dutifully carried on reading rather than clicking off the link to abuse me for forgetting Pablo Zabaleta, thank you. I felt that Pablo deserved a segment of his own, personally. Already, a discourse of venom has sprung up on the question of people leaving early, too early to truly say goodbye to Pablo, opposed by those who just want to get home before daybreak. I won’t add anything to that particular ongoing argument, but what I will say is this: even if you’re at the game or you’re listening on a scratchy radio stream from Addis Ababa, if you leave at 80 minutes or wait until four beefy stewards pull you kicking and screaming from your seat, enjoy what will be the last minutes of a true City legend. I really don’t see another player like Zabaleta ever playing again for Manchester City.
From sunny Argentina, he has taken Manchester and everything about this club into the very strands of his DNA. He misses the rain when he’s gone, he has a Mancunian accent, he talks so passionately about the club and always has. Everything about him is pure class, and that’s off the pitch. If we as fans were players, we’d be Zabaleta, a man who never leaves the field knowing he’s not given 100%, a man who would fly into a challenge with the biblical Goliath, Andre the Giant or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator without a second thought. He’s bled for this club, and no words can encapsulate how much of a legend he is to me, to all of us. Ability-wise, he might not go down as our best player ever, nor even as our best Argentine. But I’d be willing to stake that there isn’t many City fans who wouldn’t put him in their all-time City XI.
One to Watch
West Brom’s star players have much reflected the performances of the team as a whole, starting well but falling apart in the past few months. Yet, from the West Brom ranks two names jump out. 8-goal man, the Venezuelan Salomon Rondon, and Nacer Chadli. Chadli was a signing from Tottenham, who like West Brom in general impressed at the start of the season but has drifted off since, scoring 4 of his 5 league goals before mid-September, but his pace and skill means the defender will always have a worry in the back of his mind, especially when those defenders are as slow as ours. Rondon of course is a different equation all together. Despite his attributes of being bustling and brilliant in the air, Rondon has only scored 1 league goal since September, but once again with our defence gifting goals to the needy, you can be sure that there’s a chance either Rondon or Chadli will end their barren streaks on Tuesday night.
I’m not an optimistic guy, but I can see us winning on Tuesday. We really should be putting this West Brom side away, and hopefully after their tiring attempts to frustrate Chelsea were fruitless, they’ll turn up slightly fatigued and low on confidence, meaning we can take full advantage. I think City will win 3-1, with goals from Yaya Touré, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Salomon Rondon.