Venue: Vitality Stadium
Date: 26 August 2017
Referee: Mike Dean
Kick off: 12:30
There are two ways of looking at City’s start to the season: on one hand, we’ve already dropped two points, on the other, we’ve maintained an unbeaten start despite playing a majority of our last game with ten men. Whichever side of the fence you sit, game number three is just round the corner, and it’s a must-win for Pep Guardiola’s men. Bournemouth are the opposition, and there are a number of talking points to discuss in the build-up to the match. So, let’s get started.
A Selection Headache
Javier Garrido, Ben Thatcher, Michael Ball, Stephen Jordan – I’ve watched a lot of pretty bang-average left-backs in the last 15 years. However, few have ever looked as uncomfortable in the position than hapless Leroy Sané did on Monday night against Everton. I sat on the side of sympathy for the young German winger. For me, it’s completely bonkers for Pep to ask such an attack-minded player to fill in at wing-back; Leroy never looked confident, and clearly allowed his mistakes to affect him as the game went on. The crowd got on his back slightly and by minute 50 or so, it was clear to see that he had nothing left to offer. The question is: if Sané is so useless at full-back, why did Pep bother with this plan? Since the start of pre-season, City’s manager has tried the formation out on a number of occasions. It’s simple enough – three centre-halves, two marauding wing-backs, three central players in midfield and two forwards. It’s easy to see why the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy would thrive in such a system. What’s much harder to see though, is why Pep would adopt that very system when Mendy isn’t fit. It’s not as if Sané has ever shown any promise as a defender.
What’s more bizarre is the fact that City had all of the tools necessary to play with a more familiar 4-3-3 system on Monday – but chose not to. Would it have been an absolute nightmare to see Danilo fill in as a left-sided defender as part of a 4, and play Sterling and Sané either side of Aguero or Jesus? Probably not. But I guess we’ll never know. Pep needs to have a serious think about how he approaches the Bournemouth game. If Benjamin Mendy is raring to go, maybe his 3-5-2 formation will pay dividends; but if he isn’t, surely Leroy Sané can’t figure on the left side again? Pep has the option of changing the system and adopting something more familiar, however the suspension of Kyle Walker makes life difficult – especially if Mendy isn’t ready, as it leaves City with only one fully fit full-back. No matter what, it won’t be easy to predict, as Guardiola line-ups rarely are.
Does Aguero and Jesus Really Work?
Over the years, the Premier League has been full of famous striking partnerships: Yorke and Cole, Henry and Berkamp, Corradi and Samaras. Not all of those partnerships have prospered though, and the time comes in many a team when options need to be assessed. Right now, City have two senior forwards: Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero. Last season, Jesus’ arrival forced Aguero onto the bench for a few games, and whilst Sergio sat and watched, Jesus filled his boots. In the very fixture in the last campaign that City play this weekend, the young Brazilian sensation sustained a foot injury that kept him out for months. In came Aguero, who hit form and showed everybody what they’d been missing. Gabriel Jesus returned to fitness and the two forwards played a few times together, showing snippets of their skill as a duo. However, the jury is still firmly out on whether the two can play effectively together or whether they’re better in part of a one striker system.
Against Brighton, we saw Sergio Aguero have a quiet game, but a game that ultimately led him to scoring the decisive goal. Jesus, on the other hand, was much more involved in the action, but didn’t quite get his name on the scoresheet. In terms of link-up though, there was little speak of. Last Monday against Everton, Aguero struggled to get himself into the game. He fluffed a few good chances, and never really looked like making the impact required. Jesus was lively in the first half, trying to make things happen, but failing to do so. Again though, there was very little in terms of link-up to speak of. It’s not a particularly fruitful start to the season for the partnership, and one is beginning to wonder whether or not it’s time to revert to back to a system that favours one striker. The pursuit of Alexis Sanchez has great relevance in this particular situation too, as if the Chilean international was signed, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him up alongside Aguero or Jesus, instead of out on the wing.
Against Everton, City’s chances looked extremely slim heading into half-time. Of course, Pep Guardiola’s men are one of the best sides in the country on any given day, but 1-0 down to a very decent Everton as well as being a man light? Things looked bleak. Last season, Pep was often criticised for some… strange substitutions. He was similarly questioned for the time at which he often made those substitutions. On Monday though, he can’t be faulted for his changes. Raheem Sterling entered the fray after the break, and ‘Raz’ delivered. He constantly drove at the heart of the Everton defence and regularly gave them something to think about. Despite missing a very good chance, he did atone for his lack of lethality with a crisp volley to level the scores for City with only eight minutes to go. Bernardo Silva was also thrust in the game in the second half. It was Silva’s home debut for City, and he didn’t disappoint. With his namesake not having the best of games, Bernardo quickly got hold of the ball and started to distribute it efficiently. His unbelievable pass to David Silva late in the game looked to be the winning assist, only for a desperate but crucial header from Davy Klaassen.
Danilo was another who made his home debut on Monday, and like Bernardo, he showed exactly what he is capable of. A speedy but sturdy right-back, Danilo was constantly a threat down the right-side and even managed to test Jordan Pickford before the eventual equaliser. The equaliser itself was partly set-up by Danilo’s deep cross, as Mason Holgate headed into the grateful Sterling’s right-boot. Three substitutes, three big impacts. It’s hard to imagine how much more any of the trio could’ve done on Monday to at least give Pep something to think about for the trip to Bournemouth, and if it was me, I’d have all three in the starting XI for the lunchtime game.
Bournemouth have had a bit of a dud start to the Premier League so far, losing both games without scoring a goal. Eddie Howe has created a squad full of technical and physical ability, and has seen his side remain in the league in both of the last two seasons, against all of the odds. Their record against City though leaves a lot to be desired; City have won four out of four Premier League encounters with the coastal side. The Cherries though, will be looking for a reaction to their home loss against Watford last week, so City will have to be wary of a resurgence.
With a few defensive problems, I’m going to say that City might struggle to keep a clean sheet down south. However, I do think we’ll have enough going forward to take the three points home. 3-1 City – Sterling, Aguero and Jesus to score.