Manchester City take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday in what promises to be the toughest test of the season so far for Pep’s men…
City are coming off the back of a fantastic run of form in which they’ve scored twenty-four goals and conceded just one since the last international break. But they’ll need to be at their best to beat a Chelsea side, unbeaten since opening day, who’ve just won away to Atletico Madrid in Europe.
The big news is that Sergio Aguero will not be available after being involved in a car accident in Amsterdam last night. The striker was in a taxi on his way to the airport when it crashed and sustained moderate injuries. Benjamin Mendy is certain not to be involved after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, a potentially season-ending injury. Vincent Kompany also appears to be unavailable after missing training sessions in the last couple of days.
The toughest factor here is the formation Pep will go with. In recent games we’ve stuck with a 4-3-3 that’s allowed us to fit an extra attacking player in the lineup, varying from Leroy Sané to Bernardo Silva to Raheem Sterling. But against Liverpool, the last league game we played of a comparable stature, Pep opted for a three-at-the-back in which Danilo started at centre-back. If the formation can be correctly guessed, the team becomes far easier to accurately predict- but as we know nothing’s that simple when Guardiola is your manager. However, I’m inclined to believe we’ll stick with the team shape that’s served us well in recent weeks.
In goal, Ederson picks himself. Easily the simplest choice Pep will have to make on Saturday, the Brazilian walks into the side after another impressive showing on Tuesday against Shaktar Donetsk. He casts a confident shadow across his box, and it clearly rubs off on his defence, who look far stronger this season than they did in the last campaign. Sorry Bravo, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot to get your place back at this rate.
The instrumental Kyle Walker is almost certain to be tasked with keeping Eden Hazard quiet down City’s right, while John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi won’t face particularly stiff competition for their places from Eliaquim Mangala or Tosin Adarabioyo. The biggest dilemma in defence comes at left-back. With Mendy injured, it looks like we have two players vying for the spot in his absence, and while Fabian Delph was excellent in midweek I expect Danilo to be given the nod on Saturday. The ex-Real Madrid man will provide experience and defensive stability against the electric Pedro and knows former teammate Alvaro Morata well.
Of course, it’s possible that Pep will indeed opt for a back three, in which case Danilo, Mangala, Fernandinho or even Walker could be played as the third central defender, but each of these are either needed in other areas of the pitch or named Eliaquim. The frenchman would likely do a fine job of marking Alvaro Morata, but would Guardiola trust him in such a big game? I’m not so sure.
In midfield, Fernandinho is my pick to play as the holding midfielder, as he’s done expertly for pretty much the whole Pep era. He’ll have a tough task to match the tackling abilities and workrate of counterpart N’Golo Kanté, but our Brazilian excels in these kinds of games and won’t mind getting his hands dirty in order to keep Chelsea’s three-pronged attack quiet. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get his hands on Cesc Fabregas after getting sent off for pushing the Spaniard last December.
Ahead of him, I don’t see how Pep can ignore the creative super-duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. The league’s top assister and the league’s best player have started the season in imperious form together playing in ‘free #8’ positions and are more than capable of destroying any team in the league with their incisive passing and skillful control. I have a nagging feeling that Ilkay Gundogan should start against the champions, but can’t for the life of me work out who would get dropped for the German midfielder. Fit or not, he may have to settle for a place on the bench- for now.
This is where it gets really tough. In attack, four players deserve to start- and there are, of course, only three places. As our only fit natural striker, Gabriel Jesus is the obvious choice to lead the line. The wings are far less predictable and with that in mind I’ve decided to opt for those I believe deserve most to start based on recent performances. That means six-goal Raheem Sterling earns his place on the right, while the equally threatening Leroy Sané lines up on the left. Pep will be hoping that his wingers can get into and exploit the space behind Chelsea’s flying wingbacks.
The substitutes near-enough pick themselves. Claudio Bravo, Eliaquim Mangala and Fabian Delph can provide injury cover, while Yaya Touré, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan can offer different midfield options for Guardiola coming off the bench. In light of Aguero’s injury, Oleksandr Zinchenko may well be offered a spot on the bench after being namechecked as a left-back option on Tuesday night. If things go to plan, we won’t need him- here’s hoping.