Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City host Dutch outfit Feyenoord at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
City, in formidable form both sides of the international break, are looking to register a seventeenth (!) consecutive win in all competitions, which would seal the top spot in the group. Meanwhile, Feyenoord will look to bounce back from a very inconsistent run of games, seeing them to a poor 6th place in the Eredivisie.
Saturday’s win at Leicester came with a big negative – key defender John Stones limped off with a hamstring injury that is likely to see him miss the Christmas period at least. Apart from Benjamin Mendy, Stones is the only notable absentee on the injury front.
Sergio Agüero had to watch Saturday’s trip to Leicester from the bench, following his mishap on international duty for Argentina, although Pep has stressed that he is perfectly fine and ready to play.
It isn’t a dead rubber in the conventional sense, but with a demanding run of fixtures on the way, this is the game that Pep will look to rotate.
Despite this, I think Ederson may start in goal. Claudio Bravo will be hoping to get a run out but I can’t see Guardiola making eleven changes for a Champions League game, out of respect for the Rotterdam outfit.
At right back, it seems certain that Danilo will step in to give Kyle Walker a rest. This will nullify the attacking threat down that side, but the Brazilian is a very solid choice. On the left side there are few options with Oleksandr Zinchenko ineligible. This may have to mean Fabian Delph playing again, unless Pep has another plan in mind.
Eliaquim Mangala will most likely start in the heart of the defence. I didn’t have Twitter open at the time he got substituted on, to not ruin a goal due to my terribly delayed stream, but I can imagine he was getting a lot of abuse. Despite this, he had a pleasing performance. Alongside the Frenchman, I have a hunch that Nicolas Otamendi will return following his suspension. Again, for a Champions League game that necessarily isn’t a dead rubber, I can’t see Guardiola opting for an Adarabioyo-Mangala duo.
In front of them, Yaya Touré will almost certainly get a run out. Fernandinho is definitely one of the first on the teamsheet this season, and has probably been our biggest unsung hero. For this, he will probably get to watch this one from the comfort of his sofa at home and get a well-earned rest. Yaya will sit behind two creative midfielders: one is very likely to be Ilkay Gundogan, the other, not so certain. I’m not positive on this one, but I will go with who I would start: Phil Foden. The teenage sensation has been knocking on the door of the matchday squads all season, and this game would be perfect to introduce him to the Etihad crowd.
The front three is always tricky to guess, but Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero will most likely start. Bernardo has been in and out of the team, and has struggled in all honesty to get any form together, but maybe this will be the game. On the other flank, we may be treated to another youngster – Brahim Diaz. This one sort of picks itself, Pep won’t want to risk Sterling or Sané, so I’d hope Brahim will get a start in the first team.
The substitutes bench is anybody’s guess. I’ve gone for Ederson in goal so Claudio Bravo is a definite (or the other way around). Tosin Adarabioyo, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus will probably feature on the bench, giving Kompany, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Walker and Delph a proper rest. Hopefully we will see some more youthful faces too: the most likely is Lukas Nmecha, and the other may be a defender – I’ll take a stab in the dark at Joel Latibeaudiere.
How our writers think we should line up
I’ve had a blind guess at how Pep may setup on Tuesday, but due to his comments suggesting he will ‘heavily rotate’, I asked some of the City Watch writers to step in to the shoes (and lovely bald head) of Pep Guardiola, and pick their ideal eleven. In no particular order…
My team quite takes Pep Guardiola’s ‘a completely changed team’ quite literally, with only Kyle Walker maintaining his place. Had Oleksandr Zinchenko been in the Champions League squad, he would have taken Walker’s place in the side and played left-back in the place of Danilo, who would’ve played in his natural right-back role. Yaya would play as the deep-sitting midfielder of the side, releasing the ball to the fluid Gündogan and Foden ahead of him in the steads of De Bruyne and David Silva, whilst Brahim and Bernardo act as Raheem and Leroy tend to do. It may not make particular positional sense, yet the side brims with flexibility and maintains a solid core of a sitting double-pivot of Gündogan and Yaya should things get messy, as well as the added bonuses of bleeding in the Stockport Iniesta and the Andalusian Iniesta into what could, in hindsight, look like an epoch-beginning game for the pair. I was tempted to stick Otamendi in given how Mangala and Adarabioyo played together against Wolves, but surely with Kun Agüero up front and a relatively solid midfield we will hope to just outscore Feyenoord.
My team (4-3-3): Bravo, Walker, Adarabioyo, Mangala, Danilo, Touré, Gündogan, Foden, Brahim, Bernardo Silva, Agüero
We saw on Saturday just what a heavy schedule can do to players, with John Stones facing a spell on the sidelines after that hamstring injury away at Leicester. I agree with Guardiola that there is need for rotation against Feyenoord, but I still want to see a strong line-up on Tuesday night to all but ensure top spot of the group. With qualification in the bag already, the pressure is off Guardiola’s side, but with an away trip to Shakhtar on the cards still, I would rather the boys in blue put in a solid performance and get another vital three points in the bag. I would personally like to see a mix of youth and experience on Tuesday against a Feyenoord side that has struggled both in Europe and domestically so far this season.
My team (4-3-3): Ederson, Danilo, Kompany, Mangala, Delph, Touré, Gundogan, Foden, Sané, Aguero, Bernardo Silva
Ederson has been our main goalkeeper this season in the Champions League and he should continue there as the weakened team in front of him will need all the protection they can get. Danilo should come in at right back to allow Walker a rest before the busy festive period. It’s too risky to start Kompany in successive matches after such a long layoff and Mangala should play alongside Otamendi who will be fresh after not being involved on the weekend. Delph may have to start at left-back again due to a lack of alternatives. Toure can be the midfield anchor in just behind Gundogan and Phil Foden who deserves to show off his skills after an impressive World Cup. Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane can flank Sergio Aguero who will also be raring to go after not being involved at all this weekend.
My team (4-3-3): Ederson, Danilo, Otamendi, Mangala, Delph, Touré, Gundogan, Foden, Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Sané
Part of City’s successes recently is down to the options that we have outside of the starting eleven and therefore it’s no real surprise that a ‘completely changed team’ as Pep stated will still feature some world class players. This game against Feyenoord is not exactly a dead rubber and a major slip up here could need us winning in Ukraine to top the group which is not exactly ideal. So Pep’s taking a big risk here and if he puts out the team that I think he will then it’s a huge moment for some of the younger players who will be desperate to impress. Aside from the obvious rotation options (Bravo, Danilo, Yaya etc.) this is the game that we’ll surely have to break in some new blood. Phil Foden recently made the headlines nationwide after being the standout performer in England’s U17 World Cup triumph and surely has to make his debut against the Dutch team. Another highly praised academy talent is Brahim Diaz who, like Foden, was unavailable for the Wolves game earlier in the season and will be one who is likely to play on Tuesday. Our defence has had a few injury problems through the season so any chance to give them a rest will be taken by Pep which will mean we’ll probably see Tosin return to the starting line-up after playing against Wolves.
My team (4-3-3-): Bravo, Danilo, Adarabioyo, Mangala, Delph, Touré, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Foden, Aguero, Diaz
In light of Guardiola’s comments suggesting that there will be plenty of rotation in the coming weeks, the shock value would be minuscule if we do see a few big names on the bench this Tuesday. Danilo’s lack of playing time paves the way for a well deserved Kyle Walker rest and Ilkay Gundogan could also do with racking up more minutes since returning from a lengthy spell out. Yaya’s future has yet again been questioned over the international break so, in typically Guardiola style, it would come of no surprise to see the Ivorian starting ahead of Fernandinho who has played nearly every game so far. Blues everywhere have also been crying out for Bernardo to truly showcase his ability, and a Champions League outing under the Etihad floodlights could be exactly the stage to perform.
My team (4-3-3): Ederson, Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph, Touré, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Sané