Manchester City will be on a massive high going into Sunday’s game against West Ham after Raheem Sterling scored yet another last minute winner to keep our winning run going and restore our 8 point lead at the top of the table. Though many will consider the game against the Hammers a guaranteed three points, Pep will surely be cautious about resting too many key players ahead of the derby, especially with the dead rubber in Ukraine midweek the ideal fixture to do so.
Here’s how I predict City to line up at the Etihad on Sunday.
Aside from Sterling being Sterling against the Saints, one of the most memorable points of that game was Ederson graciously taking a ball down from the air about 40 yards off his line which resulted in a standing ovation from the City faithful. The guy is the definition of a sweeper keeper and is one of the main reasons why we’re no way near as vulnerable on the counter as last year.
Kyle Walker is rarely given the man of the match award but he’s been so consistent for us since he’s signed. An infinite upgrade on his upcoming opposition counterpart Zaba from last season who, as much as I hated to see it, had nothing left in the tank. Whether it’s bringing the ball into midfield or overlapping Raz to stretch the opposition’s back line, Walker always seems to be in the right position and positive with the ball at his feet. On the other flank we may be in for a surprise, Pep has made no secret that Oleksandr Zinchenko has been training hard – even mentioning he asked to stay late in the gym when the team returned from Huddersfield last week. With Oleks not registered in the Champions League and so ineligible to play against Shakhtar – a game he would have been sure to play in – perhaps Pep will opt to rest Delph now and play him in Ukraine and against United.
Partnering in the middle, I’d be very surprised to see anyone other than Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. With the chance to rest both of these midweek Pep shouldn’t have any concern starting the pair on Sunday. Both have been relatively solid for us recently but it’s clear that our forward play is missing that of John Stones and his ability to bring the ball forward creatively. Here’s hoping the Yorkshireman has a speedy recovery.
Holding midfield is a tricky one. It’s possible that Fernandinho was trying to get booked against Southampton in order to avoid being suspended for the derby but that didn’t happen. He’s so vital to our play and nobody else in the squad can really do the job that he does, so it would be a disaster to have him miss the derby by picking up a booking tomorrow. For this reason I think Ilkay Gündoğan will start the game in that role, he’s not as defensive by any means but it would be a big risk to play Ferna. In front of him, ahead of the midweek dead rubber, it would make sense to play David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Even with the last two teams putting 11 behind the ball and limiting the space in behind, each of them has managed to stand out in either game and we play our best football when these two start.
On the wings it has to be Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané. The latter missed the previous game through illness but reports suggested it was only a 24 hour bug that should see him fit again to face up against Pablo Zabaleta. The ex-City man will get a standing ovation upon his return but he’ll likely be going to ground most of the game in an attempt to deal with the scintillating young German. There isn’t much more I can say about Sterling in terms of praise, most of the media and City Twitter are doing that for me, so I think the biggest compliment I can give him at the moment is that over this last month he’s been a more influential player for us that De Bruyne.
Up top I think Gabriel Jesus will get a start. I think he’s just more of a ‘Pep striker’ than Aguero and although he has a long way to go and a lot to learn, when a team puts their whole team in their 18-yard box for the duration, the Brazilian has more of an impact on the game by coming deep to collect the ball. With David Moyes’ side shipping 4 goals to a similarly underachieving Everton, surely he’ll come here for the point and wouldn’t it be ‘typical City’ for the only two teams to take points of us this season be Everton and West Ham. Times seem to be changing though and surely this is a team we should be blowing out of the water at the moment.