1. In a series of sporting fixtures, a match of which the result is irrelevant, the winner of the series having already been determined by earlier results.
In a technical sense, City’s game against Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday is a meaningless, dead rubber fixture (for Pep’s side at least). But, when is a game of football ever meaningless? Guardiola will surely be eager to stretch the winning streak to 21 games, albeit he has stated in the past that sometimes it is healthy to lose to keep everyone on their toes.
Despite this, Pep will be cautious to not field too many of his stars, with one-and-a-half eyes firmly on Sunday’s Manchester derby. He will look to give some of the fringe players a run out in what will be a below freezing Kharkiv.
Enough of the clichés, here’s how I predict City to line up on Wednesday.
The last two games have been relatively boring by City’s very high standards, and one of the highlights have been the footwork of Ederson, along with the fact he can actually make saves. Out of respect for Napoli (who need Shakhtar to slip up to qualify), I think Pep will field Ederson in this one ahead of Claudio Bravo.
Danilo has struggled to make an impact since his positive performance in September against Liverpool. He has been deployed mainly at left back, which admittedly isn’t his best position, and he has struggled. When at his more comfortable right back role, I am of the opinion that he has been solid. On the other side, Fabian Delph starts by default as there is no other viable option seeing Oleksandr Zinchenko cannot play in Europe for registration reasons. The Yorkshireman had a good afternoon on Sunday in two different positions, and I think Pep will choose him purely on the fact that Kyle Walker hasn’t had a rest since the Wolves game.
In the middle, it’s another case of resting key players. For this reason, I think Tosin Adarabioyo and Eliaquim Mangala will start. The only other options are Otamendi and Kompany, who will surely be wrapped up under a thick blanket on the bench to keep them in tip-top condition for Sunday. It may not be the most convincing back four in the world, but in the grand scheme of things the game on Sunday is much more important than this.
The back four and front three have been a very contentious topic and I have had to make a few tough decisions in terms of who plays there, so it is nice to see that the midfield sort of picks itself for this game. Kevin De Bruyne hasn’t travelled (due to his suspension, and his ‘holiday’) and David Silva is nursing a knock suffered on Sunday. Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden will make up the De Bruyne/Silva roles, whilst Yaya Touré will almost certainly get a game behind them. It will be great for the academy to see teenage sensation Foden get his first City start, and also the fact that it isn’t a massive game will do him favours, as the pressure will be off.
On the wings, Bernardo Silva is another player who starts by default. He has struggled to find his feet, similar to Leroy Sané at this stage last season. However, it is hard to come off the bench and find the tempo of the game when you only get fifteen minutes maximum per week. I have faith Bernardo will come good, hopefully starting tomorrow. On the other side I expect to see Brahim Diaz from the off. He is another with age very much so on his side, and this is definitely a game where Pep will look to give him first team minutes, after impressing in training and on the pre-season tour.
Up top, it is anyone’s guess. Sergio Agüero has struggled in the last few weeks, despite his goal at Huddersfield, and if I were Pep I would be picking Jesus ahead of him on Sunday. For this reason I think we will see Agüero start, with the Argentinian looking to find his shooting boots against a team which will not deploy a double bus park like we have had to become used to. I am surprised that Nmecha has not travelled to Kharkiv, as this would be a good game for him to gain some minutes off the bench.