League leaders Manchester City welcome a struggling Bournemouth side to the Etihad Stadium this Saturday in the Premier League to kick off a busy festive period for the Blues.
Pep Guardiola’s men come into this game off the back of a hard-fought victory over Leicester City in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, which was eventually decided by a penalty shootout. Guardiola opted to leave many of his key players back home in Manchester on Tuesday and fielded a team with a mixture of youth and fringe players.
While a win for City would put them 14 points clear of closest rivals Manchester United (for a couple of hours at least), Bournemouth are at the other end of the spectrum. Eddie Howe’s team are without doubt now in a relegation battle and need to find three points from somewhere after a poor run of results which saw them beaten 4-0 at home to Liverpool last Sunday. With City looking to go further ahead in their quest for the title and Bournemouth fighting to remain in the division, it should make for an interesting affair.
Guardiola confirmed in his press conference on Friday afternoon that while Vincent Kompany is almost there, he more than likely isn’t ready to feature here. Phil Foden picked up a ligament injury in Leicester on Tuesday night and unfortunately after weeks of progression into the first team now looks set to face a spell on the side-lines. David Silva has returned to training after personal issues in the last number of weeks, but it might be too early for him to play a part in Saturdays game. It’s the same story for Benjamin Mendy and John Stones who are both still recovering.
Despite Claudio Bravo’s heroics on Tuesday night, I believe we will see Ederson back in goal after his outrageously good distribution vs Spurs last weekend and the back four of what’s available seems easier to predict in recent weeks. Kyle Walker will resume his position at right-back while Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala have done well of late in the heart of the defence, Fabian Delph has taken to his new-found position at left-bacck with ease and he will almost certainly make up the back four.
Fernandinho has been immense so this season and I’d expect him to come back into the side in his familiar position in front of the back four after Tuesday night off. The scintillating Kevin De Bruyne, who was also left at home on Tuesday night should return to continue his outstanding form we’ve seen so far this season. He was incredible last weekend vs Spurs and seems to be going from strength to strength as the season progresses. The situation surrounding David Silva still remains unclear and it is therefore likely he will not be there to partner KDB in the creative part of midfield. Despite Ilkay Gundogan’s return to form and fantastic displays of late, it remains to be seen whether he can manage three games in one week and I expect him to start from the bench. Bernardo Silva was fantastic midweek, clinching his first goal on the road and I believe he definitely warrants a place in the starting 11 in his name sakes absence. His workmanlike attitude combined with the effortless class he shows in possession makes him a no brainer for me on Saturday.
There were signs of improvement to Sergio Aguero’s ability to adapt to what Guardiola wanted out of the front man at the start of this season but in recent weeks he has began to look a little off the pace. I think Pep will look to go with the work ethic and guile of Gabriel Jesus on Saturday and the Brazilian is due a goal after somewhat of a dry spell currently. Despite another quiet night in front of goal from him on Tuesday, his attitude and tireless pressing were there for all to see. I think he will get the nod. Either side of him in attack the pace and running power of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling is expected after a rest midweek and they will both no doubt be tearing at the bit to add to their goal tallies on Saturday. I think Pep will favour both of them from the start ahead of Brahim Diaz.
While the form would suggest this is a home banker for City to make it 17 consecutive wins, Bournemouth will come to Eastlands looking to spoil proceedings. Eddie Howe struggles to adapt in games such as this and always looks for his team to play on the front foot with possession based football.
If he fails to acknowledge the opposition this time around and is naïve with his selection in any way, it could be a long day ahead for the Cherries with this City team showing a ruthlessness beyond anything we’ve seen before.