Merry Christmas Blues! With City sitting 12 points clear at the top of the tree all of us who celebrate the holiday and all that don’t had something to be merry about at this time of year. Having said that the fixtures come thick and fast over the winter period and sure enough City are back in action against Newcastle tomorrow with the view to keep – or even extend – that lead.
Here’s how I predict the team to line up…
Santa came early this year. Six months early to be exact and he sure did deliver. It was no surprise that a goalkeeper was at the top of most Blues’ wish-lists at the end of last season and Ederson is the gift that keeps on giving. His distribution and talent with the ball at his feet is something I’ve never seen in the likes of a goalie before and he’s revolutionising the role in the eyes of the English media, surely providing some inspiration to young keepers across the country.
Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph are two who have cemented themselves as part of City’s best current eleven and the consistency that they bring to their respective positions is key to the run we’re on at the moment. I, like many I presume, were seriously concerned when we lost Benjamin Mendy to a cruciate ligament injury but Delphino stepped up to the role and deserves a huge amount of credit for choosing to stay and fight for his place under Pep and become one of our most reliable players of recent.
Our centre-backs are a bit plagued by injuries at the moment to varying degrees. Stones is still out with a hamstring injury but will be back soon, we all know Vinnie’s history, and Mangala recently suffered a broken nose against Leicester. Although it’s being proven that he can’t play more than once a week realistically, I think we’ll see Vincent Kompany line up alongside Nicolas Otamendi. With two games in two days coming up either side of New Years, this will be a good chance to play our strongest team before some seriously heavy rotation will be required and although he has his flaws, the big Belgian is more of an influence than Mangala.
Fernandinho is such a key part of this system, playing the role that Guardiola played himself under Johan Cruyff – and Pep recently stated that the Brazilian performs better than him in the role. In front of him I think Kevin De Bruyne will return to the team as well. Some recent reports emerged that he was ill before the Bournemouth game and it showed a little bit in his performance in all honesty, expectedly he didn’t last the whole game and came off after seventy minutes. After a seasonal break I’m hopeful he’ll be fully refreshed and back to his best in the team. Although KDB is likely to return I don’t think he’ll be partnered by David Silva in midfield. The Spaniard missed about a week of training sessions after he returned to Spain for personal reasons and although he came straight back for the Bournemouth game, giving him two starts in a short space of time might be too much a risk. Ilkay Gundogan was one of the few players to actually have a good game against Leicester in the cup and not forgetting his brilliant display against Spurs when he replaced Silva in the line-up. I think he deserves a start and he’ll likely get it against the Toon.
Leroy Sané was one of the players who had a bit of an off day against Bournemouth and so I think he’ll be dropped and replaced by Bernardo Silva in the starting eleven. The Portuguese international came on for a cameo appearance again against the Cherries but was still able to cause havoc down the opposition’s left flank and even whipped a lovely cross in for Aguero to nod home his second. Combine that with his strong display against Leicester recently and I think, like Gundogan, he deserves a chance to start. This poses a bit of an issue though as his colleague on the wings will be Raheem Sterling and they both seem to be favoured on our right wing. They obviously both can’t play in that position so I think that Bernardo will be initially deployed on the left and will be constantly switching wings with Sterling throughout the game like we’ve seen in the past.
Up top I think we’ll see Sergio Aguero again. After the rumours of his discontent under Pep he gave a man of the match performance against Bournemouth and surely he’ll be keen to continue that and pick up some good form. Two goals and an assist would be enough to keep a striker in the starting eleven in almost any other team in the world but with Pep as manager who knows what tricks he’s got up his sleeves to surprise us and the Newcastle faithful.