Manchester City travel to Selhurst Park in search of a European record-equalling 19th consecutive league win on New Year’s Eve – but the home side will be much more than cannon fodder for Guardiola’s men. Here’s my predicted team for the last City match of 2017…
Other than long-term absentee Benjamin Mendy, there are still a few doubts over the fitness of some of Pep’s players. Fabian Delph has been ill recently and news of his recovery is hard to come by. Meanwhile, Guardiola will have to wait and see if David Silva will return in time from his absence for personal reasons, but says that Vincent Kompany and John Stones are both on the verge of full fitness. Youngster Phil Foden is still barely a week into a month-long ligament injury.
In the least surprising move of my questionable journalistic history, I’ve gone with Ederson in goal. The second-best goalkeeper in the league is almost certain to be watching in envy from the Old Trafford break room as Ederson sprays 70-yard diagonal passes around Selhurst Park, looking for an eleventh league clean sheet of the season.
In front of him, predicting the defence is not the walk in the park it would’ve been if I was a Leicester fan two years ago, or even what it was for City in September. Nicolas Otamendi is a near-guarantee to start at centre-back, but who will partner him? I’ll assume neither Stones or Kompany are ready to start yet, meaning I think Eliaquim Mangala will be recalled to the line-up to deal with the pace and strength of Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. On the right, Kyle Walker is the obvious choice, even if a few uncharacteristically dodgy back-passes in recent weeks have suggested fatigue could be playing a part in his performances, while I’m backing Danilo to stay in the team ahead of Delph for another game. The Brazilian was excellent in Newcastle after scoring his first City goal against Bournemouth, and why risk an unfit Delph when we have a perfectly capable back-up?
Shielding the back four will be Fernandinho, because this City team without him is like Otamendi without a beard. It just doesn’t work and looks a bit weird too. We need Fernandinho to stay fully fit until the summer when we can invest in a suitable alternative. He’ll be playing next to Kevin De Bruyne, who just can’t stop providing moments of magic at the moment. Completing the midfield trio, I’ve gone with Ilkay Gundogan, who’s stepped up at the perfect time lately and will be looking to stake a claim for a more permanent place in the team while David Silva is absent. Needless to say he’ll need to play extremely well to usurp El Mago, who we all hope will be back with us in good time.
The front three isn’t easy to forecast either. It says a lot about the character of Raheem Sterling that he’s been our most reliable attacker this season, and possibly the third name on the teamsheet at the moment behind Ederson and Otamendi. He’ll probably be playing opposite Leroy Sané, who was rightly rested against Newcastle, with Gabriel Jesus operating centrally. It feels like this front three, who bought City frequent success last season, haven’t started together very much this campaign but their pace and energy could be exactly what we need to break down a stubborn Palace defence.
On the bench, I’ve gone with Claudio Bravo, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko providing injury backup, while Bernardo Silva, Sergio Aguero and Brahim Díaz could offer Pep fresh options in attack should they be needed. Finally, I expect Yaya Touré to make the substitutes, looking to grab some minutes towards the end of the match.