Manchester City ended 2017 somewhat on a low, drawing a blank at Selhurst Park on New Year’s Eve, however go into the new year with an advantage at the top of the table no one saw coming at the start of the season. Following just one day of rest, City host Marco Silva’s Watford, who have struggled over the Christmas period. Here’s my predicted team for the first City match of 2018…
Other than dropping points, the main worry for City fans after the match with Palace was the fact that Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne were forced off with bad injuries. The former seems to have been hit the hardest, although nothing has been confirmed, it seems certain it is a serious injury that will see him sidelined ‘for at least one month’. De Bruyne may have escaped the horrible challenge from Puncheon with just a knock.
Elsewhere, City will be boosted with the return of talismanic midfielder David Silva, who, according to Jose Alvarez Haya, trained today (Monday) and will be ready for selection.
Benjamin Mendy, Vincent Kompany and Phil Foden remain on the injury table, whereas Fabian Delph is presumably still recovering from a minor injury.
Given all the team news and injuries, most positions pick themselves for this one, so my job is fairly easy for Guardiola’s standards.
Ederson will certainly remain between the sticks. The Premier League newbie hasn’t been phased by the demanding Christmas schedule, and is the man to thank for City’s loss tally still being non-existent for the season.
In front of him, Kyle Walker will start on the right following possibly his best performance in a City shirt on Sunday. He absolutely commanded his flank, and Zaha only found joy when he switched sides and attacked Danilo. Speaking of Danilo, I expect him to start a third successive game at left back. He was a bit shoddy at the end of the game at Palace, but take the positives – we could still be watching Sagna and Clichy play every week.
In the middle of defence, City Watch Player of the Month for a busy December, Nicolas Otamendi, will start. He was heavily criticised in the summer by City fans, including me, but in Stones’ absence we have seen a coming of age for El General, and he looks the player we signed and more. Alongside him, hopefully, John Stones will return. Dropping just two points with a makeshift back four most weeks in the Christmas period is testament to City’s abilities, but Stones has been missed nevertheless.
Providing the shield will be City’s unsung hero Fernandinho, who has risen to not much short of a Busquets-like figure in this City side this season. He will be covering for Ilkay Gundogan, who has shown bright sparks in his first run in the team since the injury he suffered in this fixture last season. Alongside Ilkay will be David Silva, who all City fans will be very happy to see back in the fray following a tough Christmas with personal issues. We missed El Mago on Sunday, and it will be nice to see him back.
The front three isn’t easy to forecast so I will go with what I would play. Raheem Sterling is a necessity, he looked lively off the bench against Palace and after a semi-rest, Raheem has to start. In the middle there aren’t any options for Pep other than Sergio Agüero, who is struggling for consistency this season. Still, he is getting into good areas and but for the width of the post, he would have had a handful more in recent weeks. It is easy to get frustrated with Kun of late, but City fans must get behind him in Jesus’ absence. On the other wing, Bernardo Silva has earned himself another start following some bright displays coupled with Sané’s unusual poor form.
On the bench, Claudio Bravo, Eliaquim Mangala, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Yaya Touré will be the most likely. Leroy Sané will be the wildcard for Pep to turn to. To make up the numbers, we could see Tosin Adarabioyo and Lukas Nmecha. The latter will be hoping to get some Premier League minutes off the bench in Jesus’ absence. De Bruyne will hopefully be fit, but I expect him to get the night off regardless.