With back-to-back cup matches providing an unwanted break in Manchester City’s rampaging Premier League campaign, City return to action with a difficult trip to Anfield to face an in-form Liverpool side. Guardiola’s side have now gone 22 games unbeaten this season and Sunday’s trip to Anfield is, arguably, the biggest hurdle left to face this season. Despite the 5-0 drubbing at the Etihad earlier on in the season, Liverpool have had a strong season, scoring goals for fun with Mo Salah running riot every week. Jurgen Klopp’s side are seen as the second-most exciting side in the league, and remain unbeaten since their heavy defeat to Spurs in October, and still yet to be beaten at Anfield this campaign. City’s unbeaten run still remains but it could be severely tested this time round…anyway, here’s my predicted XI for the trip to Anfield.
Fresh reports that Gabriel Jesus’ knee ligament injury might be not be as bad as initially expected comes as welcome news with a likely return for the Basel game. The Brazilian is still out for now and we’ll hopefully see him back soon.
Club captain Vincent Kompany, Benjamin Mendy, and youngster Phil Foden all remain out through injury.
Despite the constant rebuttals that Guardiola’s success this season is due to money spent in the summer, it is worth noting that there have largely only been two summer signings in the favoured line-up this season – Ederson and Walker. Pep has often preferred his 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1, depends on how you see it) line-up this season with rotation only when necessary. Rotation was in mind for the Bristol game mid-week with Ederson, Walker, Otamendi, Delph, Fernandinho and Silva all rested on Tuesday night as Guardiola will want to be at full-strength for the toughest test of the season so far.
With league football returning, cup keeper Claudio Bravo will take up his usual seat on the bench to make way for the already-cult-hero Ederson as the Brazilian stopper reclaims his number one position in the starting line-up. Ederson will be hoping for a quieter game this time round after being seriously injured in the return fixture due to Sadio Mane’s karate kick to the face. Luckily for everyone involved, he was able to recover from the horrific challenge and has gone on to have a stellar debut season in sky blue.
The back-line will likely see Kyle Walker returning to the side after his fleeting appearance on Tuesday night. Danilo has been solid in recent displays but Walker seems to have shaken off his small injury concern and will regain his place at right back in order to counteract the pace of Liverpool’s front line. On the opposite side, Fabian Delph will most likely feature at left back as his impressive season deputising at the back continues in place of the injured Mendy.
The heart of the defence will need to be strong this weekend and we’re most likely to see our best centre back pairing returning in the Premier League with John Stones partnering recent Premier League Player of the Month nominee Nicolas Otamendi. The two have surprised everyone this season and formed a colossal partnership, currently boasting the best defensive record in the league.
Fernandinho will return to the side after being rested against Bristol City in midweek, providing the anchor role in midfield as he continues to be a stalwart in Guardiola’s side, providing the defensive duties that allow the front five to flourish whilst helping kick start City’s flowing moves. Reports have claimed that David Silva has trained with the squad after returning from Valencia this week to play, the diminutive Spaniard will line up in the midfield where his exquisite passing and ability to dictate the game will be crucial. Completing the trio is the impeccable Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has been the difference in games against the top sides this season and we will need another strong display from KDB this week to continue our unbeaten run.
The front three has seen rotation in recent weeks but with Gabriel Jesus out and the Alexis Sanchez saga dragging on (wake me up when it’s over), it is most likely to see Raheem Sterling line up on the right side of the three as City’s top scorer seeks to close the gap with Salah. Sergio Aguero will start down the middle as he aims to break his Anfield hoodoo and, like Sterling, grab a goal or two to climb up the table in the race for the Golden Boot. Despite his recent indifferent displays, Leroy Sané is likely to start on the left. His recent form may have been patchy but his effectiveness in front of goal against Burnley could mean Sané’s form is starting to come back.
On the bench, I expect to see Claudio Bravo, Eliaquim Mangala, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Danilo, Yaya Touré, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. City will not risk many youngsters this week and the bench will be looking particularly strong with Bernardo and Gundogan able to change a game should they need too.