Manchester City have one foot in the door of Wembley after a last-gasp Sergio Agüero goal gave the Premier League leaders a 2-1 advantage over Bristol City heading into Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg.
Lee Johnson’s team are in appalling form, without a win in six – five of them losses – but you get the feeling that with a rambunctious crowd backing them at Ashton Gate, they will again give Pep Guardiola’s side a tough game.
City have had a couple of days to recover from Newcastle and do not play again until Sunday, when it’s Cardiff in the FA Cup, and I have a feeling Pep will prioritise this game then make more changes in Wales.
While I’m sure most would prefer to see Ederson between the sticks, Guardiola is unlikely to change his decision to field Claudio Bravo in this competition, particularly after the Chilean helped City reach this stage with two heroic performances in penalty shootouts. You just feel if City do get to Wembley, putting Bravo up against Arsenal or Chelsea could be a risk.
At the back, injuries limit City’s options – a recurring theme this season. At right-back, you can’t look past Kyle Walker, with the only real candidate to step in for him, Danilo, slotting in at left-back. It isn’t out of the question that Oleksandr Zinchenko will play two games on the bounce, but I can see Pep giving the Brazilian a game with Oleks back for the FA Cup tie at weekend.
Eliaquim Mangala hasn’t been on the pitch since the first leg, in which he delivered a poor performance, and I’d be quite surprised to see him line up again – to quote Natalia Imbruglia’s 90s hit ‘Torn’, I think Pep is all out of faith. For me, it’ll be John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi again at centre-back, particularly with Bristol City ready to give it a go in order to try and overturn a 2-1 deficit.
Another poor performer in the first leg was Yaya Touré, who barely seems able to run anymore. It’s quite sad seeing the man who once dominated the Premier League this way, and if Pep fields him against Lee Johnson’s side, our midfield could struggle. So for me, the overworked, always reliable Fernandinho starts for the umpteenth time this season, and hopefully City bosses sign some cover and competition for him soon.
İlkay Gündoğan could easily step in for one of the magicians in midfield, but I see the weekend cup tie with Cardiff as a time for more rotation, and can’t look past David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne lining up together in an attempt to cut open Bristol City quickly and decisively.
Up front, it gets tricky. Sergio Agüero is City’s only out-and-out striker available, but Guardiola showed in the first leg that he’s content to start no natural forward if it means not running Sergio into the ground. Again though, with City so close to Wembley, I think City’s all-time leading scorer will be in the XI. Either side of him, it’ll be Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, although it wouldn’t be too surprising if Bernardo Silva gets a shot – he’s good, just not as good as Leroy and Raheem for City (yet).
On the bench, it’ll be a mix of young and old: Ederson, Eliaquim Mangala, Oleksandr Zinchenko, İlkay Gündoğan, Yaya Touré, Bernardo Silva and Brahim Diaz.