Manchester City booked their place on Wembley Way on Tuesday, seeing off a courageous Bristol City side in the second of two legs in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. Tomorrow, they make a similar journey, to Championship outfit Cardiff, who are also promotion hopefuls. A win would see City into the promising stages of this years’ FA Cup, and another Wembley trip could be upon the horizon.
With just a few days rest either side of this fixture, City will rotate to a minor extent, however I don’t expect wholesale changes, given the breathing space Guardiola’s men have at the top of the league table.
As for Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a plethora of fringe players getting a chance, as the Welsh outfit will look to rest key men ahead of a daunting race for promotion. Despite this, Cardiff will have the backing of a roaring crowd, as they try to recreate a big mid-90s scalp of Manchester City at Ninian Park. A new stadium, but the same expectant crowd hoping for a famous fourth-round ‘cupset’.
In Sky’s commentary at Ashton Gate the other night, they pinpointed Claudio Bravo to look like a panicked man at times. However, I never felt too concerned with Bravo on Tuesday – which is a rarity. I fully expect Pep to give Bravo the nod tomorrow, as I do in all cup games this season.
At the back, Kyle Walker suffered a knock at the end of Tuesday’s game, however he is fine, and I think he will start tomorrow, and showcase some of his superb bombarding runs down the right flank. On the other side, Guardiola will offer a chance to Brazilian Danilo, who has struggled for first team football in the past few months. Oleksandr Zinchenko has received mixed reviews for his two starts at left-back in the last week – he offers better attacking options, however, against a tall, strong side like Cardiff, I think Danilo is the better option.
Amidst heavy speculation and reports that suggest that a City move for Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte is done, the centre-back area will be one that is interesting to see who Pep chooses in the future. However for this one, I imagine John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi will start. Stones has struggled since his return, and the only way to put that right is to keep on playing. Vincent Kompany has returned from his latest setback, however I don’t see him making the cut for this one.
In midfield, as ever, Fernandinho will start. After a terrible afternoon at Anfield the other week, Fernandinho has bounced back with two pleasing performances. He will be pleased that City seem close to signing fellow Brazilian midfielder Fred, from Shakhtar Donetsk. Hopefully he can offer more support to Fernandinho than Yaya Touré has been able to this season.
In front of him, I expect Kevin De Bruyne to feature as ever. After pledging his future to the club, Kev said he has to play more with David Silva’s ongoing family troubles. De Bruyne isn’t one to enjoy being rested, and wants to play every minute, despite the opposition. Next to him, Ilkay Gundogan will step in. He is no David Silva, but he would walk into 19 of the 20 Premier League outfits.
In the front three, Raheem Sterling will be eager to return to the side following a night watching from the substitutes bench in Bristol on Tuesday. In the middle, there is no option other than Sergio Agüero, with Gabriel Jesus still sidelined. On the left, Leroy Sané will feature after a promising couple of games. The natural choice would be to rest Leroy, and give Bernardo another run out, but Pep doesn’t seem to fancy anyone but Sané on the left hand side.
On the bench, we will see a mixture of experience and youth. Ederson, Vincent Kompany, Bernardo Silva and David Silva will make up the senior benchwarmers, whereas Oleks Zinchenko, Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz will be hoping for some first team minutes, after training with the squad.