Manchester City get their season underway with a trip to Wembley on Sunday. But with numerous first team players having not played a single pre-season minute since returning from the World Cup, the line up this weekend is anyone’s guess…
One of the most assured starters is Claudio Bravo between the sticks. Having been City’s surprisingly successful cup goalkeeper last season and showing some respectable displays in America, he’ll maintain that role on Sunday and for the coming season.
Now, after looking so comfortable last season playing four at the back, Pep, being the tactically choppy manager he is, reverted to a back three in pre-season. Presumably in anticipation of the returning Benjamin Mendy. I think we’ll see him stick with that and go with Aymeric Laporte who has been a regular on tour, partnered alongside Vincent Kompany and John Stones. Reason being that every late returner from Russia has taken part in double training sessions this week in order to get match fit for the season, so I think they’ll both start to sharpen them for Arsenal.
Providing the width for City on the right I’m going for Kyle Walker despite an impressive pre-season from 18-year-old Luke Bolton. For the same reason I gave previously, Pep needs him ready for Arsenal and with the fitness levels he showed last season he should be fine to start on Sunday. At left wing-back, I’d give the nod to Benjamin Mendy, at long last. With all the talk about new boy Mahrez it’s easy to forget that we have another player who’s not really featured properly in a City shirt yet. It’s the perfect game to reintroduce him to, with it being a game that both teams will take seriously but won’t carry the same intensity as the league.
The midfield trio is an area where I think we’ll see key players rested, with how ridiculously good Silva and De Bruyne are together we can probably get away with them returning at Arsenal. Sitting deepest in midfield I think Pep will choose Ilkay Gundogan, who last season showed he’s capable in that position and didn’t play that much at the World Cup. Ahead of him I think Phil Foden will start in what I expect to be a breakthrough season for him. All City fans know how talented he is, this season may be the one where he gets more minutes and in bigger games as Pep further moulds him into the player we all know he can be. Joining him centrally will be Bernardo Silva, after spending the entirety of last season on the right, the addition of Riyad Mahrez has opened up the opportunity for Bernardo to show what he can do through the middle. A gifted dribbler with a good eye for the pass who’s potent from range, it’s an experiment that almost cannot fail.
Now for the two up top. Leroy Sané is a near certainty to start after his laughable omission from the Germany squad meant he spent the full pre-season with City, consequently, I think we’ll see his best season in a blue shirt yet, which is a scary thought. Alongside the German it’s a toss up between Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, and I’m going with the Argentine. Despite doubts about his future, his relationship with Pep and his performances, he’s still firmly City’s main man and answers his critics time and time again. With his record against Chelsea it’s a no brainer.
On the bench is of course Ederson, who can have a relaxed afternoon. Oleksandr Zinchenko who played a decent amount in pre-season will join him, followed by Nicolas Otamendi, who regardless of being City’s best defender last season, just came off the back of a rather dire World Cup. Midfield regular Fernandinho should be in the squad ahead of what promises to be the most physically demanding season of his career to date. Room will be made for the now 19 Brahim Diaz on the bench after another summer of promise from him. Which leaves record signing Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus, it probably would’ve been a start for Mahrez had he not got that knock against Bayern, so for precautionary reasons I suspect he’ll be benched, as for Jesus, he has every chance of starting but I think Pep will go with the reliable Sergio.