Manchester City enter the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night as holders, even after Pep Guardiola labelled the competition a “lot of wasted energy” last year. Although Pep made his feelings crystal clear, City’s strength in depth allowed them to grind their way to the latter stages before a stronger team swept aside Arsenal at Wembley to lift the cup.
Don’t expect Guardiola’s approach to change at all this season. He will rotate and weaken his team, prioritising the Premier League, Champions League and, if necessary, the FA Cup when City enter the competition in January.
Helping City’s chances of another good Carabao Cup run is a kind draw against Oxford United, who sit in the League One relegation zone. You just never know in cup competitions, but Karl Robinson’s priorities may be on improving his side’s league form, which has seen them pick up just five points in nine games with just one win.
The goalkeeper position is one of the most interesting to consider for this one. Like his predecessors, Pep Guardiola likes to give his second-choice keeper domestic cup games, but with last year’s hero Claudio Bravo out long-term, it leaves 19-year-old Aro Muric as the back-up. Muric had to be quickly recalled from a loan spell to NAC Breda that was designed to give him some experience, and he will hope to at least get some against third tier opposition. Guardiola was non-committal about who will be between the sticks when asked, so it’s hard to call. I’ll be bold and I hope Pep will by giving Aro Muric his first competitive start for City in net.
At the back, expect changes from the weekend. Guardiola confirmed that Danilo ‘is coming back’ and that may well mean a start at the Kassam Stadium or at least a place on the bench. If Danilo isn’t quite ready to start and Pep wants to rest Kyle Walker, that gives the City boss a shortage of right-back options, with young Luke Bolton, who impressed in pre-season, one possibility. I’d like to see that, but will go with Danilo to get some minutes in his legs. And on the other side, we’ll finally see Oleksandr Zinchenko for the first time this season. Moves to Wolves and Real Betis didn’t happen, and despite a goal on international duty for Ukraine, he has yet to play a single minute of football for City in the new campaign. Surely that changes on Tuesday night.
Otamendi and Laporte started at the back against Cardiff, and while I’d normally go for two in, two out here, I’m not for reasons explained in the next paragraph. I expect club captain Vincent Kompany to return to the team and he will be partnered by Nicolas Otamendi with Laporte given a rest after so many starts. Eliaquim Mangala and young prospect Eric Garcia are recovering from injuries, while summer signing Philippe Sandler is back in training, but there is no word on if he is in contention. And as for John Stones…
The Blues are short on options for the No. 6 position, which is usually occupied by Fernandinho. Surely the Brazilian, who is still a quality player but is finally showing signs of decline, will sit this one out. Ilkay Gundogan said he’s a “little bit sore” after being on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from Cardiff’s Joe Ralls, so Pep may opt against starting him. With that in mind, I’ll go with John Stones in the holding role after Pep tried him out there at the weekend.
Everyone wants Phil Foden to start and he will. That leaves one slot for a Silva, and having sat on the bench at the weekend, I’ll go with David Silva coming in to pick apart a yellow wall, but perhaps not playing the full 90 minutes as Guardiola looks to preserve his ageing artist.
Unlike Foden, Brahim Diaz hasn’t been seen since the Community Shield, but I’d expect him to go straight into the starting eleven against Oxford on the left wing. One of City’s established wingers will also start and after his brace off the bench at weekend, why not Riyad Mahrez who has had precious few starts so far? Guardiola said some players ‘need rhythm’ and I can think of no better example than the Algerian. It would allow both Sané and Sterling to rest up.
Up-front, there is surely no chance Sergio Aguero will be risked in this game – at least not from the start – and Gabriel Jesus will look to find the net for the first time in over a month.
The subs bench will be very interesting on Tuesday night and we may see some less familiar youngsters if Pep decides to leave a number of his stars behind in Manchester. Ederson will be on there unless Pep leaves him at home and calls up Daniel Grimshaw, and he’ll be joined by Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker, Fabian Delph, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling. I went for Sterling over Sané because of his ability to play as a false nine, and unless Aguero is in the matchday squad, that talent could come in handy. If any of these players are left in Manchester, look for youngsters Claudio Gomes and Luke Bolton to potentially make the bench.