Manchester City’s defence of the Carabao Cup continues on Thursday night with the first of four successive home games at the Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s side face Fulham in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup and a win would send them into the quarter finals of a competition the Blues have won three times in recent years.
With the fixture squeezed between the Tottenham and Southampton league games, and Pep Guardiola making it clear in the past that he deems this trophy the least important of those available, expect wholesale changes from the team that overcame Spurs at Wembley.
The League Cup is always a good proving ground for youngsters and one of them will be Aro Muric who can expect to retain his place after featuring against Oxford in the third round. It’ll be a bigger test for Muric against Premier League opposition and he may be busier than he was in September.
At the back, I’d expect four in, four out. It’s quite tricky to predict with Eliaquim Mangala, Danilo and Philippe Sandler back on the training pitch, giving Pep Guardiola so many options. Honestly though, we can only see one of those starting and that is right-back Danilo, who has been training for a number of days now after recovering from his latest setback.
Delph was again nowhere to be found against Tottenham, but has been pictured in training so we can only assume he is fit. It’ll be between him and Zinchenko to start on the left on Thursday night, and we’ll go with Fabian Delph at left-back, with Zinchenko perhaps in line for another role…
In the centre of defence, expect mainstay Aymeric Laporte and John Stones to be rested, meaning starts for experienced pair Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. If Eliaquim Mangala’s fitness is at a good level, it’s not impossible he could play a part, but it’s difficult to say how far along the Frenchman is.
Ilkay Gundogan is back in training but this fixture may be slightly too soon, and with Fernandinho overworked, it gives Guardiola a dilemma for the holding midfield role. The City boss has named Stones, Zinchenko and Danilo as three players who could fill in there and as we know, Kevin De Bruyne can feature anywhere in midfield. We’re just going out on a limb here and saying Oleksandr Zinchenko will start in the No. 6 role. If Stones isn’t given a rest, he’s also a strong contender for this position.
The Carabao Cup is a good competition for Phil Foden, the star of the previous round, to get a rare start, and he can expect to play 90 minutes or thereabouts. After playing so much lately, David Silva will drop out of the XI, with either KDB or Bernardo to start – we’re going for his namesake Bernardo Silva with De Bruyne making an appearance later on.
After spending plenty of time, too much time some would say, on the bench lately, Leroy Sané will occupy one flank and if his contract situation isn’t frustrating Guardiola too much, Brahim Diaz may get a start on the other. Both are favoured on the left side, but Brahim’s versatility allows him to play on the right. That leaves Gabriel Jesus, who could do with a goal or two, to lead the line in a much-changed City team.
The subs are a bit of a lottery for games like this, with Guardiola likely to leave some at home. Our guess at the bench is Ederson, Benjamin Mendy, John Stones, Adrian Bernabe, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling. Veterans Kun Aguero, David Silva and Fernandinho can hopefully get the night off without City suffering in their absence.