After getting 10 out of 11 (Mahrez for Jesus being the odd one out) of our picks right for the weekend defeat to Chelsea, we go again, this time for City’s midweek Champions League clash with Hoffenheim.
City are into the last 16 of the Champions League already, but there is a slight – very slight – risk of missing out on first place tomorrow. If City lose to Hoffenheim and Lyon beat Shakhtar Donetsk, the French side would finish top of the group by way of the head-to-head rule having beaten and drawn with City. That combination of results does seem a long shot on paper, but as we elaborate on below, City are in a difficult situation heading into tomorrow’s game.
Here’s our attempt to predict the team…
Things are bad, desperately bad on the injury front for this game, according to Guardiola. In addition to long-term absentees Claudio Bravo and Benjamin Mendy, Sergio Aguero (who could return at the weekend) and Kevin De Bruyne are still not back, while Fernandinho, Danilo and David Silva are all out injured.
Silva’s injury is expected to keep him out for three weeks, meaning City have problems in this hectic period of fixtures over Christmas and De Bruyne’s return is urgently needed.
Could Aro Muric get a run-out against the Germans? Guardiola might be tempted, but playing it safe we’re going with Ederson to start again.
At the back, it would have been Danilo in for Walker, but the Brazilian is once again injured, and unless Pep changes to three-at-the-back it will mean Kyle Walker starting again on the right. On the left, we assume (as we did wrongly as the weekend) Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of the 15 senior players available and are going with him to start.
In the centre of defence, getting the correct combination is rarely easy, but it’d be a massive surprise if the Laporte/Stones combo is out there again from kick-off. One of the two usually plays, but it’d be nice to see the veteran pair of Kompany/Otamendi out there on Wednesday. Playing it safe, we’re going for Aymeric Laporte to start alongside Nicolas Otamendi with John Stones dropping to the bench.
In midfield, with no Fernandinho, we’re going for Ilkay Gundogan against a team he has faced many times in his career. Fabian Delph is a possible alternative for the ‘6’ role. Ilkay will be joined by Phil Foden in his first non-Carabao Cup start of the season. Foden has signed a new contract with City and Pep HAS to give him a start in this one, surely! The third man will be Bernardo Silva with City not exactly spoilt for choice with De Bruyne and David Silva out and needing an established maestro in the midfield.
The three wingers disappointed against Chelsea so this will be a good chance for two of them to regain their momentum. Which two will it be, because Pep won’t play all three of them again – will he? Our selection is Riyad Mahrez on the right and Raheem Sterling on the left.
Up-front, assuming Pep doesn’t go the false nine route again, it’ll be Gabriel Jesus. Jesus just can’t score in the Premier League, but he did bang in a hat-trick in the 6-0 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk in November, so there may be an opportunity for him to bag here.
There will be some youngsters among the subs if Pep’s claim of 15 fit seniors is true, but a number of them, such as Adrian Bernabe and Claudio Gomes, are not on the ‘B’ list (the available squad is listed here). So the bench could look something like: Aro Muric, Fabian Delph, John Stones, Vincent Kompany, Luke Bolton (if fit), Leroy Sané and Brahim Diaz.