Manchester City are one step – or two matches – away from another trip to Wembley and a chance to retain the Carabao Cup.
Pep Guardiola’s men face Burton Albion, managed by former City player Nigel Clough, who sit 9th in League One. The winners of this two-legged semi-final confrontation will face either Chelsea or Tottenham in the final.
With games coming thick and fast, Pep Guardiola has been rotating his squad regularly, and it will be interesting to see how he lines his team up at the Etihad on Wednesday night. The Blues will fancy their chances of winning the first leg to make the return fixture a non-event.
This is a tough lineup to predict compared to some recent games, but here’s our attempt.
The reason this is one of the toughest XIs to predict in some time is almost everyone is fit! Guardiola said besides long-term absentees Claudio Bravo and Benjamin Mendy, he has a full cast to pick from. And the big news of his presser this afternoon was that Mendy himself is just two or three weeks away from a return.
One man eligible to play again is Fabian Delph, who has completed his three-match suspension.
Interestingly, Guardiola opted for Ederson in the FA Cup third round win over Rotherham on Sunday, despite the second-choice goalkeeper usually getting domestic cup games. That could be down to this match coming so soon after, and we can expect Aro Muric to continue his Carabao Cup run against Burton.
At the back, will it be Walker or Danilo on the right? We’re going with Danilo to start on the right, with Fabian Delph returning from his suspension on the left. In the middle, Vincent Kompany could return and partner Aymeric Laporte, who was rested against Rotherham.
Guardiola likes to rotate but this is a real chance to extend Fernandinho’s rest by playing Ilkay Gundogan again. The German was outstanding at the weekend and excels against weaker opposition, so we’re predicting him to start again. With him, we’re going for another Phil Foden start alongside David Silva. Bernardo Silva is another well-rested option, while De Bruyne could easily start again and play 60-70 minutes – we can only have a guess with the entire midfield now available.
Going forward, Riyad Mahrez continues to play below his best level but should start again as Guardiola would be wise to keep rotating Leroy and Raheem in and out in these – touch wood – less challenging fixtures. That would mean Sterling dropping to the bench and Leroy Sané starting.
How about the forward position? Does Guardiola go with Gabriel Jesus again or bring in Sergio? Given Gabriel’s profligacy in front of goal, we’re going with a start for Sergio Aguero to try and bag the goals needed to finish this as a competitive tie in the first leg.
That leaves the subs bench: Ederson, Kyle Walker, Oleksandr Zinchenko, John Stones, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus. Following our predicted XI, one of Bernardo/De Bruyne/Fernandinho has to be left out of the squad with so many fit, and we’re going with Fernandinho. Stones could always play the holding role in case of an emergency.