There is absolutely no margin for error in the title race now for Manchester City after they were beaten on the road at Newcastle during the week. Luckily, Liverpool were held to a draw by Leicester a day later, but even with their own slip up (gerrardslip.gif), the Kopites extended their lead at the top to five points.
It’s not an impossible lead to catch and if City can take nine points from the next three games – against Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea – you’d fancy them to push Liverpool to the very end.
Visiting City this weekend are Unai Emery’s Arsenal, who the Blues comfortably beat at the start of the season and in last year’s Carabao Cup final. The same again would be nice, but the Gunners are in decent league form with two wins in a row, one of them a 2-0 success over Chelsea.
Pep has to get it right, so how will he line his men up? Here’s our latest attempt at guessing what the Catalan mastermind will do.
Pep wouldn’t confirm if Benjamin Mendy will play on Sunday. The French left-back has been training but has been troubled by swelling to the knee that kept him sidelined for a long time.
Unfortunately, club captain Vincent Kompany remains on the shelf and Guardiola seemed to have no clue what is happening with him. Claudio Bravo is also still sidelined, but Ederson seems good to go after an injury scare against Newcastle.
Ederson suffered a cut or gash to a leg against Newcastle and it was bad enough that Aro Muric had to get ready to replace him. The Brazilian finished the match and Guardiola said nothing of any issue in his Friday presser, so we expect Ederson to line up again. He’s a tough one and won’t miss a game easily.
City’s full-back situation is complicated. Danilo has been the only one in form and he was terrible against Newcastle. There’s just no consistency whatsoever from an area many envied City for after they splashed out on Mendy, Walker and Danilo. Making matters worse, Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko have lost much of Pep’s trust in the positions. We can only guess that Kyle Walker begins again on the right with Danilo on the left, unless Mendy can recover enough to start. There is the option to start Laporte on the left, as he’s quite solid there, but we’re not bold enough to predict that.
City have three centre-back options with Vinnie out, and we can see Nicolas Otamendi coming back into the team on Sunday, to be partnered by John Stones with Laporte sitting this one out. That’s a coin toss as it always is with Pep’s centre-back selections.
Fernandinho conceded the decisive penalty at St James’ Park but besides that was still one of City’s better performers – not that anyone was particularly great. City will need some protection against the Gunners, so there’ll be no rest for the Brazilian veteran. Bernardo Silva will run all day long and his stamina and work rate will be needed against Arsenal, so we expect him to start. That leaves one spot and there are three options – KDB, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Because he was flirting with a second yellow card, Kevin De Bruyne had to come off after 65 minutes so should be fairly fresh to start. Prior to that, he was City’s best player by a stretch.
Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling were both disappointing against Newcastle, but the other option (unless Bernardo is pushed out wide), Riyad Mahrez, has been even less impressive. There’s an argument for the Algerian to come in, but it’s likely Leroy and Raz will be running at Arsenal’s suspect full-backs.
Sergio Aguero scored the fastest Premier League goal of the season on Tuesday, but after that he was very poor by his standards. Gabriel Jesus has been in good form, so that gives Guardiola a selection dilemma: hope Jesus’ form continues or go with the usual reliability of Aguero. We looked at the last three fixtures between the sides and Pep started Sergio Aguero ahead of Jesus in all of them, so that’s our guess.
And finally, the bench: Aro Muric, Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus