Manchester City host Chelsea on Sunday at the end of a tough but rewarding week so far, and a win over Maurizio Sarri’s men would be perfect and undoubtedly give Liverpool even more nerves in the title race.
City have beaten Arsenal and Everton in two games they could easily have slipped up in, and leading into the weekend fixtures are top of the league. Liverpool only need a point from their home match against Bournemouth on Saturday to change that, but the trend is clear – City are back in a title race they seemed to have almost blown very recently.
It’s been a grueling week and Chelsea will be fresher at the weekend, so Pep Guardiola must choose his team wisely. Here’s our latest attempt at guessing how he may line his City side up.
Benjamin Mendy is still not ready to go following complications with his knee after recovering from a long-term injury. Pep said on Friday that they are being careful with the left-back, and hopefully he can be back soon.
Club captain Vincent Kompany is also still not fit and hasn’t featured since the win over Liverpool in early January – that’s nine games without Vinnie now.
Besides those two and long-term absentee Claudio Bravo, everyone else appears to be fit! The squad being largely uninjured is helping City compete on four fronts and we can only hope it stays this way.
Ederson kept a clean sheet at Everton, something that is never easy. The Brazilian has been in good form and will of course start on Sunday, aiming to keep out the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Eden Hazard.
At right-back, Kyle Walker has looked in better form just recently despite still making the odd mistake and should again start. Guardiola has started Aymeric Laporte at left-back in the last two games and the Basque-Frenchman has been excellent, with an assist against Arsenal and goal against Everton in addition to his resolute defensive work. While Danilo, Delph and Zinchenko are other left-back options, Laporte seems to be the trusted choice for Pep in these bigger games while Mendy is out.
Assuming Laporte does start at left-back, that makes the centre-backs easy to predict – John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. That would mean the same back four as against Everton, which may be asking a lot of them but they were rock solid at Goodison and City have no midweek game next week, which will allow for some rest.
Another player who has been working hard and will certainly have to play again is Fernandinho, who will be involved in a midfield battle against Jorginho, Kante and probably Kovacic. There is absolutely no way the veteran can be left out of this one. We also expect Kevin De Bruyne to start against his former club, leaving one spot where the decision is tougher. How do you pick between David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan? Guardiola will probably look at it from a tactical point of view and City are going to need legs and hard work, so our pick is Bernardo Silva who always works his backside off.
Riyad Mahrez has not started a Premier League game since December and we wrongly predicted him to start against Everton. Against Chelsea, we’re not going to predict he starts, which means he probably will! It’s really hard, on paper, to look beyond starts for Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané on the wings. It has to be said, Leroy has been disappointing in his last two starts, but he is young, inconsistency is normal, and you’d fancy him to spring back to life in a game like this.
That leaves the striker role and oh boy, Pep has a decision to make here. Both Aguero and Jesus have been bagging, and after Kun was taken off against Everton, Gabriel came on and scored. It’s difficult to justify leaving out either, but when you look at Sergio Aguero‘s record against Chelsea, it’s hard to see him being dropped for this one, so the Argentine is our pick. Sergio and De Bruyne missed the reverse fixture, won by Chelsea, and their presence on Sunday could make a huge difference.
On the bench then will be Aro Muric, Danilo, Fabian Delph, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus.