Manchester City are still in with a chance of a famous quadruple and so far their FA Cup draws have been kind to them. Championship side Rotherham were demolished 7-0 and even the Premier League’s Burnley fell 5-0 to the Shark Team.
City face a side lower down the English football system than either Rotherham or Burnley in the fifth round, League Two outfit Newport County, but unlike in the third and fourth rounds, the Blues are away and on a pitch that looked treacherous in Newport’s fourth round win over Middlesbrough.
Terrible pitch or not, City are overwhelming favourites to progress to the quarter-finals no matter what team Pep Guardiola fields at Rodney Parade.
But what will that team look like? City have had the rare luxury of no midweek game, giving everyone time to rest and recover from a brutal week which saw the Blues face and defeat Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea.
However, Guardiola has next Wednesday to think about when City travel to Germany for the Champions League Round of 16 first leg against Schalke, and we expect some players to be held back for that.
There is no change on the injury front, with Guardiola again ruling out Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy, who is giving the club captain a run for his money for days missed.
Eliaquim Mangala is also injured and this is the type of game he may have been used in as his City career edges towards its end.
Ederson has started in the FA Cup ahead of Aro Muric, but it’s interesting to note that both FA Cup games have come right before or after a Carabao Cup game – the competition Muric always starts in – and that may be the reason why, since it’s usually the back-up goalkeeper who plays early round FA Cup games. So that could present a selection dilemma for Pep. Even so, we predict Ederson to start especially with Newport apparently posing a physical threat.
It’s doubtful that Laporte will be called upon to play left-back for this game, so with Mendy out that narrows it down to… three possibilities. City only have one ‘real’ left-back but are not short of options to fill-in. After his impressive performance against Chelsea, we’re going for Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left, with Danilo returning at right-back.
At centre-back, Guardiola is likely to opt for experience although it would be nice to see Eric Garcia again. Nicolas Otamendi seems a shoo-in to start but who will partner him? Guardiola has rested Laporte in both previous rounds of the FA Cup and we’d expect the same again, with John Stones partnering Nico for the third straight round of this competition.
Pep sprung a slight surprise against Burnley in the fourth round by playing Fernandinho. The Brazilian has started all four games since then and must be held back at the weekend, so we’re going for Ilkay Gundogan to occupy the ‘6’ role. Phil Foden hasn’t even made the bench in the last three league games, but he’ll return and start. That leaves one spot and it’d be a surprise if the tireless Bernardo Silva starts. That leaves two obvious options – De Bruyne and David Silva – and two less obvious options – Zinchenko and Delph. De Bruyne’s injury record may lead to Pep not risking him on this pitch, so we’re going with David Silva to complete the midfield.
Riyad Mahrez can’t get a league start right now, but these are the competitions where he can try and find the form that made City break their club record for him. Leroy Sané has also been benched lately and that should lead to him being given a run-out on the left flank.
Up-front, after Sergio Aguero’s exertions last week, Gabriel Jesus will return to the lineup and it’d be no surprise if he is among the scorers at Rodney Parade.
That leaves the bench… Aro Muric, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. Or something like that.