Following Saturday’s disappointing draw against West Ham, Manchester City travel to Southern France intending to record consecutive group stage wins. Andre Villas-Boas’ Marseille side currently sit 4th in Ligue 1 and are unbeaten in their previous five league fixtures, and considering their good form, Tuesday night’s fixture looks set to be a difficult encounter.
After unexpectedly, but somehow predictably dropping points in East London, Pep Guardiola will be clamouring for his team to return to winning ways sooner rather than later. Injuries have already impacted results this season and things may get worse before they get better.
Regarding City’s team news, Pep’s side are again without several key players. Strikers Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus are both absent, Fernandinho will be unavailable for at least a month after picking up an injury in last week’s victory over Porto, Benjamin Mendy also remains on the sidelines, and Nathan Aké will also not feature.
Here’s how we think Manchester City will line up on Tuesday night...
First and foremost, Ederson is certain to start the game and the Brazilian stopper will be looking to record his first Champions League clean sheet of the season. City have conceded just four shots on target over the previous two games, however, two have beaten Ederson, and City have dropped points as a result of it. Whilst Ederson was hardly at fault for either goal, he's managed just one clean sheet from his six appearances this term and will be hoping to add to his clean sheet tally in France.
Following yet another decent showing at the weekend, we expect the consistent Kyle Walker to retain his place at right-back. Walker has been in fine form since the restart in June, and the England international has arguably been City’s best performer this season.
At centre-back, we believe Ruben Dias is a shoo-in to start the game. The Portuguese defender has impressed during his short time in Manchester and I for one fully expect him to only improve throughout the season as he becomes more acclimatised to English football, and his new teammates.
Alongside Dias, we expect Eric Garcia to again accompany the former Benfica man in defence, namely because Nathan Ake has not travelled, and as Aymeric Laporte has only just returned from injury. We believe Pep will opt against starting the Frenchman.
Many City fans have been understandably irked by Pep fielding his fellow Catalan over John Stones given Garcia’s reported reluctance to stay in Manchester. However, Pep appears to believe that the defence is more secure with Garcia in the side. Furthermore, the statistics support this, as Eric Garcia is currently averaging more tackles, more interceptions and more clearances per game than the Barnsley native; and given the noted fragility of Manchester City’s backline over the past 12 months, it should be unsurprising that Pep prefers to field the more reliable Garcia over Stones.
At left-back, we believe Joao Cancelo shall retain his place. The Portuguese international had a shocker against Porto, however bounced back with a great performance at West Ham. Cancelo recorded his first assist of the campaign against to set up Foden’s equaliser, and his marauding runs into the final third were one of the few City positives of the game. Although his defensive abilities are somewhat lacking, Joao Cancelo is far and away our best option at left-back and the spot looks his to lose for the foreseeable future.
In midfield, we expect Pep to stick with the polarising Gundogan x Rodri double pivot. The pairing has its critics, with many seeing it as ineffective – to put it mildly, and both players have been somewhat criticised in recent weeks. However, it should be noted that the partnership has occasionally worked very well, particularly against sides looking to press.
Along with Gundogan and Rodri, we expect Kevin De Bruyne to return to the starting line-up. Manchester City are a far better side when the Belgian is present, and this was again evident when De Bruyne entered the fray against West Ham. Following his introduction, De Bruyne produced several excellent chances for his teammates to win the game, however, none were able to produce a winning goal, and City left London with a mere point. Kevin De Bruyne’s importance is paramount, and any success that this season will depend on the influential Belgian.
On the right side of the front three, we believe Pep will start Ferran Torres ahead of the Riyad Mahrez. The Spaniard looked great following his introduction against Porto last week and I, along with many other City fans were baffled by Pep’s reluctance to field him in place of Mahrez against West Ham. I can only conclude that he was being rested for Tuesday's clash with Marseille.
On the opposite flank, we believe that after impressing against West Ham, Phil Foden has done enough to warrant a start. Foden has notably linked up brilliantly with Ferran Torres and Joao Cancelo in recent weeks and I hope that Foden again performs well as he looks to cement his place in the starting line-up.
With the Blues once again without a senior recognised striker, we believe Raheem Sterling will be relied upon to lead the line. Whilst his current form is very good, the England international was somewhat disappointing against West Ham and will undoubtedly be dissatisfied by his showing. Sterling was afforded several chances to win the game for City, and whilst his movement and anticipation allow for his consistently excellent positioning in the final third, he has often displayed a tendency to hesitate when faced with a 1v1 - a trait that has often led to Manchester City dropping points. However, I am confident that Sterling will perform well against Marseille.
Substitutes: Zack Steffen, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Tommy Doyle, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez.
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