This Tuesday, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City travel to the Hawthorns to face Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion in a bid to continue their nine-game winning streak in all competitions.
A victory in the West Midlands will see the club return to the summit of the table for at least 24 hours. West Brom come into this tie on the back of a hopeless run of form, albeit with a hard-fought victory over nearby rivals Wolves.
The Baggies have only converted 15 shots into goals so far this campaign while shipping 43 goals the other way, leaving them with an expected points total of just over nine.
The last game City failed to win was of course the 1-1 home draw to West Brom back in mid-December, a tepid performance that started to worry many corners of the City fanbase.
The squad and the fans will be aware of the difficulty ahead, facing the notorious task of breaking down a dogmatic 4-4-2 Allardyce side. Guardiola has recently spoke glowingly about the ex-England manager, calling him ‘a genius’ as he ‘knows how to get results.’
The Catalan also reiterated the importance of this game, indicating that the squad cannot think of anything else but this next game and the three points.
With that in mind, here is our predicted team for the tough tie ahead at the Hawthorns...
After the Brazilian’s usual rest in the domestic cup competitions, Ederson will be back in the starting eleven in what we hope will be a quiet evening for the goalkeeper.
The full back areas once again pose another issue in terms of balance or necessary squad rotation. Walker was recently seen in training this week with the prospect of his return to the side. However, given Joao Cancelo’s inspired run of recent form and his performance off the bench on Saturday, the Portugual international should start this midweek.
On the opposing side, we anticipate Oleksandr Zinchenko returning to the starting eleven. Hopefully, Aymeric Laporte will be deployed out there at some point but the Ukrainian has once again looked assured in the left back slot and should return to a starting berth this week.
At centre half it will be none other than the extraordinary pairing of John Stones & Ruben Dias. Not much more can be said about the brilliant centre half pairing and they should be up for a tough battle in both boxes, especially during set pieces.
In midfield, I anticipate we will see the return of Rodri at the base after Fernandinho’s exploits in the cup. Ilkay Gundogan should accompany him to as he excelled off the bench on the weekend, re-asserting his impressive form as he notched another assist, bringing his recent goal contributions to 5 (4 goals & 1 assist) in his last seven games in all competitions.
Further ahead it has to be Phil Foden. The shining light in what was a dour eighty minutes for the team at the weekend, the academy graduate has only further cemented his importance to this side. With talisman Kevin de Bruyne sidelined, Foden now has his chance to take the reins in the Belgian’s absence and return to his natural central position after an excellent run of form on the left flank.
The front three somewhat picks itself. We see Bernardo Silva returning to the right-hand side after being an unused substitute against Cheltenham. Given Mahrez’s woeful performance in the cup, we suspect the Algerian will be dropped and may instead start against Sheffield United on the weekend.
Gabriel Jesus should continue his starting berth as the sole striker. Finally notching a goal in the cup after a barren spell soiled by injuries, the Brazilian’s movement during build up play will be critical in working openings for Foden or Gundogan to have strikes on goal.
On the left side, Raheem Sterling should return to the starting line-up after also being another unused substitute. The Englishman has been on a quiet run of late, barring his exquisite free kick in the dying embers of the Palace home victory. Hopefully the winger can provide that dynamic edge needed for a game like this and reinvigorate his goal scoring form.
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