Following a disappointing performance at Wembley, Manchester City officially have just one competition left to play for this season. With European glory now the sole ambition, how will Pep Guardiola use these last matches to prepare for Real Madrid.
Blues, we’ve seen it before this season, and it reared its ugly head again on Saturday in front of a barren, echoing Wembley Stadium. Another uninspired outing, this time against Arsenal, saw City bow out of the FA Cup and demonstrate once again that this is hardly a faultless side, and that a late-summer squad rehaul is likely needed. But the transfer window isn’t open yet, and if City are to survive their second-leg clash with Real Madrid next month, they’ve got no choice but to proceed with this group. Thankfully, this is a City side quite capable of dispatching otherwise dominant teams with ease. However it seems that this season that Pep’s men are similarly prone to rather deflating performances in which they dominate possession, create only a few genuine chances, take none of them, and lose. We know those all too well.
It could be argued that these last two Premier League outings offer little in the way of intrigue. However, I would suggest that, if Manchester City go on to defeat Real Madrid and later win the Champions League, we may well look to these matches—against lowly Watford and Norwich City—as the ones that reset the team and propelled them to greatness. Only time will tell.
Speaking of Watford, they come into this matchup under difficult circumstances of their own. Having won only twice in seven games since the restart, the Hornets made the tough decision to sack manager Nigel Pearson over the weekend, ending a short, but at times successful stint at Watford. Taking his place will be interim manager Hayden Mullins, Watford’s fourth manager this season. It will be interesting to see how both City and Watford handle the tactical unknowns on Tuesday evening.
On the injury front, Manchester City appear to be generally healthy, although the squad continues to cope with a thin group of strikers as Sergio Aguero’s road to recovery plods on. Otherwise, Claudio Bravo will likely remain sidelined with a muscular injury.
As for the Hornets, they’ll have a few key contributors missing on Tuesday evening. Speedy Spaniard Gerard Deulofeu remains out for the long haul, after suffering an ACL injury against Liverpool in February. Daryl Janmaat will similarly miss out due to a long-term knee injury. More recently, Etienne Capoue is also expected to miss the match against City, after picking up a knock before last Friday’s loss at West Ham.
Had Manchester City beaten Arsenal on Saturday, I might have notched Scott Carson for a rare start against Watford. But with work to do before taking on Real Madrid, it’s hard to imagine that Ederson won’t be between the posts at Vicarage Road. At right back, expect Joao Cancelo to slot in, surely looking to showcase his game against a weaker Watford side. Elsewhere, I suspect Pep will opt for what’s become the “B” centre-back pairing of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. Oleksandr Zinchenko rounds out the back four.
Further up the pitch, Fernandinho will return to his favoured role in defensive midfield. David Silva also earns another start, as he plays his final Premier League away game in a Manchester City shirt and will look to add to an impressive post-restart run of form. Rounding out the midfield trio, I predict that academy product Tommy Doyle will earn his first Premier League start on Tuesday night. Doyle showed flashes of real talent in his brief outing against Newcastle, and I think Pep is eager to learn if and how the youngster might fit into City’s 2020-21 squad. Playing alongside two veteran City midfielders in David Silva and Fernandinho surely helps limit the risk.
Up front, I predict Bernardo Silva will get the nod at right wing over Riyad Mahrez. His struggles this season have been well-documented, but if Pep can help Bernardo turn his form around in the next few weeks, it might pay dividends come August, as City pursue the Champion’s League title. At striker, Raheem Sterling will fill in for Gabriel Jesus, who has started the last seven matches for the Blues. On the other wing, Phil Foden earns another start as Pep continues to assess the void left in that position, following Leroy Sane’s exit to Munich.
That'd leave a bench of; Scott Carson, Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus
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