It’s sure felt like a long summer, but with Manchester City’s up-and-down Asia tour now firmly in the rearview, the 2019/20 season will kick-off in earnest at the Community Shield this Sunday - and what a sumptuous fixture to start the Blues off! That’s right, City and Liverpool will lock horns once again, this time in a tie that the loser will surely brush off as a glorified preseason match, while the victor will undoubtedly hail its triumph as a true precursor to the long campaign ahead. Here’s hoping City are the latter!
It’s true that the Community Shield is often cast aside as a warm-up fixture, but this year feels a bit different. Both sides know it will likely be another hard fought, back and forth battle for the Premier League crown, and I suspect both managers are keen on seizing the mental edge ahead of the season’s opening slate next weekend. Not to mention, given City’s efforts to include the Community Shield as among the four “major” trophies won by the team last season, it would behoove them to treat this year’s rendition as such and not trot out a borderline academy side at Wembley.
Liverpool are surely anxious to re-capture their domestic glory of yesteryear, while City, with nothing left to prove in England, enter this season with their sights firmly set on success in the Champions League. It’s an intriguing matchup in that regard, as each side so desperately covets what the other has achieved in years past. Both teams have also had a quiet transfer window thus far, so I expect the squads to largely resemble those from the pair of intense matches last season. Win or lose, I can’t think of a better way to get what promises to be another historic season underway!
City have most of their core group back from summer travels, but it remains to be seen if the late arrivals will see any action this weekend. While I do expect City to field a strong starting XI, it’s difficult to see anyone who missed out on the Asia tour getting significant minutes. On the injury front, Aymeric Laporte has apparently received “a knock” that will keep him out of any starting lineup for at least a week. Elsewhere, Benjamin Mendy remains a week or two away from any first team training. Otherwise, City have a healthy group as they embark on the long season ahead.
As for Liverpool, they’ve had a busy July touring the United States, as well as playing a pair of friendlies against Napoli and Lyon. While preseason results are hardly an indicator of long-term success, it is worth noting that Liverpool have endured a sloppy run of form, drawing against Sporting Lisbon and losing to both Sevilla and Napoli before a bounce back win versus Lyon on Wednesday. It’s difficult to gauge Jurgen Klopp’s intent on fielding a strong team on Sunday, particularly with a UEFA Super Cup clash and a Friday fixture against Norwich City looming large. Nevertheless, outside of Sadio Mane, the bulk of Liverpool’s squad is available for action at Wembley.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
With Ederson only just returning to training, expect to see ageing backup Claudio Bravo between the posts on Sunday. John Stones will likely get the nod at centre-back to kick off a crucial season for the young Englishman. As for selecting Stones’ partner in central defense, it’s a bit complicated for Pep Guardiola and his staff. Aymeric Laporte will surely not be risked on Sunday and in fact was not spotted amongst the travelling squad on Saturday afternoon. That leaves Pep with a handful of intriguing options. Does he start a promising youngster like Taylor Harwood-Bellis after some impressive outings in Asia? Does he insert a potentially unfit and rusty Nico Otamendi? Or does he slot the likes of Kyle Walker or Rodrigo out of their favoured positions and into the heart of the City defense? I predict we’ll see the first of those options, with Taylor Harwood-Bellis set to fill that gap. Ever-steady full-backs Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker round out the backline, as Danilo was left out of the travelling squad ahead of his impending departure to Juventus.
Thankfully, things get a bit simpler in the midfield. Given that Fernandinho has yet to return to training, it seems a virtual lock that we’ll see newcomer Rodrigo inserted into City’s growing carousel in defensive midfield. Elsewhere, I predict Kevin De Bruyne will look to continue a scintillating preseason run of form in central midfield. Expect David Silva to round out a strong trio in the middle of the pitch.
Up front, the Blues are a bit short on strikers. After missing out on City’s Asia tour, Sergio Aguero has probably not fully regained his match fitness. Likewise, Gabriel Jesus has only recently returned to Manchester and is likely not quite up to speed, despite a string of electric and encouraging performances for Brazil in the Copa America. I expect Jesus may see significant minutes off the bench, but I’ll tap Raheem Sterling to slot into the central attacking role, where he enjoyed considerable success in the preseason, albeit against lackluster opposition. Predictably, Bernardo Silva will play on the right wing, while Leroy Sane will run the flanks on the left in what seems increasingly likely to be his final match in a City shirt. Sane has travelled to London with the team and, despite some reports that he’ll be held out to avoid injury, I gather that Pep wouldn’t bring him along just to keep him on the bench. However, if a deal with Bayern Munich is made before Sunday, it’s unlikely that City will risk starting the Bavaria-bound German forward.
City Xtra Predicted Starting XI: Bravo, Walker, Harwood-Bellis, Stones, Zinchenko, Rodrigo, De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo, Sane, Sterling.
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