Manchester City welcome local rivals United to the Etihad this week, in a match that will have a massive bearing on both sides’ hopes of securing a place in the Premier League top four.
Although many had predicted way back in August that this match would be something of a title decider, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho have instead found themselves battling with Liverpool and Arsenal to nail down a place in next season’s Champions League.
However, the waters for this Thursday’s clash have been muddied somewhat, as both City and United have a number of injury problems leading up to the tie.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola is desperately clinging to the top four as a silver lining to what has been a deeply subpar first season at the Etihad. As it stands, the Spaniard finds himself on course to deliver a worse overall end product than Manuel Pellegrini’s final season at the club despite spending over £150m in the summer, even accounting for the greater points total in the league.
A 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal on Sunday was the latest low point, made all the worse by injuries to Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero.
With that in mind, and given the injury losses already incurred, what are the options available to Guardiola and Man City this Thursday?
Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo
Bravo has wrested back control of the number one shirt having been dropped for Willy Caballero earlier in the campaign. Doubts about the ex-Barcelona stopper’s long-term future remain, but it seems likely that Bravo will continue as first-choice until the end of the season.
Defence: Jesus Navas, Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, Gael Clichy
Man City’s defence hasn’t been as gutted as their opponents this week, but that does not mean that they are at full strength either. Right-back Bacary Sagna is almost certain to miss out, while John Stones is also expected to be absent having missed the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal on Sunday.
Vincent Kompany’s return has come at just the right time for Guardiola, however, as otherwise, it seems almost certain that Aleksandar Kolarov would have been partnering Nicolas Otamendi in defence. The Serbian is likely to be on the bench now, with Gael Clichy keeping his place at left-back. Jesus Navas, meanwhile, seems to have found a spot in Guardiola’s starting eleven at right-back ahead of Pablo Zabaleta.
Midfield: Fernando, Fabian Delph, Yaya Toure
Ilkay Gundogan’s prolonged absence has robbed Guardiola of the midfield stability that he so desperately needed this season, but it has probably saved Yaya Toure’s Man City career. The Ivorian has been enjoying a run in the team in the second half of this season and is almost certain to start again on Thursday.
One man who isn’t guaranteed to start, however, is Fernandinho. The Brazilian international picked up an injury on Sunday (as did David Silva, ruling him out too) and if he cannot make it, the door may be opened for compatriot Fernando. Silva’s absence could also mean a rare start for Fabian Delph in the centre of midfield, depending on the manager’s thought process regarding his forwards.
Forwards: Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané, Kevin De Bruyne
In many respects, Sergio Aguero holds the key here to Guardiola’s lineup. Man City’s top scorer limped off in extra time on Sunday, but if he recovers sufficiently in time then expect him to start.
If he doesn’t, however, Pep has a choice. Does he go like-for-like and throw in Kelechi Iheanacho, or does he push Kevin De Bruyne into an advanced false nine role? The Belgian may yet be needed in midfield but history suggests that he may find himself up front.
Man City should know the extent of the injuries to the above players later this week, but it could be a long night for Guardiola if some of their biggest players are absent.
Read More About: Claudio Bravo, david silva, fabian delph, fernandinho, Fernando, gael clichy, jesus navas, kelechi iheanacho, kevin de bruyne, leroy sane, Man City, Manchester City, nicolas otamendi, pep guardiola, Premier League, raheem sterling, vincent kompany, yaya toure