Manchester City take on Juventus in the UEFA Champions League Group D fixture at the Juventus Stadium in Turin tonight. City have already qualified for the knockout stages of the competition. But going through as the group winner could see them face a lesser team in the R-16, compared to the European powerhouses in Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, in that order, who currently look set to win their respective groups.
City’s rearguard fared miserably in the 1-4 home defeat against Liverpool last Saturday, when they were without their in-form centre-backs in Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. Pellegrini, speaking at the press conference last night, did not have a lot of positive news on City’s injury list. The Cityzens will be without Kompany (calf), David Silva (ankle), Pablo Zabaleta, Wilfried Bony (hamstring), Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri in their 18-man matchday squad for tonight’s game against Massimiliano Allegri’s side that stole all three points when the two teams met on matchday 1 at the Etihad Stadium back in September.
Contending with the injuries, how should Manchester City line-up versus Juventus tonight?
At the heart of the backline, with Kompany and Mangala out due to injuries, there is no debate regarding which duo plays tonight. Martin Demichelis and Otamendi, the two men who lined up in City’s 1-2 victory against Borussia Monchengladbach on matchday 2, will have the task of stopping Alvaro Morata and Mario Mandzukic in tonight’s game. Juventus, under Allegri, have tended to lineup in a 4-3-1-2 system that could see them confront City’s centre-backs with two, potent centre-forwards.
In the fullback positions, Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov should retain their places from City’s 1-3 victory against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on matchday 4. Sagna, who played poorly on Saturday, admitted to thinking about the Paris attacks while he was in action against Liverpool. From the visitors’ perspective, they need the Frenchman to return to his normal performance levels that have been crucial to City’s defensive solidity for much of the ongoing season so far.
With Silva yet to return from his ankle injury, expect Pellegrini to stick with the trio who helped City script a classic Champions League victory in Seville on matchday 4, which helped them qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.
That could see Fernando continue as the solitary pivot with Fernandinho and Yaya Toure playing ahead of him. Fernandinho’s accurate tackling and passing ability should serve City wonders, as it did in Seville, while the imperious Ivorian will look to pull the strings from an advanced midfield role bereft, slightly, of defensive responsibilities.
Bony, who led the line well in Seville and scored a neat goal, will be missing tonight’s game due to the hamstring injury he picked up in the Barclays Premier League fixture against Aston Villa, following the victory against Unai Emery’s side.
City, though, have the returning Sergio Aguero to replace the muscular Ivorian. The Argentine did not start the reverse fixture in Manchester, where he only appeared as a late substitute while City were chasing an equaliser. But tonight, he has the chance to run in behind the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, two centre-backs who could feature for the Old Lady.
In the wide positions, Pellegrini should, in all probability, recall Kevin de Bruyne, who started the away fixture against Sevilla from the bench, back into his starting XI. Raheem Sterling, who started the game on that night, could be the one to make way. Jesus Navas, who has been one of City’s best players this season, should retain his place from City’s last Champions League fixture and take his customary right-wing position.
I think Pellegrini will retain the 4-3-3 system that worked so well for him and City, against Sevilla. He has got the personnel to make the system work, without having to sacrifice City’s style of play under his tutelage. Expect this to be another classic Champions League encounter, akin to the one played in Sevilla 3 weeks back.