Pep Guardiola will have some major selection decisions to make when he sits down to pick the Manchester City starting XI v Manchester United, for the 172nd Manchester Derby, to be played at Old Trafford this Saturday.
Not only is the very next league fixture for Manchester City a crucial one but also from Guardiola’s point of view, this Saturday will be the first time when he will have tough selection decisions to make before handing over the teamsheet to the match officials. In their first five games of this season, Guardiola’s Manchester City played in almost the same system—4-1-4-1 without the ball and varying between 2-3-4-1 and 3-2-4-1 in possession—with almost the same set of players and in predominantly the same style too.
Guardiola, in the press conference after his side’s 3-1 victory over West Ham United, admitted that he will have to rotate his squad, taking into account City’s cramped schedule which will see them play almost every three days, after the conclusion of the first international break of the ongoing season. “These guys who played today, they cannot play all the season, every three days,” Guardiola said when asked about Manchester City potentially bettering their game—despite their 100% win record (5/5) in August—once Ilkay Gundogan (knee), Leroy Sane (hamstring) and, lest we forget, Vincent Kompany (calf and muscle injuries, in general) start playing for them after completely recovering from their respective injury layoffs.
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Taking into account Sergio Aguero’s three-match suspension, which has ruled him out of the 172nd Manchester Derby, and the Gundogan-Sane-Kompany trio being potentially fit to play, what could be the probable Manchester City starting XI v Manchester United?
Let us find out… continue reading.
Manchester City Starting XI v Manchester United for the 172nd Manchester Derby
Manchester City’s starting XI v Manchester United may not be a settled one for obvious reasons. Guardiola will hope that the team he picks, can deliver on the big day, with the stakes so high. A lot of changes can be expected in the Manchester City starting XI for the 172nd Manchester Derby, from the one which played and won against the Hammers at the Etihad Stadium.
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Claudio Bravo signed for City three days prior to his new club’s home clash against West Ham and was fit too, but Guardiola did not hand him a start straightaway. If the Chile captain and goalkeeper had started against West Ham, not only would he have been able to get slightly accustomed to the new environment but rustiness will also probably not have been an issue if he does play in the Manchester City goal for the 172nd Manchester Derby. Bravo played his last game for Barcelona on August 20th against Real Betis and for three weeks, the Chile goalkeeper will not have had any match practice.
In terms of quality, Bravo is a better goalkeeper than City’s No. 2, Willy Caballero, and so, there is no reason why the former should not make his debut on such a grand occasion. Guardiola, after the West Ham game, made a comment that players like Bravo “have the personality to play everywhere”, from which we cannot infer whether the former Barcelona goalkeeper will be in the Manchester City starting XI v Manchester United.
However, Claudio Bravo was not picked in the Chile squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Bolivia, owing to “family and personal reasons.” The 33-year-old goalkeeper, therefore, will not have jet lag and late arrival concerns, ahead of the derby and so, he might well make his Manchester City debut this Saturday, with Caballero returning to the bench after playing in four of Manchester City’s five games in August 2016.
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Manchester City’s Defence v Manchester United
Bacary Sagna, who was missing from Manchester City’s matchday squads for the last three fixtures due to a hamstring injury, trained at the City Football Academy (CFA) yesterday, meaning he could play at right-back against Manchester United on Saturday. Pablo Zabaleta has been away on international duty and, with Argentina playing against Venezuela later tonight, may return only on Thursday, along with compatriot Nicolas Otamendi. Also, the Argentine right-back has had problems against quick wingers over the last two seasons and with Anthony Martial expected to play on City’s right flank, Sagna, who is a better 1v1 defender than Zabaleta, would be the ideal option.
Among the personnel who could make their Manchester City debuts and first appearances of this season, against Manchester United, is Kompany. Guardiola has continually stated that Kompany will only be brought back into the side when he is completely fit and carries no risk of breaking down soon after he makes his comeback. He has been undergoing blood tests in a bid to appraise muscle damage and did train at the CFA yesterday, along with the likes of Sagna, Sane, Fernandinho, etc. Kompany, on his own, would relish making his comeback for a game as the one on Saturday, and he could partner John Stones at central defence, replacing Otamendi, in the Manchester City starting XI v Manchester United.
At left-back, Aleksandar Kolarov should come in for Gael Clichy, who started against West Ham and is significantly shorter than the Serbian. Kolarov, who was linked with many clubs at the start of the 2016 summer transfer window, has impressed Guardiola and excelled at centre-back whenever he has played at that position. But, when Stones, Kompany and Otamendi are fit, Kolarov should return to his customary position.
Gundogan, ever since he signed for City, has targetted the Manchester Derby for making his Manchester City debut and been involved in training for close to a month. He should slot into Guardiola’s system seamlessly, having played as a deep-lying playmaker for Borussia Dortmund and thrived in that role. His ability on the ball has seen him being compared to Xavi Hernandez, the former Barcelona midfielder whose passing style was a sight to behold, and could be a huge asset for City—that is if he can stay fit. Gundogan could well make his Manchester City debut against United, potentially replacing the indefatigable Fernandinho, who was one of the standout players for City during August.
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David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, who have created 16 chances in three Premier League appearances each, should feature in the Manchester City starting XI v Manchester United and play as false No. 8s or inside forwards. Against a United side which is expected to sit deep and look to play on the counter-attack, Silva and de Bruyne will have to be at their best if City are to create goal scoring opportunities and find a way past the United defence and David de Gea.
Aguero’s absence will be felt by City, even though they are probably not as reliant on him this season as they have been over the last two-three seasons. Aguero, let us face it, is irreplaceable, but in Nolito, Raheem Sterling, Sane, and of course, Kelechi Iheanacho, City have capable deputies and Guardiola’s system is such that midfielders and wingers are far more significant than a striker.
Aguero’s absence has freed up a place for Iheanacho or Sane to come in and this is where Guardiola will have a tough decision to make. Iheanacho scored a great long-range goal for Nigeria last week and will not have a better opportunity than on Saturday, to show he can be Manchester City’s go-to man in Aguero’s absence. He has the attributes—dribbling and finishing abilities to go with pace—coveted by Guardiola. But, I just think that Sane will be Aguero’s replacement and will play on the right or left flank, with Sterling on the opposite flank and Nolito playing up top and having licence to roam.
Manchester City have played in the 4-1-4-1 formation so far under Guardiola and I do not expect it to change for the 172nd Manchester Derby. This system has worked wonders for City going forward and with the personnel coming in, there is no reason why they cannot make it work on Derby Day either.
The Manchester City starting XI for the upcoming Manchester Derby should be a strong one on paper, notwithstanding the five possible changes to the side which played against West Ham before the international break. Guardiola and Mourinho will have had only two days, at best, to train their starters for the Manchester Derby and therefore, we might witness a cagey, tactical battle that will probably need an early goal to come to life. In addition, neither team can be considered a favourite and the 172nd Manchester Derby is expected to be an even contest.