Pep Guardiola has provided a Manchester City injury update ahead of the clash against Liverpool, going on to say in his customary pre-match press conference, that Leroy Sane (a knock) and Vincent Kompany (a knee injury) are unavailable for selection. John Stones, who started against Hull City and was forced off with a suspect right knee injury after 20 minutes into the game, Guardiola has said, is “much, much better”. Sergio Aguero has completed his four-match domestic suspension too, and is in contention to face Liverpool.
What we are also assuming is Pablo Zabaleta has regained fitness ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Anfield. The Argentine right-back suffered a knee injury during Manchester City’s eventual 2-1 home win against Arsenal and after the victory, Zabaleta had said: “I had some pain in the ligament and it was a risk to continue playing, possibly make it worse, and that’s why I came off.”
Guardiola’s men had to work hard for their 0-3 win over the Tigers on Boxing Day, but importantly, they registered their third consecutive win, after the two consecutive losses against Chelsea and Leicester City, to go into the game against Jurgen Klopp’s side in form and confident.
Liverpool, like City, had a stutter against Stoke City at Anfield, where they went behind to a Jonathan Walters’ header inside the first 10 minutes. But the Reds regathered themselves after the initial Stoke storm and then cantered to a 4-1 win, their third win too, in succession.
Now, City will miss Sane’s dynamism on the ball and, barring Raheem Sterling, Guardiola currently does not have a player at his disposal who is capable of replicating the young German winger. So, the Manchester City manager has a significant call to make on who he chooses to play in place of Sane, who will probably have played against Liverpool if fit; that Sane had started against Chelsea and Arsenal, two huge games at home, is a case in point.
But, even more importantly, which player who played against Hull City on Boxing Day, makes way for the returning Aguero?
I won’t be surprised if Manuel Agudo Duran (Nolito) drops out of Manchester City’s starting XI for the clash against Liverpool. But, in my opinion, Aguero should ideally come in place of Yaya Toure, who has been City’s lucky charm since he apologised to the club and Guardiola for Dimitri Seluk’s disrespectful comments. And, one of the reasons I say so is Toure might just find the speed at which Liverpool operate to be too much, particularly when the hosts have the ball.
So, with Aguero back, I would, if I was Guardiola, revert to a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Fernandinho, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne forming the middle three behind a relatively pacey troika of Nolito, Aguero and Sterling.
Talking about lucky charms, Nicolas Otamendi has had a positive influence on the Manchester City backline since returning from the one-game suspension. With the Argentine central defender restored to the starting line-up, the Blues have kept two clean sheets and conceded just one goal in their last three league games (Watford, Arsenal and Hull), albeit we can definitely say that Liverpool, because they move the ball swiftly and the likes of Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, and Sadio Mane offer insane movement, are Otamendi and City’s biggest test of this month.
But who partners Otamendi in central defence for Manchester City?
If Stones is fit enough, he should start against the Reds, alongside Otamendi. Although Aleksandar Kolarov has been trusted by Guardiola and has looked good in flashes this season, the Serbian defender lacks the pace to match that of Liverpool’s attackers. Because Kolarov lacks pace and Liverpool aren’t an overly tall side, I will stick with Gael Clichy at left-back. On the opposite flank too, if I was Guardiola, Bacary Sagna will be retained in my starting XI for the clash against the Reds. Zabaleta, because he is returning from an injury and can be defensively a little suspect, should ideally only be used as an impact sub if necessary.
Claudio Bravo, you can be rest assured that, will be tested by Liverpool with shots from distance and put under pressure inside the box, too.
For Manchester City, the clash against Liverpool marks the start of an important phase which sees the 2013/14 English champions play Burnley, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur in their next three league fixtures after the FA Cup third round fixture against West Ham United.
Starting XI for Manchester City (4-1-4-1) v Liverpool: Claudio Bravo (GK); Bacary Sagna, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Gael Clichy; Fernandinho; David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Nolito; Sergio Aguero.
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