Manchester City return to action in the Champions League this Wednesday, and what a game we have in store. Pep Guardiola returns to the Camp Nou, as does Claudio Bravo and Nolito. Beyond the returns, City have a job to do here and a tough one at that. After the disappointing draw against Celtic in their last Champions League outing, the Citizens need a big result against Barcelona.
City will look to contain Barcelona’s devastating attacking players in Suárez, Neymar, and Messi. There are a lot of friends on each side in this one, but once the whistle blows, both teams will be in desperate need of the three points. Pep will have a tremendous challenge in this game, but at the end of the day City’s players will have to play better than we’ve seen in the last few games.
So how does City lineup in this pivotal game? I’ll be honest, this is probably the toughest predicted lineup I’ve ever tried to make. Everything from the potential formations, to the personnel chosen was difficult. We’ve seen City lineup in 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 and even 3-2-4-1. For this one I see Pep going back to his 4-1-4-1 formation he preferred early in the season, and below are the players I predict to make it into the starting XI.
Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo
A homecoming for Bravo here, there’s no way (barring a knock) that Caballero gets the call in this one. City will have to be at their best and Bravo is their best keeper undoubtedly. He’ll be busier than he’s ever been in a City shirt on Wednesday.
Defense: John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy
In defense I see Pep going with his four strongest defenders. There is precedent for Stones to play at right-back before and Zabaleta probably doesnt have the pace required to deal with Barca’s attack. Otamendi might miss out if Pep prefers Stones in the middle because Kompany is apparently fit and could be a major boost for City’s back line. Clichy’s pace is needed to try and deal with Barcelona’s wing players. At the end of the day, if this is the lineup Pep goes with, I could see the back line going to a back three when in possession and Clichy dropping back when defending.
Midfield: Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito
Fernandinho will play in front of the back line regardless of who or how many of them are in there. Leroy Sané played well against Everton, but he’s still working his way back to top fitness and Sterling and Nolito have been fantastic this year. I can't see a way the Spaniard and Englishman missing out here. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne will always play, arguably City’s best players and they’ll be needed at their best. Most important for this midfield is to help Fernandinho cover the back line. Every player’s going to have to work hard tracking backwards in this one.
Forward: Sergio Ag6uero
He’s due. No doubt about it, after missing two penalties for club and country this past week, Agüero is due. Iheanacho started ahead of the Argentine against Everton, but was pulled relatively early in the second half. He didnt have a great game, but Kelechi was never likely to start against Barça anyway. If Agüero can finally score, City have a chance.
That’s our starting XI, and City have perhaps their biggest game of the season this Wednesday. Some might argue their biggest game was the Manchester Derby or the Tottenham game. In those previous games City have one win and one loss, does that bode well for a draw? City supporters would probably take that Tuesday morning, but City have a history of punching above their weight, especially in the Champions League. My only prediction is City will score, whether or not they score enough will be up to each of the players on the pitch.