What Champions League? Manchester City remain (joint) top of the Premier League going into this weekend's matchup at the Etihad against Southampton. Despite not picking up a win in their last four matches City have played well at times, but Guardiola and the City supporters really need these three points on Sunday.
It may seem hyperbolic to describe an early game in October as must win, but with even tougher fixtures on the horizon three points here will be vital. Not to mention Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur are all hot in City’s heels in the Premier League standings. City need to display the same class and level play that was so evident in earlier matches this season, with the Bournemouth and Stoke City games immediately jumping to mind.
How does City secure the points then? There’s a number of ways Pep could go about this one. There’s the option to set up similar to the way they were at Barcelona. There’s also reverting back to the 4-1-4-1 that has worked early in the year, but that formation leaves out one of City’s class midfielders.
I believe we’ll see the same formation Pep chose in the Everton game in the end, the modified 3-1-4-1-1. Despite the result of said game, that formation worked well and allowed each of City’s midfielders a place to get forward and shine. Charlie Austin could make them pay on the break, but he isn't quite like Romelu Lukaku and it took a wonderful effort from him to break City open last weekend.
Below is our predicted lineup for Sunday's game, comment below with your favorite starting XI!
Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo
Despite that gaffe in midweek, Bravo is the number one at City and Pep’s desire to play out from the back won't change. Bravo’s mistakes have been widely more high-profile than his better plays. Mistakes are never really excused, but Bravo is still only two months into settling into a new club and country. Hopefully come the end of the year Bravo will be passing City towards the Premier League title.
Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Aleksandar Kolarov
This is the same back three chosen against Everton, with the only change being Kolarov ahead of Clichy. Guardiola seems to love the Serbian no matter what position he plays in the back. It’s easy to see why, Kolarov’s massive long ball switches are impressive, but could his lack of pace hurt in this formation? Otamendi and Stones are really starting to play better together, despite recent results the center-back pairing has played well. Captain Vincent Kompany is apparently still fearing getting another injury, so I expect the captain to make the bench.
Holding Midfield: Fernandinho
This one is obvious, though Fernandinho might start suffering from being overplayed soon. Fernando simply can't do the same job Dinho can and in this formation the holding midfielder has to work hard for 90 minutes. Fernandinho is one of the few players in the Premier League who can provide that workrate.
Midfield Four: Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito
Nolito was able to come on and totally change the game against Everton last weekend. Without him, City might not have even gained a point, and hiis play at the Camp Nou should also improve his chances of being picked in this one. Sterling is playing well, but will need to start producing some goal or assists again, since Leroy Sane is starting to settle in and play good football. David Silva will be in the lineup barring an injury as he is clearly flourishing under Guardiola. Gundogan played well at Barcelona and we know Pep loves his midfielders, and the German is pure class.
Center-Forward: Kevin De Bruyne
The Belgian has shown he can pretty much play in any position: striker, attacking midfield, right midfield, or in this case center-forward. This position allows De Bruyne to play just behind the striker or make runs and press high up the pitch as well. There aren't many players in City’s squad who can fulfill this role, but with De Bruyne there City can be quite effective.
Striker: Sergio Agüero
Despite not starting the last two games, the Argentinean should return to the starting lineup in this one. This spot was occupied by Kelechi Iheanacho against Everton, but the young Nigerian was ineffective. Agüero can hopefully provide a bit more quality in the box, and ideally not a missed penalty, hopefully giving City the win in this one.
In the end the Citizens' quality should shine through and I believe City will walk out 2-0 winners. Goals from Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero should secure the three points at the Etihad. The only thing that might trip City up in this one is having an eye on the Manchester derby midweek, that or a timely Charlie Austin goal, either way come on City!