Manchester City take on Barcelona at the Etihad on Tuesday evening in the Champions League, this being the return fixture in their group stage matchup. We all know how the first game went, and it wasn't fun. Beaten 4-0 with Claudio Bravo earning a red card for handling outside of the area, City will be looking to erase that embarrassment from the minds of supporters. No doubt it will take the very best from each of City’s players to overcome the star-studded Barcelona lineup.
Despite finally getting a win, manager Pep Guardiola still has his hands full with who to select in his starting XI on Tuesday. Both Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany seem to be in contention to start, but does the return of the captain mean Pep tries a back three? Regular right-backs Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta seem likely to miss out through injury, meaning if Pep decides to go with a back four, young Pablo Maffeo might be the only option on the right side of the defense.
Barcelona aren't without issues, however. Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Andrés Iniesta all miss out through injury. While none of the three Spaniards has the star power as Neymar, Messi or Suárez, they are all vital pieces of Barca’s build-up and attacking play. In the first meeting City had a tough time dealing with Iniesta in the midfield, so the Barça captain missing could provide a nice advantage for the likes of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan.
There’s also the question of what formation does City use. If Pep chooses to go with a back there, then the “normal” 3-2-4-1 would be preferred. Guardiola could also surprise supporters and hopefully Luis Enrique with a 4-1-4-1 or even 4-3-3 formation. While a draw wouldn't be a bad result, City really should come out looking to win.
Below is our predicted lineup for this crucial Champions League clash. I believe Pep will go with the 3-2-4-1 formation. Of course this was the same formation used against West Brom at the weekend, where we saw one of the central defensive midfielders drop into the right-back spot when City didnt have possession. Ultimately I believe this is the same way City will try to play Barca, using the same personnel as well.
Goalkeeper: Willy Caballero
With Claudio Bravo suspended this selection is pretty obvious. Third choice keeper Angus Gunn might get a look at domestic cup games in the next year or so, but there’s no way he get into this starting lineup barring a devastating injury to the Argentine veteran.
Defense: Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov
Kompany returns and his skill and passing will be critical if City are to have any real chance in this one. Nicolas Otamendi edges out John Stones in the middle due to the Argentine’s experience, especially his time in La Liga. On the left Pep seems to be in love with Aleks Kolarov and his ability to switch the play with one long pass. The Serbian will need to be on his toes all night and only a superb effort both offensively and defensively can propel City to a statement win.
Defensive Midfield: Fernando, Fernandinho
As stated above, I expect Pep to go with the same personnel in this part of the pitch that he chose against West Brom. This includes Fernando being asked to drop into the right-back position when Barcelona have possession. Both Brazilians performed well at the weekend, but Tuesday presents a whole new beast. Both can do the job, but it will take a top class effort.
Attacking Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Raheem Sterling
Only one winger? Not so fast. Raheem Sterling plays on the right wing, while the returning De Bruyne taking up the spot over on the left. In the past I’ve criticized the use of De Bruyne out wide, but with the play of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan through the middle they can compliment De Bruyne in ways that weren't possible last season. If City are going to win this game, it’s going to be with these four players.
Striker: Sergio Agüero
No surprises or tricks in this one, after notching a brace at the weekend Sergio Agüero simply must start this game. While City’s midfield could be the key to success on Tuesday, if Agüero plays like he did against West Brom it might not matter. After only coming off the bench in the first match, the Argentine should be raring to go in this one.
So that’s our predicted lineup! Needless to say a City victory is a must if the Sky Blues want to have any chance to top the group. City will remain in control of their own group destiny no matter the outcomes within the group this week, but a victory would mean qualification is much easier going forward. For a prediction I have to go with a famous 2-1 win for City, surely there’s some Champions League magic happening on Tuesday night, right. Come on City!