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Predicting the Unpredictable: Who should start for Manchester City against Chelsea?

Same team as Barcelona?

Burnley v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since the day Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City it has been difficult to predict his favorite starting eleven. There are several factors to explain this uncertainty but the reality is the pundits still don’t know the real reasons.

Guardiola is still relatively new to the team and even though he has brought in many new players, fans are still not sure what an ideal eleven resembles. The Spaniard has dealt with a number of injuries, namely Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan. In addition, there have been the challenges of pre-season Champions League games and international breaks along with inconsistent form from particular players. And then there is Yaya Touré.

In the past Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini selected the same team on a regular basis. Our upcoming opponents Chelsea have had the same starting eleven for their last seven games. Game by game, Guardiola selects the players and formation he believes will be the most effective against each opponent.

The goalkeeper is probably the easiest player to predict as Willy Caballero is clearly the backup to Claudio Bravo. The defence is tricky to call as firstly we must consider the opponents’ formation and secondly, decide what job the full-backs will be asked to perform. With Kompany injured and John Stones rested in the previous game, it is expected that Stones and Otamendi will be the two centre-backs. At many home games this season the opponents have sat back so Guardiola has tinkered his formation accordingly.

Chelsea play on the front foot and will not “park the bus” so it would make sense to see City play a back four. The full-backs have been rotated more than any other position, partly because they are expected to do a lot of running and also because all of ours are over 30. Chelsea play with width and pace and our full-backs will have a busy game keeping an eye on Chelsea’s wing backs. The pace of Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy should see them selected but Guardiola is a big admirer of Aleksandar Kolarov, so therefore this appears to be the hardest selection to call. Victor Moses has pace to burn and City fans would be worried to see Kolarov up against his speed.

The midfield should pick itself but with Touré back on the scene it’s not a foregone conclusion. Fernandinho will shield the defence and add his usual dynamism in the middle. Gundogan has been rested and will either play alongside Fernandinho or just in front of him dependent upon a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been interchangeable this season, so expect to see one start on the left and one in the middle, leaving Raheem Sterling on the right and Sergio Agüero up front. De Bruyne will probably start on the left and be asked to assist our left-back when Chelsea have the ball. If this is the case Kolarov may well get the nod over Clichy.

Touré from the bench is a useful weapon to have and if we are chasing the game in the latter stages, there is the pace of Leroy Sané and Jesús Navas and the goalscoring prowess of Iheanacho to call upon. The team selected above is identical to the one against Barcelona apart from the full-backs. However, at the time Sagna was injured and Kolarov was chosen over Clichy.

If the lineup is pretty much the same, then let’s hope for the same result as we saw in that magical European night.