EDIT: This post originally had no striker in the projected lineup. And I only proofread it twice. Lord...
Difficult as it is to think about anything other than our Champions League tie with football’s version of royalty (and I mean that in as ironic a way as can be interpreted), Man City does have a rather important league game at Stamford Bridge tomorrow against old foe Chelsea.
City will enter the match four points up on United for fourth place in the league which is awfully important considering how much damn fun they’re having in this year’s CL. Additionally, they’re only two points out of third. It looks good with this caveat—I think they’re playing their toughest fixture between now and the end of the season tomorrow and that has a lot to do with how well our opponent has been playing.
Our Worthy Opponents: Chelsea
Since the birth of 2016, Chelsea has been one of the two or three best teams in the League and a far cry from the train wreck they were during Jose Mourinho’s last days. Gus Hiddink, super sub manager galore, loosened the reins of the Special One and lo and behold, a few of the them actually looked like the guys who won the championship last year: Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, ghosts of their former selves during Mourinho’s fall, have been rediscovered; Fabregas has been playing arguably his best football and Costa, while still a complete tool, is back to scoring goals.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Mourinho’s awful run in the Fall and Hiddink's time is this: Gus plays the youngsters. Tomorrow we might see any combination of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (age 20), winger Kenedy (20), defender Jake Clarke-Salter (18), center back Matt Miazga (20) or left back Baba Rahman (21). Whereas Mourinho wouldn’t use a young player if you threatened him at gunpoint, Hiddink will throw the kids out there without reservation. He should also be credited for Branislov Ivanovic’s current renaissance; he's having a grand old time at center back after a nightmarish winter at right back.
It hasn’t all been good news. Last year, the two best players in the league in my eyes were Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic; both have had remarkable drop offs and are still having seasons that resemble an average dumpster fire. Additionally, injuries and age have grabbed center backs John Terry and Gary Cahill, though they’re still contributing and Terry has been quite vocal in support of the use of the youth. Overall, their time under Mourinho this year--which, let's admit it now, was really fun for non-Chelsea fans--is sort of like a distant nightmare now. The team just seems much happier under Hiddink.
As for Chelsea’s form, they’ve cooled off somewhat: only one win in their last six home matches (but no losses).
Chelsea: John Terry, Eden Hazard and Loic Remy are out. Matic and Cahill both return to fitness. Costa is back from a (contain your shock) suspension.
Manchester City: Raheem Sterling is, remarkably, back training with the first team but he won’t play tomorrow. Vincent Kompany is also training but Manuel Pellegrini said the team will be "very careful" with him. Ditto David Silva who, according to Pellegrini, "can’t play two games in a row on his ankle." Swell.
PREDICTED STARTING LINEUP
City will play four games in ten days---tomorrow, Tuesday at Newcastle, Sunday at home against Stoke City and home Tuesday against Real Madrid. (UPDATE: It was pointed out in the comments that the game against Stoke was moved up to Saturday to accommodate the CL match. Thanks to bluehalfofabudhabi). That’s a lot of games in a short period of time but is that enough reason not to play our best team (the CL squad that beat PSG)? If the card were mine, here’s how I would write it.
GK: Joe Hart I watched Manuel Neuer very closely in Bayern’s last three matches. I saw no discernible difference between Hart and Neuer, though I liked Hart’s decision making better.
LB: Aleksander Kolarov I remain extremely impressed with the play we’ve been getting out of our left backs this season. Kolarov was one of the best players on the pitch when we opened the campaign against Chelsea, granted that was a lifetime ago.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi He’s getting better as the season goes on.
CB: Eliaquim Mangala He’s getting much better as the season goes on.
RB: Pablo Zabaleta It occurs to me as I type his name that our fullbacks—this guy, Sagna and the two LB’s—are one helluva good group. It occurs to me as well that I can’t think of a better group in English football.
CM: Yaya Toure I think the team has decided he’s the #3 option at center mid behind the two Ferns. I also don't think anyone has told him that yet.
CM: Fernandinho I’m tempted to go with Delph since the two Ferns have put in enormous work the last few weeks (Fernandinho appears to be allergic to rest) but this game is too important to discover if Delph is in good form. Fabian will have to wait for Tuesday.
M: Samir Nasri 80% of what we saw against West Brom will do nicely; he was that good on his return.
CAM: Kevin De Bruyne As of now, the most valuable property in Premier League football. What that means is that there might be a few who are better but because of his age and current level of ability, I think if the league set free all the players tomorrow and held a draft, he’d get picked first.
RM: Jesus Navas There’s a wonderful book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Among many stories included is one about a tribe of native people living in the remote canyons of Northern Mexico—the Tarahumara. They are renowned for running extraordinarily long distances; literally dozens and sometimes hundreds of miles at a time. And I think Navas is one of them.
ST: Sergio Aguero He needs to be watched very, very carefully. By that I mean it should *strongly* be considered that we take him off no later than the 60 minute mark.
Just guessing but I’ll go with Caballero, Demichelis, Sagna, Clichy, Fernando, Iheanacho and Bony.
PREDICTION: City gets their third league win in a row, 2-1.