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Sky Blue News: Unsung Akanji, UCL Places, Pep’s Big Change, and More...

Headlines to start your weekend right.

Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images

Manchester City are flying high as they head toward a weekend visit to Fulham FC. The Women’s side are prepping for a visit from Reading in the WSL. Sky Blue News is here with all the latest to get you ready for another big weekend.

Concerns over Kevin De Bruyne fitness following problem sustained against Arsenal - Freddie Pye - City Xtra

As is usually the case in every season, Kevin De Bruyne will prove to be integral to any success Manchester City manage to secure between now and the end of the ongoing campaign, as their pursuit of a treble continues into another week.

However, an excellent night’s work for City this week has been somewhat marred by a concern over De Bruyne’s fitness ahead of their next Premier League encounter against Fulham on Sunday afternoon.

Manager Pep Guardiola was asked after the game whether the Belgium international captain was fit upon being substituted in the second-half, to which the Catalan coach responded by offering caution to listeners.

Speaking during his post-match press conference at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, the Manchester City boss revealed, “He (Kevin De Bruyne) told me he had some niggles in the legs, and asked me to make a substitution.”

Guardiola, Manchester City players, and supporters of the Etihad club will all be hoping that Kevin De Bruyne’s ‘niggles’ are only a minor problem, with enormous fixtures coming thick and fast for the club in the coming weeks.

Manchester City’s unsung hero has proven Pep Guardiola observation was right - Jack Flintham - Manchester Evening News

This match was the first time Akanji had proven his true worth. “I thought he could [play at right-back] but there are players you have to explain ten times, a player has to train ten times there to do what you are thinking, what you want him to do,” the Catalan boss explained.

“And this guy – we did just one training session. Just to tell him – and he got it.

“The movement you have to do as a full-back, the high pressing, he didn’t do it once. And he did it perfectly.

“With the ball he’s a magnificent player. Our build-up today should have been with three at the back and that’s why normally I play Kyle [Walker] or John, we thought he could do it, it was a little bit scary as he hadn’t proved he could do it before.

“He had to go up the pitch, pressing, come back defending the crosses at the far post. He didn’t miss once, absolutely perfect.

Premier League is now Man City’s to lose; only Man United and Real Madrid can prevent the treble - Mark Ogden - ESPN

The treble is on. City are 11 games from greatness and from erasing the word “unique” from United’s claim to be the only English club to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season.

United have the chance to halt City’s march and ensure that Old Trafford remains the only English ground to house those three trophies at the same time, by beating their neighbours in the FA Cup final on June 3.

But City are now displaying such ominous form that the treble has gone from being impossible to improbable to seemingly inevitable. Arsenal could have de-railed City’s charge completely by winning at the Etihad, but they never came close.

By beating Mikel Arteta’s team — who have led the Premier League table for 28 matchdays compared to City’s four — City are now in full control of the title race. They remain in second position, but are only two points behind the Gunners having played two games fewer. Win both matches and they will be four points clear, but they will even claim top spot with two draws due to their vastly superior goal difference.

Premier League top-four race: does fifth place qualify if Manchester City win the Champions League? - Roddy Cons -

Despite losing to Manchester City, Arsenal will play in Champions League next season for the first time since 2016-17 after Brighton lost away to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday. Bizarrely, even though the Gunners are still top of the table, it feels as if the Premier League title race is now over, with the red-hot Sky Blues now just two points behind with two games in hand.

The assumption for most is that Pep Guardiola’s side will now cruise to the title and attention has turned to the race to finish in the much-vaunted ‘top four’ in order to qualify for the Champions League, which sadly seems to be viewed as more of an achievement these days than actually lifting a domestic trophy, other than the league title itself.

Champions League qualification is also already in the bag in the bag for City, who have bigger fish to fry, namely winning this season’s edition for the very first time. They’ll have to do it the hard way, though, having been drawn to face defending Real Madrid in the semi-finals. But let’s imagine they get past the Spaniards and go on to lift the trophy in Istanbul by defeating either Milan or Inter in the final. How would that affect Champions League qualification in the Premier League for everyone else?

Its official: Kevin De Bruyne is the greatest midfielder the Premier League has ever seen - James Westwood - Goal

De Bruyne is so special because he sees things on the pitch that no one else can. He is one of the game’s most accomplished ‘scanners’ - picking his head up to assess the options and space around him well before even receiving the ball, which allows him to cause maximum damage when he gets it.

City’s success under Guardiola has been underpinned by De Bruyne’s inventiveness in the middle of the park, as he’s been the man they turn to for something special against teams that sit back in a low block.

When it comes to control and technique, De Bruyne has no equal, and his decision-making in the final third is always exemplary.

Even under pressure, he has the spatial awareness, skill and explosive turn of pace to open teams up in an instant, with his team-mates always expecting him to make a decisive contribution.

“Kevin is a very specific player in terms of when he has got the ball, you know that something can happen,” Bernardo Silva told City’s official website in January. “If I have the ball or [Ilkay] Gundogan has the ball it is completely different.

Pep Guardiola made one big change that helped Manchester City destroy Arsenal - Conor Pope - FourFourTwo

Pep Guardiola has a bit of a reputation for ‘overthinking’ big games and making unnecessary tactical changes that are directly responsible for many of his team’s downfalls.

But if you think that’s going to stop him doing it again, then you don’t know Josep Guardiola Sala as well as you think.

In a game that was being widely billed as this season’s Premier League title decided, and facing a manager who knows him better than anyone else in the division, Guardiola opted to go for a tactical surprise.

While Man City and Arsenal may line up with slightly different formations – City tends to be something roughly akin to a 4-3-3, while Arsenal’s is more like a 4-2-3-1 – both sides tend to move into a 3-2-5 with a box midfield while in possession.

As FourFourTwo’s Adam Clery explains in the video above, however, that’s not really what City did at the Etihad on Wednesday evening. Instead, they reverted to something that looked a lot more like a 4-4-2, soaked up pressure from Arsenal’s high press, and did a fair bit of knocking it long to the big man up front.

And finally... Possible travel trouble for the FA Cup final on 3 June.

FA Cup final travel plans affected as further train strikes are announced - Alan Jones - The Independent

Manchester City and United supporters travelling to the FA Cup final look set to face disruption after train drivers announced three fresh strikes in a long-running row over pay.

Members of Aslef will walk out on May 12 and 31 – and when Wembley hosts Manchester City and Manchester United on June 3.

There you have it. Enjoy the weekend and stay with Bitter and Blue for all the latest. Sky Blue News returns Monday.