Man City away is generally a difficult game to analyse and preview. I believe the next Etihad showdown is even more difficult to frame. This is a game Man City cannot afford to lose. If they do, their Premier League campaign will be over.
Man City have lost 4 Premier League games since the start of December, the latest a 4-0 trashing at Everton. In pretty much the same period Spurs have collected 6 wins on the bounce. But it would be too simple to reduce it to Spurs will win because they are flying and Man City are in disarray. I never trust struggling teams. First of all, because of their pride. And second, because of the way they can change. Struggling teams know something is not right and are keen to change themselves to change their fortunes. And this makes it more difficult for the opposition to imagine in which way they are gonna shape on the pitch.
At least I can try to think how the game might unfold. The experiment of moving Zabaleta to a holding midfielder role clearly failed – not everyone is Lahm. So I am quite sure Fernando will be back in the starting line-up, and Yaya Touré will be next to him. I believe the key for the game will be what Guardiola will try to do to mitigate the threat coming from Rose and Walker. Will he try to force them on defensive duties, or will he let them come forward in the attempt of playing on the counter? In the first scenario, I can see him picking De Bruyne and Sterling. I would just question their willingness to track back. At certain points of the game surely Spurs will be pushing forward and I am not sure De Bruyne and Sterling would have the physical nor mental diligence to stay with Spurs’ full backs. So we might see Navas coming in place of Sterling, and City shaped in a more solid 4-4-x. I’ll explain ‘x’ in a second. Navas seems to be more a “full length” player than Sterling, and he is not less fast than the Jamaican-born. So he can still be a threat, but probably with more chances to stay with Danny Rose for longer spells of the game. I have deliberately not mentioned De Bruyne – he is one of the most creative players and he is venomous on dead balls, so he will definitely play.
Now I come to the ‘x’. I would not be surprised at all to see Iheanacho starting alongside Aguero. Spurs’ 3 centre-backs have not really yet been tested by two natural strikers. In addition, it will be the first game without Vertonghen, so it may take a bit of time for the new trio (Dier, Toby and I think Davies) to settle. However, Iheanacho may mean that one between Silva and Touré will sit on the bench. For Silva, see what said for the Bruyne. He is too good to be missed in these games. And I don’t think he will go back alongside Fernando. Wanyama and Dembélé would be too strong for him, so I think Touré will stay in midfield. So for me the ‘x’ wil be a 1-1, with Silva behind Aguero.
In terms of the 4 City defenders, I would struggle to nominate any of them on the basis of their performances. They all looked pretty shaky over the last 5-6 weeks, but I think Otamendi and Stones will be the ones to start at the centre.
I haven’t forgotten about Spurs, of course. But I have already expressed my thoughts in my post from yesterday. I think we are gonna stick with the current formation, with Davies coming in for Vertonghen.
If we play like we did last Saturday, it will be enough to win the game.
My projected line-ups:
Man City (4-4-1-1): Bravo; Sagna Otamendi Stones Kolarov; Navas Touré Fernando DeBruyne; Silva; Aguero.
Spurs (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Dier Alderweireld Davies; Walker Dembélé Wanyama Rose; Dele Eriksen; Kane.