The Premier League returns just two days after the drab Manchester Derby with the clash between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad.
After a disappointing Manchester Derby, where both teams seemed to play with a lot of caution, Manchester City face a completely different opposition in West Bromwich Albion. The busy and exciting period of the Premier League is nearing its curtain raiser and both teams would be hoping for a positive start to begin it.
Manchester City are currently 9th on the table, an unusual prospect for them in recent times. Out of the 11 games they have played, City have dropped points on six occasions already. They are also the lowest-scoring team in the top half of the Premier League with a mere 17 goals.
West Brom have looked like an improved side in recent weeks, apart from the 5-1 drubbing versus Crystal Palace. Their performances against Tottenham and Manchester United would have certainly filled the Baggies in with some confidence, with Conor Gallagher one of those that has caught the eye a lot lately.
The onus is on Manchester City to win all three points in this match as they look to close the six-point gap between Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur and themselves. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the encounter
Team News & Tactics
Pep Guardiola is known best for keeping his opponents guessing with his team selection and that will be the case for this game too. Manchester City have an abundance of options available to them and considering that the Cityzens only had a rest of two days, Guardiola could certainly chop and change things for this game. Oleksandr Zinchenko and Eric Garcia are the only notable absentees.
John Stones has been a revelation this season, keeping a clean sheet in each of his 3 previous starts in the Premier League. However, the in-form Englishman could be rested after an extended run of games. Ruben Dias, who was rested in the last Champions League game, should start at the heart of the defence. Either Nathan Ake or Aymeric Laporte could start alongside the Portuguese.
“Aymeric Laporte deserves to be in the team but John Stones and Ruben Dias also deserve to be in the team.
They played incredibly well in the last games – they did not make a single mistake.” pic.twitter.com/zc9eGlWApb
— City Chief (@City_Chief) December 13, 2020
Kyle Walker is expected to retain his starting berth from the Manchester Derby, while the rested Benjamin Mendy should replace Joao Cancelo at left-back. Fernandinho could be rested after two consecutive starts, which means that Rodri is likely to play in a deeper midfield role alone. Kevin De Bruyne, an undisputed starter and City’s primary creator, should start alongside Bernardo Silva in midfield.
City’s front three is where Guardiola keeps everyone guessing. The Manchester City boss confirmed that Sergio Aguero has resumed training after a bout of Gastroenteritis that kept him out of the Manchester Derby. With Aguero likely to be on the bench, it will be interesting to see whether Guardiola opts for the underwhelming Gabriel Jesus to start or go with a False 9 in Ferran Torres.
“I see him every day and I love him so much. The way we play, being high and regaining the ball as quickly as possible. He can help us to do it.” https://t.co/dzRB8wSpZg
— Man City Report (@cityreport_) December 14, 2020
Phil Foden could also start ahead of Riyad Mahrez, who is most certainly going to be benched. Raheem Sterling has been in fine touch for Manchester City in recent games and should start for the Cityzens to complete their tricky front three.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Mendy; Rodri, B.Silva, De Bruyne; Foden, Torres, Sterling
West Bromwich Albion
Currently placed 19th with 6 points, it has been a difficult start for Slaven Bilic’s men in the English top-flight. Bilic is hopeful of a result at the Etihad and has urged his side to be brave, positive and compact and to make it as hard as possible for Manchester City.
“Our performances against the top teams this season has to be our motivation and our plan.”
Slaven provides his pre-match #MCIWBA thoughts 💬
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) December 14, 2020
West Brom will be without key playmaker Matheus Pereira, who continues to serve his three-match ban after a red card versus Crystal Palace. Defender Conor Townsend and forward Hal Robson-Kanu also miss out with injuries.
However, Bilic has received a boost with the return of Charlie Austin and Kieran Gibbs, who both made cameos off the bench in the loss to Newcastle United on the weekend. Conor Gallagher is expected to take charge of the midfield again, with Grady Diangana also expected to return to the starting lineup after not featuring on the weekend at all.
Karlan Grant and Callum Robinson are expected to continue their partnership at the top of Bilic’s defensive 3-5-2. A hard-working and stubborn performance is expected from the Baggies, who will hope to shut shop at the Etihad.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Johnstone; Ajayi, Ivanovic, O’Shea; Furlong, Gallagher, Sawyers, Krovinovic, Diangana; Robinson, Grant
- West Bromwich Albion have never won a Premier League match on a Tuesday in their previous 27 (D12 L15) attempts. This is the most number of games that a team has lost on a single day without ever winning.
- West Brom have never won a Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium in 11 attempts ( D2, L9). Their last away win at Manchester City was at Maine Road in 2003.
- Manchester City have won their last 13 Premier League matches against West Brom, scoring 37 goals in the process. This is their longest winning runs versus a particular opponent in their Premier League history.
- Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 39 games (W35 D4) against newly-promoted sides at home. They have scored a whopping 104 goals in these fixtures and conceded just 25. Their last loss was against Reading in 2007.
- John Stones has played a total of 615 minutes this season and Manchester City have only conceded the 1 goal in his presence. Raul Jimenez is the only one to score past a Manchester City team with John Stones in it.
Player to Watch
Kevin De Bruyne
With a lot of uncertainty about who will start, it is hard to pass the buck from the Belgian midfielder. Kevin De Bruyne is a sure starter and has been at the heart of every Manchester City move this season; and it is his creativity that is the key to City’s successes.
The Belgian already has 6 assists from his first 10 games and would have his record from last season set as a benchmark for himself. De Bruyne has only scored 2 goals this season, and will certainly hope to build on these impressive performances and top them with a goal or two.
Manchester City 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
While West Brom have impressed versus the bigger sides with their resolute defensive structure, it will be hard to maintain those levels versus the mighty Manchester City. The Cityzens have faced some criticism for their reversed approach to the Manchester Derby. They would be hoping to make a statement with an emphatic win at home versus a struggling West Brom. We predict a 3-0 win for Pep Guardiola & co.