Shahktar Donetsk v Manchester City - Match Preview
Having maintained their 8 point lead at the top of the Premier League with another resilient display against West Ham at the weekend, Pep Guardiola and his squad - well some of them - head off to the frozen wastes of the Ukraine for the final match in the group stage of the Champions League.
The link between the UEFA fixture computer and the machine used by the Premier League were clearly working in harmony when determining their respective fixture lists - what better preparation for a derby match than a 3,000m round trip flight whilst your PL opponents play at home the preceding day and benefit from not travelling? Thankfully with City having already won the group and qualified for the knockout round of the competition Pep has at least the option of benching some of his regular first team picks. I guess we can only be grateful that the PL didn't decide to insist the derby be played on the new Friday evening slot.
I expect some changes to be rung by Guardiola as he prepares to face the nearest challengers for the Premier League title next weekend.
Run outs for the likes of Bravo, Toure, Danilo and Gundogan should be on the cards and perhaps starts for some of the younger members of the City UEFA Champions League squad - http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2018/clubs/club=52919/squad/index.html#/
Tosin Adarabioyo may well get a start in defence alongside Mangala and perhaps we might see the Player of the U17 World Cup Tournament, Phil Foden, get his chance in midfield? Whilst Guardiola is well aware of the need to maintain the winning momentum that his squad have enjoyed, he will also be acutely aware that the real focus has to be on ensuring that the squad are fit and raring to go for the derby next Sunday. He will naturally say that the next game is always the most important.....but to abuse the words of George Orwell, we all know that whilst all games are equal, some are more equal than others.
Apart from the absentees of Mendy and Stones, Pep will have a full squad to pick from aside from De Bruyne who is suspended for this fixture and will not travel. Well, that's not strictly true as it seems he & his wife will be spending some quality time in sunny Abu Dhabi courtesy of MCFC whilst his team mates are donning their gloves in Kharkiv. Whether this has anything to do with the desire of the club to discuss tying him up to an better contract is anyone's guess....... :066:
Shahktar come into this game knowing that they need a point to qualify from the group as runners up. Three points ahead of Napoli - who will almost certainly defeat Feyenoord - they have to avoid defeat to qualify and so they are unlikely to sit back. Normally this would be ideal and provide the space for City's playmakers to exploit but given that City will not field their usual starting XI we ought to be prepared for a less fluent display from the Blues. However, Toure, Gundogan and Danilo are hardly inexperienced and we ought to have enough in the locker to secure qualification without defeat.
Predicted XI & subs:-
Danilo, Adarabioyo, Mangala, Delph
Gundogan, Toure, Foden
Diaz, Jesus, Silva B
Subs: (anyone's guess really but here goes....)
Muric, Walker, Kompany, Fernandinho, Sane, Bolton, Aguero
This is a game City need to get done and dusted before they return to Manchester and prepare for the main event at the weekend. Once the Champions League games are out of the way stand by for the media to go into massive hype-overdrive.
In the meantime - anyone travelling to the Ukraine stay safe and warp up warm. Predicted temps for the game are for a high of 1C and a low of -1C. Gloves on!
Come on City!!!