Manchester City – Chelsea: Pep Guardiola’s men can put down a marker ahead of the Champions League final
Pep Guardiola and his abundance of wealth at Manchester City are facing a very welcome headache this weekend. One last push, and the Premier League trophy will be theirs again after just one season.
It’s only a matter of time, that’s a fact. Their 13-point lead over neighbors Manchester United may as well be a steep mountain, and the champagne is already on the ice, as Guardiola has openly admitted.
The only thing standing in their way now is Chelsea. One win is enough for City to kick-start the festivities.
Pep Guardiola hopes Man City can send a message by beating Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea
City faces Chelsea in the Champions League final and will try to complete the Premier League
But the dilemma they have now faced is a major problem. After all, Chelsea are City’s opponent in the Champions League final later this month. What was already an important game has suddenly turned into a testament.
It’s an opportunity for the champions to lay down an emphatic marker. Guardiola is skilled in the ways of psychology in football, his in-depth knowledge of each of his players and their stories attest to this.
Therefore, he will know how big the moral boost it will be for City to parade around and enjoy their top-level victory, right in front of the only team still on the road to glory in Europe.
Guardiola celebrated wildly as City reached the Champions League final after beating PSG
With that in mind, how will infamous tinkerman Guardiola choose to approach the weekend’s match?
He may decide to deploy his entire team in search of that powerful statement, or shake through his ranks for the corporate end to this chaotic season.
In reality, it would be surprising not to see the usual star-studded string of names that have rocketed City to the top don’t get another chance to shine.
The stellar win at midweek against Paris Saint-Germain left City back in line without a recognized No. 9. This is an adjustment they have used in major games and provides more flexibility and unpredictability.
Tuchel was equally passionate after Chelsea sawed Real Madrid into staging a clash with City
However, a return to forming an attack around a lone striker is expected. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, who were used against PSG, hope for a chance to take the lead.
Agüero in particular will try to impress as his time at City is coming to an emotional end. It would be a fairytale if the veteran ace scored the goals that sealed another league title during his trophy-laden decade.
Guardiola can even choose to roll the dice and throw both Aguero and Jesus in them from the start. They got together in a row at Crystal Palace and, while City worked occasionally, scored the first in the 2-0 win.
Raheem Sterling has endured a mixed campaign and seems remarkably lacking in confidence. Unsurprisingly, he’d dropped out for the win over PSG and was even able to sit on the bench again.
While City is looking to set a marker against Chelsea this weekend, Sergio Agüero can start over
Riyad Mahrez, however, appears confident that he will keep his place after City City took the final with a 4-1 aggregate victory after his heroic backing in a snowy Etihad.
That could mean that Ferran Torres and Bernardo Silva are among the substitutes, although they can both fit seamlessly into the team. The former crushed the second of hometown from distance against Palace and caught the eye.
City has usually used three or four bodies behind them in midfield.
Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan are likely to perform again, and Phil Foden has done more than enough to keep his spot until the end of the season.
Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne look confident that they will keep their spot despite fierce competition
Guardiola suffers from selection headaches before his team takes on Chelsea
However, Kevin de Bruyne will definitely play a role too, meaning one of the three star names may have to give way. It seems unthinkable to drop either, but this City squad is packed with talent.
Rodri also hopes to seize, although the now thriving defensive midfielder is likely to take on a more prominent role for the next campaign, as Fernandinho’s future has not yet been decided.
Guardiola’s beauty in knockout football is the sheer bewilderment that greets some of his decisions. They may look bizarre on paper, but in reality they often become masterpieces.
To label his shift of his full back to PSG as a moment of genius may be a step too far, but there’s no denying that his idea has been fleshed out.
Kyle Walker (R) got a start against PSG and can play again with Guardiola tinkering
Joao Cancelo, who has been on either side of the backline this season, has a tendency to drift in and this weakness has caused teams to try to pounce. There was no danger of that against PSG with Kyle Walker recalled.
It’s a full-blown shootout between the two for that spot, although both can play if Cancelo is shunted to the left. Benjamin Mendy is flattered to deceive on points and is unlikely to make the cut against Chelsea.
As for Oleksandr Zinchenko, the versatile youngster is unlikely to keep his spot, despite starting against PSG and delivering a grown-up performance.
Guardiola is also blessed with a string of big names at the center. John Stones and Ruben Dias have built a formidable partnership and will likely face each other on Saturday.
John Stones and Ruben Dias have built a formidable partnership at the heart of City’s defense
However, it would be foolish to rule out changes here. City have been known to drop Aymeric Laporte or Nathan Ake on points, and both defenders will quietly hope their coach will use his entire squad again.
In goal, Ederson will keep his spot with Zach Steffen, his understudy, who is apparently only a favorite in domestic cup tournaments.
This is of course also theoretical. Trying to predict how Guardiola will approach each match is basically like solving a Rubik’s cube with one hand and a blindfold over your eyes.
The last time City and Chelsea compete proves just that. It was a big game, with a spot in the FA Cup final up for grabs, but Guardiola decided to raise eyebrows again by shaking up his deck.
Hakim Ziyech scored the only goal of a tight game when City last played against Chelsea this season
Ziyech came in from close range as City crashed into the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley
Steffen, Mendy, Rodri, Torres and Jesus all got starts in the 1-0 loss. The city was poor on that occasion and appeared visibly limp at the front.
Foden and Gundogan were introduced in hopes of saving a comeback, but Hakim Ziyech’s 55-minute goal was enough to end City’s hopes on a memorable fourfold.
With so much at stake, Guardiola probably won’t repeat the same trick. He is expected to deploy all of his usual big guns and order them to go full throttle in search of the result that would bring them the title again.
It’s also worth remembering that Chelsea also need a good result this weekend in their mission to keep a firm grip on fourth place. They currently have a three point lead over West Ham.
Chelsea will try to beat City to stay in fourth place while the Champions League final is on the way
So there are prizes, positions and the mental advantage for the Champions League final at stake.
As a result, no motivation or speeches will be required to reflect on the rich history of either club.
Showing each other who’s boss before May 29 is more than enough to bring one of the top flight’s most pulsating encounters to life.
May the best team win.