Manchester City will go into the last three games of the 2016/17 season knowing their destiny is in their hands. After the 5-0 drubbing of Palace shook off some doubts about a potentially negative ending to the season, which had begun to come to a head after they lumbered to a draw at now relegated Middlesbrough, City now have a trio of reasonably medium-difficulty games to qualify for the Champions League, and being able to qualify straight to the group stages rather than via another qualifying round in August is also achievable.
This week’s opposition are the Champions of England, who have had a Tempest-uous season themselves. After the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, Leicester have made a resurgence under Craig Shakespeare, perhaps showing that the outrage was Much Ado About Nothing. Both sides will want to put this season behind them, as if they were nothing but A Midsummer’s Night Dream. I’ll stop that now.
Both Claudio Bravo and Ilkay Gündoğan are still injured, naturally, helping some areas of the team pick itself. But Pep confirmed in his press conference on Friday that both John Stones and Sergio Agüero have been training for a few days now, and this of course does not mean that either are ready to start or perhaps even fit enough for the squad, but it does at least give Pep some form of a headache. No negative news around Vincent Kompany since his triumphant return to the side a few weeks ago is perhaps the biggest boost though, as many City fans, myself included, are starting to wonder when it’s okay to declare our skipper as back for good, a short turnaround from a few months ago when most, again myself included, had written him off. I love being wrong. Other than the two mentioned at the start, Pep seems to have a fully fit squad. Leicester on the other hand are without their favoured centre-half pairing Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, in addition to Danny Drinkwater, so City might see an opportunity to seek some revenge on a side who have put seven goals past them in the last two meetings.
The Sergio Conundrum
I’m going to tip that Gabriel Jesus will once again start up-front alone on Saturday. With Agüero only just coming back from an injury, this seems logical. Gabby has scored 4 times and provided 2 assists in his 7 Premier League appearances, meaning he provides a goal or assist every 63.5 minutes. Pep has said time and time again he wants to try the pair together and this weekend I could see that happening but for Agüero only just returning from injury, and therefore could see it happening in one of the last two games of the season providing that they both stay fit. Time is running out this season, though, and City fans everywhere will wonder if one of the all-time City greats, and personally one of my favourite players, will depart in the summer looking for pastures new. On Saturday it’ll have been 5 years to the day Sergio “Kun” Agüero made me cry.
We’ll always have QPR, Sergio. (And the other 167 times you’ve scored for us).
Three is Most Definitely Not the Magic Number
It was the reverse fixture of this game which seemed to show to Pep Guardiola that his three at the back stratagem was not going to work. Though City started with four defenders, it was clear that Kolarov was instructed to, or decided to, not defend at all and City were left with Sagna, Stones and Zabaleta as a makeshift back three. It was heavily put to the sword – Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick in a miserable game, and only a late double salvo of goals prevented this from looking completely embarrassing, even though that was how it felt. Since then the back three has largely been cast out, up until Middlesbrough away in which it did not work to any particular degree of decency, though some might attribute that to the terrible quality of the wing-backs. This weekend leaves us with a different proposition, though, as all three of our centre-backs are now fit. I’m a huge fan of John Stones, for both his cagoules and his ability, and like Agüero, had he been in training for a little longer I could’ve seen him starting potentially in a back three with Kompany and Otamendi.
This is a test I want to see taken, because although the back three has thus far been very poor, some may ask what anyone would expect from a three man defence with two full-backs and one young defender. Moreover, if this formation were to be used, I’d like to see it with good, attacking wing-backs. cc: Leroy and Raheem. However, despite his disposition for changing his sides, I think that Pep will probably see if the nice bond Kompany and Otamendi are forming is legitimate.
Chocolate Cake or Victoria Sponge?
On Saturday, Yaya Touré will turn 34-years-old. It will be his last season at Manchester City, and he is very arguably City’s best ever. Dragging us out of the malaise of averageness, I daresay that without Yaya Touré City would not be close to the level they are today. Though people comment on the physical side of his game and how that has dwindled, I posit that those people are really ignoring the fact that Yaya Touré has been blessed with the technical ability many couldn’t dream of. His simple passing, his long balls, his awareness, his simply wonderful scoring ability and his big game pedigree will be sorely missed. Yaya Touré is a legend many simply do not and will never understand, eschewing him in their rankings of Premier League midfield legends in favour of, for example, a tough tackling Roy Keane who Touré would’ve simply danced around, like he has to so many who have tried to take him down. Dmitri Seluk has come out and said that City fans should bring a cake to the game tomorrow to show their appreciation to Yaya, though given you can’t take a bottle of Fruit Shoot in I doubt that it’d be possible. I think Yaya will start this weekend in the holding role that he’s been used to several times this season, meaning that with the one striker system, City can have 4 attacking midfielders, as we’ve begun to see a lot from Pep.
We’ll always have United, Yaya. And Stoke. And Sunderland… And so on…