Pep Guardiola faces fresh Man City team conundrum against resurgent Brighton – Stuart Brennan
Ruben Dias is available again after sitting on the bench for the last two games, against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. Throwing him back into one of those encounters, after no football in seven weeks, would have been a big ask but tonight would seem the perfect moment to reintroduce him.
And with Aymeric Laporte sitting out the FA Cup semi-final defeat on Saturday, the Blues could give John Stones, who started four huge games in 11 days, a rest, even though he has been outstanding of late. That would mean a reversion to the Laporte-Dias axis that was Guardiola’s first choice earlier in the season, although Nathan Ake and Stones have much stronger cases for inclusion after an excellent fortnight for both.
De Bruyne debate
The sight of Kevin De Bruyne on the bench at Wembley, despite having stitches in an ankle gash, raised fans’ hopes that he could figure against Liverpool. But it seems he was never truly in the reckoning, and rather than add another youngster to the bench, City put his name down.
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That raises the question of whether it is worth risking the injury against Brighton, and even against Watford on Saturday, or give De Bruyne a week to heal ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.
Some City fans were not happy with Pep Guardiola’s team selection against Liverpool on Saturday, but it was with good reason that he left Rodri, Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan on the sidelines, as well as fielding Zack Steffen instead of Ederson. If City beat the Seagulls and then make it six points from six against Watford at the weekend, ensuring they stay top with just five games to go, he will be completely vindicated.
Two wins, and much-needed rest for key players, would send them into the Real challenge in good shape.
Normally a home game with Brighton at this stage of the season would be a gimme, but Brighton are proving to be tough opponents, especially on their travels. Back-to-back wins away at top-four contenders Tottenham and Arsenal in their last two outings have underlined the threat they pose, and they now sit in a healthy tenth place in the table.
But those two victories came after a dire run of six straight league defeats which was only ended by a goalless home draw with relegation-haunted Norwich.
Ideally, City would have preferred not to lose any of the four huge games they have played over 11 days, culminating in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool. But if they had to lose one – and in a realistic world that was always a likelihood given squad size and the difficulty level – the Wembley date would have been it.
They came through the other three still top of the league and in the Champions League semis, and that has to be a huge positive on which the Blues can build tonight.