Pep Guardiola might know five confirmed Man City starters vs Liverpool in FA Cup – Joe Bray
Manchester City could be without Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne for the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, with both limping out of the Champions League clash at Atletico Madrid.
De Bruyne inspired City to a point against Liverpool five days ago that could be invaluable for retaining the Premier League and it was his goal that proved the only way to separate the Blues from Atletico over two intense legs. City saw out that tie without De Bruyne, though, after he was substituted in the second half and was seen with ice on his ankle.
Both De Bruyne and Kyle Walker — also substituted with an ankle issue — were seen walking around at full time, but Pep Guardiola said City are in big trouble when asked about the injuries after the game. Walker posted on social media that he hoped his own issue wasn’t too bad.
It would be a surprise, though, to see both players in the starting line up at Wembley. It’s a huge game, but it’s not worth gambling the longer-term fitness of either player. Replacing De Bruyne will be relatively straightforward, but Guardiola must decide who would get the nod instead of Walker.
Joao Cancelo is the obvious choice, but has played 90 minutes in all three intense games over the last 11 days — as has John Stones, who could also slot in on the right. Nathan Ake played at left-back in the first leg versus Atletico, and replaced Walker on Wednesday, but Guardiola could opt to recall Aleks Zinchenko to combat Liverpool’s threats on the wing.
It could be one of three players, then, to replace Walker, with De Bruyne likely to be replaced by an attacker, allowing Bernardo Silva to drop back into midfield alongside Ilkay Gundogan. That change could be one of five nailed-on starters for the semi-final if Guardiola prioritises freshness at Wembley.
Jack Grealish has not started in any of the three games against Atletico or Liverpool this week. He will be itching for a chance to prove Guardiola wrong, and what bigger stage to do it than an FA Cup semi-final against your biggest rivals.
Similarly, Raheem Sterling was dropped to the bench in Madrid so might well be in line for a recall, while Gabriel Jesus was suspended and will be looking to build on his good showing versus Liverpool last week.
It would be harsh to drop Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, but Liverpool will be far fresher than City after resting seven key players this week and fitness may trump form after a gruelling fortnight.
As well as Grealish, Sterling and Jesus, Zack Steffen will almost certainly come in for Ederson as the designated cup goalkeeper, while Ruben Dias could start for the first time in six weeks after returning to the bench this week.
Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Joao Cancelo have all played 270 minutes in the last week, so Dias’ return will freshen up the defence at a perfect time given Walker’s doubts.
There is an argument to bring in Fernandinho for Rodri, or to find a way to rest Bernardo and Gundogan, but it’s also hard to envisage a midfield without those two if De Bruyne is out. Guardiola rarely sticks to expected changes anyway, so no player is ever guaranteed a starting spot.
However, his previous comments about freshness and the toll this week has taken on players could point towards at least five players expected to start against Liverpool.