Pep Guardiola must find a new left back as Manchester City return from the international break minus Benjamin Mendy heading into their match Saturday at West Ham United against former manager Manuel Pellegrini.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
(Editor’s Note — The expectation is for Gundogan to start for Bernardo Silva)
Mendy, who is tied for the team lead with five assists — which is also good for second in the Premier League – suffered a left knee injury that required surgery while on international duty with France in Nations League play. It is not the same knee that required reconstructive surgery last season, and Mendy is expected to be sidelined at least a month.
Luckily, the bottomless pockets of Manchester City (10-2-0) means Guardiola does not lack replacement options at the position. The top two options are Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko, both of whom have played there earlier this season when Mendy dealt with niggling injuries. Another option for Guardiola is to switch Danilo from right back, with the Brasil international fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury in the October international break.
Delph is likely the frontrunner for the spot, having captained the England side in their 3-0 victory over the United States in a friendly during the break.
“I have no doubts about Fabian. He was important for us last season and he will be again this season,” Guardiola told Man City’s official website earlier this term.
City maintained their unbeaten start with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at home before the break. While the Citizens moved 12 points clear of their eternal rivals by claiming the first Manchester derby, they have yet to create separation from the top of the table as fellow unbeatens Liverpool and Chelsea are two and four points back, respectively.
Sergio Aguero, who scored in the win over United and has netted eight of his team-high nine goals in league play, also has a pair of assists in the last two league contests and four overall. City have a Premier League-best 36 goals while conceding just five, matching Liverpool for the best mark in the top flight.
Like City, West Ham United (3-3-6) also have some issues with injured personnel at outside back. Ryan Fredericks, who limped off late in the Irons’ 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town prior to the break, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a shin injury. Fredericks adds to a lengthy long-term injury list that already includes summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid, and Carlos Sanchez.
The good news for Pellegrini is he will have midfielder Jack Wilshere and forward Andy Carroll available after both missed lengthy spells due to injury. Midfielder Mark Noble also returns after serving a three-match ban for a direct red card, but fellow midfielder Robert Snodgrass must sit out this match due to a yellow card accumulation.
This will be Pellegrini’s first match against Manchester City following his awkward departure after the 2015-16 season. It was the Chilean who announced to the public the team had reached an agreement for Guardiola to replace him in late January, completely taking the edge off a City side who were challenging Leicester City for the Premier League title. While his Champions League semifinal appearance that season remains the club’s high-water mark Guardiola has yet to match, their exit at the hands of Real Madrid was so meek It caused chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak to level public criticism.
The Irons come out of the international break looking to push their league unbeaten streak to four matches. West Ham have settled since Pellegrini’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Declan Rice serving as a shield for the back four, and the Ireland international is thriving in the role Pellegrini has made for him.
“In this position, I also get to play and go forward with the ball,” he explained to the team’s official website. “I don’t try to over-complicate anything. I just play what I see, because once I started overcomplicating things and giving the ball away, there’s nothing worse than having to chase back for the ball so, when I get the ball, I just look to get my head up and give it.”
West Ham have taken four points in their first five matches against the “Big Six,” though the losses to Liverpool and Arsenal came as part of their 0-0-4 start that necessitated Pellegrini’s switch in formation.
Manchester City have won five on the trot in all competitions over West Ham United and posted a 4-1 victory in last season’s corresponding fixture. Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho scored goals, and ex-City defender Pablo Zabaleta contributed an own goal.
The Citizens are 8-5-7 at West Ham in the Premier League era in all competitions, but they have lost just two of the last 14 (8-4-2).
Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are 1/4 favourites to keep their hold atop the Premier League table for another match day and beat their former boss. The odds of the Irons claiming a point similar to how they did versus Chelsea are a healthy 24/5, while the chances of pulling off the shock scoreline of the season and handing City their first loss are 11/1.
City are expected to score goals coming out of the international break, with odds of a win and more than 2.5 goals scored at 4/6. A 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offers a 13/4 return, with a low-scoring draw of 0-0 and 1-1 checks in at 7/1. For the Irons supporters, a victory regardless of goal total carries 16/1 odds.
Aguero, as expected, is the top option to open the scoring at London Stadium, getting 13/5 odds. He leads a line of City players that runs seven strong from Gabriel Jesus at 3/1 to David Silva at 7/1 as the pair bracket Raheem Sterling (4/1) and Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez (9/2). Marko Arnautovic is West Ham’s first listing at 17/2, while the sentimental can take Andy Carroll at 9/1 as the Irons striker is slated to make his season debut.
Aguero (4/6) and Jesus (3/4) are better than even money to put one past Lukasz Fabianski, with Sterling, Mahrez and Sane just off that standard at 11/10, 5/4 and 11/8, respectively. Carroll is again the pick of the West Ham litter for an any-time goal at 23/10, with Carroll and Chicharito a joint-second at 13/5.
There is never a good time to catch Manchester City, but coming off an international break qualifies as one that could work to West Ham’s advantage as the Citizens work off the rust from the international break and go through their gears. There will be some intrigue to Pellegrini’s first match against City since that awkward parting of the ways, but that is more for West Ham players to use as motivation in contrast to the curiosity of how he will be received at the Etihad.
Mendy’s injury may result in a more focused defensive effort for Man City, though Delph has seamlessly contributed from the left back position when called upon previously. The injury to Bernardo Silva makes room for Ilkay Gundogan, who had a goal and an assist in 28 minutes of action off the bench in City’s two matches before the international break.
Such is the life of a big-money team that runs two deep at every position (except goalkeeper… maybe) where Guardiola can simply plug in quality pieces at every position
Marko Arnautovic will challenge Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, and then there is the possibility of seeing Carroll for the first time this season. What he can contribute is unknown, but all the same, the hope is he stays healthy for a prolonged period fo time to try and contribute.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, Manchester City 2.