There are many ways to describe Manchester City in glowing terms, but grit can now be added to that list of attributes heading into Saturday’s match at the Etihad versus Bournemouth.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
The reigning Premier League champions have trailed for 92 of a possible 1,800 minutes across all competitions this season, and only Wolverhampton have enjoyed a lead over Manchester City in league play – for all of 12 minutes. Yet for the second time in Champions League group play, Lyon gave Pep Guardiola’s team fits all over the pitch and twice grabbed leads through Maxwel Cornet.
The Citizens (11-2-0), though, showed they can take a punch and give one back as they equalised both times nearly straightaway in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at the French side that secured a spot in the knockout round for the sixth straight year. Aymeric Laporte drew City level seven minutes after Cornet opened the scoring in the 55th, and Sergio Aguero nodded home Riyad Mahrez’s corner kick on 83 minutes, two after Cornet completed his brace.
“We are into the last 16,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “It’s so important at this time to be in the last 16. When you play against Lyon, it’s complicated because of how good they are. The level was quite similar across all the group that’s why starting with a 2-1 defeat at home to Lyon, we have made an excellent recovery in the past four games.
“Always you think ‘how will we react in that situation?’ (going behind) and always we have shown a huge personality.”
Manchester City will finish atop Group F if they get at least a draw in their final group game at home versus last-place Hoffenheim in a fortnight.
Last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United started a stretch in which City will play two matches per week over the next six weeks. That puts a premium on squad rotation, and even with City’s bottomless pockets to spend money, there are still personnel shortages.
Kevin DeBruyne and Benjamin Mendy are long-term absences due to injuries, while Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan are dealing with knocks and questionable for this match.
The most important spot, though, may be up front as Aguero has been healthy all season and already has 10 goals in 16 matches in all competitions after totaling 30 in 39 in an injury-plagued 2017-18. Gabriel Jesus, nursing a groin injury, could be one match away from getting a start after playing just nine minutes in the previous three matches following his hat trick against Shakhtar Donetsk on Nov. 7.
City have a perfect 100 percent record at the Etihad in league play, winning seven matches by a combined 27-4 scoreline while scoring at least two goals in every contest.
For Bournemouth (6-2-5), this is another chance for them to prove they are something more than a flat-track bully of the “Other 14” while being bullied by the “Big Six.” The Cherries fell to 0-0-3 against the perennials this term and have lost three on the spin following a 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal last weekend.
An own goal by Jefferson Lerma on the half-hour put Bournemouth in an early hole, and after Joshua King pulled the Cherries level, Eddie Howe’s team conceded midway through the second half. Bournemouth sorely missed the calming presence of left back Adam Smith, who missed his first match with a knee injury expected to sideline him at least three months.
“Adam has been excellent over a long period of time,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo. “He has great energy about him and enthusiasm for the game. He is an excellent trainer and very popular in the dressing room.
“It is a big miss for us. His versatility has been key in recent seasons. He has played in a number of positions and wherever he has played, he has performed at a high level.”
Howe must make at least one change for this match as Lerma also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Arsenal, triggering a one-match ban. Lewis Cook looks to be the most likely replacement for the Colombia international, but the Cherries could opt for a 3-4-3 formation in contrast to their usual 4-4-2 set-up to prevent City from overrunning the midfield.
Bournemouth have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit outside Dean Court this season, outscoring teams 9-1 in victories at West Ham United, Watford, and Fulham while being outscored 8-1 in defeats to Chelsea, Burnley, and Newcastle United.
The Citizens have won all six matches between the teams since Bournemouth earned their initial promotion to the top flight for the 2015-16 season. All three games at the Etihad have been one-way affairs as City have smashed 13 by Bournemouth with only one in reply.
Per Bet365, City are 1/8 favourites to maintain their 100 percent record at the Etihad in league play, and the odds of the Cherries even nicking a point are 9/1. For those who believe in the fairy-tale ending of Bournemouth getting their first Premier League win over City, the odds are 25/1.
For the 2.5 goals over/under, the over has 1/4 odds while the under is 3/1.
Aguero leads the parade of City players for first-goal odds at 9/4, followed by Jesus (10/3) and Mahrez (4/1). Raheem Sterling, who has been a bogeyman for Bournemouth with nine goals and two assists during a six-match goal-scoring run against them, offers 9/2 odds to make it 1-0 for the hosts. Leroy Sane (11/2), David Silva (15/2) and Phil Foden (20/1) round out the Citizens’ option before getting to Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson at 14/1.
Aguero, Jesus, Mahrez and Sterling all are better than even money to score during the 90 minutes, ranging from Aguero’s 4/11 to Sterling’s 5/6. David Silva, who had a four-goal goal-scoring streak snapped at Lyon, has 8/5 odds. Wilson is again the top pick for the Cherries at 10/3, with veteran understudy Jermain Defoe (15/4) edging out Joshua King (5/1) for second.
There are a few things that would not be surprising about this match for Manchester City. It would not be surprising if Vincent Kompany or Nicolas Otamendi get the start for John Stones in central defence, and even with that slight groin injury, Jesus could lead the line in this match.
It would also not be surprising for City to take about 15 minutes to shift through their gears after being pushed fairly hard by Lyon. After their first match versus the French side, City did not get their first goal against Cardiff City until 32 minutes had elapsed. After that, the floodgates opened and the Citizens scored four more.
With all the scrutiny that comes with City, perhaps the most impressive statistic is that they have trailed for only 12 minutes in league play, and it can be argued that goal Wolverhampton scored would have been overturned had VAR been in existence. City are 23-2-1 at the Etihad in league play since the start of last term, and the final 21 minutes they trailed in their eventual 3-2 loss to Manchester United are the lone minutes they have spent trailing in their last 18 matches at home.
For Bournemouth, the 0-0-3 record against the Big Six this season obscures the fact Eddie Howe’s team have been competitive in those matches and arguably deserved a point against United. Yet until the Cherries make that actual breakthrough — especially in the case against City as they have been little more than a speed bump to them at the Etihad — the perception of “good story and decent side” is going to persist regardless of their ambitions.
They have had their chances in each of these three big matches, but City are clearly operating on a different level than any of them. Expect that to continue as the Citizens stay perfect at the Etihad and against Bournemouth.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Bournemouth 0.