Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola wants to become the sixth team in UEFA Champions League history to finish the Group Stage with 18 points ie perfect record. In pursuit of that, he has also messaged his friend (and biggest benefactor should City win at Ukraine) Napoli head coach, Maurizio Sarri “We will give our best”. It is this obsessive nature of Pep Guardiola – to back beautiful football – that may prove costly to Manchester City’s long-term tangible interests.
Sub-Zero temperatures welcome Manchester City
Guardiola has two choices to make. He either plays a ‘strong team’ stretching themselves to win at sub-zero temperatures of Kharkiv, Ukraine or give the ‘bench strength’ a run and key exposure. Let’s find the positives and negatives of both instances. Bear in mind Shakhtar Donetsk needs to at least draw to reach pre-quarterfinals, at cost of Napoli. For them, its a give no inch, do or die battle. For Manchester City, for all means and purposes, it is a totally inconsequential game.
If Pep plays a strong team and wins or draws:
- Manchester City will then extend their current English record of 20 consecutive wins and 28 games unbeaten – the joint third best run in English football history. Plus.
- Manchester City will get battle hardened to play in tough conditions and gain valuable experience. Plus.
- The likes of Ederson, Otamendi, Delph, Fernandinho will be deprived of much-needed rest and would have stretched themselves on an inconsequential night. Minus.
- Big chance someone key gets injured and misses the Manchester Derby. Minus.
- Big game exposure denied to players in bench and frustration would increase, with January transfer window lurking. If they don’t get the chance to play in inconsequential games, when will they be playing! Minus.
3 Pluses and 2 Minuses.
If Pep plays a strong team and loses:
- A loss to Shakhtar with many top team stars playing will impact the confidence of the team. Minus.
- Couple that with any injury or tired legs with Manchester Derby coming up, will be seen as a poor approach from Guardiola. Minus.
- The commitment of the top players in this game will remain a question. Will they make a challenge or save their muscles for bigger nights? Minus.
0 Pluses and 3 Minuses.
Total 3 Pluses and 5 Minuses.
So really playing a strong team is just not going to be beneficial for Manchester City, aside from etching their unbeaten streak in record books.
If Pep plays a bench strength team and draws or loses:
- Even a loss will not worry much as it was a bench strength team and areas for improvement can be noticed. Plus.
- Good chance to see how good the bench is. Are Diaz, Foden, Adarabioyo made of stern stuff? Plus.
- The bench strength team will be committed and motivated to show their best. They also want to be big contributors to the unbeaten streak. Plus.
- The unbeaten streak and other records may get clipped in case of a loss. Minus.
- Pep Guardiola has a fresh full strength team to play at Old Trafford. Win that game and EPL title race will be City’s to lose. Plus.
4 Pluses and 1 Minus.
If Pep plays a bench strength team and wins:
- This is a win-win situation. Pep will have a serious problem of plenty. There will be bench players pushing Guardiola for starting places. Plus.
- The winning and unbeaten streaks continue. Plus.
- Otamendi, Ederson, Fernandinho, Sterling and Delph will get some much-deserved rest. The first three mentioned actually have played 1550+ minutes this season compared to players in the squad who haven’t yet clocked 300 minutes on the field. Plus.
- The top players will miss the chance to play at sub-zero temperatures and win. Minus.
3 Pluses and 1 Minus.
Total 7 Pluses and 2 Minuses.
Really it’s a no-brainer.
If Guardiola goes for his love for beautiful football and plays a strong team, gets some tired legs, potential injuries that hamper the Manchester Derby and the matches ahead, Guardiola will not be called wise.
What if FC Napoli gets stronger with a ‘gift’ qualification?
A City win will get FC Napoli through to Round of 16. What if a stronger Napoli becomes City’s opponents in later stages of the competition? Won’t Guardiola sit to regret? This is City’s chance to eliminate Napoli from the Champions League, rather than do them favours!
I suspect Guardiola, obsessed that he is, will come out to back ‘beautiful football’ and make a tough match for his team and opponents. A match which could have been treated as a test of his bench strength. Guardiola’s past teams have often been noticed tired, out of ideas and carrying jaded legs at Champions League semifinals stages. They all came from games where Guardiola was not smart enough to rotate and test his squad depth. That mistake must not be repeated.
A winning run is often one key injury away from crisis
It makes perfect sense to give City’s highly paid bench stars a run, keep limited ambitions for this game – a draw will maintain City’s unbeaten streak – and keep the starting XI fresh for Old Trafford. If the second string loses or draws, it is still a lot of experience gained and workload shared.
Instead, the aim should be to try and ease the domestic title race as early as December. The bigger the points gap you create in EPL, the easier it gets in March-April 2018 to keep players fresh for Champions League advanced knock out stage games.
Winning at Shakhtar with any of the first XI players will give no tangible benefit to ManCity. If one key player gets injured, Man City could find themselves in some trouble as the domestic games come thick and fast in December, all the way through to early January. Injuries to Jesus, Kompany and Gundogan ruined Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad. The trade-off is very very weak.
Man City Champions League Squad: Bravo, Ederson, Grimshaw, Walker, Danilo, Kompany, Mangala, Otamendi, Adarabioyo, Delph, Fernandinho, Toure, Gundogan, Bernardo, Foden, Diaz, Sterling, Sane, Aguero, Jesus.
The Manchester City XI, I wish is chosen to play at Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Prediction: Manchester City’s winning streak will likely come to an end at Kharkiv, Ukraine, no matter which XI they play. Shakhtar Donetsk need a point and they are very good at tough home conditions.