A Covid outbreak has emerged amongst the Manchester City squad just days prior to their third round FA Cup tie against Swindon Town. Pep Guardiola and his right-hand man Juanma Lillo have both tested positive - leaving assistant coach Rodolfo Borrell with the responsibility of taking charge on Friday evening.
Despite an alarming number of 21 positive cases within the blues camp (7 first team players and 14 backroom staff), there has been no indication or attempt from the club to postpone or reschedule the fixture. The club have taken a professional and fair approach towards the pandemic and its repercussions – perhaps an approach that should be adopted by certain other English teams.
Rodolfo Borrell took part in a press conference earlier today due to the absence of Pep Guardiola, however, he was reluctant on sharing details regarding the specificity of the first team players that have contracted the virus. Thereby, any sort of line-up prediction would be nonsensical, and would ultimately be a guess.
However, from our understanding, Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko – who were both missing from the travelling squad to Arsenal due to Covid-19, make up two of the seven first-team absentees.
Borrell made it clear in his press conference that the team to face Swindon will be a mix of both senior players and players from our second team (EDS). However, with the outbreak also affecting the younger players, it is unclear who will be available - but it wouldn't be a surprise to see a few FA Cup debuts given out on Friday evening.
Referee: Darren England
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts and Harry Lennard
Fourth Official: David Coote
Kick-off: 20:00 (GMT)
Venue: County Ground
Live Coverage: ITV
This will be the blue's first appearance in the FA Cup this season, and despite an obviously weakened and frail squad - I'm sure Guardiola's men will be looking to proceed to the next round. The FA Cup might not be the giant of a competition it once was, but I know it still holds significant importance in the hearts of City supporters, in particular the older generation, who for them, an FA Cup win growing up would have fallen not too short of a fairy-tale.
City have managed to win the tournament twice since the take over from Sheikh Mansour, the first one being the most famous, as Roberto Mancini took us to glory in the 2010/2011 season. The second time coming more recently under the reign of Guardiola in 2019, making up a part of the domestic treble.
After being knocked out of the alternative domestic cup for the first time in four years, the players and the fans will be as eager as ever to succeed in the FA Cup and hopefully bring the trophy to the blue side of Manchester. However, no FA Cup tie is easy and the tournament is famous for its upsets and surprises. City should know this better than anyone, and thus I expect a professional performance to ensure they have their name in the fourth round draw.
A cold winters night under the floodlights, with a Premier League giant facing a lower league club on their home turf resembles everything great and magical about the competition. The City players will have to deal with that unfamiliar atmosphere and give both the opposition and the competition the respect it deserves.
Despite this and the Covid-19 outbreak, Pep Guardiola and the club have done a fantastic job at creating a squad where the personnel can be changed and swapped fluently, yet the core philosophy of the team and its style of play remains the same.
As a result of this, I expect the blues to control the game and retain large proportions of possession, and with the quality they have, regardless of players missing, I expect plenty of chances to be created and Swindon's defence to be exploited.
Swindon Town, managed by Ben Garner, currently sit 4th in the fourth tier of English football. However, their recent form has been volatile. Their weekend victory against Northampton saw them net 5 in a 5-2 thriller.
Their home form in particular has been impressive in recent weeks, only losing one game in their last five. The Robins will be eagerly anticipating this fixture and hoping for an FA Cup upset, something which the fans might feel more hopeful towards after today's Covid news.
Just shy of 16,000 fans are reported to be attending the County Ground on Friday evening, as both home and away tickets have sold out. There's no doubt that the loyal fans of Swindon Town will be looking to be making the most of this and act as an extra man for their first eleven.
Swindon's number nine and leading goal scorer this season with 10 goals, Tyreece Simpson could potentially be a player who will pose a threat to City's backline, and someone for Borrell and his men to keep an eye on.
An FA Cup fixture always proves difficult to predict, and the problems with Manchester City's squad only escalate this. With this in mind, I don't think it will be a straightforward win and I see the current Premier League champions potentially conceding a goal. However, City's quality should be enough to see them remain in the competition, so I'm going for a 3-1 victory for the blues.
Written by: @BrookbanksHenry
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