Saturday, 18th March, marks the return of a Manchester City legend to the Etihad as Pep Guardiola's side welcome Vincent Kompany's Burnley in this FA Cup quarter-final fixture. The game will be broadcast live on BBC1 in the UK with kick-off at 5.45 pm (GMT).
City come into this game on a nine-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, having cleaned up RB Leipzig in their last game with a 7-0 win – however, attention turns to domestic knockout football in another season-defining clash against a familiar face and team, albeit with renewed hope and energy that could cause the Blues problems.
Unfortunately, Bernardo Silva will miss the game for a one-match suspension for accumulated yellow cards. Nevertheless, City go into this tie at full fitness, with no known injuries, and nobody expected to be sidelined through lack of match sharpness/fitness either. Kevin De Bruyne triumphantly returned to the starting XI midweek against Leipzig, and John Stones made his second start in succession since his hamstring injury.
However, predicting a Pep Guardiola lineup is a challenge at the best of times, never mind a cup game where almost anything can happen. However, Stefan Ortega has been a fine selection between the sticks in previous rounds and should continue here. In defence, I'd expect returns to the XI for Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte, at least, joined by the ever-present Manuel Akanji. Guardiola brought Sergio Gomez off the bench vs Bristol City, but with Burnley posing a somewhat tougher challenge, sticking with Nathan Ake is likely the safer choice.
As for the midfield, you'd expect Kalvin Phillips to be offered a rare start at the base of midfield as like against Bristol City in the previous round, joined by De Bruyne (at least for the first half) and Ilkay Gundogan, who can offer so much in both defensive and attacking midfield positions.
Up front, surely this is a chance for Julian Alvarez from the start after signing his new contract, and there is hope he'll be joined by Phil Foden and one of Jack Grealish or Riyad Mahrez; the latter has not started for three consecutive games. However, seeing Cole Palmer get some rare minutes later on wouldn't go amiss, or even from the start – a much more unlikely affair considering it took until the 83rd minute for him to get on the pitch in Bristol.
Ortega; Walker, Akanji, Laporte, Ake; Gundogan, Phillips, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Alvarez, Foden
Whilst this game marks a sort of homecoming for Kompany, it is ultimately still a game in which a trip to Wembley is on the line for both sides. Guardiola lavished praise on Kompany and his Burnley side in the build-up to this fixture, saying the following on City's ex-captain:
"Everybody knows he is an important, incredible figure here. He is one of the biggest legends I have had."
Guardiola followed up by praising the work Kompany's done at the Clarets:
"What I saw I am not surprised by their position and what they have done in the Championship, they are so close to being a Premier League team next year. Seeing more carefully what they do I understand completely why they are there. They will be a really tough opponent because they do incredible things on the pitch."
Burnley are flying high at the moment, top of the Championship by 13 points, safe from the playoffs by 19 points. Promotion is near guaranteed for Kompany's young dynamic team, who are unbeaten since December 27th in all competitions – an 18-game streak.
City defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis is spending the season on loan at Turf Moor, and he was joined by goalkeeper Aro Muric, who'll be a name familiar to City fans. After losing so many key players in the summer, such as Nick Pope, Wout Weghorst and Maxwell Cornet, Kompany built a younger squad and almost immediately started striking gold. They play a style of football based heavily on the principles of Guardiola himself, with inverted full-backs, wingers high and wide and a heavy focus on their midfield anchor – usually Josh Cullen, who worked with Kompany at Anderlecht too.
It's not uncommon to see the likes of Vitinho or Ian Maatsen taking up positions City fans have adjusted to seeing the likes of Rico Lewis and, previously, Joao Cancelo pop up in. Burnley do bring goal threats, too – Nathan Tella, a loanee from Southampton has scored 19 goals, including two hat tricks.
Fellow wingers Manuel Benson and Anass Zaroury – a Moroccan international – have ten each. They are a serious threat, arguably more so than Burnley teams of the past, which City generally dispatched at the Etihad with ease.
It will be a fantastic occasion for all involved, with Burnley bringing a full 7000 allocation of away fans and a home crowd who'll be delighted to welcome a club legend, even if he's in the opposite dugout.
These sides are no strangers to meeting in domestic cup competition in recent years, having played each other in the early rounds of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup during Guardiola's time at City. However, their last game was a 2-0 Premier League win for City away at Turf Moor, where De Bruyne and Gundogan scored.
Referee: John Brooks
Assistants: Darren Cann & Matthew Wilkes
Fourth Official: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Andrew Madley
Assistant VAR: Constantine Hatzidakis
Written by: @olimccoole
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