Fresh off a dominant performance in the Champions League, Manchester City return to the rigour of Premier League life against south coast outfit Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday evening. The game is live on Sky Sports Main Event at 17:30 (BST), and the Premier League champions will don their third kit for the first time this season.
Last time the best away fans in the country went down to the seaside city was at the end of the 2018/19 season when City beat Liverpool to the title by a point on the final day, so the AmEx stadium holds happy memories for many of those making the trip. However, for the players, last year's controversial 3-2 defeat just after being crowned Champions will be in their minds, wary of Brighton's threat. Although in typical Pep Guardiola fashion, he won't even be considering that result, or even the 5-0 the Blues achieved in 2020 at Brighton. He only thinks forward and the best way to guarantee victory, as he made clear in his pre-match thoughts when asked by the press - "I know exactly the game we're going to face and the players know. Absolutely not [sense of revenge] football you win and lose." City are in fantastic form at the moment after their 5-1 away win to Club Brugge on Tuesday and a function 2-0 win against Burnley last weekend. Players like Zinchenko and Gundogan have returned from injury and are bit by bit being integrated back in, Pep noting in his presser that his squad are in "very good condition", which is music to the ears of any Blue as we slowly edge towards the busy Christmas period. Despite early-season hiccups to Spurs and Southampton, City sit comfortably in 3rd in the Premier League table, only 2 points behind leaders Chelsea, so the necessity of keeping the squad fit for the months ahead is vital.
As mentioned earlier, with the exception of Ferran Torres, the Blues are operating at full fitness. In the midweek game against Club Brugge, Guardiola managed to get most of his regular starters this season off and rested with 30 or so minutes to spare due to the dominant performance they'd put in, allowing the likes of Zinchenko, Gundogan and Raheem Sterling to get much needed minutes. John Stones was given personal leave for midweek, but so far there's been no suggestion he can't play a part in this weekend's game on the south coast. With that in mind, I expect Guardiola to reunite last season's pair of Stones and Ruben Dias, with Walker and Zinchenko at full-back. I'd expect some changes in the other six positions too, with Phil Foden (LW) and Sterling (RW) flanking Gabriel Jesus. Perhaps Guardiola may try Sterling in the centre-forward role as he did against Burnley with Jesus out wide, however, after Sterling's excellent creative performance from the bench on Tuesday and the need for hard-working legs through the middle, I expect Jesus to lead the line. A start for Gundogan must surely be in line alongside ever-present Rodri and I'm going for September player of the month Bernardo to be the final cog in a midfield 3. De Bruyne has been in shaky form in recent weeks so the more opportunity to rest him, the better. Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; Rodri, Bernardo, Gundogan; Foden, Jesus, Sterling.
Brighton & Hove Albion have been one of the surprises of the season so far, currently sitting in 4th after the 8 games so far. Normally expected to be battling relegation, Graham Potter's team have charged out the blocks swinging picking up good wins against Leicester City and Brentford, salvaging a point in the 'M23 Derby' against Crystal Palace with the last kick of the game and they really should've beaten Arsenal too, despite injuries. Potter has stuck to the principles that have guided his whole time at the Seagulls so far; a swashbuckling 3 at the back system, aiming to control possession and taking the game to their opponents whoever they might be. They're an aggressive team using big, strong powerful centre backs in Dan Burn and Lewis Dunk to win headers and take advantage at set-pieces; the setup worked against City last season in that controversial 3-2 win where Cancelo was sent off early on and despite taking the lead 2-0, City succumbed to second-half goals to drop points at the AmEx. City will have to be at their best to get a win against the manager Guardiola has called one of the best in the English game. Predicted XI: Sanchez; Duffy, Dunk, Burn; Veltman, Groß, Lallana, Moder Cucurella; Maupay, Trossard.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: Adrian Holmes and Simon Long
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR: Paul Tierney
Assistant VAR: Constantine Hatzidakis Friend last officiated the Blues in the 5-0 win over Norwich City in Gameweek 2.
Written by @olicoulsxn
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