Manchester City are now in the final stages of this Premier League season – the longest one ever on record.
As the last away Premier League game of the season beckons, Manchester City will be hoping to restate some of their early promise and scintillating form.
It is hard to believe that games such as the 4-0 win over Liverpool are just a matter of weeks ago, such is the shadow of disappointment hanging since the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.
City need to shake that malaise quickly out of their system if they are to stand any chance of besting Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League. And they need to raise their game to face a difficult looking Watford side in a game which matters little to us, but lots to them.
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Any way of looking at this Watford match seems a lifetime away from the easy run outs we have enjoyed recently against them. Indeed in our last two games versus Watford we have notched 14 goals without reply.
Now though things are different. Watford hover just above the relegation zone and are battling for their lives. They will fancy their chances against a City defence which has looked suspect for much of the season.
There is an added complication too in the surprise sacking of Nigel Pearson, the Watford Manager, despite the valiant attempts he has made to try to avoid the drop.
With a caretaker manager in place not only will City be unsure of how Watford may play, but there may be some ‘new manager bounce’ around too.
City though are bruised from defeat and no doubt eager to end the campaign in the best form possible. Players are not only playing for pride but also for starting slots in the games to come. Some are also playing for their Manchester City futures after lackluster seasons.
Predicting the Pep Guardiola team sheet remains the hardest job in football! Short of Ederson in goal, Gabriel Jesus up front and the return of Phil Foden, every other slot is likely up for grabs.
Guardiola will probably add some height to his central defence in anticipation of an aerial bombardment. So Nicolas Otamendi could get the nod to start alongside Aymeric Laporte. That would feel unfair on Eric Garcia though given he was one of the players to emerge with any credit in the Arsenal defeat.
I expect Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker to play as fullbacks and Rodri as the defensive midfielder. If Kevin De Bruyne is to stand any chance of breaking Thierry Henry’s assist record then he needs to start alongside Foden.
Neither Raheem Sterling nor Riyad Mahrez covered themselves in glory at the weekend, but both should have the opportunity to atone against Watford.
City should be much too strong to lose to Watford but football is a funny old game. Sometimes hard work beats talent so let us hope that tonight talent works hard too.