Having set the City train firmly back on the rails with two consecutive wins Pep and his squad travel south again this weekend to face relegation-threatened West Ham at the London Stadium.
Last weekend’s emphatic victory over Swansea dispelled any doubts that the City players already had their heads on the beach thinking about drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. As Guardiola promised it was business as usual, paying due respect to their opponents and the competition.
No free hits from City just because the title was in the bag.
David Moyes has guided the Hammers into 15th place and the periphery of the relegation danger area but their current total of 35 points still leaves within the grasp of the dreaded drop zone. Only 6 points clear of 18th placed Southampton, Moyes will be on the horns of a dilemma – will trying to hold out for a single point be enough or should he throw caution the wind and go for it?
I think my eggs will be in the ‘hold on as long as we can and try and nick a goal’ basket. It nearly worked at the Etihad where they went into the dressing room at halftime having secured a 0-1 lead just before it was time for the oranges. So I suspect Guardiola will send out his selected XI to solve yet another ‘how to prise open the deep-lying defence’ problem yet again. It is something they should be used to by now and I am sure that the squad will be up for the challenge as they pursue the targets of the highest points tally and most goals scored in the Premier League.
City’s record against West Ham in all competitions including friendlies is pretty decent recently – W5 D1 in the last six meetings. The Hamer’s home form hasn’t been catastrophic – they have only lost one fixture at home since the turn of the year (P8 W4 D3 L1) but more recently they have won only one of their last seven league fixtures and were on the end of a 4-1 thumping from Arsenal last weekend.
After his reintroduction to first team action, I expect we may see more game time for Benjamin Mendy this weekend. It was great to see him back against Swansea even though he appeared understandably rusty. There is no substitute for competitive matches and the only question will be whether he starts or is introduced once again later in the game. I suspect the latter on this occasion – it remains early days and there is little point in rushing. Fernandinho will be available to resume his post in front of the back four and as the fulcrum of the team with Gundogan taking his slot on the bench.
A return for the PFA Young Player of the Year, Leroy Sané could be on the cards, along with Kyle Walker after they were rested last weekend. On the cusp of his snub for the PFA award later that evening, Kevin De Bruyne simply went about his business on the pitch and let his feet do the talking with a sublime strike for City’s third goal against Swansea. I think it was the sweetest strike I have seen by a City player since Elano scored his first goal for City back in 2007 with an exocet of a free kick against Newcastle from, ironically, around about the same spot on the pitch. Outstanding – it literally had me out of my seat.
- West Ham will be without Antonio, Obiang, Winston ‘viciously assaulted by Aguero’ Reid and Byram. Defender James Collins could return after a hamstring injury. Joe Hart will be unavailable to play against his parent (& I expect, soon to be ex) club.
- City welcome back Fernandinho after his suspension but Stones will be absent with a groin/pelvic problem and Aguero is ruled out after his knee surgery.
Possible City XI & subs
Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Delph
De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva D
Sterling, G Jesus, Sané
Bravo, Kompany, Danilo, Mendy, Silva B, Gundogan, Foden
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Assistants: Scott Ledger, Marc Perry
Fourth official: Bobby Madley
Pep will have reinforced the message after last weekend’s victory over Swansea that there remains work to do and he will demand the same commitment and drive from his team when they step out onto the pitch on Sunday afternoon. He wants those records badly. Stung by the nature of the derailment in the Champions League and the disappointing derby defeat, Pep Guardiola is looking to drive home the domination that City have produced in the league.
He wants this title win to be emphatic and for it not to be underplayed by the critics because it fizzles out – he will want to end the season on a high.
He is not alone.
Come on City!!!