“I became a coach because of him,” said Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi of Pep Guardiola after Manchester City’s last clash with the Seagulls. “Pep is still number one.”
Saturday’s clash between City and Brighton & Hove Albion will be a meeting of football philosophers. Both Guardiola and De Zerbi have proven themselves to be two of the Premier League’s finest tacticians, with this weekend’s encounter a battle of minds.
Guardiola will have to be particularly shrewd in his team selection for Brighton’s visit in the knowledge that one misstep will be pounced upon by the man in the opposite dugout. City head into this game with a little bit of pressure mounting after back-to-back league defeats – plus Carabao Cup elimination – and the Seagulls will be looking to ruffle some feathers come Saturday afternoon.
The champions find themselves two points off Tottenham and Arsenal at the summit of the league table and can ill-afford any more slip-ups in their pursuit of a sixth title in seven seasons.
With that in mind, here is how Guardiola could line up to get his side back to winning ways.
GK: Ederson – Despite featuring twice for Brazil over the international break, including a game in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Ederson will undoubtedly take his spot in between the sticks for Brighton‘s visit.
RB: Kyle Walker – The 33-year-old has started every league game this season, keeping three clean sheets in the process. The Man City captain has the necessary speed and physicality to deal with Kaoru Mitoma down Brighton’s left-hand side.
CB: John Stones – Despite looking a little off the pace against Italy for England midweek, Stones’ return is great news for Guardiola. Missing since the Community Shield, he made a cameo against Arsenal before the international break and should grab his first start of the league season.
CB: Ruben Dias – Guardiola could opt for a left-footed central defender such as Nathan Ake in this role, but Dias’ performances have been typically commanding this season. With Stones returning to fitness, the Man City boss suddenly has an abundance of centre-back options.
LB: Josko Gvardiol – The summer signing has made a seamless transition to life in the Premier League, excelling in a star-studded Man City backline. Deployed as a narrow left-back, Gvardiol will have to keep an eye on Simon Adingra after his impressive display against Liverpool.
CM: Rodri – Boy, have City missed their chief enforcer. Rodri’s absence has hit like a tonne of bricks and they’ve failed to avoid defeat in any of the three games he has missed through suspension.
CM: Rico Lewis – The 18-year-old has taken his chance while Rodri has been gone, blossoming in that Man City midfield. Mateo Kovacic’s shaky performances mean that the youngster is likely to be given another start this weekend.
RM: Phil Foden – Has endured a quiet season by his lofty standards, but offers Guardiola versatility across the front line. Should reclaim his spot on the right flank in favour of Bernardo Silva.
AM: Julian Alvarez – City’s most in-form player, Alvarez has been at his mischievous best this season. Six goals and five assists in 13 appearances, the Argentine has thrived in an attacking midfield/shadow striker role.
LM: Jeremy Doku – The Belgian has been in and out of the starting lineup but has made a fast start to life in Manchester. With Brighton potentially missing Tariq Lamptey at right-back, Doku’s pace and directness could be unleashed against Joel Veltman.
ST: Erling Haaland – Managed to break his duck over the international break with Norway but had previously gone a staggering four games without scoring. Still, eight goals in eight games is a decent return for Haaland.