Following last weekend’s cup final heartbreak, it doesn’t get much easier as Eddie Howe’s wounded Mags face a trip to Man City in Saturday’s early kick-off.
It’s perhaps the most difficult game in the Premier League calendar, yet I’m expecting us to be raring to go and motivated to put things right in our bid for a top four finish.
Howe is building a winning mentality and has urged his players to use Sunday’s pain to fuel them over the coming months, believing the experience will only benefit us moving forward.
Man City pose a huge test – Haaland is unstoppable at his best, Mahrez has what it takes to cause Burn huge problems and De Bruyne is one of the best creative midfielders on the planet – but they’ve conceded in six of their last seven games and leave gaps at the back if we can strike quickly in transition.
This game won’t define our season, but with us struggling to score goals since the turn of the year, falling four points behind Spurs (4th) and seeing Liverpool (6th) close the gap to just two points, it’s time for us to get our European push back on track ASAP.
Speaking ahead of the game following Sunday’s cup final defeat, Eddie Howe has had this to say:
“I felt bruised on Sunday…and Monday. But very quickly, for me, on Monday afternoon it turned to Man City and returned to work. I didn’t feel that the passion and the motivation could increase within me, but it has….
“We experienced a great occasion. The passion and love the supporters showed to the team in all moments will stay with me and we want to return that and give them future successes. That burns deeply inside of me.
“I don’t think our principles ever change. We’re going to need to be very good defensively and very good with the ball. We’re going to need to pose a threat in the game – I believe we can do that. Certainly we’ll need to get our foundations strong.”
Bruno Guimaraes has been passed fit to play after hobbling off last weekend, while Eddie Howe has talked up Anthony Gordon and Alexander Isak’s performances in training.
Joe Willock didn’t start at Wembley after a hamstring issue but could come back into contention alongside Matt Targett; who appears to have trained all week after overcoming a heel issue.
For Pep Guardiola’s side, John Stones (thigh) and Aymeric Laporte (illness) “feel better” and may return to the side after training this week.
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Pope – Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn – Willock, Bruno, Joelinton – Gordon, Isak, Saint-Maximin.
I can see Howe making four changes from Wembley, giving us fresh legs and added pace in attack.
Nick Pope is back from suspension and will replace Loris Karius in goal. There’s calls for Matt Targett to come in for Dan Burn at left-back, but Man City away on your first start since November would be throwing the former in at the deep end; something Howe rarely does.
After training all week, I can see Joe Willock replacing Sean Longstaff in midfield. His ability to break at pace could be key down that right-hand side, with Joelinton likely to be covering that left flank to protect Burn and make similar bursts forward while Bruno sits.
In attack, I’d be shocked if Alexander Isak doesn’t start. His pace and ability to carry the ball at speed could hurt City on the counter, not to mention Callum Wilson looked sluggish (once again) last weekend. Anthony Gordon is well rested and raring to go. The question is, does he replace Allan Saint-Maximin – who could leave Burn too exposed down City’s left – or an out of form Miguel Almiron who looks in need of a rest? Tough to say, but I’d favour ASM when Miggy looks out of ideas and in need of a week off.
I think we’ll give a good account of ourselves here and have a real go, but that doesn’t always equate to points away to the reigning Champions.
Isak to score, Gordon to cause havoc and Newcastle to respond with a positive performance and narrow defeat at the Etihad.
Prediction: Man City 2-1 Newcastle