Four new international break problems Man City must solve vs Everton – Joe Bray
It’s only been 11 days, but this international break feels like it has dragged more than the previous two this season. Luckily it’s finally over and attention can start to turn to the Premier League again.
For Manchester City, it’s been a relatively positive break, although not without setbacks.
Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish have missed games with injury, and Portugal’s failure to qualify for the World Cup automatically means they will face two intense play-off fixtures in March – just before the most crucial period of the league season – in order to reach Qatar. That means Bernardo, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias won’t get a proper rest from February until May.
However there have also been positives – Phil Foden has continued to impress for England, while Raheem Sterling and John Stones put in confidence-boosting performances for the Three Lions. Aymeric Laporte continued his good form, while Ilkay Gundogan scored three times in 124 minutes for Germany.
Those players will start to return to the City Football Academy ahead of the fixture with Everton on Sunday, and Pep Guardiola – who spent time back in Spain on holiday himself – will look to get the freshest squad possible on the field at the Etihad.
We’ve looked at the state of City’s squad facing Guardiola and the selection dilemmas he will have to battle with over the coming days.
Both Ederson and Zack Steffen were involved in their final qualifiers on Wednesday night (UK time) and face a long journey back to Manchester from Argentina and Jamaica respectively.
With three days to return and reacclimatise to the Manchester weather, both should be ready to face the Toffees unlike the impossible turnaround last month that saw Ederson ruled out of the first fixture post-break.
Given their long trips, though, Guardiola may have to decide which stopper is in better condition to start in goal against Everton.
Which pairing at centre-backs?
After Aymeric Laporte’s red card against Crystal Palace, John Stones was recalled against Club Brugge and then partnered Ruben Dias in the derby demolition of United as Guardiola used three pairings in his last three games.
On form, Stones and Dias would be favourite to resume their partnership against Everton, but Laporte has shown in the international break why he’s played more this season. Stones did well against Albania and earned the easiest cap of his career as a late substitute in England’s 10-0 win over San Marino.
Dias helped Portugal get a clean sheet in Ireland, but couldn’t stop Serbia from scoring twice and dumping them in the play-offs. Guardiola could be justified in picking any combination of the three.
Managing the midfield
Bernardo Silva’s admission that he asked to be substituted after an hour of Portugal’s defeat to Serbia after his manager had confirmed he reported for duty ‘tired’ and with muscle complaints, suggests the midfield dynamo has been feeling the effects of his brilliant start to the season.
If he’s not fully fit, he should be rested against Everton, but then Kevin De Bruyne’s own admission that he’s still playing through pain this season is another concern. Luckily, Ilkay Gundogan’s three goals this week mean he’s an in-form option in midfield, but could Guardiola be forced into a reshuffle in midfield given Bernardo and De Bruyne’s public doubts over their own fitness?
Niggles in attack
Jack Grealish missed England’s trip to San Marino with a slight injury concern, while Raheem Sterling didn’t travel for a personal matter. Guardiola will hope to have both available for the Everton game, but he might also have to manage without.
Phil Foden looked bright in his two showings for England, while Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez will have to be assessed following their longer trips back after games on Wednesday. Cole Palmer’s hamstring concern is another issue for City’s medical team to worry about.
City could well have most of their midfielders and attackers available, but at the moment it seems only Foden and Bernardo have had a simple international break without any tiring trips to contend with.