The sight of Kyle Walker and John Stones back in training eased a few City fans’ anxieties for the final day – now the Blues have to hope one, or both, are fit and ready to go. A back four of Walker-Stones-Laporte-Cancelo is a much healthier prospect than one with a patched-up Laporte and stand-in Fernandinho, which escaped West Ham with a point.
Despite being plagued by back four injury issues all season, and depleted by the suspension of Benjamin Mendy, City still have the best defensive record in the league, and that four is as good as they have fielded, with Walker’s pace against the counter-attack especially important.
With a clean bill of health among his attacking players, and the rarity of having a whole week in which to prepare, Guardiola will be picking a front five that he thinks has goals in it, as well as being best-equipped to damage Villa’s defense . But most of all he will be picking those players who have the best big-game mentality, and perform under pressure.
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Looking back on this season, he has tended to pick Gabriel Jesus in such games – both league games with Liverpool, both clashes with Real Madrid – while Riyad Mahrez has proved himself a big-game player more than once.
Phil Foden should also be added to that list, while Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are shoo-ins. Raheem Sterling does damage but City cannot afford his hit-and-miss finishing in a game where Villa are sure to defend deep and chances might not be too frequent.
The tightness of the title situation has meant that saying farewell to a club legend in Fernandinho has taken a back seat. Clearly, the most appropriate send-off would be to win the Premier League and for the Brazil star to go up and collect the trophy, as club captain.
All of which means Fernandinho’s goodbye will not be the focus in the final home game, as it was with Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Yaya Toure, but will be no less heartfelt after 382 appearances
Despite not having a striker, and not having a player anywhere near the chase for the Premier League’s Golden Boot, City are just three goals away from yet another big entry in the record books. Such thoughts will be a long way from the minds of Pep Guardiola and his players from him, and the fans, but three against Villa would take them to 150 goals for the season in all competitions.
That would make this team only the third in English football history to reach that remarkable landmark, the others being Guardiola’s 2018-19 side (169 goals) and Manuel Pellegrini’s 2013-14 Blues outfit (156 goals).
It is a dominance under threat, as Liverpool have racked up 144 in the current campaign to put themselves fifth in the list – City occupy all four top spots – and they still have two games to play, Sunday’s league closer against Wolves and the Champions League final against Real Madrid next week.
Get Zinch a goal!
If City can wrap up the title early, they are sure to use substitutions to give as many squad members as possible time to savor the moment. Guardiola should not overlook the fact that only one man in his regular senior squad has not scored a goal in any competition this season – Oleks Zinchenko.
In fact, remarkably enough given his attacking nature, the Ukraine skipper has still never scored a Premier League goal, in 75 appearances. Winning the league is obviously the priority, but given the trauma Zinchenko has been through, this should be a close second!
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.