Manchester City

Manchester City will begin their Carabao Cup campaign on Wednesday night when Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium for a third round clash.

City come into this one off the back of arguably their most impressive performance of the season, a 2-1 win against Fulham achieved despite playing with 10 men for over an hour. Pep Guardiola has always stressed the importance of the Carabao Cup – a competition City won four times on the bounce between 2018 and 2021 – and so he is expected to name a strong side even if a Premier League meeting with Brentford less than 72 hours later is of greater importance.

Kalvin Phillips will be in the squad for the first time since September after recovering from shoulder surgery. Joao Cancelo is unavailable as he serves a one-match suspension, while Kyle Walker remains sidelined with a groin issue. Erling Haaland is not expected to start as Guardiola said the striker is still suffering from a ligament issue in his ankle.

Here’s how our City writers think Guardiola should set his team up on Wednesday evening.

Guardiola said Haaland still isn’t 100 per cent, so there’s no need to rush him back for a Carabao Cup game – even if it is against Chelsea. Julian Alvarez has done well in the last two games and deserves a chance to continue his form. Haaland can come off the bench like he did against Fulham if he’s needed.

The manager suggested his midfielders may rotate with 45 minutes each, so I’d look at starting Kevin De Bruyne to try and get a good platform in the first half. Ideally, Rodri can have a night off, with Ilkay Gundogan starting and Phillips making his return off the bench. Cole Palmer played well centrally vs Sevilla and this should be a perfect competition to give him more exposure.

Up front, Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish still need goals in their game, even if it’s for different reasons. Grealish is playing well, but his drought in front of goal goes on, while Mahrez isn’t playing so well so needs to continue chipping in with goals to remind Guardiola what he can offer.

With Joao Cancelo and Walker both unavailable it seems the perfect opportunity to give young Rico Lewis another start, while Sergio Gomez should come in on the left side of defence. Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake started against Fulham on Saturday so Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte should come in at centre-back.

The temptation is to rest Rodri and Bernardo Silva due to the quick turnaround before Saturday’s visit of Brentford, but I don’t think Pep will want to risk facing Chelsea without either. Expect Phillips to replace the former in the second half. To allow De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan to start on the bench I can see Phil Foden dropping into midfield as he did against Sevilla last week.

Alvarez will start instead of Haaland for the fourth consecutive match, with Mahrez on the right and Grealish on the left. They’re not quite as direct as Foden, which should keep City’s game patient and help protect them against counter-attacks from the visitors.

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