Europa League preview: Manchester City v Aris Salonika
City continue their run of cup games with a finely balanced second leg against Aris Salonika. Roberto Mancini previously sent out a strong line-up in Greece with the intention of killing the tie and enabling him to rest players ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash with Fulham.
That win failed to materialise with a subdued performance from several players, following the derby defeat to United. Tonight, Mancini’s selection options are reduced by injuries and the need for victory.
With Shay Given out for three months, Joe Hart is guaranteed his place for the rest of the season so long as he stays fit. In front of him Mancini could perm any two from Kolo, Kompany, Lescott and Boateng.
The manager’s rotation of centre-backs has proved a curiosity in recent weeks. Boateng has shown it’s his best position, while Kolo would need to start the game better than he did against Notts County last Sunday.
With Micah injured once again, it’s a choice between Zabaleta, Boateng and Kolarov for the full-back positions. The need to win the game may see the Serb return to an attacking left-back role.
Two from Barry, Vieira and Yaya are likely to anchor the midfield. None of these retain their sharpness when asked to play twice a week, and the return of de Jong and Milner against a hard working Fulham side could be essential.
It will be interesting to see whether Wright-Phillips gets another chance on the flank following Mancini’s criticism of his lack of crossing after the first leg. Shaun looks more effective from the bench than from the start at present.
At least Mancini has Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli to choose from in attack. One of these could be on the bench and saved for Sunday. Balotelli could play on the left with either Tevez or Dzeko in attack, or two out of the three could start up front. Alternatively Tevez could be given a free role behind Dzeko.
The need to win the game is likely to see Silva required to create openings. However there must be some concern at the number of games the Spaniard is being asked to play. If Mancini is prioritising the Fulham game, then Jo could get a look-in.
With Aris showing good defensive organisation, expect City to push for an early breakthrough. That would be a gamble, as Aris snatching an away goal on the counter would make the night very difficult for City. However, with Fulham on Sunday followed by another midweek match, the last thing Mancini needs is extra-time.
A win will see City into the last sixteen and a ‘mere’ seven games from winning this bloated cup competition. When people at Uefa and Fifa complain about clubs playing too many matches, then this is the first competition they should look at, rather than domestic leagues.
Playing on the superb surface at Eastlands will suit City better than the pitch in Greece and hopefully the team can continue from where they left off against Notts County. Ideally City will score the early goals that eluded them in Greece and the likes of Tevez, Silva and Yaya won’t be required to play a full match.
Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Zabaleta – Boateng – Lescott – Kolarov
Y Toure – Barry
Wright-Phillips – Silva – Balotelli
Prediction: 3-1 to City.