FIVE points clear atop the Premier League, in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and one game away from clinching their place in the Champions League knockout stages. Pep Guardiola can be pretty pleased with his lot at Manchester City.
The Catalan coach made nine changes for last Wednesday’s Carabao Cup tie against Championship leaders Wolves.
But he was still able to bring in Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Yaya Toure – none of whom had started the 3-0 Premier League win over Burnley four days earlier.
Victory over Serie A leaders Napoli would guarantee City’s progress to the Champions League last 16 and Guardiola must choose whether or not to alternate his starting XI once more with Arsenal visiting the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Here our friends at Football Whispers play Pep and ponder that dilemma.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s game, the former Barcelona coach was under no illusions as to how important the game in Naples will be.
He said: “We need one more win to qualify but we are going to the team that are leading Serie A and everybody knows the type of football they play in their own stadium so it’s going to be very difficult.
“But it’s a great opportunity for us to book our place and we’re going to try our best to do it.”
GIFT OF THE GAB Man City star Gabriel Jesus celebrates ONE WHOLE YEAR unbeaten in competitive football
Top of Serie A having dropped just two points all season, Maurizio Sarri’s side should provide a stern examination of City at the Stadio San Paolo.
The Partenopei were beaten 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago with City two up inside 13 minutes.
It was not the close game many had predicted and Sarri, again, rotated the side with his primary focus denying Juventus a seventh straight Serie A title.
Midfielders Allan and Jorginho were both handed a night off for the meeting in Manchester with Sarri explaining he expected City to win Group F regardless..
Guardiola could, therefore, be tempted to shuffle his pack for the trip to Italy. Although Sarri has denied the Champions League is ‘a distraction’ for the Serie A hopefuls
He said after Sunday’s 3-1 win over Sassuolo: “Is the Champions League a distraction for us? It would be over-the-top to say that; we are proud to be part of it, given that we are talking about the most important competition in Europe.”
Regardless of what his opposite number does, Guardiola will feel, with some justification, he has the strength in depth to preserve some of his more important players with Sunday’s meeting against the Gunners on the horizon.
Although City lack numbers at the back, where Vincent Kompany’s latest injury troubles have left John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala as the only senior centre-halves, City’s attacking midfield and wingers are the envy of most top-flight clubs in Europe.
A rotated side for Guardiola means the choice between starting Raheem Sterling – who already has just one goal fewer than in the entire of last season – or the increasingly impressive £43m man Bernardo Silva in one of the wide spots.
It means the headache of picking just two of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Fernandinho, Toure, Gundogan and Oleksandr Zinchenko in the centre of midfield.
We are not talking about the bare bones, here, even if Aguero and Jesus are the only senior centre-forwards at the Etihad Stadium.
Even City’s youngsters are something special.
Centre-back Tosin Adarabioyo impressed in the 90 minutes he played against Wolves while striker Phil Foden, 17, was named Player of the Tournament as England’s Under-17s won the World Cup in India at the weekend.
The worst-case scenario for Guardiola is a slip-up in Naples which would allow Shakhtar to close to gap. However, the Ukrainians’ goal difference is zero and City’s is plus seven.
Even with defeat in Naples, City would have games against pointless Feyenoord and Shakhtar to rectify the situation and clinch top spot in Group F.
City play six times in November and a further nine in December. Any opportunity to give his biggest names a night off is one Guardiola should grasp with both hands.
The quality in depth available ensures Guardiola will never have to put out a ‘weakened’ XI while at Manchester City – merely a changed XI.
Keep up to date with ALL the transfer news and gossip on our blog