After a hard-fought draw against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in midweek, Manchester City now face a tough trip to Everton in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon with the Toffees on a high after thrashing Brighton & Hove Albion.
City themselves won at home against Leeds United last weekend and Pep Guardiola made six changes for his side’s trip to Madrid. Yet he received some criticism from fans and pundits for not making a substitution in the second half after Kevin De Bruyne levelled the tie.
Knowing Guardiola and the tactician that he is, he would have likely had one eye ahead of the next two games and he likely wanted to keep the bench players fresh for a potential start at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Last season, the Spaniard made five changes to the side that played Madrid in the opening leg and won 4-3. John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were replaced in the starting lineup for City’s following Premier League fixture at Leeds, which they won 4-0.
Zinchenko and Silva were the only two players dropped to make cameo appearances in that match before Guardiola then made four changes from the Leeds lineup for the second leg in Madrid, with Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker being the two additions to the lineup from the opening leg at the Etihad Stadium.
Guardiola will be trying to concoct the perfect plan so that he can keep a strong team for the second leg but will also want to pick a team strong enough to get a victory at Goodison Park to keep their advantage in the Premier League title race. The Cityzens are a point above Arsenal and have a game in hand, but this is a precarious stage of the season and they will need to keep winning to ensure they retain their title.
Interestingly, Man City were one point ahead of Liverpool after their Leeds win last year in between their two semi-final legs, so this season is closely mirroring the events of last year. The only difference being they currently have a point less than they did last year after the same amount of Premier League games played (34).
Despite Arsenal’s dip in form recently, including a 4-1 loss to City, their results have picked up and the title race looks like it could once again go down to the wire.
It was Liverpool who pushed Guardiola’s men all the way last year and they themselves were in a position to complete an immortalising quadruple. When it came to their semi-final tie with Villarreal, Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the side which won the first leg 2-0 at Anfield and went on to beat Newcastle United 1-0. The German coach then made the same number of changes for his side’s second leg against the Spanish side.
Just as Liverpool were chasing history in 2021-22, Manchester City are hunting their own this term. Guardiola's side can still record a treble of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup, as they prepare to face neighbours Manchester United in the final of the latter next month. City are looking to equal the treble accomplishment previously achieved by their bitter rivals under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1998-99.
After earning a 1-1 draw with Juventus at Old Trafford, Fergie made seven changes for their following home match against Sheffield Wednesday, which the Red Devils won 3-0. Although it is worth noting that United had 10 days between their semi-final first leg and the league meeting with the Owls, compared to nowadays when City will play the semi-final tie in just over a week with their clash with Everton sandwiched in between.
United’s lineup was then altered again for the second leg, with eight players being swapped as they went on to beat Juve 3-2 in Turin. However, on this occasion they had a four-day turnaround between the win against Wednesday and their second battle with the Old Lady.
Therefore, it is quite normal to see Guardiola being conservative with his substitutions and more liberal with his starting XI changes over City’s crucial matches at this time. The Spanish mastermind will no doubt be fixated on having a stronger lineup for when Real Madrid come to town on Wednesday to give them the best chance of reaching next month’s final. But he will also want to ensure his lineup against the Toffees will be fortified to secure a valuable three points in this gripping Premier League title race.