Another Manchester City game, another trip to historic Wembley Stadium. What’s starting to feel like a second home stadium for the blues sees them host fellow Premier League side Brighton Hove Albion for a chance to face the winner of Watford and Wolves in the FA Cup Final.
Competition: FA Cup – Semi-finals
Opponent: Brighton Hove Albion
Kickoff Time: Saturday, April 6th – 12:30 (EST), 16:30 (England) Wembley Stadium
Odds (via Bovada): Manchester City (-850), Brighton (+1900), DRAW (+750)
City are coming off a string of 13 consecutive wins in all competitions where they look to be at their very best while also maintaining a level head and knowing when to rest in-game thanks to comfortable leads established early on in matches. As they’re still in the midst of an unheard of Quadruple (or Quintuple depending on what you think of the Community Shield) every game is treated like a cup final, and I don’t expect Pep to take this game against Brighton lightly with the chance to advance to the FA Cup final for the first time in his City career.
Brighton Hove Albion are currently sitting 15th in the Premier League, just 5 points above the last relegation spot. While they’re battling in the league, they’ve put together an impressive run in the FA Cup that’s seen them make it to the semi-finals, albeit against their likely least preferred opponent in City.
While Brighton aren’t the flashiest team, they still have some players who can pose a threat to the City defense. None more so than front man and veteran Glenn Murray. At 6 feet, he poses an aerial threat and has an impressive 11 goals to his name this season at 35 years old. City will likely opt for a more physical approach in defense to counter this.
Also in attack, winger Anthony Knockaert is a tricky player who, on his day can score from just about anywhere on anyone. While his numbers of 2 goals and 6 assists aren’t blow you away impressive, he can go on runs of form where he’ll pose a threat to all defenders. If he plays off the right against a suspect LB in potentially Danilo or a rusty Mendy, City will have to pay close attention to his ability.
Ultimately, the Seagulls will likely take a conservative approach as manager Chris Hugton has praised the ability of City and pointed out trying to match their ability won’t do any good for Brighton. Brighton will have to be patient and choose the right time to attack in order to not get caught out by City’s attackers.
Of all the lineups I’ve predicted this season, this is the one I’ve pondered over the most, by far. Does Mendy finally start with the lack of LB options? Does Foden get rewarded for his performance midweek after not starting against Swansea in the Quarters? Will Pep risk playing any key players ahead of the UCL tie Tuesday knowing the chance to go to the FA Cup final is on the line? Headaches folks, headaches.
Of all the predictions, going with the goalie was the only pick I was truly confident in as Pep has remained loyal to Ederson in the FA Cup all season and there’s no chance that changes with the chance to go to the Cup final on the line.
In defense, I literally got a migraine trying to figure out what Pep will do here. Do Danilo or Walker play through their minor knocks? Does Mendy, Laporte, Danilo or *insert makeshift LB here* start? Will Pep go for his best CBs or look to rest key men prior to Tuesday? Well, luckily for me it’s not up to me, but if it were I’d start with Danilo at right-back. Walker has clearly seen a ton of minutes in the past two seasons, and I think Danilo can provide a steady option in defense and a new dimension in attack against a deep lying Brighton defense. In central defense, I’m opting for a full switch in Kompany and Otamendi. Pep will look for their physicality against Glenn Murray and Otamendi’s aerial ability in clearing long balls into the box that is ultimately going to be a main point of Brighton’s attack. At left-back, it could be Laporte, however I think Pep will give Mendy his highly anticipated return. If he gets the nod, don’t expect to see him for more than 60 minutes, but this would prove a crucial step in his recovery down the stretch.
In midfield, I expect Gundogan to slot back into the holding role as Pep will rest Fernandinho until the CL showdown midweek. Ahead of him, I expect David Silva to slot back in and play alongside the possible heir to his throne in Phil Foden, who should be rewarded for his performance against Cardiff midweek.
Up front was another headache, will Pep risk his key men in Sterling and Bernardo, or have them on the bench as potential super subs if needed? I think he’ll put faith in Sané and Mahrez on the wings, who will look to benefit from a small run of games with Jesus looking to provide a more clinical approach in front of net.
While this was the best draw on paper, a cup semi-final at a neutral ground is never a lay-up. I think City will show enough class to get through and hopefully continue with limiting opposition opportunities in attack as they reach the FA Cup final with a 2-0 win thanks to scapegoat Mahrez and youngster Foden scoring the goals.