Pep Roulette: GW2 v Norwich (H)

Manchester City started their Premier League defence with a lacklustre 1-0 loss to Tottenham on Sunday, seeing them languish in 13th place. Manager Pep Guardiola will be hoping for a response from his team in their next fixture against promoted side, Norwich City, on Saturday (3pm kick-off). Boosted by the availability of his late returner stars, we can expect numerous changes to the starting line-up. But where will those changes come and who is most likely to come into the XI?


Pep opted for a 4-3-3 against Nuno Espírito Santo’s side, making three changes to the team who lost 1-0 to Leicester City in the Community Shield one week earlier. Zack Steffen, Cole Palmer and Samuel Edozie made way for Ederson, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling respectively.

Image taken and adapted from Google Search.

The line-up meant that out of the six late-returning players – Ederson, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus and Sterling – two were included in City’s XI, despite only returning to training on Monday (or in Laporte’s case Wednesday/Thursday). Ederson’s inclusion was unsurprising as the team’s Premier League goalkeeper. However, Sterling’s was and this gives us a good indication of how quickly he was able to get his fitness back up to speed.

In terms of the third change, though he made a cameo on the wing against Leicester City, Grealish lined up in midfield for City against Spurs. It highlights the positional flexibility of the former Aston Villa man, which will prove valuable when the schedule moves from one game a week to two.

The final big surprise was Kevin de Bruyne being named on the substitute bench. The Belgium midfielder had been partaking in group and individual training sessions throughout the week to manage an ankle injury. Yet his inclusion showed that Pep and City’s medical team had deemed him fit enough to play some part in the match.



One place in the starting line-up that will not change is in goal. Barring any last-minute injuries, Ederson will retain his place. However, he could have a very different defence in front of him against Norwich.

Pep opted for a back four of Cancelo-Dias-Ake-Mendy against Tottenham, largely out of necessity as Walker, Stones and Laporte were all late returners. Nonetheless, all three should be back in contention this weekend. Given City’s following fixture is against Arsenal, I am expecting Pep to give some of these players minutes. Walker looks a likely bet to come in at right-back, with either Stones or Laporte set to partner Dias at centre-back.

Yet they are not the only changes that could happen in defence. Benjamin Mendy had a poor game against Spurs, so could be dropped in favour of Oleksandr Zinchenko, who is in need of a start. This makes a back four of Walker-Dias-Stones/Laporte-Zinchenko the most likely scenario.


Midfield is another area where Pep may have a dilemma. Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan and Grealish formed a midfield three against Spurs that was left exposed at times due to Fernandinho operating as a single pivot. While that might not prove as problematic against Norwich, the fact that Gundogan suffered a shoulder injury at the end of Sunday’s game and looks set to sidelined this weekend is.

Normally, Pep would have Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne to call upon in such circumstances. However, there are doubts over the former’s future so might not be risked until the transfer window is closed, while the latter is managing an ankle problem that raises doubts over his ability to start. De Bruyne managed 11 minutes against Spurs, but it seems more likely that he will have a 30/45-minute cameo against Norwich rather than play from the beginning.

This leaves Pep with a few options:

  • Play Fernandinho and Rodri in a double pivot
  • Revert to three at the back and a midfield two (supported by advanced full-backs)
  • Utilise someone “rogue” to fill that final midfield spot

The first option appears unnecessarily cautious against Norwich, though it would give the full-backs more attacking license. This makes either the second or third scenario seem more likely.

Firstly, in terms of a back three, there are a few permutations. It could provide an opportunity to give both Stones and Laporte minutes alongside Dias. Alternatively, Walker could form a three with Dias and Stones/Laporte. Either way, this would most likely lead to Rodri and Grealish starting in midfield as a two.

However, if Pep does want to retain a 4-3-3 formation, who could he use in that final midfield spot if Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne are unavailable? Well, he could turn to youth player Cole Palmer, who played there in pre-season, or he could utilise Cancelo or Zinchenko. The two full-backs have played in midfield under Pep before, so their positional flexibility could provide a short-term solution for City against Norwich.


Where the XI seems more settled is in attack. Mahrez-Torres-Sterling operated as the starting three against Spurs and with both Mahrez and Sterling subbed off during the game, they look likely to retain their places against Norwich. This leaves one place up for grabs.

As Ferran Torres played the full 90 minutes and Phil Foden is still sidelined with a foot injury, it seems likely that Torres will drop down to the bench in favour of Jesus, who appears to be building towards a start after enjoying a 20-minute substitute appearance on Sunday. This would mean all of Pep’s available attackers will have gained a decent amount of minutes over the first two gameweeks – good preparation ahead of playing Arsenal in GW3.


Weighing up the options available, my City predicted line-up against Norwich is a flexible 3-5-2 / 4-3-3:

Ederson; Walker; Dias; Stones; Zinchenko; Rodri; Cancelo; Grealish; Mahrez; Jesus; Sterling

*This is provisional ahead of any further selection updates from Pep in his pre-match press conference*

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