In a normal season, an FA Cup third-round tie in the middle of a hectic fixture list would be the ideal chance to rest a senior player and bring in a teenager from the academy to give them some useful experience. This is not a normal season, though, and Sunday&aposs clash with Chelsea could see Rico Lewis rested for Manchester City in favour of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo.
Fitness and injury issues have hampered Walker and Cancelo since the World Cup, but Lewis has deservedly started three of City&aposs four fixtures since the restart, earning high praise from Guardiola and coming on at Chelsea in the Premier League this week to change the game. If he was to be rested, allowing Walker and Cancelo to play their way back into form, it would cement Lewis&apos place as a genuine first-team player on par with his senior teammates.
Walker and Cancelo have point to prove
Speaking of Walker and Cancelo, the pair suddenly have a challenge for their place, and it will have been humbling for both to have been replaced at Chelsea on Thursday – with their replacements sparking City&aposs eventual win. Guardiola alluded to fitness issues for both as a longer-term effect of the World Cup, so a cup game should be an ideal chance to bounce back.
Cancelo has only played at left-back once since his red card vs Fulham seven games ago and hasn&apost been picked there since the World Cup, while Walker&aposs start on Thursday was his first for City since early October – 15 games ago. The defence has looked relatively settled despite their absences, so if selected, this should be a challenge for both to win back their places.
Which fringe players will play?
Guardiola hinted that Kalvin Phillips is &aposback&apos and over his fitness issues that kept him out vs Liverpool after the World Cup. With Rodri going off with cramp in the week, could Phillips be in line for a first start in a City shirt against Chelsea? Similarly, this would be a game where Sergio Gomez might have earmarked for a rare start, although he has been out of favour since his red card at Copenhagen in October, and Cancelo may be preferred at left-back.
City have a Carabao Cup quarter-final coming up, followed by a Manchester derby, so maybe Julian Alvarez will get a first start as a World Cup winner in order to rest Erling Haaland. Cole Palmer will also hope for some minutes across the coming two fixtures, as will Phil Foden, who has been out of favour recently and didn&apost exactly impact the game at Chelsea in just his second start in seven at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are no longer to be feared
City have won their last four meetings with Chelsea without conceding a goal, and should be heavy favourites to make it five in a row on Sunday. Chelsea undoubtedly have quality players all over the pitch, but they could be missing up to ten players through injury after Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic limped off in the week, and Edouard Mendy has since undergone surgery on a fractured finger.
With an injury crisis hampering Chelsea&aposs progress under Graham Potter, and City beating them twice in their last six games, Sunday&aposs cup opponents are no longer a side to be feared. If City slip up, they will rue the chance to progress in the FA Cup, and even a draw would be a poor result given the circumstances. That would add another fixture to City&aposs hectic schedule, and City must approach the tie with a must-win attitude.
Selection hints for United?
City will obviously be looking at FA Cup and Carabao Cup progression in the next four days, but there may also be one eye on next week&aposs huge Premier League derby at United. With Arsenal to close down and a resurgent United to hold off, it&aposs one of the more intriguing derbies in recent years, so City will want their strongest side available at Old Trafford.
That will mean managing the minutes of players in the coming two games, so could the likes of Erling Haaland, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones get rests against Chelsea or Southampton? And could some out-of-favour players potentially change Guardiola&aposs provisional plans for the derby?
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