Pep Guardiola likely to rest stars and hand Zach Steffen his first shot in goal for Manchester City
City are seeking a fourth straight League Cup but will rest a host of first-team stars against Bournemouth
If lifting the Carabao Cup has become an annual habit for Manchester City, regular winners could begin with an unfamiliar cast list on Thursday.
Pep Guardiola can get a unique distinction in the competition’s history by becoming the first manager to win England’s League Cup four years in a row – Bob Paisley recorded a hat-trick for Liverpool before Joe Fagan retained the trophy in 1984 – but, hampered by a crowded fixture list and an assortment of injuries, City will begin below strength.
“We're going to play mostly academy players against Bournemouth and try to keep the energy for the Premier League,” said Guardiola. It opens the possibility for a team where perhaps only Nicolas Otamendi and Riyad Mahrez will have reached 20 appearances for the club. Both were unused substitutes in City’s 3-1 Premier League opener at Wolves, with the winger lacking a proper pre-season after contracting coronavirus, but are primed to provide the experience in a youthful side.
In particular, the midfield could bear a fresh-faced look. Tommy Doyle, grandson of City’s 1976 League Cup-winning captain Mike, is primed for a second senior start. The 18-year-old and Adrian Bernabe were on the bench at Molineux and could be joined by Felix Nmecha in a trio of teenagers. There could be up to four more, with Taylor Harwood-Bellis expected to feature in a defence that could include Eric Garcia, Cole Palmer potentially playing in attack and a probable debut for a second youngster with a famous footballing heritage: Liam Delap is the son of Rory, Stoke’s long-throw specialist, though unlike his midfielder father, he is a forward and is not known for hurling the ball huge distances from the touchline.
City could bear a new look for other reasons. Ferran Torres debuted in the final few minutes at Wolves and may be afforded a first start. Nathan Ake cut an assured figure on Monday night but might be an exception to the mass rotation: with Oleksandr Zinchenko sidelined and Benjamin Mendy injury-prone, there are reasons to use the Dutchman at left-back against his former club, especially if Aymeric Laporte, another who contracted Covid-19 and who only resumed training last Friday, will soon be available to slot into the strongest side.
Then there is the third arrival who is nevertheless not a new signing. The United States international goalkeeper Zach Steffen was bought from Columbus Crew a year ago but spent last season on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf.
He has taken over from the departed Claudio Bravo as Ederson’s back-up and this is a competition where City’s goalkeeping understudies have often flourished. Bravo and Aro Muric’s penalty saves helped City progress in 2017/18 while two years earlier, Willy Caballero made three saves in the final shootout against Liverpool.
Steffen could be facing Bournemouth’s most potent forward. Josh King may attract offers before the transfer window closes but the former Manchester United attacker is fit again.
“I’m hoping to have him in the squad,” said new manager Jason Tindall, who has made an unbeaten start to life in charge after Eddie Howe’s long-time assistant replaced his friend.
Tindall made nine changes for the last round, when Bournemouth beat Crystal Palace after a marathon penalty shootout but while Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Aaron Ramsdale and Ake have left since they were relegated, they still possess plenty of talent and it is only two months since they were the first team ever to have more shots than Guardiola’s City at the Etihad Stadium.
A rematch will nevertheless be a new experience for many, but City, who have not been knocked out of the League Cup since a l-0 loss at Old Trafford in 2016, will hope the outcome is further progress.
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Updated: September 24, 2020 06:58 AM