Manchester City close out a memorable 2023 in front of their home fans as Premier League basement boys Sheffield United arrive at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Fresh off being crowned the FIFA Club World Cup champions courtesy of a 4-0 demolition of Copa Libertadores holders Fluminense, Pep Guardiola’s side returned to Premier League action in a buoyant mood.
But their effort to put a dismal six-game league form behind at Goodison Park (W1, D4, L1) was off to a sluggish start as Jack Harrison’s strike on the half-hour mark gave Everton a 1-0 cushion at half-time.
Well-versed in turning the tables on their opposition, the Cityzens produced a sterling second-half display to run out 3-1 victors, maintaining a five-point deficit on table-topping Liverpool.
Since Guardiola’s high-flyers also have a game in hand, their quest to become the first side in Premier League history to win four consecutive league titles is up and running.
Visiting United can do little to throw a spanner in the works despite the club’s last-ditch attempt to turn the newcomers’ fortunes around with a managerial shift earlier this month.
Chris Wilder has equalled Paul Heckingbottom’s haul of one win from 14 top-flight matches in his first five games in charge as he defeated Brentford 1-0 at home in early December.
However, the Blades’ form has again descended into chaos, with a frustrating 3-2 home loss to Luton Town on Boxing Day marking their third winless league outing on the spin (D1, L2).
After five consecutive Premier League wins to get their home campaign underway, Man City have drawn their last three league games at the Etihad despite leading at half-time on each occasion.
But a repeat of such a scenario this time looks highly unlikely, as the Cityzens have not conceded a home goal in a competitive game against the Blades since 1991.
They have kept a clean sheet in their last ten home encounters against the Yorkshire visitors, though it’s worth noting that half of those clashes ended 0-0.
Nothing of the sort seems like a realistic scenario, considering Man City have scored multiple goals in nine of their last ten competitive home outings, except for a 1-1 draw against Liverpool in November.
If it’s any consolation for the out-of-sorts Blades, they did trouble the scoresheet in the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane, though they finished on the receiving end of a 2-1 scoreline anyway.
United’s problems tend to erupt on the road, where they’ve not only failed to register a victory across nine Premier League matches this season but managed to take just two points (D2, L7).
Prone to leaking goals at an alarming rate, Wilder’s men have conceded at least twice on seven of their nine league travels in 2023/24, casting further doubt on their faint hope of staging an upset.
Equally unimpressive on the opposite end of the pitch, they’ve drawn a blank in a joint-league-high 44% of their top-flight away matches this term.
While losing John Stones to injury, Man City can draw confidence from Kevin De Bruyne’s recovery, though the Belgian will probably start on the bench.
It’s still uncertain whether Guardiola will have Jeremy Doku and Erling Haaland at his disposal, given that both are still nursing their fitness problems.
One of the reasons behind United’s disastrous campaign could be a substantial injury list. Chris Basham, Daniel Jebbison, John Egan and Tom Davies are on the sidelines with long-term injuries.
Anel Ahemdhodzic and Gustavo Hamer are out with suspension, while Man City loanee James McAtee can’t play due to a loan agreement.
Manchester City potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Ederson; Kyle Walker, Manuel Akanji, Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake; Rico Lewis, Rodri; Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish; Julian Alvarez.
Sheffield United potential starting line-up:
(5-3-2): Wes Foderingham; Jayden Bogle, George Baldock, Jack Robinson, Auston Trusty, Max Lowe; Vinicius Souza, Oliver Norwood, Andre Brooks; Cameron Archer, Oli McBurnie.
We Say: Manchester City 3-0 Sheffield United
Even with a depleted attack, this should be another easy day at the office for Man City.
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