The Champions League Round of 16 ties return this week as Manchester City travel to face their German opponents RB Leipzig as the Red Bull Arena will witness a grueling, competitive and exciting encounter between the two sides.
Pep’s men are in a head-to-head title challenge with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal as the two teams are separated by 2 points at the top of the Premier League table. A frustrating draw against Nottingham Forest away from home further derailed the Cityzen’s title ambitions as the Gunners have a game in hand and could extend their lead to 5 points with a win this weekend. With them being touted as heavy favorites heading into the game, Pep Guardiola cannot afford anything but a win on Wednesday night.
For RB Leipzig, they find themselves in 5th position in the Bundesliga just 4 points off the league leaders Bayern Munich. Marco Rose’s men have been in excellent form with just 1 loss in their last 18 games in all competitions having played against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund during this period. The Germans have managed this remarkable feat without their talisman Christopher Nkunku, who has scored 12 goals in 16 Bundesliga appearances, as the Frenchman has just made his injury comeback after picking up an injury earlier in the season.
When & Where?
Date: 22nd February 2023.
Time: 8 PM GMT.
Venue: Red Bull Arena, Leipzig.
Referee: Serdar Gözübüyük.
Assistants: Erwin Zeinstra , Johan Balder.
VAR: Pol Van Boekal.
Assistant VAR: Dennis Higler.
Fourth Official: Joey Kooij.
Leipzig will be without the trio of Peter Gulacsi, Dani Olmo and Abdou Diallo who are unavailable due to injury. Christopher Nkunku and Konrad Laimer both made substitute appearances after recovering from their injuries in the last match against Werder Bremen and could be in contention to start for the hosts. A start for the duo would mean Emil Forsberg and Xaver Schlager both being displaced out of the starting XI.
Marco Rose has a difficult decision to make for the fullback spots as he would want to nullify the threat of Riyadh Mahrez and Jack Grealish on the wings. Mohamed Simakan was rested in their last game and could return to the starting XI in the right-back spot alongside Marcel Halstenberg as the duo are defensively solid in 1v1 situations while also being an attacking threat providing the Germans a balanced fullback partnership.
Manchester City will be without two key players for this crucial fixture as Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte both weren’t part of the travelling squad as they are out with illness. John Stones is also unavailable for the Cityzens as Pep has a selection headache in defence and could recall teenager Rico Lewis back into the starting XI. Phil Foden, who started the game against Nottingham Forest, is expected to drop to the bench as Riyad Mahrez will be reinstated on the right wing after the Algerian’s impressive performances so far.
The German hosts are expected to remain compact defensively and rely on counterattacks to attack the Cityzens as the pace of Timo Werner and Szoboszlai along with Andre Silva’s ability to hold the ball up top poses a serious threat. The midfield duo of Amadou Haidara and Konrad Laimer in the middle of the park could be key for the visitors to maintain control over the game and retain possession to start the counterattacks. There will be a lot of space in behind City’s wingers, who push high and wide to stretch the game, which Timo Werner and Szoboszlai can exploit and create chances to score.
The visitors have changed their system and have adopted to an unconventional formation of a 3-2-5 with Bernardo Silva playing as a makeshift left-back in the last two games. This system will have to be tweaked by Pep against RB Leipzig as the defensive trio of Kyle Walker, Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias will struggle against the Leipzig trio of Timo Werner, Andre Silva and Dominik Szoboszlai. Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez aren’t wingers who contribute enough defensively and track their runners which could hurt the Cityzens’ as the absence of fullbacks in this system will cause a lot of problems.
It could be yet another change in the system for the exact same reasons as Pep has proven to be a flexible manager over time who isn’t afraid to change his tactics. The tactical battle between the two and the attacking talent on display makes the tie a potential high-scoring game and the removal of the away goals rule this season makes the tie even more exciting. Will it be another Pep Guardiola masterclass or will Marco Rose mastermind a masterclass? It’s all to play for.
The Frenchman scored a hat trick against the Cityzens last season when the two sides met in the group stages even though his side lost the tie 6-3. He has been in exceptional form this season and has already played a part in 17 goals his side has scored in 22 appearances in all competitions. With his teammate Szoboszlai also in the form of his life, the duo could be lethal and cause a lot of problems for City. A weakened Manchester City defence would be the perfect opportunity for Nkunku to start scoring again and help his side get a good result before travelling to Manchester for the second leg.
The Norwegian has already scored 31 goals this season in the Premier League and Champions League combined. He is up against a familiar opposition he played against during his Dortmund days and will be the biggest threat the Leipzig defence will have to keep combat. The 22-year-old has already equalled Sergio Aguero’s highest ever goal scoring tally in a City shirt of 26 goals and there seems to be no stopping for the goal machine.
RB Leipzig predicted lineup vs Manchester City: Blaswich, Halstenberg, Gvardiol, Orban, Simakan, Laimer, Haidara, Werner, Nkunku, Szoboszlai, Silva.
Manchester City predicted lineup vs RB Leipzig: Ederson, Ake, Dias, Walker, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Lewis, Gundogan, Grealish, Haaland, Mahrez.