Dethroned Premier League champions Manchester City will quickly look to reassert their domestic cup dominance this Sunday evening as they travel to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle United in the last FA Cup quarter-final match of the weekend.
In the aftermath of his side’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on Thursday night, Pep Guardiola was quick to point out that City had picked up eight of the last ten domestic trophies available for collection – only the 2018 FA Cup and this season’s Premier League prised from the Spaniard’s grip in the past three years.
But whilst fans and pundits alike will expect an immediate reaction to their Stamford Bridge concession, Steve Bruce’s Magpies will rely on vociferous home support as dreams of a first major accolade in over half a century continue for the Geordie faithful.
Bruce looks set to go into Sunday evening’s battle without the services of centre-backs Florian Lejeune (ACL) and Ciaran Clark (ankle), who approach a return to full fitness after prolonged layoffs.
Midfield options Isaac Hayden and Matt Ritchie picked up what their manager described as “soft tissue injuries” in Wednesday’s draw with Aston Villa and will be assessed ahead of the FA Cup tie.
Siblings Matty and Sean Longstaff will also look to shrug off minor niggles that saw them sit out the stalemate with Dean Smith’s men.
Fernandinho will serve the first of a two-game suspension for his deliberate handball on the goal-line against Chelsea and will take a watching brief alongside Eric Garcia (concussion) and Sergio Aguero – who had successful knee surgery earlier this week in Barcelona.
Phil Foden played no part in Thursday night’s defeat, nursing a dead leg from his two-goal man-of-the-match display against Burnley last Monday, but may well be fit for a return. John Stones looks likely to feature for the first time since the unscheduled break, having seemingly shaken off an ankle injury.
Whether or not regular cup-goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (thigh strain) regains fitness ahead of the trip to the north-east is less clear, with the recognised number one Ederson likely to continue in goal at the expense of veteran Scott Carson.
Despite starting with arguably his strongest available eleven against Chelsea on Thursday, Guardiola’s comments in the lead-up to that fixture had suggested that his main focus would be on securing success in both the FA Cup and Champions League, given what proved to be Liverpool’s unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League.
The luxury of being able to rotate genuine world-class talent into and out of his side in these times of fixture congest affords the City manager an advantage that his counterpart Bruce could only fantasise over ahead of Sunday’s clash.
If Newcastle are to progress to a first FA Cup semi-final in fifteen years, their hopes may be pinned to Dwight Gayle. The striker scored inside thirty seconds of his introduction from the bench against Villa on Wednesday and offers Bruce a faint glimmer of hope against what looks likely to be City’s second-string central-defensive pairing.
Newcastle United 1 – 4 Manchester City