Premier League restart preview No 11: Manchester City | Football

What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March City had more reason than most to rue the timing of the lockdown, coming as it did between the two legs of a Champions League knockout tie against Real Madrid. Having seemingly done the hard part with a 2-1 victory at the Bernabéu, Pep Guardiola and his players were denied the opportunity to advance to the last eight at home.

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Though they will get the chance at some point momentum and a degree of excitement will have been lost. In the Premier League Guardiola acknowledged Liverpool’s superiority many months ago but City remain on track to finish second, particularly given the signs that Leicester’s advance was stuttering. That said, City’s last league outing ended in defeat, at Old Trafford no less, though the five-match winning sequence that preceded the derby included defeating Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup, beating Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup final and winning against West Ham and Leicester in the league in addition to the priceless victory in Madrid.

What about now? Bringing Aymeric Laporte back too soon against Real Madrid was a mistake that might have cost City had the season played out as normal. The defender’s absence was one of the main reasons the champions fell behind the Premier League pace. Now Laporte has had a proper rest he is back in contention for the visit of Arsenal when the season resumes. Otherwise City have no specific worries other than the form of goalkeeper Ederson, after two uncharacteristic mistakes in the Manchester derby, and the frame of mind of Kyle Walker, who did not have the most restful or low profile of lockdowns.

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Pep Guardiola during training at Manchester City Football Academy.

Pep Guardiola during training at the Manchester City football academy. Photograph: Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC/Getty Images

What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? City already have a trophy on the table and an opportunity to win two more. Having completed a domestic clean sweep last season this is not an unfamiliar position but the one trophy that has eluded them – and eluded Guardiola for the past eight years – is the Champions League. Should they eliminate Real Madrid they will still be only in the quarter-finals, though with the two most recent winners out of the way they would be strongly fancied to reach the final. There are still plenty of good teams left, not least both of Guardiola’s former clubs and Atlético Madrid, but if City want to finish this dreadfully compromised season on a historic high the pathway is clearly in sight.

Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? Walker drew attention to himself not once but twice, first with a sex party and then with a Dominic Cummings-esque drive to Yorkshire to see relatives, before further testing public patience with claims he was being harassed. Phil Foden was also pictured playing football on a beach – heaven forbid – but for the most part City’s players hunkered down like the professionals they are.

Any unsung/community heroes? Pep Guardiola, whose mother died from Covid-19, joined Lionel Messi in donating €1m to the fight against coronavirus in Spain. City’s Etihad Stadium was one of the first to be made available for use by the NHS.

Key player in the run-in? Kevin De Bruyne is always City’s key player. Guardiola has almost limitless options all over the field but if De Bruyne is fit and on form City are at their best. This could be the season, assuming all the games are played, when one of the top Premier League talents makes an indelible impression on the rest of Europe.

End-of-season prediction Second in the Premier League, FA Cup winners, Champions League finalists at least. It is hard to predict the final stages of the Champions League at the best of times but if the games go ahead City are definite contenders.

Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Weds 17 June Arsenal (h) 8.15pm, Sky Sports Mon 22 June Burnley (h) 8pm, Sky Sports Thur 25 June Chelsea (a) 8.15pm, Sky Sports Thur 2 July Liverpool (h) 8.15pm, Sky Sports TBC Southampton (a), Newcastle (h), Brighton (a), Bournemouth (h), Watford (a), Norwich (h).

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