Manchester City are almost back to full strength for tonight’s visit to Watford. Pep Guardiola claimed his squad were facing an “emergency” ahead of their midweek win at Aston Villa as they were hit by injury, illness and suspension problems.
That emergency now seems to be over with Kevin De Bruyne heading a host of players that could return at Vicarage Road. The playmaker has been sidelined with coronavirus but is now back in training while Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Kyle Walker – all absent on Wednesday with knocks – are in the squad. With Jack Grealish and Phil Foden having made the bench at Villa Park and Aymeric Laporte available again after suspension, only long-term casualty Ferran Torres is still out.
Watford’s treatment room, by stark contrast, is rammed. Ismaila Sarr, Nicholas N’Koulou, Kwadwo Baah, Ben Foster, Ken Sema, Adam Masina, Francisco Carvallo and Peter Etebo are all out.
Guardiola spent much of his pre-match press conference heaping praise on Claudio Ranieri: “Football has to be grateful we still have important people like Claudio Ranieri. What he’s done in his career is amazing. Of course Leicester is the benchmark but with what he has done in Spain, Italy, France, everywhere, I admire this type of person.
“After they lost to Liverpool he was confident to say, ‘If they follow me we will win’. I admire a lot that passion and energy. It will be a pleasure to see him again.
“I know results against him are not always good. I know exactly what they want to do but what they do they do it really well. We have to be careful and make another good performance.”
Ranieri thinks attack is Watford’s best strategy tonight. The Hornets have not beaten City since 1989 and have lost every meeting between the sides since 2007, but Ranieri remained upbeat.
“I know I go against a big fantastic team. We know, but we have to play and we try to do our best,” the Watford manager said. “Of course I want a clean sheet, not only one, but I believe we can achieve a clean sheet if we continue to play in this way.”
Going into November, the Hornets faced a daunting run of fixtures including Leicester, Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea but managed to win 5-2 at Everton and beat United 4-1 at home in what proved to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final match in charge.
Watford also pushed the current league leaders Chelsea in midweek, with even Thomas Tuchel admitting that his side did not deserve all three points from the encounter.
“I am very confident with my players but of course you know I am a pragmatic manager and I’d like to take some points,” Raniaeri said.
“Because if you play well once, twice, three times without taking a point, after it’s not good.
“Now is the right moment to take points, we need points, we are in the battle for relegation and then we have to react, every match we have to react, every moment we have to react, every time.”