At first glance, Pep Guardiola seems to be loaded with options when it comes to lining up without Sergio Aguero for the Manchester derby.
The Argentine striker has got off to a flyer since Guardiola’s appointment as Manchester City manager, beginning the campaign with six goals in four games.
However, a violent conduct charge for an apparent elbow on Winston Reid in the 3-1 victory over West Ham brings with it a three-game ban, which will begin against Manchester United at Old Trafford on September 10th.
Man City are 23/10 to end a run of three derbies without victory, with combating his sole striker’s absence certainly Guardiola’s most pivotal decision.
Here are the pros and cons surrounding a few of the possibilities and why there is only really one option:
Sterling has experience of playing as a striker during his time at Liverpool and is full of confidence at present following a blistering start to the season, which includes two goals in the triumph over West Ham.
Moving him infield from the flanks would also be fairly straightforward in that Jesus Navas or Leroy Sane are natural replacements down the right wing.
However, one of the reasons that Sterling has been flourishing has been the speed that the ball has been circulated to him in the wide areas.
The faster brand of football has allowed him to receive possession before an opposing defence is fully organised and structured. This gives him more space to dribble into, the chance to drive into the penalty box and a better chance of getting a 1v1 against a full-back.
By playing him centrally, such opportunities are less likely to arrive.
David Silva or Kevin de Bruyne
The positioning of the creative pair has been interesting so far, as they have looked to get between the lines as if playing as number 10s, but in slightly deeper positions. This has helped to create overloads in central areas and ensure quick distribution to the wide players or forwards, who in turn have looked to get in behind.
Moving one of the pair into a false nine role would reduce the central threat running in behind, as they would likely come towards the ball to instigate play rather than stretch the defence.
Meanwhile, doing so would lose some valuable midfield creativity, with Fabian Delph likely gaining a start.
Where Sterling has looked to run down the outside of his man, Nolito has been doing the opposite down the left flank, as he has attempted to dart between full-back and central defender to almost become a second striker.
He has the skill set to replace Aguero, but doing so would take away his most dangerous asset of arriving in the box from the wide areas.
Nolito’s relationship down the left with fellow Spaniard Silva has also been especially successful so far, with the pair on the same wavelength in terms of run making and pass timing. Breaking this up could take away a big part of City’s attacking threat.
On the basis that Iheanacho is the club’s second-choice striker, it would make sense to give him games when Aguero is unavailable, especially with the Argentine known for being fragile and collecting numerous niggling injuries.
It’s two shots blocked from two attempted in 28 Premier League minutes so far this season for the teenage Nigerian, although he did end the last campaign with a better goal conversion rate than Aguero, with his eight strikes coming from just 28 attempts.
Also last season he had the worst pass completion rate in the City ranks, so the task of receiving the ball in the box and getting a shot away should play to his strengths.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.