AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to halt the Manchester City express when they face their Premier League rivals at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (6pm kick-off).
Pep Guardiola’s team secured runners-up spot in the top flight after sweeping aside Brighton on Saturday having already been deposed of the title by Liverpool.
Raheem Sterling scored his third hat-trick of the season to help down the Seagulls as City registered a second successive 5-0 win having beaten Newcastle by the same scoreline three days earlier.
Since returning for the restart, City have been in irrepressible form on home turf, seeing off Arsenal (3-0), Burnley (5-0), Liverpool (4-0) and the Magpies (5-0).
City will face Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup at an empty Wembley Stadium on Saturday and are also chasing silverware in the Champions League.
afcb.co.uk: Briefly summarise City’s Premier League form since the season restarted?
SL: In many ways, they have picked up where they left off. They have played really good football in the majority of games but, in some, you see a couple of the frailties they have.
There have been individual mistakes and a failure to take chances. It basically translates that in a third of their games, that’s happened but, in the rest of their games, they have drubbed teams and have scored 91 goals.
Generally, you know what you are going to get with City before and since lockdown.
You are always going to get a really good team performance and generally that will be converted into a win.
At the back of your mind, there is always one of those days where you think it might not go their way. That’s the interesting thing about their season and, in that respect, it’s been pretty much the same before and since lockdown.
afcb.co.uk: City have scored 17 goals in four home games since the restart – how do you stop them?
SL: It’s ride your luck time really.
Southampton played really well when they beat City 1-0 earlier this month. It wasn’t a classic defensive performance. It was when City beat them at the Eithad but it was close run thing.
Southampton were very proactive and good at pressing. They stopped City playing and forced a mistake from Zinchenko and took advantage to score.
But they rode their luck hugely because City had 26 shots, hit the post a couple of times and it didn’t go their way.
This is just the reality of the Premier League with how the finances are and how the quality is distributed.
It’s the old cliché – you’ve got to turn up, have the game of your life and hope City have an off day.
I’m loathe to say the best bet is to sit back and defend because I don’t always think that’s the best way. I think you can try to press City, win the ball off them and make counter-attacks.
Even though Bournemouth will have been buoyed by their impressive win against Leicester, it may just be a case of sitting back, packing the box and hoping City don’t take their chances.
afcb.co.uk: How will the news about having the Champions League ban overturned impact on the players?
SL: It’s a good thing but I don’t think it will have a massive effect on them.
In media and in football, things going on outside a club aren’t necessarily what’s going on inside so it would have been doom and gloom and crisis had the ban gone against them.
They are drilled in what they need to do coaching-wise and don’t think about these things on the pitch.
On the flip side, there is no distraction now. They have been told all along by the club that they would clear their name. Maybe some of the players doubted that and those doubts have now been dispelled.
I don’t think it’s a huge factor but it’s good news and it’s certainly not going to take anything away from their performance.
afcb.co.uk: Do you have any amusing anecdotes of dealing with Pep Guardiola?
SL: City won 1-0 at Bournemouth in March 2019. Riyad Mahrez scored and Bournemouth didn’t have any shots or corners.
It was a proper Guardiola performance in a sense that he didn’t want to take any risks and concede any chances and they didn’t. They shut down the game with their passing and got a really important win which, ultimately, helped them win the title.
On the concourse where they do the mixed zone at Bournemouth, Guardiola came through and saw me. He knows I’m not a City fan but he knows I cover the club and he offered me a high five because he was so delighted with the performance and the win. He expected a really difficult game and you could see how happy he was.
afcb.co.uk: Who has been City’s standout performer since the restart?
SL: It’s a difficult one because they keep resting everyone.
Kevin De Bruyne has obviously been up their again. He’s going for Thierry Henry’s 20 assists in the Premier League record and would have had it by now had it not been for the finishing of some of the others. He has always been and still is their standout performer.
Phil Foden (pictured below) was breaking into the team before lockdown and started against Manchester United which was a big sign of Guardiola’s faith in him.
He has really started to come into his own and there is an argument now that when Guardiola comes up with his various tactical plans for big games, Foden should be in it. He has really stood out.
afcb.co.uk: Do City have any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
SL: Sergio Aguero is out with a knee injury.
But Guardiola might make five or six changes from the Brighton game because he’s keeping everybody fresh.
They face Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup on Saturday and meet Real Madrid in the Champions League at the start of August. I’m sure there will be a lot of changes against Bournemouth regardless of the injury situation
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
SL: There’s always a nagging doubt that City might not find their shooting boots or might have to battle for a 2-1 win or something.
But judging by the rest of the games, and despite Bournemouth’s win against Leicester, I think a 4-0 home victory is probably more in keeping.
You can follow Sam on Twitter – @SamLee
Match officials: Lee Mason (referee), Richard West (assistant), Adrian Holmes (assistant), Robert Jones (fourth official), Simon Hooper (VAR), Derek Eaton (assistant VAR), Matt Jones (replacement official).