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Everton at Manchester City: The Opposition View

We spoke to City fan and writer Saul Garcia before Sunday’s season finale at the Etihad Stadium

Everton v Manchester City: The Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final “n Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton’s hopes of European qualification come down to the final day as they head to champions Manchester City needing to better Tottenham’s result to pip them to seventh.

That would secure a place in UEFA’s inaugural Europa Conference League next term, but only if Spurs slip up at Champions League-chasing Leicester and Everton take advantage.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men, who are eighth could still finish as low as tenth, have lost their last seven meetings with City, and have not won at the Etihad Stadium since 2010.

But they may take heart from Pep Guardiola’s side’s stuttering recent domestic form, and the fact they may have one eye on their Champions League final against Chelsea next weekend.

Prior to Sunday’s game, we spoke to Saul Garcia, City fan and writer for their dedicated SB Nation page, Bitter and Blue:

RBM: Firstly, with a Premier League and EFL Cup in the bag and a Champions League final next week, how would you assess City’s season?

Saul: It has been a great season.

City have proved they belong among Europe’s best and, with another league and cup triumph, proved they can also compete domestically, which not a lot of clubs can say.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Carabao Cup Final - Wembley Stadium
City won the EFL Cup last month, will lift the Premier League trophy on Sunday, and face Chelsea in the Champions League final next Saturday
Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: Ruben Dias won the Football Writers’ Association men’s footballer of the year award this week. The right decision, in your opinion?

Saul: Yes, Dias is player of the year. He has made this defence near-impenetrable, and is a big reason why they won the Premier League and are in their first Champions League final.

His leadership qualities are also of high importance, as he has filled that hole left by Vincent Kompany perfectly. A richly-deserved award for Dias.

RBM: City were confirmed as champions last week, but have lost three of their last six games, including a 3-2 defeat at Brighton on Tuesday in which they were 2-0 up. Are you concerned at all?

Saul: No, no real concerns. These matches were more procedural in most City fans’ minds.

Having wrapped up the league, Guardiola did make some rotational decisions for these matches. We saw Eric Garcia, Ferran Torres and Fernandinho all play heavy minutes, as well as veteran Scott Carson playing in the Premier League for the first time in nearly a decade.

The only concern is injuries. City need to be making sure they arrive at the UCL final with no ones.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester City - Premier League
City blew a 2-0 lead at Brighton on Tuesday
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

RBM: Sergio Aguero is leaving City this summer. Is now the right time for him to move on?

Saul: I do think the time is right for Aguero to depart. He has been a pillar for the club since signing from Atletico Madrid a near-decade ago. He has scored massive goals and won just about all there is to win.

He now has a final chance to punctuate this run with a Champions League final and that would be an amazing close to an amazing career at City. He is also being treated very well, as he is receiving a statue by the City Football Group, who won’t impede a move to any club he chooses to go to, even in the Premier League.

RBM: Where do City most need to strengthen before the start of next season?

Saul: City need a striker and probably a defensive midfielder.

The good news is there is plenty available. Harry Kane and Erling Haaland top that list, but younger players like Darwin Nunez and Dusan Vlahovic would make sense. In midfield, Hassem Aouar and Denis Zakaria have been ringing hard as replacements for Fernandinho.

Crystal Palace v Manchester City - Premier League
Fernandinho signed a new one-year deal with City this week but may play less next season given he is 36
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

RBM: How keen do you think City’s players will be to avoid injury on Sunday? Should Everton, who could still qualify for Europe, be looking to win every 50-50?

Saul: City’s players will no doubt be cautious. Everton should look to win every contested ball and be the aggressor.

Ancelotti is an all-time great manager and knows Guardiola well, so I do think he will give the team problems. One thing to monitor is City’s line-up, as that will show how aggressive Guardiola will be.

RBM: How do you expect City to set up on Sunday? Do you expect Guardiola to rest a number of players ahead of the Champions League final?

Saul: For the line-up, I think Guardiola will go with a mix of players. Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and possibly Dias could be given a night off, but everyone else should be ready to go and keeping sharp will be important for the Champions League final next week.

I see City playing: Ederson; Zinchenko, Stones, Laporte, Walker; Rodri, Bernardo, Foden; Sterling, Torres, Mahrez. That would be my idea of a line-up.

Newcastle United v Manchester City - Premier League
Torres hit a hat-trick in City’s win at Newcastle last week and could lead the line for them on Sunday
Photo by Scott Heppell - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Which of City’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Saul: Torres has been on a tear in the last two matches despite the losses and should be given a start here. He came off early against Brighton because of a red card [to Joao Cancelo] so this is a great opportunity to show Guardiola his mettle ahead of the final.

One other player is Phil Foden; he had a great individual game against Brighton and has played really well all season.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

Saul: 2-2. Both teams have good attacks and it should be a fun match.

Our thanks to Saul for his time.