Manchester City Vs Leicester City: Opponent watch with The Athletic’s Sam Lee

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on December 15, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on December 15, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

As Leicester City travel to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City, we spoke to The Athletic’s Manchester City Correspondent Sam Lee about the struggling Citizens.

The Premier League title was at stake the last time Manchester City hosted Leicester City. Given the respective league positions of the two sides, does this fixture hold similar weightage this time around, particularly from City’s point of view?

"“I don’t think it does. In terms of Manchester City’s league position, they’re pretty much out of it. Leicester City are fantastic but they’re hoping for Liverpool to slip up too.“It’s nothing like last season’s game because that was the penultimate game of the season, City absolutely needed to win. This game is as much about attitude and belief as anything. If City win they can survive a difficult week and focus on trying to improve, get injured players back etc.“For Leicester they can further convince themselves that they are a serious team that can win anywhere and keep up the fight for the top 2 or 3.”"

Mikel Arteta’s (now Arsenal Head Coach) importance to the club cannot be overstated. The players and Pep Guardiola are all on record as his admirers, and it’s clear that he is a highly-revered figure at the Etihad Stadium. How do you think – if at all – his departure is going to affect the team vis-à-vis the morale and the performance ahead of such a big game in the context of the season?

"“I think it’s most important in terms of the context of the season. If it was like last year or the year before and everything was fine, they were winning and playing well, then they would just shake it off.“But this season things aren’t going well for various reasons, and the players are searching for answers as much as anybody, so this is another negative thing. Things have already snowballed a bit (look at the points gap) and this could be another thing.”Arteta is a great coach and popular with the players but I think the context of the season will have more of a say on how keenly his absence is felt.”"

City, especially Kevin De Bruyne, ran riot in North London last weekend. That, however, was also because they had been given the license to do what they wanted against the rudderless Gunners. What are Pep’s tactics going to be like against Leicester? Should we be expecting a melange of pragmatism and the Citizens’ usual flair or something that’s entirely different?

"“I really don’t know. I’m hoping for City’s sake he sticks with similar tactics to the ones for Arsenal, in terms of team shape etc.“Arsenal played into City’s hands though, and Leicester should cause City problems even if Pep’s team play the same way, but I think that’s the best way they have to approach it, because any other way has the potential to be too open. With the 4-2-3-1 last week the midfield two was better protected and so was the defence, but obviously it still wasn’t perfect.“Having KDB closer to the goal and not worrying too much about staying close to Rodri is a huge bonus, and plays to his strengths. That could be a game changer for City, which they may need, like against Chelsea, because the whole system isn’t working as well as it should do.”"

City’s defensive fragilities have been well-documented but that does not mean we overlook the attacking strengths, which they left no stone unturned in demonstrating at the Emirates Stadium. So it has to be a case of Pep trying to somehow minimise the problems at the back by maximising the wealth of attacking options he has up his sleeves. What kind of a line-up does he go with to do so?

"“He’s tried to cover the defensive problems by adding bodies in midfield, but the attempts to do that haven’t worked (Gundogan as kind of a 6 and an 8 hasn’t work in attack or defence). It’s not so much about the attack being better than the defence, it’s all linked.“The pressing hasn’t been the same, they haven’t stopped teams playing through them, so then the defence is more exposed. They looked more balanced with the 4-2-3-1 against Arsenal and that should be something to take forward, but I’ve got a feeling they won’t. And what options could they use to shake it up up front anyway? Aguero won’t be fit enough to start, Sterling is the only one who can start on the left, and Mahrez and Bernardo have both been meh on the right.”They got around it at Arsenal by changing the shape and having Foden left, but coming inside. I liked that but like I say I doubt they’ll do it again. If they play the usual 4-3-3 – like against United – I can see them having big problems.”"

Name one player who Brendan Rodgers must ask his boys to target and one player he must warn them about.

"“The player to target would be Rodri. Mendy and Angelino are poor but I think Zinchenko will play. Rodri can be stopped getting on the ball, which makes it harder for City to play out from the back, and also he does leave spaces behind him and exposes the defence, which has been the problem all season.“That’s why Pep should play Gundogan next to him with KDB ahead, like at Arsenal, to try to stop both of those things happening.“De Bruyne (is the one who Rodgers must warn his players about), given he looks like a more individual threat at the moment. If he gets space to cross or shoot there’ll be problems. If you stop him City could look a bit toothless.”"

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Your prediction?

"“I’d be really surprised if Leicester didn’t cause City a load of problems. Who takes their chances or not I don’t know, but I can see Leicester being very dangerous and having loads of chances.”I think Leicester have a very good chance of winning.”"