The long-awaited third round of the Carabao Cup has arrived. North End will be hosting the current Champions of England and holders of the Carabao Cup, Manchester City, at Deepdale under the lights. With what is expected to be the highest attendance at Deepdale this season, I’m sure the town end will be rocking come Tuesday night as the lads ready themselves to face Pep Guardiola’s men.

This will be City’s first game in the competition this year as Premier League teams who are also involved in any European competitions, only join in the 3rd round of the cup so City will join Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves in entering at this stage of the competition.

Last Year’s Competition

City will be looking to replicate last year’s success in this competition after winning the competition for the 6th time and scoring 16 goals in 6 games and conceding just the solitary goal against Leicester City.

North End in recent years haven’t been the most convincing in this competition and the last time they reached the fourth round was in 2016/17 when the whites got battered by Newcastle at St James Park in Toon’s promotion season from the Championship. The game finished 6-0 to Newcastle with an Alan Browne red card proving to be a game-changer.

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Last year’s competition was looking promising after a dominant display against Morecambe and a brilliant display at Leeds running out 2-0 victors despite an early Ryan Ledson red card. The game is well remembered for an absolute screamer scored by former PNE loanee Brandon Barker, now at Rangers. However, in the third round, Preston lost at home to fellow championship opponents Middlesbrough after playing out a 2-2 draw leading to us losing on penalties.

North End will be looking to better last year’s form but facing the holders of the competition and current Champions of England for two years running is no easy task. We’re certainly underdogs in this one but aren’t we always anyway?

Recent Form

Preston will almost certainly be heading into this game full of confidence. Our league form has been great so far this season and our home results mean we are the only club left in the Championship to have a 100% record. In addition to that, this is also our best home start in over 40 years.

We have started slowly in the past off the back of international breaks but maybe (hopefully not tempting fate with this) our fortunes are starting to change. North End put on a professional performance against Brentford with Alex Neil admitting to having to do the ‘ugly side’ of the game in order to get the result we wanted.

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Brentford had a lot of the ball and North End certainly felt penned in at times but strangely it didn’t feel at any point like Brentford could score which is a credit to Declan Rudd and the back four in front of him. I believe Rudd deserves a lot of credit for our recent form as he was frequently criticised for his mistakes last campaign but he has been much improved this season only conceding only 7 goals and helping North End to the joint 2nd best goal difference in the league.

The defence has also benefitted significantly from the signing of German centre half, Patrick Bauer. He has taken every striker he’s faced and completely snuffed them out of the game, Ollie Watkins and Steven Fletcher two that specifically come to mind. This continued at the weekend when North End beat Birmingham City 1-0 at St. Andrew’s which has been frequently described as a fortress as of late, not quite like Deepdale mind.

The winning goal for North End came from a Paul Gallagher free-kick rebounding off the post and allowing Sean Maguire to tap home from a slightly awkward angle. The result saw Preston rise to 3rd in the league, 1 point off top of the table Leeds United. I don’t think there could be a better time to play this City side from a North End point of view.

City’s form, in my opinion, becomes a bit irrelevant due to them likely to make a lot of changes for the cup tie in Lancashire but make no mistake, the team will be strong. Former United manager, Jose Mourinho, even said recently that he believed their second team would make the top 4 in the Premier League right now. City have been up and down so far this season after wins against West Ham, Bournemouth and Brighton but dropping points in a 2-2 draw with Spurs after a late controversial VAR moment denying Gabriel Jesus a 90th-minute winner.

City also suffered a shock defeat against newly-promoted Norwich City who ran out 3-2 winners at Carrow Road despite Man City’s starting XI costing 123 times more than Norwich’s which cost £1.1 million to assemble.

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However I’m sure Pep told them to put that defeat at Carrow Road right in their next game against Watford and so they did, smashing the hornets 8-0 after being 5-0 up just after 20 minutes. This will bring City into the cup tie full of confidence but it does mean North End won’t have to face a performance like that off the back of a defeat and hopefully, just a hint of complacency could hit the City side.

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were both left as unused substitutes against Watford which leaves them likely to start against the Lilywhites in my opinion.

Team News

North End look to have near enough a full-strength team for the tie with just Tom Clarke and Louis Moult out for the Whites. David Nugent got 45 minutes in the Lancashire Cup tie with Chorley and Andrew Hughes got 60 minutes before being replaced by youth team graduate Lewis Coulton, and then starting the away game at Birmingham City on Saturday.

Josh Ginnelly certainly impressed in that game at Chorley with a first-half hat trick and Josh Harrop also got himself 2 assists and a goal to seal a 4-0 win. Hughes only dropped out of the team to face Brentford two days before and was scheduled to be starting ahead of the very impressive Joe Rafferty, but made a return to the team against the midlands side.

As for Man City things are going from bad to worse defensively, after losing Aymeric Laporte to a long term injury and now losing John Stones for up to 5 weeks with a muscle injury, they only have one recognised centre half in Nicolas Otamedi who isn’t exactly a fans favourite at the moment after his nothing short of horrific display at Norwich.

City do have players like Kyle Walker and Fernandinho who can cover at centre back but they certainly do look short at the back which could be a massive boost for North End.

Potential Dangers

It’s unknown whether Foden will actually be fit enough to take part in the cup tie but he is certainly one to watch if he does get on the pitch.

The 19 year old already plays for England under-21 and is someone Pep believes is the ‘best midfielder’ he has worked with. Much to the frustration of the City fans who don’t believe they have seen enough of the teenager but when they have, he is certainly someone to shout about.

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The lifelong City fan joined at U9 level and now has 2 Premier League titles, 2 Carabao Cups and a Community Shield medal to his name. The left-footed midfielder is well known for his defence splitting passes and high energy right across the pitch which could prove to be a big problem for North End if they switch off for even a moment.

Brazilian Gabriel Jesus signed for City in the summer of 2016 and joined in January after finishing his season off with Palmeiras. He’s scored 28 goals under Pep in 71 games winning the Premier League twice. The 22-year-old is still learning his trade with help from the highly experienced and arguably the best striker in the Premier League era, Sergio Aguero.

The striker has been labelled inconsistent at times and missing 34 big chances does really back up that point and with a shooting accuracy of just 56%, he has a long way to go in terms of catching up to Aguero’s accomplishments. The young Brazillian broke into the Brazil first team after representing his country at U20 and U23 level and has made 35 appearances for the national team scoring 18 goals.

He is the striker usually chosen for the cup competitions and has played very well in the early rounds.

Finally, João Cancelo, is my third choice for potential dangers in the City team. He was signed this summer from Italian side Juventus for a fee believed to be around £50,000,000. A deal which saw former City right-back, Danilo, going in the other direction.

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The defender has made just 2 appearances so far this campaign as Kyle Walker has kept his position as first-choice right-back but with the injuries that City are suffering at the minute, I can see Cancelo starting the game at right-back with Kyle Walker possibly moving to a more central role.

The Portuguese international has played for his country at every age level from U16 up to U21 and has now made 16 appearances for the senior national team since 2016, scoring 3 goals in that period.

Opposition View

This week’s Opposition View comes from Ray, the man behind the YouTube channel City Fan TV. You can also follow him on twitter here – @mancity_ray.

In most years, Manchester City’s start to the season would be viewed as pretty good. Well above average. But we are not living in normal footballing times, especially at the top of the tree. A win in the Community Shield at Wembley was pleasant enough, especially as it was against our current adversaries, Liverpool.

Four wins, a draw and a solitary loss in the league would be seen as decent enough if it weren’t for Liverpool’s perfect first half dozen league matches. We’ve given some teams a sound thrashing (including the demolition of Watford 8-0 on Saturday) but City currently sit 5 points behind a positively purring Liverpool team. A Liverpool team striving to go one better than last year and go through the league season unbeaten. A Liverpool team striving to go one better and win the Premier League title for the first time in their history.

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Yes, I do realise that football existed before the advent of the Premier League, but indulge me just this once. It’s going to be another tough old season, both on and off the pitch, so I must get my ripostes in early.

Liverpool are formidable opponents for the fourmidables (domestic treble winners for those of us who can’t accept the Community Shield as a bona fide trophy). They are like a dog that has its teeth into a bone that doesn’t belong to them. More than ever, I think this season will test the mettle of both teams and we might even see the best points tally in Premier League history. Which team will finish on top? It’s far too early, and close, to say. Whichever team wins the title will have deserved it.

Unlike most pundits and many fans who simply do not know better, most City fans, especially those who have been through the thin and thinner times, would like to win the Premier League title over the Champions League. We view the Premier League as the bread and butter and the Champions League as a glorified cup competition where you don’t even need to be champions of your own domestic league to compete and where you can lose as many as four out of thirteen games and still be crowned champions of Europe. Champions of Europe but not champions of your own domestic league.

It just seems quite peculiar, that’s all.

My expectation for this season is to go deep in all four competitions open to us. Not necessarily to win them all, or any of them, but to give each competition our fullest attention and the respect it deserves.

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Being asked to predict a Pep Guardiola line-up is akin to the old fable of the blind men describing an elephant. Each gives a different opinion. This is what City fans do for almost any game we play. We simply cannot second guess Pep.

Who would have thought that Ben Mendy would start against Watford after missing so much of the last two seasons and with only about ten minutes playing time under his belt this season? And to leave the exhilarating Raheem Sterling on the bench was tantamount to sacrilege. (-I may have been slightly influenced by the profound and negative impact his omission had on my fantasy football team this week.)

Nonetheless, I will try to pick the team. In the early rounds of the cup competitions last season, whilst resting some players, we still managed to put out fairly strong teams. It was a mix of youth, second-stringers and first-team starters. Teams that were more than good enough to allow us to continue our merry dance to become the first team to win all three domestic titles in a single season.

We have a tough-looking away game at Everton to look forward to at the weekend and that could well affect the make-up of the midweek cup side for the game up the M61 against North End.

Bravo is our cup keeper and a very good one at that. Cancelo showed enough in 40-odd minutes on Saturday for me to think he could also start. Centre back options are thin on the ground but Pep has said that Eric Garcia will definitely start. This young man really looks the real deal. Alongside Garcia could well be Fernandinho – a holding midfielder converted into a centre back by Guardiola and already looking like the best we have after Laporte. I can see Zinchenko returning as left-back.

Ilkay Gündogan should take the number 6 spot with Phil Foden ahead of him (providing he has shaken off the virus that kept him out of the last two matchday squads). Bernardo or the mercurial David Silva could partner young Foden.

A front three of 18-year-old Adrían Bernarbé, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling should be enough to frighten the life out of the Preston defence.

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But Pep could throw a curveball and play Angelino or Mendy at left-back, Zinchenko at 6 with Gündogan at 8. Alternatively, Zinchenko could play at 8 with Gündogan at 6.

The possible permutations are endless but rest assured, whichever personnel is deployed at Deepdale on Tuesday night, Manchester City should earn a hard-fought victory against a Preston team riding high in the Championship.

I can see a 2-1 or a 1-0 win for City, or possibly a draw with the game going to penalties where Claudio Bravo will be the hero once again. City has sold out its ticket allocation and I’m expecting a raucous atmosphere at a jam-packed Deepdale on Tuesday evening.

May the best team win.

Match Prediction

This game is very much a case of head and heart. My heart, much like many others, wants to believe we could nab a win whether it be 1-0 or 2-1 with a late Nugent winner on his long-awaited return to Deepdale after a 12-year absence, a game that I’m sure would live long in the memory of North End fans. However, despite City’s injury concerns I just can’t see us having enough to beat them and I think we will lose 2-0.

I believe we will give them more than a game, much like the cup tie with Arsenal a few years ago but I simply can’t see us beating their midfield power. In saying that with Preston the only team in the Championship to still have a 100% record at home in all competitions who’s to say we can’t go and beat the Champions of England?

As for the team selection, that’s a tricky one because I can’t see Alex Neil using the same team he has in the previous two rounds of the competition but I do think he will maybe use a few different players. The gaffer will still be focused on the league, and rightly so, as we have a big game against 7th placed Bristol City on Saturday.

I think he will go with – Ripley; Rafferty, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Ledson; Bodin, Johnson, Maguire; Barkhuizen.

Hopefully, there will be appearances off the bench for David Nugent and Paul Gallagher so we can see the pair reunited once more in front of a near enough sold out Deepdale.

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Regardless of the result (provided it’s not an absolute tonking) the night promises to be a memorable one with the Town End and Invincibles stand sold out and the Sir Tom Finney stand close to being sold out, it should be some atmosphere under the lights.