SERGIO Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva ...
There were some household names for Rotherham United's players to consider when they did their pre-match reading this week.
Before every game, manager Paul Warne and his staff put together a potential teamsheet of the opposition the Millers are preparing to face, listing the strengths and weaknesses of each man.
Warne couldn't help but smile when the A4 dossiers for this Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash at Premier League champions Manchester City were being printed out.
“It something we always do,” the boss said. “Our lads are usually pretty familiar with the players they're coming up against in the Championship but there are still things you can point out that they might not be aware of.
“It's a bit different in the case of City. What do you put that they don't already know? 'Aguero. He's small. He's quick. He scores goals.'”
Facing the top-flight kings away from home is the third round's plum draw for a team like Rotherham with no realistic aspirations of going all the way to Wembley.
They have had a month to look forward to the trip to the 55,000-capacity Etihad Stadium since numbers 23 and 33 were pulled out of the hat together on December 3 yet, to the satisfaction of assistant boss and coach Richie Barker, until late this week there has been only the sound of silence while the Millers have focused on their second-tier survival campaign.
“Fair play to the players,” Barker said. “I expected to come in the day after the draw and find it was the sole topic of conversation. It has never really been talked about and I'm really pleased about that.
“It's an opportunity of a lifetime for everybody really, from me and Warney down to the players and the kitman. Our masseur (Matt Lowndes) is a massive Manchester City fan. Our players will be playing against some of the best players in the world.
“For me, since I started looking to coach ten years or 15 years ago, City's manager, Pep Guardiola, is someone I've read about, followed, watched.
“I was an avid Barcelona-watcher for years when he was there. I've read all the books about him. On a personal level, this game is massive.
“I'm sure that nearly everyone in our team will be playing against someone they've idolised or studied.
“These chances don't come around very often.”
They certainly don't, which is why Rotherham are taking a bumper away following as they face a City side through to the last 16 of the Champions League and locked in battle with Liverpool and Spurs to retain their Premier crown.
More than 6,000 Millers fans, the biggest travelling contingent other than for play-off finals in my time covering the club, are journeying to the North West, although two names only have dominated the headlines in the pre-match build-up: Guardiola and Warneiola.
With his bald head, beard and dapper v-necks, the City chief famously looks and dresses like his Rotherham counterpart — okay, okay, maybe it's the other way round — and Millers fans sing the Warneiola nickname in homage to their own manager.
Warneiola and Guardiola
“It will be a bigger day for Pep than me,”one of the two bosses quipped. “He gets to see me in action.”
Meanwhile, a theme was developing as Warneiola mused about the text for another of City's possible threats: 'Sterling. He's small. He's quick. He scores goals.'
The showdown offers Rotherham, happily out of the bottom three after beating Preston North End, a welcome break from the pressures of the league, a free hit where no precious points are at stake.
City may make changes but there is no shortage of quality back-up as their bench in recent games has included the likes Riyad Mahrez, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Phil Foden, the teenager being touted as the next star of the England national team.
Whatever starting 11 the Millers come up against, it will be dripping with international quality, and for one doughty Millers competitor the size of the challenge gives the occasion a Silva lining.
“We couldn't have asked for a bigger team to play,” said midfielder Will Vaulks, the man likely to be charged with stopping City's Spanish World-Cup-winner, David, who needs game-time after recovering from a hamstring injury.
“It's fantastic. We won't be writing ourselves off. It's an exciting one.
“We play in good stadiums already in the Championship so it's not so much going to a big stadium that is the attraction, it's more to do with the quality of the team we're playing and their manager.
“If I'm selected, I'll just see it as me testing myself against the top, top players. It's not about seeing if you can play at that level, because that's just crazy, it's about seeing whether you can compete with these people who earn maybe £200,000 a week.
“David Silva might get a Will Vaulks 50:50 special, if I can get close enough to him!”
Silva has 125 caps for Spain, Aguero 89 for Argentina and De Bruyne 68 for Belgium while Sterling has represented England 47 times.
Of the Rotherham squad likely to be on Etihad duty, Semi Ajayi has played three times for Nigeria and Marek Rodak has just made the full Slovakia squad.
Of course, we all dare to dream, but the sensible hope is that the Millers give a good account of themselves in such elite company and the Sunday of the 6,000-plus is remembered for the right reasons.
Guardiola and Warneiola had their picture taken together and an awards ceremony in Manchester late last year.
The Rotherham manager was honest enough to admit Pep probably had no idea who he was dealing with, and that's a feeling that could extend to the Spaniard's team.
“I don't know what City will think of Rotherham,” Vaulks said. “Some of their players have probably never heard of us.”
Maybe there were some perplexed faces at City's Etihad training campus when the midweek reading went something like this:
Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock, Ryan Williams, Anthony Forde ...
This article first appeared in the Advertiser
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