Tag Archives: Manchester City

Opinion: Premier League title race done and dusted for everyone else, except Liverpool and Manchester City

We have headed into the first international break and the top two clubs are unsurprisingly, Liverpool and Manchester City. Who would have expected a different story than this?

Similar to the last season, the early extravaganza of the Premier League intends nothing but a two-horse title race between the Red Half of Merseyside and the Blue Half of Manchester.  These very two clubs are unarguably miles ahead of the other ones, they have their stunning peculiarity of to demonstrate unstoppable domination.

Jose Mourinho, while delivering his take on the proposed title race between Liverpool and City, insisted,

‘I was having the joke of Man City B, Spurs, Liverpool and Man City [challenging for the title]. ‘Just three or four weeks later, we understand clearly Liverpool and Man City are going to finish first and second, or second and first.’

Liverpool is the only side in the division with 100% record, who tops the table with 12 points. While Man City are second with 10 points in the bag.

The recent tussle of these two powerhouses has intensified the managerial rivalry between two of the best football coaches in the world, whose teams are on course to put forth a mesmerizing title race.

With a high investment done in the transfer market, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United were tipped to enter in the title race but, with taking into consideration their early-season struggle and the gaps in their teams which have been brutally exposed, they will battle for the 3rd and 4th place.

There will surely be some stern test for them while going ahead in the season as there is always jeopardy and uncertainty in the Premier League. However, Liverpool’s competition will always be Manchester City.

Between them, they haven’t lost a league game since the end of January. It’s evident that they are both pushing each other upwards. They are relentless.

Reds’ front three are looking razor-sharp again this season. While Raheem Sterling and co have been ruthless in front of goal. Virgil Van Dijk continues to put forth a defending masterclass while Kevin De Bruyne is back and raining the assists.

In the end, last but not least. Who will actually win this extraordinary title race? Will the Blue Moon rise again or will the colour be Red?

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Aymeric Laporte injury: Guardiola left with central defensive headache

Aymeric Laporte was forced off the pitch with what appeared to be a serious knee injury during Manchester City’s 4-0 victory against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon.

The 25-year-old collided with Brighton defender Adam Webster whilst attempting to stop a counter attack in the 34th minute at the Etihad Stadium.

Laporte, who is uncapped on the international stage, had just been called up to Didier Deschamps’ France squad for the first time ahead of their upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Albania and Andorra.

It is thought that the defender could be out of action for a significant period, although the extent of his injury is yet to be revealed. 

A long-term absence for Laporte – who Guardiola recently hailed as the best left-sided central defender in Europe – could have a significant impact on Manchester City’s season, with the defender playing a key role for his side since signing in January 2018. 

The injury adds the Frenchman to a growing list of absentees within the City squad, with fellow defender John Stones, Gabriel Jesus, Benjamin Mendy and Leroy Sane all currently sidelined. 

Stones, 25, has missed City’s previous two matches after suffering a thigh injury and was not selected in Gareth Southgate’s upcoming England squad.

That leaves Nicolas Otamendi as the only recognised centre-back currently fully-fit in Pep Guardiola’s squad.

The summer departure of former captain Vincent Kompany, who re-joined boyhood club Anderlecht in July, could come back to haunt City’s hierarchy having decided against securing a replacement during the summer transfer window.

However, Guardiola claims that City could not afford to sign a new central defender in the summer.

Guardiola said: “We could not buy like opponents or teams offer us or ask for players.

“Of course we spent a lot two seasons ago, but last season one player, this season a little bit more, so we could not pay the money wanted.

“But we have an alternative and sometimes when that [an injury like Laporte’s] happens, the team unites better and we are going to find solutions to do that.”

John Stones could be in contention to return to City’s squad following the international break, while Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho  who replaced Laporte during Saturday’s win  is said to be a further option at centre-half. 

Guardiola added that Kyle Walker could also be utilised centrally, along with academy graduates Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, despite neither of the youthful pair having appeared in the Premier League. 

Manchester City return to Premier League action after the international break with a trip to newly-promoted Norwich City on September 14.

Premier League Review

I am starting this week’s review with the match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night because it had a big talking point.

The game finished 1-1 with goals from Anthony Martial and a trademark long range effort by Ruben Neves. The result itself was interesting enough as its evidence that Wolves aren’t far away from the top six.

The talking point came when United were awarded a penalty with the score at 1-1 and last week’s scorer of a penalty Marcus Rashford went into conversation with Paul Pogba. The result of the chat resulted in Pogba taking the penalty and then subsequently having the spot kick well saved.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed after the game that the penalty duties are being shared between Rashford and Pogba and that “whoever feels confident on the day” should take it. This for me is a risky and strange policy as it adds an unnecessary seed of doubt and pressure to the taker, which showed its force again in United’s next match on Saturday, More on that later.

Moving onto Saturday’s roundup which I am starting at Anfield where the only two teams with 100% records in the league went head to head as Liverpool faced Arsenal.

Liverpool were controlling much of the possession and territory but Arsenal created good openings on the break from record signing Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

In the process, interestingly, Pepe became the first player to successfully dribble past Virgil Van Dijk breaking a record that has stood for well over a year, no mean feat. It has also become more evident that Liverpool are not performing as well in defence without Allison in goal and his deputy Adrian almost cost them another goal, as just like last weekend, one of his clearances went straight to the Gunners but luckily for him, Aubameyang, uncharacteristically, lacked composure.

Despite all of this, Liverpool’s territorial advantage paid off with them taking the lead through a Joel Matip’s header just before half-time.

After the break, David Luiz cost Arsenal any hopes, by first tugging Mohammad Salah’s shirt in the penalty area, with Salah himself scoring the penalty. It was the Egyptian once again who embarrassed Luiz by the touchline as the Brazilian needlessly dived in and Salah chipped the ball over him before running to the edge of the box and superbly curling into the bottom corner just before the hour. This ended the contest, although Arsenal did get a late consolation through Lucas Torreira.

The result means Liverpool are the only side in England with a 100% record and continues Arsenals poor record at Liverpool, however they can take something from the chances they created.

Now back to Manchester United who were playing Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, a venue where Palace hadn’t won since 1989.

United were dominant as expected, but couldn’t find the break through and Palace broke after 32 minutes which left Jordan Ayew one-on-one with David De Gea, who silenced the crowd by coolly slotting home.

There was yet more United penalty drama in the second-half when they were awarded a spot kick when Scott McTominay was bundled over. Everyone waited to see who would take the kick following Monday’s drama and this time it was back to Marcus Rashford.

However, he suffered the same fate as Pogba seeing his penalty cannon off the inside of the post. This only further strengthens my argument that Solskjaer’s method is an incorrect one. United continued to push and found an equaliser through summer signing Daniel James, who scored in consecutive home matches by curling in a delightful equaliser in the 89th minute following Pogba’s good tackle on Wilfred Zaha and with a neat build-up from Rashford and Anthony Martial.

The Red Devil’s thought they could still win it but were caught with too many players forward allowing Zaha to burst forward and find full-back, Patrick van Aanholt, who netted the winner in the 93rd minute, thumping in as the ball broke loose.

The result means United have picked up just one point from the last two matches and are showing they may struggle to get into the top four once again, a thought I had in pre-season.

Chelsea and Frank Lampard headed to Carrow Road to face a vibrant and confident Norwich side following their 3-1 win over Newcastle United looking for their first win of the season and Lampard’s first as a Premier League manager. Lampard continued to show faith in striker, Tammy Abraham and his decision paid off with the youngster scoring two excellent goals to open his Chelsea account. The first came after just three minutes, however, it didn’t take long for Norwich to hit back though, as just three minutes later, Todd Cantwell latched onto Teemu Pukki’s cut back.

Chelsea restored their lead 11 minutes after Cantwell’s equaliser for Norwich, Mount – cut inside the hosts’ defence and unleashed an unstoppable shot high into the net for his second goal of the season.

In a frantic first half Norwich equalised again and it was no surprise that it was Pukki, who scored his fifth goal of the season. Despite Norwich’s second leveller, Chelsea continued to pressure their opponents’ shaky defence; Mount and Christian Pulisic both saw efforts go wide within moments of the second half getting under way.

Abraham’s second goal saw him become the youngest Chelsea player to score twice in a Premier League fixture since 1998, twisting and turning and tying Grant Hanley and Jamal Lewis in knots before firing an unstoppable drive past Tim Krul.

The Blues thought they had scored again when Kurt Zouma poked a loose ball home, but it was ruled out by the video assistant referee after substitute Olivier Giroud was judged to have fouled the Norwich keeper, Tim Krul.

Lampard now has his all-important first win as Chelsea boss and will be looking to build on this victory.

Watford against West Ham is a match between two sides hoping to challenge in the top half of the league table.

However, only one of the two sides looked like they had that in them in this match at Vicarage Road and that was West Ham.

They have some terrific creative midfielders and their record signing striker, Sebastien Haller scored his first two goals for the Hammers as they ran out 3-1 winners.

Mark Noble’s third-minute penalty set West Ham on their way to their first win of the season after Manuel Lanzini had been fouled by Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Watford responded with a well-worked Andre Gray goal, with the forward drilling home a right-foot shot from Will Hughes’ pass.

It was then Haller who took centre stage as he led the line in exemplary fashion and contributed to all three West Ham goals. He displayed his predatory instincts that allowed him to comfortably claim his first goal for Manuel Pellegrini’s side before acrobatically doubling his tally.

Watford did create plenty of chances mainly through Gerard Deulofeu who had seven shots on goal, with only a close-range strike that hit the West Ham crossbar finding the target, alongside Hughes’ extraordinary miss from a yard out after Gray had squared the ball with the score at 1-1, that summed up the hosts’ lack of potency in attack.

At the other end the presence of Haller, Anderson and Lanzini provided too much power, pace and guile for the Watford defence to cope with. Gracia’s side now face a challenging sequence of fixtures – with a home game against Arsenal sandwiched between trips to Newcastle and reigning champions Manchester City – having shipped 41 goals in their last 18 matches.

At the same stage last term Watford had collected nine points after an impressive start, but a pointless return this time around represents a complete reversal of fortune.

Sheffield United were looking to back up their first win back in the top flight but came up against a Leicester City side that were just too good for them on the day.

Ayoze Perez robbed defender Chris Basham before James Maddison played a deft pass with the outside of his foot into space, allowing Jamie Vardy to race in and power home left footed. Vardy – a boyhood Sheffield Wednesday fan – had been booed throughout and duly cupped his ears in celebration. Billy Sharp and McBurnie’s second half introduction seemed to raise home spirits and suddenly Leicester’s midfield seemed unable to close spaces as quickly. It was Oliver McBurnie, who scored the equaliser from Sam Baldock’s pin-point delivery – proving why the Blades paid Swansea £20m for the striker.

They were level for just eight minutes, however, as substitute, Harvey Barnes, scored a marvellous winner six minutes after coming on, Barnes fired a half-volley from the edge of the box which flew past home keeper Dean Henderson.

Saturday’s final match saw a south coast derby as Brighton met Southampton, Brighton have started the season impressively, whilst Southampton headed into the encounter pointless and this showed in the early stages as Neil Maupay and Martin Montoya both had chances.

However, the game swung the visitors’ way when Florin Andone was dismissed following a rash challenge that left Yan Valery withering in agony near the halfway line. A challenge that Brighton manager Graham Potter said he “can’t defend”.

The Seagulls responded well, initially, with Lewis Dunk’s header chalked off by VAR, but the Saints capitalised on their numerical advantage in the second half. They took the lead through Moussa Djenepo, who came on as a substitute eight minutes into the second half and his impact was almost instant, cutting in from the left and curling into the top corner just two minutes after entering the fray.

A late Nathan Redmond goal secured the points for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.

Onto Sunday’s matches and a Tottenham Hotspur side buoyed by gaining a point at Manchester City took on a Newcastle United side with no points and were embarrassed by Norwich last weekend, surely this could only end one way. In fact, Newcastle looked like a completely different team from last weekend, credit to Steve Bruce for that, they were superb in defence and caused Spurs problems on the counter attack.

It was from one of these counters that they took a surprise lead through record signing Joelinton, this his first goal since joining. Spurs were caught with too many players forward and Joelinton controlled Christian Atsu’s through pass beautifully before drilling past Hugo Lloris.

Spurs enjoyed the majority of possession and territory but couldn’t find the creativity to unlock an excellent back five of Newcastle.

Cristian Eriksen and Giovani lo Celso, both started on the bench and came on together after an hours to try and add this creativity.

Lo Celso, nearly made the difference with a pass to Harry Kane in the penalty area and Kane went down under a challenge by Jamal Lascelles.

The Newcastle defender appeared to slip and dive across Kane, as he knew he had no chance of getting to the ball, clever or reckless the referee and the VAR decided it wasn’t a penalty.

Spurs created more opportunities the best of which fell to Lucas Moira, who shot over from eight yards after being found by former Newcastle player Moussa Sissoko, who was unsurprisingly roundly booed throughout by the toon army crowd.

Spurs couldn’t find a way through and from evidence of this and other weekend results we could be heading towards another two horse race for the title.

There was a meeting between the last two sides to finish 7th in the league at Molineux, where Burnley were the visitors to Wolves.

It was the Clarets who were the more effective side and eventually took the lead through an excellent strike from Ashley Barnes, his fourth goal in three Premier League games this season.

Burnley were denied a second goal when Rui Patricio produced an excellent save to keep out Chris Wood, while Ben Mee headed against the bar with the rebound coming off Wolves defender Ryan Bennett and hitting the post.

However, Wolves were awarded a penalty in the dying moments when Erik Pieters fouled Raul Jimenez.

After a video assistant referee check, Jimenez stepped up to calmly roll the ball past Nick Pope and earn Wolves a third successive Premier League draw.

Despite this lacklustre performance from Wolves, I wouldn’t be worried that they are set to suffer like Burnley did last season in the league due to being in European Competition.

The Final Match of the weekend was a routine win for champions Man City away at Bournemouth. Another goal apiece for Aguero and Sterling meant they lead 2-0 at half time. Bournemouth rallied and substitute Harry Wilson’s superb 25-yard free-kick raised hopes of a fight-back, However Aguero pounced for City’s third after good work from Silva. Wilsons strike means he has scored two stunners in his two first premier league matches.

Should England Play Out From The Back

Following the bad result for England in the Uefa Nations League, against Holland, where the team plotted their own downfall, through ‘playing out from the back’ which cost the team a place in the final, the debate has started.

“Should England Play out from the Back”

Looking at the match as a whole, over the 90 minutes, then extra time, England played okay, making Holland, look far better than they actually were.

However, two very poor individual decisions, cost England dear.

The first mistake was made by John Stones, who, inexplicably, with no one near him, got caught in two minds as to whether to play back to Jordan Pickford, or… play forward.

In decision cost him, when he slipped and Holland scored a goal.

The 2nd Mistake, by Ross Barkley, was very similar and led to the 3rd Goal for Holland.

In the case of Barkley, it was not the first time he has made this kind of error.

When Chelsea Played Manchester City at the Etihad, Barkley, gifted Sergio Aguero a goal, when, on the edge of the Chelsea 18 yard line, facing towards his goal, Barkley, decided to head the ball, directly to Aguero, who promptly dispatched the ball into the net.

Despite the debate, as to whether we should play out from the back or not, the debate should be more around the decision making process of individual players, when in possession of the ball.

Players are coached in 1 and 2 touch football. The 1st touch to control, the 2nd touch to distribute. This in itself, causes a problem, because unless there is forward movement, in front of the player in possession, he is forced to go backwards or sideways.

Perhaps the player in possession, might be better at going passed players, which would then test that defender out, then make a decision as to which is the best ball to give.

The effect of playing out from the back does work, and originates from abroad, way back in the fifties but highlighted and made excellent by the Ajax team from Holland, ironically enough and who were coached in this method, by an excellent coach called Vic Buckingham. This playing method was then evolved further by Rinus Michaels, and became known as.

Total Football

When England play, good football, going forward offensively and creating good chances, then there is nothing better to watch, but all to often, when there is no movement forward, then they are forced to go backwards, sometimes, right back to their own goalkeeper, which can lead to problems.

Against Holland, this was highlighted very highlighted.

So by playing out from the back, does work, as long as you are going forward and have plenty of movement and interchanging, best illustrated by FC Barcelona, then the consequences and results are devastingly effective.

So should England play out from the back?

Absolutely, because it works very well.

UEFA Nations League – The Final Four

Following Europe’s success at last years FIFA World Cup, the continent has been captivated by the new UEFA Nations League. The new competition allows European teams to compete with one another in a league format; with teams of a similar ranking being matched in groups with each other, to level the playing field. 

As the inaugural competition draws to a close, we take a look at the semi-finalists and assess how they’ve managed to get this far in the ‘league’. The finals of this tournament are in Portugal, suiting the nation themselves, as they take on Switzerland in the first semi-final game on June 5th. Southgate’s England find themselves in yet another international semi-final, as they take on Holland on the following day. The winners of each game go head to head in the final on June 9th. 

Portugal

Portugal started in a group with Italy and Poland and finished the group stage in first place and undefeated; with a win and draw against each team. Fernando Santos’ team were relatively poor in last years FIFA World Cup, after finishing second in their group and being knocked by Uruguay in the Round of 16. However, two years prior to this they conquered Europe, winning their first international trophy at Euro 2016. They clearly have European dominance, and with players like Ronaldo, Quaresma and Bernado Silva, you’d expect them to overcome Switzerland on Wednesday.

Switzerland

It goes without saying that Switzerland are a surprise entry in the Semi’s, especially that their group consisted of The Belgian Red Devils, and Euro 2016 wonder-team Iceland. Only making the Round of 16 in the 2018 and 2014 FIFA World Cup, their international achievements have been limited. They do however have a good set of players, with recent UCL winning Xherdan Shaqiri, and Arsenal duo Granit Xhaka, and Stephan Lichsteiner. They will need to be on top form if they are to overcome Portugal in front of their fans, but a win would be a massive achievement for the nation. In the group stage, they spectacularly came back from 2-0 down, to win 5-2 against Belgium. Will they be able to bring the same fireworks to Porto?

Holland

Somewhat surprisingly after not making the qualification for the previous World Cup, The Netherlands found themselves in group A1, the toughest group in the new competition. Consisting of both of the previous World Cup winners France and Germany, it would be a tough challenge to make the semi-finals. After losing their first game to France, they bounced back to triumph over Germany and win the game 3-0. Koeman’s side went on to defeat the world champions the second time of asking, and a high scoring draw against Germany sent The Dutch through on goal difference. Holland have a strong, well-drilled side, with Premier League player of the year Virgil Van Dijk, and Ajax’s star midfielder Frenkiede Jong. Known for their possession based, tactical gameplay; will The Flying Dutchmen spoil Southgate’s party?

England

The speculation as to whether The Three Lions could replicate their 2018 World Cup success looked to be subdued, following the loss to Spain in the first game of the Nations League. With the following game against none other than Croatia (we all know what happened the last time), would Southgate be able to turn the tables, and avenge last summers eventual disappointment? The game finished as a disappointing 0-0 draw, and England’s Nations League campaign would be over unless they took all 6 points from their remaining two fixtures.  Two outstanding performances followed, with a 3-2 victory against The Spaniards, and a 2-1 triumph against new rivals Croatia; England had made another International Semi-Final. The other semi-finalists will struggle to match England’s squad depth; with Maguire, Alexander-Arnold and Stones in defence, Lingard, Henderson and young prodigy Jadon Sancho in midfield, and an attacking force of Sterling, Rashford and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. With such talent from both of the teams, it should be a cracking game.