Premier League preview: Manchester City

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Manchester City came blasting onto the top-of-the-table scene in 2009.  Having been purchased by the oil-rich Abu Dhabi United Group – owned mainly by the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and high up in the U.A.E. government – the club went on an unprecedented spending spree to blast them up the table from seasons of mid-table obscurity to fifth place in 2010, third place in 2011, and the Premier League title in 2012. The run also included winning the 2011 F.A. Cup, their first major trophy since 1976.

The Citizens now remain a force at the top of the table, although last season was a disappointment in relation to the previous three years of growth.  They finished second in the Premier League, which on its own sounds like a success (hey, you can’t win ’em all), but the kicker is that bitter rivals Manchester United dominated the league, winning the title by 11 points over City. That margin of defeat, plus defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup final and City’s enormously disappointing exit from the Champions League in the group stage – they finished last in their “group of death” along with Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, and Ajax – cost former manager Roberto Mancini his job.

Transfers In: M Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine), M Jesus Navas (Sevilla, Spain), F Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina, Italy), F Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla, Spain)

Transfers Out: D Wayne Bridge (Reading, England), D Kolo Toure (Liverpool, England), D Jeremy Helan (Sheffield Wednesday, England), F Carlos Tevez (Juventus, Italy), F Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga, Spain)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Looking at Manchester City’s squad, it has some serious star power. Despite the losses of strikers Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez – both tabloid-favorites – in the last year, there still remains some big names.  Englishman Joe Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in the world.  Sergio Aguero scored gobs of goals in their title-winning season two years ago, and remains vital in the attack.  Midfielder Yaya Toure is world-renowned for his vision and strength.  Defenders Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta had excellent seasons last year. However, with the sale of Tevez, new manager Manuel Pellegrini has moved the attacking spotlight directly onto previously underrated Edin Dzeko (pictured). More than ever, Dzeko will carry the load on his shoulders up front, with Aguero most likely stepping back into a supporting striker role.

It’s not to say he can’t handle it.  The Bosnian superstar has had one of the best goal-per-minute numbers in the entire Premier League the past few seasons, despite most of his duties coming off the bench behind Tevez and Aguero.  The 27-year-old scored 14 goals in 32 Premier League appearances, but only half those appearances were starts.  That gave him a goal every 130 minutes last season.  The year before that when City won the title? A spectacular 107 minutes per goal.  And it’s not just the Premier League he’s lit up either – in the 2-1/2 Bundesliga seasons with Wolfsburg prior to moving to City, he scored a goal every 123 minutes.

Dzeko has the numbers and the pedigree for the full-time job at City.  Now, he’s getting his chance.

Manager: Roberto Mancini was well-liked by Manchester City fans, but was unfortunately a victim of his own success.  His title-winning season proved to the front office that the job could be done, and therefore the next season’s results – despite what would have been a smashing success a few years ago – were considered a severe disappointment.  With rumors flying of his sacking the entire second half of last year, he began to alienate players and burn bridges, leading to his sacking following the season.

Chilean Manuel Pellegrini was hired in his stead, and the club is looking forwards.  Pellegrini has a few big names on his managerial resume, but none for very long, and experience is where he lacks.  He managed throughout South America for 15 years of his career, finally seeing major success with Argentinian giants River Plate which led to his hiring at La Liga’s Villareal.  In Spain, Pellegrini saw smashing Champions League success at Villareal, Malaga, and Real Madrid, although his time at Madrid was short, losing his job to “The Special One” – something which Pellegrini has publicly expressed his regret, wishing he’d been given a chance to build a squad.

Last year, Pellegrini brought Malaga deeper into the Champions League than the club ever has been before, winning Group C with an unbeaten run of six matches against AC Milan, Zenit, and Anderlecht.  They defeated Porto in the first knockout round, and missed out on a place in the semi-finals by losing to Borussia Dortmund in heartbreaking fashion, conceding two stoppage time goals with victory in their clutches.  Despite the finish, his smashing success at Malaga in the Champions League – something that still eludes Manchester City – led him to be selected for the job.

Outlook: Manchester City has changed a lot since the end of last season.  With a new manager, plus a relatively new target man up front, they will look to push towards more trophies.  City goes as Edin Dzeko goes this year.  They can manage marginal success without him, but they’ll need him to fire in goals at a high pace to bring home the silverware.  New boys Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo were brought in with big money moves for both support and depth, and Sergio Aguero remains key. But at the moment, it all runs through Dzeko.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32