Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Manchester United

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  • Manchester City leads the Premier League in average possession at 58.39% per match
  • Wayne Rooney has now either scored or assisted 40 goals in his last 44 Premier League games
  • Six of the last seven meetings between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium have seen fewer than two goals scored

Ah, the Manchester Derby.

Arguably the most entertaining derby in all the land, the battle between blue and red in the city of Manchester returns to audiences this Sunday (11:00 am ET on NBCSN, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra). Both sides enter the match with new managers at the helm in Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, and even on record at 2-1-1 means a loss for either club could result in them slipping out of the Top 5.

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David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini both make their derby debut this Sunday, 11:00 am ET on NBCSN.

For City, they enter the match not only looking to take points from their rival but also to set right an inconsistent start to the season. After a dominant 4-0 victory over Newcastle to start the season, City lost 3-2 to Cardiff before skipping past Hull City 2-0 in a hard fought match and drawing 0-0 with Stoke City.

Aside from last weekend’s lifeless offensive performance at the Britannia, City’s main problem has been in defense. With Vincent Kompany injured for the first four Premier League matches of the season, Pellegrini was forced to deploy center-back combinations of Joleon Lescott,  Javi Garcia and Matija Natasic. The inconsistent performances and lack of leadership had supporters worried but with Kompany’s emphatic return in Tuesday’s 3-0 Champions League victory Victoria Plzen, stability appears to have returned to the Etihad.

For United, Sunday’s match represents another chance for their new-look offense to gel. Last weekend saw Wayne Rooney recover from a head gash to go 90 minutes strong in the supporting striker role behind Robin van Persie. The Englishman scored a fantastic free-kick and his overall performance received rave reviews, prompting manager David Moyes to confirm that unlike last season, Rooney would not be used in the midfield.

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Since 2011-12, Wayne Rooney has played in 64 Premier League matches, scoring 40 goals and notching 16 assists.

The Scot’s stroke of confidence in his temperamental striker appears to have paid off as Rooney joined United’s prestigious 200 goal club on Tuesday night after scoring twice in the 4-2 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen. The victory also saw the full debut of Marouane Fellaini, whose harrowing presence and crunching tackles released pressure on Michael Carrick and provided Rooney with additional space in which to operate.

A head-to-head look at each club’s form and the history of the derby shows that Sunday’s match should be a hotly contested affair. City have won seven and lost one of their last eight home games in the Premier League while defeat to Liverpool in their last away game ended a run of 13 matches unbeaten for United. Of the last five Premier League derbies contested at the Etihad, City have only one a single match. But from the last four Premier League derbies overall, the Citizens have won three of those contests.

What They’re Saying

City goalkeeper Joe Hart: “The derby is one of the most anticipated and exciting games in world football. As players, we are all looking forward to Sunday, and we know that the fans will be too. The home support is so important for us, and I know they will be like an extra man for the team on the day.”

City manager Manuel Pellegrini: “We have the derby next Sunday so winning away in the Champions League and scoring three goals, having three or four more chances to score and keeping a clean sheet always gives you a lot of confidence.”

United midfielder Michael Carrick [on Rooney]: “It was probably Wayne’s best performance that I’ve seen for a while. It’s great to have him in that form – he can be untouchable when he’s like that.”

United defender Chris Smalling: “It is a game that we all relish. It is better going to their stadium, it is backs to the wall and we will come out fighting.”

Prediction

While the argument can be made for either side to win this match, the good part is that it’s unlikely to end in a draw as there has only been a single stalemate (the 0-0 result in 2010-11) in the last 15 Manchester derbies in the Premier League. Both clubs come in flying high after dominant mid-week performances in Europe but for me, United has hit its stride quicker than City. Rooney is on fire, Van Persie continues to terrorize, Fellaini has added bite to the midfield while the back four – despite the loss of Rafael – looks rock solid. Three points to the Red Devils in what promises to be another classic Manchester Derby.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.