Guardiola delivers glimpse of Man City’s future

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LONDON — We got a glimpse of Manchester City’s future in their 4-0 win at West Ham United on Wednesday.

And it looked sparkling.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Post-game at the London Stadium Pep Guardiola could hardly contain his excitement when speaking about the form of young forwards Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus as they carved open West Ham’s defense time and time again with their pace and intense pressing which kept forcing turnovers.

“These three guys are the future for the club. All of them, their average age is just 20 years old. You cannot see in Europe at the big clubs, there are not strikers as young as Man City have. That is good for the future of the club,” Guardiola said. “We are delighted because Sane is already a part of the team. He arrived a little bit like ‘where am I?’ and now his performance in the last three or four months showed us his potential.”

Asked about 19-year-old forward Gabriel Jesus — the Brazilian international scored and grabbed an assist in an impressive first start in the Premier League — Guardiola believes this is only the beginning for the striker they signed for $34 million from Palmeiras.

“He helps us a lot in the first press. He is so intense, so aggressive in that moment,” Guardiola said. “In the long balls he is a fighter and he is able to keep going and fight against guys taller than him. Of course he is young. We can’t forget he is  just 19 years old. But he is a striker for Brazil, because in the first assist against Crystal Palace he gave it to Sterling, today it was to Kevin. He is a guy who when he arrives there he will attack the ball and he will score goals.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Alongside 22-year-old Raheem Sterling and 21-year-old Leroy Sane, Jesus led a devastating forward line which is set to terrorize defenses for years to come.

Even though they are 10 points off leaders Chelsea (Guardiola played down their title chances this season) in attack things are slotting together superbly, even if defensively there are still big issues to sort out. That was always going to be why Guardiola would get more time to overhaul this ageing City team despite poor results littering his first-ever campaign as a Premier League  manager.

His team has shown in big wins throughout this season that his philosophy is working, but they need to be more consistent. With this young forward line they looked fluid, in-sync and fired up.

Sergio Aguero’s shocked expression on the bench said it all after the third goal went in. He knows he has massive competition to keep his place in the team with Gabriel breathing down his neck and the Argentine international perhaps has the strongest competitor for a starting spot that he’s ever had since arriving at the Etihad Stadium.

With Kevin De Bruyne in an attacking midfield role, the fluid three of Jesus, Sane and Sterling interchanged and tore West Ham’s creaking defense apart with clever runs, inch-perfect passes and high-pressing. That’s the future of City under Guardiola as he finally has a first line of defense which can force opponents into mistakes and then punish them. He hasn’t always had that with Aguero and Co. up top.

Aguero isn’t the only member of City’s old guard to sense change in the air.

Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta joined Aguero on the bench, yet Guardiola poured cold water on suggestions that Aguero would have to spend more time on the bench in the coming weeks and emphasized his importance to the team. It isn’t quite time for the old guard to pass the baton but it’s getting there. This moment has been coming for City.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Man City v. West Ham ] 

Guardiola also emphasized impressed he was with the high-pressing of his young attacking talent, plus the shield Yaya Toure provided.

“Every time we win the ball we had three strikers so so quick, so Leroy, Gabriel and Raheem make runs in-behind and it was so so dangerous,” Guardiola said. “When people want make high-pressing we are able to eliminate the first step and create a chance. Yaya was again exceptional and helps us a lot for the future and the next games.”

Toure is rolling back the years in midfield but up front Gabriel has burst onto the scene with plenty of promise. Guardiola wasn’t 100 percent certain what he would be getting when the Brazilian teenager arrived in January fresh from winning the Brazilian title with Palmeiras.

It’s safe to say he’s happy with how things are developing.

“You never know. It is like a watermelon. You have to open it and see how it turns out,” Guardiola said of Jesus. “The perspective was good. That is why we pushed him. He is a young, young talent. He has a huge mentality. So aggressive, he wants to become a good player and when that happens that helps a lot. When he has dreams and something to do in the future in his own career, that helps a lot. Gabriel, in those terms, he wants to become something in world football and of course we are going to try to get it for us.”

On this showing, City’s young front three have the potential to push them to the very top of world football and become something Guardiola has dreamed of.

He’s getting there, with the youngsters leading the way.

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

Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.