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MLS Roundtable: Dissecting key stories heading into 2017

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There is so much to talk about heading into the 2017 Major League Soccer season.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

Big name Designated Players have departed, two new teams have arrived, rivals are battling for dominance and plenty of young, exciting DPs are about to arrive, not to mention plenty of top young talent coming through the academy setups.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

Somehow, we’ve managed to whittle things down into a concise roundtable which debates plenty of the intriguing topics coming up in MLS in 2017.

Okay, ready?

Let’s chat MLS.

What are your thoughts on the switch from veteran DPs in MLS to a bigger emphasis on young talent? Is it a good or bad move for the league long-term?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m intrigued to see how this goes. DPs have put fans into the stands over the past 10 years but you’d like to think those supporters would now turn up regardless of Lampard, Beckham, Pirlo or Henry playing. It’s hard to get this one right with big markets still craving star names. I think that improving the overall quality of the league most now be the gameplan rather than have two or three world class talents and then leaving the rest of the squad lagging behind. Make no mistake, this is a big shift in policy. I’m pretty certainty that most MLS markets are now established enough to cope without having huge names on the pitch. Long-term this will pay off, especially for the U.S. national team, but only if these young academy products and DPs are given the chance to play regularly.

Andy Edwards: It’s 100 percent necessary. MLS is past the point of novelty popularity grabs. Without spending Chinese Super League-type money, they’re not going to improve the very top of rosters, thus it’s roster spots 4 through 10 that need to close the gap on the three or four Designated Players from each team. Could you do that by paying mid-30-somethings 3 and 4 and $5 million per season? Sure, you could, or you could invest a fraction of that money into a promising youngster who’ll 1) produce on the field in the now, and 2) see his value increase a year or two down the road.

Matt Reed: Casual supporters may not have as great of an awareness for a player like Miguel Almiron in comparison to David Villa, but it’s shows the league is willing to put forth a better overall product by getting younger and developing more players. In the long term, I believe that’s what MLS needs in order to sustain its success. The league is always going to have its stars, particularly in the larger markets, but it’s important that clubs bring in these younger DPs in order build their rosters for 5-10 years as opposed to 2-3 years.

Nicholas Mendola: I think it’s here to stay, and a good thing. That said I do believe there is still a need for big names who can still play (Look what Frank Lampard did when healthy). My worry is the same as it is for most leagues: Getting carried away with a trend and assuming that’s “how it is now”. I remember when the Anaheim Ducks won a Stanley Cup and all of the sudden “rough and tumble fighting teams are back!”. Didn’t quite pan out that way for the long-term. That’s obviously a different scenario in so many ways — let alone the lack of knives bolted to soccer players’ feet. MLS is on its way, but it still isn’t mission accomplished. That’s another lesson the league should take from hockey.

Kyle Bonn: I love it. Not only is Major League Soccer switching from big-name but aged stars, they’re buying smart. Miguel Almiron is 23. Cristian Colman is 23. Josef Martinez is 23. These purchases will go a long way, not only to build the league over time, but to give important players time to adapt to Major League Soccer, which is always a key.

 Which conference is stronger: East or West?

JPW: I think the West is very, very strong once again. Six of the top nine teams in MLS last season were from out West but I am expecting a fightback from the Eastern Conference this season. NYC FC, Red Bulls, Toronto, Philly and even Atlanta can easily compete with the best from West.

AE: It’s still the West when a team with as much talent as the Timbers can’t crack the playoff field in 2016, when 60 percent of each conference’s teams qualified. They reloaded, the six teams ahead of them reloaded, the handful of teams behind them reloaded.

MR: The West has typically received the accolades of being the strong conference in the past, but I like the depth of the East better this season. Considering both New York clubs will be strongly in the mix once again, Toronto is easily the favorite to win the conference and then you throw in Atlanta, Montreal, D.C. and Philly.

NM: It’s dead even. I thought the East had edged in front until I tried to make the case for it on Tuesday. Bet against LA, Seattle, Dallas? No thanks.

KB: The Eastern Conference will be more competitive, but there are fewer truly great teams. The Western Conference is probably better, both with overall better teams and slightly deeper, but there’s a clear cutoff around #7, with more bad teams as well.

Looking at the two new boys in Atlanta and Minnesota, which teams is set up for initial success? And which team do you think will have more success in MLS in the future?

Source: Atlanta United

JPW: To start with, they’ve gone about things very differently. Minnesota will try to be a team first effort and Adrian Heath has gone for a mixture of players who know MLS well, others from the Loons’ NASL days and then a sprinkling of unknown foreign talent. Atlanta has gone big with its coach in Gerardo Martino and plenty of star players and promising young DPs from South America. I really like what Atlanta has done. They will be competitive this season and will only get stronger with their fantastic levels of support.

AE: From day one, I like the look of Minnesota a tad more. They haven’t got the brilliant attacking prospects that Atlanta slotted into their three DP spots, but I can look at their squad and slot guys into an actual system. To me, they’ll be the more functional of the two from the start.

MR: I personally love what Atlanta has done with its initial roster. Martino and co. have added young DPs while bringing in experienced players on both ends of the field with Kenwyne Jones, Michael Parkhurst and Brad Guzan, who will arrive over the summer. That’s not to say that Minnesota doesn’t have a good roster but I believe Atlanta will be better out of the gate.

NM: I’ve seen a lot of people make a case for Minnesota, but the only edge I really see is that their organization has seen the proverbial heat of battle before this season. Atlanta United looks like a team that can compete for a home playoff match, while I believe Minnesota will struggle to be in the playoff mix in Year One. I’d be thrilled to be wrong for the sake of the Loons!

KB: I think Atlanta wins in both regards. They’ve clearly had more resources to work with, which is a bit unfair, but they have bought both smart and gone big at the same time. What a first season they should be set up for. The Eastern Conference could be a total jumble, but I think they make the playoffs.

Who is your under the radar team to watch this year, a la Colorado Rapids of 2016?

JPW: Ah, this is tough. I’m going to say the Philadelphia Union. They’ve built a strong squad and I fancy Philly to upset a few people.

AE: The Vancouver Whitecaps finally have a striker, so watch out for them.

MR: I’m not saying the Chicago Fire are going to win MLS Cup but they had themselves a fantastic offseason, and the playoffs could surely be beckoning for the Eastern Conference side. Throw in Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Juninho with one of the younger rosters in MLS and this is a club that could really shock some people in 2017.

NM: Chicago is going to surprise those who haven’t paid close attention to the offseason, and I also think they did a lot of good things under Veljko Paunovic last season despite being young and woefully shallow in depth. I wouldn’t rule out Real Salt Lake, who surprised me as a playoff team last season, making a bigger statement early this season.

KB: Probably the Columbus Crew. People have them all over the map in early-season predictions, but I think they could have a decent shot at a playoff battle if their core of players that went to a Cup final just 2 years ago repeats that performance. They still need to find a proven goalscorer, but if the new signings on defense gel early, they could patch any issues up front.

Which offseason moves have excited you the most?

JPW: Fredy Montero back in MLS, this time with the Vancouver Whitecaps, seems like a great pickup. As Andy mentioned, they’ve struggled to score goals in recent seasons so I believe Montero will get plenty of service. We all know how great of a finisher he can be.

AE: Selfishly, due to proximity, it’s the changing of the guard for Sporting Kansas City. They’re a ton younger in 2017; they’ve got pace and dynamism; and Ilie Sanchez is going to be the best player you’ve never heard of as of right now.

MR: I touched on it before but Miguel Almiron is a really promising pick up in Atlanta. I think the Chicago Fire may have brought in the best player for immediate impact though, with Nemanja Nikolic from Legia Warsaw. He scored over 40 goals in two seasons with the club, and the Fire really lacked a striker last season.

NM: I’ll be interested in seeing how well Brooks Lennon does back home (on loan) at Real Salt Lake. The fact that the youngster just didn’t head out on loan with a League One or League Two side is intriguing, and his play in U-20 World Cup qualifying has been bonkers. Aside from him, I’m interested to see how Nemanja Nikolic (Chicago), Romain Alessandrini (LA Galaxy), and Chris Mavinga (Toronto) fare with their new clubs.

KB: Atlanta. For a team that started from scratch, they’ve done an incredible job getting prepared to compete immediately.

Toronto, New York City FC, FC Dallas, LA Galaxy: Which team has a better chance of winning MLS Cup?

JPW: Something just tells me that New York City FC will kick on once again this season. Yes, they will miss Frank Lampard’s goals and experience from midfield but I think Jack Harrison will take on a leading role and with David Villa around I believe they have the X-Factor. Now, Patrick Vieira just has to figure out his defense.

AE: FC Dallas amassed a squad of talent the likes of which we’ve never seen in MLS. They’ve got two legitimate starters at all 10 outfield positions, allowing them to take CONCACAF Champions League extremely seriously early on, while not squandering points in league play. When the injuries and/or fatigue sets in come summer, they’ve got the depth to not miss a beat.

MR: I’d lean more towards Toronto because they were on the verge of hoisting the cup a season ago and if Jozy Altidore can stay healthy once again, it makes it so difficult for opposing defenses to get multiple bodies around Sebastian Giovinco.

NM: Toronto or New York City. While I don’t expect TFC to truly compete for the Supporters’ Shield thanks to international team commitments, either of these teams will be a hassle in the playoffs.

KB: FC Dallas. They came close last year, but ran into the hot team. They’re the most reloaded again this season

Who gets more goals this season: Sebastian Giovinco, David Villa or Giovani dos Santos?

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

JPW: Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant has been the best player the past two seasons and he will prove that once again. He and Jozy Altidore will have a lot of fun in 2017.

AE: Villa will be asked to score more than the other two — which he’s clearly capable of doing — but Giovinco’s going to push 40 goals and assists combined this year.

MR: Without Robbie Keane getting the lion’s share of the goals out in LA I’m going to go with Gio dos Santos. He’s battled injuries a bit over recent seasons but when he’s on the pitch he’s dynamic to say the least.

NM: Giovinco will edge Dos Santos thanks to the latter’s Mexican national team commitments (provided Giovinco isn’t back in Italy camp, which seems unlikely). I expect Giovinco to have wild numbers, but perhaps more on the assist side this year as he goes on a scorched-earth campaign having inexplicably been left off of the MLS MVP ballot. That could leave an opening for Villa.

KB: Great question. Giovinco has more goals/assists combined, but Villa probably leads the league again given his target-man position on that team. His goals aren’t nearly as fun though.

What percentage chance do you give the Sounders of repeating their MLS Cup victory and why?

JPW: Eh, I’m going to say 40 percent. I would go higher but it all depends on Clint Dempsey‘s fitness and also on the progression of Jordan Morris. Are we going to see a Sophomore slump from him? Then again, when Nicolas Lodeiro is around you always have a chance of winning games…

AE: I’ll never assign a single team anything above a 10 percent “chance of winning” before the season, because it’s MLS. As for the Sounders specifically, I’m going to have to see how they see best to use Clint Dempsey. I’m not sure he fits into that team right now.

MR: 60%. A healthy Clint Dempsey, a revamped Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro, as well as one of the most underrated backlines and goalkeepers in MLS. This Seattle team can easily muster up another title in 2017.

NM: 20 percent. I’d give a higher number to their odds of taking the Supporters’ Shield, but the playoffs are such a crapshoot. Seattle is the odds-on favorite to come out of the West, but even then a one-game title battle is a 50-50 proposition at best (even at home).

KB: Repeating is nearly impossible, but they’re as well prepared as you can be. Having a fresh Dempsey back is huge, but their defense is pretty thin, which can cause problems.

Which manager(s) are on the hot seat should they have a slow start to the season?

JPW: There are actually quite a few. Houston’s roster looks weak so I’m not sure how long Wilmer Cabrera gets at BBVA. Also, Jeff Cassar at RSL needs a strong start after some big offseason moves. Caleb Porter may be under a little pressure too after the Timbers missed the playoffs last season. He needs a fast start.

AE: Dominic Kinnear needs some progress in San Jose, but no one is more on the hot seat than Caleb Porter. The internal expectations are a little different in Portland, and he could be gone by mid-summer if all that talent is headed for another playoffs-less season.

NM: Dominic Kinnear has been the name most often bandied about, but I’ll look at Jay Heaps in New England as the Revs have underachieved. Given the hype around Portland — which I don’t entirely get — Caleb Porter shouldn’t be too comfortable, either.

KB: Aside from the obvious teams at the bottom, I would say Caleb Porter. With Portland failing to make the playoffs last year, Porter could see trouble if they have a poor start this year. That’s not a team that should be missing the postseason twice in a row.

The team you are most looking forward to watching this season is ______ because ______

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 14: John Goossens #7 of Chicago Fire celebrates a goal against Orlando City FC with teammate Brandon Vincent #3 during an MLS match at Toyota Park on August 14, 2016 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire and Orlando City SC tied 2-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

JPW: Chicago Fire because I’d love to see them do well. We all know about the fanbase in Chicago. It’s about time they had an MLS team capable of challenging for trophies to get behind.

AE: Real Salt Lake, because the intriguing youngsters who’ll be counted on to assume important roles all over the field — Justen Glad at center back; Bofo Saucedo in midfield; Jordan Allen as a starting winger; Brooks Lennon as the prodigal son in any number of positions; but most notably, Albert Rusnak as the heir to Javier Morales in the no. 10 role. There are a ton of unknowns heading into the season, and there’s a million different ways 2017 could go for RSL.

MR: Minnesota because Atlanta has received the bulk of the media coverage this offseason, and the Loons have put together a pretty solid roster of their own.

NM: The expansion clubs, and that’s simply because watching these theories put into practice is thrilling (Cheap plug for my interview on the construction of Atlanta United).

KB: Probably LA Galaxy, because they have one of the most dynamic attacks. Giovanni dos Santos is a player we’re all watching grow up from a good player to a great player, and that’s always exciting to see.

Finally, share your wildest dream for this MLS in 2017…

JPW: Both Atlanta and Minnesota United become genuine playoff contenders in their debut season. It’s so tough for expansion franchises but I’d love to see both teams come in and ruffle plenty of feathers.

AE: The Chicago Fire are going to the playoffs in 2017, and I couldn’t be more excited for that franchise and its fanbase to return to relevance.

MR: It’s a league built on parity so it would have to be seeing the Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup. The two bottom dwellers from a season ago wouldn’t exactly be pulling off Leicester City odds but it would make for great drama.

NM: Michael Bradley begins to follow the Wayne Rooney career hair arc and arrives with a midseason mullet (full-blown, too, not ironic). … Minnesota and Colorado stage a two-legged playoff match, both in an inch or more of snow. … Clint Dempsey leads the league in combined goals and assists per minutes played. … Columbus comes back from its super poor 2016 to win at least two trophies. … Brooks Lennon is leading the league in scoring and on the way to a Rookie of the Year when Jurgen Klopp calls him back for Liverpool preseason, sending Daniel Sturridge back as a makeweight. Sturridge then finishes in the Top Ten in goals despite only playing three months. … Vancouver wins the Cascadia Cup. … Wilmer Cabrera wins Coach of the Year in Houston, but the Dynamo go winless against Dallas.

KB: Giovinco gets a call-up to the Italian National Team. Come on. The guy deserves it, clearly.

Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City

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It’s hard to say that Sergio Aguero is an unforgotten man in Manchester City’s loaded lineup of talented attackers, but sometimes it does feel that way.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious, Gunners thrash Palace ]

The 29-year-old striker proved his worth once again though on Saturday afternoon at the Etihad Stadium after scoring his second hat-trick of the 2017/18 Premier League season in Man City’s 3-1 victory over Newcastle United.

Although the match never seemed in doubt that Pep Guardiola‘s side would come out on top, Aguero has a way of finding himself in all the right positions, and more importantly, capitalizing on the chances he has when he gets into those spots.

An overwhelming amount of possession — which exceeded 80 percent in favor of Man City — gave the hosts the opportunities that it needed, and City manager Pep Guardiola has full confidence in Aguero, who continues to light up English football in his 200th PL appearance.

“I said we are not going to buy a striker because we have Sergio Aguero and in 2-3 weeks we will have Gabriel Jesus,” Guardiola said after the match. “We are so happy for him. We need a guy who scores the goals.”

The Argentine international is now tied for sixth-place in England’s top flight with seven career PL hat-tricks in his time with Man City.

The true beauty of what Aguero does though isn’t the fact that he scores so many goals, but instead how he manages to score them.

It certainly helps out when you have creative masterminds in the attack like Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and David Silva, but it’s been Aguero’s genius that has helped pace the Cityzens for so many years now.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The veteran goalscorer kicked things off for City 11 minutes before halftime, after nodding home the slightest header into the far corner.

Aguero then proceeded to score from the penalty spot in the second stanza, before adding his final finish after finding himself in the right position when Sane decided to take on the entire Newcastle backline.

[ MORE: Wenger hails Arsenal, talks Aubameyang move ]

Overall, Aguero’s 16 goals in the PL are third-most this season, only trailing the likes of Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah — who have had superb campaigns in their own right.

One thing is for certain though, if the Cityzens go on to become the “greatest team in PL history” much of the team’s success will — and should be — attributed to its star striker in Sergio Aguero.

PL roundup: Top three all victorious, Gunners thrash Palace at Emirates

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

For awhile it looked like a fierce fight, but Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick gave the Cityzens yet another PL win on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.  Jacob Murphy gave the Magpies a temporary moment of relief, though, as the Newcastle front man finished off a perfectly-executed counterattack. City is once again 12 points ahead of Man United at the top of the table.

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace — FULL RECAP

The scoreline indicates a rout, and that’s exactly what it was at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners found themselves up 4-0 inside the opening 22 minutes, and that spelt absolute disaster for the Eagles, who haven’t won at Arsenal since October 1994. Arsene Wenger‘s side remains five points outside of the top four, however, that deficit could be increased to eight with Liverpool holding a match in hand.

Manchester United 1-0 Burnley — FULL RECAP

Burnley’s defense is always tough to break past, but Anthony Martial‘s second-half blast off the underside of the crossbar proved to be the difference for Jose Mourinho’s men. The Red Devils are now unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions, including Saturday’s PL win.

Brighton & Hove 0-4 Chelsea FULL RECAP

When the Blues are at their best, they’re so, so fun to watch. Willian‘s brilliance shone through on the day with a brilliant finish that came after one of the better combination plays you’ll see. Meanwhile, an Eden Hazard brace in the opening six minutes set the tone for Chelsea on the road, while Victor Moses gave Antonio Conte‘s side a fourth in the game.

West Ham United 1-1 Bournemouth — FULL RECAP

West Ham’s improvement under David Moyes has been noted, but they’ll need more goals from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in order to sustain their success. The Mexican international scored his first goal for the home side in nearly three months at the London Stadium, which proved to be critical after Ryan Fraser‘s superb strike had given Bournemouth the lead nearly a minute prior.

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Leicester City 2-0 Watford — FULL RECAP

Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez came up big on Saturday for the Foxes, who pulled themselves up to seventh place in the PL. Leicester has now held five consecutive clean sheets, as Claude Puel‘s club continues to find its best form in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Watford’s struggles just carry on with the Hornets winless in 10 of their last 11 matches.

Stoke City 2-0 Huddersfield Town — FULL RECAP

Paul Lambert‘s Stoke picked up their first win under their new manager, after goals from Joe Allen and Mame Biram Diouf gave the Potters a much-needed victory to put the side into 17th place. The loss for Huddersfield leaves the PL newcomers just three points above the relegation zone.

Everton 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionFULL RECAP

The result did no favors to relegation side West Brom, however, the discussion of the match was undoubtedly James McCarthy‘s gruesome leg injury, which halted the match for over seven minutes. Theo Walcott made an instant impact in his Toffees debut, setting up Oumar Niasse for the game’s equalizer. West Brom had gone ahead with a Jay Rodriguez finish after just seven minutes after the attacker timed his run in on goal perfectly.

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig slips; USMNT’s Chandler scores

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There’s congestion at the top and bottom of the Bundesliga table, as RB Leipzig fell to Freiburg and Koln continued its long climb back from a horrible start to the season.

[ RECAP: Man City 3-1 Newcastle ]

Schalke can go second with a Sunday win, while Bayern’s table lead could be as much as 16 if it wins its match.

Freiburg 2-1 RB Leipzig

The hosts moved further clear of relegation danger and put the race for second place into severe congestion with a comeback win against third place RB Leipzig.

Timo Werner had put the visitors ahead in the 65th minute, but Janik Haberer and Robin Koch scored four minutes apart to boost all three points for the hosts.

Freiburg is now seven points clear of the relegation playoff spot, while RBL’s 31 points makes it one of six teams within one point between second and seventh.

Mainz 3-2 Stuttgart

Yoshinori Muto scored on both sides of halftime as Mainz came back from 1-0 down and held on to move four points clear of 16th while Stuttgart is ahead of the victors by a single goal of differential.

Wolfsburg 1-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

American midfielder Timmy Chandler scored for the first time in three Bundesliga seasons and Eintracht Frankfurt pulled into a tie for fifth place with a win at Wolfsburg. Sebastien Haller and Luka Jovic also scored for the visitors.

“It’s not such a difficult thing whether it’s my right or left, because I can also play with my left,” Chandler joked after the win.

Hamburg 0-2 Koln

Simon Terodde scored his second and third goals in two matches for Koln, and the visitors continued their climb out of the Bundesliga basement with a third-straight win.

Hertha Berlin 1-1 Borussia Dortmund — Friday
Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 Augsburg
Hoffenheim 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Hannover 96 — Noon ET Sunday


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 18 14 2 2 40 12 28 7-1-0 7-1-2 44
 Bayer Leverkusen 19 8 7 4 39 27 12 4-4-1 4-3-3 31
 RB Leipzig 19 9 4 6 31 28 3 6-2-1 3-2-5 31
 Mönchengladbach 19 9 4 6 30 30 0 6-2-2 3-2-4 31
 Borussia Dortmund 19 8 6 5 40 25 15 4-2-3 4-4-2 30
 FC Schalke 04 18 8 6 4 29 24 5 5-3-1 3-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 19 8 6 5 24 20 4 2-3-4 6-3-1 30
 FC Augsburg 19 7 6 6 28 25 3 4-4-2 3-2-4 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 19 7 6 6 29 27 2 5-3-2 2-3-4 27
 Hannover 96 18 7 5 6 27 28 -1 5-3-1 2-2-5 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 19 6 7 6 27 27 0 4-3-3 2-4-3 25
 SC Freiburg 19 5 8 6 20 33 -13 4-5-1 1-3-5 23
 VfL Wolfsburg 19 3 11 5 22 24 -2 2-6-2 1-5-3 20
 VfB Stuttgart 19 6 2 11 16 24 -8 6-1-2 0-1-9 20
 FSV Mainz 05 19 5 5 9 24 33 -9 5-1-4 0-4-5 20
 Werder Bremen 18 3 7 8 14 21 -7 2-3-4 1-4-4 16
 Hamburger SV 19 4 3 12 15 28 -13 3-2-5 1-1-7 15
 1. FC Köln 19 3 3 13 14 33 -19 2-1-6 1-2-7 12

Man City 3-1 Newcastle: Aguero with perfect hat trick

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  • Aguero nets thrice
  • Bags second half PK
  • City table lead at 12 points
  • Newcastle two points clear of 18th

Sergio Aguero scored three times to continue his mastery of Newcastle United as Manchester City bounced back to post a 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Jacob Murphy scored a second half goal to pull Newcastle to within one before Aguero finished his second hat trick of the season. The Argentine scored three and posted an assist against Watford on Sept. 16.

The win gives Man City 65 points, 12 more than second place Manchester United, and improves their goal differential to 51.

Newcastle sits 15th with 23 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Newcastle high-pressed to start, and troubled Ederson was happy to see Oleksandar Zinchenko defy a Christian Atsu cross in the first 90 seconds.

The Magpies had a 3-5-2 which was five at the back when City had the ball (which was often). Leroy Sane seemed most poised to trigger a City goal, but it remained scoreless after a quarter hour.

Raheem Sterling scored an offside goal to complete a lightning counter attack, with David Silva‘s splendid pass denied an assist by the linesman’s rightly raised flag.

Silva was fouled on the edge of the 18, and Kevin De Bruyne presided over a dangerous free kick from the right only to rifled the ball over the goal.

Newcastle backstop Karl Darlow made a save a moment before City went ahead, as Aguero just deflected — we’re talking hair not head — a De Bruyne cross home.

Darlow made a fine save on De Bruyne in the 40th minute, and another just before the break as Newcastle limited the damage to 1-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City again had trouble coming through Newcastle’s tight defense, and Isaac Hayden stopped a promising pass from Sane in the 61st minute.

Paul Tierney awarded a penalty to City in the 62nd minute when Raheem Sterling dove under a Javier Manquillo challenge, and Aguero placed a perfect penalty past a correctly guessing Darlow.

Murphy then got his first goal for his club on the counter, chipping Ederson after a seeing-eye pass from Ciaran Clark put the ex-Norwich man 1v1 with the goalkeeper.

Darlow denied Sterling with an outstanding diving save after Sane’s terrific cross was turned toward the Magpies’ goal.

Newcastle could’ve had it at 2-2 when Ederson stopped Mo Diame’s hard shot but spilled the ball back to the Magpies, only to save Ayoze Perez’s rebound work.

De Bruyne and Aguero both missed curling far post efforts in bids to restore the two-goal cushion. Aguero completed his hat trick thanks to a terrific Sane assist in the 83rd minute.