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“We missed something” — Guardiola blames self for last season

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The 2017-18 Manchester City squad — the one which held a 14-point lead in the Premier League title race, after just 20 games, entering this weekend — might very well go down as the best to ever grace torch England’s top flight, whether or not they finish the campaign unbeaten.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea leapfrog Man United for 2nd ]

It’s Pep Guardiola‘s second season in charge at the Etihad, and while this kind of domination was certainly envisaged and perhaps even expected by the club’s ambitious owners upon his arrival in the summer of 2016, it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first 18 months.

While much has been made of the money Man City have spent under Guardiola’s direction (net spend during Guardiola’s tenure: $385 million), it’s also true that enough credit hasn’t been given to Guardiola for what he’s done with a number of players already at the club when he arrived.

[ PL SUNDAY: Man City go for 19 straight; WBA-Arsenal ]

Kevin De Bruyne has blossomed into a arguably the best central midfielder (a “free no. 8” is what they’re calling it) in the world; Raheem Sterling has improved more than anyone anywhere; Gabriel Jesus hit the ground running from his first day in England; Nicolas Otamendi has been given a new lease on his career; and Fabian Delph is more than just a passable fill-in at left back — he might just make the England team at this summer’s World Cup. Each of the above statements is undeniably true, and each of the above players has Guardiola to thank.

Alas, being the strident self-critic that he is, Guardiola chooses to see plenty of the negative which can be gleaned from City’s destruction of the PL this season: to him, it simply means he failed miserably a year ago — quotes from Goal:

“Now when I speak with my staff I say that, in the end, we are playing with nine players from last season. So, we did something not good last season. We missed something.

“We didn’t change seven or eight players. I think the new players give energy, with the way they are in the locker room. New faces always help teams.

“But last season I missed something, when nine players who normally play are the same and the players in midfield and up front are the same.

“Something happened. Of course, they know us better and we know them better. Sometimes you need more time to adjust.”

“Last season, for example, I never thought to play Fabian Delph at full back.

“‘Oh, the brilliant Pep, how talented he is…’. Why didn’t I do that last season?

“Sometimes you need more time to see things. Now Mendy isn’t there. Fabian is there, he is able, he is smart, he is a midfield player.”

“The players who do not play regularly, they are exceptional human beings. We cannot create something when the people who do not play regularly, they always create problems, have bad faces and bad behavior.

“You can ask all the managers who have success and win titles, always there is a common thing — the group is strong. Not 11 players, the group.

“Everyone has desire to win, everybody wants to win and dreams to do that. When that happens, everything can happen.”

Barcelona issue statement on Antoine Griezmann

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Hmm, this is an interesting tactic from Barcelona.

On Saturday the Catalan club released a statement about Atletico Madrid and France striker Antoine Griezmann.

The forward has long been linked with a move to Barca and media reports in Spain have gone into overdrive regarding a move to the Nou Camp for the 26-year-old.

Below is the statement from Barca in full.

FC Barcelona strongly denies the information that has appeared over the course of the last few hours in different media regarding Atletico Madrid player, Antoine Griezmann, and an alleged deal with our club.

FC Barcelona expresses its objections in the face of these events and reiterates its full respect for the institution of Atletico Madrid.

This feels very similar to the situation with Virgil Van Dijk between Liverpool and Southampton.

Media speculation reached incredible levels back in June 2017 that VVD had agreed to sign for Liverpool, but the Anfield club then issued a public apology to Saints and ended their pursuit of Van Dijk. He then signed for Liverpool in January in a $100 million move.

With Atletico said to be incredibly unhappy that Griezmann continues to be linked with a move to Barca, plus reports suggesting the Madrid club want to report Barcelona to FIFA for an alleged approach for their star striker, it’s not too surprising to see Barca take this very unusual approach to try and calm the situation down.

Will it work? Who knows. Is it likely Griezmann will end up at Barcelona anyway? This statement suggests that the two clubs are in dialogue and Barcelona are trying to patch up their relationship to try and move for Griezmann in the summer.

Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see this.

VIDEO: Chelsea score stunning team goal

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Take a bow, Chelsea.

Willian put the Blues 2-0 up at Brighton early on Saturday and the goal was a thing of beauty.

Latching onto an error from Brighton, Chelsea surged forward through Willian who played the ball into Eden Hazard.

The Belgian played a delicious back heel to Michy Batshuayi and the forward then followed suit to flick the ball into Willian’s path who fired home.

Take a look at the stunning goal in the video above.

Watch Live: Brighton v. Chelsea

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Brighton & Hove Albion host Chelsea at the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With just one win in their last 12 games, Brighton are being dragged into a relegation battle, while Chelsea aren’t in glittering form with five draws on the spin in all competitions.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news, Brighton start with Tomer Hemed up top and have top scorer Glenn Murray on the bench. New club-record signing Jurgen Locadia isn’t illegible to make his Brighton debut after his signing was only confirmed late Friday, plus the former PSV Eindhoven forward is struggling with an injury..

Chelsea are without star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who has suffered an ankle injury in training, with Willy Caballero coming in to replace him. Alvaro Morata and Pedro are suspended, while Ross Barkley is on the bench and he could make his Chelsea debut.


LINEUPS

Brighton: Ryan; Goldson, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, Schelotto; Stephens, Propper; March, Gross, Hemed. Subs: Hunemeier, Kayal, Baldock, Murray, Izquierdo, Rosenior, Krul

Chelsea: Caballero; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Batshuayi, Hazard. SubsEduardo, David Luiz, Zappacosta, Sterling, Ampadu, Barkley, Musonda

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.