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With 11 games to go: Premier League Best XI

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With just 11 games of the 2017-18 Premier League season to go (that’s less than a third of the campaign) we are entering the home stretch.

Bearing that in mind, is it too early to talk about a Team of the Season? Nah. Let’s go for it.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game ] 

If you had to pick today, which 11 players have shone above all others in the PL this season?

Below is my selection in an attack-minded 3-2-4-1 formation — I’ve also been cheeky and selected a subs bench of seven players — and we’d love to see your XI in the comments section below.


JPW’s Premier League Best XI, 2017-18

—– De Gea —–

—- Azpilicueta —- Otamendi —- Vertonghen —-

 —- De Bruyne —- David Silva —-

—- Sterling —- Hazard —- Firmino —- Salah —-

—- Kane —–

Subs: Ederson, Walker, Eriksen, Mahrez, Sane, Aguero, Lukaku


Pochettino, Guardiola preview key UCL clashes

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Tottenham and Manchester City begin their UEFA Champions League knockout rounds on Tuesday, with Spurs heading to Juventus and Man City at Basel.

[ MORE: JPW’s UCL last 16 predictions ]

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have been speaking about the importance of getting their UCL knockout stages off to the perfect start.

Speaking in Turin ahead of Spurs’ clash with Italian champions and last seasons’ runners up Juve, Pochettino revealed that his side will go all out for victory in the first leg in Italy.

“We are going to be brave, we are going to try to win,” Pochettino said. “We need to play with freedom and clear ideas. It’s a game we must enjoy.”

With Spurs top of the form table in the Premier League over the past six games, Harry Kane in superb goalscoring form and the likes of Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen back to their best, it’s no wonder that Pochettino is feeling confident.

Most Spurs fans would take a draw or even a one-goal loss away at Juve in the first leg but given that this is an ageing Juventus side, it seems like a winnable tie for Tottenham.

In team news Toby Alderweireld was left at home by Pochettino as the Belgian continues to recover from a long-term hamstring injury. The Belgian defender was fit enough to start last week in the FA Cup replay win against Newport County, and declared himself fit to play against Arsenal in the north London, but Pochettino left him out of the win against the Gunners and explained why.

“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to care about, because we could not put at risk his career,” Pochettino said. “We designed a plan to try to provide him with the best tools to recover as soon as possible and be stronger than before. In that period that he started to work with the team, under our judgement, he needs to build his fitness slowly. He needs to work hard. To play this type of game (against Juventus) you need to be 200 per cent.

“It’s not the same as training to compete, and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan, to try for him in to be at a high level of condition again, (and) can be competing for one place in the starting eleven. That is always what we try to do with different players. Of course we are sorry for him because when you miss some games like Arsenal or the Champions League, and we work a lot to play this type of game, I can understand that (he is frustrated). We are frustrated too because, when you cannot play, it is difficult to accept.”


As for Guardiola and Man City, their focus is not only on getting by Swiss champs Basel but being crowned European champs.

The Premier League’s runaway leaders are the bookies favorites to win the UCL, but Guardiola is understandably cautious as they head into the latter stages of a tournament they’ve slipped up in many times before.

“I don’t know,” Guardiola said when asked if they will win the Champions League. “Our target is to do better than last season. The teams are so clinical and we have to be. Basel have shown good performances in the group stage. They are good opponents. We will have difficulties here.”

Skipper Vincent Kompany, who reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals with City in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, believes that City now feel as if they belong among Europe’s elite.

“If there is a year, a moment when the club is ready to feel at home, then it’s now,” Kompany said.

City have Leroy Sane back in their squad after he made a quick recovery from the horror tackle he suffered at Cardiff City in the FA Cup last month, but Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy remain out injured and David Silva could be a doubt.

PL preview: Man City vs. Leicester City

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  • Man City 13 points clear of everyone in title race
  • Leicester up to 8th after slow start, managerial change
  • Man City unbeaten at home; Leicester just 3 away wins

For the first time since August (not including international breaks), Manchester City are fresh off an entire week between games, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, as far as Leicester City, who visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com), are concerned.

After making serious headway in the Premier League (runaway leaders and champions-elect), Champions League (group winners, into the round of 16), FA Cup (into the fifth round) and League Cup (into the final), Pep Guardiola‘s side found itself in dire need of an extended (if you considered seven days a long time) break, as fatigued bodies and injuries to key players have piled up in recent weeks. Mercifully, defender John Stones and midfield maestro David Silva are expected to be available for selection come Saturday.

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Leicester’s recent struggles (loss to Everton, draw with Swansea City), following a particularly purple patch (just one defeat in 11 games from Sept. 30 to Dec. 13) during the middle third of the already-completed portion of the season, was in many ways spurred by Man City, who, whether intentionally or not, unsettle the Foxes’ star attacker, Riyad Mahrez, with a transfer deadline day approach which proved to be unsuccessful. Mahrez then refused to report for training or make himself available for selection the following week, before returning on Friday. He will not feature for the Foxes on Saturday.

Kelechi Iheanacho, who made a $33-million move from Man City to Leicester in the summer, is still seeking his first PL goal (he has five between the FA and League Cups) for his new club. The 21-year-old has featured more prominently in recent weeks (starts in three of Leicester’s last five games – all competitions), and might just continue to do so in the absence of Shinji Okazaki (knee), who’s frequently deployed as a forward/midfielder tweener just behind Jamie Vardy.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Leroy Sane (ankle), Fabian Delph (knee), Gabriel Jesus (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (oblique); RETURNING: John Stones (knee) | Leicester — OUT: Riyad Mahrez (personal), Shinji Okazaki (knee), Wes Morgan (hamstring)

What they’re saying…

Pep Guardiola, on City’s busy season: “We have had a lot of games since August, with just one midweek off, so we needed it. We made three good training sessions and then we come back. We love to play football but when you play every three days in three or four competitions, sometimes a break is good for everybody because you come back stronger. Everybody (had a rest). The physios, chef…everybody.”

Claude Puel, on Mahrez: “I think Riyad is not available for Saturday’s game. I hope Riyad can get his head right and come back with us and work hard. The best way is for him to come back and enjoy his football. He is a magnificent player and he enjoys his football. He loves his teammates, and that’s important. He loves to touch the football but he needs to come back right.”

Prediction

Man City have won 12 straight PL games at home (18 across all competitions), outscoring opponents 44-8 during that time (55-11 including other competitions), a run which should leave Leicester with very little hope of earning anything at the Etihad. Man City 3-0 Leicester.

Man City named just six subs Saturday; Is furor warranted?

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Pep Guardiola has been hammered by some members of the media for naming six substitutes — one less than allowed — in Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Burnley on Saturday.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on Arsenal, Pogba ]

City had injuries or illness limited its senior players: David Silva, Leroy Sane, John Stones, Fabian Delph, Benjamin Mendy, and Gabriel Jesus.

Amongst the six subs were surnames like Adarabioyo, Zinchenko, and Diaz. Seldom used Danilo started (and scored).

Still, City had 71 percent possession against Burnley, out-shooting the Clarets 20-8 with a corner kick advantage of 13-3. They manufactured numerous chances including a mind-boggling Raheem Sterling miss, but dropped points when Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored late.

The unifying thread in the outcry was that Guardiola should’ve handed an opportunity to a youngster from within Man City rather than use lack of players a perceived excuse.

I’m of two minds on the matter. Of course it would’ve been nice for Guardiola to hand a kid an opportunity, but it’s also not for the media to demand when a player get his opportunity. Should just any body, or personality, be placed on the bench when only three subs can be used in the game? Not if they haven’t met the boss’ standards for inclusion.

On the other hand, or maybe it’s the same hand, using the “I don’t have enough players” when City is one of the clubs in the world to redefine fiscal power in soccer? It’s pretty tone deaf. The fact that Guardiola doesn’t care about that is his prerogative, and a part of what makes him great. That doesn’t make it much more digestible for anyone outside of possibly the City supporter base.

Watch Live: Burnley v. Manchester City

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Burnley host Manchester City at Turf Moor on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with hopes of a huge upset.

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The Clarets haven’t won any of their last eight games in the Premier League, while Man City can go 18 points clear atop the Premier League table.

In team news Burnley make two changes from the team which drew at Newcastle as Aaron Lennon makes his first start and Sam Vokes comes into the team.

City bring in Vincent Kompany and Danilo for Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko, while David Silva misses out after picking up a knock and City only named six players on the bench.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Pope; Bardsley, Long, Mee, Taylor; Lennon, Hendrick, Cork, Gudmundsson; Barnes, Vokes. SubsLowton, Nkoudou, Westwood, Wells, Lindegaard, Arfield, O’Neill.

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Danilo; Fernandinho, Gundogan; De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling; Aguero. Subs: Bravo, Laporte, Adarabioyo, Zinchenko, Yaya Toure, Diaz