Raheem Sterling

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STREAM: Man City opens season at new boys Brighton

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The crowd at Falmer Stadium will be buoyed by big performances from Watford, Huddersfield Town, and Burnley, as Brighton and Hove Albion makes its Premier League return with a visit from title-contending Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra).

[ STREAM: Brighton vs. Man City ]

Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, and Yaya Toure are all bench options for loaded City.

Brighton also surprisingly starts Championship hero Anthony Knockaert on the bench, while new boys Pascal Gross and Davy Propper start their lives in Brighton.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Suttner; Brown, Propper, Stephens, March; Gross; Hemed. Subs: Maenpaa, Huenemeier, Rosenior, Sidwell, Murphy, Knockaert, Murray.

Man City: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Stones, Danilo, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, D Silva, G Jesus, Aguero. Subs: Bravo, Bernardo, Sterling, Sane, Mangala, Foden, Yaya Toure

Is it now or never for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

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$215 million in transfer fees last summer.

$262.5 million so far this summer.

What needs to happen at Manchester City in Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era to call him a success? And is there anything that could doom the Catalan man to life outside of the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

The boss enters his sophomore campaign without a trophy, and for all of his purchases there’s a solid chance that only four of his opening day starters will come from that group (Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson, Danilo or Benjamin Mendy).

Heavy is the head that wears the crown as the purported top mind in football management, especially when there are Phil Jackson implications to this third go-round: Guardiola dominated at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with two of the deepest and best teams in the game, and significantly less competition on the table.

If he can’t do it this season at Man City — and we’re talking a PL win, UCL win, maybe multiple pieces of hardware — could it be two-and-out?

That seems a bit nutty, but consider what the hierarchy at Man City has seen from its managers in recent years. Manuel Pellegrini won the league in his first season. Roberto Mancini won the FA Cup in his first full season and claimed the league in his second.

Now that’s not to say Guardiola’s 2016-17 debut in blue was poor; City finished third, and looked stylish for much of the campaign. They scored three or more goals in 12 Premier League matches, beat Barcelona once in the UEFA Champions League before falling to Monaco, and came within extra time of an FA Cup Final.

But a deeper dig shows that Guardiola had a reverse-Klopp season. Whereas Liverpool’s German boss thrived against top PL competition but wilted against lesser lights, most of City’s failings came against the big boys.

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Two losses to champions Chelsea. A loss and a draw versus Spurs and the same against Liverpool. A win and a draw in the Manchester Derby and against Arsenal.

That’s 10 of 30 points from a master tactician. He undoubtedly is, but how big of a liar can the numbers be when it comes to Guardiola? One of the things we heard last season was, “Wait until he has all his guys!” Well, after another summer, it looks like Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and David Silva are good money to keep places in the team, and perhaps Fernandinho, too.

All of this is moot if you, like me, think Man City is going to have an outstanding year, win at least one Cup, make a deep UCL run, and contend for the Premier League crown deep into the Spring. Heck, City has convincing XIs if Guardiola divided his charges for PL and UCL competition.

But that’s the rub for Guardiola. Aside from the rising level of the league’s elite, there is no reason City shouldn’t do very, very well this year. And if they don’t, would it be crazy to imagine his dismissal from the Etihad? We probably won’t have the chance to realistically see it, but the bar is high for a man who last season missed out on a league title for just the second time in eight campaigns.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Manchester City

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Pep Guardiola gets his second go-around with Manchester City, hoping to improve on a third-place finish that came down to the wire. The Spaniard has done much work this summer to overhaul the roster and get significantly younger in key areas.

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Last season’s acceptable finish eased some of the pressure that was mounting on Pep Guardiola, but another finish in the same spot this season won’t be taken so lightly. This team expects much more after such a massive summer investment, and anything less than a title will probably seem like a disappointment.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is clear: win the Premier League championship. With such a prestigious manager plus over $280 million spent this transfer window, there’s a clear target. Should those moves gel quickly, they could be one of the most dangerous teams not just in the Premier League but in all of Europe.

However, should it take Pep Guardiola time to mesh the new players together, an early-season sputter could scuttle the season before it even truly begins. Worst-case, this team finishes outside a Champions League spot, and Guardiola likely wouldn’t last long enough to see it come to a disappointing close.


Best possible XI is…

Bravo

Walker — Stones — Kompany — Mendy

Toure — Fernandinho

D Silva — De Bruyne — Sterling

Aguero


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Benjamin Mendy (Monaco, $68 million), Kyle Walker (Tottenham, $60 million), Bernardo Silva (Monaco, $59 million), Ederson (Benfica, $47 million), Danilo ($35.5 million), Douglas Luiz (Vasco de Gama, $14 million),

Transfers Out: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, $32.8 million), Enes Unal (Villareal, $17 million), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield, $10.8 million), Nolito (Sevilla, $10.6 million), Fernando (Galatasaray, $6.2 million), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma, $6 million), Joe Hart (Loan, West Ham), Jesus Navas (Sevilla, Free), Gael Clichy (Basaksehir, Free), Pablo Zabaleta (West Ham, Free), Willy Caballero (Chelsea, Free).

Last season:

— 3rd place in Premier League
Champions League Round of 16 (lost to Monaco)
— League Cup 4th Round (lost to Manchester United)
FA Cup semifinals (lost to Arsenal)

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — Sergio Aguero’s rocky relationship with Pep Guardiola and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus has seen the Belgian playmaker rise to the top as Manchester City’s most influential star. He played the most minutes of anyone on the squad last season across all competitions, and he was involved in 30 goals (7 scored, 23 assisted), one fewer than Raheem Sterling‘s team lead. One a team bursting at the seams with both creative and finishing talent, de Bruyne is the glue that holds it all together.

Coaches’ Corner: Pep Guardiola — Despite a solid third-place finish in his first season taking over an aging squad, Guardiola’s first season in charge had largely a disappointing feel to it. The Spaniard brought in players like John Stones and Leroy Sane who either struggled or failed to make a significant impact. After his success at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich made Guardiola one of the most sought-after managers in the world, he must prove he can navigate the Premier League or he may run out his welcome in Manchester.

PST predicts: This team is just flat out too talented to struggle two seasons in a row. Guardiola will figure out how to piece the attacking talent together, rotating Jesus and Aguero through the numerous competitions and working Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, and Bernardo Silva into the rotation behind them. The central defense is still this team’s weakness, but for all of John Stones’ struggles last season, City still managed the fourth-best defensive record in the English top flight. Kyle Walker is a fantastic addition despite his high price, and Guardiola has managed to get this team significantly younger since he arrived. This is a top-two team, and will challenge for the title.

Alexis Sanchez to Man City reports gathering steam

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Alexis Sanchez’s future has still not been sorted out but Manchester City are increasingly optimistic he will be playing for them next season.

[ MORE: Ronaldo’s twin sons born

Sanchez, 28, is still on international duty with Chile who have reached the 2017 Confederations Cup final and his Arsenal future is no closer to being sorted with just one year remaining on his current contract with the Gunners.

The Guardian reports that Man City are expecting to seal the $64.7 million deal for Sanchez due to the Chilean’s desire to be reunited with his former boss at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola.

Sanchez and his agent had talks scheduled with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger at the end of the season but with the Gunners not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season it appears increasingly likely the oft-frustrated forward will move on this summer with a new contract offer of $324,000 per week reportedly turned down.

Each and every day new stories and snippets emerge on Sanchez’s future but the Chilean star (who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the PL last season) rarely gives interviews, leading to increased hype around his situation at Arsenal at every turn.

Previous reports in Chile quoted Sanchez as saying he wanted “to stay in London, but for a club that wins” so Chelsea was his next destination. When Danny Welbeck‘s name was above the No.7 shirt on Arsenal’s website for a brief moment during their new kit launch there was hysteria. Bayern Munich are now said to be out of a deal for Sanchez due to the high transfer price Arsenal is demanding. The list goes on and on and everyone wants to know one thing: will he stay or will he go?

Arsenal’s reluctance to sell to a direct PL rival — especially to City, once again, after they bought Sami Nasri, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna from the Gunners in the past — remains the main sticking point in this deal with the north London club preferring to sell Sanchez overseas to Bayern or PSG rather than see him inspire the attack of a rival in England.

From a pure playing standpoint, a move to City seems perfect for Sanchez.

He gets to play in a fluid front three system and can roam alongside Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and potentially Sergio Aguero. City, and Guardiola, also match his intense hunger to win trophies at any costs and challenge for titles in the PL and Europe, something he hasn’t been able to do at Arsenal. Yes, he has won the FA Cup twice during his three-season stint at the Emirates, but he wants more. He always wants more.

That’s why seeing Sanchez remain at Arsenal after scoring 72 goals in 145 games in all competitions seems highly unlikely.

Scotland and England draw 2-2 in wild finish

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The World Cup qualifier between Scotland and England finished in a 2-2 draw in a game that featured a stunning final five minutes that saw three goals.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain‘s 70th minute score the only goal through much of a relatively sleepy game, it burst to life in th final minutes. Scotland suddenly went in front thanks to a pair of Leigh Griffiths free-kicks just two minutes apart, the latter finding the back of the net on the stroke of added time. But Scotland couldn’t hold on as Harry Kane would equalize with just seconds remaining to see England salvage a draw.

[ MORE: Saturday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup ]

The draw keeps England’s 26-match qualifying unbeaten streak alive, but it nearly came to an end.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had England looking strong when he produced a brilliant move to skip past Scott Brown, then cut back onto his left to slide by two more defenders before ripping into the back of the net. The goal had been coming for England as they held possession for much of the game and out-shot Scotland 16-8, 9-3 on target.

However, Gordon Strachan’s side would not give in. Scotland earned a pair of free-kicks, and Leigh Griffiths deposited them both past Joe Hart. First, with the ball positioned well outside the box just a tick to the right of central, Griffiths went over the wall and into the top-right corner to level the match in the 87th minute. Then, just three minutes later, with the ball nearly in the same spot, he went to the other side, leaving Hart again grasping at air.

[ MORE: Joe Hart confirms his Manchester City career is likely over ]

With England’s backs suddenly against the wall, they pressed through added time, and Harry Kane produced the goal to salvage a point. An absolutely perfect long-ball from Raheem Sterling met Kane at the back post, and the Spurs front-man deposited it with a simple finish before wheeling away to celebrate.

The draw leaves England atop Group F, three points ahead of Slovenia. The draw is brutal for Scotland, who could have jumped into third with the three points, instead now back in fourth a point behind Slovakia and six behind the group leaders.