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How has PFA left this man off its Best XI?

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The Professional Footballers’ Association announced its Best XI on Wednesday without a lot of controversy.

PST editor Joe Prince-Wright covers his biggest “snubs” here, but there’s one in particular that drives me absolutely bonkers.

Here’s a hint: He’s the only one of the PFA’s nominees for Players’ Player of the Year to miss out on the XI.

MORE: Ranking each Man City player out of 10
MORE: Jose Mourinho reacts to City’s title
MORE: The Opta numbers behind the title

MORE: Twitter reaction to title win

Watching Manchester City this season is to watch a masterclass in preparation, sure, but there’s little doubt which players matter the most to what Pep Guardiola requires from his men.

Sergio Aguero, when healthy, is the clinical finisher. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva take turns as midfield maestros, and Ederson proved why Guardiola believed he needed fancy feet between the sticks.

But the straw that stirs the tactical drink is one Leroy Sane, whose 12 assists are second in the Premier League and nine goals aren’t too shabby either.

So often, the plan is to get the ball to Sane near the left touch line, facing defenders and about five yards beyond the corner of the 18. His crossing is reliable, and his dribbling is perhaps responsible for any freedom De Bruyne receives in the center or right of the attack.

Sane may be slighted because he didn’t feature as much as his teammates, but in a way that makes his accomplishments even more impressive. The 22-year-old played 700 less minutes than De Bruyne and about 200 less than Silva and Raheem Sterling.

The question would be who do you remove from the list? Well, for one, I’d easily go to a back three. And secondly, as good as Christian Eriksen has been his 10 goals and eight assists are behind Sane.

Who would be on my all-snub team, you almost certainly haven’t asked? Well, I’m glad you didn’t, but…

Ederson

Van Dijk — Tarkowski — Azpilicueta

 Kante — Fernandinho — Matic

Sterling  — Willian — Sane

Lukaku

Roundtable: Can Man City create dynasty?

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As we continue to break down Manchester City’s Premier League title-winning season, it is time to look at some bigger picture questions around Pep Guardiola‘s latest masterpiece.

Is he creating a dynasty? Where does this City team rank, all-time? How can they improve?

[ MORE: PST’s coverage of Man City’s title win ]

With that in mind the Pro Soccer Talk got together in a roundtable format to discuss Man City’s title win. Here it goes…


What has been the most impressive thing about this Man City team this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: The way Pep’s tactics and philosophy have clicked into place. That doesn’t just happen. City were a long way off a Pep team last season but it takes hard work on the training ground on the small details and all of the players to buy into Pep’s philosophy. They did and it worked splendidly well.

Nick Mendola: The consistent dominance in the deepest league in the world. Forget style for a moment and look at the numbers.

Kyle Bonn: I would have to say the team’s grasp of Pep’s tactics. Last season they just flat out didn’t get it. It never clicked, and that seemed like a huge problem going forward into the long-term. But this year, they’ve slapped the puzzle together and made it work in pretty stunning fashion considering how out of sync things appeared last year.

Dan Karell: (Until recently), it’s been the overall consistency in league play. Man City was dominant from the start and aside from this recent run of form, it has remained the dominant force in the Premier League.


Does the amount of money Guardiola has spent take away from their achievement?

Prince-Wright: A little. It will always be there with City because they’ve come such a long way in such a short space of time and that is down to the huge financial backing from Abu Dhabi. Still, you can chuck money at it whatever way you like (ahem, Man United…) and it doesn’t guarantee success. Guardiola has a plan and he has been lucky enough, as he often says, to acquire top players who can carry out what he wants.

Mendola: It’s a ton of dough, yes, and outspending rivals should make a team the favorite to win the league… but I have a hard time saying a couple hundred million bucks is the reason a team won the league in such impressive fashion with a month-and-a-half to spare.

Bonn: I don’t believe so no. Many top teams in the Premie League either spend similar amounts or at least have the means to do so. It’s easy to nitpick amounts spent, but it’s still very hard to dominate such a competitive league the way they have.

Karell: Not at all. If you want to win in world soccer, you pretty much have to spend, and Man City has not only spent big but spent smartly. Also consider that one of the biggest signings for Man City, Benjamin Mendy, has missed the entire season with a torn ACL and is just returning to fitness.


Are we seeing the start of a new dynasty in the PL? Three titles in seven seasons is impressive, but does it feel like they can easily repeat this success for the next few years?

Prince-Wright: It does. It really does. Manchester United and Chelsea are the only teams to win back-to-back titles in the PL era (United won it three times on the spin twice) but no team has successfully defended their title in a decade. That shows how competitive it is each season and in City’s case they didn’t do well at all the season after winning their first two PL trophies. This feels different and given the finances Pep will get to spend this summer to make City into genuine favorites for the Champions League, plus the likes of Sterling, Sane and Ederson all being so young, there is a real possibility they will dominate the PL for many years to come.

Mendola: Maybe, sure, but the amount of money being spent by Chelsea and Manchester United isn’t going to die down, and Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Spurs… there are a lot of teams who can catch fire for a season.

Bonn: No. Dynasty doesn’t fit Manchester City’s success. Obviously much of how the league views City also has to do with their success in Europe, which at this point is minimal. Especially this year potentially going down to a Premier League team paints them as beatable. It feels like ages ago that Sergio Aguero’s miracle goal won them the league, and they have plenty of work ahead to establish themselves as a “dynasty” like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United did.

Karell: Maybe. This team definitely has some legit pieces who could win titles for many years, but there are still questions about some of the older players and whether they can keep up the pace in the future. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling will be around for years as will Kevin De Bruyne, but Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho are all on the wrong side of 30 and play in crucial positions in the spine of the team. Finding replacements for them (though Gabriel Jesus seems terrific so far) will be necessary for Pep Guardiola to keep this team at the top of the Premier League


Which player has been the most important for City this season?

Prince-Wright: I want to say Kevin de Bruyne, and it probably has been, but I’m going with David Silva. You can pick KDB, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Ederson, Aguero… they’ve all been very important in their own ways. But Silva has made everything tick and his play has set the tone for the entire team. Defenders give him the ball and he gets things going from that slightly deeper role and he’s still found time to pop up in the box and score or assist. KDB has been the star but City aren’t the same team when Silva is missing.

Mendola: It’s Kevin De Bruyne, though there’s an argument to be made for Leroy Sane. The German on the left side has been the target for so much of Guardiola’s attack. And whatever freedom De Bruyne can manage, often on the right, is somewhat tied to that.

Bonn: Ederson. A ball-playing goalkeeper is so important to Pep’s system, but also that goalkeeper must be, you know, a good goalkeeper. This is where Claudio Bravo failed, and it was a massive problem. Now that Ederson has the goal locked up *and* can play the team out of the back to perfection, the ball movement flows beautifully.

Karell: It’s got to be Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian has been a maestro in the midfield and thanks to Fernandinho’s strong work cleaning up loose balls behind him, de Bruyne has the freedom to create and set the tempo, leading to goals goals goals.


And which new arrival has had the biggest impact in their debut campaign at the Etihad?

Prince-Wright: Ederson. His array of passing with his feet is unreal. Kyle Walker has done well too but the Brazilian goalkeeper was the calm, possession based stopper Pep wanted after the Claudio Bravo experiment went badly wrong. If you want to find out more about Ederson, here’s a piece on him from myself after I met him earlier this season.

Mendola: Ederson, who exemplified Guardiola’s plans for the goalkeeper position (and showed us why Claudio Bravo was a thought). It might’ve been Benjamin Mendy or Aymeric Laporte with health and a full season, but it’s certainly not Kyle Walker and neither Danilo nor Bernardo Silva played enough to make it count.

Bonn: Ederson, clearly. But at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll pick someone new to talk about here. Kyle Walker was a no-brainer for Pep to snatch and slide right into his system, and it’s gone exactly how most would have expected: brilliantly. Walker is a perfect fit for Pep’s style, and his importance to the squad can’t be overstated

Karell: Ederson. He’s come in and completely dominated the position, ensuring that Claudio Bravo wouldn’t play again. Not only a gifted goalkeeper defensively, Ederson’s ability to pick out a pass from 50+ yards away has effectively given Man City an extra midfielder on a field full of them.


Be honest, after last season did you think it would be possible for Guardiola’s team to dominate this league by sticking to his playing philosophy?

Prince-Wright: No. I didn’t think they could do it. I picked City to win the league but winning it is one thing and winning it with this style is another. A joy to watch.

Mendola: Dominate? No, but there was enough in how they played to imagine they’d be able to contend for the title this season. Kudos to City’s hierarchy for not flipping their collective lid after finishing 15 points behind Chelsea’s first year boss last season.

Bonn: Nope. Not one bit. Between their lack of understanding of the tactical setup and their inability to defend, there was no reason to think this team would end up here.

Karell: Yes. I predicted from the start that Man City would win the Premier League and they lived up to the lofty expectations set by fans and the media (and they themselves, surely). Man City was the best team on paper coming into the season and they proved it on the field too, playing their way.


Where, if anywhere, can this Man City team improve? Where do they need to add new players in the summer?

Prince-Wright: Bringing in Fred to be the long-term replacement for Fernandinho is a good move and I still think they need another new center back with Vincent Kompany not getting any younger and John Stones struggling. Apart from that, pretty set, but they have to keep an eye on the Sergio Aguero situation with the Argentine stating again he will leave in 2020 at the end of his contract to go back to Independiente.

Mendola: Benjamin Mendy returning to health fixes the left back issue, and competition for Kyle Walker at right back isn’t a bad idea. I’d vote for improvements on John Stones and either growth from or competition for young Gabriel Jesus behind Sergio Aguero (who is 29).

Bonn: They probably need to thin the wing-back ranks to get more consistency, but also they need another striker. They’re lucky Sergio Aguero has made it through the season unscathed, because the squad lacks another target man. With Aguero about to summit 30, they could use the insurance. Also, the midfield could use some support as Fernandinho has been spectacular so far but he has nobody who can play that role and Gundogan is injury prone.

Karell: Of course they can improve. The fact that the team was winning games 4-0 and 5-0 masked some defensive issues and they certainly need to get younger in their spine, with Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany all 30-years old or older.


Finally, where will this City team go down, all-time, in PL history? The best team ever?

Prince-Wright: Third best behind the Invincibles and United’s 1998/99 side. Chelsea’s great teams will be in the conversation too but we always remember the more stylish teams and City fall into that bracket. If they had won the UCL, then they would’ve been the best PL team ever.

Mendola: Just behind Arsenal’s Invincibles and United’s 1998/99 squad? Chelsea worth a shout? It’s either The Invincibles or this team, and I’m leaning heavily toward City. Arsenal’s unbeaten team dropped points 12 times despite finishing the league season unbeaten, and City is already 20 goals worth of differential ahead of their pace. The style is similar, but the league is better and deeper now. This season is nuts.

Bonn: It’s hard to slide then in anywhere definitively at this point, but I think they slide in around 3rd. Really tough to argue they go anywhere below that given the sheer dominance. I don’t think they make it above the Invincibles, but they would be a good battle for Man United in the late 90’s or Chelsea’s 04/05 team.

Karell: I think they’re certainly in the top 5 of the Premier League’s history of teams. Their offensive dominance and flair for the beautiful has been fun to watch. I think they’re behind the 04/05 Chelsea team and Arsenal Invincibles but it’s certainly a ridiculously good team and one that will be talked about for many years to come.

Walker: England need a “miracle” to win World Cup

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There’s nothing quite like positive thinking…

Then again, this is the English national team we are talking about.

[ MORE: England to host USMNT ]

With Gareth Southgate‘s side once again waltzing through qualification to a major tournament, it appears the Three Lions squad are keeping their feet firmly on the ground despite a growing sense that they could be a darkhorse at the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Manchester City and England right back Kyle Walker is having none of that.

Walker spoke to TalkSport on Wednesday and had this to say when asked about England’s chances at the World Cup in Russia.

“I hope we can go as far as we can go, but we need to be realistic. To win the World Cup is going to be a miracle, but we have got the players to do it,” Walker said. “A lot of us play in probably the best league in the world. We’ve got the players to do it, but have we got the experience going further along in competitions? No we haven’t. Not in recent years. We need to be realistic. There are a lot of good teams out there and our record in tournaments has not been fantastic.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations inside the camp – England haven’t won a knockout game for God knows how many years, so for us to go there and win a knockout game, that would be a step in the right direction.”

Tell it how it is, Kyle…

Seriously, where are we with this England team? It feels like in the past few tournaments they’ve gone from potential semifinalists (EURO 2012), to shambles (2014 World Cup) to darkhorses (pre-EURO 2016) and then back to shambles (post-EURO 2016).

And so the cycle continues.

England has a squad of hugely talented players and it does appear that Southgate is picking horses for courses in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, rather than simply selecting the biggest names and upsetting the balance of the team. That was the problem with several England managers in the past but now they have a balance and they are tough to break down with Walker converted to a right-sided center back and a squad of players who are dynamic in attack and comfortable on the ball, even if their goalkeeping issue is yet to be resolved.

Walker has this spot on. England need to first get out of their group which includes Belgium, Tunisia and Panama and that should be doable with the Three Lions facing Belgium in their final Group G game. Then it’s all about the knockout rounds and, like France in the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals with a young, hungry side would be seen as success and a significant step in the right direction.

Walker and his teammates will have to deal with growing expectation, and pressure, if England get out of their group and win their Round of 16 game, but it seems like they’re comfortable with flying under the radar which is in stark contrast to the levels of expectation at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

You can’t class England as an underdog due to the talent at Southgate’s disposal

Sergio Aguero undergoes knee surgery

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It appears that Manchester City’s leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero will miss the rest of the 2017/18 Premier League season.

Aguero, 29, has been struggling with a right knee injury and hasn’t started a game since City’s win against Chelsea on Mar. 4 and made a brief substitute appearance in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg defeat against Liverpool after being caught with a heavy challenge by Ashley Young in the Manchester derby after coming on as a sub.

He was left out of the squad entirely for the 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday and the Argentine striker, City’s all-time leading scorer with 199 goals, sent out a message on Twitter on Tuesday confirming his injury.

“Recovering from an arthroscopy on my knee. Fully motivated to get back soon to the field,” Aguero said.

Reports state that Aguero will be out for around a month, which means he is likely to miss City’s final five Premier League games with the champions aiming to set new records for the number of points, goals and games won in a single season.

Pep Guardiola was previously optimistic that Aguero could be back for the final few games of the season, but why would City risk rushing their star striker back?

Gabriel Jesus, 21, will now be tasked with being City’s main attacking threat for the rest of the season as the Brazilian has returned from his own knee injury and has scored three goals in his last five games.

Still, there’s only one Aguero and there’s no doubt City missed him badly in the two Champions League defeats to Liverpool earlier this month.

Having the surgery now means that Aguero will be fully fit for the World Cup this summer and will have a nice rest before the tournament.

How have Man City’s veterans reinvented themselves?

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The new kids on the block at Manchester City have been very, very good this season, but what about the veterans who have now won their third title with the Citizens?

Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero have reinvented themselves and have undoubtedly improved under Pep Guardiola‘s guidance as question marks around their future at the club hung in the air following the third-place finish in 2016/17.

Yet with Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Aleksandar Kolarov and Yaya Toure deemed surplus to requirements since Guardiola arrived in the summer of 2016, the Spanish coach believed in Silva, Kompany and Aguero but has had to help all three adjust to new roles and ways of playing to elongate their City careers.

How exactly have they changed their games and adapted to Pep’s methods?

The most dramatic change has been in Sergio Aguero’s game, as the Argentine striker who previously would start shivering and look around in a daze if he went anywhere near the halfway line has now become a mobile part of City’s attack and is popping up out wide and in deeper roles as well as being the Johnny on the Spot the team needs to finish off chances. City missed Aguero badly for the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal defeats to Liverpool with Gabriel Jesus a fine understudy but not yet possessing Aguero’s predatory instincts.

Aguero is now 29 years old but he has now scored at least 20 PL goals in each of his past four seasons and in three of his last four campaigns he has scored at least 30 in all competitions. At City and this season he has added more dynamism and link-up play to his performances as he broke Eric Brook’s record and is now City’s all-time leading goalscorer and is already prepping himself to return to Independiente when his City contract ends in the summer of 2020. He now has 199 goals in 292 games for City in all competitions and his status as not only a City legend but a PL legend is secure.

Speaking of club legends, Kompany also falls into that category as the Belgian center back has now captained City to three league titles in the past seven years. Although the first PL trophy, in 2011/12, will have been the sweetest to end City’s 44-year wait for a league title, this will be a close second, especially for Kompany.

The towering center back has been ravaged by injuries over the past few seasons and his career was in considerable doubt at the end of last season as Guardiola tried to nurse him back to full fitness as carefully as possible, something which seemed to frustrate Kompany. Yet Guardiola’s patience has paid off and Kompany, 32, has delivered plenty of commanding displays this season — the League Cup final win against Arsenal stands out particularly as he had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his back pocket — as his calf problems have dissipated and been managed expertly with plenty of games off to rest.

He seems to have admitted that his once blistering pace is long gone (due to the injuries) and Kompany now spends more time pushing forward and being tight to the striker he is marking. That suits City’s high-pressing style under Guardiola well and although Kompany has made just 19 appearances this season, you can make a real argument that whenever he is in the team they look more organized and confident defensively. Kompany has reinvented himself in accepting his limitations and, crucially, by working with Guardiola’s medical staff to regain his fitness.

Focusing on David Silva, the 32-year-old Spanish midfielder has had his best-ever PL season and his pulled the strings alongside Kevin De Bruyne in a slightly deeper role in midfield. They’ve been eerily similar to Xavi and Iniesta in Pep’s Barcelona teams and the runs of Silva and KDB into gaps opened up by Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling staying wide have seen Silva grab 11 assists and nine goals, while KDB has 20 assists and 11 goals.

Silva’s reinvention as a deeper central midfielder comes from being in the right place at the right time. Guardiola realized his countryman had the ability to dictate the tempo of the game and everything ticks when Silva is on song. His clever passes round the corners, perfectly weighted cutbacks and surging runs have become a trademark of one of the greatest teams the Premier League has ever seen. Silva is now in his eighth season at City and the $35 million they paid Valencia for him in 2010 is a bargain. Silva will pull the strings for Spain at the World Cup this summer and he is in the conversation for City’s best-ever PL player alongside Kompany and Aguero in terms of his incredible consistency as he’s played in 344 games over the past eight seasons, the lowest games tally being 36 in 2015/16 and that was down to an injury.

Silva’s off-field problems must also be taken into account when assessing his brilliance this season. His newborn son Mateo was born prematurely and he has missed games to travel back to Spain to be with him, yet his play on the pitch hasn’t dropped at all as he dedicated his third title at City to his son who continues to battle.