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PL preview: Leicester City vs. Man City

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  • Man City unbeaten in the PL (10W-1D-0L)
  • 38 goals scored in 11 games; 16 in their last 4
  • Leicester unbeaten in last 5 games (2W-3D-0L)

It took an early-season managerial change, but Leicester City have managed to turn around another spiraling-out-of-control campaign in recent weeks, only to return from the international break as Pep Guardiola‘s irresistible Manchester City side makes its yearly visit to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After winning just one of their first eight Premier League games this season, Leicester made the bold decision to fire Craig Shakespeare four months into his tenure as the club’s full-time manager. In came former Southampton boss Claude Puel, who has a win and a draw in his first two games in charge (on the back of a win in Michael Appleton’s lone game as interim manager). With seven points from three games following Shakespeare’s dismissal, the Foxes sit on 13 points and are suddenly up to 12th in the PL table.

A little further up the table — say, the very top by a wide(ning) margin — you’ll find Man City, winners of 15 straight in all competitions (nine in the PL), scorers of 15 more goals than the next closest side, and runaway title favorites just past the quarter mark of the 2017-18 season. This is what Guardiola was hired to do at City, and he’s delivering a year or two ahead of schedule.

The only thing likely to stop City from running away with the title would be a series of injuries and/or health scares felling key figures — the first of which nearly occurred this week, as star striker Sergio Aguero fainted during halftime of Argentina’s friendly against Nigeria. Aguero has since returned to Manchester and been given a “perfect” bill of healthy by the club’s medical staff (see below). City’s new all-time leading goalscorer, Aguero has eight in eight PL games and leads a side currently on pace to score 131 goals this season.

What they’re saying

Claude Puel, on Guardiola and his new job: “He is a great manager, a fantastic manager. His teams keep possession and they counter attack well. They are the best team in Europe in this moment. … It is amazing. I am enjoying it because the feeling of the players is very good. They work with attention and a good focus.”

Pep Guardiola, on Aguero and other injuries: “The doctor says he’s perfect. He was conscious all the time in Argentina and he’s okay. Nothing to be worried about. … I have something in mind to replace (Nicolas) Otamendi. We have (Eliaquim) Mangala, maybe Kompany can come back. Kyle (Walker) can play there. … I don’t know if (Fabian) Delph will able to play because in four sessions this week, he trained two. Hopefully we can recover him, because he is so important.”

INJURIES: Leicester — OUT: Robert Huth (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Vicente Iborra (ankle) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Raheem Sterling (back), Vincent Kompany (calf), Fabian Delph (calf)

Prediction

While Leicester have seen an uptick in results of late, their defensive record remains spotty, at best, against sides induce far less terror than Man City. The game should set up in Leicester’s favor, though: City will have 70 or so percent of possession, which means more than a few chances to hit them on the counter. There’s a 10 percent chance Leicester get something from this one, and a 90 percent chance City turn them into just another statistic.

Ranking the worst failures in World Cup qualifying

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So many high expectation nations missed the 2018 World Cup that a second-tier tournament is being bandied about, enough so that people are legitimately intrigued at the idea.

That begs the question: How did we get here? In some cases, sides missed the big dance due to wonky qualifying schedules. Others had tough draws and couldn’t rebound in a playoff. Another group just flat out flopped in red, white, and blue.

[ USMNT-PORTUGAL: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Who’s failure was most heinous? Let us count the ways, er, teams.

7) Netherlands — This is a nation that, like England, has overachieved so many times that neutrals expect more from them that, perhaps, is rational. Their domestic league is not what it once was, but finishing behind Sweden is a tough pill to swallow for a side which has been on the proverbial podium the past two World Cups and four times in its history.

6) Ivory Coast — Africa’s qualifying is brutal, but Les Elephants lost two of three home qualifiers and managed two scoreless draws away from home. In fact, the team was blanked thrice despite a unit with Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Jonathan Kodija, and Wilfried Zaha. Yes, the nation is on a downswing, but still were the favorites to advance past Morocco.

5) Bosnia and Herzegovina — Perched atop the group for a decent period of qualifying, a loaded BNH side drew Greece home and away, lost in Cyprus, and lost at home to Belgium in a cycle which could’ve seen them make a deep run powered by Edin Dzeko, Sead Kolasinac, Asmir Begovic, and Miralem Pjanic.

4) Italy — The highest-ranked ELO team to miss the tournament, Italy had the misfortune of being drawn with Spain (and vice versa). Second-place there was no shame, but being unable to finish over two legs against Sweden may be understandable — Blågult only allowed nine goals in qualifying — but Gian Piero Ventura’s keeping Lorenzo Insigne out of the starting lineup will be questioned for a long, long time.

[ MORE: Arena’s baffling pregame comment ]

3) Chile — CONMEBOL qualifying is as difficult as any confederation, and probably the toughest. Still, La Roja was shutout in six of its nine away qualifiers, including losses to eighth place Ecuador and ninth place Bolivia. For a side with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to be blanked that many times? Brutal.

2) Ghana – At least the Ivory Coast finished second in its group! Ghana drew all three of its home matches, managing its only win at the Republic of Congo. That means Apparently the Black Stars couldn’t imagine a World Cup without the USMNT.

*1b) United States — With respect to the improving nature of CONCACAF, the confederation’s relative weakness and wildly forgiving Hex means the Bruce Arena’s men did as poorly as any decent nation in the world. To not even make a playoff is embarrassing, and the first leg of Honduras versus Australia lets you know all that’s needed about the quality of the lesser friends of CONCACAF.

*1a) Australia — The asterisks is important because the Socceroos dominated Honduras in the first leg only to not find a goal, and can still advance to the World Cup with a win at 4 a.m. ET in Sydney. But losing to Honduras after finishing behind Saudi Arabia on the weakness of handing Thailand one of its only two points of qualifying? Wooooof.

Portugal 1-1 USMNT: New era begins

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  • USMNT returns after World Cup debacle
  • McKennie, CCV, Adams earn 1st caps
  • McKennie scores from Sapong assist

Weston McKennie’s goal on debut was the highlight of a disjointed but encouraging 1-1 draw for the United states men’s national team in Portugal on Tuesday.

The match was the United States’ first since its historic loss in Trinidad and Tobago last month, and interim boss Dave Sarachan oversaw a young and spirited effort.

Vitorino Antunes leveled for the Portuguese before halftime, a significant error from American backstop Ethan Horvath.

[ WATCH: McKennie goal, Horvath howler ]

CJ Sapong and Kellyn Acosta took early attempts for the U.S., and Portugal was forced into a 10th minute sub when Pepe was injured.

The first 10 minutes were understandably frantic with two clubs with any fine tuning together, and Eric Lichaj bailed out an indecisive Ethan Horvath in the early goings.

DeAndre Yedlin had a few shaky moments at right back thanks to RB Leipzig forward Bruma.

[ MORE: 3 things | Player ratings ]

The Yanks had a promising move flutter when Tyler Adams couldn’t get full muster on a cut back from CJ Sapong. Beto made the save.

That’s when the Americans went ahead following a center circle interception by Acosta. Sapong raced down the left and side-footed a pass for McKennie, who worked a defender before beating Beto to the near post. Slick stuff.

[ RELATED: PST talks with McKennie ]

Horvath had been inactive before a massive error in the 31st minute. A knuckling shot dipped between his legs and trickled past John Brooks’ sliding clearance. 1-1.

The keeper made a nice collection of a Bruno Fernandes blast in the 35th minute, as this attempt didn’t dip enough. And he’d be called on for another save off a bad giveaway in the 39th.

Brooks hammered a header into the goal off a Kellyn Acosta set piece, but a foul on Miazga pulled the marker off the board before it got there.

Subs at the break: Bill Hamid for Horvath, and Cameron Carter-Vickers for Brooks. Portugal inserted Joao Mario for Fernandes.

Williams’ left-footed cross deflected to Adams, whose header saw a terrific save by Beto.

The ensuing corner saw McKennie head off the bar, and the rebound was cleared before Miazga could attempt a follow-up.

It was still 1-1 in the 59th minute, when Lynden Gooch and Jorge Villafana entered the fray for an ineffective Juan Agudelo and solid Eric Lichaj.

Man City’s Bernardo Silva stripped McKennie in a dangerous place to force Hamid into a fingertip save on Gonçalo Paciência, and Portugal couldn’t convert on the ensuing corner kick.

Carter-Vickers almost maneuvered a free kick home in the 72nd minute, but Beto’s karate kick save led to another corner.

Aguero faints, leaves Argentina-Nigeria friendly

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Sergio Aguero’s goal against Nigeria was an afterthought following a trip to the hospital.

Aguero scored to make it 2-0 in Russia against the Super Eagles, but fainted in the dressing room at halftime according to the BBC.

[ MORE: Cech calls out Spurs ]

After the match Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli said Aguero had “got dizzy and had to leave.”

Don’t fear too much, Man City fans, your hero is already back with the team (according to the team).

Nigeria scored four times in the second half to win 4-2.

FOLLOW LIVE: Portugal vs. USMNT

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The United States men’s national team takes its first bows after its epic World Cup qualifying collapse with a young team in Portugal on Tuesday.

The total of 165 caps between the 11 is betrayed by the knowledge that six players have three or less.

[ FOLLOW: Matchcenter | AE & NM Twitter ]

Teenagers Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls) and Weston McKennie (Schalke) get their first caps, and both Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur, on loan to Sheffield United) could join them with initial caps as substitute.

Sapong, of course, isn’t young. The soon-to-be 29-year-old gets his first cap in an attack with Juan Agudelo, who is truly just 24.

[ MORE: Cech calls out Spurs ]

LINEUPS

Portugal: Beto, Semedo, Pepe, Antunes, Guedes, Fernandes, Danilo Pereira, Fernandes, Bruma, Gelson Martins, Ricard Ferreira.

USMNT: Horvath, Yedlin, Miazga, Brooks, Adams, Lichaj, Williams, McKennie, Acosta, Agudelo, Sapong. Subs: Hamid, Jesse Gonzalez, Ream, Rowe, Bedoya, Dwyer, Carter-Vickers, Gooch, Villafaña.