What we learned from Manchester City’s squeaker win over Crystal Palace

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  • City’s bench comes through … even Dzeko

Manuel Pellegrini responded to the tight holiday schedule with six changes, meaning a well-deserved rest for key figures. James Miler, Edin Dzeko, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastisic, Gael Clichy and Javi Garcia were the newcomers, while Yaya Toure and Alvaro Negredo and a foursome of other starters took their seats for a day.

The newcomers did their parts, retaining almost all of the possession, even if the visitors did turn up some danger moments of their own on limited time with the ball.

Dzeko continues to be something of a mystery man around the Etihad – and certainly a polarizing one. The Bosnian international peeled off smartly to pry himself loose form the marking at the moment that mattered, and his ability to do exactly this – find the space and finish clinically, that is – will check a lot of boxes as City continues to deal with Sergio Aguero’s absence.

But that’s not enough for some people, and it’s not hard to understand why. He sometimes seems to lack the all-out commitment, and way too many attacks disintegrate once they reach his feet.

(MORE: Highlights and recap as City tops Crystal Palace)

Once again, we saw an afternoon where Dzeko asked too few questions of the defense – and yet managed to make the difference with a critical goal. And in the end, isn’t that all a striker needs to do, make the difference in the moment that matters most?

  • Crystal Palace made this one difficult

Palace did make this one quite difficult; but what would we expect from a Tony Pulis side? And he has certainly injected some quality and a lot of stubbornness upon his arrival into Selhurst Park.

We are talking, after all, about a City team that has scored 37 at home while conceding just six measly goals, a stunning plus-31 goal difference at home. Plus, that’s a tad more than four goals a game at home.

So for Palace to walk away 1-0 losers is hardly a shame. Plus, Pulis’ bunch of hard-trying types had a couple of late chances to level the game. And if not for a big, stretching save off Joe Hart’s left palm, the Palace man probably would have.

In fact, speaking of City now-and-again No. 1 in goal …

  • Joe Hart is standing the test

Pellegrini keeps nailing the bullseye with his personnel decisions; it seems that a benching for Joe Hart – he’s certainly strengthened his spot as England’s No. 1, too, eh? — has done the trick. Hart seems to be back at his best, all the better for the time out of City’s starting lineup.

He has been an absolute rock in City’s goal since returning to the lineup two weeks back, and especially so over the last three days. Hart was excellent when called upon in the big win over Liverpool and (ironically) even better and braver Saturday against the far less heralded Palace.

His save on Jason Puncheon’s well-aimed volley from just beyond the 18 was the veteran keeper’s best stuff. It came after a real worry for City faithful, having seen their top backstopper take a bad cut below his left eye in a no-nonsense collision with Cameron Jerome.

It left Hart looking as if he’d been on the wrong side of a barroom brawl, but he was clearly still on top of things.

  • David Silva will miss City’s next match

The City playmaker’s cynical, late challenge will prove costly. Coming in the 89th minute as it did, we can ask a couple of questions.

First, was the challenge even necessary? Yes, Jonathan Williams was running through midfield at a hardy pace, but City seemed to have its defensive house in order behind the ball. Vincent Kompany is back there, you know?

Second, should Silva have been on the field? Pellegrini had seemed to be toying with the idea of removing the Spanish creator, surely considering that Silva was sitting on four yellow cards and was, in fact, just one bad challenge from missing his next match. The manager chose other switches instead and, well …

Silva’s fifth booking means he misses City’s New Year’s Day match at Swansea.

WATCH: Hartford Athletic scores wild 90th-minute winner

Hartford Athletic goal
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It’s very rare in this age full of soccer on our screens that we catch a goal of unique ingenuity.

The USL Championship delivered the goods on Wednesday.

Hartford Athletic had blown a two-goal lead to Philadelphia Union II on Wednesday and was staring down a 2-2 draw when Danny Barrera swung into action.

[ REPORT: Spurs land Mourinho’s “top target” ]

Well, perhaps he lunged into action. Or flailed. On third thought, swung is good.

Heck, you pick the verb.

Barrera, 30, turned Philadelphia goalkeeper Mitchell Budler into a gift horse, reacting quickly to flick his back boot into the path of the keeper’s attempted outlet throw in the 90th minute.

The 81st-minute sub became the match-winning goalscorer off the play, which gives him two goals and seven assists on the season.

Hartford has 32 points and is a point off table-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies with one match to play. Second-place Louisville City is also on 32 points and Pittsburgh Riverhounds have 31.

Hartford may be able to look back at Barrera’s goal as the surprise three points that swung a title race in its favor.

Leeds – Manchester City: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Leeds - Manchester City
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Leeds – Manchester City: It’s been so far, so good for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in their return to the Premier League, but a visit from Man City to Elland Road is a stiffer test (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Leeds fell 4-3 to Liverpool on Opening Day but has since beaten Fulham and Sheffield United to sit top half of the table in this very young Premier League season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City fell 5-2 to Leicester City at home last weekend after beating Wolves to start their PL season. A midweek clean sheet of Burnley shows that Pep Guardiola’s men aren’t dead, and the Catalan mastermind will relish the chance to match wits with a man he hails as a role model in Bielsa.

Guardiola once called Bielsa the best manager in the world.

“Winning titles helps to have a job next season but at the end of your life, what you remember is not the titles you have won, what you remember is the memories you have and whether the manager taught you a lot,” Guardiola once said when asked about Bielsa. “What we remember are the experiences and the memories, the players you have had, the managers you have had. Marcelo is at the top of the list. Absolutely at the top of the list.”


Team news for Leeds – Manchester City (INJURY REPORT)

Leeds will not have emerging star winger Jack Harrison, who is in his second season on loan to the club from Man City and ineligible to play against his parent club. Gaetano Berardi (knee), Adam Forshaw (groin), Pablo Hernandez (groin) are on the injured list.

Things are getting better for Manchester City, who got Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva back in a midweek League Cup win over Burnley. Still out are Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19), and Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed).


What they’re saying

Leeds’ young goalkeeper Illan Meslier on keeping a clean sheet: “I’m happy because in the last game against Fulham I felt I could have saved the last two goals, but against Sheffield I saved two important chances and we arrived at half time at 0-0 which was important. It is just one game though, and we are focused on the next game now and then the one after that. For the spectators I think 4-3 games are better, but for the team and me it is better one-nil. We managed to do that on Sunday and win the game so it is all good.”

Man City boss Guardiola on new signing Ruben Dias: “We know Ruben Dias’s personality and I am sure he will be an incredible player for the next six or seven years. We’re very happy to have him. Our back four are now a young team. We start training tomorrow and get going as quick as possible.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This line has probably become a lot tighter than it would’ve been in August since Leeds has burst onto the scene while Man City has been up-and-down (relatively speaking). Leeds is +675 to win at home and +440 to draw, while City is -290 to collect all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Leeds – Manchester City prediction

Leeds is a talented side and only getting better and deeper in terms of talent and experience. And Bielsa can plan for any opposition. But injured or not, City still has Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, Raheem Sterling, and more. Man City 3-1.


How to watch Leeds – Manchester City stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Manchester United – Tottenham: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Manchester United – Tottenham: Jose Mourinho’s latest Premier League project waltzes into his previous stop when Tottenham Hotspur visits Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Both clubs boast midweek wins in the League Cup, though Tottenham’s Thursday visit from Europa League foes Maccabi Haifa have complicated Mourinho’s planning for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Tottenham may have a new striker in the fold, with reports claiming the North Londoners have loaned Mourinho’s No. 1 target, Carlos Vinicius, from Benfica.

Meanwhile, Solskjaer has grown frustrated of answering questions on United’s transfer activity with days to go in the window.


Team news for Manchester United – Tottenham (INJURY REPORT)

Same old, same old for United, which is still dealing with long-term injuries to Axel Tuanzebe (ankle) and Phil Jones (knee).

Tottenham is still waiting for Gareth Bale to regain full fitness after a knee injury, while Heung-min Son is unlikely to play Sunday but manager Jose Mourinho was unwilling to completely rule the South Korean out.


What they’re saying

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Man Utd’s transfer activity“I can’t give you any news. We are working with what we have got. We have a big squad. If there is any update, we will let you know. I don’t comment on other teams’ players. I can’t concern myself with other clubs. I know the club is working well and hard to have a strong squad as possible. Sometimes speculation is there and we can’t control that.”

Spurs’ boss Mourinho on midweek League Cup win over Chelsea“We were ready to fight, I told you. I told the players before the penalties that they were magnificent in the second half, we made Chelsea look ordinary. The team waited for the right moment…. I have to think about three games at the same time but the players only thought about this game, they were phenomenal. Phenomenal.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Man United is -108 to win while visiting Spurs register a +290 odds to get all three points against Jose Mourinho’s former club. A draw nets the bettor +260.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Manchester United – Tottenham prediction

Tottenham’s looked the superior team in all competitions so far, though United’s stars have yet to really fire on all cylinders aside from Bruno Fernandes. The variables for this weekend, however, favor United. Spurs will have played Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday while United played Saturday-Tuesday. If Old Trafford was full of screaming fans we might expect a little more advantage for a home side, too. Son’s absence looms large, though, and that will tilt the scales from a 2-2 draw to a 2-1 Man United win.


How to watch Manchester United – Tottenham stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Report: Tottenham lands Mourinho’s No. 1 striker target from Benfica

Carlos Vinicius to Tottenham
Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images
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If Gareth Bale doesn’t have “it” anymore, then Jose Mourinho’s gonna have other options.

Heck, even if he does.

Tottenham will soon announce the signing of Benfica striker Carlos Vinicius on a one-year loan and $50 million-plus option-to-buy after the season.

[ MORE: Champions League draw preview ]

Not to be confused with Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior, Carlos Vinicius is a 25-year-old Brazilian striker coming off a career-year in Portugal.

Vinicius scored 23 times with 13 assists in a breakout 2019-20 season, his 18 league goals tied for the Portuguese top flight lead with teammate Pizzi and Rio Ave’s Mehdi Taremi.

He’s also comfortable coming off the bench, scoring those six of his 18 league goals in substitute performances.

[ MORE: Mourinho on League Cup defeat of Chelsea ]

Football.London reporter Alasdair Gold says Vinicius was Jose Mourinho’s No. 1 summer target but the price tag was too high earlier in the window.

Vinicius used to belong to Napoli but twice went out on loan, one of those a 16-appearance, 2-goal campaign for Monaco in Ligue 1.

The player shares an agency with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ederson, Ruben Neves, Ruben Dias, and Matt Doherty.