Aymeric Laporte

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Pep Guardiola admits Liverpool are ‘unstoppable’

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Pep Guardiola has admitted that Liverpool look “unstoppable” right now.

Manchester City, the reigning Premier League champions, already sit eight points behind league-leaders Liverpool who have won a perfect eight out of eight to start the season.

Asked about the challenge of chasing down Liverpool, for a second season in a row, Guardiola was adamant this would not be easy and the way Man City reduced Liverpool’s lead last season to win the title on the final day means nothing.

“I don’t believe in that kind of thing, every season is different,” Guardiola said. “In sport the only way to do well is to stay in the present. I’m not setting any points targets or objectives at this stage. In April and May you can do that but what we are facing is an opponent who are unstoppable right now. Liverpool are champions of Europe and haven’t lost once in eight games.

“We’ll just have to try and do what we can, we have 50 games left in all competitions. I’m not concerned about being the guy who thinks he’s going to win every Premier League for the rest of his life. Of course I still want to win, and I still believe we are contenders, but there is a long way to go and all sorts of dynamics, momentums and injuries still to happen. If we don’t win I will say congratulations to the team that does. What Liverpool are doing is fantastic but Chelsea and Arsenal are also getting better. The level is rising all the time.”

So, that’s not Guardiola chucking the towel in but there seems to be a realization from the Spanish coach that his team face an almighty task to overhaul Liverpool’s lead this season.

Defensive injuries have hit City hard early in the season, so there is hope they can get back to their best once their first choice defensive options return in the coming months.

Aymeric Laporte is out injured, John Stones had been injured and out of form and the emergency center back pairing of Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi hasn’t worked out.

Liverpool know that City will stay in this title race Jurgen Klopp certainly knows it is still early days. But Guardiola’s admission that Liverpool seem “unstoppable” suggests that the Reds are winning the psychological battle right now.

Premier League preview: Crystal Palace v. Man City

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  • Crystal Palace has earned four points in their last 3 PL games v. MCFC
  • Crystal Palace has 3 clean sheets in 4 home PL matches this season
  • Sergio Aguero has not scored in 6 PL matches at Selhurst Park

With Liverpool set to face Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal in the next three matches with Champions League play sprinkled in, now is the time for Manchester City to pounce.

Pep Guardiola leads Man City to Selhurst Park with a hefty eight point distance between them and the Reds atop the Premier League table, looking to make a dent in the differential as they face Crystal Palace on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace v. Manchester City ]

Kevin De Bruyne has been on fire despite his injury troubles, with eight assists in league play this season, double anyone else in the league. Unfortunately, the Man City defense has not followed suit, with the squad banged up and conceding twice to Wolves before the international break and recording just three clean sheets this season. The nine goals they’ve conceded thus far is triple what they allowed through the first eight matches of last season – in fact, it took them until a Week 16 loss to Chelsea to concede nine league goals.

Now, they face an in-form Crystal Palace side challenging for a European place to begin the season, having won its last two and four of its last six. They have been excellent at home, going unbeaten in four this season in league play. They aren’t dominating teams, but they’re earning results and sit sixth in the table with 14 points. What’s more, they’re doing all this without stalwart defender James Tomkins, who struggled with a groin injury early in the season and has suddenly found his place in the squad snatched up by Martin Kelly and Gary Cahill who are performing well together at Selhurst Park.

Roy Hodgson has instilled a culture of consistency at Crystal Palace that has allowed the club to not just earn results against teams they should beat but also challenge for points against the best squads in the league week in and week out.

Injuries/suspensions

Crystal Palace: OUT – Mamadou Sakho (groin), Connor Wickham (ankle).

Man City: OUT – Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee). QUESTIONABLE – John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (thigh).


Projected lineups

Crystal Palace: Guaita; van Aanholt, Cahill, Kelly, Ward; McArthur, Schlupp, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Zaha; Ayew.

Man City: Ederson; Zinchenko, Otamendi, Stones, Walker; Fernandinho, De Bruyne, David Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Bernardo Silva.


What they’re saying

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson on Raheem Sterling: “The criticism that could be leveled at him then and was, much to my displeasure because I would see him playing well, the big thing for Raheem is that there’s no draining his confidence, and no doubts. He’s playing in a team that creates a lot of chances so he gets in the right positions. His maturity, not just as a Manchester City player, but shouldering a very heavy burden with the racism and the attention that is being paid to the racism problem that we have. He has been a spokesperson.”

Man City boss Guardiola on Roy Hodgson: “I think since Roy took over the team [Palace] with zero points and helped them to avoid relegation, they have always made a really good season. They have incredibly talented players. Of course I admire him. He has the patience and love. It’s incredible. You have to have a lot of energy every day and he is there.”


Prediction

Manchester City has a loaded squad with reinforcements on the way in John Stones and Benjamin Mendy. Stones in particular is a massive addition, and if he is indeed fit to play, his presence gives this squad new life at the back. Still, Crystal Palace is as formidable a mid-table side as any in the Premier League and will be hungry to prove they mean business challenging for Europe this season. It will be a hard-fought grind, but Man City walks away with a quality 1-0 victory behind a goal from Raheem Sterling.

England struck by poor club form in qualifying blip

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What do you do as a national team manager when the best players in your group are struggling at the club level?

That’s the issue currently facing Gareth Southgate, and it’s spilled over into Euro 2020 qualification as England fell to the Czech Republic 2-1 on Friday, its first Euro qualifying defeat in ten years.

While its obvious England has a massive talent imbalance between offense and defense, the poor form plague has also struck, leaving Southgate with a host of difficult choices both up front and at the back. It has become such a pestilence that Southgate was left with no choice but to admit it after the match.

“In terms of the players, I think there are players who are not playing well for their clubs, but that is the situation we are in at the moment, certainly in a couple of positions,” admitted Southgate in the post-match press conference. “We collectively have to accept the result, but of course, as the manager, then I have got to accept that as well, absolutely.”

The England boss has some serious pondering to do up and down the pitch. Marcus Rashford has become a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the suddenly stagnant Manchester United attack, and he gave way in the England starting lineup to young Jadon Sancho, who was unable to lift England on the day. In midfield, a now-broken Dele Alli was a guaranteed starter at the World Cup two years ago but was left out entirely this international break as Tottenham continues to flounder, while fellow Spur Harry Winks was relegated to the bench. Harry Maguire in defense has begun his Red Devils career well, but beside him was Michael Keane who has been downright poor at Everton thus far. Ross Barkley has lost his place at Chelsea and was left among the substitutes in Prague as well in favor of the in-form teammate Mason Mount, but with England misfiring Barkley was unable to change the tide off the bench.

The problem for Southgate is two-fold, and he’s damned no matter what. In the case of players like Alli, Rashford, and Winks, the England boss chose to replace them with less experienced players, which clearly upset the balance and cohesion within the squad. Yet he chose to stick with Keane, who has started every Euro qualifier thus far, in favor of a younger Joe Gomez and that backfired as well, as Keane toiled ineffectively in Prague. Gomez himself has lost his place at Liverpool to Joel Matip, and would have been another questionable option.

Injuries also played their part no doubt. Key players in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, John Stones, and James Maddison were axed due to injuries or illness, while Callum Hudson-Odoi was not selected as he recently returned from a long-term problem himself. Still, Wan-Bissaka’s absence left Southgate with no choice but to select a replacement, choosing Kieran Trippier on the edge of the back line, who has seen an up-and-down start to his Atletico Madrid career. Even Stones had dipped in form at Manchester City, falling completely out of the matchday squad in favor of Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi before succumbing to an unspecified muscle injury.

These problems caused issues tactically for a squad that suddenly had to deal with a deviation from the norm. Southgate deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Mount in the central creative role, but according to Yahoo’s Kieran Canning, the national team has not played in such a formation in two years. Southgate mentioned multiple times in his post-match press conference how displeased he was with England’s off-ball structure and movement, a direct product of mixing and matching. “We tried something [in the second half] to make ourselves a bit more solid without the ball, and that didn’t happen,” he said. “We didn’t look any more solid, and we were poor at using the ball in the first half. That said, at 1-1, at half time, we were able to change that. I think we were better in the second half and we created chances to win the game.”

To make matters worse, the few players in good club form didn’t live up to standards on the international stage. Declan Rice, maybe West Ham’s best player so far this season, was miserable in a pivot with Jordan Henderson and hauled off in the second half. The Mirror says between the midfield pair, they made just one successful tackle through the entire match and completed just 11 passes in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been one of many fantastic Liverpool players this season, was bafflingly left on the bench in favor of Trippier.

The issues facing Southgate are a stark reminder how long two years truly is. This England squad felt far more solid and secure with depth as it reached the semifinals of the World Cup just two year ago. Now, there are glaring holes and numerous questions at a host of different positions. With the starters floundering in Prague, Southgate’s choices off the bench have thinned considerably, and Rashford’s injection of quality off the bench two years ago in Russia 2018 is no longer to be found as he came on with 17 minutes to go on Friday. The rock solid World Cup back-three of Stones, Maguire, and Kyle Walker is nowhere to be found despite the presence of all three in the setup.

Little has changed personnel wise for England, and yet two years on after a promising World Cup run with a host of players in their prime, the squad now feels in flux again as key individuals are forced to fight for their places. Gareth Southgate does not sit in an envious position, looking for answers while keeping faith in some key squad members while making necessary changes elsewhere hoping not to upset the squad chemistry. A visit to Bulgaria on Monday represents a quick turnaround between two road matches, an opportunity to right the ship amid the necessary distraction of travel. Anything less than a convincing performance will allow lingering questions to fester for another month, plenty of time for the sudden dysfunction to become even more chronic.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Man United in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is set to be filled with jam-packed actions, as Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, andManchester United all look to climb up the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Southampton vs. Chelsea — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Desperate for points, it is likely both Southampton and Chelsea will go for the jugular on Sunday at St Mary’s Stadium.

Coming off of a 2-1 win against Lille in Champions League play, Frank Lampard‘s men are in better spirits, but then again, their season has been riddled with inconsistency. The quintessential embodiment of that is N’Golo Kante, who has been riddled with injuries all season, but is expected to go on Sunday, according to Lampard.

“It’s something we’ll have to watch over the next 24, 48 hours to make sure he’s okay,” Lampard said on Friday. “All the players are on a semi-recovery program after the Lille game but it’s also the fact he hasn’t played much.”

“In terms of the injury, he’s fine and there was no fallout with that from the Lille game so it’s just about making sure he’s fit and ready, which is a call for me to make,” he added.

The home side, on the other hand, have lost two consecutive league games, and are only a point clear of the red line. The Saints, whose last league win at home dates back to last season, won’t count on Cedric Soares or Moussa Djenepo. No pressure, Ralph Hasenhüttl.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Cedric Soares (calf), Moussa Djenepo (thigh)| Chelsea — OUT: Emerson (thigh), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Marco Van Ginkel (knee)

 Arsenal vs. Bournemouth — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Mezut Ozil is nowhere to be found, and Arsenal are on a seven-game unbeaten run. Welcome to the Unai Emery era, which writes a new chapter on Sunday as it hosts Bournemouth.

Fueled by newcomer Gabriel Martinelli‘s brace, the Gunners routed Standard Leige, 4-0, at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. It is the ideal result the North London side needed ahead of Sundays match, but it is misleading in a sense. Despite the positive results, one thing remains true of Arsenal: an unreliable backline. In seven games, the Gunners have allowed 11 goals, a total count that is only one off their goals scored through the seven-game stretch.

Bournemouth, too, have been in worse shape in the past. In September, Eddie Howe‘s side were unbeaten in league play. The Cherries, injured riddles and all, will look to use their current positive run and their previous experiences at the Emirates to their advantage on Sunday.

“What we have to do from our previous visits to the Emirates is start better,” Howe said. “We’ve conceded early goals, which have made the games even harder for us. So if we can start stronger, show a better resolve early in the game, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Bournemouth — OUT: David Brooks (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), Chris Daniels (knee), Adam Smith (hamstring), Junior Stanislas (hamstring)

Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

If Manchester City’s loss at Norwich City in September wasn’t a wake-up call, then who knows what a wake-up call is.

Since their historical woeful night then, Pep Guardiola and company haven’t looked back, winning five consecutive games. City will be without Kevin De Bruyne once again, but as their recent run has showed, there is no lack of firepower from the defending champions. That said, the Spanish manager is aware that against Wolves, any team should be cautious.

“Yesterday they took an incredible result,” Guardiola said about Wolves’ Europa League performance midweek. “I saw the game and they were so solid as expected. At the end, they have a team to make you suffer in the Premier League.”

“They know exactly what they have to do, three or four seasons together and there is a really impressive defensive structure,” he added. “We have to be smart to take a result. ”

Wolves, the outright underdog on Sunday, are far from meeting the expectations set on them, taking up the 15th spot on the league’s table. Recently, with the helpful of more efficient attack and sturdier backline, the Wolves find themselves on a four-game unbeaten streak. Will that be enough to hold off City? Probably not.

INJURIES: Manchester City — OUT: Leroy Sane (knee), Aymeric Laporte (knee), John Stones (thigh), Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring)| Wolves — OUT: None

Newcastle United vs. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s visit to St. James’ Park poses as the ideal scenario for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United to send a message of intent and crawl out of the 11th spot, which has made club officials the lighting rod for criticism.

Without Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial to name a few, the Red Devils will have their work cutout in front of them in one of the league’s most intimidating atmospheres. Still, win on Sunday can serve as the turning point Solskjaer has been looking for all along.

“Of course you don’t enjoy not winning games,” he told Sky Sports. “You put your heart, life and soul into this job. If you win games you are happier, your mood changes but it doesn’t mean your performances have been better – results change mood.”

“For us to get a result [at Newcastle] is vital now,” the manager added. “I think it will change the mood.The boys can go away on their international break and freshen up their heads.”

The Norwegian’s counterpart on Sunday, Steve Bruce, too, is in charge of guiding his club out of internal turmoil. For Bruce, however, who has led Newcastle to only one win this season, the seat is much warmer, and he acknowledges that the pressure  for him to turn the results around continues to worsen.

“Mud has been thrown my way since I walked through the door, that’s not going to change,” Bruce said heading into Sunday’s match. “The only thing that can change it for me is results. I’m determined, if I possibly can, to turn it around and take the club forward. That has been my remit since I arrived.”

“I’m a resilient so and so,” he added. “You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you in some sort of way but you try and get on with your job as best you can. These days you don’t get the time that you would like to get, you have to get results instantly. The flack always stops with me at the top of the tree but that’s the way the job is.”

INJURIES: Newcastle United  OUT: Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeuene (knee) | Manchester United  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Anthony Martial (thigh), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Phil Jones (unknown), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (illness)

Premier League preview: Everton v. Man City

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  • Everton has just 1 win in last 12 PL meetings with Man City
  • Seven of last 11 PL goals City have conceded have come via set piece
  • Everton has 7 points through 6 matches, one more than this stage last season

With Liverpool on the road looking to keep a perfect record intact, Man City will also leave the friendly confines hoping to keep pace or rise to an opportunity as they visit Goodison Park to take on Everton at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

Both teams have hit rough patches over the last few weeks, with Everton unable to capitalize straightaway on its summer spending spree and Man City falling five points back of Liverpool early in the title race. Pep Guardiola and company were able to bounce back last weekend and clobber an out of form Watford side 8-0, and they will hope to take advantage of another struggling side this time around, with Everton having lost three of four.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Still, City is struggling with injuries to its back line as Fernandinho is forced back to play in a defensive partnership with Nicolas Otamendi. That, however, has not stopped the onslaught up front as Bernardo Silva is fresh off a hat-trick and five other players added goals against Watford. Raheem Sterling will look for a way back into the starting lineup and a frustrated Gabriel Jesus may see time if Guardiola chooses to rotate his striker, as Sergio Aguero’s worst goalscoring record against any Premier League opponent (min 2 appearances against) comes against Everton.

For Everton, striker Moise Kean has struggled to adapt to the Premier League and could be swapped for Dominic Calvert-Lewin who scored midweek in cup action. Alex Iwobi could also be in contention for a place in the starting lineup off the bench.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Andre Gomes (rib), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh). QUESTIONABLE:

Man City: OUT – Leroy Sane (knee), Aymeric Laporte (knee), John Stones (unspecified muscular).


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford; Digne, Kean, Mina, Coleman; Schneiderlin, Delph; Bernard, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; Calvert-Lewin.

Man City: Ederson; Angelino, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Walker; De Bruyne, Rodri, D Silva, B Silva, Sterling; Jesus.


What they’re saying

Everton manager Marco Silva on recent form: “Of course, we’re not happy, but it’s too early to look at the table and panic. If we won our last game, we are talking completely differently about the position in the table; everything is too close. If you ask me if I’m really concerned or panicking, of course not. We know what we’re doing, we know we should improve, and if we do, then the results will come, and after more games we’ll see a different position in the table, for sure. But if you ask me if I’m happy with our last performance, of course not. It wasn’t good enough. I shared our fans’ frustration after the match.”

Man City boss Guardiola on Jesus’s playing time comments:  “He’s special. I saw the interview and it was perfect. No problem. He was respectful. Of course he wants to play. He’s the No 9 for Brazil. He’s the only striker in the world with this mentality. He plays one second, two minutes, 90 minutes and has to play his best. I understand completely. All the players want to play all the games. It’s normal.”


Prediction

Manchester City got back in good form against Watford. Meanwhile, Everton’s slide is mind-boggling given the talent in the squad, and any more slips could see Marco Silva on his way out. They will be up for this game at home, but it won’t be enough to challenge a City side blistering with talent, with the visitors winning convincingly 3-0.