Aymeric Laporte

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Guardiola praises Laporte as ‘the best left central defender in the world’

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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Super sub Aguero saves Man City at Sheffield United

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Chris Wilder almost orchestrated another beautiful point Sheffield United, only to see Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero combine to produce a 1-0 win for Manchester City at Bramall Lane on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

City moves 13 points back of Liverpool, who have two matches-in-hand, while the host Blades are seventh with 33 points.

Man City out-attempted the Blades by an 18-4 margin, produced three big chances to United’s one.


Three things we learned

1. Aguero rescues win and improves Golden Boot credentials: The Argentine might turn 32 in June, but is showing no signs of slowing down. Sure his run and back post tap-in weren’t the most scintillating of his goals, but he’s onto 16 league goals. That’s one shy of Jamie Vardy‘s league lead, and right now you’d bet on him to snare a second Premier League Golden Boot.

2. Henderson aided by VAR: Gabriel Jesus‘ penalty was abject, but it certainly helped Dean Henderson that he was off his line early in the run-up to save. Video Assistant Referee somehow missed the offense, or there’s an explanation beyond our understanding. Pep Guardiola sure is livid.

3. De Bruyne continues record pursuit: Man City’s playmaker assisted Aguero’s goal was a terrific cross to give him 15 league assists this season. He needs six in the final 14 league outings of the season to break Thierry Henry’s Premier League record of 20.

Man of the Match: We’ll give it to Aymeric Laporte, whose fifth appearance of the league season was his first since Aug. 31. The long injury absence stung City deeply; With Laporte on the pitch, City improves to 4W-1D with three clean sheets.


Fernandinho cut out an early Blades challenge, and the next notable moment came as Muhamed Besic bladed the newly-returned Aymeric Laporte to only a yellow card.

Raheem Sterling stole a ball off Chris Basham and led a charge that led to a fine Dean Henderson save in the 20th.

Riyad Mahrez won a straight-forward penalty when Basham chopped him down in the 35th minute, Henderson bailing him out with a save on Gabriel Jesus’ tepid attempt.

Henderson was off his line, but VAR did not have a look.

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Jesus nodded a shot to Henderson in the 62nd, the Blades’ Lys Mousset then nearly backheeling an opener on the ensuing bit of possession.

Aguero was given a rest to start the game, but Guardiola plugged him into the match and got an equalizer when John Egan couldn’t reach a terrific De Bruyne cross.

Guardiola praises Liverpool; injury update

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With the Premier League games coming thick and fast as midweek action now takes center stage, Premier League managers have been giving us injury updates on Monday and Pep Guardiola has praised Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola has doffed his cap to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool once again, as the Reds have now moved 16 points clear of second-place Man City and have a game in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

“We can’t deny Liverpool are extraordinary,” Guardiola said. “But everyday I live thinking about what we can do better. Some games are good, we concede few. We have scored more than Liverpool. I don’t have stats here but we concede more chances and drop points.”

In short from Pep: Damn, we should have signed more, and better, defenders this summer. Oh, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was unlucky.

Guardiola has confirmed that Laporte is close to a return to fitness after the silky French center back missed the last four months with a knee injury. He also confirmed that both John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are doubtful for the trip to Sheffield United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

That starts our quick round up of injury news around the Premier League ahead of the midweek games…

  • Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said that Reece James has avoided a serious knee injury after coming off against Newcastle. He could play against Arsenal (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Marcos Alonso is also back in the squad. 
  • Mikel Arteta said that Sokratis will not play at Chelsea due to illness, while Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson will both be out until early February.
  • Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star Brazilian attacker Richarlison will miss their clash against Newcastle United on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) as he continues to recover from a knee injury. 
  • Newcastle’s injury woes continue as both Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett have been ruled out for the rest of the season. Willems has ruptured his ACL after falling awkwardly in the 1-0 win against Chelsea. The Magpies will have to do some business in January to patch up their squad.
  • Southampton look set to be without Jan Bednarek for their trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com). The Polish center back, who has started every single PL game this season, has an Achilles injury. Palace welcome back Max Meyer as he’s recovered from an ankle injury caused by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s lunging tackle.
  • Bournemouth could have Lloyd Kelly back after his lengthy injury, as the Cherries take on South Coast rivals Brighton in a massive game at the bottom of the table.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Everton

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Everton
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Everton looks to continue its upswing when Carlo Ancelotti leads his Toffees into the Etihad Stadium to meet Manchester City (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s been 3-1 in favor of Man City the previous two meetings, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring the lone Everton goal in each contest.

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Calvert-Lewin has scored five times in his last five matches, growing in form and confidence for the improving Toffees.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is a point back of Leicester City for second in the Premier League, while Everton’s 25 points are 10 back of fourth place.


Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT — Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — David Silva, John Stones.

Everton: OUT — Andre Gomes, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Alex Iwobi, Morgan Schneiderlin.


Probable lineups

Man City: Ederson, Zinchenko, Stones, Fernandinho, Walker; Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Sterling, Bernardo, Aguero

Everton: Pickford, Baines, Holgate, Keane, Sidibe, Delph, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Iwobi, Tosun, Calvert-Lewin.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Ancelotti’s appointment at Everton: “I was with him, it was an honor to be with him a few times, dinner and talk, Uefa meetings and private dinners. He is an incredible gentleman. He conducts one of the greatest and more experienced teams in Europe, the list is huge and when that happens it is because you are an incredible manager. I think it is incredible news for English football he is back and I think he can make an incredible job there.”

Ancelotti on Man City’s table problems: “Liverpool have won all of the games. That is why (Man City trail). It is a fantastic run but maybe Man City aren’t at the same level as last year. That’s the difference. They remain a fantastic team with fantastic players and a fantastic manager. It’ll be a tough test but we need confidence to compete and focus on our football.”


Prediction

Ancelotti’s men will be up for a fight like they were last time these two teams met under Marco Silva. We’ll shave a goal off that scoreline and say 2-1 to the hosts.

How January will affect the Premier League’s Top Four race

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It will be 2020 the next time a ball in kicked in Premier League action, making the tales at both ends of the table feel more serious.

We’ll save the relegation talk for another day. For one thing, wild point swings and droughts in the bottom half of the table are a lot more common than the top.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The table enters January in a weird place. Everton and Arsenal face double-digit distances from the Top Four and aren’t even making this post. That’s not to say the Gunners nor Toffees aren’t capable, but we can revisit their statuses if they get to a new level.

First off, look at Liverpool: That 13-point lead with a match of hand is striking. Good night. Congrats. Barring a red wedding more grisly than Game of Thrones, we’ve got new Premier League overlords.

[ MORE: Premier League midseason grades ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 19 18 1 0 47 14 33 10-0-0 8-1-0 55
 Leicester City 20 13 3 4 43 19 24 7-2-1 6-1-3 42
 Manchester City 20 13 2 5 54 23 31 7-1-2 6-1-3 41
 Chelsea 20 11 2 7 35 28 7 4-2-4 7-0-3 35
 Manchester United 20 8 7 5 32 23 9 5-4-1 3-3-4 31
 Tottenham Hotspur 20 8 6 6 36 29 7 6-2-2 2-4-4 30
 Wolves 20 7 9 4 29 25 4 4-4-2 3-5-2 30
 Sheffield United 20 7 8 5 23 19 4 4-2-4 3-6-1 29

Leicester City: There are legitimate reasons to suspect the Foxes could lose their seemingly significant foothold in the Top Four. For one thing, they are the luckiest team in the league not named Liverpool or Newcastle according to the xG table.

As silly as this sounds, though, January is Leicester’s last legitimate obstacle. The Foxes have at least seven games in January thanks to a pair of League Cup semifinal dates and an FA Cup quarterfinal (eight if they beat Wigan as expected).

Brendan Rodgers showed us that his men can handle poor teams with a B team when they beat West Ham on Saturday. The other teams on January’s docket: Newcastle, Wigan (FA Cup), Aston Villa x2 (League Cup), Southampton, Burnley, West Ham.

They need to stack enough points to make February’s three-match stretch versus Chelsea, Wolves, and Man City navigable. It’s going to be a battle for fourth, but the lack of European action helps them in a big way.

Man City: The two-time reigning champs will also face a busy month, but they’re used to that. Up ahead are Everton, Port Vale (FA Cup), Manchester United x2 (League Cup), Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United. If Aymeric Laporte returns and there are no major injuries, City should finish second. Even focusing on the Champions League, they’ll finish Top Four with ease barring some sort of injury plague (which they’ve already handled to some extent).

Chelsea: The Blues’ four league matches are Brighton away, Burnley home, Newcastle away, and Arsenal home. An FA Cup date with Nottingham Forest shouldn’t be a huge issue, either, though the Reds are doing alright in the Championship. Chelsea is likely to spend big this January after a summer without additions, and the Blues feel like a safe bet to deliver third.

Man Utd: This is a rough month for the Red Devils, beginning with a visit to Arsenal on Wednesday. The cup draws weren’t kind to them, with Wolves in the FA Cup and two Manchester Derbies in the League Cup. There’s also a visit to Liverpool between Norwich City and Burnley league dates. Tough one. The League Cup derbies and January transfer action will tell us a lot about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s bunch.

Spurs: Three bottom-half opponents and a visit from Liverpool make for a promising month, as Jose Mourinho can collect a statement win and a place in fourth. It’s away to Boro in the FA Cup, so there’s likely a sixth game depending on how Mourinho wants to play it. Spurs will be right in the thick of it come February.

Wolves: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are used to schedule congestion, so they may feel bored by just five January matches. Watford away, Newcastle home, Saints away, and Liverpool at home will make for a promising slate to go with a visit from Manchester United in the FA Cup. At some point it feels like Wolves will run out of gas due to their insane UEL run, but they’ll be alive for the Top Four entering February.

Sheffield United: Chris Wilder‘s men have surpassed all expectations this season, but January may be a bridge too far. The Blades have trips to Liverpool and Arsenal to go with visits from West Ham and Man City. The FA Cup tie versus Fylde will be less of an issue. It’s difficult to bet against the Blades on current form, but logic says they’ll fall off a bit.