Benjamin Mendy

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Guardiola credits Gundogan for ‘outstanding’ match in Ukraine

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Manchester City bounced back from its weekend loss to Norwich City by dominating Shakhtar Donestk, collecting a 3-0 win in Ukraine to start life in this UEFA Champions League season.

Ilkay Gundogan, a scapegoat for some in the weekend’s loss to Norwich City, came back to form, too, chipping in a goal and an assist in the win.

[ RECAP: Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Man City ]

City manager Pep Guardiola was asked whether the German midfielder flies under the radar.

“He gets the credit from all of us, not just myself,” Guardiola said, via The Manchester Evening News. “He’s an exceptional player. Also he knows how good he has to play, as there are many others in that position.”

Guardiola also credited Gundogan for his work last season. Just like Fernandinho is playing out-of-position now, Gundogan was filling in for the Brazilian last season.

“People are starting to look at what he’s done. Without him last season when Fernanindho was out we couldn’t have won the Premier League in the way we did. He can play in two or three different positions and against Shakhtar he made an outstanding performance.”

As for Fernandinho, the Brazilian said that he’s been training at center back plenty this season, even before injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.

Fernandinho said “everyone should be ready” for any role under Guardiola.

He was good enough on the day, partnering with Nicolas Otamendi in a move that has many making comparisons to what Guardiola did with midfielder Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.

That’s one of the things for which Guardiola, perhaps, has not received enough credit. Center midfielders Fabian Delph or Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serviceable left backs in two of the best seasons in Premier League history (The latter did get some minutes in the middle when Benjamin Mendy subbed in on Wednesday). And Gundogan is playing a more defensive role than usual, while Fernandinho is a center back.

If that works out, and City claims a UCL crown or PL three-peat, how could you not call this man the clear-cut best of the modern era?

Premier League Preview: Norwich City v. Man City

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  • Man City unbeaten, but 2nd in the PL
  • Norwich, behind Pukki’s production, a tough team to beat
  • First meeting since a 0-0 draw on March 3, 2016

While very little has been surprising about Manchester City’s start to the 2019-20 Premier League campaign, the same can’t be said of Norwich City’s first four games since returning to England’s top flight — particularly the goal-scoring exploits of Teemu Pukki. The two-time defending champions visit the newly promoted Canaries on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and NBCSports.com).

Man City enter Matchweek 5 in second place, two points behind leaders Liverpool, and have conceded just three goals in four games (two came in one game, their lone draw of the season, against Tottenham Hotspur). Sergio Aguero (six) and Raheem Sterling (five) have combined to score 11 of City’s 13 goals thus far. Arguably the most lethal attacking duo in the world at the moment, Aguero and Sterling will be anxious to face the PL’s worst defensive record (10 goals conceded) on Saturday. In red-hot form, Sterling scored one and assisted on three others in England’s 5-3 victory over Kosovo on Tuesday.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Though Norwich enter Sunday’s clash at Carrow in 19th place, the route by which they arrived in the relegation zone has surprised many. Thrashed by Liverpool on the opening day, the general consensus was that Daniel Farke‘s side acquitted itself well. Then came a resounding 3-1 victory over Newcastle United, highlighted by Pukki’s hat trick. Again, Norwich were hardly dominated in a loss to Chelsea before finally being comprehensively outplayed by West Ham United just before the international break. Pukki has five goals of Norwich’s six goals and was named the PL Player of the Month for August, leaving many to wonder how much longer he can keep up the magic, and whether or not they can survive if his well of goals dries up.

Injuries/suspensions

Norwich: OUT – Tom Trybull (ankle), Christoph Zimmermann (foot), Onel Hernandez (knee), Timm Klose (knee)

Man City: OUT – Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Benjamin Mendy (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – John Stones (thigh), Ilkay Gundogan (illness)


Projected lineups

Norwich: Krul – Byram, Amadou, Godfrey, Lewis – Drmic Leitner – Buendia, Stieperman, Cantwell – Pukki

Man City: Ederson – Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Zinchenko – Rodrigo, Silva, De Bruyne – Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on Sterling reaching the level of Messi and Ronaldo: “They scored 50 or 60 goals a season in the last decade, and have won the Ballon d’Or and prizes every year except this one. They are legends, something unique in world football. If Raheem can target that level, wow. Of course, he can do it and I won’t be the guy to tell him his limits. But right now, nobody — at any club — can compare with these two guys what they do every week for a decade. Nobody can compare.”

Daniel Farke, on the challenge of facing Man City: “Some lads are nervous, you can tell. It’s normal and it’s up to me to give them some trust and confidence. We should go into the game with nothing to lose. I will back my lads whatever happens tomorrow. I want them to be brave. They should have no regrets.”


Prediction

All 11 Norwich players could turn in the performance of their lives, and City could still win 3-1. The gap between “two-time defending champions” and “just arrived in the big time” is massive, and Saturday’s clash should highlight the disparity. 3-1, Man City.

PL Sunday preview: Man City visit Bournemouth; Spurs host Newcastle

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After six Premier League fixtures on Saturday, and one on Friday, three more remain in Matchweek 3. Roll on, Sunday…

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Bournemouth v. Man City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester City’s directive for the 2019-20 season is clear, and comes from 31 miles west of Manchester: if you’re not perfect — or very, very close to it — Liverpool will win the title. After dropping a pair of points at home to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, Man City find themselves in the chaser’s position, though it’s far from foreign to them after trailing the Reds by 10 points at one point last season. A trip to Bournemouth appears to be just what the doctor ordered: since the Cherries returned to the PL four seasons ago, City have trounced the south-coast side, winning all eight contests by a combined score of 25-3.

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe is trying to see his side’s dismal record in a slightly more positive light.

“I think we know historically that if we perform our very best, we’ve got a chance of beating anybody. I think that’s been the story of our Premier League journey. We’ve had to play very well to get anything from the top teams. Every time we’ve played against them, and I’ve said this before, we’ve come from the pitch learning more about ourselves. And what we have to do to grow and become better.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth —  OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Junior Stanislas (hamstring), Dan Gosling (hip), Lloyd Kelly (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Arnaut Danjuma (foot) | Man City  — OUT: John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (fitness), Leroy Sane (knee)


Tottenham v. Newcastle — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham are set to put their undefeated start to the still-young season on the line when Newcastle United visit Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. A week after taking last weekend’s unlikely point, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side continues to get a little deeper and stronger with each passing day, with the exception of one fresh injury concern. Deadline-day arrival Giovani Lo Celso is yet to start for his new club, but the Argentine made his debut as a second-half substitute last weekend. Fast-forward a week and Lo Celso could be in line for that first start with fellow summer signing Tanguy Ndombele a doubt with what the club is calling a minor thigh injury. Son Heung-min, a double-digit goalscorer in three straight PL seasons, is also due back in the team after serving the final two games of his three-game suspension dating back to last season. So long as Harry Kane‘s ankle ligaments remain structurally sound, Pochettino has a real embarrassment of riches at his disposal (by Spurs’ standards), including the likes of Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen, both of whom started the first two games on the bench.

As for Newcastle, life under new manager Steve Bruce is off to a far worse start than Pochettino’s sixth season at Spurs. Not only are the Magpies without a point from their first two games, but they were roundly played off the park by newly promoted Norwich City in a 3-1 defeat last weekend. There’s also the small matter of the supporters’ discontent over owner Mike Ashley’s operation of the club, chief among their concerns being his failure to retain Rafa Benitez. Miguel Almiron and Joelinton, Newcastle’s headlining attacking duo, are yet to find one another on the same page and have managed just one shot on target between them through two games. Newcastle’s six shots on target rank second-to-bottom in the PL.

INJURIES: Spurs —  OUT: Dele Alli (hamstring), Juan Foyth (ankle), Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Tanguy Ndombele (thigh) | Newcastle  — OUT: DeAndre Yedlin (groin), Florian Lejeune (knee), Andy Carroll (fitness), Dwight Gayle (calf), Jack Colback (groin)


Wolves v. Burnley — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSports.com

At this point, you’re probably wondering which is the only side with fewer shots on target than Newcastle. This might come as a shock to some, but it’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, last season’s seventh-place finishers and Europa League qualifiers. The night-and-day difference between the two sides being Wolves’ ability to still grind out results when they’re far from their very best. It’s true that Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side has scored just one goal through two games, but it’s also true that they’ve conceded just once as well, and they have two points to show for their efforts against the likes of Manchester United and Leicester City. After picking up a 3-2 victory away to Torino in Europa League action on Thursday, Espirito Santo is likely to once more rotate a handful of starters and make use of his rather deep, and expensive, squad.

After spending much of last season near, or inside, the relegation zone, Sean Dyche‘s Burnley has looked one of the most improved sides in the PL. They followed up an opening-day dismantling of Southampton with a hard-fought 2-1 defeat away to Arsenal last weekend. Ashley Barnes is in fine form with three of the Clarets’ four goals scored this season.

INJURIES: Wolves —  QUESTIONABLE: Matt Doherty (illness) | Burnley  — OUT: Steven Defour (calf), Danny Drinkwater (fitness)

Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough?

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Manchester City’s chances of repeating (again) as Premier League champions in 2019-20 appears to hinge upon the performances of one unit in particular: the defense.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

It’s a rather thin unit which could have probably used reinforcements during the summer transfer window, but with barely 24 hours to go before the window closes, that’s a largely moot point. They are who they are, and they’ll kick off their quest for a third straight PL title against West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Thanks in large part to Aymeric Laporte proving himself worth every last penny of the $65 million he cost, and in smaller part a renaissance of health from Vincent Kompany, Man City shaved four goals from the conceded column in defending their 2017-18 PL crown (when they conceded 27 times) with another triumph in 2018-19 (23, one more than Liverpool).

[ MORE: 3 days to go until new PL season: Will Man City 3-peat? ]

Now, though, Kompany is gone after taking over as player-manager at Anderlecht, and Man City went against conventional wisdom and signed no one to replace his on-field production, let alone his off-field leadership. If paying $97 million for Harry Maguire was their best, or only, option, perhaps they are better off going this route.

Given the personnel that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal, he faces one of two — or, potentially two of two — unsavory options for how to line up his defense.

  1. In a back-three, he’ll have just one backup (Nicolas Otamendi, most likely) for three positions, likely to be occupied by Laporte, John Stones and Kyle Walker
  2. In a back-four, he’ll have three options who fit (Laporte, Stones, Otamendi) for two positions and one who’ll be forced out to right back (Walker), at which point he’ll still have just one backup

[ MORE: Will big-spending Spurs be Premier League title contenders? ]

If Benjamin Mendy can stay healthy for a full season, the full backs are likely to be a non-issue; Joao Cancelo should lock down the starting spot at right back after arriving at a bargain price; Angeliño is the wild card of the bunch; and Oleksandr Zinchenko has been up to the test when called upon in the past.

With all of that said, Man City’s safest path to having one of the PL’s best defensive records yet again lies ahead of the backline. When — not if, but when — they’re able to dominate possession each and every game, City’s midfield and forward line will squeeze the life out of opponents and leave the three, or four, at the back with precious little to do.

[ MORE: Man United to fine Lukaku for missing training without permission ]

Defensive midfielder Fernandinho was arguably City’s most important player in 2018-19 but he began to show signs of slowing down toward the end of last season, so they were wise to sign Rodri from Atletico Madrid for $78 million. It’s true that Kompany’s departure leaves a broad hole in the backline, but Rodri, along with the embarrassment of attacking talent ahead of him, should more than make up for his absence and give City a real shot at back-to-back-to-back PL titles.

3 days to go until new PL season: Will Man City 3-peat?

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Forgive the term 3-peat, but not too many teams win three consecutive titles in English football.

Manchester United did it from 1998-2001 and 2006-09, the only side to do it in the Premier League era. Before them, it was Liverpool (1981-84), Arsenal (1932-35), and Huddersfield (1923-26).

That’s it, so Manchester City is aiming to join pretty exclusive company when it tries to defend a trophy Liverpool as found as elusive company.

[ MORE: Manchester City season preview ]

Last season finished tight. City’s incredible follow-up to an unprecedented season was again enough for first place. That was just one point more than the flashy Reds of Anfield, who threw away a big time Christmas lead about as quick as a kid tosses away the wrapping paper.

But Jurgen Klopp‘s men claimed the Champions League, and have shown the ability to hang with City, and Spurs look primed to mount a season-long challenge as opposed to their tremendous free fall of last season (which coincided with their appearance and deep run in the knockout rounds of the UCL).

Here’s the thing, though: City is potentially the deepest, best team since their manager’s first 3-peater at Barcelona (He’s since done the trick at Bayern Munich, too).

City has questions at left back between Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Angelino. Oddly enough, Angelino may be the answer for City. The 22-year-old was bought back from PSV Eindhoven last season after a 1-goal, 9-assist league season and impressive-enough job in the club’s UCL run.

But it also addressed its thin defensive midfielder corp by adding a potential decade-long component in Rodri. There will be growing pains, but he’s going to be quite good.

City also has a healthy, rested Kevin De Bruyne and another year under the belt of Phil Foden. The season is David Silva‘s victory lap, which is fine because that other Silva, Bernardo, might’ve been their top performer last season.

Here’s the good news for City fans who believe Liverpool is right on its tail: They aren’t. The expected goals table says City should’ve finished with 90 points last season, not 98, but that Liverpool’s 97 were an even bigger over performance. The Reds expected finish was 83 points.

City has the ball more than everyone else, passes more and better than everyone else, shoots more than everyone else, and scores more than everyone else. Incredibly, those totals are the same home and away. That was true in Guardiola’s first PL title campaign, too, with the exception of finishing fourth in shots per game while away from home. Oooooo-verrated.

That doesn’t mean that Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester United won’t flip the script this season, that red cards or own goals won’t befuddle Guardiola’s quest. But you won’t find us betting against them.