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Transfer needs for Premier League clubs

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The transfer window is open and, so far, there hasn’t been that much business done by the 20 Premier League clubs.

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As we creep towards the deadline at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, you just know so many deals will be done between now and then. But what are the key areas where each Premier League club should strengthen in, if they can, this month?

With that in mind, below is a look at the key transfer needs for each PL team in January.


Arsenal
Key transfer needs: Center back, CAM – Unai Emery has had so many injuries in this area, but aside from that fact, the quality needed to sustain a top four charge just isn’t there. Replacing Aaron Ramsey, long-term, would also be savvy and the arrival of Denis Suarez from Barcelona seems likely. The Spanish central midfielder play for Emery while he was on loan at Sevilla and he can add that extra bit of quality to supply the likes of Aubameyrang and Lacazette.


Bournemouth
Key transfer needs: None – They’ve done their business nice and early with Nathaniel Clyne and Dominic Solanke arriving from Liverpool. With Jermain Defoe moving to Rangers, buying Solanke was a big risk at $24.1 million. He has bags of potential and Eddie Howe will think he can develop that talent a la David Brooks, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. Clyne is only on loan, but you can see a permanent deal happening this summer.


Brighton & Hove Albion
Key transfer need: Central midfield – Some extra depth in central midfield is all that is needed, as Chris Hughton has a strong squad and the quality of his starting XI doesn’t drop significantly when a regular is replaced. Having some extra nous in central midfield would be a good move.


Burnley
Key transfer needs: Winger, attacking midfielder – Injuries to key players in attack have hampered Burnley for most of this season, and with their defense sorted out in recent weeks and Tom Heaton back in goal, they are shored up at the back. They could do with adding more creativity in the final third as the likes of Steven Defour just hasn’t recovered from his horrible injury.


Cardiff City
Key transfer needs: Striker, winger, right back – Neil Warnock is already miffed after missing out on signing Clyne, but the Bluebirds have long been linked with Emiliano Sala and Youseff Msakni. However, both attackers are said to not be keen on a move to the Welsh capital despite Cardiff currently sitting just outside of the relegation zone. Work to do for Cardiff to seal some signings, but they do not have a big budget and will have to wait for the last minute. Will it be too late by then?


Chelsea

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Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud misfiring, Maurizio Sarri needs a new striker. Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, but it could be tough to sort out considering he is currently on loan from Juventus to AC Milan. With Cesc Fabregas on his way out, Sarri also wants a new central midfielder. Chelsea have been linked with a $55 million move for Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella, which would be another huge outlay after they bought Christian Pulisic for $73 million before loaning him back to Dortmund until the summer.


Crystal Palace
Key transfer needs: Striker, striker, striker… – Roy Hodgson needs one thing to turn this team into a midtable side: a striker. Michy Batshuayi has been mentioned on several occasions, and given the poor form of Alexander Sorloth (who could be heading to Germany) and the untimely injury to Christian Benteke, relying on the less than prolific Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew for their goals has been far from ideal. Palace are set elsewhere, but need a targetman.


Everton
Key transfer needs: Striker, center back – The Toffees need a new center forward too, as Cenk Tosun‘s move just hasn’t worked out and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may not cut the mustard at the top level. Richarlison has had to play through the middle a lot this season and he is clearly better coming off the left. As for defense, Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina have had rollercoaster campaigns and getting them extra cover, especially in a 3-4-3 formation, is vital.


Fulham

(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Key transfer needs: Center back, full backs – Claudio Ranieri has improved this Fulham defense significantly but this may be all he can do with his group of players. Gary Cahill has been linked with a loan move from Chelsea, while full back Timothy Fosu-Mensah has been told he can head back to parent club Manchester United. That suggests a new right back is on the way, and Ranieri could do with strengthening both full back positions and adding two new center backs. Going forward they look more than adequate, but there’s no real balance in this team.


Huddersfield Town
Key transfer needs: Everywhere – It is quite simple, Huddersfield need to spend big in the transfer window or they are going to get relegated. After eight-straight defeats they are eight points from safety and scoring goals has been a huge problem all season. Jason Puncheon has arrived from Crystal Palace on loan and he is of course an experienced pro, but top quality in midfield and attack is needed. Losing Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams for a key part of the season was a blow, and the Terriers know they will have to act fast this month to give themselves a chance of staying up.


Leicester City
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Vicente Iborra sold to Villarreal, there is a hole in central midfield for Claude Puel to plug. Up top the likes of Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho continue to deliver lackluster displays and Jamie Vardy really needs some support. Bringing in a strong center forward who can link up with Vardy would be ideal.


Liverpool

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Key transfer needs: Attacking midfielder, left back – Nabil Fekir has been linked with a move to Liverpool, again, as the Frenchman’s move to Anfield collapsed at the last minute this summer. In some of their big games they’ve lacked a calming presence in midfield, and Naby Keita just hasn’t settled down. Liverpool need a No.10 type who can slow the tempo down a little when they want to. Adam Lallana can be that man if he stays fit, but a new playmaker would give them a big push towards the title. Alberto Moreno is a decent back up option at left back to Andrew Robertson, but he is set to leave in the summer so adding a new left back would be ideal.


Manchester City
Key transfer needs: Left back, defensive midfielder – Benjamin Mendy‘s injury problems mean that left back is the main area needed to strengthen in. Pep Guardiola‘s plan to play Fabian Delph there worked last season, but not so much this season, while Oleksandr Zinchenko hasn’t settled in that role. Aymeric Laporte has plugged the gap for now, but a long-term left back to challenge Mendy is badly needed. A long-term replacement for Fernandinho is needed too, as the Brazilian is badly missed when he’s been out injured.


Manchester United
Key transfer needs: Center back, left back – Defensively United need some serious help, as their stable of center backs just isn’t good enough and are injured far too often. Luke Shaw is their only real option at left back, with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young able to play there out of position in a pinch.


Newcastle United
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfielder, winger – Now, it is very unlikely Rafael Benitez will be given money to spend in January, but he does need to strengthen in a few areas. Defensively they are solid enough and are all set there. But going forward he is woefully short of quality options. Extra quality off the wing, a No. 10 and a striker to partner Salomon Rondon is needed. Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United has been linked with a move to St James’ Park but the Magpies are baulking at the $35 million transfer fee.


Southampton

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Key transfer needs: Winger, striker, center back – Saints have a lot of center backs, but Ralph Hasenhuttl has pretty much hinted that Wesley Hoedt is available to leave and that will open a spot up for them to strengthen in. Bednarek, Yoshida and Vestergaard have played okay at times, but RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has been linked with a move to St Mary’s. Up top there will be an almighty shake up as Manolo Gabbiadini is leaving, Shane Long is on his way out and with Danny Ings‘ injuries flaring up, Hasenhuttl needs reinforcements. His style of play is all about pace, so adding extra pace out wide and up top is the main aim this month. Saints have to sell before they buy, so that will be challenging. Roger Guedes, Yussuf Poulsen and Odio Ighalo have been a few names linked with Saints.


Tottenham Hotspur
Key transfer needs: Central midfield, striker – Although Mauricio Pochettino has admitted he will not be looking to buy anyone in January due to the lack of funds available with the new stadium move almost complete, Spurs are likely to promote youngsters into their squad. But if they are going to be serious about mounting a title bid or going far in the Champions League, more help for Harry Kane (Fernando Llorente is fine for FA Cup games) is needed. Oliver Skipp has stepped in admirably in midfield, and given the fact that Mousa Dembele seems destined to leave, they could have some money to spend on a new midfielder.


Watford
Key transfer need: Center back – It is one of the areas which Watford have ignored for some time, but they always seem to get by. The likes of Cathcart and Kabasele could be upgraded quite easily, and Watford should aim to add extra quality in central defense as they’ve thrown away plenty of points this season. Going forward and in midfield they are littered with options for Javi Gracia. Sort out their defense ahead of the brilliant Ben Foster and they will push hard for European qualification.


West Ham United
Key transfer needs: Nowhere – The Hammers are pretty set and spent a lot of money in the summer. They have a plethora of options up top, in defense and especially in midfield. Consiering Jack Wilshere has hardly kicked a ball this season, Andriy Yarmolenko is out of the rest of the season and Manuel Lanzini is on his way back after a lengthy injury, they have plenty of quality in reserve too. Maybe some extra cover defensively could help, but apart from that Manuel Pellegrini has a very strong squad to choose from.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Key transfer need: Striker – Linked with a move for Tammy Abraham, who has spent the first half of the season on loan at Aston Villa, Wolves need help for Raul Jimenez. The Mexican striker has been far from prolific, but he creates so many chances yet doesn’t have a lot of support in games. Nuno Espirito Santo is well stocked elsewhere, but adding a new center back to work into their three-man defense would do wonders for that rotation.

PL Sunday preview: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd all in action

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Sunday sees four final fixtures, featuring top-four hopefuls Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, to round out the 2018 calendar year in the Premier League…

[ MORE: Liverpool go nine points clear with dismantling of Arsenal ] 

Crystal Palace v. Chelsea — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With one giant slaying already to their name in the last week, Crystal Palace now turn their attention to Sunday’s visit from Chelsea. Following their unlikely upset of Manchester City a week ago, the Eagles suffered an abrupt come-down in the form of a 0-0 draw with Cardiff City on Wednesday. Despite taking 32 shots, just five were on target and not a single one found the back of the net — an all too familiar tale for a side with just 17 goals scored this season (third-fewest in the PL).

Chelsea themselves were on the wrong side of a giant slaying of significantly lesser proportions last weekend when Leicester City turned the Blues over. It’s been relatively tough sledding for Chelsea of late, as they’ve lost three of their last seven league games after going unbeaten in the season’s first dozen.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Martin Kelly (groin) | Chelsea — OUT: None


Southampton v. Man City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The math is simple for Man City these days: nothing short of a victory — followed by another victory, and another victory, and lots more victories — will do, if they are to stay in the title race with current leaders Liverpool. Heading into Sunday’s trip to St. Mary’s Stadium, the defending champions trail the runaway Reds by 10 points. With defeats in three of their last four games, Pep Guardiola‘s side is reeling and needs not only a victory, but a resounding response and performance, to re-establish themselves and set the table for a chase-down in the second half of the campaign.

Southampton, on the other hand, have largely enjoyed the busy festive period thus far as they won back-to-back games last week and climbed out of the relegation zone, where they remain with a game in hand.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: None | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Fernandinho (thigh), Fabian Delph (suspension), Claudio Bravo (achilles)


Burnley vs. West Ham — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Speaking of the relegation zone, that’s where Burnley begin their second half of the 2018-19 season — in 19th place following Fulham’s victory on Saturday. With just one victory in their last 12 games — and just two draws during that period — it’s been a dire three months for Sean Dyche‘s relegation-threatened side.

Unfortunately for the Clarets, West Ham head into Turf Moor riding a wave of optimism and point — five wins in their last six games have seen them climb all the way to 11th place in the table. Another win on Sunday would see them go seventh. Felipe Anderson has been the danger man of late and has begun to repay a hefty chunk of the $48 million spent to bring him to the London Stadium this summer with seven goals in his last eight games.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Steven Defour (knee),  | West Ham — OUT: Marko Arnautovic (hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (knee), Winston Reid (knee), Andriy Yarmolenko (achilles), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Ryan Fredericks (ankle)


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

As for clubs enjoying better days following a poor start to the season, no one has done a sharper U-turn than Man United. Since firing Jose Mourinho and installing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager nearly two weeks ago, the Red Devils have won both games they’ve played, victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield Town, by a combined score of 8-2. Paul Pogba, more than anyone else, is enjoying his new lease on life and turning in the type of performances expected of a former world-record signing.

As for Bournemouth, the Cherries’ season has largely moved in reverse of United’s, as their strong start has been undone by recent struggles (seven losses in their last nine games). Losing captain Simon Francis to a torn ACL — just weeks after midfielder Lewis Cook to the same injury — has left Bournemouth thin at the back and on the leadership front. Manager Eddie Howe has made no attempts at downplaying the loss.

“He’s been our leader on the pitch and a role model and a big miss in the dressing room. As a team it’s a big loss and a big gap to fill. He didn’t deserve that, but it’s happened and now we’ll do our best to support him through this process.”

INJURIES: Man United — QUESTIONABLE: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Chris Smalling (foot) | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee)

Midseason grades for each PL club

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Boxing Day in the Premier League marks the halfway point of the season.

19 games down, 19 to go.

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With that in mind, now seems like the perfect time to grace each PL club on their displays so far in the 2018-19 campaign.

Some will be spitting their Christmas dinners out reading this, others will not be able to wipe that smug grin off their faces for the rest of the day.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

Below we grade each team. Let us know if you agree in the comments below…


(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Arsenal: B+
Unai Emery has transformed the DNA of this Arsenal team and a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions proved he has them heading in the right direction. Defensive injuries have decimated their backline in recent weeks, but shoring up their defense remains the long-term goal. Going forward the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (the PL’s leading scorer) and Alexandre Lacazette continue to deliver, while Lucas Torreira and Mateo Guendouzi have been stars in midfield. The big issue: can Mesut Ozil fit into Emery’s 3-4-3 system? A really good start for the Spaniard in north London.


Bournemouth: B+
The Cherries have been hovering around the top six for most of the season and Eddie Howe has successfully taken them to the next level. Jefferson Lerma and David Brooks have been inspired signings, with the latter complementing the pace and power of Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser perfectly. They are in the hunt for Europe.


Brighton & Hove Albion: C
A weird season so far for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls. Big home wins against Man United, West Ham and Wolves have them in midtable, but they continue to struggle on the road and that must change if they’re going to stay clear of being sucked into the relegation zone. Glenn Murray is their main man, again, but after his injury Pascal Gross is struggling to regain his form from last season.


Burnley: D
Awful start to the season for Burnley and Sean Dyche‘s men are deservedly in the bottom three. Yes, their run in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds didn’t help their small squad at the start of the season but that was a long, long time ago. After finishing seventh last season, the expectation levels at Turf Moor have changed. The only thing we can expect from Burnley in the second half of the season is an almighty scrap against being relegated. Their main issue has been a leaky defense, which is so unlike them.


Cardiff City: C+
Better than we all expected would sum things up nicely for the Bluebirds and Neil Warnock after their promotion. They are hard to beat, especially at home, and they can hit teams on the counter and cause problems from set pieces. Picking up big wins at home against teams around them has kept them out of the relegation zone, but they must start winning games on the road. A relegation dogfight coming up, and this squad will relish that challenge.


(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Chelsea: B
A bizarre season so far. At times, Maurizio Sarri‘s men have been unstoppable, but like Eden Hazard‘s form they flitted in and out of games and shock defeats to Wolves and Leicester underline just how far they have to go to be called genuine title contenders. A top four finish is on, which was the goal before the season, but Sarri-ball has yet to take the PL by storm. Wins against Arsenal and Man City at home proved they can outplay the best, but getting the best out of Hazard and N'Golo Kante will be key to kicking on in the second half of the season. Also, their defensive line needs to step up in games against the so-called smaller teams.


Crystal Palace: C
Average start to the season, but that big win away at Man City boosts their grade a little. Roy Hodgson‘s side dig deep in each game and are hard to beat. Wilfried Zaha‘s pace on the breaks causes big problems but having him out injured for a few spells has hit Palace hard. Scoring goals remains an issue, but maybe the shackles will come off if they can sign a new striker in January.


Everton: C+
Signs of promise for Marco Silva, but perhaps this grade is a little harsh considering the hammering they took at the hands of Tottenham. Everton are at least going for it in games and new signings Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes have all been very good so far. The Toffees are still well placed to finish seventh, but Silva must sort out their defensive issues (not helped by injuries) which have hampered their progress. In fairness, defending has never been a strong point for the teams he has managed.


Fulham: F
Bottom of the table after spending over $150 million on new players in the summer, the Cottagers are a bit of a  mess. Claudio Ranieri arrived to take over from Slavisa Jokanovic, and with him came a complete 180 in terms of their playing philosophy. Fulham were lovely to watch in the early weeks of the season but were opened up easier than a tin of beans by opposition attacks. Ranieri has brought some solidity to their play, but there’s a long way to go. Relegation favorites, as things stand, and that will remain unless this squad is freshened up in January.


Huddersfield Town: D
Another favorite for the drop, as the Terriers just can’t score goals. David Wagner‘s men have had some great performances and have lost so many games narrowly, but the euphoria over promotion seems to have evaporated this season. Losing the likes of Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams through injury were big blows, and if Huddersfield are serious about staying up this season they have to bring in an experienced striker in January. Simple.


Leicester City: D
Another team who have been a real Jekyll and Hyde so far, as Claude Puel had been under intense pressure to be fired. That was before Leicester won away at Chelsea over the weekend. With the tragic situation off the pitch at Leicester, many would forgive the Foxes for letting their season peter out, but a strong second half of the campaign should see them battle for seventh and Europa League qualification. Puel’s system doesn’t really suit this Leicester squad though, and it is probably best for everyone if he moves on in the summer.


(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Liverpool: A+
Pretty much perfect. Liverpool have got better in almost every department and especially in defense, where Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk have kept things together and they’ve let in just seven goals in their first 18 games of the season. Up top the usual suspects are firing with Mohamed Salah almost back to his best and Xherdan Shaqiri helping Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino with their workload. Fabinho has been key in recent weeks and this squad is strong and dealing with injuries well. Jurgen Klopp‘s men remain the only PL team unbeaten, and their huge clash at Man City on Jan. 3 will likely determine if the PL trophy is finally heading to Anfield. Lot of pressure for the second half of the season.


Manchester City: B+
Some funny displays mixed among sheer brilliance for Pep Guardiola, as City have now dropped further behind Liverpool in the title race after that shock defeat against Palace. Kevin De Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero missing for large chunks of this season has hurt, but the form of Raheem Sterling and reemergence of Leroy Sane has been a plus. Keeping David Silva and Fernandinho fit is key to them getting back on top as the reigning champs are feeling the heat.


(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Manchester United: D
Should probably be lower than a D, but given all of their issues and Jose Mourinho being fired, the fact United still remain in sixth and are eight points off the top four points towards the quality players they possess. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s arrival as caretaker boss will help rebuild the confidence of Pogba, Rashford, Lukaku and others, as this team has woefully underperformed in the rigid defensive style Mourinho wanted them to execute. United should be challenging for the title with the squad they have, but a top four finish would be a wonderful achievement and could just land Solskjaer the job on a full-time basis.


Newcastle United: C
They are where they should be after spending little cash and Rafael Benitez working wonders. The Spaniard has said it will be a “miracle” if they stay up again, and the only way they will do that is by staying solid in defense and getting crosses into the box for Salomon Rondon to finish. Newcastle could easily get sucked into a relegation scrap if, as expected, they don’t reinforce in key areas in January. Mike Ashley’s long-awaited sale of the club still hasn’t happened and it needs to happen if the Magpies are to realize their true potential.


Southampton: D-
The only reason this isn’t a big fat F is because of the last few weeks under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Austrian took over from Mark Hughes as Saints had won just once all season and were devoid of any confidence going forward and were leaking goals galore. That is not a great combo. Hasenhuttl has galvanized this young side and given them a high-pressing style which already has the fans back on board after a few years of drifting along. Hiring the former RB Leipzig manager was a massive coup for Saints and the equation for him is quite simple: keep Danny Ings fit and Saints will pull well clear of the relegation zone.


(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur: A-
Spurs have been superb in recent weeks and despite so many struggles off the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino has kept his squad focused. Six points off the top of the table, in the last 16 of the Champions League after recovering from an awful start and in the last four of the League Cup suggests this team is moving forward. All of that was done without signing a single player in the summer and having the move to their new stadium delayed several times as they’re still at Wembley. With Harry Kane getting better, Son firing on all cylinders and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen back to their best and several squad players stepping up admirably, Pochettino’s well-oiled machine shows no signs of slowing down. Spurs are genuine title contenders, while their manager is wanted by both Man United and Real Madrid this summer. If Tottenham win a big trophy, that seems like the only way Pochettino would stay.


Watford: A
Javi Gracia and Watford have proved everyone wrong in the opening half of the season and I for one hold my hand up and say I didn’t see this coming. At all. They’ve beaten Tottenham at home and pushed plenty of other big clubs all of the way as they sit in seventh and have dreams of qualifying for Europe. Gracia was handed a new long-term deal and that suggests the Hornets may buck their trend of getting rid of managers each and every season. Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra have been sublime on the wings and the duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue dominant in midfield, with Ben Foster rolling back the years in goal. Overall, a wonderful season so far.


West Ham United: C+
Manuel Pellegrini has definitely turned things around at West Ham, but it will still take a bit more time for the Hammers to push up the table. Four wins on the spin had them flying into the festive period, and that was based mainly on their new defensive reinforcement settling in. Fabianski, Diop and Balbuena have made a big difference and without Arnautovic, Lanzini and Yarmolenko at the other end of the pitch (the former with a small injury, the latter out for the season) Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass and Javier Hernandez have stepped up. West Ham will aim to finish in the top 10 and that should easily be attainable in the second half of the season.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: B+
Right in the hunt for seventh place, Wolves have been one of the stories of the season so far. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have played without fear and recovered from a bit of a wobble after their stunning start to the season. Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Rui Patricio have all been superb, while the fluid 3-4-3 formation has worked wonders in opening up opponents on the counter. This team has a clear identity and when they decide to take their chances they can beat anyone in the league. European qualification is possible if they can kick on in 2019.

Man City admit title race wide-open after Chelsea defeat

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LONDON — Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have admitted that the Premier League title race has been blow wide-open after their defeat at Chelsea on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Speaking after the 2-0 defeat, their first of the season, Guardiola lauded the “incredible” display of his team and although he admitted that he would love to have had Benjamin Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero fit, he believes his team played extremely well and stuck to their gameplan throughout.

They did, but Chelsea found a way to beat them through N'Golo Kante finishing off a counter in the first half and David Luiz flicking home a header late on. Saturday marked just the fourth time in the past two seasons that City have failed to score in a game, while they also had less shots on target than an opponent for the first time this season.

With Liverpool now top of the league, City sit in second and have the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea breathing down their necks. Are Liverpool now the title favorites?

“Because they are one point in front? Yesterday we were the favorites but it changed. Why?” Guardiola laughed. “Yesterday we were the favorites and unbeaten. I knew from the beginning. I didn’t tell you in the media but I told my players ‘it will be tougher, that’s normal.’ We are in a similar level to last season. We have four or five points less but our level is quite similar. Our opponents are stronger. The teams want to compete. They want to try. That is normal. We are in December.”

“If you tell me Liverpool can win the Premier League I would say yes. If you tell me right now in the position Tottenham, Arsenal or Chelsea can win the Premier League I would say yes. Everybody can win the Premier League. The people judge what happened last season and last season, I’m sorry, we were the best. We did it so far? Yeah. That is my feeling. But of course when we lose, I am sitting here and I am trying to tell you what I saw. And what I saw, it was quite good we we have done today.”

Chelsea’s manager admitted that his side were a little lucky to be level after a slow start, but he was pleased with the determination and aggression of his players who were filled with confidence after Kante’s opener right on half time.

That said, Chelsea’s manager doesn’t believe they can challenge for the title this season and pointed to a lack of motivation in the smaller games

“As I’ve said always, I think the gap is impossible to cover only in one season,” Sarri said. “You can play one match of course but in a competition of 10 months it is very difficult to cover the gap. They are, at the moment, the best team in Europe. We won today but we have to say we were a bit lucky in the first 25 minutes because they could score. A little bit lucky in the first half and a very good second half. I think we have a team with some difficulties to be motivated. In this kind of match it is very easy to have great motivation, the right level of aggression. But then during the season you have to also play against the small teams. The next match we have to go to Brighton. At Brighton there will be three points on the pitch, like today. We need continuity in motivation, determination. Otherwise we can win this kind of match and then we can lose points in other matches.”

Even though Guardiola beamed that he was happy with City’s play and said that Chelsea “beat us on one counter attack and one set piece” it was clear City missed key players and lacked a cutting edge after their early flurry of chances. Before this defeat they had trailed just 12 minutes all season long. Guardiola now needs a response.

“The first eight, 10 minutes of the second half they [Chelsea] were better than us, but after that and in the first half we were fantastic. It’s a joy for me as a manager to watch my players,” Guardiola said. “We stayed high, regained a lot of balls, attacked and created enough chances to score one or two in the first half, unfortunately it didn’t happen. But that is a good lesson. That is the level of the Champions League. People say Manchester City is favourite for the Champions League but this is the [level of the] Champions League – they [Chelsea] had one chance and scored one goal. The opponents are so good, so clever. That is what’s going to happen in the future in the bigger stages.”

City’s manager revealed that playing with no central striker was a plan which didn’t quite work as Chelsea played slightly deeper than normal and that could give other teams a blueprint to follow. Guardiola also joked about Sarri also playing with a false nine with the superb Eden Hazard supported by workhorse Pedro and Willian.

“We wanted to find some space in the middle for a one against one. Gabriel [Jesus] is more a guy in the box. I knew they would stay high in the press. In the end they didn’t make a high press. They waited a little bit lower. I didn’t expect that,” Guardiola said. “We needed a guy we could find like Riyad or especially Raheem, make an action one-on-one against David Luiz and the other ones, that was our idea. That is why we decided to play today with Raheem more in central than wider… Yesterday I called Maurizio, we decided to play in the same way! It wasn’t a surprise. Against Tottenham for 15-20 minutes Hazard played like a striker. He can play there. I think with Hazard, Pedro and Willian closed the sides better than Hazard. Hazard is an incredible talent but the effort to work backwards, Pedro and Willian are exceptional in that way.”

Man City were far from exceptional on Saturday and their first defeat of the season has given the other contenders hope they won’t canter to another title this season.

The race is on.

Sane, Man City ease to win at West Ham

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  • City scores twice in first 19 minutes
  • Hosts can’t convert early chances
  • Sane scores two more
  • Unhappy return for Manuel Pellegrini

Leroy Sane scored twice as Manchester City cruised past West Ham United at the London Stadium on Saturday, moving to 35 points with a 4-0 win on Saturday.

David Silva and Raheem Sterling also scored for City, while West Ham remains 13th with 12 points.

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini did not enjoy his reunion with a club that loves him, seeing few chances after an early flurry from the hosts.

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It was clear that Manuel Pellegrini was playing to attack Fabian Delph at left back, especially on the counter, as Benjamin Mendy‘s absence loomed over the City XI.

And while there were moments in the first few minutes for the Irons, Silva and Sterling scored from within six yards in the 11th and 19th minutes, respectively.

For as good as City was early, it needed a pair of fine saves by Ederson to keep the sheet clean. Marko Arnautovic saw his shot through traffic thwarted by a diving keeper, and Ederson made it two-straight saves when Arnautovic slipped Michail Antonio into the right of the box.

City made it 3-0 with another well-worked team goal — won’t Pep be proud? — as Sane was on the business end of another deconstruction of West Ham’s back line.

Arnautovic was fortunate to remain in the game when his clumsy challenge landed on top of Delph’s planted ankle.

Sane added a fourth goal in stoppage time, as City and West Ham really just passed most of the second half for time.

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