John Stones

Four things learned: Man City v. Spurs

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Manchester City and Tottenham played out a dramatic 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, as Kevin De Bruyne impressed but Spurs pegged the reigning champions back and late VAR drama stole the show as Gabriel Jesus‘ strike was ruled out.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just like their clashes in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League last season, this was appointment viewing as Sergio Aguero and Pep Guardiola went at it on the sidelines and Spurs rode their luck with Jesus’ goal in stoppage time ruled out for handball.

Here’s what we learned from a heavyweight battle between two title contenders.


JUST LIKE UCL CLASH, VAR DECISION BURNS CITY

Gabriel Jesus thought he had won it in stoppage time as he curled home a beauty to make it 3-2, but VAR was used correctly and it was another dagger deep into the heart of Guardiola and City.

Aymeric Laporte flicked the ball off his arm towards Jesus and VAR quickly cleared up that it was a handball in the box. Incredible drama for the second time in three games for Spurs at Man City, and Guardiola, one of the biggest advocates for VAR, has been burned by it twice in damaging fashion.

Man City fans will point to Fernando Llorente’s handball in their UCL quarterfinal victory last season and why that wasn’t ruled out and that is a valid point. But under the PL’s laws with handballs in the box, Laporte handling the ball pushed it into the path of Jesus and without that knock off his arm, City don’t score. It is as simple as that.


CITY’S SHAKY DEFENSE WILL HOLD THEM BACK

There is a Vincent Kompany sized hole at the heart of Man City’s defense and Spurs made the most of it. Tottenham had two shots on target and scored with both, as Man City looked shaky with both Otamendi and Zinchenko caught out of position. Fernandinho‘s absence was also felt as Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri failed to stop Spurs’ counter attacks, especially in the second half.

City tried to sign Harry Maguire this summer and Virgil Van Dijk in the past and it is clear that Guardiola isn’t happy with John Stones, Otamendi and Laporte as his three first-choice center backs. City made live to regret not paying a little extra for Maguire this summer. It was an area they clearly needed to upgrade and they didn’t.


KEVIN DE BRUYNE RAN THE SHOW

Kevin de Bruyne’s return to full fitness is a massive boost for Man City this season. He grabbed two assists in the first half and absolutely ran the show with two moments of real quality.

The Belgian wizard had last season interrupted with two serious knee injuries, but he’s eager to make up for lost time after grabbing two assists last weekend and another two in Matchweek 2. De Bruyne’s pass to Sterling for the opener was brilliant but his cross for Aguero to double the lead was a thing of beauty.

De Bruyne’s precision was spot on, as usual, and he is coolness personified. The way he strokes the ball around is majestic.

It is absurd that Man City won three domestic trophies and racked up 98 points last season with De Bruyne only playing 19 PL games. Imagine what they can do, alongside David Silva, Bernando Silva, Raheem Sterling and Aguero, if he’s fit for the entire campaign.


SPURS FAIL TO FEED Harry Kane, AS AGUERO, GUARDIOLA FALL OUT

Christian Eriksen, Tanguy Ndombele and Erik Lamela failed to feed Harry Kane and their entire attacking unit faltered because in central midfield they were completely overrun. Harry Winks did his best to put out fires, but not having a true holding midfielder in the engine room hurts Spurs badly. Victor Wanyama, Eric Dier and even Moussa Sissoko aren’t the flashiest of players, but the balance of Spurs’ midfield was off and Kane was isolated for most of the game.

As for Man City’s top goalscorer and star striker, he may not be around for much longer. Aguero clashed with Guardiola as he was subbed off in the second half and there was a heated exchange between the two as they had to be separated.

You love to see the passion from both the manager and star striker, but with tension bubbling under the surface for years over Aguero’s playing style in a Pep side, this looked a lot more personal. In the coming weeks we will find out just how damaging this public spat will be for both Guardiola and Aguero.

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.

10 things you need to know before new PL season

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Ahead of the 2019-20 Premier League season there are certain things you need to know.

That’s where we come in.

[ MORE: PL season previews ]

As well as clicking on the link above to get the low-down on all 20 teams, below are the 10 things you must know ahead of the new campaign.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Let’s go!


ICYMI, America has a superstar in the PL…
You may have been living under a rock for the past few months. If so, fair enough. The rest of the world knows that Christian Pulisic is coming to the Premier League. The 20-year-old USMNT star was signed by Chelsea for $73 million in January and loaned back to Borussia Dortmund. The “Pennsylvanian Messi” will be asked to replace Eden Hazard long-term, but in the meantime he is impressing Chelsea legend Frank Lampard who is in his first season in charge of the Blues. Given Chelsea’s ban and Willian arriving late due to his exploits with Brazil in the Copa America this summer, Pulisic has the chance to hit the ground running with Chelsea. Along with Pedro, Kovacic, Hudson-Odoi, Barkley and Mount, he will have to battle hard for a starting spot. He is without doubt ready to be the first bonafide American superstar in the PL and on the planet.


VAR is coming. Get ready.
Okay, get ready for VAR to dominate the majority of your conversations for the next 10 months. The Premier League has already said it will only use VAR for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” when it comes to four occasions: goals scored, direct red cards, penalty kicks being awarded and cases of mistaken identity. There will be delays and a little confusion, but messages will be relayed to fans inside the stadiums and it will be intriguing to see how the system works in the PL. After being used in major competitions and leagues across Europe and the rest of the world over the past few seasons, it is now the turn of the Premier League to embrace technology to help officials out. Let’s see if fans share this sentiment after the first few weeks of the season.


2:45 p.m. ET kick offs on Saturday are now a thing
For a handful of weeks this is a new feature for the 2019-20 campaign and the two seasons after that. Saturday evening games in the UK should see a bit of a party atmosphere take place, and like Friday night games being introduced a few years ago, it gives us another opportunity to make time in our lives to watch the PL. What more can you ask for? On a Saturday you can now get to the pub with your mates at 7:30 a.m. ET and be there until about 5 p.m. ET when the final game finishes. 10 hours of constant PL action on a Saturday is perfection. There is also the small matter of a small winter break, with one round of fixtures in February split over two weeks so clubs can have a little breather after the busy festive period.


Transfer records smashed all over the place
Harry Maguire: $97 million from Leicester City to Man United. Nicolas Pepe: $87 million from Lille to Arsenal. Rodri: $80 million from Atletico Madrid to Man City. Tanguy Ndombele: $80 million from Lyon to Tottenham. What do all those transfers have in common? They all happened this summer and they are all record deals. Maguire’s is the highest fee paid in history for a defender and Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham all broke their transfer records. Add into the mix that Sheffield United, Brighton, Leicester and Newcastle all broke their transfer records this summer too, and it’s clear to see PL clubs are spending big to stay in the top-flight.


Blades, Canaries and Villans
The new boys will all add something a little different to the PL in their own way. Aston Villa have spent big with over $160 million splashed on 12 new players, while Norwich have hardly spent anything and Sheffield United have added sensibly. Villa will entertain and a genuinely one of the biggest clubs in England, while the Blades will be led by a passionate home crowd and lean heavily on the players who have led them from the third tier. As for Norwich, they played scintillating attacking football last season but many are writing them off for instant relegation to underline their status as a yo-yo club. As always, all three new boys are favorites for the drop. Beware of the underdogs.


European glory to continue?
Liverpool are the reigning UEFA Champions League champions and Chelsea won the Europa League. Will we see the PL dominate Europe once again this season? Arsenal, Man United and Wolves will be among the favorites in the Europa League, while Man City and Liverpool will again led the way for the PL in the UCL. Spurs and Chelsea are also favored to reach at least the eight and with some of the big boys in Spain, Italy and Germany struggling a little, there’s a sense we are in the middle of English domination in Europe.


Returning stars could be rested early on
Something to keep an eye on, especially for those who play Premier League Fantasy. The likes of Liverpool and Man City have been impacted over the summer when it comes to star players coming back late from international duty. Roberto Firmino, Alisson, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have all missed a huge chunk of preseason for Liverpool, while Sergio Aguero, Ederson, Fernandinho and Riyad Mahrez have only just returned for City. Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will have to manage the minutes of those stars accordingly if they’re going to come good at the business end of the season. Players are not machines and their managers, thankfully, understand that. That won’t help your FPL team, but don’t be so selfish…


Marauding center backs the new norm
With Maguire and Virgil Van Dijk set to take center stage for Man United and Liverpool respectively, there’s a sense that this is the year of the marauding center backs. Given all of the money spent on attacking players, we’ve seen just how important it is to have a solid defensive unit. Man City have John Stones and Aymeric Laporte ready to play out of the back, but are they good enough defensively to lead a title challenge without legend Vincent Kompany organizing alongside them? This will be the season of the center back.


New managers, first full seasons
Chelsea legend Frank Lampard is arriving to take charge of the Blues. Graham Potter is the new man in charge at Brighton. Steve Bruce has replaced Rafael Benitez at Newcastle after the Spaniard left. Brendan Rodgers be Leicester’s coach for a full season (he hopes), while Ralph Hasenhuttl is in his first full season as Saints boss. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is also overseeing his first full campaign at Man United. Fresh starts and slates wiped clean are the order of the day.


#PLonNBC on location in England
Don’t forget, we are kicking the season off in the best possible way with our entire crew in England for opening weekend. From Liverpool v. Norwich to Tottenham v. Aston Villa and Manchester United v. Chelsea, our entire broadcast team will be on-site to celebrate the return of the Premier League? Pumped. Yep. Us too.

Player ratings: Liverpool v Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalty kicks to win the Community Shield, after an intense game between the Premier League’s top two teams from last season.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

How did the players get on, out of 10?

Below we reveal our ratings from Wembley.


Liverpool

Alisson: 5 – Could have done better with Sterling’s goal and looked a little shaky.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 6 – Rattled into some challenges but far from his usual marauding display.

Joe Gomez: 5 – Caught in possession a few times at center back and them moved out to right back.

Virgil Van Dijk: 7 – Stood tall and set up the equalizer. Classy player who grew into the game.

Andrew Robertson: 6 – Given a tough time by Bernardo Silva, but stood up to the challenge.

Jordan Henderson: 5 – Struggled to get going and took a knock in the second half.

Fabinho: 5 – Couldn’t stop City gliding through Liverpool’s defense.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 5 – Really struggled. Few loose touches and only player to miss a penalty.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Could have scored three in the second half alone. Dangerous but didn’t score.

Roberto Firmino: 6 – One superb effort in the first half and decent movement, as always.

Divock Origi: 4 – His teammates couldn’t find his runs out wide. Ineffective.

Subs
Joel Matip on for Trent Alexander-Arnold (67′): 7 – Headed home the equalizer.
Naby Keita on for Fabinho (67′): 6 – Provided some surging runs. Good shot saved.
Adam Lallana on for Jordan Henderson (79′): N/A
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Divock Origi (79′): N/A
Xherdan Shaqiri on for Roberto Firmino (79′): N/A


Man City

Claudio Bravo: 7 – A few dodgy moments in the second half but saved the crucial spot kick. A very good back-up goalkeeper.

Kyle Walker: 6 – Dug deep defensively but rarely threatened going forward.

John Stones: 7 – Calm on the ball and did his best to hold City’s defense together.

Nicolas Otamendi: 6 – Dragged out of position quite a lot but made some great last-ditch interventions.

Oleksandr Zinchenko: 6 – Tough outing against Salah but kept plugging away. Scored his pen.

Rodri: 5 – Caught on the ball so many times. Has to get use to the pace of the game in England. Fast.

David Silva: 7 – Proper magician. Glides around the pitch with ease and set up Sterling’s goal.

Kevin De Bruyne: 8 – Constant threat, even though his final pass or shot was a little off.

Leroy Sane: 4 – Injured early on, which is a big shame. Last minutes in a Man City shirt?

Raheem Sterling: 8 – Scored one, but should have scored a few more. Superb pace, but poor finishing.

Bernando Silva: 7 – Another classy and tireless display. Criminally underrated.

Subs
Gabriel Jesus on for Leroy Sane (14′): 6 – Scored the winning penalty kick and put himself about.
Ilkay Gundogan on for David Silva (61′): 3 – One of the worst sub displays ever. Gave the ball away countless times. Scored his penalty kick though.
Phil Foden on for Kevin de Bruyne (89′): N/A

Three things learned: Liverpool v Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalty kicks to win the 2019 FA Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday.  

After a 1-1 draw thanks to goals from Raheem Sterling and Joel Matip in either half, the game went to spot kicks and Claudio Bravo saved Georginio Wijnadlum’s penalty as City scored all five of theirs.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Man City and Liverpool finished just one point apart in the Premier League table last season and it went all the way to decide the winner of the Community Shield. Despite shaking off rust amid key absentees due to stars returning late from summer tournaments, City and Liverpool put on a show at Wembley.

It was an intense, high-tempo encounter which can’t often be said of this showpiece event.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp played up the importance of this game beforehand and their players obviously took those words to heart.

What did we learn from the traditional “curtain raiser” at Wembley?


Teams evenly matched, wasteful

On another day the score could have been 4-3 or 3-2. Both teams were guilty of being wasteful in the final third and some of their attacking stars were perhaps blowing away a few cobwebs.

Mohamed Salah missed two glorious opportunities in the first half alone. Virgil Van Dijk and Salah hit the woodwork in the second half. Kyle Walker incredibly hooked Salah’s shot off the line, while Sterling probably should’ve scored another two given the quality of his chances. Kevin De Bruyne‘s final ball and passes were a little off, while there was a general sense of frustration among both Guardiola and Klopp on the sidelines.

They know the way their teams played and the result of the Community Shield is not going to determine how this season goes for them. But the game was of high intensity and was also pretty adept at underlining the weaknesses both teams have. In the second half the end-to-end nature of the game was farcical, as you could be forgiven for thinking the latest NBA game had rolled into London.

This performance suggested two things:

1) There is still so little to choose between Liverpool and Man City.

2) Liverpool are a different team without one of their front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah up top, and so too are Man City without Sergio Aguero in their starting lineup.


Rusty Liverpool shaking off poor preseason

Not having six first team stars with Liverpool for the majority of preseason was far from ideal. And they do not appear to have dealt that well with it. At all. Salah, Firmino and Alisson returned this week after playing in the Africa Cup of Nations and Copa America, while Sadio Mane will return next week. With Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri only just returning from injury too, Liverpool’s squad looks a little thin on the ground.

In the first half Man City overran them in central midfield but much to their credit Liverpool came roaring back in the second half and deserved to draw 1-1 in regulation. Salah led wave after wave of attack and even though it is clear Liverpool aren’t fully fit, it appears the rust from a disjointed preseason is falling off a little quicker than most expected.

Klopp will be hoping that the late returning stars give the rest of the squad a much-needed kick up the backside in the next few days before they face Norwich City in the PL season opener on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The lack of a central midfielder who can dictate the tempo of the game and create openings is perhaps what they miss most if they’re going to truly push Man City all the way for the title once again this season. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all workhorses and should be admired for how they press high and win the ball back for Salah, Firmino and Mane to cause havoc. It works. But having a player like David or Bernando Silva, someone who can slow things down and float around behind the strikers is something Liverpool have been calling out for.


Left side of City’s defense needs a revamp

True, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold were the men marauding down the right flank for Liverpool but Oleksandr Zinchenko and Nicolas Otamendi didn’t half make them look good.

Granted, Aymeric Laporte will likely line up alongside John Stones in central defense this season, but it may be worth playing Laporte at left back based on this. Especially with influential leader Vincent Kompany departing. Do not underestimate his absence this season. As this game wore on Otamendi found his stride and Zinchenko kept plugging away too, but if there is any area City’s squad needs strengthening in it is at left back and center back. That is so obvious.

Zinchenko is doing the best he can as a makeshift left back but with Benjamin Mendy still out injured and Fabian Delph sold over the summer, City’s options at left back aren’t plentiful. With Joao Cancelo coming in at right back to battle with Kyle Walker, it is a little bemusing why City aren’t making a big play to sign a left back or center back this summer.

Teams will look to exploit that wing based on this showing. Yes, this was Liverpool shredding their left flank apart, but plenty of the PL’s other top six teams are capable of exploiting this weakness.