Kevin De Bruyne

Simulating the 2019/20 Premier League finish

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April 30, am I right?

The Premier League season piledrives forward from August until May most seasons. The pause in this, due to the coronavirus, has left us looking for matches.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

With Liverpool so close to its first Premier League title, uneven giants battling for European places, and three clubs tied for 18th place on the table, well, we needed somewhere to turn.

We went with FIFA20 to see how the table will play out, who will claim the FA Cup, and which Premier League sides might thrive in the Champions League and Europa League.

Let’s follow the path, starting with two postponed matches.

Postponed matches: City pulls back within 22 points of Liverpool, as Mikel Arteta doesn’t come close to outfoxing his old boss Pep Guardiola. Meanwhile, Mbwana Samatta strikes late to steal a point for Villa and pull them within a point of West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth.

Man City 4-1 Arsenal
Villa 1-1 Sheffield United

Matchday 30: A historic kind of day, as Man City is the only host to win a match. Spurs’ Jose Mourinho gets a draw versus Man Utd, while Liverpool crushes Everton behind a Sadio Mane hat trick.

Norwich City 0-0 Saints
West Ham 0-1 Wolves
Bournemouth 2-2 Palace
Brighton 1-2 Arsenal
Everton 1-3 Liverpool
Spurs 1-1 Man Utd
Villa 0-2 Chelsea
Watford 1-2 Leicester City
Newcastle 1-1 Sheffield United
Man City 2-0 Burnley

Matchday 31: Arsenal moves four points clear of Spurs, who fall to an inspired West Ham. The Irons pull out of the drop zone… for good.

Newcastle 2-0 Villa
Burnley 0-0 Watford
Wolves 2-1 Bournemouth
Liverpool 2-0 Palace
Leicester City 3-0 Brighton
Norwich City 1-1 Everton
Spurs 0-2 West Ham
Southampton 1-3 Arsenal
Man Utd 3-0 Sheff Utd
Chelsea 2-4 Man City

Matchday 32: Liverpool wins the league in stunning style. A draw is all the Reds need to take the trophy. Raheem Sterling gives City a 1-0 lead in the first half, only to see a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick supply the league-winning point.

Nigel Pearson‘s Hornets move out of the drop zone with 31 points.

West Ham 1-2 Chelsea
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich
Everton 1-0 Leicester City
Palace 2-0 Burnley
Brighton 1-5 Man Utd
Bournemouth 0-3 Newcastle
Watford 2-1 Saints
Man City 1-1 Liverpool
Sheffield United 1-2 Spurs
Villa 0-4 Wolves

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images,)

Matchday 33: Norwich City gets within a win of Brighton by beating them at home behind an Emi Buendia penalty. Arsenal draws Wolves to pull within three points of the top five.

Burnley 2-1 Sheff Utd
Leicester City 2-2 Palace
Saints 1-5 Man City
Spurs 0-3 Everton
Wolves 1-1 Arsenal
Liverpool 4-0 Villa
Norwich 2-1 Brighton
Newcastle 2-2 West Ham
Man Utd 0-0 Bournemouth
Chelsea 4-0 Watford

Matchday 34: It’s getting congested in the top four, with third-place Leicester winless in four following a loss at Arsenal. Palace draws Chelsea, allowing victorious Wolves and Manchester United to pull within two points of fourth.

Norwich City wins again, passing Aston Villa and joining 18th-place Brighton on 29 points.

Sheffield United 0-2 Wolves
Watford 1-2 Norwich City
West Ham 4-1 Burnley
Bournemouth 2-0 Spurs
Everton 2-2 Saints
Man City 3-1 Newcastle
Palace 0-0 Chelsea
Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City
Brighton 0-2 Liverpool
Villa 0-2 Man Utd

Matchday 35: Sheffield United snaps a four-match losing streak with a draw against Chelsea, but the top seven hopes are dead.

Burnley takes a point at Anfield as City moves back within 20 of the Reds.

Brighton 1-4 Man City
Norwich City 1-2 West Ham
Villa 1-1 Palace
Watford 2-3 Newcastle
Wolves 2-1 Everton
Spurs 0-2 Arsenal
Sheffield United 1-1 Chelsea
Bournemouth 1-2 Leicester City
Man Utd 2-1 Southampton
Liverpool 1-1 Burnley

Matchday 36: Villa surprises Everton to move within a result of safety in a five-horse race to avoid the drop. Chelsea, Manchester United, and Wolves all win to hit the 62-point mark, two back of third-place Leicester City.

Leicester City 0-0 Sheffield United
Arsenal 0-1 Liverpool
Everton 1-2 Villa
Man City 3-0 Bournemouth
Newcastle 0-4 Spurs
Burnley 0-2 Wolves
Chelsea 3-0 Norwich City
West Ham 2-0 Watford
Palace 0-2 Man Utd
Saints 1-1 Brighton

Matchday 37: All of the top five combatants stumble except Wolves, who jump into third with a win over Crystal Palace at the Molineux.

Spurs 2-0 Leicester City
Wolves 2-0 Palace
Brighton 0-4 Newcastle
Bournemouth 0-3 Southampton
Villa 0-3 Arsenal
Sheffield United 0-3 Everton
Norwich City 0-2 Burnley
Man Utd 1-1 West Ham
Watford 1-3 Man City
Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Matchday 38: Talk about a dramatic final day, all things considered!

Manchester United gets a leaping Bruno Fernandes penalty to send Leicester City tumbling into sixth despite most of the season in the top three! The Red Devils climb into third because of what happens at Stamford Bridge.

Hosts Chelsea need a win over Wolves to take back fourth, as the visitors enter the day three points ahead with a one-goal advantage in differential. Christian Pulisic sets up a Willian winner to give Chelsea fourth by virtue of total wins (19).

Liverpool takes the league with a 2-0 defeat of Newcastle at St. James’ Park, completing the season with a 20-point advantage on Man City. Arsenal completes the European picture, havng been settled in seventh for some time.

The relegation scene is pretty nuts, with five teams finishing the day within three points of the bottom. All five lose, with Bournemouth and Watford staying up despite season-ending losing streaks. Nigel Pearson’s Hornets finish the season with 31 points, the same total they had after Matchday 32.

Arsenal 3-0 Watford
Burnley 2-1 Brighton
Chelsea 1-0 Wolves
Palace 2-1 Spurs
Everton 3-0 Bournemouth
Leicester City 0-1 Man Utd
Man City 1-0 Norwich City
Newcastle 0-2 Liverpool
Saints 3-1 Sheffield United
West Ham 3-1 Villa

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

STANDINGS

  1. Liverpool — 105 points (UCL)
  2. Man City — 85 points
  3. Man Utd — 66 points (UCL)
  4. Chelsea — 65 points (UCL)
  5. Wolves — 65 points (UCL)
  6. Leicester City — 64 points. (UEL)
  7. Arsenal — 62 points (UEL)
  8. Spurs — 51 points (UEL)
  9. Everton — 51 points
  10. Burnley — 50 points
  11. Crystal Palace — 49 points
  12. Newcastle United — 49 points
  13. Sheffield United — 47 points
  14. West Ham United — 44 points
  15. Southampton — 43 points
  16. Bournemouth — 32 points
  17. Watford — 31 points
  18. Brighton and Hove Albion — 30 points
  19. Aston Villa — 30 points
  20. Norwich City –29 points

FA Cup: A Manchester derby ends 4-0 to City, Leroy Sane scoring twice to join Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte on the score sheet. Two assists each for Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.

Europa League: Manchester United gave Roma permission to use loanee Chris Smalling, and the defender powers a 13th-minute header home that stands until Anthony Martial delivers a goal three minutes from time. David De Gea is the star in penalty kicks, as United wins 4-3.

UEFA Champions League:  Pep Guardiola leads Man City into its final UCL game for two seasons, and it’s against his old pals Barcelona. Quique Setien’s side flusters City’s attack, and Lionel Messi wins it at the hour mark for the Blaugranas.

PST Roundtable: PL at the 3/4 mark

Premier League
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images
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The Premier League season is paused at just more than the three-quarter mark — 76.05 percent, to be a bit more formal — and we’ve got a good handle on who’s good and who isn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That said, the number also gives an idea of why there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for the table and award winners once the season presumably resumes for the stretch run.

It would be natural to speculate on the front-runners and Championship-bound sides if there were matches this weekend, so why not do it now?

We’ve quizzed our PST staff on a handful of questions in roundtable form, though there was no table and my desk is decidedly rectangular.


Liverpool players have won Player of the Year for the past two seasons despite not winning the league. Are the tables flipped this year? Who is on track for PL Player of the Year?

Joe Prince-WrightKevin De Bruyne should probably win it but I expect Jordan Henderson or Sadio Mane to win it. Liverpool will win the league by a mile and both have been influential. When they’ve been out injured Liverpool have missed them and I’d probably say Mane should win it.

Andy Edwards: This is a weird one, because Liverpool have been so thoroughly outstanding in every way, on every level, that it would be difficult to pick just one of them for Player of the Year. Is Sadio Mane deserving? Sure is. What about Mohamed Salah? Also yes. Virgil Van Dijk? Yet again, yes. Trent Alexander-Arnold? You can make a strong case that he’s perhaps done the most to lift Liverpool another level higher from a “non-traditional” award-winning position. All of that is to say, simply deliver the award to Melwood Training Ground and let the players decide amongst themselves.

Daniel Karell: Remember when the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 SI Sportsperson of the Year award? I think we’re going to have to do that for Liverpool. While Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane would all be worthy of the trophy individually, it’s truly been a team effort this season and the culmination of 5 years of growth, smart transfer dealings, and hard work. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been immense at times, as has Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Allison Becker. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a cop-out answer but I think it’s just hard this year to pick just one who has been better. Jamie Vardy currently leads the Premier League in goals, and while he’s been terrific, he hasn’t also been playing in the Champions League like Salah, Mane, and Van Dijk have, for example. 

Kyle Bonn: It has to be Kevin de Bruyne, right? Yea, it does.

Nick Mendola: Kevin De Bruyne and it’s not particularly close. He has a fine chance of setting the league assist record, and he’s two away becoming the only player in the Top Five twice. There are words to be said for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, and Raul Jimenez, but no true decent arguments outside of “it should come from the champion,” which we covered in the question.


Who’s on track for your Best XI?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Maguire, Saka; J. Henderson, Ndidi, De Bruyne; Mane, Firmino, Vardy

Andy Edwards: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Moutinho, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane

Daniel Karell: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; De Bruyne, Maddison, Jorginho; Vardy, Aubameyang, Salah

Kyle Bonn: D. Henderson; TAA, Van Dijk, Maguire, Robertson; Ndidi, De Bruyne, J. Henderson, Grealish; Mane, Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Rodri, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane.


What’s the best goal you’ve seen this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think that has to be Heung-Min Son’s incredible solo goal. Clear winner for Goal of the Season.

Andy Edwards: Heung-min Son’s solo goal versus Burnley

Daniel Karell:  I mean…it’s got to be Heung-min Son against Burnley. Honorable mention though to Kevin de Bruyne vs. Newcastle and Moussa Djenepo vs. Sheffield United.

Kyle Bonn: Three goals so far stand out in my mind: Heung-Min Son’s dizzying run vs. Burnley, Jahanbakhsh’s bike against Chelsea, and Jordan Ayew’s little zig-zag against West Ham. The Spurs’ man’s goal wins for the sheer distance he covered.

Nick Mendola: Son. Solo. Next.


What are your Top 3 moments of the season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: Woah. What a question. In no particular order: Christian Pulisic’s hat trick for Chelsea v Burnley. Leicester winning 9-0 at Southampton. Liverpool destroying everyone but I particularly enjoyed their 4-0 win at Leicester.

Daniel Karell: The season being postponed for the Coronavirus: Only a global pandemic could upstage the season Liverpool was having. Then Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Man City, which proved that the Reds have fully passed Man City in the pecking order. Finally, I’m biased, but for me it’s the malaise and slide that Arsenal is in. How the mighty have fallen.

Kyle Bonn: Lot to potentially go into the pot here, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Leicester City demolishing Southampton 9-0, Newcastle ridiculous late 2-2 draw with Everton on Lejeune’s double, and Southampton exacting revenge on Leicester City for the aforementioned demolition with a 2-1 road win. I think Liverpool could potentially have three on here as well, one for the Sadio Mane header against Aston Villa, one for the late Lallana goal against Manchester United to draw, and one for the loss to Watford that ended the unbeaten league season.

Nick Mendola: Two of my three involve the soon-to-be champs, and the first took 24 seconds to reshape the season. It was the time that passed between Trent Alexander-Arnold’s would-be handball penalty for Man City and Fabinho’s rocket to beat Claudio Bravo. ‘Member? Insane. Maybe we should’ve called “Game: Blouses” on the whole season there, citing a season of fate.

The second is Watford’s beatdown of Liverpool to end the Reds’ unbeaten season is here because of its complete nature. The worn-down Reds capitulated to Ismaila Sarr in a way that lives very large.

Third could be anything: Liverpool coming back to beat West Ham. Leicester City hanging nine on Southampton. Hometown kid Matty Longstaff using all five-foot-nothing of his teenage body to piledrive Newcastle past Manchester United on his Premier League debut with his brother next to him in the midfield.

It’s been a season, team.


Grade VAR on a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being perfect). What can be changed to make the VAR system more efficient and consistent?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’d give it a 6/10. People forget the small errors which still pop up but a lot of decisions which would have previously been wrong are now correct. I think letting referees use the pitch side monitors will improve the system and the respect for on-field officials. Too much of the control is sent to Stockley Park.

Andy Edwards: 5, dead center of the spectrum. My biggest gripe: it’s been used to micromanage and legislate the smallest of margins far too frequently. We all understand the Laws of the Game are the rules by which the game must be officiated, but what of the Spirit of the Laws of the Game? There must exist a gray area of sorts, as there is with everything in life, where intent and advantage are considered and weighed en route to the final decision. If a player is offside by 2 millimeters, is that an advantage which has a decisive impact in favor of the attacker? In most cases, it’s probably not.

Daniel Karell: 5. It’s decent, but the fact that refs refuse to use the monitors means that they’re just constantly second guessing themselves and it’s affecting how they call games in general. Make a call, and if the VAR says, hey, you might want to look at this, take a look at it to be sure. You can’t go wrong.

Kyle Bonn: VAR so far gets a 4 out of 10 for me. It gets a 3/5 on intent and ability, as the system for the most part has demonstrated the ability to serve as intended when used properly, with a few tweaks necessary such as pitchside monitors and rules like the handball rule needing amending. It gets a 1/5 on execution, with the Premier League struggling mightily to grasp the spirit of the technology. The offside line has done its job, despite the bad publicity, but the “clear & obvious error” has been grossly misinterpreted and calls have been changed or even investigated when not needed.

Nick Mendola: I’m going with five, and it’d be much higher if the PL learned from the NHL’s biggest mistake with replay: offside(s). At least in hockey there’s a blue line to help. The “moment the ball is struck” is such a poor reference point. Let the linespeople live here.


 

BONUS: Who is the best referee in the Premier League and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Mike Dean because he is not only a pretty fair referee, overall, but he jokes with the players and seems to have their respect. Don’t @ me.

Daniel Karell: I don’t know who the best is, but Mike Dean is towards the bottom.

Kyle Bonn: Mike Dean, because he has supreme control of the pitch and makes the fewest amount of obvious errors.

Nick Mendola: I find Michael Oliver the most consistent.

2019-20 Premier League Best XI so far

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With the coronavirus shutdown of all major European soccer, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the players who have stood out to this point as the table begins to truly take shape. Liverpool is just a hair away from securing the 2019/20 title, but not everything is about the Reds – although a lot of it still is.

[ MORE: Possible end dates | PST roundtable ]

With that in mind, here’s the frontrunners at each position for Premier League Team of the Season, with the players who could also make a leap into the conversation with a strong finish to the campaign, if they ever get the chance.

Premier League Best XI

Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Also considered: Alisson Becker

Harsh on Alisson, who is leading the way for one of the best back lines in Premier League history, but Dean Henderson has been just as brilliant in far more difficult circumstances. The Manchester United loanee has starred at Sheffield United, prompting talk that the Red Devils should cut his loan short and instill the 23-year-old’s loan short and bring him on to take over for a struggling David De Gea. While many have labeled the shot-stopper “England’s future number one,” it’s entirely possible that Henderson would have been the starter had Euro 2020 not been postponed until next season, and it’s certainly fathomable that the youngster could still be first-choice once the tournament arrives. There are recent rumors among English tabloids that Manchester United is preparing a new contract for Henderson worth nearly $120,000 a week, which would be more than backup goalkeeper Sergio Romero currently makes and about equal with new midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Ederson is normally considered part of this list as well, but he just hasn’t performed up to the level required this season considering how he sparkled in Manchester City’s title campaign last time around.

Left-back: Andrew Robertson
Also considered: Ben Chilwell, Lucas Digne, Jonny

While Robertson doesn’t burst off the page like his fellow full-back teammate Alexander-Arnold (more on that in a moment), he is still far and away the best left-back in the league. The former Hull City man who joined Liverpool for just $9 million back in 2017 has flourished into one of the world’s best, and his chemistry with Alexander-Arnold is growing the two into a legendary pairing. He is a long-ball master, delivering 2.4 per game, the most of any left-back in the league and third among full-backs to just Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Also considered: Ricardo Pereira, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Did you know the Premier League was absolutely stacked at right-back? If not for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is quickly establishing himself as the best full-back in the world and has a shot at a place among the greatest of all-time should he maintain this form for a number of years, the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would actually have a legitimate shot at this award. Pereira’s performance this season has been so good he’s earned himself links to Real Madrid, and both he and Wan-Bissaka are tackle masters who are blowing away the rest of the league in that category (both are the only men not named Wilfried Ndidi to average over 4 successful tackles per match). Throw in Kyle Walker and wing-back Matt Doherty, and the ranks of Premier League right-backs are loaded. Too bad TAA trumps them all, with a gargantuan 12 assists this season and 2.6 key passes per game, more than double the total of any other right-back.

Center-Back: Virgil Van Dijk, Harry Maguire
Also considered: Caglar Soyuncu, Wily Boly, James Tarkowski

Selecting one of these players is a no-brainer. Virgil van Dijk is far and away the best center-back in the Premier League, and maybe the world. Selecting his partner is far more difficult.

WhoScored’s second-highest rated player at the position this season is Wily Boly, but like Scott McTominay, thanks to injuries he has not played enough this season to qualify. Caglar Soyuncu is another popular choice, and the youngster no doubt has been a pleasant surprise next to Jonny Evans at Leicester City, one of the league’s rising stars at the position. But Harry Maguire lived up to his price tag this season and that’s no small feat as the world’s most expensive defender. His positioning is exquisite, and while he hasn’t displayed van Dijk levels of domination – a slight slip in form through the months of October and November prove that – he has done fabulously at Manchester United, racking up a complete 2,610-minute Premier League season to this point and playing significant minutes through the other Cup competitions as well while the Red Devils struggle with injuries all over the pitch.

Defensive Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi
Also considered: Scott McTominay, Declan Rice, Jorginho

Wilfred Ndidi is a midfield destroyer the likes of which we haven’t seen since…well, since N’Golo Kante did it first at Leicester City just a few short years ago. But that doesn’t take away from the otherworldly performance that Ndidi has put forth this season, given that Kante earned himself Ballon d’Or nominations for his performance in Leicester City’s title-winning season. See this from November:

Ndidi is completing 4.4 successful tackles a game, only second to Crystal Palace’s James McCarthy who has only appeared in 12 games this season. He is doing so in a vicious pressing system that centrals around the Nigerian’s ability to cover an insane amount of ground, easing the pressing load on the other players as to not tire them out. Need an idea how important Ndidi is to the team? Of the five matches he missed in 2020 due to a knee injury, Leicester City won exactly zero of them, with three losses and two draws. He’s so important to the squad that Pep Guardiola game-planned for him successfully.

Scott McTominay has been a revelation this season, taking the next step into one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, but he missed too many games due to injury. Declan Rice continues to push forward as one of West Ham’s best assets, but has been unable to assert the same table-climbing effect on his side that Ndidi exerts on Leicester City.

Central Midfield: Jordan Henderson, Kevin De Bruyne
Also considered: Joao Moutinho, John Fleck

Kevin de Bruyne is everyone’s first choice on this squad. Leading the league 17 assists and producing scintillating displays nearly every week. The Belgian has displayed positional flexibility, often best sitting behind the striker in an attacking midfield role but also moving back into central midfield to receive the ball deeper or shifting out wide to make use of his crossing technique. De Bruyne will likely battle with van Dijk for Player of the Season should the awards eventually end up given out.

On the other end, Jordan Henderson is a perfect foil for de Bruyne. The Liverpool captain has been gargantuan this season, moving from cult hero to widespread household name. Henderson is a lynchpin of the highest order, calming the side and bringing structure to the buildup while helping defensively when Liverpool is hit on the counter.

The others considered from this position deserve to be mentioned. Joao Moutinho, along with midfield partner Ruben Neves, has turned the Wolves midfield into a dominant force no matter who they play. While they don’t necessarily hold the ball for endless spells of possession, they have been vicious when moving forward and relentless when shielding the back line. John Fleck, meanwhile, has been the other Sheffield United standout this season alongside Henderson, and his performance this season must be mentioned given where the Blades sit in the table.

Attacking Midfield: Jack Grealish
Also considered: James Maddison, Mason Mount

As far as players who are the most important to their team, Jack Grealish is unquestionably tops of that list. The Aston Villa midfielder has produced spectacular performance after spectacular performance this season, often the best player on the field despite Villa’s overall struggles. With his current club potentially going down should the season be concluded, Grealish is being linked with teams scattered across the top of the Premier League table and rightly so. At just 24 years old, Grealish has grown into a flourishing attacker who excels at taking players on and creating chances out of nothing.

Mason Mount has been fabulous for Chelsea this season, but injuries have hampered his campaign. The Blues should nonetheless be encouraged about the bright future of their young star. James Maddison has been equally fantastic for Leicester City in a similar role with freedom around the pitch, but he doesn’t quite carry his team like Grealish does. The youth on this list should be encouraging for the long-term health of attacking systems in the English top flight.

Forward: Sadio Mane, Jamie Vardy
Also considered: Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah, Adama Traore

Absolutely the most difficult choice of any position here, some high-profile players have missed out on a place in the team, but there’s just no way to leave out the two men at this spot. Jamie Vardy leads the league in goals, and while things have dried up somewhat until his brace against Aston Villa last time out, his goal conversion rate is still at historic levels. The dry spell has lowered his xG that at one point sat above the +6 mark, but he still has converted chances at a +4.76 rate this season, bagging 19 goals on a 14.24 xG mark. While Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah have also been prolific goalscorers, they just haven’t finished at the absurd rate that Jamie Vardy has produced.

Those two also just don’t equate to the importance that Sadio Mane presents to Liverpool. The presence of Gabriel Jesus means that Sergio Aguero could be missed and Manchester City hardly misses a beat, and while that shouldn’t take away from what the Argentine means to the heartbeat of that squad, it just doesn’t stack up to Mane’s vital presence at Liverpool. Adama Traore has burst onto the scene the second half of the campaign, injecting life into an occasionally stagnant Wolves attack and earning himself a place on this list, but he still struggles with consistency and doesn’t quite equate to the massive stature of the Liverpool winger.

Preview: Man City v. Arsenal

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  • Man City have lost 7 Premier League games this season, one more than they had in their previous two campaigns combined.
  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven away league games.
  • Man City have won their last six games in all competitions against Arsenal. 

Man City host Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a rearranged game due to the League Cup final.

Pep Guardiola‘s Man City are now 25 points behind Liverpool and if they lose against Arsenal it will give Liverpool the chance to win their first-ever Premier League title by winning away at Everton on Monday.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Mikel Arteta, who left Man City in December after three years as Guardiola’s assistant, has turned Arsenal into a tough team to beat and defensively they have made huge strides forward in recent months. They have won three-straight in the Premier League and have lost just one of Arteta’s first 10 PL games in charge.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Gunners will move to just five points off the top four if they win this game in hand and with fifth-place potentially resulting in Champions League qualification this season, Arsenal would move just two points off of that with nine games to go.


Injuries/suspensions

Man City: QUESTIONABLE — Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane

Arsenal: OUT — Cedric, Shkodran Mustafi, Lucas Torreira, Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Projected lineup

Man City: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Mendy; Gundogan, Rodri, Bernardo; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling

Arsenal: Leno; Sokratis, Mari, Luiz, Saka; Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang; Nketiah


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola on his former assistant being in charge of Arsenal: “I was convinced he would be a manager when the opportunity comes and this was the opportunity for him. His ideas are already in the team, his positional play is getting better. I’m convinced Arsenal will get better.”

Mikel Arteta on returning to Man City and his ‘inside’ knowledge of Pep’s team: “It’s going to be a very special night, I am very excited to get back there. I have some fantastic memories, a lot of friends, a lot of people that I like. But obviously now I am in a different position, another bench and I will defend my club as well as I can. It gives me a very clear idea of what they are trying to do, what they will be looking to do, but it’s something different to be able to stop that and as well create the issues that I think we can create for them. That has to happen on the day, when they are at their best, we know what they are capable of doing, the variation they have. At the end of the day, it’s about the players on the pitch and their performance.”


Prediction

This will be a tight game between two teams who are trying to play the same way. City have pretty much washed their hands of the Premier League this season and will finish in second anyway but ahead of their Champions League round of 16 second leg they will be hoping to get back to form after a torrid showing in the Manchester Derby. Pep’s boys will get the job done against Arteta’s Arsenal but it it will be far from easy. 2-1 to Man City.

Premier League is better with unique Fernandes magic

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It has been a while – if ever – since the Premier League has seen a player like Bruno Fernandes.

The Manchester United midfielder, who joined this January from Portuguese club Sporting CP, has so far been worth every single penny of the $70 million the Red Devils forked over. At 25 years old, Fernandes was minted as the PFA Player of the Month for February on Monday, and it’s no surprise to see him garner plaudits left and right since his arrival a month ago.

What makes Bruno Fernandes so wonderful to watch – and concurrently so valuable to Manchester United – is also what makes him look on paper to be total chaos personified. He is, quite literally, everywhere. When his movements are transcribed onto graphical images, Bruno Fernandes appears to be a chicken with his head cut off. He kind of is, but it’s obviously more nuanced than that.

First, the fun part. Here’s what his last three matches before that look like on paper, followed by his heat maps for the entire season thus far, from both Sporting CP first and then Manchester United. (Click here for a key of the StatsZone app dashboards)

As you can see, the new Manchester United talisman covers nearly the entire attacking half of the field. He also contributes a heavy amount defensively, to moderate success. This isn’t exactly what sets him completely apart, but it’s the start. Few players are able to cover this amount of attacking ground while having such an effect on the game. Kevin De Bruyne is a player with similar freedom, and he has budded into maybe the most destructive creative force in Europe.

Yet while de Bruyne is more of a facilitator, Fernandes is more of a nomad. The Portuguese international doesn’t exactly feature on the ball nearly as much as his Belgian counterpart across town, instead choosing to float and wander looking for pockets of space as his teammates share the workload. If you watch Bruno Fernandes off the ball, he’s continually serving as a foil for his fellow attackers, often drifting away from a ball-carrier’s direction where space is available hoping to either carry too many defenders or none at all.

Bruno Fernandes picks his spots.

That was never more evident than against Manchester City, where the midfielder had to take special care and not waste what precious little possession the Red Devils had. With the visitors holding an enormous possessional advantage at Old Trafford – Man City out-passed Manchester United 671-215 – Fernandes was forced to make the most of the scraps he could find. He started the game out on the right flank as Anthony Martial found joy down the opposite end, but soon drifted centrally and then to his favored left edge as Daniel James grew in influence on the ball. He eventually found his moment, first earning the key 29th minute foul before serving up the game’s most critical moment.

When he did deliver, it highlighted another of his wide-ranging skill set: Bruno Fernandes is a set-piece wizard. Not only does he consistently deliver excellent corners into dangerous areas, but his chipped free-kick was left on a platter for Anthony Martial on the opening goal. All told, Fernandes seemingly did more with his limited touches – 25 received passes, 24 attempted passes – than Manchester City did all 90 minutes while hoofing a massive 33 crosses and appearing devoid of any creative flair. At the end of the match, despite the huge gulf in possession, Manchester United had somehow out-shot Man City 12-7.

Watch the Every Touch video posted above. What do you notice? Yes, Manchester United was sloppy against Manchester City at times, and Fernandes included. That’s what happens when you play the Pep Guardiola swarm and press. Still, every time he loses the ball he races back to try and challenge, and every time he connects with a teammate there’s a calming presence before he races off to find space of his own off the ball.

Where else can you find a player with this varied and unique skill set?

De Bruyne is the most obvious comparison, but the Belgian does not tackle at such a rate – Fernandes has him almost double, with two tackles per game to de Bruyne’s 1-3. Tackling is still an area of improvement for Fernandes, having whiffed on all five of his attempts against Manchester City to leave him 10/29 so far in Premier League play, but the pressing output is the important part for an attacking player like Fernandes. Otherwise, statistically KDB has a mimic on his hands, which is high praise.

Mesut Ozil is a player that, when at his best, can be a versatile and diverse attacking player but he also wouldn’t dare produce the defensive contributions (0.9 tackles, 0.3 interceptions, and 0.1 clearances per game to Bruno Fernandes’ 2.0, 1.0, and 1.8). Mason Mount will track back every so often, but his usage is far more one-sided as the Chelsea youngster favors the left flank. Fernandes’ countrymate Joao Moutinho is closer statistically than one might think, considering he currently sits eighth in the Premier League in chances created, but he still does not get forward with the fluidity and consistency that Fernandes does, instead anchored in the middle of the Wolves formation and favoring the left side.

In typical Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fashion, the Manchester United boss compared his new signing to a Red Devils great in Paul Scholes, in part thanks to the number of the back of his shirt, and Wayne Rooney echoed that comparison just a few days ago, according to the Mirror, after Derby County was dropped by Manchester United in the FA Cup. In truth, Fernandes has a bit more flair than Scholes did, and that’s not a knock on the midfield legend. Fernandes simply seems to play with a little less strength and a little more finesse than was Scholes’ calling card.

There really is no other player quite like Bruno Fernandes, and he could be the foundation upon which Manchester United builds its new era. There is a new great player who calls the Premier League home, and that should excite fans of all teams, even those who are adversely affected by his magic.