Kyle Walker

Sterling hat trick leads Man City blowout

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Manchester City began its Premier League challenge with a high quality away win, breaking down a disciplined West Ham United at the London Stadium to the tune of a 5-0 victory.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Raheem Sterling scored twice. Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero also scored, while Jesus and Sterling each had a goal disallowed by VAR in the win. Sterling’s second goal withstood VAR review thanks to the angle of the last defender’s hip.

City goes first with a plus-5 goal differential, and hosts Tottenham Hotspur next week. West Ham is off to Brighton and Hove Albion.


Three things we learned

1. VAR is imperfect, but it isn’t going anywhere so  we’ll have to accept the overturning of imperceptible real-time results like Sterling’s centimeter-offside shoulder in assisting Jesus’ would-be second for the hopes of what it will fix in big spots and big gaffes.

VAR also overturned Lukasz Fabianski‘s save of Sergio Aguero’s late penalty for encroachment. The Argentine scored on his second attempt.

One things for sure: “I’m the show” Mike Dean was not able to make himself as much of a story line because the cameras did some work for him.

[ MORE: Pep, Pellegrini react to VAR ]

2. If you’re one of the people (cough, like this writer) who predicted this is the season that Raheem Sterling will win Premier League Player of the Year, you’re feeling pretty good about the 24-year-old’s showing at the London Stadium.

Sterling scored thrice, had a fourth ruled out, and also had an assist (with a second overturned). He was everywhere, electric and smart, and looks every bit the player he promised upon debut for Liverpool.

3. West Ham is going to be a problem for a lot of teams this year, and Manuel Pellegrini has to be counting his blessings that his scouts spotted Issa Diop before last season and decided not to sell him this summer.

The towering 22-year-old from Toulouse didn’t look great on Jesus’ clever opener and conceded a late penalty when Riyad Mahrez made the most of a wayward foot, but was tested time and again by the probing runs and cutting through balls of City.

The man may be chiseled out of granite.

Man of the Match: Sterling.


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Irons predictably struggled to have much of the ball, but Manuel Pellegrini was had his men ready to play with their champion visitors.

Ederson made a pair of quickfire saves from close range in the 73rd minute, the second a flying slap of a header which kept the two-goal lead in tact.

Jesus was also quite good, starting over Sergio Aguero, and scoring when Diop’s sliding bid to divert a Kyle Walker cross only allowed a flick past Lukasz Fabianski.

Sterling scored all three of his goals after halftime, the first off a Kevin De Bruyne assist, the second coming via a delightful run to dink a shot inside the far post, and the third a run into the right of the box.

[ MORE: Premier League TV, streaming schedule | Predicting the PL table ]

Man City unveils Cancelo after Danilo swap

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Manchester City met Juventus’ asking price for dynamic right back Joao Cancelo by including a player it didn’t really want anymore.

Danilo and $35 million are heading to Turin in exchange for the 25-year-old right back Cancelo, who has consistently produced the top Serie A seasons at his position.

[ MORE: Manchester City season preview ]

Cancelo’s was the 15th ranked player in Serie A last season according to WhoScored, and is a stunning dribbler.

He doesn’t have the defensive stats of Kyle Walker, but his passing is significantly better. That’s not a huge surprise considering he’s played plenty of right midfield.

He’ll wear No. 27 for Pep Guardiola‘s men.

As a side note, I like the idea of Guardiola getting something out of Kyle Walker as a center back at least a few matches out of the year. Just saying.

2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again?

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On the evidence of the 2018-19 season, Manchester City and Liverpool appear set to dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

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

Both squads are full of brilliant, ambitious players on the younger side of their respective careers, and between them they have two of the best managers in the world. That’s a surefire recipe for success, and just some of the reasons so many fans and pundits alike are predicting another neck-and-neck title race between Man City and Liverpool.

But — and stick with us here — what if there were other sides in the PL who could mount a title challenge of their own? Does such a thing exist as we count down to two days until the start of the 2019-20 PL season? If so, what would such a club’s path be to doing the near-unthinkable and close the 25-point gap between second and third?

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Liverpool ]

Chelsea finished third last season which would make them the logical place to begin such a discussion, but they have since seen Eden Hazard depart for Real Madrid and begun a two-window transfer ban. Christian Pulisic arrived after signing last January and Mateo Kovacic made his loan deal a permanent one. Other than that, a handful of previously loaned players, most notably center forward Tammy Abraham, have returned and will fill out the holes in the squad. Frank Lampard, who has one season of managerial experience, replaced Maurizio Sarri. All of that adds up to far too much instability and uncertainty. Verdict: not a threat.

Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth and reached the Champions League final last season, and they have neither a transfer ban (self-imposed or otherwise) nor a new manager this season. It’s a promising start, at least. Tanguy Ndombele should be the answer to many of Tottenham’s problems in midfield, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll take to the PL and Mauricio Pochettino‘s system. For Spurs to make a real challenge, Harry Kane would have to avoid ankle ligament injuries for the first time in his career, Dele Alli would have to return to his very best of two and three seasons ago, Daniel Levy would have to pull off another one or two signings in the next 24 hours, one of Juan Foyth or Kyle Walker-Peters would have to become a lockdown defender at right back, and Spurs would likely have to bow out of the Champions League early to focus on the PL. That’s a lot of ifs. Verdict: probably not, but maybe, but probably not.

[ MORE: Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough? ]

Arsenal finished fifth last season, and the Gunners have spent aggressively this summer. Unfortunately for their title dreams, they’ve done nothing (again) to address their perennial achilles heel: the defense. Nicolas Pepe might very well be brilliant from day one, but Arsenal were hardly short on dynamic attackers when the summer began. William Saliba might be a long-term stalwart at center back, but he won’t move to London until next summer. There should be every hope alive inside Arsenal fans’ hearts that they’re the third-best side in the PL this season, but a title challenge? Verdict: also not a threat.

Manchester United finished sixth last season, and they might be lucky to avoid a more embarrassing outcome this time around. The signings of Harry Maguire ($97 million) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($57 million) addressed two positions of need in the most expensive ways possible, but each is far from a sure thing to be great. As of this moment, the only transfer activity in the midfield — another major area of weakness — was the departure of Ander Herrera. There’s also the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, Romelu Lukaku saga, which will either see the Red Devils lose a starter or retain a thoroughly unhappy player. Verdict: no chance.

So, who you got: Man City or Liverpool?

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.

Man City reportedly gets Cancelo for head-scratching cost

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Despite what Morrissey’s sung about Manchester, it seems one of its football clubs just cannot get out of the sun shine and clear skies.

Take the latest rumored deal involving Manchester City, which involves Juventus dynamo Joao Cancelo arriving at the Etihad Stadium to fix what is one of the only questions on the road to a third-straight Premier League crown: full back depth.

[ MORE: Manchester City season preview ]

What will Juve take back? About $35 million and Danilo.

I bet Pep Guardiola demanded Juve stay on the line while he flew to the continent to make sure he was speaking to a representative of the club.

Now $35 million would make many of us retire. And I’m not dressing down Danilo, who’s a Brazilian international and an okay left back in his own right, but this is Joao Cancelo. Chelsea was going to pay about the same for him two summers ago — sans Danilo of course — and that was when Kyle Walker was costing almost double that fee.

While the 25-year-old Cancelo has missed a month in each of the last two seasons with knee injuries and that’s no small issue, he’s been among the best right backs in the world for all but one season of his career (and even that one, for Valencia, was still above average).

Look: Danilo will have much more stylistic success in Serie A than in the Premier League, and Cancelo may take some time to adjust to England. But this move is just a no-brainer, and we wonder how Juventus couldn’t get more out of mighty Man City.