Oleksandr Zinchenko

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Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

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The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Man City

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  • Man City sit 3rd, 9 points behind Liverpool
  • Newcastle sit 14th, 5 points clear of 18th
  • Last meeting: Newcastle 2-1 Man City

Manchester City will be seeking a small measure of revenge, but most of all three desperately needed points to claw back into the Premier League title race, when they visit Newcastle United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Pep Guardiola‘s side coughed up a 1-0 second-half lead last time they visited St. James’ Park in January, and it was the last time they dropped points in the PL all season. The two-time defending PL champions won 14 straight to finish the campaign and retain the PL title. Man City entered that game four points behind then-leaders Liverpool. This time around, they trailed the runaway Reds by nine points.

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It’s not just the current deficit, but also injuries to a pair of key players, which make a three-peat an increasingly difficult task. Sergio Aguero (thigh) and Aymeric Laporte (knee) will each be unavailable for the next few weeks, beginning with Saturday’s game. Gabriel Jesus will deputize at center forward, but Guardiola remains without a reliable alternative to Laporte at center back. In nine games since Laporte suffered his injury on Aug. 31, Man City have conceded 11 goals. They conceded just 23 goals in 38 games last season.

As for Newcastle, Steve Bruce‘s side will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing display in defeat to Aston Villa on the heels of a three-game unbeaten run which saw them climb to well outside of the relegation zone this month. The story of the Magpies’ season, at least thus far, has been offensive impotence. Their 11 goals scored rank second-worst in the PL (ahead of only 20th-place Watford), including all of one goal and one assist from the star trio of Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Jamaal Lascelles (leg), Matt Ritchie (ankle)

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Yedlin, Schar, Clark, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton

Man City: Ederson – Cacnelo, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy – Rodrigo, De Bruyne, Silva – Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling


What they’re saying

Steve Bruce, on facing the PL’s bigger sides: “They’re as good as you get. We’ll have to defend well and take our chances but we’ve done OK against some of the big teams this season. Let’s hope we can again.”

Pep Guardiola, on City’s title chase: “I am not thinking about how many games we have to win. I know we cannot lose games. I am not thinking about winning the Premier League now. I never thought, even in the years we won, ‘We have to do this to win the Premier League.’ First we have to get past Leicester, then Liverpool.”


Prediction

City found themselves in a similar position around this time last season — trailing Liverpool by nearly double-digit points — before roaring back and retaining the title, so they’ll not fret too much, at least not yet. Newcastle’s poor defensive record (20 goals conceded), along with their inability to score on the other end, makes them the perfect place to begin another comeback in resounding fashion. Newcastle 0-3 Man City.

Guardiola’s postmatch stubbornness is petulant, not defiant

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“What happened today, we showed why [we] are champions,” Pep Guardiola said with a shake of the head, his arms crossed and wry smile creeping across his face. “I am so proud of my team, more than ever. We can be proud of how we played against the strongest team in Europe. We played like back-to-back champions.”

[ MORE: PL title is Liverpool’s to lose ]

Those were his words after a comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Anfield where Liverpool yet again confounded one of the game’s greatest managers at maybe his most imposing House of Horror. Manchester City was time and again ripped apart at the back by Liverpool’s class on the ball and cunning off it.

Yet here was Pep Guardiola, fresh off a vigorous handshake with the referees at the final whistle that dripped with the sarcasm of a child having recently been grounded, claiming his team produced “one of the best performances we have played.”

Liverpool was, to put it simply, better than Manchester City on the day. The players Guardiola picked in the team struggled mightily, with his full-backs Angelino and Kyle Walker both culpable on Liverpool goals while Joao Cancelo looked on from the bench and expensive Frenchman Benjamin Mendy wasn’t even in the squad. Sergio Aguero toiled through yet another fruitless performance at Anfield and Gabriel Jesus was too little too late as the only Man City substitute of the day. 34-year-old midfielder Fernandinho was preferred to natural defender Nicolas Otamendi at center-back alongside John Stones.

Guardiola’s rage stemmed mostly from an early penalty decision that went against the visitors, with the ball clearly striking Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s arm in the box just moments before Fabinho‘s sixth-minute opener. Referee Michael Oliver had an excellent view of the incident and judged Alexander-Arnold’s arm to be in a natural position, and while that original decision could be coherently argued as controversial (not by this article’s author), VAR finally handled a judgement call correctly by not reviewing the incident, as the debate proves the potential refereeing error was far from “clear and obvious.”

After Guardiola’s embarrassing post-match handshake, he was naturally asked about the early decision. While the City boss averted the question, he made his thoughts clear enough by calling out not the on-field referee Oliver, but instead the booth officials in his thinly veiled deflection “ask [PGMOL chair] Mike Riley and the guys who are in the VAR, don’t ask me.” He believed the decision should have been reviewed. Sorry Pep, but quite plainly, it should not, and was not. Move on.

The manager was far from the only party to shoulder blame in defeat. Kevin De Bruyne‘s usual brilliance eluded him from the opening whistle through the final push. Raheem Sterling, who has so often shouldered Man City’s burdens the past two seasons, was dangerous throughout but lacked a finishing touch. Ilkay Gundogan‘s laziness contributed heavily to the Liverpool opener. Even Man City’s best player Rodri was yellow carded for dissent on a frustrating day.

The flaws of the defending champions were on display for all to see. Injuries have ravaged this team’s back line with defenders Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko out long-term, while goalkeeper Ederson was felled midweek in Champions League play. Jose Mourinho made a handful of enemies during his Premier League tenures by claiming his teams played well when they clearly did not, and Guardiola’s post-match defiance was a page out of Mourinho 101. The Spaniard has not yet gone down that road entirely, but he would be wise not to take more steps in that direction, for it is petulance, not defiance, that his post-match antics oozed after Sunday’s humbling loss.

The season is far from over – an eight-point lead in November is far less than many have made it out to be in yesterday’s aftermath. How quickly we forget just last season City’s title run included erasures of a seven-point deficit by New Year’s and a five-point Liverpool advantage in early February. Still, for the Man City boss to pass a sound defeat as “so good” and cast doubt on solid refereeing is not a show of fortitude, it is a child-like tantrum that denies the eyes and ears of the fans who watched, clear as day, their two-time defending champions beaten soundly at a stadium that continues to get the best of Pep Guardiola.

Ederson out for Liverpool game, while Van Dijk fit for Reds

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Pep Guardiola confirmed Manchester City’s injury fears ahead of the massive game against Liverpool at Anfield, with Ederson set to miss out after limping off at halftime of the weekday Champions League draw with Atalanta.

The Brazilian goalkeeper was withdrawn at the break for Claudio Bravo, who himself was unable to finish the match after being sent off, leaving Kyle Walker to don the gloves for the final few minutes. “He is not able to play,” Guardiola said of Ederson. “On Sunday he cannot play. We have another top keeper. We won the Carabao Cup and FA Cup thanks to Claudio. He is an exceptional goalkeeper.”

That leaves Man City even more thin at the back, already missing defenders Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko to long-term knee injuries. Laporte has a torn ACL and will miss at least the majority of the season, while Zinchenko is expected back in December after knee surgery of his own. John Stones is back in action, having returned in mid-October from his injury and utilized in each of the last three Premier League games, but he was rested midweek as Fernandinho deputized at center-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi.

Guardiola did not address the status of David Silva, but reports state that the Spaniard will also miss the game against Liverpool. The boss did say last weekend that Silva would be sidelined 10-12 days with a muscular injury suffered against Southampton. With two goals and four assists this season, Silva would be a big loss to an already thin Man City squad that utilized Bernardo Silva in a more central role with the Spaniard missing midweek.

For Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp confirmed that defender Virgil Van Dijk is ready to go despite missing training on Thursday, confirming that the absence was merely for personal reasons as the defender returned home to receive an award from the Dutch royal family. The Reds boss did say that Joel Matip and Xherdan Shaqiri are both out for the game, meaning that either Dejan Lovren or Joe Gomez will partner van Dijk in the middle. Lovren has played each of the last two Premier League matches in place of Matip, while Gomez was given the start midweek against Genk in Champions League play.

How should Man City and Liverpool rotate their squads?

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With Liverpool and Manchester City set for a heavyweight clash this weekend, the teams must still navigate the midweek Champions League bouts, and decisions remain for both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp on how to both allow players to compete for places and rest those who require some time on the bench.

For Liverpool, the easiest decision Klopp will make as Liverpool gets set to take on Genk on Tuesday is to sit Mohamed Salah who has dealt with an ankle problem over the past month and with international duty coming up needs all the time to rest he possibly can muster. However, there are a few decisions the German must make that require a bit more thought.

With Joel Matip out for three weeks with a knee injury suffered against Sheffield United, Dejan Lovren has been deputizing at center-back alongside Virgil Van Dijk. Klopp must decide whether to allow Lovern to continue in that role and develop a consistent and critical partnership with his new center-back pairing or allow Joe Gomez a chance to prove himself in that slot. Consistency is often a valuable component of a center-back partnership, but offering Gomez an opportunity to snatch the position for himself could also potentially be beneficial down the road.

There are also questions about how to proceed in midfield as the Reds have some players clamoring for playing time. Fabinho was benched against Aston Villa as the Brazilian sits on a yellow card, ensuring his availability for the Man City game, but he could be afforded a run out against Genk. Still, playing Fabinho midweek has its risks, and both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita could both be given the spot instead. Adam Lallana started in Fabinho’s place against Villa and could be an option, although he doesn’t seem to be a first-choice player for Klopp at this point, while James Milner is also a do-it-all piece who could be utilized if need be.

The key for Liverpool is they cannot completely look past Genk, for a slip could see them fall out of a qualifying position in Group E altogether. For Manchester City, who travels to Italy for a match with Atalanta on Wednesday, they remain in a position of strength, topping Group C by a significant margin and afforded the opportunity to take chances with the squad.

City is already missing the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, and Oleksandr Zinchenko for various long-term reasons, and they have a few more injury concerns this week that thins the squad further. David Silva pulled up just before halftime this weekend against Southampton and is likely out until after the international break, while Rodri also likely remains sidelined with a hamstring problem.

That leaves questions all over the squad. Fernandinho continues to deputize at center-back, preferred over Nicolas Otamendi, but the latter could enter for Champions League play to keep Fernandinho healthy for the weekend’s big game. Angelino suffered cramps against Southampton, and the Atalanta game could be another chance for Benjamin Mendy to earn favor going forward.

In midfield, Phil Foden is a likely replacement for David Silva, a chance for the 19-year-old to earn a first-team place and potentially start over the weekend as well, while Riyad Mahrez could play with Guardiola potentially spelling either Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling for a rest. Kevin De Bruyne is always an injury concern for Man City, having missed a host of games over the past two years with various problems, so he also presents a decision for Guardiola should the Spaniard wish to mitigate risk, but the David Silva injury will not allow him to do that without making concessions elsewhere.

Chopping and changing is part of the game, but too much can bring a halt to a squad’s togetherness and momentum. Consistency is a key factor for many top managers, and both head men will have big decisions to make with such a massive game on the horizon.