There is no debate that the club has been markedly better with the 33-year-old in the center of the park, with City losing both of its Premier League matches that the Brazilian missed this season (Palace and Leicester City back-to-back).
“As many things as he can do, the better. I know it is not easy to find one player who can do everything. [You have to deal with] the price, the agents and the club if you want to buy the players so we will see.”
But how long can he continue to thrive in that role? Certainly not too much longer if City can’t give him some relief. That’s no indictment on the player, rather a 33-year-old who plays with such physicality and piles up minutes across all competitions.
Still 2.5 months from the next Der Klassiker (April 6 at the Allianz Arena), Bayern has to navigate a title fight without the chance to directly affect its rivals. Both clubs face Premier League opposition in the Champions League — Bayern with Liverpool, BVB v. Spurs — and neither has a particularly easy start to 2019. Other storylines to watch:
How much will Christian Pulisic’s transfer further affect his playing time? Whether or not Pulisic leaves for Chelsea as a Bundesliga champion is one thing, but many American eyes will be trained upon how often he’s deployed by Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Favre has rotated his forwards heavily between Champions League and the Bundesliga. Jadon Sancho has played 1025 minutes, Jacob Bruun Larsen 830, Maximilian Philipp 515, Paco Alcacer 503, and Pulisic 483. Numbers two through eight on the playing time scale are defenders or midfielders (Marco Reus is first with 1483).
Amongst BVB attackers in the Champions League, however, only Reus has played more than Pulisic’s 339 minutes. And while Pulisic played 1 and 2 minutes in consecutive Bundesliga matches, he went 90 against Monaco in the UCL match separating those sub spots.
In other words, this isn’t as much of a quagmire as some Americans would lead you to believe. Yes, ex-Man City man Jadon Sancho has stolen Pulisic’s wonder boy numbers and title, but the kid isn’t being left in the cold.
What about the rest of the Americans (and a Canadian)? Almost as many eyes will be on Tyler Adams as the New York Red Bulls product takes the next step at RB Leipzig. FC Dallas’ Chris Richards is also now with Bayern Munich, while Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies begins his much-anticipated time with Bayern.
John Brooks of Wolfsburg is the top-rated American player in the top flight this season via WhoScored.com, one of eight Yanks to take the field.
How low will Schalke finish? A dreadful start to the season has last season’s No. 2 team, Schalke, sitting four points above the relegation playoff spot, nine back of the last Europa League spot, and 13 behind the Top Four.
Schalke’s other route to Europe include the DFB-Pokal, where they next face Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Round of 16, and winning the Champions League (Manchester City is their next opponent).
Will Robert Lewandowski defend his Golden Boot? The Bayern Munich star is chasing his fourth time leading the league in goals since 2013-14, his final year at Dortmund. Here are the current leaders:
Considering he was 36 at the time — he is now 38 — it seemed obvious that England’s 107-times-capped left back would play out a final few years in MLS before calling full-time on his decorated career. Three years later, Cole might still do just that.
He might also resume playing after receiving a six-month contract offer from Championship side and promotion chasers Derby County, who are now coached by one of Cole’s longtime teammates and friends at Chelsea and England, Frank Lampard.
Cole has been without a club since his option was declined by the Galaxy following the end of the 2018 season.
According to the Guardian, the chance to play alongside a largely young, but promising, squad of players and to help Lampard guide the club to the Premier League in his first season as manager is very appealing to Cole.
Top-four battle at the Emirates Arsenal v. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC[ STREAM ]
Chelsea occupy fourth place heading into the 23rd round of games this weekend, but Arsenal and Manchester United aren’t a million miles back of the Blues — only six points each, to be exact. Saturday’s showdown at the Emirates Stadium could see a six-point swing either way, or an opening of the door for the resurgent Red Devils to leapfrog Arsenal for fifth and trim the deficit between themselves and the UEFA Champions League places.
Will Liverpool slip up/Can Man City keep up? Liverpool v. Crystal Palace, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN[ STREAM ] Huddersfield v. Man City, 8:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN[ STREAM ]
Newsflash: the title race is a pretty important storyline and (likely) will continue to be so for the remainder of the season, barring a collapse by one of Liverpool or Manchester City. The defending champions have the easier matchup, on paper, this weekend as they’ll visit last-place and relegation-bound Huddersfield Town on Sunday. It should be a straightforward challenge for the Reds as well, though, with 14th-place Crystal Palace visiting Anfield on Saturday.
Life without Kane (and Son) begins… again Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur, 11 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN[ STREAM ]
No player in the PL has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goal this season than Tottenham’s Harry Kane (30 percent, tied with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang). The trouble with that is that Kane is set to miss the next two months due to his annual mid-to-late-winter ankle injury. Thus, Mauricio Pochettino will be forced to pick between deploying Fernando Llorente as his starting center forward, or playing without a natural forward, thanks to Son Heung-min’s simultaneous call-up to the South Korea squad for the Asian Cup. Statistically speaking, Dele Alli has had a quiet season thus far (four goals, one assist), but Spurs desperately need Alli to show up and show out in a big way the next month or two.
Solskjaer goes for no. 6 Man United v. Brighton,10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on CNBC[ STREAM ]
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t know what it’s like to lose as manager of Man United. Heck, he couldn’t tell you the first thing about dropping points while in charge at Old Trafford. Five PL games in charge (six in all competitions), and whether or not the “interim” tag should be removed from his title is already an earnest topic of discussion. It wasn’t pretty, but United held on for dear life against Spurs last weekend and secured three points in Solskjaer’s biggest challenge to date. Up next is a visit from 13th-place Brighton & Hove Albion, who toppled United in their first meeting earlier this season.
Relegation six-pointer for Newcastle, Cardiff Newcastle United v. Cardiff City,10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]
Much like the top of the table, the race at the bottom of the league is heating up. Heading into the weekend, Huddersfield are bringing up the rear, eight points adrift of safety, while Fulham occupy 19th place, five points back of 17th. Newcastle United, who sit 18th and are one point from exiting the relegation zone, will host Cardiff City, the side currently sitting 17th in the table, on Saturday. When you’ve struggled the way these sides have for 22 games, genuine chances at three points don’t come along often. When they do, you absolutely have to take them to have any hopes of surviving the drop.
A bid — expected to be around $26 million — for the 20-year-old could very well be made this month with McKennie allowed to remain at Schalke through the end of the season. Fellow USMNT star Christian Pulisic will join Chelsea this summer, for $73 million, after completing a similar arrangement with Borussia Dortmund.
Perhaps the highest-profile move we’re likely to see this month could be completed inside the next 24 hours, as Chelsea are doing everything within their power to bring Gonzalo Higuain to London in time for Saturday’s trip to Arsenal (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com).
With Higuain widely expected to complete his move to Chelsea in the coming hours or days, the dominoes will almost certainly quickly fall, beginning with current Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata. After an up-and-down first season and a half at Stamford Bridge, Morata has fallen out of favor with Sarri and could very well leave the club before the window closes on Jan. 31.
According to a report from Sky Sports, Atletico Madrid are already in advanced negotiations with the club and/or player over a $60-million transfer back to the Spanish capital where he was previously surplus to requirements at Real Madrid. Chelsea paid nearly $100 million for the now-26-year-old in the summer of 2017. Atleti signed Diego Costa from Chelsea, for more than $70 million, not long after acquiring two summers ago.
With Harry Kane set to miss the next two months due to another ankle ligament injury, Tottenham Hotspur will surely be linked with a loan move for every available forward over these next 14 days — no matter unlikely they are to actually make a move.
Arsenal are desperate to shed Mesut Ozil’s $450,000-per-week contract with the German international seemingly not in the plans of manager Unai Emery. The Gunners will almost certainly have to eat a significant chunk of his remaining wages, or accept a heavily reduced fee.
At 21 years old, Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong is one of the most sought-after youngsters in the world, with the likes of Man City, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly hot in pursuit. According to the Mirror, only PSG are willing to meet Ajax’s $85-million valuation of the five-times-capped Dutch international, despite his preference being a move to the defending PL champions.
Bayern Munich claim to be in negotiations with Chelsea and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi after the 18-year-old has shone brightly in limited opportunities with the Blues. In a bid for more first-team action, Hudson-Odoi is said to be open to a move to Germany, following in the footsteps of Dortmund wonderkid Jadon Sancho.