Pep Guardiola puts his unbeaten record against promoted sides on the line Saturday when reigning two-time champions Manchester City face Norwich City at Carrow Road.
(Potential Starting XIs)
Since Guardiola’s arrival on the Manchester City touchline in 2016, the Cityzens (3-1-0) have gone a cumulative 14-4-0 versus the new boys. Only Wolverhampton – the best promoted Premier League club in nearly a generation in terms of points accrued – were able to salvage a draw last term, and that came with controversy as the Wolves goal by Willy Boly at Molineux would have been disallowed had VAR been in place like it is this season.
Manchester City went into the international break on back-to-back wins, easing past Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 on Aug. 31. After being held without a goal and an assist for the first time this season in that victory, Raheem Sterling made it a personal mission to get back to the blistering start he enjoyed in league play and recorded two goals and four assists in England’s European qualifying wins over Bulgaria and Kosovo.
Sterling factored on all four of England’s offensive goals in their 5-3 win over Kosovo on Tuesday, scoring one and setting up three to help the 2018 World Cup semifinalists stay atop Group A and maintain their 100 percent mark with the maximum 12 points through four matches.
“At 0-0 against Bulgaria, at 1-0 down against Kosovo, he’s grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. When there was no space at Wembley, he was the one to open things up,” England manager Gareth Southgate told The Times regarding Sterling.
The 24-year-old has a staggering 11 goals and five assists in his last four matches for England and first four for City, an omen for a Norwich City side who have already shipped seven goals in losses to top-six sides Liverpool and Chelsea.
Sterling was not the only City player looking to maintain an imperious offensive form during the international break. Kevin De Bruyne matched Sterling’s output in powering Belgium to a 4-0 rout of Scotland in Group I play, giving him two goals and eight assists in his last six matches in all competitions.
“I think he’s in the best moment of his career,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said of De Bruyne post-match. “This campaign has started with a freshness and real driven feeling of playing at his best and when he does that he’s as good as it gets. There’s no other midfield player that can create space, a playmaker that can execute the passes that he does. It’s a joy to see him fitting into the group.”
Bernardo Silva had two assists in helping Portugal smash five past Lithuania while left back Oleksandr Zinchenko scored in both of Ukraine’s qualifiers to keep them five points ahead of Silva’s side in Group B.
With the offence well-spoken for, Guardiola received welcome news regarding his back line as centre back John Stones and left back Benjamin Mendy are set to return. Stones was sidelined a month with a thigh injury that kept him out of England’s qualifiers, while Mendy has been training for three weeks to show he is recovered from knee surgery last season.
Stones’ return is vital for Guardiola with the start of Champions League play Wednesday at Shakhtar Donetsk since Aymeric Laporte is out for at least a month with a knee injury. Nicolas Otamendi is City’s only other centre back, and holding midfielder Fernandinho was drafted into the back four after Laporte got hurt in the win over Brighton.
While the Cityzens have multiple sources of offence, Norwich City (1-0-3) are relying on Teemu Pukki for almost all of theirs. The Finland international has five of the Canaries’ six league goals and extended his purple patch of scoring with penalties in both contests for the Huuhkajat as they defeated Greece 1-0 and fell 2-1 to Italy on a late penalty.
Despite splitting the matches, Pukki has put Finland in strong position to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in the Scandinavian country’s history as they are second in Group J on 12 points and have already completed their home-and-home with the Azzurri.
Despite Pukki’s goal-scoring exploits – he has 43 in all competitions since the start of last season – Norwich City manager Daniel Farke has a dilemma on his hands. He has refused to compromise his team’s attacking style following promotion, which could result in the Canaries being cut to ribbons by Manchester City’s armada of goal-scorers.
The Canaries, who were also dumped out of the Carabao Cup by League Two side Crawley Town last month, have gone 11 matches without a clean sheet in all competitions dating back to a 4-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers last term while in the Championship.
Norwich City held Manchester City to scoreless draws in the last two matchups at Carrow Road, most recently in 2015-16. The Cityzens are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League visits (3-4-0) after a 2-1 loss in the 1992-93 season.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Norwich City 25/1; Draw 9/1; Manchester City 1/10
Both Teams to Score: Yes 17/20; No 20/23
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 1/5; Under 16/5
First Goal Scorer Norwich City: Pukki 9/1; Drmic 11/1; Srbeny 16/1; Buendia 22/1; Vrancic 25/1
First Goal Scorer Manchester City: Aguero 13/5; Jesus, Sterling 14/5; Bernardo, Mahrez 5/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Norwich City: Pukki 12/5; Drmic 16/5; Srbeny 4/1; Buendia 6/1; Vrancic 13/2
Anytime Goal Scorer Manchester City: Aguero 4/7; Jesus, Sterling 8/13; Mahrez 11/8; Bernado 7/5
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Norwich City 1, Manchester City 5
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Norwich City 0, Manchester City 3.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Raheem Sterling
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS
Liverpool (4-0-0) vs. Newcastle United (1-1-2)
Manchester United (1-2-1) vs. Leicester City (2-2-0)
Wolverhampton (0-3-1) vs. Chelsea (1-2-1)
Watford (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-1-1)
(Raheem Sterling photo courtesy Raheem Sterling official Twitter account)