Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Manchester City vs. Lyon

The depth of Manchester City could be tested to a degree Wednesday when they embark on their maiden Champions League match at the Etihad versus French side Lyon.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions have dropped just two points in defence of their historic 2017-18 campaign in which they set an English football record with 100 points. City are in third place, two points off the pace of fellow Champions League participants Liverpool — who eliminated them in the quarterfinals of this tournament last spring — and resurgent Chelsea.

But Champions League glory is something that has eluded both City and manager Pep Guardiola since he left Barcelona in 2012 and stopped at Bayern Munich before coming to England. A serial domestic winner? Yes. But this is now the third try for the Spaniard to match or exceed the high-water mark of City’s semifinal appearance in Manuel Pellegrini’s final season in charge in 2015-16.

That urgency was not discussed much in Monday’s run-up to the match because Guardiola was absent. He is sitting out this contest to serve a one-match ban after being sent off at halftime in City’s second-leg quarterfinal tie against Liverpool last spring. That left assistant Mikael Arteta and defender Aymeric Laporte as the club’s representatives, and Laporte was quick to give the French side and some of his compatriots plaudits.

“I know some of the Lyon players from the French national team,” Laporte told City’s official website. “Sometimes, I try to watch them play too. Lyon are strong. We’ll analyse them intently during the next few days, but as I say, they are a team with great quality and very strong, physically.

“They are used to competing at the highest level, as well. They are been there, among the top teams of the Ligue 1, for many years.”

While Laporte has featured in all six matches for City, including the Community Shield victory over Chelsea, there is a chance he could be dropped for either Vincent Kompany or John Stones. Laporte partnered with Nicolas Otamendi in central defence during last weekend’s 3-0 stroll past Fulham in league play, and while Kompany has not featured since a 1-1 draw versus Wolverhampton on Aug. 25, the Belgium international and City talisman is still an imposing figure at the back.

In attack, City could be without top-choice striker Sergio Aguero, who was forced off with an ankle injury during Saturday’s victory. Gabriel Jesus, who replaced the Argentina international last weekend, would likely get the call to lead the line as part of a 4-3-3 set-up that would include Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.

Left back Fabian Delph could also be in line for a second straight start after Benjamin Mendy was held out last weekend due to a knee injury. The France international was off to a flying start, registering four assists in the first four matches.

Arteta was quick to shrug off suggestions City are the favourites to win the Champions League, in part due to their bottomless pockets in acquiring the world’s best players in recent years even pre-dating Guardiola’s arrival. Arteta, who was considered a finalist for the Arsenal job that went to former PSG manager Unai Emery, pointed out reigning three-time champions Real Madrid as the side to beat — even with Cristiano Ronaldo moving on to Juventus.

“It has to be Real Madrid, they have something special in this competition, they are the main favourites,” Arteta insisted to The Times. “They won the competition a lot of times, even without Cristiano too, but he was a massive weapon and top scorer every year in that competition.

“I am surprised we are favourites when you have a team that won it three times in a row but that means we are doing things really well. For me we have the best players in the world and I wouldn’t change them for any others. They are absolutely fantastic, the hunger is this group is incredible. People talk about money to spend. But people have to look inside this club, what we have created, it’s phenomenal.”

Lyon are making their 15th Champions League appearance all-time and second showing in three seasons. Les Gones have not progressed out of group play since 2012 and their high-water mark is a semifinal appearance two seasons prior to that.

Bruno Genesio’s team has gotten off to an uneven start in Ligue 1, and Lyon are seventh in the table on seven points — already eight adrift of Paris-Saint German. Les Gones salvaged a point Saturday with a 2-2 draw against 10-man Caen as Ferland Mendy netted the equaliser on 89 minutes.

Nabil Fekir had staked Lyon to a lead at the stroke of halftime with a free kick before the hosts scored shortly after the restart on a penalty by Claudio Beauvue and a header in the 73rd minute from Prince Oniangue. Genesio’s team has struggled on the offensive end, totaling just six goals while being held off the scoresheet on two occasions.

The lack offence behind Memphis Depay, who has factored on three of Lyon’s six goals and made a late cameo versus Caen, is a concern for Genesio.

“Wednesday is still three or four levels above what we played tonight, without offending Caen, so if we have the same behaviour, it will be costly,” he noted post-match.

Lyon are expected to be without defender Marcal and starlet Amine Gouiri, who has scored seven goals in eight matches for France’s Under-19 squad this year.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to hold serve in this match at 2/11 odds. Lyon are 16/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline while a draw is listed at 6/1 odds.

Oddsmakers are also expecting City to run rampant offensively, with a listing of 4/9 odds for a Citizens victory with more than 2.5 goals. A City victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 count checks in at 4/1, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw offers a 9/1 return.

For first goal-scorers, Aguero’s questionable status has not turned away his possible selection as he is listed as the 5/2 favourite. Jesus is second at 7/2 while Sterling and Leroy Sane are joint-third at 5/1 odds. Those who fancy Mahrez finishing the first goal as opposed to creating it can get an 11/2 listing. The top Lyon option is Moussa Dembele, a distant 10th on the toteboard overall at 11/1.

Aguero (1/2) and Jesus (5/6) are expected to score at some point in this contest, with Sterling and Sane just further back at 13/10 and 11/8, respectively. Dembele and Bernard Traore are listed at 3/1 to find the back of the net for Lyon’s top options.

PREDICTION

Even if Aguero does not play, Manchester City appear to have far too much firepower for Lyon to contain. All of the above did not mention the playmaking skills of David Silva behind the attacking three, while Bernardo Silva is coming to his own as an essential midfielder until Kevin De Bruyne returns from injury in a couple of months.

Still, before last weekend’s victory, Guardiola cut a frustrated figure watching his team from the touchline the previous two matches. In one sense, he was justifiably angry the draw against Wolverhampton — City’s lone blemish to date — should never have happened had the Premier League caught up with the times and used VAR. But he also rightfully groused watching his team struggle to put away Newcastle in the game after that more because they were sloppy than any scheme or strategy Rafa Benitez designed that day on Tyneside.

So Guardiola will be a spectator here, stomach undoubtedly churning with the adrenaline that comes from a Champions League opener. It will be a good test for Arteta, who many have thrown in as a candidate at the slightest whiff of a high-profile opening in England and Europe. His day will come no doubt, but right now, watching him interact with his team for these 90 minutes will do more for his job prospects than any potential interview explaining his philosophy.

Lyon have some talent in the form of Nabil Fekir — the one-time apple of Liverpool’s eye — and Dembele, who forced his way out from under Brendan Rodgers and Celtic once they failed to qualify for Champions League proper, but whoever City put together in central defence should be able to brace for those challenges.

One of the running gags of Group F is City are such heavy favourites to grab honours, it is conceivable Phil Foden could get more playing time in these six matches than he will in league play in the time frame of group play given the embarrassing depth City boast in attack. Those minutes should start in the final quarter-hour of this contest after the Citizens run out comfortably.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 4, Lyon 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

Young Boys vs. Manchester United

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview: Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)

About the only thing worse than facing the reigning Premier League champions on their own grounds is facing them there when they’re angry.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(WRITER’S NOTE — Lascelles has been confirmed as available by Benitez, who also ruled out Shelvey and Ritchie. That leaves the door open for Yoshinori Muto on the right in Ritchie’s spot. The bigger question remains four or five at the back and where exactly Lascelles’ place on that row is.)

Rafa Benitez may need to park more than just the bus Saturday at the Etihad, where an aggrieved Manchester City squad look to take out their frustrations on Newcastle United ahead of the international break.

Pep Guardiola’s side surprisingly dropped points last weekend at Molineux as new boys Wolverhampton held out for a 1-1 draw. Manchester City (2-1-0) slipped to fifth in the table – no big deal so early in the season – but what stuck in Guardiola’s craw was the manner in which they were held to that point.

Two non-calls went against the Sky Blues, Willy Boly’s goal for Wolverhampton in the 57th that should have been called a handball, and the penalty shout City had shortly thereafter when Ruben Neves felled David Silva.

Definitely the first and most likely the second would have been reversed had VAR been approved in the offseason – something Manchester City voted in favour of. Silva, one of the most even-tempered players on City, was booked for dissent as he hotly pleaded his case to referee Martin Atkinson.

Justice was served in the 69th minute through Aymeric Laporte’s bullet header off a free kick by Ilkay Gundogan. Sergio Aguero nearly won it at the death, but his free kick – one of three City shots to hit the woodwork – cannoned off the crossbar and the match ended 1-1.

Guardiola refused to be drawn into a post-match debate about the two momentous decisions, simply saying “The Premier League will decide when VAR will be here, it’s none of my business.”

While Wolves deserve credit for being the rare side able to disrupt City’s preference to play out from the back, Guardiola noted his team was sloppy on both sides of the ball.

“It was a good game for the spectators, but we conceded too many counterattacks and missed simple passes,” he said. “We tried, created chances but sometimes the final ball wasn’t good, but we will improve because defensively we weren’t as solid as we normally are.”

Guardiola opted for a four-man back line versus Wolverhampton but given the overwhelming advantage in possession they are expected to have in this contest, it would not be surprising to see him revert to the 3-1-4-2 utilised in City’s 6-1 rout of Huddersfield a fortnight ago. Laporte, John Stones and Vincent Kompany gave wide backs Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva the freedom to range forward practically into the attacking third.

The City boss could also reunite Aguero with Gabriel Jesus in the first XI considering the pair have combined for 17 goals in the eight league matches they have started together. Aguero in particular has been lethal in City’s last two home wins over Newcastle, racking up eight goals to give him 14 in 12 career meetings.

Even with Kevin De Bruyne a long-term injury absence, Guardiola has a wealth of attacking permutations which are likely forcing counterpart Benitez to burn the midnight oil for a second straight week.

Benitez’s relentless toil to neutralise the best sides of the Premier League is born from necessity due to the chasm in talent. He came under fire for using a five-man back last Sunday at home versus Chelsea, ceding more than 80 percent possession, yet Newcastle (0-1-2) very nearly nicked a point.

The Magpies were denied that draw as DeAndre Yedlin deflected a cross into his own net on 87 minutes, undoing the work he did four minutes prior when he whipped a cross from the right Joselu clinically headed for the equaliser.

“My job as manager is to analyse my squad, then decide what is the best approach to each game. Chelsea spent more in one window than we did in six,” Benitez said Tuesday in taking another shot at owner Mike Ashley for his lack of funds this summer.

“Everyone has different ideas and options, but for the squad we have this approach is fine. We almost got a draw.

“I am not happy that we didn’t get the points we deserved, but we are in a good position in terms of confidence in the team and the way we work.”

There was also much ado about the absence of centre back Jamaal Lascelles, whom Benitez claimed had an ankle injury amid media reports he dropped the captain after a disagreement over tactics. Benitez insisted Tuesday “we are fine” when asked about their relationship, but the defender is questionable.

Newcastle’s hangover continued Wednesday with a 3-1 loss at Championship side Nottingham Forest in the second round of the Carabao Cup. Salomon Rondon gave the Magpies a lifeline with a stoppage-time equaliser, but they quickly conceded a second.

Ayoze Perez had to be restrained by Benitez after the final whistle when referee Jeremy Simpson did not award a potential tying penalty after being pulled back by Forest defender Luke Steele which came seconds before Newcastle conceded a third.

Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey will miss his third straight match due to a calf injury, with Mo Diame the leading option to take that playmaking spot deeper in the midfield. Matt Ritchie has also been ruled out due to injury. Kenedy will return after being ineligible to face his parent club, but midfielder Isaac Hayden will finish serving his three-match ban for a direct red card against Cardiff City.

The Sky Blues are unbeaten in their last 21 league matches (18-3-0) versus Newcastle since a 1-0 road loss Sept. 24, 2005. The Magpies’ lone win in the last 23 contests (1-3-19) across all competitions was a 2-0 upset at the Etihad in the fourth round of the 2015 League Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Man City are staggering 1/9 favourites to bounce back with a victory, while Newcastle United are 28/1 long shots to pull off a shock scoreline and return to Tyneside with three points. Even getting one point for the Toons seems a reach with 17/2 odds for a draw.

Oddsmakers also seem fairly confident in City’s ability to ring up goals against Newcastle, with 4/9 odds on a Sky Blues victory and over 2.5 goals. There are 16/5 odds on Man City winning 1-0 or 2-0, and the third-highest choice would be a 0-0 or 1-1 draw returning 11/1 odds.

Aguero’s proficiency against Newcastle has created a separate list of prop bets, the most eye-catching one being just 5/1 odds on the Argentina international recording a hat trick. There are 10/3 odds on him scoring on both sides of halftime.

As for first goal-scorer, Aguero is the easy frontrunner with 19/10 odds, followed by Jesus (3/1) and Raheem Sterling (7/2). There are nine City players listed — even Phil Foden — before finding Joselu and Rondon as Newcastle’s joint-top options at 16/1.

Aguero (4/11), Jesus (3/4) and Sterling (10/11) are heavy favourites to find the back of the net at some point in this match, with Mahrez (21/20) nearly an even-money selection. Rondon and Joselu are getting 4/1 odds to beat Ederson over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

You want to believe in Benitez, that he’s not losing the plot and simply playing these two matches against Chelsea and Manchester City simply to get them out of the way while trying to simply steal a point against either and/or both. He nearly got one against Chelsea, but that was due more to Eden Hazard failing to be patient when in possession.

The Citizens are a much different animal and are likely going to have eight players in the attacking third with Kompany and Laporte mopping up clearances Newcastle launch as City will recycle with the ball. That 80 percent possession figure Chelsea enjoyed is at risk of being topped at the Etihad.

It would not be a surprise either way if Lascelles starts or is dropped entirely from the 18. Federico Fernandez did not do anything horrific versus Chelsea as the middle man on the back line, so there is cover for Lascelles. Having Kenedy means there is at least an outlet for clearances up the sideline as opposed to Rondon being stranded without service. How Newcastle utilise that option may determine the competitiveness of this match.

Look for City to play wide through Mendy and Bernardo Silva. At some point, Yedlin is going to get caught too far upfield, and it likely will happen on more than one occasion. That is the space Guardiola’s side has exploited in the past and will do so again here.

Predicted final score: Manchester City 3, Newcastle United 0.

Other Match Day 4 Previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)

Depth has its privileges. And its rewards.

As the absence of injured superstar Kevin De Bruyne barely registered, the Manchester City juggernaut looks to roll on Saturday when they face new boys Wolverhampton at Molineux.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

De Bruyne is sidelined until December with a torn LCL suffered in training. On most sides, losing the runner-up to the PFA Player of the Year award would be a devastating blow. For Manchester City, however, it simply meant next superstar up.

Enter David Silva. The midfielder nicknamed “Merlin” missed a significant portion of Manchester City’s historic 2017-18 season to be with his wife and son Mateo, who was born several months premature.

With both in attendance last Saturday, Silva made his season debut and 250th Premier League match for City a memorable one with a beautifully-taken free kick goal and the Citizens ran riot in a 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield Town.

“He scored an amazing goal for him, so his son will never forget the first time he saw his father play football,” manager Pep Guardiola said of Silva post-match. “It was a big moment for us because last season it was a tough moment for his family, and fortunately, he fought a lot the little boy, and he’s here, so a special day for them, for us, for David.”

Silva’s return also showed both the versatility and flexibility Guardiola can utilise on a match-to-match basis. The 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal morphed into a three-man back in which City had so much possession that outside defenders Aymeric Laporte and John Stones freely ranged forward in support of wide backs Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.

Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho formed the defensive base in the midfield, allowing David Silva the run of the attacking third behind Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. It paid off handsomely as Aguero recorded his 13th Premier League hat trick – two off Alan Shearer’s all-time record – and Jesus opened his scoring account for the season.

“Last season, we did it once or twice but not much more,” Guardiola said about using the South American internationals together. “We decided to play with two strikers to have more of a presence in the box, knowing we have Mendy arriving. He is clever – he can see the pass in front of the ‘keeper or the penalty spot, or the 18-yard box. He is a clever guy, arriving there.”

Aguero and Jesus have 17 goals between them in the eight league matches they have started together.

Guardiola has another injury issue to address since No. 2 keeper Claudio Bravo suffered a ruptured Achilles during training this week. City already loaned out Angus Gunn to Southampton, leaving local product Daniel Grimshaw as the back-up since Aro Muric is not expected to be recalled from his loan to Dutch side NAC Breda.

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) have not looked out of their depth in their first two Premier League matches since 2012, but the Wolves failed to get the rub of the green in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez thumped the woodwork in the opening 20 minutes, and their luck went from bad to worse before the half-hour when Matt Doherty headed into his own net after a cross took a deflection off the head of teammate Conor Coady.

Leicester City’s second took a deflection off Coady’s boot as James Maddison’s shot skipped past Rui Patricio and inside the right post just before halftime. Doherty was forced off in the second half after a brutal challenge by Jamie Vardy that resulted in a straight red card for the Foxes striker, and Wolverhampton hit the woodwork a third time as they failed to find a way past Kasper Schmeichel.

“We played really well but it’s just what happens,” Doherty told the Express & Star. “The league is ruthless and we need to come to terms with that. The bad luck was unbelievable, we hit the woodwork three times and had some good chances. It’s relentless, every game is losable. It could easily have been six points from six but it’s one.”

Something that would help Wolves would be scoring first. They have yet to lead since their return to the top flight – despite playing 74 minutes up a man over their first two contests — and doing so against the reigning champions is a tall order despite manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s hopes.

“In football, when you’re the team that punishes first, then you can control situations better,” he explained to the club’s official website. “I’m proud of the boys because we are playing the way we want. The team has things to improve and we’ll do it.”

If Santo does make a change to his first XI, it could be winger Adama Traore making his first start after a credible 45-minute effort in his debut replacing Helder Costa.

Wolves nearly dealt City their first loss last season when they pushed the eventual Carabao Cup champions to penalties in the fourth round at the Etihad. Bravo emerged as the hero by stopping two spot kicks after a scoreless 120 minutes.

Since the result is considered a draw, City had a four-match winning streak against Wolves end, but they are 6-2-2 against them in the Premier League era. The losses came at Molineux in 2003 and 2010.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites at 1/4 odds, and Wolverhampton are 11/1 long shots to pull off a shock scoreline. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 19/4.

Correct score odds are providing intriguing possibilities, with 0-2 the front runner at 11/2 followed by 0-1 and 0-3 at 7/1. A 1-2 final trails closely behind those three at 8/1, and a 1-3 finish has a 10/1 return.

Aguero is better than even money to at least add another goal to his recent haul at 4/7, and Jesus is even money. The Argentina international has 23/10 odds to score the first goal, making him the clubhouse leader, and Jesus is 7/2. Jimenez is the top Wolverhampton option and ninth overall at 11/1.

Raheem Sterling (5/4), Leroy Sane (3/2) and Riyad Mahrez (13/10) also are strongly tipped to score goals at Molineux. For the hosts, Jimenez is a 3/1 option to score during the match, and Diogo Jota is close behind at 7/2.

PREDICTION

The path of least resistance for Guardiola would be to stick to a lineup for back-to-back weeks, but everyone knows that is not his style, and as a result, it would not be surprising to see one or two changes to his starting XI. Sterling will likely get a runout in this game after being the odd man out for attacking subs versus Huddersfield Town.

The difference in this match being another Manchester City rout or Wolverhampton turning it into a contest is how efficient Wolves are on the counter. There can’t be lost-cause chases that stretch the lines, and the midfield pairing of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Navas must hold possession at times in addition to making smart passes.

City also will not take Wolves for granted because Guardiola is sure to remind his players this side took a largely first-string Citizens team to penalties last season at the Etihad before Bravo saved their blushes in spot kicks. The ruthlessness that disappeared in pockets last term for City will be apparent at Molineux.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Manchester City 4

Other Match Day 3 previews:

Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)
Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Arsenal (0-0-0) vs. Manchester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Wenger is out, but can Emery fit in?

For the first time in 23 seasons, Arsenal will have a new manager on the touchline as Unai Emery could not have picked a more difficult opponent to make a Premier League debut against than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City as the reigning champions come to the Emirates on Sunday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The divide that roiled a fan base finally reached an anticlimactic conclusion last season as the Frenchman bid au revoir to the north London side. While Wenger won a record seven FA Cups with the Gunners (19-6-13 in 2017-18), the gradual slide that had seen them fall out of Champions League play for a second straight year and lack serious title challenges for most of the decade finally wore out supporters and the Arsenal board.

“Le Professeur” enjoyed a gracious long good-bye after a sixth-place finish – his worst in his lengthy tenure at Arsenal – and a semifinal exit in the Europa League.

Given the lack of big names in the coaching market – Tito Villanova reportedly priced himself out of a potential hiring while ex-Arsenal players-turned coaches Mikael Arteta and Patrick Vieira were considered too green – Emery seems a vanilla hire who does not address the lofty ambitions of a club who last won a title with “The Invincibles” in 2004.

Emery won three consecutive Europa League titles at Sevilla from 2014-16, but his two seasons at Paris-Saint Germain were nothing spectacular. He won the treble last season as Ligue 1 winner, but PSG were eliminated in the round of 16 in both of his Champions League campaigns – a place that does not sit well with the Arsenal fan base considering Wenger made his exit in that round in his last seven appearances.

“We need to work together and the first way to do that is by finding the performance,” Emery told supporters in his first meeting with them per The Times. “I want a team with energy and I want players to give their all on the pitch.

“I want to give them the habits that I want to see from them in each match. I want to see them demonstrate these habits in every game and give their all. … It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just a different moment for this club.”

Emery does not lack for talent and has one of the best attacks in the Premier League in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette, Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. It will be Aubameyang’s first full season at the Emirates after coming over from Borussia Dortmund in the January window and making a huge impact with 10 goals in 13 league matches. Ramsey, though, could give way to teenager Matteo Guendozui due to a knock.

Ozil, who spent last season and summer as a lightning rod of all criticisms leveled at the club and country level following Germany’s flameout in group play at the World Cup this summer, retired from international play after a falling out with the DFB amid cries of racism regarding his Turkish heritage and is intent on taking out a lost summer on Premier League opponents.

The defence – a sore spot all of last season as Wenger vacillated between three and four-man backlines – appears set to be four under Emery, who likely will use a 4-3-3 for this match after experimenting with a 4-4-2 in preseason. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous will pair in central defence, though Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the weak link in this match at left back since Nacho Monreal is out through injury.

Newcomer and Uruguay international Lucas Torreira will anchor the midfield with Ramsey while Ozil is likely to push forward in attack with the front three. There is also likely to be a new goalkeeper as summer signing Bernd Leno has seen extensive action in the preseason over incumbent Petr Cech.

While Arsenal have had a summer of upheaval, Manchester City (32-4-2) have quietly gone about their business preparing their bid to be the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won three straight Premier League titles from 2007-09.

The Citizens are better than even-money favourites to repeat after coasting to the title by 19 points over eternal rivals United. They demolished almost every single-season record in the 26-year history of the Premier League – most notably being the first 100-point top-flight team in English football history – but the anger of a Champions League quarterfinal elimination by Liverpool is all the motivation Guardiola needs.

“The best way is to think ‘What’s next,'” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Focus on what we have done in our job, the desire to improve. We are still hungry and we hold them to be better and better players. It’s not easy (to repeat) but we’re going to try. It’s unrealistic to think about it early, the best way to do it is game-by-game.”

City had 16 players at the World Cup, the most of any Premier League team, and they are at various stages of match-fit. One of those players, Sergio Aguero, is in form after bagging a brace in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last Sunday at Wembley.

One player who did not go to Russia and could factor large in this match is Riyad Mahrez. He was the lone summer signing for City, who finally pried the Algeria international from Leicester City for £60 million after a January deal fell through. He further adds to a staggering wealth of talent in attack that includes Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Leroy Sane, and Gabriel Jesus.

“He’s ready,” Guardiola said after observing Mahrez throughout City’s preseason tour. “I think he understands what we’re looking for, he played completely differently at Leicester. We have to give it time.”

Guardiola could use a 4-1-4-1 formation for this game as left back Benjamin Mendy returns after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. John Stones, who was one of England’s best players at the World Cup, is expected to pair with Aymeric Laporte in central defence in front of Ederson.

Aguero would be the lone striker up front, with De Bruyne and Silva the central midfielders while Sane and Mahrez man the flanks. Fernandinho would clean up in front of the back four as the defensive midfielder.

City won all three matches between the teams, with a 3-0 hiding in the Carabao Cup final in late February bookending their league victories. The twin 3-0 thrashings four days apart galvanised Arsenal’s board in moving Wenger to the exit, as the second defeat was in front of wide patches of empty seats at the Emirates.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are solid 17/20 favorites to win while Arsenal and a draw return 14/5 odds. City get a better return on investment with 21/10 odds on a win with both teams scoring a goal, and for the real daring, there are 3/1 odds for a Citizens win coupled with the over of 3.5 goals.

Aguero leads the way for first-choice goal-scorers at 10/3 odds, followed by Jesus (4/1) and Aubameyang (5/1). Sane, Sterling and Mahrez all lurk just behind the Arsenal striker at 11/2. Aguero’s brace in the Community Shield also make him an even-money bet to score during the match.

PREDICTION

It has been mainly optimistic in north London in terms of Arsenal’s preseason results. The Gunners ruthlessly walloped Emery’s old team PSG around draws against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, splitting results via penalties.

But now comes the real test, one that Emery probably would not have minded being pushed back until after the first international break to better get a sense of his team. Even an A/B mix of City players severely outclassed Chelsea in the Community Shield, and as this team likely will range closer to “A” than “B,” it could be another long night for the Gunners at the Emirates.

What will be curious to see about City is to examine “how” they will be better than last season. It may not take the form of losing only two matches in league play as they likely will finish with fewer than 100 points. Guardiola has talked little about Champions League and the motivation of crashing out to Liverpool in the quarterfinals compared to chasing history, and that choice to look forward will serve this team well.

In the end, there is likely just too much class for Arsenal to overcome this soon in the season, though they should give City some moments of bother in the final third.

PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3, ARSENAL 1

2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Manchester City (August 6)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 20th and final preview of 20 EPL teams in 20 days ahead of Friday’s league-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page.)

MANCHESTER CITY CITIZENS

Manager: Pep Guardiola (Hire Date: July 1, 2016)
Tenure Length: 10th/20 in Premier League and 30th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 32-4-2, 100 points, 1st in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 106
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-79
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 17 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2002
Last Relegation: 
2001 (Premier League to First Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Quarterfinal loss (Liverpool)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Champions
2017-18 FA Cup: Fifth-round loss (Wigan Athletic)

2017/18 REVIEW

Manchester City sputtered out of the gate, having to grind out a 2-0 victory at promoted Brighton and Hove Albion to start the season and then was held to a 1-1 draw by Everton to open its home slate as it played 44 minutes down a man after Kyle Walker was given his second yellow card late in the first half.

Then came the winning. A lot of winning.

City reeled off 11 consecutive victories across all competitions with some ridiculous score lines along the way. 5-0 over Liverpool. 4-0 at Feyenoord to open Champions League play. 6-0 at Watford. 5-0 versus Crystal Palace. 7-2 over Stoke City. The Citizens trailed for all of eight minutes of the 990 during their winning streak, which finally came to the end in the Carabao Cup against Wolverhampton, which pushed them to penalties before falling.

Another eight victories followed before a 2-1 loss at Shakhtar Donetsk in a dead rubber to complete Champions League play marked City’s first loss of the 2017-18 season. The good news was that it came at the perfect time ahead of their first Manchester derby at Old Trafford, where Guardiola’s men recorded a 2-1 victory to open up an 11-point chasm between the teams after 16 matches.

City set a Premier League record with their 15th consecutive league win by thrashing Swansea City 4-0 in Wales. They would push that run to 18 matches before a scoreless draw at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve in which the flash point was a horrific challenge on Kevin De Bruyne by Palace’s Jason Puncheon in the final minutes that the Belgium international was fortunate to escape serious injury from.

The dream of matching Arsenal’s “Invincibles” would end a fortnight later at Anfield, where Liverpool ran riot for a nine-minute stretch and scored three times to take a 4-1 lead before holding out for a 4-3 victory. That would be a foreshadowing of things to come not in the Premier League race, which was being readily conceded to City despite it being only mid-January, but in Champions League.

Guardiola’s charges would resume their winning ways, reeling off four on the bounce and reaching the Carabao Cup final before a 1-1 draw at always-stubborn Burnley. Manchester City made quick work of Swiss side FC Basel in the round of 16 in Champions League play, winning 4-0 on the road in the first leg to render their 2-1 second-leg defeat moot.

In between, however, was a shocking FA Cup exit at the hands of Wigan Athletic, which brought back the nightmares of losing to a relegated Latics side in the 2013 final. Manchester City took its frustrations of that loss out on Arsenal in emphatic fashion, winning the Carabao Cup final 3-0 at Wembley before handing out another 3-0 beating at the Emirates four days later.

Now champion-elect, Manchester City drew arguably the worst of the remaining Champions League sides in Liverpool, though it was still a winnable tie. Guardiola, however, made his largest mistake of the entire season in the first leg at Anfield, inexplicably starting Ilkay Gundogan as a holding midfielder over Raheem Sterling.

Within a half-hour, Liverpool turned Anfield into the vaunted cauldron it always has been for high-pressure matches and fashioned itself a 3-0 lead. The damage done, the Reds added insult to injury by holding that lead and putting up a clean sheet to make City do the heavy lifting in the second leg.

The hangover of that loss did not carry into the second Manchester derby as City attempted to become the first team to clinch a Premier League title in their 32nd match. The chance to do it against their eternal rivals United at home was a once in a lifetime opportunity that seemed to good to pass up.

For the first half-hour, it was exactly that as Vincent Kompany and Gundogan scored six minutes apart for a two-goal lead, and City nearly ran United out of the Etihad the remainder of the first half. But just as suddenly, the match swung red. Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes, and Chris Smalling was first to a free kick and beat Ederson and both history and a title would have to wait as United salvaged some pride with a 3-2 victory.

There was no time to wallow, though, as Liverpool was coming to the Etihad and a three-goal deficit had to be overturned. Gabriel Jesus scored in the second minute, and City just applied pressure in waves at Liverpool looking for a second to further the momentum and gain everything to play for. They thought it came when Leroy Sane scored just before halftime, but it was incorrectly chalked off for offsides.

Guardiola went ballistic in complaining to referee Mateu Lahoz, earning himself an ejection at halftime. The combination of the disallowed goal and Guardiola’s thunder and banishment sapped City, who gave up a back-breaking goal to Mohamed Salah before the hour and another to Roberto Firmino late as Liverpool advanced 5-1 on aggregate.

All that was left for City was to play for history and a re-writing of the Premier League record book. They scored 12 goals in winning their next three matches, surpassing the century mark in a 4-1 hiding of West Ham United in their 35th match.

The Premier League presentation trophy was the highlight of a scoreless draw against Huddersfield Town, which all but secured a second season in the top flight with the valuable point, and it left City needing two wins to become the first Premier League team to achieve 100 points.

The first win was a straightforward 3-1 home victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, and the second took a little work. City left it very late as Jesus’ goal in the 94th minute provided the historic 1-0 victory at Southampton that made Guardiola’s side centurions. The 32nd win established a new Premier League record for victories, bettering the mark of Tottenham’s famous 1961 side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Manchester City Lineup.png

The frightening realisation for the rest of the Premier League, and by extension England for domestic cups and Europe for Champions League play is Guardiola can arguably flex his side into any formation and any lineup he wants on a match-to-match basis.

For argument’s sake, the XI presented here is based on a 4-3-3. Look at the names out there. Now consider the names missing: Bernardo Silva. Aymeric Laporte. New signing Riyad Mahrez. Gundogan. Danilo. Phil Foden. Benjamin Mendy barely played last season due to a torn ACL, yet it is well known he is one of the best at his position and still was good enough to make France’s roster this summer.

A serious case can be made the weakest backup link is Claudio Bravo between the sticks.

If Guardiola opts for a three-man backline, Kompany or Stones gets sacrificed, and given how well Stones played in Russia, it would be hard to sit him even at the expense of Kompany, who himself had a solid run for Belgium when he was 100 percent. This is a team that is going to have 60 percent possession or better in all but a handful of league matches and domestic cups, and Guardiola will relish in the challenge of tinkering his team between those set-ups.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

After spending and spending and spending the past two seasons to build a team Guardiola was confident could run a two-track course between Premier League and Champions League, this summer was refined and specific: Welcome, Mahrez.

The Algeria international’s arrival from Leicester City nearly came in the January window, but the deal feel through late. Six months and £60 million later, City finally got their man — arguably one of the most creative playmakers in the Premier League and the world.

What makes the move interesting is it is entirely possible Mahrez is little more than a rotation player on both tracks except for early in the season as players recover from World Cup responsibilities and again starting in December when the fixtures come fast and heavy. Still, his quality cannot be denied in being the driving force of Leicester City’s run to the Premier League title in 2016 and quarterfinal appearance in the subsequent Champions League.

Mahrez totaled 40 goals and 29 assists in all competitions in his last three seasons with the Foxes and was one of four players to rack up at least 35 goals and 20 assists in league play in that stretch along with Dele Alli, Roberto Firmino and Alexis Sanchez.

More grating to City’s rivals is the Citizens recouped more than half of that outlay by loaning out some of their promising younger players. Third-choice keeper Angus Gunn commanded almost £15 million in going to Southampton, while defenders Pablo Maffeo and Angelino nearly matched that total between them on loans to VfB Stuttgart and PSV Eindhoven, respectively.

Veteran midfielder Yaya Toure was released, and backup keeper Joe Hart is reportedly close to finalising a move to Burnley, which is in need at the position following a long-term shoulder injury to Nick Pope.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Kevin De Bruyne (MF)

There is something about De Bruyne’s game that borders on ethereal. If it’s not the direct pass that leads to the goal, he often gets the “hockey assist” in making the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.

Whether it is his vision to make passes few see, let alone successfully make, or his sense of timing when to take over a match in terms of trying to score, the Belgium international rightfully created a split in PFA voting last year and would have been a worthy winner had he not finished runner-up to another worthy winner in Liverpool’s Salah.

De Bruyne had a solid World Cup campaign in leading Belgium to a third-place finish in Russia, and with an embarrassment of riches around him in Aguero, Sterling, Jesus and now Mahrez, De Bruyne’s biggest threat comes in the form of being able to pop up anywhere in the opposing half of the pitch to create a scoring chance for others or fashion one for himself.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to become the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won the last of its three straight titles in 2009. The Citizens are 8/11 odds to win it all again, and there are ridiculous odds for top-four (1/20) and top-six finishes (1/500).

It is a little closer to even money Guardiola’s team will be atop the table on Christmas Day at 10/11, and for top-two finishes, City have 3/1 odds to finish 1-2 ahead of Liverpool and 9/2 with United.

Aguero is listed fifth in odds to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot at 8/1, with Jesus sixth at 14/1. Sane and Sterling are further long shots at 33/1. Player of the Year odds is where it gets interesting as De Bruyne is a slight favorite at 8/1, Sane fifth at 14/1 and David Silva seventh (16/1).

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 12 — Arsenal (6th) A
Aug. 19 — Huddersfield Town (16th) H
Aug. 25 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
Sept. 1 — Newcastle United (10th) H
—————
April 20 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) H
April 27 — Burnley (7th) A
May 4 — Leicester City (10th) H
May 12 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) A

OUTLOOK

For a team that won the Premier League by 19 points, reached 100, set all sorts of single-season records (it’s easier to just link to the Wiki page rather than add 200 superfluous words and numbers) and also registered a double by also winning the Carabao Cup, there is still unfinished business for Guardiola and Manchester City.

Some of that was self-inflicted by the Spaniard, whose decision to start Gundogan in the first leg of City’s Champions League quarterfinal at Liverpool ran counter to everything he had been building on the blue side of Manchester to that very point, and he paid for it.

Dearly.

Guardiola will not be prone to overthinking this time around, but it will also not be as easy to repeat as champions either. There is always a bizarre variable that comes off a World Cup summer, and while City have more than enough depth to rotate players to address any matchup issue Guardiola may perceive, there will be a creeping unknown of sorts until they actually play the matches and get through them.

Additionally, the primary foil in the Premier League is no longer City’s hated rivals across town, but is indeed, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Manchester City had five meaningful losses all of last season — the Champions League ones to Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Basel had nothing at stake — and three of them came to Liverpool.

Further, the one victory over the Reds can be talked away as a match turned on its head when Mane got his red card and a 1-0 game turned into a 5-0 laugher. Liverpool has spent… and spent… and spent to get its team up to a point where it can at least attempt to stand with Manchester City, and it will be upon the reigning champion to knock the Reds down once more.

The success of teams hitting on the counter at the World Cup will probably result in a renewed effort to do so among clubs who play Manchester City. It is nothing new for the Citizens to face, but it will be something to watch. Guardiola loves a game of cat-and-mouse like few other managers, and with his legacy on the line as he enters his third season at the Etihad, expect a cagey and focused Spaniard on the sideline as he hunts glory and beyond.

PREDICTED FINISH

1st place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City