2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

Firing on all cylinders and close to full health in attack, Manchester City look to regain their status atop the Premier League on Monday in a mouth-watering clash at Wembley Stadium against top-five side Tottenham Hotspur to close out Match Day 10.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

A victory by City (7-2-0) would put them back atop the table on goal difference over fellow unbeaten Liverpool, who thrashed Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday. After a brief blip in form in their first two Champions League matches, Pep Guardiola’s team is coming off their best week of play this term as they tore through both Burnley domestically and Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe’s top club competition.

The Citizens followed up their 5-0 demolition of the Clarets by smashing another three without reply against the Ukraine side. David Silva and defender Aymeric Laporte scored five minutes apart in the first half before Bernardo Silva added the third on 70 minutes for City, who extended their shutout streak in all competitions to 359 minutes since an opening-minute marker by Hoffenheim’s Ishak Belfodil on Oct. 2.

Kevin De Bruyne made his first start of the season after appearing as a substitute against Burnley last weekend and provided the corner Laporte headed home for his first assist of the season. The Belgium international had 20 assists in all competitions last season, and with De Bruyne back in the fold, City have all of their best attacking players healthy and available to contribute, which has led to the most pleasant of headaches for Guardiola – choosing the best among them for his starting XI.

“All the players want to play good, play well and be part of the team,” Guardiola said at his Friday news conference. “We have a squad with huge quality and when they play they play good because if it doesn’t happen another one can play.”

Despite their fast start and status as defending Premier League champions after cruising to the title by 19 points over closest pursuers and eternal rivals Manchester United, Guardiola is under no such illusions his side will be able to repeat in a canter to lift the trophy, and he counts Spurs among those who will push his team.

“Two points difference in five, six teams. It’s strong. You see the line-up for Tottenham. Tottenham are always there,” Guardiola said. “They can’t invest because they build an incredible stadium but it’s a top side. Last season we did really well in both games, but they are a top team.

“When you know a team does the same thing, it’s easier to control it. They sometimes play Son with Dele Alli, they can change it. You have to be prepared for that. Tactically they are very well prepared. When we see their game at Inter in Champions League, they were not worse than opponent. I say they were better. But the competition is special. The numbers are the numbers.

“It’s one of the teams I like the most to watch, I learn when I see them.”

Guardiola is expected to restore both striker Sergio Aguero and right back Kyle Walker to his starting XI. He was able to rest Aguero against the weakest side in City’s Champions League group, and the ex-Spurs and current England international Walker had a late runout versus Shakhtar after missing the victory over Burnley with a groin injury. Leroy Sane could also return at right wing, though that would mean either Riyad Mahrez or Raheem Sterling would be coming off the bench.

Such is City’s depth that Guardiola was able to slot central defender John Stones into Walker’s spot the last two matches, though Stones is likely to resume his normal partnership with Laporte in City’s spine as they try to record a sixth consecutive clean sheet in league play. The Citizens have not conceded in 510 minutes since Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin beat Ederson in City’s 2-1 victory at the Etihad on Sept. 1.

Though Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) are just provisionally five points out of first place, the gap feels larger considering the apparent chasm in form at a truly elite level between the two sides. Their Champions League campaign appears to be over before it started, as a disheartening 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday left them with one point from their first three contests with three remaining.

The Lilywhites are in third in Group B, five points behind Inter Milan, and still must travel to leaders Barcelona. A red card to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 79th minute for his challenge outside the box on Hirving Lozano trying to protect a 2-1 lead proved costly as the Dutch side equalised through Luuk De Jong on 87 minutes.

Christian Eriksen was a key contributor offensively in his first start in five matches due to a hamstring injury and assisted on Harry Kane’s goal that gave Spurs a 2-1 lead, but the Denmark international also made a poor back pass that forced Lloris to make the challenge that got him sent off.

“If you watch the game we should have won, there is no other conclusion,” Eriksen dejectedly told the club’s official website. “We should have finished the game off. “We didn’t do that and PSV had the chance to come back. I gave a bad pass away, Hugo was sent off but again, if we finish the game off, we don’t have that at the end. We could have done better.”

The red card does not carry over to domestic competition, so Lloris is expected be between the sticks for this contest. Spurs, though, will get a boost in attack with the likely availability of winger Dele Alli, who has missed the last five matches in all competitions with a hamstring injury.

“We have to be careful with Dele because he was re-injured after Watford (Carabao Cup). Of course he’s okay, he’s training, but we’ll see what happens in the next few days,” manager Mauricio Pochettino told SpursTV on Friday. “We are happy that he’s started (training) today with the group and we hope he’s available for Monday but I’m not sure if we are going to put him in the squad or not.

“Dele is Dele, we all know he’s an important player for us but when he’s injured, we cannot complain because we have the squad. For me, the most important thing is the collective and it’s always important to have everyone available.”

Tottenham are still without half of their back line as central defender Jan Vertonghen and left back Danny Rose are out through injury. If Alli does not return to Pochettino’s first XI, the left wing spot will either go to Erik Lamela or Heung-Min Son in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up. Lamela has been in fine form with four goals and an assist in his last six matches across all competitions.

Despite their continental struggles, Spurs have won four on the bounce in league play and recorded clean sheets in the last three. The last goal they conceded came in second-half stoppage time in their 2-1 win at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sept. 22.

City did the double over Spurs last season en route to the title, recording wins of 4-1 and 3-1. In the game at Wembley, the match swung on a penalty call in City’s favour by Jon Moss that would have been overturned had there been VAR. But three minutes after Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring, Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead on 25 minutes, and the Citizens were on their way to victory, secured by Sterling’s late strike after Eriksen made a match of it with a goal.

Manchester City are 10-2-4 in their last 16 matchups with Spurs, who had gone 3-1-0 in the previous four meetings before last term’s two setbacks.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are solid favourites to return to the top of the table with 7/10 odds to claim all three points. There are 29/10 odds on the teams sharing the points, while Spurs have 18/5 odds on dealing Guardiola’s side their first loss and adding some drama to the title race.

A Manchester City win in a match featuring more than 2.5 goals leads the way with 27/20 odds, while an 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline in their favour has 4/1 odds. A low-scoring draw offers 9/2 odds, while a Spurs victory with 2.5 goals checks in at 11/2. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the hosts is a 10/1 longshot.

Aguero is the leader of the pack for first-goal honours at 16/5, followed by strike partner Gabriel Jesus (4/1). Kane is the only Spurs option among the first six players listed at 9/2, with Sterling (5/1), Mahrez (11/2) and Sane (6/1) forming an ordely queue behind the England talisman.

Aguero is even money to find the back of the net over the course of 90 minutes, with Jesus (5/4) and Kane (7/5) again lurking just behind him. Sterling checks in with 6/4 odds, while the in-form Lamela could fetch a decent return at 4/1. The Silvas — first David (14/5) the Bernardo (16/5) bracket De Bruyne (3/1).

PREDICTION

To borrow a phrase from Emperor Palpatine in “Return of the Jedi,” Manchester City’s attack is indeed “quite operational” with the return of De Bruyne. This space will sing his praises until hoarse, not just because he is so good, but it is because he has the vision to dream. He and David Silva are two wildly creative sides of the same coin with their playmaking and ingenuity.

Yet for all that offence and all those goals, City’s defence has shined for pretty much the enitre month. It helps when you limit the opponent to 25 percent possession, but the other truth is that the back three or four — depending on personnel and Guardiola’s preference — have evolved into a unit as lethal as his attacking four, with Fernandinho their protector while the offence pulls opposing defences apart the way a puppetmaster pulls the strings of a marionette.

About the only thing City can arguably get wrong is personnel selection up front. That Guardiola addressed it this week was somewhat surprising given how easy a time he had — dispatching of Burnley and Shakhtar without hitting top gear. After Mahrez’s missed penalty at Anfield that may still be in orbit, he seems the most likely candidate to be dropped because it is a “big match,” but there’s always a “yeah, it kind of makes sense” once you get over the surprise of which big name is left out of Guardiola’s first XI.

Tottenham, on the other hand, are in a dangerous place heading into this match, because if the hangover from the draw at Eindhoven has not worn off, City will run them right out of Wembley, and that five-point gap between the sides that will result may as well be 50. The hedge here is Alli will be on the bench to start this game, with Lamela getting the nod over him and Son on the left wing since he only appeared as a substitute mid-week.

The choice of Lamela over Son is one for Pochettino to deliberate, but in a match against a team like City in which you know you are not going to see much of the ball, the impetus should be on the moment of creativity — something Lamela has in droves — compared to the industry — which Son has in equal droves — which could go frustratingly unrewarded in a match such as this.

Lloris is another figure who bears scrutinising. It has been a year of wildly fluctuating fortunes for the France No. 1, from winning the World Cup to the anguish of his drink-driving charge to still being considered among the elite keepers in the Premier League to his latest walkabout adventures on the pitch in the Netherlands. Some have spent the past week comparing the maddening similarities he shares with France’s other World Cup winning keeper — Fabien Barthez — but more times than not, Lloris has been the one to save Spurs from their blushes.

This Spurs team is almost a photo negative of the one from last term that had so much fun playing Champions League football because there was nothing to lose domestically because City were so imperious. This game and this moment, however, matter greatly for the Lilywhites and could be the bellwether for the rest of Tottenham’s season.

Win this game, or even split the points, and there’s a bonafide Premier League title race. Lose this game, the pressure intensifies ahead of the reverse Champions League fixture versus Eindhoven before the international break, and then have a derby match versus Chelsea after it.

At this moment, it feels City are just too irresistible, even with the knowing step up in class Tottenham are after last week’s two impressive yet lightly challenging wins. There are gears Spurs have hit only in brief flashes this season, and it does not look like they will be able to hold them long enough in this encounter to get what they need.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0, 2, 0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1, 3, 0)

Manchester City are hoping their weekend domestic form carries over to their Champions League midweek matchup at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday in whicy could be a tricky Group F tie in the Ukraine.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

City remained unbeaten and atop the Premier League on goal difference over Liverpool with an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Burnley at home Saturday. Bernando Silva and Fernandinho broke open a close contest with goals two minutes apart early in the second half, and Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane added gloss to the scoreline with markers in the final seven minutes.

In addition to the three points, there was the welcome return of Kevin De Bruyne, who played for nearly a half-hour in his first action since City’s season-opening win over Arsenal. The Belgium international returned nearly a month ahead of his expected recovery timetable and had been sidelined with a knee injury suffered in practice in late August. De Bruyne had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season, and his creativity could be key in unlocking City’s offence in Champions League play.

For all the oohs and aahs City’s offence creates, it has been their defence that has shined. Guardiola’s side recorded their fifth consecutive clean sheet in Premier League play, and the spine of the defence had a late adjustment with John Stones playing right back after Kyle Walker was a late scratch due to a groin issue. Walker did travel with the team and is expected to play.

“I would say we have four incredible central defenders,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “When Nicolas Otamendi has played, and Vincent Kompany and John Stones, it is always a good level. That is a good sign for the team.

“It’s not possible to do what we did last season without Nico, but Aymeric Laporte didn’t have a World Cup so he arrived fresh in top condition and he has a left foot,” Guardiola added. “He helps us to make our build-up. When the ball comes from the right, he controls from the left. Playing with Leroy Sane, it’s quicker to play with the right foot in that position.

“It’s important to have central defenders on the left. He is fit and training every single day. He is professional – so serious – and playing at a good level. We trust [in him]a lot in this moment but the season is so long.”

As imperious as City’s defence have been in England — they have shipped a joint-league low three goals along with Liverpool — it has yet to translate in group play. The Citizens have allowed three goals in their two group matches, and there is still a residual sting following their 2-1 loss at home to Lyon three weeks ago that threw this group up for grabs.

“We are going to put in all effort to win this competition, but from what I saw last season we are not ready, that’s what I feel,” Guardiola told the BBC. “That doesn’t mean we are not going to try.

“It’s one important thing to win this kind of title, you have to be pushed – not just by the manager, by everyone surrounding Manchester City that we have to win it. And still we don’t have that feeling, the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”

The match will also serve as a homecoming for midfielder Fernandinho, still a well-liked player among Shakhtar supporters after his eight seasons there before his move to City in 2013. There is mutual respect in both directions, with the 33-year-old so grateful for being allowed to move he reportedly waived £4 million in bonuses earned.

“I had a very good time there and still know a lot of people there,” the Brasil international said. “It’s nice because they open the door from Europe for Brasilian players and after that they have the chance to change their teams. It’s nice, the connection between the Ukrainian people and Brazilians.”

Shakhtar have played both Hoffenheim and Lyon to 2-2 draws in their first two Champions League matches but squandered a chance to help themselves greatly against the French side, frittering away Junior Moraes’ brace on either side of halftime by conceding in the 70th and 72nd minutes.

The Ukrainian side are unbeaten in their last 11 matches (8-3-0) in all competitions since a 1-0 loss at Dynamo Kyiv to open the season. The Pitmen overcame a red card to Olarenwaju Kayode to record a 1-0 victory over Desna, getting an 88th-minute goal from Maycon in a testy match that saw seven yellow cards given out in addition to Kayode’s ejection.

Shakhtar, though, will be without two of their starters for this match through injury — midfielders Taison and Marlos. Taison is a considerable blow considering he has a team-high five assists in league play and Marlos plays in the middle of the park in their 4-4-2 set-up. Manager Paulo Fonseca said his team will not deviate from that formation but will be facing their sternest challenge to date considering they have shipped just six goals in league play.

“We will not change the formation no matter what,” Fonseca said at his Monday news conference. “We will play with the same formation that we’ve been using almost from the very beginning of my work at Shakhtar. Taison and Marlos? Yes, we lost two, probably the most important elements of the team. Ismaily’s appearance is also in question. We will try to do with the people we have.”

Regardless of who is supplying the ball, Moraes has been a relentless goal-scorer, with 10 in 11 matches in league play in his first season with Shakhtar after moving from Dynamo in addition to his brace against Lyon. Including Europa League play, Moraes has 13 goals in 26 European matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are prohibitive favourites to return home with all three points at impressive 1/3 odds. There are 21/5 odds for them to get at least one point, while Shakhtar are 15/2 odds to get a shock result and throw the group into further chaos.

Oddsmakers are also expecting Man City to continue their goal-scoring binge from the weekend, with 8/11 odds on a Citizens win with more than 2.5 goals. There also are 19/5 odds on a City victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 count, and 13/2 odds for Donetsk to hold out defensively for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. A victory by the Ukraine side with more than 2.5 goals returns 11/1 odds, and under the 2.5 threshold is 20/1.

Aguero leads a parade of five City players for first-goal options at 14/5 odds. Gabriel Jesus is second at 10/3, just ahead of a well-rested Raheem Sterling (4/1). Wingers Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane round out the top five at 9/2 and 5/1, respectively, to create a 0-1 scoreline. Shakhtar’s top choice is Junior Moraes at 15/2, even with Man City playmaker and just ahead of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva — all of whom are 9/1.

Aguero is better than even money odds to score over the course of 90 minutes at 8/11, as is Jesus (10/11). Sterling is just below that with a 21/20 listing, with Mahrez (13/10) edging out Sane (6/4) for fourth. Moraes again is the top choice for the hosts at 23/10, with Olarenwaju Kayode second with 3/1 odds.

PREDICTION

Is this the match where City put together a full 90-minute Champions League effort? Because frankly, they need it to jump-start their chances to finish atop this group and avoid potential showdowns with the perennial European powers in the knockout round.

One decision that will be interesting to watch pan out was Guardiola leaving Sterling out of Saturday’s romp past Burnley. Considering Sterling had finally ended his goal-scoring drought at the international level for England during the break, it appeared — on the surface at least — to trot him out there at home versus the Clarets and see if he can add to it.

The flip side of that is Guardiola was going to find a way to get De Bruyne some run ahead of this match, which meant Sterling was expendable to a degree. It is not a certainty the Belgian playmaker will get the start for this contest, but the prospects of De Bruyne and David Silva on the wings trying all sorts of passes for Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane to latch onto is tantalising.

But Guardiola was also right to praise his defence after Saturday’s victory, to pump them up ahead of this contest given City’s curious struggles in group play. It is surprising after last season’s quarterfinal exit that they have shut off at times during their first two matches and paid a heavy price in each of them, the win over Hoffenheim notwithstanding.

Shakhtar may be playing to limit the damage without their two playmakers, but they still have a puncher’s chance at home with Moraes, who had scored five goals in his previous four games before being held off the scoresheet against Desna.

Nothing has come easy for City, and there is little reason to believe it will start after a journey of nearly 3,000 kilometres. But this will be a match where City should be able to impose their will through the midfield, especially with De Bruyne back, and return home with three points and perhaps the lead in the group.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Shakhtar Donetsk 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2)
Liverpool (1-0-1) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 — Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)

An integral part of Manchester City’s rise to prominence in the Premier League over the past decade, goalkeeper Joe Hart faces his former team for the first time as Burnley have a tall challenge trying to kick-start their season Saturday against the reigning champions at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Hart made his Manchester City debut in 2006 as a 19-year-old shortly after his signing from League Two side Shrewsbury Town. After a series of loans around England, Hart claimed the No. 1 shirt for City in 2010 after making the England World Cup squad. He quickly commanded the space between the sticks, setting a club record with 29 shutouts in all competitions while winning the Premier League Golden Glove award.

Hart won the award for a second straight season in 2012, capped by Manchester City’s first Premier League title in club history. A second league title followed in 2014 and by the end of the 2014-15 season, he had garnered his fourth Golden Glove. All told, Hart has captured two Premier League titles, two League Cup titles and an FA Cup title in his 10 years manning City’s goal.

With the arrival and revolution of Pep Guardiola in 2016, Hart found himself a man without a goal to defend as the Spaniard wanted goalkeepers capable of playing the ball with their feet in addition to being a shot-stopper. When City reunited Guardiola with Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo that summer, the writing was on the wall as Hart began to look around Europe for a potential loan suitor.

Guardiola and Hart maintained a professional relationship throughout the process. His start in a second-leg Champions League qualifying tie versus Steaua Bucharest in which he served as City captain amounted to a testimonial, and Hart became the first English goalkeeper to sign with a Serie A team since the league’s inception in 1929 when he agreed to go on loan to Torino.

After a middling season in Italy, Hart moved to West Ham last season on long, but he lost the No. 1 job to Adrian during the latter part of last term. Hart and Burnley had a marriage of convenience in August – the Clarets lost No. 1 Nick Pope to a shoulder injury he is still recovering from – and signed Hart on a two-year deal.

The expectation is the City faithful will give Hart a warm reception, a sentiment echoed by Citizens defender Aymeric Laporte.

“He’s a very good goalkeeper and a very good person, too. He was well liked by all the players and I think the supporters of Manchester City love him because of his achievements over the years,” said Laporte, who trained with Hart last summer, to City’s official website. “He trained really well and was very professional during the summer, so it will be nice to see him again and I am sure he will get a fantastic reception when he walks out on Saturday.”

Hart and Guardiola maintained a very professional relationship in the process that led to his departure from Torino, and that professionalism appealed to current Burnley boss Sean Dyche as he scrambled to find a replacement for Pope, who had beaten out Hart for England’s No. 3 spot this summer in Russia.

“He has no point to prove,” Dyche told the BBC. “He just wants to get on with it. For keepers, sometimes what is in front of you helps. He wants a defensive unit he has faith with. I think there is a nice connection here. Possibly other clubs he didn’t find that connection.

“But a lot of credit goes to him for finding his way again.”

That defence has taken a few nicks as veteran left back Stephen Ward will be sidelined after undergoing knee surgery during the international break. James Tarkowski was unable to play for England due to an ankle injury suffered in Burnley’s 1-1 draw versus Huddersfield Town. The centre back – expected to play versus City — is looking forward to the potential return of midfielder Robbie Brady, who could feature in this match after missing the last 10 months with a knee injury, along with fellow playmaker Steven Defour.

“When we were flying at the start of the season those two were on fire,” Tarkowski told the Burnley Express. “It will be nice to get them back involved in the next couple of weeks. It’ll strengthen the squad a bit more and add competition for places throughout the team.”

Manchester City (6-2-0) come out of the break leading Liverpool and Chelsea on goal difference, and they could be taking a huge step closer to full strength for this match. Attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will have a late fitness test to determine his availability and could see his first playing time since suffering a knee injury at practice after City’s season-opening win over Arsenal.

The original target date for the Belgium international’s return was November 11, which is when the Manchester derby will take place against United, but De Bruyne made a late – albeit unsuccessful — push to be among the 18 for City’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool prior to the break.

With this match kicking off a busy stretch of schedule – City have seven games in the next 23 days – De Bruyne’s potential return could not come at a better time as it would allow Guardiola the chance to rest veteran playmaker David Silva, who has played 335 of the last 360 minutes in their last four contests.

Even without De Bruyne’s array of offensive skills – he had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season – Manchester City still have scored a league-best 21 goals while conceding a joint-Premier League low three. Sixty-five of their 174 shots have been on target, not including seven others that struck the woodwork.

Burnley halted a four-match skid to City in all competitions with a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in the most recent meeting last term. The Clarets are 0-2-2 all-time at the Etihad in league play and were also overrun 4-1 there in the third round of the FA Cup in January.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are staggering favourites to stay unbeaten withS a win, getting 1/14 odds to claim all three points. Burnley have 12/1 odds to escape the Etihad with just one point and are 33/1 longshots to become the first Premier League team to win there since Manchester United delayed the inevitable of last season’s title.

The combination of De Bruyne’s potential return and Burnley’s somewhat tattered back line has led oddsmakers to believe there will be goals in this match. City have 3/10 odds to win this match with more than 2.5 goals, and they offer a 15/4 return with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory should Hart make things difficult for his former club.

The odds of a second straight low-scoring draw between the sides checks in with 14/1 odds, while it is almost worth putting a fiver down on a Burnley win just because — the Clarets have 70/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 90/1 for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory.

Sergio Aguero leads a parade of Manchester City options for the first goal of the game at 9/4 odds, edging Gabriel Jesus (3/1) and the trio of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez (4/1). The Silvas — first David (7/1) then Bernardo (15/2) — follow those three, and De Bruyne make an appearance at 15/2. Chris Wood is the 12th-best overall option and top Burnley choice for an 0-1 scoreline at 18/1.

Aguero (4/11), Jesus (6/10), Sterling and Mahrez (10/11) are all better than even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Sane an actual even money pick. De Bruyne moves up to a somewhat surprising 9/5 option, while Wood and Vokes headline the options for the Clarets at 9/2 joint-favourites.

PREDICTION

On the bright side, it will nice to see City supporters give Hart his due for helping raise the profile of the club with a pair of Premier League titles and five overall trophies during his decade between the sticks for the club. He was there Thursday for a quiet ceremony to mark his contributions as the club named a training pitch after him.

And then, the match will begin.

While Hart will be at the center of attention, the player who may command the most attention among his peers is Sterling. After finally ending his scoring drought at the international level with England during the break, that may be the last wall for him to hurdle to continue his progression to being an elite Premier League scorer. He has shown more and more flashes of it in the last season-plus and this could be his time to kick it into that next gear.

Then, of course, there is De Bruyne, who appears to have accelerated the powers of healing and his medical timetable to return to at least be available three weeks before the Manchester derby. The goals and assists numbers, though, only offer a glimpse of what the Belgium international offers City — De Bruyne is the players’ mind Guardiola wants on the pitch — to dare is to dream. He is the one who sees a passing angle almost everyone misses, and more importantly, he is the one with the audacity to try that pass.

Those are the type of plays that make the difference between occasional sluggish draw and grinding out a victory, moments City may need both in the Premier League and in Champions League this year as it appears more likely the Citizens will not canter to a second successive title.

Dyche will have Burnley set in their usual two banks of four, likely to leave Wood or Vokes by their lonesome with a lone attacking midfielder in support, though that will not happen often. While Burnley have claimed seven of their eight points in their last three league matches, four of those points came against two of the most offensively challenged clubs in the top flight in Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town.

Burnley have no such luxury for this contest, and in the end, City’s quality should shine through with a respectful pasting of Hart and the Clarets.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Burnley 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

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

2018 World Cup Preview Match 63 — Belgium vs. England

When Belgium and England played last month to close out Group G, there was nothing on the line. Though third place at the World Cup may feel like little more than nothing, the teams will clash Saturday in St. Petersburg to complete their respective journeys in Russia.

The golden generation of Belgium has pride on the line, looking for its best World Cup finish after losing to France in the third-place match in 1986. Roberto Martinez’s team was on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline in Tuesday’s semifinal, also against France.

The counterattack that served the Red Devils so well in their knockout victories over Japan and Brazil was completely stifled by Les Bleus. Belgium, which entered the match with a World Cup-leading 14 goals, was limited to three shots on target as Toby Alderweireld and Axel Witsel had the side’s best chances on either side of halftime.

Romelu Lukaku, who is tied for second in the race for the Golden Boot with four goals, was starved of service up front and neutralized by France’s central defenders. While he did have an assist against Brazil, Lukaku has furthered a dubious reputation as a flat-track bully by failing to score in all three knockout matches after bagging his braces against Panama and Tunisia in group play.

“I’m proud of the way we performed and of our World Cup,” Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne told FIFA’s official website. “France maybe played a little defensively but the beauty of football is that you can choose the way you want to play. I respect that.

“We feel we’ve given our all and we need to focus on the positives. We’ve got just one wish now: to win a sixth match in Russia so we can go away on holiday even more at peace with ourselves.”

Coach Roberto Martinez, whose tactics succeeded against Brazil, faltered against France in opting for Mousa Dembele as Belgium sorely missed suspended wing back Thomas Meunier in the semifinals. Keeper Thibaut Courtois again did well between the sticks, finishing with four saves, and has made 12 in his last two matches after making 10 in his first four contests.

Of Martinez’s first-choice XI, at least five players could be making their final World Cup appearance, most notably talisman and central defender Vincent Kompany. Alderweireld, Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and Jan Vertonghen also could all be marking their international farewell with this match, though all five could also be in Martinez’s plans for the 2020 European Championship.

As Belgium begins a cycle of transition to some of its younger players to build around the axis of Lukaku, De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, England is looking to take one last positive from an overachieving World Cup experience. The Three Lions, the second-youngest team in terms of experience in Russia, have brought a renewed sense of optimism to a fan base that had come to expect — and endure — the worst over the past 20-plus years.

Gareth Southgate’s team has an incredibly quick turnaround following its heart-breaking 2-1 defeat in extra time to Croatia on Wednesday. Kieran Trippier gave the Three Lions the lead in the fifth minute with a sumptuous free kick, but the fearlessness of youth finally gave way to the nerves of the moment.

The lack of a true playmaking midfielder doomed England, who did not have a shot on frame for 94 minutes after Trippier’s goal. There was much for the Three Lions to rue in that short time frame after the final whistle Wednesday and kickoff Saturday as both Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard spurned chances with the opportunity to double England’s lead in the first half.

Then there were the split-second moments and decisions that led to Croatia’s two goals — Kyle Walker going too low on his headed clearance that allowed Ivan Perisic to score the tying goal in the 68th minute and John Stones’ brief lapse that let Mario Mandzukic ghost behind him for the match-winner 11 minutes from time.

Still, considering the low expectations England faced considering its 2014 group play exit and embarrassing loss to Iceland two summers ago in the round of 16 in the European Championships, this stirring run to the semifinals and an opportunity to play a seventh match at the World Cup was more than anyone could have projected.

“It shows we can be up there,” Kane said. “It shows we can win knockout games, it shows we can get to the semi-finals. It’s a great foundation we have built over the last couple of years with the gaffer, and we’ve just got to carry that on. We are proud of what we’ve achieved, but we want more. We’re sad that we couldn’t give the fans here and back home a Final.

“It’s tough. We’re gutted, you know. We worked so hard. I’m sure there was stuff we could have done better, but we worked as hard as we could. It hurts, it’ll hurt for a while, but we can hold our heads up high.

While the match gives both Martinez and Southgate another chance to again use their reserves as a reward working hard at practice, one regular who wants no part of the bench is England keeper Jordan Pickford. The Everton No. 1 was one of England’s top players in the knockout matches and wants his 11th cap.

“Hopefully I will get the nod against Belgium. I’d love to be the goalkeeper of the tournament,” Pickford told The Sun. “We came to win this tournament and we can’t do that now but we want to finish third. It will be a tough test against Belgium — again.

“It will be hard to get ourselves up for it. That’s where character comes in. It’s a chance to show our togetherness. We want to finish a great tournament on a high.”

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Belgium
June 18 — Belgium 3, Panama 0 (Mertens 47′, Lukaku 69′, 75′)
June 23 — Belgium 5, Tunisia 2 (Hazard 6′ (PK), Lukaku 16′, Bronn 18′, Lukaku 45+3′, Hazard 51, Batshuayi 90′, Khazri 90+3′)
June 28 — Belgium 1, England 0 (Januzaj 51′)
July 2 — Belgium 3, Japan 2 (Haraguchi 48′, Inui 52′, Vertonghen 69′, Fellaini 74′, Chadli 90+4′)
July 6 — Belgium 2, Brazil 1 (Fernandinho 13′ (og), De Bruyne 31′, Augusto 76′)
July 10 — Belgium 0, France 1 (Umtiti 51′)

England
June 18 — England 2, Tunisia 1 (Kane 11′, Sassi 35′ (PK), Kane 90+1′)
June 24 — England 6, Panama 1 (Stones 8′, Kane 22′ (PK), Lingard 36′, Stones 40′, Kane 45+1′ (PK), Kane 62′, Baloy 78′)
June 28 — England 0, Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51′)
July 3 — England 1, Colombia 1 (Kane 57′ (PK), Mina 90+3′) (England wins 4-3 on PKs)
July 7 — England 2, Sweden 0 (Maguire 30′, Alli 59′)
July 11 — England 1, Croatia 2 a.e.t. (Trippier 5′, Perisic 68′, Mandzukic 109′)

FORMATIONS

It’s uncertain whether Martinez will overhaul his lineup for this match considering he already did in the group match. The hedge is he will at least give Lukaku a chance to try and catch Kane for the Golden Boot and include him in the starting XI. That leads to the belief Belgium’s primary attacking trio of Lukaku, De Bruyne and Hazard will be out there at the start.

Meunier likely will be restored to the starting lineup since he’s the freshest player of either team after serving his yellow-card ban in the quarterfinals. It would not be surprising to see Dedryck Boyata in central defense, but the hedge is Martinez will use this match as a farewell for his stars.

Southgate will probably have a mix of his starters and substitutes, though Trippier is almost certain to miss this match after having suffered a lower-body injury in the final minutes of extra time in the loss to Croatia. It’s also possible Eric Dier could start in central midfield after Jordan Henderson ran himself into the ground in five of the six matches for the Three Lions.

Like Lukaku, there is an expectation Kane will at least be out there for the start to let him try and hunt out a seventh goal that would set an England record at a single World Cup. The one area of intrigue would be playing youngsters Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold together again like Southgate did in group play.

INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES

Meunier is available after serving his one-match ban, and while it is not definite, Trippier is likely the only person on either side who is not expected to play due to his injury. England striker Jamie Vardy was fit enough to play the final eight minutes after missing the Colombia match with a groin injury.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium — Romelu Lukaku (F)

After a frustrating match against France, Lukaku has one last chance to pip Kane for the Golden Boot. His assist against Brazil secured the Silver Boot since he is the only player among fellow four-goal scorers Denis Cheryshev (Russia) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). If Lukaku fails to score in this match, France’s Antoine Griezmann could claim second with a goal since he has two assists.

England — Jordan Pickford (GK)

Pickford came to Russia with just four caps and plenty of question marks. He will leave this World Cup as a world-class keeper and full of confidence ahead of returning to Everton for the upcoming Premier League season. Only France’s Hugo Lloris has had a better overall run in the knockout stages between the sticks, and Pickford has answered the call in crucial moments time and again for the Three Lions.

The fact he wants to start this match bodes well for Southgate as Pickford wants a stranglehold on the No. 1 shirt as England begins its next cycle — the 2020 European Championships.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

1954 (Switzerland) GS — England 4, Belgium 4 a.e.t. (Anoul 5′, Broadis 26′, Lofthouse 36′, Broadis 63′, Coppens 67′, Anoul 71′, Lofthouse 91′, Dickinson 94′ (og))
1990 (Italy) R/16 — England 1, Belgium 0 a.e.t. (Platt 119‘)
2018 (Russia) GS — England 0, Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51′)

Belgium’s victory in Kaliningrad last month was just its third in 22 all-time matches (3-4-15) versus England and its first in three World Cup matches (1-1-1). The previous two World Cup matches came in 1954 and 1990 — the first being a wild 4-4 draw in group play in Switzerland in which an own goal by England’s James William Dickinson in the 94th minute was the equalizer.

The teams meet again in Italy 36 years later, with England winning 1-0 after extra time in the round of 16 as David Platt’s superb volley on a free kick from Paul Gascoigne in the 119th minute spared the Three Lions potential misery in penalties.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Belgium is a firm favorite with 23/20 odds, while England is listed as a 9/4 underdog. Bettors do not seem too keen on the match ending in a draw and going to penalties as the listed odds are 27/10.

Punters are also expecting goals in this contest as two and three-goal totals are joint-favorites at 3/1, and a four-goal outcome is listed at 4/1. For first goal-scorers, Kane nudges out Lukaku as favorite with 10/3 odds, while Lukaku is 4/1. Michy Batshuayi is third on the list at 9/2 odds while Hazard and Vardy are joint-fourth at 11/2.

PREDICTION

It’s the match nobody wants to play yet both Belgium and England will be keen on exiting Russia on an up note. It is the first rematch in a World Cup since 2002, when Brazil beat Turkey in the semifinals after doing so in group play. It is the fifth time overall since 1962, with Brazil involved in three previous instances.

Everything about predicting what could happen in this match is a crapshoot give the emotional hangover of losing a World Cup semifinal, more so for England considering the Three Lions have a shorter turnaround and had the more excruciating defeat by losing in extra time.

You expect professionalism on both sides, and with so many players familiar with one another playing in England’s Premier League, there should be enough motivation to avoid being needled on the club training grounds to put forth such an effort. In the last third-place game in 2014, host Brazil’s hangover from its 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany most certainly carried into its 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands.

Last month’s group stage closer saw 17 of the 22 starters on the bench for the opening kickoff. It would seem likely that number will be significantly less while still operating with a noticeable mix of holdovers and reserves.

At the very least, the hope is both teams pick out their star strikers to try and help their cause to win the Golden Boot. Both Kane and Lukaku were spectators in Belgium’s 1-0 victory, and while Kane may be the more tired of the pair given his 120-minute effort versus Croatia, the Three Lions talisman undoubtedly will give it his all should Southgate ask him to lead the line.

In the end, though, look for Belgium to aggressively pour forward and while England may have more opportunities to counter than it did in last month’s 1-0 loss, it may also be picked apart more by a higher-quality Red Devils side.

PREDICTION: Belgium 3, England 2

UP NEXT

England’s first Nations League match will be at home against Spain on Sept. 8, while Belgium’s first match in the new UEFA set-up will be Sept. 11 at Iceland.

2018 World Cup Recap Match 61 — France 1, Belgium 0 (July 10)

Samuel Umtiti’s header in the 51st minute and massive play in central defense powered France to its first World Cup final appearance in 12 years as Les Bleus stifled Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday in St. Petersburg in the first of the two semifinals.

It will be the third final for France, which won it all at home in 1998 and lost to Italy on penalties in 2006. It is also the fifth major tournament final in the last 20 years for Les Bleus, who won the 2000 European Championship and reached the final two years ago as hosts.

Manager Didier Deschamps moved one step closer to being the third person along with German legend Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo to win the World Cup as both player and manager, having served as the captain of the 1998 squad and overhauling a talented yet mercurial side since his appointment in 2012.

His young charges — the second-youngest of the 32 sides in Russia — have matured with each passing match, working as a cohesive unit since Deschamps’ tactical switch to introduce Olivier Giroud as a target forward and switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation late in France’s lethargic win over Australia to open play in Russia.

It was a crushing end for Belgium’s golden generation, which was the only team to have won all five of its matches in Russia before being denied its first World Cup final. Roberto Martinez’s team was unable to provide consistent service to striker Romelu Lukaku, as France’s central defense pairing of Umtiti and Raphael Varane did the heavy lifting but got plenty of help from everyone as stars Giroud and Paul Pogba tracked back into their own penalty area.

France awaits the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Croatia and England for Sunday’s final in Moscow and Luzhniki Stadium. Belgium will remain in St. Petersburg to face the loser of that contest Saturday for third.

Each team made one change from their quarterfinal starting lineups. Martinez continued his bold personnel and tactical approach for Belgium, introducing Moussa Dembele as his replacement for the suspended Thomas Meunier and pushing Jan Vertonghen wide left in a four-man back.

Deschamps restored Blaise Matuidi back to central midfield after he served a one-match ban for yellow cards and dropped Corentin Tolisso.

The first 10 minutes of the match played out predictably of two teams in the first of the two World Cup semifinals — cagey and conservative. Belgium had a long spell of possession in that span, kicking the ball around to see how France’s defense would stretch or, in this case, scale back into two banks.

Les Bleus, though, showed what they were capable of through the counter, with Pogba sending a through ball just beyond the haring Kylian Mbappe as Thibaut Courtois slid out to the top of the penalty area to intervene.

The first real scoring chance of the match came to Eden Hazard on the stroke of the quarter-hour when he fizzed a shot wide of the right post after a smart flick into the penalty area on the left by Kevin De Bruyne.

Matuidi arrowed a 20-yard shot right at Courtois in the 18th minute, but Belgium then started a wave of attack on France. Varane made a vital headed clearance on a cross by Hazard intended for Marouane Fellaini, flicking it just over the cross bar to concede a corner Lloris aggressively punched away.

A second corner given in similar circumstances nearly resulted in Belgium taking the lead on 22 minutes, but Lloris delivered his second world-class save in as many matches, diving at full stretch to his right to push Tottenham Hotspur club teammate Toby Alderweireld’s shot from 15 yards around the right post.

France’s central defenders remained busy, with Umtiti making a vital clearance of a low cross by De Bruyne on the left with Lukaku lurking at the far post in the 28th minute.

Giroud put a stooping header wide of the right post on 31 minutes after a cross by Benjamin Pavard. Two minutes later, Antoine Griezmann should have done better from 20 yards unchallenged to the left of the D after stepping around Axel Witsel but blazed his right-footed attempt over the bar.

Les Bleus were now in the ascendancy, with Giroud failing to find his feet to cleanly connect on a cross from Mbappe and Griezmann dragging a left-footed shot wide of the right post from 20 yards. In the 40th minute, they had their best scoring opportunity, with Mbappe slipping Pavard through on the right, but Courtois got his right foot to the sharp-angled shot and sent it wide of the left post.

Pogba drew a foul on Dembele in a dangerous area 25 yards out on the right, but Griezmann smacked his free kick into Belgium’s four-man wall.

The start of the second half resembled the first, with the Red Devils on the front foot. There was some Manchester United on Manchester United crime in the 49th minute when Pogba cleared out a looping cross intended for Fellaini in the penalty area. De Bruyne nearly picked out Lukaku, but the pass was intercepted.

Kompany did well to block Giroud’s spin-and-shoot attempt from 15 yards, but France took the lead on the corner the Belgium defender conceded on that play. Umtiti flashed to the near post, beating Fellaini and meeting Griezmann’s in-swinger from the right with a glancing header from inside the six-yard box.

It was Umtiti’s third goal in 24 international appearances and first in a competitive match. It was also Griezmann’s second assist in Russia to go with his three goals.

Les Bleus kept their foot on the accelerator as Matuidi drew a foul on Dembele just outside the left elbow of the penalty area, but Griezman’s left-footed cross went unanswered. Mbappe launched another counter down the right flank and picked out Matuidi in the middle, but his shot was blocked by Alderweireld.

France should have made it 2-0 in the 57th minute, but a last-gasp block by Dembele on a shot by Giroud from six yards after an outrageous backheel by Mbappe kept Belgium in the contest, though just barely.

Martinez’s experiment with Dembele ended on the hour as he introduced Dries Mertens and dropped De Bruyne into a playmaking pocket in the middle. Belgium created a turnover in the France final third, but Pogba flew into the area to prevent De Bruyne from getting a clean shot on a poor headed clearance attempt by Varane after Mertens sent a cross in from the right.

Nacer Chadli did well to earn a corner on the right in the 63rd minute, but his low out-swinger failed to threaten, and Hazard was forced into a professional foul on Matuidi and earned the first yellow card of the contest from referee Andres Cunha.

Mertens may have mishit a cross from the right in the 65th minute, but it caught Lloris in two minds as he was forced to punch it away. Mertens quickly sent in another effort that Fellaini headed downward from 12 yards wide of the right post as it looked like another United training ground practice drill with Pogba in coverage.

Mbappe began another counter in the 67th minute, skipping out of De Bruyne’s tackle and taking off down the right side before picking out Griezmann with a cross-pitch pass. He laid it off for Giroud, but the target striker was anything but as he went well over the bar from 20 yards.

Belgium began to feel the urgency of the moment as both Mertens and Vertonghen had crosses go begging, with Pogba eager to use his 6-foot-3 frame to help the clearing cause.

Alderweireld was booked in the 70th minute with another professional foul to blunt a France counter, with Belgium continuing to try and play narrow first before trying wide. Les Bleus were now content to sit back and soak up Belgium’s pressure, though Witsel was fortunate not to be added to the bookings list after cutting down Griezmann from behind to start the final quarter-hour.

De Bryune found a small pocket of space on a pass from Hazard, but the Man City star could not get over the ball and send his left-footed shot high and wide in the 76th minute.

Martinez made his second substitution in the 80th minute, sacrificing Fellaini for Yannick Carrasco after Pogba’s flick-on of Griezmann’s free kick went over the bar.

Cunha waved play on despite Giroud body-blocking Hazard just above the penalty area right in front of him, not even giving Belgium a play-on advantage. Hazard tried to storm into the penalty area after rounding Pogba but was taken off the ball by Varane.

The ball, though, rolled to Witsel, who lashed a slicing shot from 25 yards Lloris strongly punched clear. Play had to be stopped momentarily after Hazard and Matuidi had a crunching collision that Matuidi got the worse off as Hazard’s hips hit Matuidi’s ribs.

Deschamps finally made his first swap in the 85th minute, bringing in Steven N’Zonzi for Giroud. Matuidi never fully recovered from his collision with Hazard and signaled to come off, dropping to the pitch to make sure play was stopped before Tolisso entered in the 86th minute.

Chadli sent in a dangerous cross from the right in the 87th minute France cleared. Kante was booked for a foul on Hazard, who worked hard to draw the infraction on his Chelsea teammate. De Bruyne stood over it from 30 yards on the left and looped it into the six-yard area where it was deflected by N’Zonzi and Varane before getting cleared.

The ball recycled back to De Bruyne, whose ball over the top for Lukaku was just beyond the striker’s reach after it had cleared Umtiti. The fourth official signaled six minutes of stoppage time, which Pogba started by drawing a foul on Chadli deep in Belgium’s end.

Martinez’s final roll of the dice came with Michy Batshuayi entering for Chadli. Mbappe was given a yellow card for egregiously time-wasting. A turnover gave France a chance to kill off the match as Pogba sent a lateral pass to Griezmann, but Courtois got down quickly to smother his shot from the top of the penalty area.

Mbappe then had a chance to take a shot, but Kompany dispossessed him in a 1-on-1 situation to start another Belgium counter. A cross for Lukaku went unanswered, and Vertonghen picked up a yellow for fouling Mbappe. France continued to seal Belgium out of its final third and spent almost as much time in attack.

Courtois again kept it a one-goal game in the 96th minute, stabbing Tolisso’s right-footed shot around the right post and conceding a corner. Pogba did well to bleed the final few seconds off the match, and shortly after losing it by the flag, Cunha blew his whistle to send Les Bleus back to the World Cup final for the first time in 12 years.