Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Hoffenheim 1899 (0-1-0, 0, 2-2) vs. Manchester City (0-0-1, -1, 1-2)

Jolted back to reality after their shocking home loss to Lyon a fortnight ago to open Champions League group play, a relatively well-rested Manchester City side look to make things right and get back into the thick of the Group F race Tuesday when they face Bavarian side Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After many pundits figured City would walk through a group that featured relatively unassuming opponents in the French side, Ukraine club Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenehim, Lyon turned all those projections upside down with a 2-1 victory at the Etihad.

The defeat left the Citizens looking up at the rest of the group while Guardiola looked on from the stands that day, serving his one-match touchline ban for his dismissal in the second leg of last season’s quarterfinal loss to Liverpool.

“We have five finals ahead in the group stages,” Guardiola said at his Monday news conference in Germany. “In the Champions League, we don’t have time to lose a lot of games. Tomorrow is the first final.

“We need to review the game against Lyon. Maybe in the first half, we were not like we normally are. It’s the Champions League so all of the teams are good. I give credit to the opponents.”

English opponents bore the brunt of City’s frustration in the interim as the reigning Premier League champions scored 10 goals without reply in league victories over lightweights Cardiff City and Brighton and Hove Albion around an easy Carabao Cup triumph over League Two side Oxford United.

Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero scored the goals for Manchester City in their 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, but the bigger surprise was Leroy Sane cracking the starting XI and creating all sorts of havoc on the left flank. The surprise omission from the Germany World Cup squad set up Sterling’s goal just before the half-hour with a lovely cross that Sterling needed only to tap home from the doorstep to open the scoring.

There are some concerns about Aguero’s availability since the Argentina international was lifted in the second half as a precaution due to a knock. Oleksander Zinchenko is expected to complete a rare treble of playing in the Carabao Cup, Premier League and Champions League in successive matches as the left backs ahead of him on the depth chart — Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph — were not included on City’s traveling roster.

Central defenders John Stones and Vincent Kompany should be well-rested after being held out of the win over Brighton. Sane will likely return to the bench, with Riyad Mahrez expected to be restored on the left wing as City look to start moving beyond a Champions League stretch that has seen them win just one of their last six matches in continental play.

Hoffenheim are off to an uneven start in the Bundesliga, currently in 12th place with seven points through six matches while scoring and conceding 10 goals. Die Kraichgauer had a three-match winning streak in all competitions end over the weekend with a 2-1 loss at home to RB Leipzig.

The match had an interesting side angle since it was played between manager Julian Nagelsmann’s current team and the one the 31-year-old will take over in the 1919-20 season after accepting the job in June. Andrej Kramaric helped Hoffenheim avoid a shutout with a stoppage-time penalty after Youssef Poulsen struck for a second-half brace for the visitors.

“I can live with the result reasonably because of the second half,” Nagelmann told Heidelberg24. “But I think we had the better and clearer chances, so a draw would have been definitely worth it.”

Defender and talisman Kevin Vogt is not expected to play after sitting out Sunday’s defeat due to injury, but Nagelmann is optimistic his team’s play in the second half in terms of creating chances offensively will bode well for Hoffenheim in this contest.

“Kevin Vogt thought he might have been okay after the game on Saturday, but the doctor took a lot of fluid out of the muscle and he’s out,”  Nagelsmann told AFP.

This will be just Hoffenheim’s third match at home this term, having beaten FC Freiburg 3-1 on Sept. 1 and playing Borussia Dortmund to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 22. Joelinton and Adam Szalai have combined for seven goals across all competitions, with the target forward and Hungary international Szalai looking to end a seven-match goalless drought since a brace against Freiburg.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are solid 1/3 favourites to level their record and return to England with three points. The odds of a draw at 17/4 are slightly better than Hoffenheim protecting its home pitch and taking all three points at 13/2.

Oddsmakers are also counting on goals to be scored as a City victory with more than 2.5 goals is a runaway favourite with 7/10 odds. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the visitors returns 4/1 odds, while a draw under 2.5 goals is at 7/1. The odds of a 2-2 draw and higher or Hoffenheim victory over 2.5 goals are 11/1, while a defensive stalemate in which the German side wins is a distant 22/1 longshot.

Aguero leads the line for first-goal choices at 14/5, slightly better than teammate Gabriel Jesus (16/5). Sterling rounds out the top three at 7/2, followed by fellow City attacking players Mahrez (9/2) and Sane (5/1). One has to scroll down to ninth to find the first Hoffenheim options, which are Kramaric and Joelinton at 10/1.

Aguero, Jesus, and Sterling are all better than even money odds to find the back of the net, with odds of 4/6, 5/6, and 19/20, respectively. Mahrez edges out Sane for third at 13/10, just ahead of the German who is 7/5. On the Hoffenheim side, Kramaric edges out Joelinton as the top choice, with the Croatian getting 11/4 odds compared to Joelinton’s 13/5.

PREDICTION

Beyond working out the frustration of their surprising loss to Lyon, that defeat can also be chalked up to as much as Guardiola not being on the touch line for that match as much as it was Lyon playing above themselves and keeping City well-contained. But this should be a bounce-back match for Guardiola, returning to a country where he enjoyed his time while at Bayern Munich and winning everything but the Champions League.

It will be interesting to see if Guardiola rewards Sane with a second straight start at the expense of Mahrez after his impressive performance against Brighton. The Germany international brings a wealth of pace, though Mahrez’s playmaking skills may be the better option to set up Sterling and Aguero in a three-quarters role on his favoured left side.

This is not exactly a free shot for Hoffenheim despite getting a draw in their group opener at Shakhtar Donetsk, but a loss is not going to be the end of the world in terms of advancement hopes. The German side have yet to record a clean sheet in any match this term, and not having Vogt in the centre of the back line as he continues to be sidelined with a thigh injury is a huge blow.

City would like to get Aguero going. The South American striker has seven goals in 10 Champions League matches against German teams, but six of them have come in two home matches — in 2014 versus Bayern Munich and in 2016 versus Borussia Monchengladbach. Aguero likely will not need a hat trick for a City victory in this match, but a brace would most assuredly see them through for three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Hoffenheim 0, MANCHESTER CITY 2

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (1-0-0) vs. Valencia (0-0-1)

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 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