2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

The cauldron that is Anfield burned Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in their Champions League quarterfinal tie last April, leaving the biggest blot on their historically unprecedented season of Premier League dominance.

The reigning champions return to Liverpool on Sunday, perhaps at full strength, as they look to exorcise the demons their closest pursuers have unleashed upon them in recent matchups.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

“We won the last three games against City – twice in the Champions League and once in the league. After none of these games do you go into the dressing room and think, ‘Now we’ve got it, now we know how to beat Manchester City,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told the club’s official website.

“There is no real way; there isn’t one thing you have to do so you can beat them. That’s not there. You need a fantastic football team – which I have, thank God – with an outstanding character, ready for being really brave, ready for making mistakes in a very difficult game against an outstanding opponent.”

Both teams have taken 19 of a possible 21 points through their first seven matches, with City leading on goal difference. Though third-place Chelsea have been surprising interlopers early, Guardiola’s Citizens and Klopp’s Reds have given every indication they will be the last two standing to lift the Premier League trophy come May.

And head-to-head, Liverpool have had the upper hand of late. The Reds dealt City three of their seven losses across all competitions last season, including a 4-3 victory at Anfield that was also Guardiola’s first league loss. But the other two also stand out, as Liverpool advancing 5-1 on aggregate was a key part of their runners-up finish to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

The first leg, also played at Anfield, was everything about the heritage Liverpool have as five-time European champions and everything Manchester City desire by claiming “Ol’ Big Ears” for the first time to validate the estimated £1.3 billion in player signings since Sheikh Mansour bought the team a decade ago.

The white-hot intensity started before City even arrived on the grounds as their coach was pelted by Liverpool supporters en route. Guardiola then made two of the few – but most certainly his biggest since his arrival — mistakes in tactics and lineups as he left ex-Liverpool attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling on the bench for deep-lying Ilkay Gundogan and started a still untested Aymeric Laporte at left back with Reds striker Mohamed Salah ready to pounce.

Liverpool blazed a trail of carnage through City’s half as Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all scored in the first 31 minutes, and they protected the 3-0 scoreline. City were unable to overturn the deficit the following week at the Etihad, losing 2-1, and were left to take out their frustrations on the Premier League – their sole consolation reaching 100 points in their final match.

Since that meeting, Liverpool have only gotten stronger by taking a page from City’s playbook and spending lavishly the last two seasons. Alisson has been worth every bit the £56 million from AS Roma, while the patience of waiting a year for midfielder Naby Keita has also paid dividends.

Virgil van Dijk has been a towering presence in central defence since his January arrival for £75 million, and while Klopp has brought along £44 million signing Fabinho slowly, all the pieces are in place for Liverpool to win their first title since 1990.

Just don’t expect them to say they will continue dominating Manchester City while trying to do it.

“It’s a new season,” left back Andy Robertson said. “Last season we did very well against them. The two quarter-finals were very good, especially at home when we went 3-0 up. We did get one over on them last season but they ended up with the Premier League and that’s what everyone strives for.

“They are the champions and they’ll have a game plan. But hopefully our game plan is better on the day.”

The plan will certainly need to be better than the one Wednesday, when Liverpool had a true clunker and lost 1-0 in Champions League play at Italian side Napoli. In contrast to the loss and draw, respectively, last week versus Chelsea in which both high-quality matches turned on moments of individual brilliance, Klopp’s team were lacklustre throughout and failed to register a shot on target before conceding in the 90th minute.

The loss again raised concerns about Salah’s form as the Egypt international has gone four matches without a goal in all competitions. He has only three goals in 10 matches, but with goals in all three wins over City last season, Klopp is optimistic the goals will flow soon.

“I am completely relaxed,” the German said. “I didn’t say Mo should relax because he has to work hard, but that’s what he is doing. It is a completely normal situation, nothing to worry about and I am relaxed about it.”

Liverpool have conceded just three goals in league play and have not been scored upon in Anfield since February, a stretch of 751 minutes.

City, though, may have all hands on deck to break that run as attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and left back Benjamin Mendy practised this week. De Bruyne, who had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season, has been sidelined with a knee injury suffered in practice after City’s season-opening victory. Mendy has missed the last six games with a knee injury after registering four assists in the first four matches.

Guardiola’s team have won four on the bounce since their surprising home loss to Lyon to open Champions League group play, and they scrambled to rally past Hoffenheim 2-1 on Tuesday. David Silva bagged the winner on 87 minutes, but Sergio Aguero’s equaliser in the eighth was also vital as City conceded almost right after kickoff.

Guardiola, though, thinks his defence will be key to maintaining their unbeaten start in the Premier League, which makes sense considering Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino accounted for seven of the nine Liverpool goals last term.

“The big difference is how many times you lose the ball,” the Spaniard noted to City’s official website. “In Champions League games, they didn’t lose the ball. These guys are so dangerous and connect between them – Mane and Salah love running behind and they do it really well.

“We have to defend, but not in the approach play because it’s boring and we have to be ourselves. In this type of game, we must be ourselves. They are good and even though we are City and a good team, they also do many good things. To minimise those three players on Sunday, we have to attack and be as good as possible.”

Aguero has a team-high six goals, with three coming in the last four matches. Both Sterling and Leroy Sane have used their pace to terrorise opposing defenders on the flanks, combining for a goal and six assists in that stretch. City lead the Premier League with 21 goals – six more than Liverpool — but also have matched the Reds with just three conceded and carry a 330-minute shutout streak in league play dating back to their 2-1 victory over Newcastle United on Sept. 1.

Anfield, though, has been a house of horrours for Manchester City, who have failed to record a clean sheet there in the Premier League era. They have lost six on the bounce in all competitions and are winless in their last 15 league visits (0-4-11). City’s lone victory in 23 trips to Liverpool (1-6-16) in the Premier League era was a 2-1 victory in 2003 when Nicolas Anelka completed a brace in the 94th minute.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while the reigning champions are 17/10 underdogs to bring all three points back to the blue side of Manchester and grab sole possession of first. The odds of the teams moving together to 20 points into the international break are 5/2.

Befitting the quality of these two sides, there is little separating them in terms of odds. A Liverpool win with more than 2.5 goals is the top choice at 12/5, closely followed by a City win over 2.5 (14/5). There is also respect for both teams’ defences, as a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is pulling down 21/5 odds, shorter than a low-scoring Liverpool victory (11/2) or a Man City one (13/2).

Despite his recent drough, Salah is still the top choice to score the first goal of the match at 4/1, though Aguero is riding hot on his heels at 9/2. A pair of understudy forwards — Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool and Gabriel Jesus for City — are second at 11/2, while Sterling, Firmino and Mane ate all 13/2. Two more expected reserves — City’s Riyad Mahrez and Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri are 7/1 and 8/1, respectively, while Sane could be a sleeper pick at 9/1 for the first goal.

Salah (5/4) and Aguero (13/10) also lead the way to find the back of the net over the 90 minutes, while Sturridge and Jesus are the only other players with shorter than 2/1 odds to score at 17/10. Sterling, Firmino and Mane are at the aforementioned 2/1, with Mahrez just off the trio at 21/10. Though he has practised this week, De Bruyne was not on the board for scoring in the 90 minutes as of late Friday night Chicago time.

PREDICTION

There are so many directions to break down this match, from how the four wide backs are going to stop the opposing attacks, to De Bruyne and Mendy’s potential retrun (This space believes Mendy will start at left back and De Bruyne will be among the reseves) to potentially Dejan Lovren and van Dijk being paired in central defence for the first time this season (This space believes it will happen) to who Guardiola selects in midfield along with Fernandinho and David Silva (Gundogan is the frontrunner, edging out Bernardo Silva) to whether Keita is healthy enough to play (yes) to even whether Klopp puts Fabinho among his reserves or even starts him over Keita.

And exhale.

If there was one surprise that came out of Liverpool’s last three matches, it was not the lack of victory — that happens to every team at some point — but the fact Liverpool looked tired against Naples. The Reds deserved to lose that match, but not because they were looking ahead to this one. They were simply second-best.

On the other side, Guardiola seems to have come to grips with the fact City cannot match the numbers they put up last season in recording 100 points in the Premier League and winning 32 matches and losing only two. Yet their Champions League struggles in a group they were supposed to run roughshod on has been puzzling. Whether it’s City playing down to Lyon and Hoffenheim or the two sides playing above themselves and making City graft, this is the match where the Citizens could be found out if they do not get stuck in from kickoff.

The place where City can win this match is in the midfield by holding possession. Guardiola was absolutely correct in saying Liverpool did not lose the ball in that first-leg Champions League tie, but one of Klopp’s strategies was to let City have the ball because Liverpool’s midfield is not creative on the ball. That is hidden by the high press into forcing opponents into mistakes, where the transition relies on fewer passes and more pace to create scoring opportunities.

Another facet of their game City would be well-served to utilise is Ederson’s long-range distribution. There are few — as in, count on one hand — who can deliver pinpoint sidewinders covering more than half the pitch like the Brasil international, and even if City lose possession on the first ball or the second ball, Ederson can send that initial long-range kick to areas of minimal danger if Liverpool do recover possession.

The slight public chafe Guardiola has had about Liverpool having City’s number last term probably is far greater in private because that’s who he is, a relentless perfectionist. He has achieved one of the things he set out to do when he arrived on the blue side of this city three seasons ago and evolved English football from blood and thunder to something a little more graceful.

Not that City lack the steel to go with their silk — Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho are a formidable spine, and Stones is getting up to speed in that regard — but the Citizens are still the reigning champions and Guardiola’s hunger to be European champions en route to another title is a strong galvanising force.

Liverpool may have found that matching steel with Alisson and van Dijk, and it will be curious to see if Klopp trusts Lovren in such a big spot with only 90 minutes of football under his belt. Gomez has rarely put a wrong foot forward in central defence, but City are unlike few sides in the world, and having two of Europe’s best central defenders available means you use two of Europe’s best central defenders.

If Liverpool are able to keep their offensive thrust narrow through Mane, Firmino and Salah, there is a strong likelihood they will continue their winning ways at Anfield and extend City’s misery. But if City can ping the ball wide to either Sane or Sterling to let them attack Liverpool’s wide backs and stretch that back four, then the reigning champions could finally come through with three points and an end to the hoodoo at the Kop.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIVERPOOL 2, Manchester City 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)

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)

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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 4, Lyon 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

Young Boys vs. Manchester United

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Manchester City (3-1-0) vs. Fulham (1-1-2)

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

As group play in the Champions League beckons, Pep Guardiola and reigning champions Manchester City come out of the international break looking to finalise their rotations for league and continental play starting with Saturday’s match versus Fulham at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

City (3-1-0) were given a fairly easy draw to begin their bid for European glory, which starts Wednesday at home versus French side Lyon. In domestic play, the reigning Premier League champions enter the fifth match day in fourth place – two points off the 100 percent pace set by Liverpool, resurgent Chelsea and upstart Watford – but save injured star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, everyone is healthy as the chase resumes.

“I’m not sure if this is the best start of a season for me, but it’s the best I’ve felt in years,” said striker Sergio Aguero, who underwent knee surgery late last season, to the club’s official website. “It shows in my game. The challenge now is keeping up this level, and I’ll be working nonstop to maintain it.”

Aguero, already City’s all-time leading scorer with 204 goals, followed up his brace in the Community Shield win over Chelsea by scoring three goals in the team’s first four league matches. The Argentina international enjoyed plenty of success when Fulham were in the top flight previously, totaling four goals and one assist in four matches from 2011-13.

“Here’s hoping my good run continues against them – but I remember them all being tough matches,” Aguero noted. “They impressed me last season and went on a long unbeaten run and have started this season well. We’ll keep focused, we’ll stay true to our game, and we’ll aim for the win as we always do.”

Aguero and Gabriel Jesus will likely lead the line for City considering they have been on the field together for seven of the team’s 11 goals. The team’s Brasilian contingent of players – Jesus, keeper Ederson, out-of-favour holding midfielder Fernandinho and fullback Danilo – were all left off the national team’s roster for friendlies against the United States and El Salvador and should be fully rested.

Danilo has yet to feature for City this season after being sidelined with a foot injury in training with the Selecao ahead of the World Cup. He has been practising with the first team this week, giving Guardiola depth behind Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker on either flank.

Raheem Sterling is in contention to start after his early withdrawal from the England national team during the break due to a back injury. Sterling, who has two goals in three matches for City, pulled out of the matches against Spain and Switzerland as a precautionary measure.

Fulham (1-1-2) are one of three teams on four points, trailing Southampton on goal difference for 12th place. The Cottagers are unbeaten in their last three matches across all competitions but threw away a two-goal lead before the international break as they were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Cottagers had five players on international duty during the break, with central striker Aleksander Mitrovic continuing his blistering form with a brace for Serbia in their 2-2 draw against Romania in UEFA Nations League play Monday night.

Mitrovic shares the Premier League scoring lead with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane on four goals, bagging all of them in Fulham’s last three league contests. Since his arrival on loan from Newcastle in January to help the Cottagers win promotion – a deal made permanent ahead of this term – Mitrovic has 16 goals in 22 league matches.

At the other end of the pitch, keeper Marcus Bettinelli appears to have claimed Fulham’s No. 1 shirt and is coming off his first international call-up with England. Bettinelli missed the start of the season due to injury, and while he has allowed four goals in his two starts, Fulham have claimed four points.

Coach Slavisa Jokanovic had the team train in Spain during the international break, and the biggest takeaway is he appears to have settled on a back four. Summer signings Alfie Mawson and Maxime Le Marchand are expected to be the pairing in central defence, with Joe Bryan at left back and Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the right as Fulham look to tighten up a leaky defence that shipped nine goals in league play.

While Mitrovic has been enjoying a purple patch, the same cannot be said of Ryan Sessegnon, who has had trouble adjusting to the Premier League after exceling in the Championship. The 18-year-old played for England’s Under-21 side during the international break, and there is talk Fulham are set to give him a new contract to fend off bigger teams – most notably Tottenham Hotspur – from poaching him.

City have won five on the trot over Fulham – all in league play – and are unbeaten in 11 (8-3-0) across all competitions since a 3-1 loss at home April 12, 2009. Fulham have been outscored 16-3 in those five most recent defeats, including 10-0 in their last three trips to the Eithad.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are heavy 1/8 favourites, while Fulham have 25/1 odds of pulling off a shock scoreline to grab all three points. A draw also has substantially long odds at 8/1.

Oddsmakers are also expecting the Citizens to rack up goals as there are 4/11 odds for a win by the hosts with more than 2.5 goals. There are 17/4 odds on a City win of either 1-0 or 2-0, while the next-shortest odds are a draw under 2.5 goals at 12/1.

Befitting his track record against Fulham, Aguero is the odds-on favourite to score the first goal of the match at 9/4, with Jesus 16/5 and Sterling at 9/2. All told, there are nine City players thought to be more likely to make it 1-0 for the hosts than Mitrovic, the top Fulham option at 11/1.

Aguero and Jesus are better than even-money odds to score in this game at 4/11 and 4/6, respectively. Despite the fact City have not posted a clean sheet in their last three league matches, Mitrovic getting 13/5 any-time goal-scoring odds feels like a play to take advantage of.

PREDICTION

Though he may not admit it publicly, there may be a tiny part of Guardiola happy he is riding just behind Liverpool (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea and Watford) at the moment. That allows City to fly just under the radar — as much as reigning Premier League champions conceivably could — and be the ones who apply the pressure.

This is a match tailor-made for them since Fulham will stay true to their identity playing their 4-3-3 and getting after it. The Cottagers can take solace in knowing fellow new boys Wolverhampton nicked a point off the champs, however it is a much different proposition getting said point at the Etihad.

It would not be surprising to see Sterling held out ahead of the Champions League opener or make a late runout if the match is well in hand. It also is why Kompany is listed over Stones for this match to keep the England international fresh for their midweek match versus Lyon.

Fulham’s midfield pairing of Seri and Anguissa are going to have to do yeoman’s work to keep the Cottagers competitive. Jankovic may have found his back four while in Spain during the international break, but the rubber will meet the road quickly in determining this to be true.

Predicted Final Score: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Fulham 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

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

Other Match Day 4 Previews:

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

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

Depth has its privileges. And its rewards.

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTER’S NOTES

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Manchester City 4

Other Match Day 3 previews:

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

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

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

Wenger is out, but can Emery fit in?

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3, ARSENAL 1