2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)

Not invincible but still certainly imposing, the hunted are the hunters Saturday when reigning champions and second-place Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (13-2-1) had little time to wallow after their first loss domestically last weekend – a 2-0 setback at Chelsea that ended a seven-match winning streak in league play – as they needed a result Wednesday against Hoffenheim to wrap up the top spot in Group E of the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola’s team got that result – a 2-1 victory at home over the German side – but not without some effort as Leroy Sane continued his blistering form with a brace on either side of halftime to negate a first-half penalty by Andrej Kramaric.

Sane’s first was a world-class free kick in first-half stoppage time, and just after the hour, the Germany international finished a 1-2 with Raheem Sterling for his fifth goal in six matches across all competitions.

Manchester City have a limited field of potential opponents in the round of 16 in February, with the toughest of the four they can draw Friday being notoriously stubborn out and Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Other possible matchups could be against 2018 semifinalists and Serie A side AS Roma, German outfit Schalke 04 and Dutch club Ajax.

“Incredible. Today finished group stage in best way,” Guardiola said post-match as City returned to the Champions League knockout rounds for the sixth straight year. “Best 16 teams in Europe. We try to arrive in February in the best condition with players fit.

“Big compliment for this group because every group is tough, and we did it so well.”

As Sane stole the headlines, teenager Phil Foden caught the eye of many as he was given a rare start by Guardiola. The 18-year-old looked composed on the ball and was the focal point of bright, positive play throughout the match in the midfield as England’s pipeline of youth is proving deeper than the 23 who powered the Three Lions to the World Cup semifinals in the summer.

“In general over 90 minutes, Phil was outstanding,” Guardiola beamed. “I never had doubts. The quality he has with the ball. Looks skinny but really strong. Huge talent. England has a diamond. Against German teams it is so demanding, but he played like a man.”

Foden, though, still has to fight to even stay on the bench for City in Premier League play, and City discovered they have a fight on their hands to repeat as champions. This is the first time since Sept. 29 the Citizens are entering play not atop the table as Liverpool moved one point ahead of them.

Guardiola rotated a good portion of his side midweek, some out of protection as midfielder Fernandinho was one yellow card away from being forced to sit out the first-leg round of 16 tie. Sergio Aguero also had that problem but was also not 100 percent due to an adductor injury.

City are also still without winger Kevin De Bruyne, who is close to a return, but fellow playmaker David Silva could be out until at least the new year with a hamstring injury. Kyle Walker played the second half at right back after John Stones played 45 minutes out of position there with Nicolas Otamendi getting the call in central defence.

The squad rotation figures to continue as the fixtures come thick and fast between now and the new year, with City’s next midweek clash a Carabao Cup quarterfinal matchup at Leicester City on Tuesday.

Everton (6-6-4) are seventh in the table and are coming off back-to-back draws following their 2-2 stalemate Monday against Watford in the “Silva Derby.” Lucas Digne’s free kick in the 96th minute bent around the wall and inside the left post, giving the Toffees a share of the points in the first match between the teams since current coach Marco Silva was sacked by Watford in January.

Richarlison, who reunited with Silva in the summer from Watford, scored the other goal for Everton. The Toffees, though, were second-best for large stretches of the match and watched Gylfi Sigurdsson have a 67th minute penalty stopped by Ben Foster before Digne rescued them with his first goal since joining the club.

“He is settling in really fast,” Silva told the club’s official website about Digne, who leads the Premier League with 128 crosses from his left back spot. “In my opinion, when you are a really good football player – and he is – when you are a really focused player – and he is – it is easy to understand (why Digne has swiftly adapted to Premier League football).

“He comes to USM Finch Farm every day to work really hard and he is a very good professional, with high quality. He is playing so well, improving every time, not just in our defensive process … he is a really important player in our offensive process as well from Barcelona this summer.”

With yet another road contest against one of the Big Six, the talk involving Everton inevitably returns once more to the Toffees in search of that culture-changing road victory to kick onto the next level.

The winless drought at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Emirates, Wembley/White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Etihad has reached 32 matches (0-10-22) after their heartbreaking Merseyside Derby loss to Liverpool a fortnight ago. Bryan Oviedo’s 86th-minute winner at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013, remains the last such victorious moment on one of these grounds for the Toffees.

This is already Everton’s fifth match at the six sites this term, and while they have taken only one point from the previous four, it is clear Silva has at least got the Toffees to believe they can get a result in these contests since they have given as good as they’ve gotten in those matches. Additionally, one of those 10 draws came in last season’s corresponding fixture, though it can be argued catching City on the second match day of the season was beneficial to Everton’s cause.

The Toffees are winless in their last eight trips (0-4-4) to the blue side of Manchester since a 2-1 victory Dec. 20, 2010, in which Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines scored in the first 19 minutes. Everton then held out with 10 men for the final half-hour after a red card to Victor Anichebe and conceding an own goal through Phil Jagielka.

A 10-man City held Everton to a 1-1 draw last term as Sterling equalised eight minutes from time. Wayne Rooney had given the Toffees – who also finished with 10 men after Morgan Schneiderlin picked up his second yellow on 88 minutes – a lead late in the first half. Walker had gotten his marching orders before intermission for two yellow cards in a three-minute span.

Sterling’s goals in both matchups last season are his only two in 10 career matchups with Everton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet 365, City are strong 2/9 favourites to pick up three points in the first match of the weekend and keep the heat on Liverpool. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/2, and Everton are 12/1 longshots to deal the Citizens back-to-back losses in league play for the first time since defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City on Dec. 3 and 10, 2016.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with 4/11 odds on the teams combining to score more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/5 odds for a defensive struggle to break out at the Etihad. There are 3/4 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while there is even money on a clean sheet in either direction. City have not been held without a goal in back-to-back league matches since a draw at Norwich City and loss to Manchester United on March 12 and 20, 2016.

With the possibility of Aguero returning to lead the line, the former Argentina international has been installed as the frontrunner to open the scoring at 12/5. Gabriel Jesus is a 3/1 pick, while Sterling (9/2), Riyad Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1) round out the top five. Despite his fine recent form, Richarlison is joint-11th on the list for first-goal honours with teammate Cenk Tosun at 12/1. Sigurdsson, Everton’s designed penalty taker, is listed at 18/1.

Aguero (4/9), Jesus (4/7) and Sterling (20/21) are all expected to score in this match per the odds for an any-time goal, while Mahrez (21/20) and Sane (13/10) are just off that standard. Brahim Diaz, Felix Nmecha and Bernardo Silva are lumped together at 15/8, while Foden and Gundogan are 11/4.

Richarlison and Tosun are again joint-top picks for Everton at 3/1, followed by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7/2) and Theo Walcott (4/1), with Sigurdsson a step back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

To put City’s Premier League dominance prior to last weekend’s loss to Chelsea, consider the Citizens had trailed for all of 12 minutes through 15 matches, and that was on a goal by Wolverhampton that VAR would have disallowed. Even with the loss to Chelsea, Man City have still trailed more in their six Champions League matches than they have in 16 league contests.

The tweak by Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri to use Eden Hazard as a false No. 9 in his 4-3-3 formation versus City will undoubtedly spring copycat versions up and down England (and Wales for you Cardiff City readers), yet how many have the personnel to pull off such a shift? That brings us to the second half of this “revelation” … are City opponents willing to risk ceding possession so quickly by hoofing the ball up the pitch and letting their speedsters on the wings or in the middle give chase?

Is it a better plan than sitting in two low banks and hoping to catch out City on the counter stringing two or three passes to get through the middle of the pitch? It’s a debate that will be pondered across opposing locker rooms, but again, not many teams have that kind of personnel.

Everton do not have that type of personnel unless Silva is willing to move Richarlison back to the left wing spot where he started the season and play Dominic Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line in his 4-2-3-1 set-up. The Toffees, though, have also been credible enough against the Big Six this season that Silva will not gimmick his way through these 90 minutes. That is a testament to the culture change he has made, even if some of the recent results have been one point instead of three.

What is good about this Everton side is they are willing to throw a punch against the big boys. It can be argued the only match of the four against the perennials where the Toffees struggled was at Old Trafford, and even that was a 2-1 loss in which it was more spurning quality scoring chances than being run off the pitch by Manchester United.

They scrapped hard with Chelsea to nick a point at Stamford Bridge and were arguably seconds from a point at Anfield before the crossbar conspired against Jordan Pickford. It may very well be the case City — even short-handed City — are an entirely different animal at this point in time and do run Everton out of the Etihad. But it feels more likely Everton will at least make Guardiola’s side earn their three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 3, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

 

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

Manchester City need just a draw in Wednesday’s Champions League finale to finish atop Group F, something that is not expected to be too demanding as they face group-bottom Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions, though, are coming off their first loss in domestic play, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday that ended a 16-match unbeaten streak in all competitions (14-2-0). It was also just the second time Manchester City were held without a goal, the other coming in a scoreless draw at Anfield versus Liverpool.

Even playing without injured striker Sergio Aguero and still without top playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, City still looked the better side as Raheem Sterling was inserted between Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez as a false nine. Yet the Citizens were caught out on a counter over the top, finished by N’Golo Kante just before halftime, and they were consigned to a defeat when David Luiz added a second 12 minutes from time.

For all of City’s imperious displays this term, the loss also showed the fine line they are walking because the loss also dropped them behind Liverpool in the Premier League table.

“We still have a target against Hoffenheim to win the game and finish top,” Sane told City’s official website. “We want to finish first and hopefully look good for the Round of 16 draw – it’s important we win and end the group stage strongly.

“Even more so because we lost at Chelsea on Saturday and didn’t start the group stage very well.”

Though there is something at stake, City manager Pep Guardola is going to rotate a good portion of his side given the hectic December fixture list. Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho are both one yellow card from picking up a one-match ban that would rule them out of the first leg round of 16 tie, and while Aguero is in a similar predicament, Guardiola has ruled him out with his adductor injury.

The City boss, in fact, stated he has just 15 healthy senior players available for this match, also ruling out De Bruyne, David Silva and Danilo. Benjamin Mendy and backup keeper Claudio Bravo remain long-term absentees with injuries, which does limit some of Guardiola’s abilities to rotate his side.

“We have 15 players tomorrow it’s a really tough game,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last-16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They (Hoffenheim) were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realise how tough tomorrow will be.”

While Guardiola is effusive in praise of his German counterpart, getting three points to have a chance of reaching the Europa League as third-place finishers in Group F remains a daunting task for Hoffenheim. The 12 goals they have shipped are better than only fellow Group F side Shakhtar Donetsk and both AEK and Red Star Belgrade.

“As an optimist, I can say that it’ll be difficult to get third place,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot to lose tomorrow, so we want to show the football that got us to the Champions League in the first place.”

Domestic play has not treated Die Kraichgauer much better of late as Hoffenheim have just one win from their last six matches overall (1-4-1) and are winless in their last four (0-3-1). Hoffenheim are coming off a 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg on Saturday as Andrej Kramaric salvaged a point with a goal in the 71st minute.

Kramaric had set up Ishak Belfodil in the fourth minute, but an own goal by Ermin Bicakcic and a strike from Daniel Ginczek four minutes apart left Hoffenheim down 2-1 after 32 minutes.

“I was very satisfied with the opening 20 minutes. We consciously gave up possession in order to have chances to counter,” Nagelsmann told his club’s official website. “We defended too aggressively before the equaliser. Thereafter, we did not get to grips with our pressing too well. During the interval we brought on another striker – we couldn’t get much more attacking than that.

We deserved to get the equaliser and dominated the second half. It was a fair result. The right commitment was there and I like that.”

Kramaric, who helped Croatia reach the World Cup final last summer, has a team-best 10 goals in all competitions and netted four in Champions League play. Joelinton has gone five matches without a goal for Hoffenheim since his brace versus Bayer Leverkusen on Nov. 3.

“Andrej Kramaric also plays in the number eight position and does that well,” Nagelsmann said. “He has a lot more to him than goals and assists. He is very critical of himself but his heart is in the right place”

Hoffenheim have never won a Champions League road match in three tries, though they did draw Shakhtar and Lyon earlier in this group. This will be their second trip to England, with the other result a 4-2 setback in a second-leg qualifying round match last year versus Liverpool.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are overwhelming favourites to cap group play on a winning note and enter this match as a 2/9 pick for a victory. Hoffenheim are 12/1 longshots to avoid going winless in group play, and there are 13/2 odds on the teams splitting the points, a result also acceptable for the reigning Premier League champs.

Given the open play of Hoffenheim coupled with City’s quality, oddsmakers are expecting a haul of goals as there are 3/10 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 5/2 odds for it being a low-scoring affair. The odds of both teams finding the back of the net are 4/6, with 11/10 odds on either side posting a clean sheet.

With Aguero out, Jesus has moved to the top of the board for first-goal scoring options at 3/1, followed by Sterling (9/2), Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1). With Guardiola’s expected rotation, some of the bottom players on the 25-man roster are seeing action, including Brahim Diaz (8/1) and Foden (11/1).

Bernardo Silva is also an 8/1 option to make it 1-0 for the hosts, while Ilkay Gundogan is 11/1 to do likewise. Kramaric and Joelinton are the top options for Hoffenheim at 14/1, just ahead of Belfodil (16/1) — who gave Die Kraichgauer a shock lead in the opening minute of the reverse fixture.

Jesus (8/15) and Sterling (10/11) lead the any-time goal-scoring options, with Mahrez checking in at even money. Sane is just off that pace at 5/4, followed by Diaz and Bernardo Silva at 7/4. Kramaric and Joelinton again are the top picks for the visitors with both being offered at 11/4.

PREDICTION

It is a shame Manchester City supporters have not fully warmed up to Champions League group matches at the Etihad because this has the potential to be a wild back-and-forth contest. There were two goals in the first eight minutes of the reverse fixture, which then calmed until David Silva’s 87th-minute winner.

It is admittedly difficult to figure out what exactly Guardiola is going to do with his back line. It could range from anywhere with Fabian Delph being shifted from left to right back to let Oleksander Zinchenko play left back to Otamendi playing in central defence or in central midfield ahead of a partnership of John Stones and Vincent Kompany.

Otamendi sitting on a potential yellow card ban is less than ideal, but if there is going to be one player between him and Fernandinho to sit out this match because of such a possiblity, Fernandinho is going to be the spectator. Additionally, Guardiola had been looking to give his central midfielder a rest ahead of the holiday fixtures, and this is as good a time as any.

Though a 4-3-3 is projected, it would not be surprising to see Guardiola use a 4-4-2 in which Jesus and Sterling are up front with Mahrez and Sane lying deeper behind the pair. Another possibility is a 4-1-4-1 with Jesus as the lone striker, which would allow Sterling to terrorise Hoffenheim’s back four with his pace.

Kramaric has been in exquisite form — his equaliser at Wolfsburg extended his goal-scoring streak to eight matches in all competitions for Hoffenheim. But not having centre back Kevin Vogt could prove problematic for a team that has often looked out of their depth in this tournament and need a win.

City could put this match out of its misery early with a pair of strikes in the first half-hour, though Hoffenheim are more than capable of finding a quick goal for the second time in as many matches between the sides. But in the end, it will be too much City, who will wrap up group honours with a win.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Hoffenheim 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)

Even if Maurizio Sarri does not believe his Chelsea side can overtake Manchester City for the Premier League title, his side may be the last obstacle to the Citizens repeating as champions as the sides collide Saturday at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Though the Pensioners (9-4-2) are only 10 points adrift of City (13-2-0), it may as well be a chasm of 10 miles to Sarri, who wrote off his team’s chances after their 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton on Wednesday. Chelsea looked to be in control of the match after Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored on 18 minutes, but two goals by Wolves in rapid-fire fashion in the second half consigned the Blues to their second league loss in three contests and left Sarri at a loss for his team’s fragile psyche.

“We played very well for 55 minutes,” he said post-match. “After their first goal, that was an accident because we were in full control of the match, we were suddenly another team, without the right distances and without our football. I don’t know why.

“I am very worried, not with the result, but for the fact we didn’t react to the first goal of the opponent. We didn’t react at all. I worried about this.”

Sarri’s concession his side will not challenge for the title was not all together surprising considering he downplayed those hopes almost immediately upon his arrival, but to publicly confirm it while currently top four with 23 matches to play was still jarring. It also needs to be remembered he dealt with such a plight in Italy in charge of Napoli as they pushed and pushed Juventus in Serie A without ever finishing ahead of the Bianconeri.

“Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four,” he continued. “The result is very difficult for this, because I know in every match you have to gain points. In the last championship in Italy I lost Serie A with 91 points, so I know very well you have to gain points in every match.

“City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. They can win the Champions League, but that depends on moments.”

Sarri made five changes from the side who defeated Fulham last weekend, most notably holding out central midfielder Jorginho and centre back David Luiz. Both will likely be restored to the first XI, along with centre-forward Olivier Giroud and winger Pedro for Alvaro Morata and Willian, respectively.

With goals in his last two league matches, Loftus-Cheek could be in line for a second straight start over both Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic on the left side of the midfield in Chelsea’s 4-3-3.

Manchester City are completing their first run-through against the other “Big Six” teams and have taken 10 points from the previous four matches, with their only dropped points a scoreless draw at closest pursuers Liverpool. The Citizens have won seven on the bounce in league play since that deadlock at Anfield and survived a nervy finish in Tuesday’s 2-1 win at Watford.

Leroy Sane continued his torrid run as he and Riyad Mahrez scored City’s goals on either side of halftime, but the Hornets grabbed a late lifeline through Abdoulaye Doucoure after an error by Fabian Delph and pressed for an equaliser before time ran out.

“We started to lose balls and let them have the opportunity to come back,” City boss Pep Guardiola told the club’s official website. “And of course when they score with ten minutes left you suffer. In this league you have to score the third goal and we didn’t do that, that’s why we suffer.”

The suffering, though, has been at a minimum in league play as City are unbeaten in their last 21 (18-3-0) dating back to last term and they have trailed for all of 12 minutes this season. Additionally, their plus-38 goal difference through 15 matches is the largest in top-flight English football history since the 1892-93 Sunderland side amassed a plus-39.

Manchester City are also trying to become the first non-London side to win seven consecutive league matches in the capital. They currently share the mark of six with the 1950-51 Portsmouth side and are 7-1-0 in London since a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge on April 5, 2017.

Sane has five goals and four assists in his last six matches, making Mahrez the more likely of the two to be dropped with the expectation Raheem Sterling will return to the first XI. Gabriel Jesus, though, is likely to lead the line for a third straight contest as Sergio Aguero aggravated an adductor injury in training Monday and is doubtful to feature in this contest.

Guardiola also overturned his entire back line at Vicarage Road, though it would not be surprising if three of the four – wide backs Delph and Kyle Walker and centre back John Stones – retain their spots and are joined by Aymeric Laporte.

Manchester City did the double over Chelsea en route to the title last term, returning the favour the Pensioners performed in 2016-17 when they lifted the trophy.

Both matches last season were decided 1-0, with Kevin De Bruyne – missing for this match through injury – making the difference at Stamford Bridge while Guardiola outfoxed Sarri’s predecessor Antonio Conte by using a 3-2-2-3 set-up that kept Chelsea’s back three wide and neutralized their counterattacking possibilities.

City have won two of their last three trips to Stamford Bridge but are just 4-5-12 there in the Premier League era.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are showing City an impressive amount of respect by installing them as 19/20 favourites to claim all three points. Chelsea are 3/1 underdogs to deal the Citizens their first loss, and there are 14/5 odds for the sides to split the points.

Oddsmakers are also expecting offensive fireworks unlike last season, with 4/6 odds posted on the teams clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/5 odds for another 1-0 scoreline or less than 2.5 goals total. There are 4/7 odds for both teams to find at least one goal while there are 5/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.

Jesus gets top billing in the first goal-scorer category with 4/1 odds, followed by Hazard and his teammate Sterling at 6/1. Giroud and Mahrez are both 13/2 options, with Sane and Morata a peg back at 15/2. The Silvas are both 10/1 picks, edging out Willian (11/1), while his teammates Pedro and Victor Moses are 12/1 longshots to make it 1-0.

Jesus is also the overall favourite to put one in the back of the net at 11/10, again trailed by Hazard and Sterling — this time at 7/4. The players paired together for first-goal options are the same for one over 90 minutes — Giroud/Mahrez at 15/8, Morata/Sane 11/5, and the Silvas are 3/1. Willian follows at 10/3, with Pedro and Moses both listed at 15/4.

PREDICTION

There were 18 other occasions where it would have been perfectly acceptable to publicly write off your team’s title chances if you are Sarri, even with the caveat you have been downplaying expectations the moment you arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Doing so regarding the reigning title-holders ahead of a match against the reigning title-holders is a fascinatingly obtuse move by a man who has shown an increasing willingness to double-down on his stubbornness with regards to tactics and personnel.

It’s all well and good Sarri is not going to come out of his 4-3-3. It was that way at Napoli, it is this way at Chelsea, and it will continue to be this way as long as he is running the show. Fine, well, good. Then there is the issue of Kante, but even if he is using him in a sub-optimal way — and let’s face it, that’s what this is as the best defensive midfielder on the planet trying to find his moments to join the attack — he is talented enough to adjust, and is doing so from match to match.

The real question here is what does Guardiola have up his sleeve for this match? Last year, his 3-box-3 set-up completely flummoxed Conte, but different formation calls for different tactics, more so without two key pieces in Aguero and De Bruyne. There is no way Guardiola will keep Sterling out of the starting XI, though the Mahrez/Sane dynamic is interesting because Mahrez is the more creative player who can give Marcos Alonso and David Luiz fits on that left side.

For Chelsea, they need to fight for possession in this match, but it also would not be surprising to see City use the same kind of diamond set-up Tottenham did to put Jorginho on an island and make his passes cover longer distances. And like Spurs, City have more than enough pace up front as well as in the midfield with the Silvas and even potentially Ilkay Gundogan.

Chelsea appear to be of two minds at the moment, a side who really have not dealt with too much adversity throughout the term, but one who also appear to be losing that half-step of fluidity when that happens that throws a spanner into the works.

Lastly, Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has never been under siege for prolonged periods of time. How he fares in such situations will go a long way in determining just how top-four viable the Pensioners are.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 1, Manchester City 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 15 Preview — Watford (6-2-6) vs. Manchester City (12-2-0)

It took 45 minutes to shake off the post-Champions League hangover, but after that it was business as usual for Manchester City, who look to maintain their unbeaten status in the Premier League on Tuesday at Vicarage Road versus Watford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (12-2-0), coming off a 2-2 midweek draw at Lyon that secured their spot in the round of 16 for Europe’s top club tournament, were held to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday versus Bournemouth when the first-half whistle blew. Guardiola did not exactly light into his side at the interval, but the message was received as Raheem Sterling restored City’s lead before the hour and Ilkay Gundogan secured the win 11 minutes from time.

“We were flat but after, we were more aggressive and we changed the game. I asked them for more at half-time but my speech was ridiculous because in the first five or ten minutes, it didn’t work – it was the same as the first half,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Raheem Sterling changed the game and Leroy Sane was fantastic too. What we have done in the Premier League is incredible and it means a lot to me.

“It’s not one or two games – it’s every day, every day, every day. Maybe today, we didn’t make a good performance for 90 minutes but 75 was good. It is a lesson we have to learn, how to win when we are tired. Maybe in the future, it is going to help us to do what we’re trying to do.”

Last weekend’s match started a run of six straight weeks with two matches, which means personnel rotation is pivotal. Guardiola made six changes from Wednesday’s starting XI as Bernardo Silva – who scored City’s first goal – and Ilkay Gundogan returned from injury.

Sergio Aguero was a spectator from the club boxes due to a “muscular disturbing,” and Guardiola will likely hold out the centre-forward for a second straight matches as a precautionary measure since “there are a lot of games and we don’t want to take risks of injuries. One month or a month-and-a-half loss with nine or ten games is too much.”

The goal City conceded was the first by an opposing forward in the run of play in league action. The reigning champions have yielded just six Premier League goals – one more than they have in five Champions League matches.

Watford (6-2-6) are in a difficult stretch of schedule and a tough patch of play at the moment, their winless streak reaching four (0-1-3) after a 2-0 loss at Leicester City on Saturday. This will be the third straight match against a top-eight side, a run that concludes on the weekend at Everton.

Keeper Ben Foster felled Jamie Vardy in the 11th minute, leading to a penalty the forward converted. James Maddison volleyed home a second before the half-hour, and the Hornets spent the rest of the match in an uphill slog where good build-ups were thwarted by a lack of cutting edge in the final third.

“It’s the same (as other away games),” said Gracia to Watford’s official website. “We need to be demanding. We need to improve these situations. You can see in the last games we are losing points, losing options to get better results because we are not efficient. When you score goals, you feel more comfortable and maybe you finish better. Maybe when you don’t score you lose confidences you need.”

Gracia has a huge selection headache on his hands thanks to a straight, late red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue for a two-footed challenge on Kelechi Iheanacho. Capoue, who had served a one-match ban versus Southampton for accumulating five yellow cards, would miss the next three matches unless Watford’s appeal is successful.

It remains to be seen if the FA will act quickly enough to overturn the ban for this match, but Gracia said the club will try.

“I spoke to Iheanacho and he said there was no contact by Capoue,” forward Isaac Success said. “I feel sorry for him because he has been one of our best players. Let’s see what the FA will do because it was never a red card.”

“I saw it clear because it was in front of me, but I prefer not to say anything, only what Iheanacho said,” Gracia added. “He said Capoue didn’t touch him. That is more important than what I can say. Yes, we will appeal. It doesn’t depend on me (what happens), but we are going to appeal. Someone spoke with him (Iheanacho) and told me (what he said).”

City have won eight on the bounce against Watford in all competitions, outscoring the Hornets 27-4 after the sides played to draws in both matches in 2006-07. Guardiola’s team have smashed home 11 goals without reply in their last two trips to Vicarage Road, including a 6-0 hiding last term as Aguero had three goals and an assist.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Coral, City are 1/4 favourites to at least maintain their two-point lead atop the table with a victory. The odds of Watford ending their eight-game losing streak to the Citizens with a draw are 5/1, while a shock Hornets victory that would mark City’s first league loss offers a 9/1 return.

There are 4/9 odds for there to be more than 2.5 goals, while oddsmakers have a 7/4 listing for fewer than that threshold. It is even money for there to be a clean sheet in at least one direction and 3/4 odds for both teams to find the back of the net.

For first-goal scorers, Aguero leads the line despite his questionable status for this game at 14/5, followed by Jesus (10/3) and Sterling (4/1). Mahrez and Sane are both 9/2, with David Silva lurking further back at 13/2. On the Watford side, Troy Deeney is the top option, albeit an overall longshot at 12/1. Success, Andre Gray and Gerard Delofeu are all 14/1 selections to make it 1-0 for the hosts.

Aguero and Jesus are both better than even-money odds to find the back of the net over the 90 minutes at 8/11 and 10/11, respectively. Sterling has 23/20 odds to score for the second straight match, and Sane and Mahrez are both 11/8 to tally. Silva has 15/8 odds to score, while Bernardo Silva and Gundogan have 14/5 odds to also make it goals in back-to-back matches. 

For the hosts, Deeney is 7/2, while the aforementioned trio of Success, Gray and Delofeu are all 4/1 picks. Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Okaka also join that 4/1 list, while Domingos Quina is another notch back at 5/1.

PREDICTION
One of the fun things for the month of December will be “Guess the City lineup.” While injured winger Kevin De Bruyne had odds listed in this match as a goal-scorer, Guardiola all but shot down that possibility as well as a potential return for the upcoming weekend clash at home versus Chelsea. 

In theory, Guardiola could overturn his entire back four for this match and use Delph, Stones, Kompany and Walker. He wants to get Fernandinho rest, and it would not be surprising to see it in this contest with Chelsea looming. How he does that is anyone’s guess, but Gundogan in the center role flanked by the Silvas would be one such possibility.

Regardless of who is up front, and Aguero will not be among them if reading between the lines of Guardiola is up front, there is still plenty of talent available. One potential player who could make the 18-man roster in addition to Phil Foden is Brahim Diaz, who had a brace in their Carabao Cup win over Fulham last month.

Things are somewhat bleak for Watford’s prospects to get a point from this match, let alone three, and worse if Capoue is unavailable to help command the midfield. The Hornets have also lacked scoring punch of late with one goal in their last four matches and none in the prior two.

Gracia’s bemoaning of the lack of precision in the final third does not bode well for this match since Watford will undoubtedly not have a substantial amount of possession, and what few chances they do create must be capitalised upon. If the Hornets are not careful, this match could get out of control quickly — they have conceded three goals in the opening half-hour of their last three matches.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 0, Manchester City 3.

OTHER EPL Match Day 15 Previews:
Bournemouth (6-2-6) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-4-8)
Burnley (2-3-9) vs. Liverpool (11-3-0)
Wolverhampton (4-4-6) vs. Chelsea (9-4-1)
Manchester United (6-4-4) vs. Arsenal (9-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)

There are many ways to describe Manchester City in glowing terms, but grit can now be added to that list of attributes heading into Saturday’s match at the Etihad versus Bournemouth.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions have trailed for 92 of a possible 1,800 minutes across all competitions this season, and only Wolverhampton have enjoyed a lead over Manchester City in league play – for all of 12 minutes. Yet for the second time in Champions League group play, Lyon gave Pep Guardiola’s team fits all over the pitch and twice grabbed leads through Maxwel Cornet.

The Citizens (11-2-0), though, showed they can take a punch and give one back as they equalised both times nearly straightaway in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at the French side that secured a spot in the knockout round for the sixth straight year. Aymeric Laporte drew City level seven minutes after Cornet opened the scoring in the 55th, and Sergio Aguero nodded home Riyad Mahrez’s corner kick on 83 minutes, two after Cornet completed his brace.

“We are into the last 16,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “It’s so important at this time to be in the last 16. When you play against Lyon, it’s complicated because of how good they are. The level was quite similar across all the group that’s why starting with a 2-1 defeat at home to Lyon, we have made an excellent recovery in the past four games.

“Always you think ‘how will we react in that situation?’ (going behind) and always we have shown a huge personality.”

Manchester City will finish atop Group F if they get at least a draw in their final group game at home versus last-place Hoffenheim in a fortnight.

Last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United started a stretch in which City will play two matches per week over the next six weeks. That puts a premium on squad rotation, and even with City’s bottomless pockets to spend money, there are still personnel shortages.

Kevin DeBruyne and Benjamin Mendy are long-term absences due to injuries, while Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan are dealing with knocks and questionable for this match.

The most important spot, though, may be up front as Aguero has been healthy all season and already has 10 goals in 16 matches in all competitions after totaling 30 in 39 in an injury-plagued 2017-18. Gabriel Jesus, nursing a groin injury, could be one match away from getting a start after playing just nine minutes in the previous three matches following his hat trick against Shakhtar Donetsk on Nov. 7.

City have a perfect 100 percent record at the Etihad in league play, winning seven matches by a combined 27-4 scoreline while scoring at least two goals in every contest.

For Bournemouth (6-2-5), this is another chance for them to prove they are something more than a flat-track bully of the “Other 14” while being bullied by the “Big Six.” The Cherries fell to 0-0-3 against the perennials this term and have lost three on the spin following a 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal last weekend.

An own goal by Jefferson Lerma on the half-hour put Bournemouth in an early hole, and after Joshua King pulled the Cherries level, Eddie Howe’s team conceded midway through the second half. Bournemouth sorely missed the calming presence of left back Adam Smith, who missed his first match with a knee injury expected to sideline him at least three months.

“Adam has been excellent over a long period of time,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo. “He has great energy about him and enthusiasm for the game. He is an excellent trainer and very popular in the dressing room.

“It is a big miss for us. His versatility has been key in recent seasons. He has played in a number of positions and wherever he has played, he has performed at a high level.”

Howe must make at least one change for this match as Lerma also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Arsenal, triggering a one-match ban. Lewis Cook looks to be the most likely replacement for the Colombia international, but the Cherries could opt for a 3-4-3 formation in contrast to their usual 4-4-2 set-up to prevent City from overrunning the midfield.

Bournemouth have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit outside Dean Court this season, outscoring teams 9-1 in victories at West Ham United, Watford, and Fulham while being outscored 8-1 in defeats to Chelsea, Burnley, and Newcastle United.

The Citizens have won all six matches between the teams since Bournemouth earned their initial promotion to the top flight for the 2015-16 season. All three games at the Etihad have been one-way affairs as City have smashed 13 by Bournemouth with only one in reply.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are 1/8 favourites to maintain their 100 percent record at the Etihad in league play, and the odds of the Cherries even nicking a point are 9/1. For those who believe in the fairy-tale ending of Bournemouth getting their first Premier League win over City, the odds are 25/1.

For the 2.5 goals over/under, the over has 1/4 odds while the under is 3/1.

Aguero leads the parade of City players for first-goal odds at 9/4, followed by Jesus (10/3) and Mahrez (4/1). Raheem Sterling, who has been a bogeyman for Bournemouth with nine goals and two assists during a six-match goal-scoring run against them, offers 9/2 odds to make it 1-0 for the hosts. Leroy Sane (11/2), David Silva (15/2) and Phil Foden (20/1) round out the Citizens’ option before getting to Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson at 14/1.

Aguero, Jesus, Mahrez and Sterling all are better than even money to score during the 90 minutes, ranging from Aguero’s 4/11 to Sterling’s 5/6. David Silva, who had a four-goal goal-scoring streak snapped at Lyon, has 8/5 odds. Wilson is again the top pick for the Cherries at 10/3, with veteran understudy Jermain Defoe (15/4) edging out Joshua King (5/1) for second.

PREDICTION

There are a few things that would not be surprising about this match for Manchester City. It would not be surprising if Vincent Kompany or Nicolas Otamendi get the start for John Stones in central defence, and even with that slight groin injury, Jesus could lead the line in this match.

It would also not be surprising for City to take about 15 minutes to shift through their gears after being pushed fairly hard by Lyon. After their first match versus the French side, City did not get their first goal against Cardiff City until 32 minutes had elapsed. After that, the floodgates opened and the Citizens scored four more.

With all the scrutiny that comes with City, perhaps the most impressive statistic is that they have trailed for only 12 minutes in league play, and it can be argued that goal Wolverhampton scored would have been overturned had VAR been in existence. City are 23-2-1 at the Etihad in league play since the start of last term, and the final 21 minutes they trailed in their eventual 3-2 loss to Manchester United are the lone minutes they have spent trailing in their last 18 matches at home.

For Bournemouth, the 0-0-3 record against the Big Six this season obscures the fact Eddie Howe’s team have been competitive in those matches and arguably deserved a point against United. Yet until the Cherries make that actual breakthrough — especially in the case against City as they have been little more than a speed bump to them at the Etihad — the perception of “good story and decent side” is going to persist regardless of their ambitions.

They have had their chances in each of these three big matches, but City are clearly operating on a different level than any of them. Expect that to continue as the Citizens stay perfect at the Etihad and against Bournemouth.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Bournemouth 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Lyon (1-3-0, 6,+1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)

Manchester City can wrap up the top spot in Group F of the Champions League and avenge their only loss in all competitions this season Tuesday night when they face French side Olympique Lyon at Groupama Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

City have gone unbeaten in their last 13 matches (12-1-0) and have won eight on the bounce in all competitions since their stunning 2-1 loss to Lyon to open group play on Sept. 19. Only Liverpool — their closest pursuers in the Premier League — have been able to take points off the reigning domestic champions, and since that 0-0 draw, Pep Guardiola’s imperious side have racked up 30 goals while conceding only two.

The Citizens made quick work of West Ham United on Saturday, thrashing the London side 4-0 in their first match against former manager and Guardiola’s predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini. David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane all scored first-half goals, and Sane completed his brace in second-half stoppage time.

Normally tasked the role of playmaker, especially with Kevin De Bruyne injured, Silva has netted a goal in his last four matches across all competitions and his eight goals overall trail only Sergio Aguero (9).

“All I can say is we want to get better. We want to improve. It’s a new season, we need to be on top of our game,” winger Raheem Sterling told the club’s official website, expressing the same relentless drive as his manager. “I thought at times we did some very good stuff. But at times we could have been better. Great win but at the same time a lot to improve on.

“We gave them too many chances. On another day if they had took them, it could have been more difficult. We know what we done last year and it’s easy to be complacent. He (Pep) wants to keep us at a high level. We are trying to be better, do our best. That’s what will take us to the next level. Every day we need to perform and win games.”

Guardiola was able to rest some of his regulars as centre back John Stones was held out and Riyad Mahrez made a late runout in the final quarter-hour for Sterling. The one expected change Guardiola will make for this match is the introduction of Phil Foden, who will join the midfield since both Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan did not make the trip due to injury.

Guardiola is putting an emphasis on winning this match, and by extension, the group so he can begin rotating his players ahead of the busy holiday fixture list domestically.

“I want to qualify, that’s the first target,” he stated. “When you start the season to now, most important is qualifying in the Champions League. “If you make one or two mistakes, then you’re out. When you believe it’s already done, it’s not done until it’s done. We like that pressure. To play against Hoffenheim in the last game (already qualified) would be a big advantage, but first: let’s qualify.”

Qualification would have come quicker had Lyon not thrown an early spanner into Guardiola’s plans back in September. The French side have not lacked for excitement in their group matches, having scored nine and shipped eight while playing three successive draws following that win at the Etihad.

Les Gones are unbeaten in their last seven matches (4-3-0) in all competitions since a 5-0 thrashing by Paris-St. Germain on Oct. 7 and have won back-to-back matches following a 1-0 victory over St. Etienne on Friday. Jason Denayer’s goal just after the hour was enough to separate the sides as Lyon held out for the victory despite playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men after Rafael was given a direct red card.

Bruno Genesio’s side moved up to second in the Ligue 1 table, but Lyon are 15 points adrift of PSG through 14 matches.

“In recent days we started feeling that it was a different match with a special atmosphere,” Denayer told OLTV after the win. “I hope we can continue this momentum. Manchester City will be different for me, too. We will do our best to win and get the three points.”

Playmaker Nabil Fekir is expected to play despite being forced off at halftime due to a knock. He has four goals, and his four assists are second only to Memphis Depay. Depay, the one-time Manchester United winger, has team bests of six goals and six assists in 18 matches across all competitions.

Lyon would move atop the group with a victory given the head-to-head sweep, but Genesio has warned his side they cannot sit back and try to hold out for a point in a bid to get out of the group.

“This is a team that is superior to us on paper. We’ll have to be at 150 per cent to win,” he remarked about City. “We have to play. If we just defend, we will suffer and we will concede. That much is obvious. We must play with ambition in front of our home fans and have no regrets.”

Manchester City will conclude group play at home versus Hoffenheim, while Lyon travel to last-place Shakhtar Donetsk for their final Group F contest.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are still solid 2/5 favourites to claim all three points despite losing the first meeting between the sides. The odds of a draw are 4/1, and the hosts have 11/2 odds to claim all three points and the inside track to the top of the group.

The Citizens are a 3/4 pick to win with more than 2.5 goals, while a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offer 17/4 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points with fewer than 2.5 goals are 13/2, while a Lyon victory with over 2.5 goals checks in at 17/2. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 10/1 odds, while a low-scoring Les Gones victory is the longshot of the bunch at 20/1 odds.

Aguero is the frontrunner to score the first goal of the match at 10/3, followed by his understudy Gabriel Jesus at 10/3. City’s wingers — Sterling, Sane and Mahrez — round out the top five as Sterling is 9/2, edging out Sane and Mahrez (5/1). Silva has 15/2 odds, and then Lyon’s strikers — Depay and Moussa Dembele — are the French club’s top options at 9/1.

Aguero (8/11) and Jesus (5/6) are both better than even money odds to score over the 90 minutes, while Sterling is third at 23/20. Mahrez and Sane again round out the top five, with the Algeria international edging out the German at 13/10 to 7/5, respectively. Depay and Dembele again lead Lyon’s options at 12/5, with Fekir just behind the duo at 14/5.

PREDICTION

It needs to be stated that City’s lone loss this season came when Guardiola was not on the touchline — he served his ban during the reverse fixture for his actions during the second-leg Champions League quarterfinal loss to Liverpool last term. At the same time, it also needs to be stated the Citizens were second-best for much of that game and failed to recover from first-half goals by Maxwel Cornet and Fekir.

Both teams have improved since that match in September, though Guardiola’s side are currently operating with a peak ruthless efficiency that is all the more impressive they are without arguably their best player (De Bruyne) and currently dealing with a spate of injuries that include left back Benjamin Mendy in addition to the short-term woes of Bernando Silva and Gundogan.

Lyon have risen from seventh in the table to their current spot of second in the two months since beating Manchester City, and the France side’s lone loss in 14 matches since their 2-0-2 open to the season was that hiding administered by PSG. Despite all the talk of how Group D was going to be the most entertaining of the four with PSG, Liverpool and Napoli, it is possible this contest could be the most entertaining of all the group matches in Champions League.

The man with the most to prove for City is centre back Aymeric Laporte, who appears to have been frozen out of the France national side by coach Didier Deschamps. While the World Cup winners do not lack for quality on the back line, it confuses to frustrate both Guardiola and Laporte — whom Guardiola has defended and praised as perhaps his best defender. A strong showing here would be sweet vindication for Laporte, especially against a Les Gones side with quality in attack, and the prize of a spot in the round of 16 all the sweeter.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Lyon 1, Manchester City 3.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)

Pep Guardiola must find a new left back as Manchester City return from the international break minus Benjamin Mendy heading into their match Saturday at West Ham United against former manager Manuel Pellegrini.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — The expectation is for Gundogan to start for Bernardo Silva)

Mendy, who is tied for the team lead with five assists — which is also good for second in the Premier League – suffered a left knee injury that required surgery while on international duty with France in Nations League play. It is not the same knee that required reconstructive surgery last season, and Mendy is expected to be sidelined at least a month.

Luckily, the bottomless pockets of Manchester City (10-2-0) means Guardiola does not lack replacement options at the position. The top two options are Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko, both of whom have played there earlier this season when Mendy dealt with niggling injuries. Another option for Guardiola is to switch Danilo from right back, with the Brasil international fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury in the October international break.

Delph is likely the frontrunner for the spot, having captained the England side in their 3-0 victory over the United States in a friendly during the break.

“I have no doubts about Fabian. He was important for us last season and he will be again this season,” Guardiola told Man City’s official website earlier this term.

City maintained their unbeaten start with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at home before the break. While the Citizens moved 12 points clear of their eternal rivals by claiming the first Manchester derby, they have yet to create separation from the top of the table as fellow unbeatens Liverpool and Chelsea are two and four points back, respectively.

Sergio Aguero, who scored in the win over United and has netted eight of his team-high nine goals in league play, also has a pair of assists in the last two league contests and four overall. City have a Premier League-best 36 goals while conceding just five, matching Liverpool for the best mark in the top flight.

Like City, West Ham United (3-3-6) also have some issues with injured personnel at outside back. Ryan Fredericks, who limped off late in the Irons’ 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town prior to the break, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a shin injury. Fredericks adds to a lengthy long-term injury list that already includes summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid, and Carlos Sanchez.

The good news for Pellegrini is he will have midfielder Jack Wilshere and forward Andy Carroll available after both missed lengthy spells due to injury. Midfielder Mark Noble also returns after serving a three-match ban for a direct red card, but fellow midfielder Robert Snodgrass must sit out this match due to a yellow card accumulation.

This will be Pellegrini’s first match against Manchester City following his awkward departure after the 2015-16 season. It was the Chilean who announced to the public the team had reached an agreement for Guardiola to replace him in late January, completely taking the edge off a City side who were challenging Leicester City for the Premier League title. While his Champions League semifinal appearance that season remains the club’s high-water mark Guardiola has yet to match, their exit at the hands of Real Madrid was so meek It caused chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak to level public criticism.

The Irons come out of the international break looking to push their league unbeaten streak to four matches. West Ham have settled since Pellegrini’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Declan Rice serving as a shield for the back four, and the Ireland international is thriving in the role Pellegrini has made for him.

“In this position, I also get to play and go forward with the ball,” he explained to the team’s official website. “I don’t try to over-complicate anything. I just play what I see, because once I started overcomplicating things and giving the ball away, there’s nothing worse than having to chase back for the ball so, when I get the ball, I just look to get my head up and give it.”

West Ham have taken four points in their first five matches against the “Big Six,” though the losses to Liverpool and Arsenal came as part of their 0-0-4 start that necessitated Pellegrini’s switch in formation.

Manchester City have won five on the trot in all competitions over West Ham United and posted a 4-1 victory in last season’s corresponding fixture. Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho scored goals, and ex-City defender Pablo Zabaleta contributed an own goal.

The Citizens are 8-5-7 at West Ham in the Premier League era in all competitions, but they have lost just two of the last 14 (8-4-2).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are 1/4 favourites to keep their hold atop the Premier League table for another match day and beat their former boss. The odds of the Irons claiming a point similar to how they did versus Chelsea are a healthy 24/5, while the chances of pulling off the shock scoreline of the season and handing City their first loss are 11/1.

City are expected to score goals coming out of the international break, with odds of a win and more than 2.5 goals scored at 4/6. A 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offers a 13/4 return, with a low-scoring draw of 0-0 and 1-1 checks in at 7/1. For the Irons supporters, a victory regardless of goal total carries 16/1 odds.

Aguero, as expected, is the top option to open the scoring at London Stadium, getting 13/5 odds. He leads a line of City players that runs seven strong from Gabriel Jesus at 3/1 to David Silva at 7/1 as the pair bracket Raheem Sterling (4/1) and Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez (9/2). Marko Arnautovic is West Ham’s first listing at 17/2, while the sentimental can take Andy Carroll at 9/1 as the Irons striker is slated to make his season debut.

Aguero (4/6) and Jesus (3/4) are better than even money to put one past Lukasz Fabianski, with Sterling, Mahrez and Sane just off that standard at 11/10, 5/4 and 11/8, respectively. Carroll is again the pick of the West Ham litter for an any-time goal at 23/10, with Carroll and Chicharito a joint-second at 13/5.

PREDICTION

There is never a good time to catch Manchester City, but coming off an international break qualifies as one that could work to West Ham’s advantage as the Citizens work off the rust from the international break and go through their gears. There will be some intrigue to Pellegrini’s first match against City since that awkward parting of the ways, but that is more for West Ham players to use as motivation in contrast to the curiosity of how he will be received at the Etihad.

Mendy’s injury may result in a more focused defensive effort for Man City, though Delph has seamlessly contributed from the left back position when called upon previously. The injury to Bernardo Silva makes room for Ilkay Gundogan, who had a goal and an assist in 28 minutes of action off the bench in City’s two matches before the international break.

Such is the life of a big-money team that runs two deep at every position (except goalkeeper… maybe) where Guardiola can simply plug in quality pieces at every position

Marko Arnautovic will challenge Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, and then there is the possibility of seeing Carroll for the first time this season. What he can contribute is unknown, but all the same, the hope is he stays healthy for a prolonged period fo time to try and contribute.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)