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 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 Preview — Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

For all of the terrific football Manchester City have produced on the pitch during their six-game winning streak they carry into the Etihad for Sunday’s 177th Manchester derby versus eternal rivals United, it has been the troublesome allegations off it that have dominated the headlines surrounding the reigning Premier League champions.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Manchester City (9-2-0) have looked imperious for most of the season, their lone loss a stunning 2-1 home defeat to Lyon to open Champions League group play. The Citizens, though, have one foot through the door in advancing to the knockout round after smashing six past Shakhtar Donetsk without reply Tuesday to put them top of Group E with two matches remaining.

While City were clearly the best team, there were some noses turned up regarding the source of their second goal – a penalty Gabriel Jesus converted after Raheem Sterling stubbed his toe into the turf while shooting and fell without any assistance from Shakhtar defender Mykola Matviyenko. Referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot without hesitation – even Guardiola turned to his bench in disbelief it was awarded – and after Jesus stroked his 12-yard effort home, the rout was on.

The Brasil international finished with three goals, converting a second and more deserving penalty late, while Sterling, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez supplied the other half of the haul.

But the dark clouds that had been forming since last week, created by the allegations published in the German magazine Der Spiegel that City regularly and repeatedly circumvented rules regarding Financial Fair Play and were cut a sweetheart deal by then-UEFA general secretary and current FIFA president Gianni Infantino to avoid a Champions League ban persisted.

“Well I think about that issue the club issued a statement last Friday about what happened, the stolen emails,” Guardiola said before Tuesday’s victory. “But about the business, about how they handle this kind of situation, I am completely out of that. I am part of the club, I am supporter of the club, and we want to do what we have to do in terms of the rules.

“I think that’s (the allegations) been said for the last decade, so the people is saying about the club for the last decade just win because we have money. That is always the issue here, because to pass to stay in one level and achieve another level you need a lot of time, and of course money. When you invest more, this gap, the time reduces. And that’s normal.”

The team itself has not offered a statement beyond what was offered last week, in which they labeled the allegations an “organized and clear” attempt to damage the club’s reputation while referring to the leaked emails as “out of context materials purportedly hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people.”

On the pitch, though, everything has been rosy for City. They have piled up 23 goals while conceding just one during their winning streak, getting strikes from 11 different players. There has been no drop-off in form since Kevin De Bruyne was again lost to a knee injury in the Carabao Cup win over Fulham, and the club received more good news Friday when Sterling put pen to paper on a three-year extension to stay at City through 2023. The England international has 51 goals and 55 assists in all competitions since joining from Liverpool in 2015.

Silva, one of City’s longest-tenured players after arriving on the blue side of Manchester in 2010, feels the hold of power has moved across town during his time with the Citizens.

“United commanded a lot of respect when I arrived,” he told the club’s official website. “But I think it changed from when we won at Old Trafford 6-1 (in 2011) and the mentality changed a little bit that day. Now I think we are held in great esteem.

“You remember a bit about every derby you’ve played in,” Silva added, “but that one, the result, and the fact that it was at United, the respect that United commanded in that period in time, makes it one that will forever go down in history.”

Manchester United (6-2-3) avoided history of a horrid sort in its last trip seven kilometres to the east, recovering from a 2-0 halftime deficit to win 3-2 and delay the inevitable of City’s clinching of the Premier League title. In a season of fits and starts, it appears United finally have achieved a sense of consistency as they have won three on the trot.

Jose Mourinho’s side performed an impressive smash-and-grab raid at Juventus on Tuesday, scoring twice after the 85th minute to stun the Italian giants 2-1 for their biggest victory since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Juan Mata scored on a free kick on 86 minutes, and Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci bundled home a free kick by Ashley Young in a goal-mouth scrum three minutes later for an own goal as United greatly enhanced their chances of advancing from Group H of the Champions League.

“As soon as there was the free-kick in there, I had the confidence that I had to take it,” Mata told MUTV about his equaliser. “I told Ash: ‘Please let me take it, because I can go over the wall. So I tried to do what I do in training a lot of times, practicing, practicing. It was important to score to make it 1-1 and, after, it led us to the 1-2. I think because of the venue and the importance of the game, it’s one of the best (that I’ve scored).”

While derby week usually means Mourinho offers some sort of locker room material that can galvanise an opponent, “The Special One” demurred about both the FFP allegations swirling around City and about Guardiola’s side, knowing full well a defeat in this game would leave United 12 points adrift of their noisy neighbours and all but ending their chances of winning the league.

“If we draw (the difference) is nine (points),” he told The Times. “If we lose it is 12. We have to just think about the match, it is difficult enough as an isolated event … they are a very powerful team.

“If you want to speak about their football potential we can speak and about where football potential starts, and that starts with investment,” Mourinho added, himself no stranger to big-money football at his previous stops and with United. “After that of course there is a quality of the work, of the organisation. I think that is untouchable, but what’s behind it, I cannot say.”

Mourinho does have a late injury concern as midfielder Paul Pogba missed practice Friday after picking up a knock against Juventus. Romelu Lukaku is expected to be available after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury, giving Mourinho the selection headache of which three will be up front among the Belgium international, Mata, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

Of the group, Martial appears to be the safest on the left side, with Lingard getting a surprising start on the right as Mourinho chose Sanchez to play centre-forward for his industry. It would not be surprising to see Rashford restored to the right side, though Mourinho could opt for Sanchez and Mata to play with Martial if Lukaku is not fully ready to start.

One of Manchester’s own will serve as referee, with Anthony Taylor getting the call to oversee his first derby.

United lead the all-time series 73-51, and the teams have shared the points on 52 occasions. Guardiola has yet to beat United at the Etihad as Mourinho held City to a 0-0 draw in 2016-17 before last season’s defeat.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers do not seem all that sold on a Manchester United resurgence against the in-form style of City, who are 4/11 favourites to win this match. United are 15/2 longshots to return across town with a win for the second straight season and there are 4/1 odds on the sides splitting the points.

For the #Starman offers, the only one that looks remotely appealing and has a realistic chance of occurring is Aguero getting a goal and an assist at 9/2 when compared to what is being offered for Pogba.

City are 5/6 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored while they also have 17/5 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There is a clear line of notice for a 0-0 or 1-1 finish at 6/1 odds, and for those who think lightning can strike twice, United offer a return of 11/1 with another victory over 2.5 goals as opposed to 18/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aguero, unsurprisingly, leads the list of choices to score the match’s first goal at 14/5 odds, but Jesus’ hat trick against Shakhtar impressed enough to put him second at 16/5, ahead of Sterling (4/1). The next four choices also belong to the sky blue hue of Manchester as Mahrez (9/2), Leroy Sane (5/1), and the Silvas — David (8/1) then Bernardo (9/1) get billing ahead of Lukaku (10/1). Martial and Rashford are both 11/1 picks to make it 0-1, with Sanchez a step back at 12/1.

Aguero and Jesus are better than even money to score in this match, with the Argentine at 3/4 and his South American compatriot 5/6. Sterling narrowly missed out being included in this group at 5/4, closely followed by Mahrez (13/10) and Sane (6/4). Lukaku again leads the line for United, this time at 14/5, trailed by Rashford (3/1), Martial (16/5), and Sanchez (10/3).

PREDICTION

There has been one thing missing in the build-up to this match — enmity. One part is because the teams had mid-week Champions League obligations, which both handled deftly (and excitingly in the case of United). One could only imagine the Mourinho mood had he returned from Italy without a result in that contest, and the inquest that would have ensured. A second part is the oxygen being sucked out of the room by the explosive allegations in Der Speigel. This has the potential to hang over City throughout the season and only grow into a larger mushroom cloud the further they progress in Champions League should that happen. But that is for spring, for now, let us try to stay in the seven kilometres between the clubs.

“The Special One” still has many things to ponder across his midfield and attack. It seems all but certain Lukaku will return to lead the line, and Martial is in too good of form to be dropped, so that leaves Rashford, Sanchez, Mata, and Lingard for the right wing. Sanchez is clearly out of position there, so scratch the Chilean.

Lingard did not do anything to warrant a second consecutive start in his surprising mid-week appearance at Juventus, so now it is down to Rashford and Mata. The likely pick is Mata because Rashford has the ability to enter the match at either forward position off the bench, giving Mourinho some versatility.

The next area is midfield, where Pogba and Matic will start, but the choice is between Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini at the right slot. Herrera did enough versus Juve to warrant a second start, getting the first after his strong effort against Bournemouth, but Mourinho has always had a soft spot for Fellaini’s disruptive abilities. The hedge is still Herrera in this instance.

If there is a worry for Mourinho, it is at right back. Ashley Young has been credible of late, but there are few in the Premier League with the pace of Benjamin Mendy, and he will be eager to test Young at every opportunity. That is another reason Herrera is would get the call over Fellaini.

Guardiola does not have a selection headache on his hands for this contest. Aguero is going to lead the line, Sterling and Mahrez will flank him, and the Silvas will do likewise with Fernandinho. Sane will come off the bench, as will Ilkay Gundogan if needed. City’s form has been so rampant the past fortnight one almost has to wonder if any overconfidence has crept into the side.

Then again, all Guardiola has to do is show tape of that 15-minute stretch in the second half when Pogba grabbed the match by its throat and scored twice before City’s disastrous high line on Sanchez’s free kick gifted Smalling the go-ahead tally.

For all the talk of how Mourinho parks the bus on the road to get a result, he still has gotten them lately. United are 2-1-1 in their last four versus Big Six opponents outside Old Trafford and their 2-2 draw at Chelsea let them kick on to bigger and better things, home defeat to Juventus notwithstanding.

The only fear with United is they emptied the tank leaving it so late versus Juventus. The only problem with that is City’s attack promotes plenty of fear even at full strength.

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

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

Even without their most creative player, Manchester City have shown they have more than enough ways to find goals of late. The Citizens look to take a huge step in advancing out of Group F of the Champions League on Wednesday when they look to sweep their home-and-home set versus Shakhtar Donetsk.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After an initial stumble at home versus Lyon, City have regrouped with back-to-back wins to move atop the group with six points at the halfway point, one better than the French side. Pep Guardiola’s team also have a plus-3 goal difference, the best in Group F after swatting aside the Ukraine side 3-0 a fortnight ago.

That victory is part of a five-match run in all competitions that was extended Sunday with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton. Raheem Sterling had two goals and two assists while Sergio Aguero chipped on a goal while helping on two others as City moved on quickly in response to losing winger Kevin De Bruyne for a prolonged period for the second time this season.

The Belgium international is expected to miss at least four weeks with a knee injury suffered late in City’s mid-week victory over Fulham in the Carabao Cup, but the front line more than picked up the slack as Leroy Sane made the most of his turn in the rotation with a goal and an assist.

About the only negative was City’s shutout streak in league play ending at 10 1/2 hours after Danny Ings converted a penalty on the half-hour for the Saints. City, who have scored 17 goals during their current win streak, have shipped just seven in 16 matches across all competitions. And ever the perfectionist, Guardiola saw plenty to pick apart from his side despite the lopsided win that moved them two points clear atop the table.

“Without the ball we conceded a lot.,” he said. “We conceded a lot of corners, free kicks and they have the best corner-taker in the Premier League,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s always dangerous, but of course I am so satisfied with the result and performance.

“At 3-1, they created problems for us. Their crosses were always dangerous, and we had problems controlling long balls. Scoring in the last minute of the first-half made it better for us in the second. Southampton, I felt, could score more. But at the same time, we also could have scored more goals.”

While most news between matches off the pitch revolves around who is and who isn’t starting each match for City, there is a fresh new round of controversy involving the club’s finances after leaked documents were part of a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. The documents showed that a substantial portion of sponsorship money — £59.5 million of an estimated £67.5 million — that was supposed to come from Etihad actually came from the club’s ownership group, which would be a violation of UEFA’s fair play principles.

While Europe’s football governing body has yet to offer a comment on the story, it is possible an investigation could be re-launched. City were fined approximately £17.5 million in 2014 for breaching FFP rules, and further leaked documents from that same article showed a secret agreement between current FIFA president and then-UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino which allowed City to avoid a Champions League ban.

The club released a statement last week reading “We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purported to have been hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people. The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear.”

City did field close to a full first-choice lineup versus Southampton, and Guardiola gave late run-outs to Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph and Phil Foden. Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were unused substitutes, and with the Manchester derby looming this weekend versus eternal rivals United, it would not be surprising to see Jesus leading the line like he did in the reverse fixture in search of his first goal in six matches.

In that 3-0 win over Donetsk, Guardiola did some experimenting as he used Nicolas Otamendi in central defence and let centre back John Stones play out wide on the right. With a chance to put a hammerlock on the group, Guardiola likely will play a more straightforward back four.

One other side note for this match has been the home support for Champions League matches by City supporters. Guardiola has been on record about wanting a more vocal backing at the Etihad, though City supporters have had a long-running antagonism against UEFA and boo the Champions League anthem that is played before kick-off.

Guardiola has seen the empty seats during group play both this term and last — City have averaged nearly 10,000 shy of a sellout in their 55,000-seat stadium in the last four home Champions League contests in group play — and noted before the reverse fixture to The Times that “still we don’t have that feeling, the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”

City are also trying to avoid a dubious feat, as a loss would make them the first English side to lose four consecutive Champions League home contests. They lost what was essentially a dead second-leg rubber to Basel before their quarterfinal exit at the hands of Liverpool and lost to Lyon to open group play this term.

Shakhtar Donetsk continues to rule the Ukrainian Premier League and have won their three matches since losing at home to City. They are coming off a 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kyiv last weekend that extended their lead atop the table to eight points through 14 matches.

After conceding late in the first half to Mykola Shaparenko, Junior Moraes pulled Shakhtar level nine minutes after the interval against his former team and Viktor Kovalenko scored a 95th-minute winner against a 10-man Kyiv side in a testy match that saw nine yellow cards issued in total along with the double booking of defender Tomasz Kedziora three minutes before Kovalenko’s winner.

“All the players did well today,” the 22-year-old Kovalenko told the club’s official website. “In the scoring episode, I received the ball having the possibility to net one, and it worked, I reckon, just spectacularly. This may be one of my most beautiful goals for Shakhtar.”

Moraes has 11 goals in 13 matches across all competitions and seven in his last eight games. Marlos is second with six goals but is looking to end a five-match scoring drought.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to break their duck at home and have 1/10 odds to claim all three points. Even a draw seems unlikely to oddsmakers at 17/2, while Shakhtar are 25/1 underdogs to pull off an upset that would turn the group into chaos.

City are also expected to pump a few goals past Andriy Pyatov, getting 2/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored. They are a 7/2 pick to win either 1-0 or 2-0, and a low-scoring draw checks in at 11/1. A 2-2 deadlock or higher is 28/1, while the Shakhtar longshots read as: 45/1 with a victory over 2.5 goals and 60/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aguero leads a lengthy list of nine City players who are more likely to score the first goal of the match before top Shakhtar option Moraes at 14/1. Aguero is listed at 23/10 despite the strong likelihood he might not start, while potential replacement Jesus is the second choice at 13/5. Sterling and Mahrez are together at 7/2, with Leroy Sane lurking behind them at 9/2.

Aguero, Jesus, Sterling, and Mahrez are all better than even money to score during the course of the match, ranging from Aguero at 4/9 to Mahrez at 10/11. Sane is just off even money at 6/5, and both Silvas are better than 2/1 to score as Bernardo is 7/4 and David is 9/5. Moraes again is Shakhtar’s top option at 10/3. with Marlos second-best at 5/1.

PREDICTION

What was supposed to be a straightforward match in which City all but assure themselves of advancing and overturn their rotation enough to have as many first-choice players available for the Manchester derby has turned into something much larger and perhaps more nefarious if the findings alleged in the Der Spiegel are true.

There may not be any short-term ramifications as City try to progress further than last year’s quarterfinal exit, but there could be very serious and lasting long-term repercussions for the club should Europe’s governing soccer body and even the English FA come down with punitive measures.

For Guardiola, the potential distraction of the article comes at the worst possible time with these two matches, more so for Sunday’s tilt versus United. For this match, however, it is a chance for Jesus and Mahrez to get themselves a good lather to be available for Sunday’s contest, and maybe give Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan a late run-out. Of course, Guardiola might go all guns blazing for this match as a response for the article, and create an insurmountable goal difference for the last two matches.

Shakhtar’s primary goal will be to limit the damage and potentially steal a late marker after the result is decided. That, however, would also be wildly optimistic considering City played their best match of the three in the Ukraine a fortnight ago and can now put them to the sword at home.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 5, Shakhtar Donetsk 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)

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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

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

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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

And then, the match will begin.

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Burnley 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

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