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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 4, Lyon 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

Young Boys vs. Manchester United

 

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

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

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

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION

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

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

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

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

Predicted Final Score: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Fulham 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

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

2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Manchester City (August 6)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 20th and final preview of 20 EPL teams in 20 days ahead of Friday’s league-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page.)

MANCHESTER CITY CITIZENS

Manager: Pep Guardiola (Hire Date: July 1, 2016)
Tenure Length: 10th/20 in Premier League and 30th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 32-4-2, 100 points, 1st in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 106
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-79
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 17 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2002
Last Relegation: 
2001 (Premier League to First Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Quarterfinal loss (Liverpool)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Champions
2017-18 FA Cup: Fifth-round loss (Wigan Athletic)

2017/18 REVIEW

Manchester City sputtered out of the gate, having to grind out a 2-0 victory at promoted Brighton and Hove Albion to start the season and then was held to a 1-1 draw by Everton to open its home slate as it played 44 minutes down a man after Kyle Walker was given his second yellow card late in the first half.

Then came the winning. A lot of winning.

City reeled off 11 consecutive victories across all competitions with some ridiculous score lines along the way. 5-0 over Liverpool. 4-0 at Feyenoord to open Champions League play. 6-0 at Watford. 5-0 versus Crystal Palace. 7-2 over Stoke City. The Citizens trailed for all of eight minutes of the 990 during their winning streak, which finally came to the end in the Carabao Cup against Wolverhampton, which pushed them to penalties before falling.

Another eight victories followed before a 2-1 loss at Shakhtar Donetsk in a dead rubber to complete Champions League play marked City’s first loss of the 2017-18 season. The good news was that it came at the perfect time ahead of their first Manchester derby at Old Trafford, where Guardiola’s men recorded a 2-1 victory to open up an 11-point chasm between the teams after 16 matches.

City set a Premier League record with their 15th consecutive league win by thrashing Swansea City 4-0 in Wales. They would push that run to 18 matches before a scoreless draw at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve in which the flash point was a horrific challenge on Kevin De Bruyne by Palace’s Jason Puncheon in the final minutes that the Belgium international was fortunate to escape serious injury from.

The dream of matching Arsenal’s “Invincibles” would end a fortnight later at Anfield, where Liverpool ran riot for a nine-minute stretch and scored three times to take a 4-1 lead before holding out for a 4-3 victory. That would be a foreshadowing of things to come not in the Premier League race, which was being readily conceded to City despite it being only mid-January, but in Champions League.

Guardiola’s charges would resume their winning ways, reeling off four on the bounce and reaching the Carabao Cup final before a 1-1 draw at always-stubborn Burnley. Manchester City made quick work of Swiss side FC Basel in the round of 16 in Champions League play, winning 4-0 on the road in the first leg to render their 2-1 second-leg defeat moot.

In between, however, was a shocking FA Cup exit at the hands of Wigan Athletic, which brought back the nightmares of losing to a relegated Latics side in the 2013 final. Manchester City took its frustrations of that loss out on Arsenal in emphatic fashion, winning the Carabao Cup final 3-0 at Wembley before handing out another 3-0 beating at the Emirates four days later.

Now champion-elect, Manchester City drew arguably the worst of the remaining Champions League sides in Liverpool, though it was still a winnable tie. Guardiola, however, made his largest mistake of the entire season in the first leg at Anfield, inexplicably starting Ilkay Gundogan as a holding midfielder over Raheem Sterling.

Within a half-hour, Liverpool turned Anfield into the vaunted cauldron it always has been for high-pressure matches and fashioned itself a 3-0 lead. The damage done, the Reds added insult to injury by holding that lead and putting up a clean sheet to make City do the heavy lifting in the second leg.

The hangover of that loss did not carry into the second Manchester derby as City attempted to become the first team to clinch a Premier League title in their 32nd match. The chance to do it against their eternal rivals United at home was a once in a lifetime opportunity that seemed to good to pass up.

For the first half-hour, it was exactly that as Vincent Kompany and Gundogan scored six minutes apart for a two-goal lead, and City nearly ran United out of the Etihad the remainder of the first half. But just as suddenly, the match swung red. Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes, and Chris Smalling was first to a free kick and beat Ederson and both history and a title would have to wait as United salvaged some pride with a 3-2 victory.

There was no time to wallow, though, as Liverpool was coming to the Etihad and a three-goal deficit had to be overturned. Gabriel Jesus scored in the second minute, and City just applied pressure in waves at Liverpool looking for a second to further the momentum and gain everything to play for. They thought it came when Leroy Sane scored just before halftime, but it was incorrectly chalked off for offsides.

Guardiola went ballistic in complaining to referee Mateu Lahoz, earning himself an ejection at halftime. The combination of the disallowed goal and Guardiola’s thunder and banishment sapped City, who gave up a back-breaking goal to Mohamed Salah before the hour and another to Roberto Firmino late as Liverpool advanced 5-1 on aggregate.

All that was left for City was to play for history and a re-writing of the Premier League record book. They scored 12 goals in winning their next three matches, surpassing the century mark in a 4-1 hiding of West Ham United in their 35th match.

The Premier League presentation trophy was the highlight of a scoreless draw against Huddersfield Town, which all but secured a second season in the top flight with the valuable point, and it left City needing two wins to become the first Premier League team to achieve 100 points.

The first win was a straightforward 3-1 home victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, and the second took a little work. City left it very late as Jesus’ goal in the 94th minute provided the historic 1-0 victory at Southampton that made Guardiola’s side centurions. The 32nd win established a new Premier League record for victories, bettering the mark of Tottenham’s famous 1961 side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Manchester City Lineup.png

The frightening realisation for the rest of the Premier League, and by extension England for domestic cups and Europe for Champions League play is Guardiola can arguably flex his side into any formation and any lineup he wants on a match-to-match basis.

For argument’s sake, the XI presented here is based on a 4-3-3. Look at the names out there. Now consider the names missing: Bernardo Silva. Aymeric Laporte. New signing Riyad Mahrez. Gundogan. Danilo. Phil Foden. Benjamin Mendy barely played last season due to a torn ACL, yet it is well known he is one of the best at his position and still was good enough to make France’s roster this summer.

A serious case can be made the weakest backup link is Claudio Bravo between the sticks.

If Guardiola opts for a three-man backline, Kompany or Stones gets sacrificed, and given how well Stones played in Russia, it would be hard to sit him even at the expense of Kompany, who himself had a solid run for Belgium when he was 100 percent. This is a team that is going to have 60 percent possession or better in all but a handful of league matches and domestic cups, and Guardiola will relish in the challenge of tinkering his team between those set-ups.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

After spending and spending and spending the past two seasons to build a team Guardiola was confident could run a two-track course between Premier League and Champions League, this summer was refined and specific: Welcome, Mahrez.

The Algeria international’s arrival from Leicester City nearly came in the January window, but the deal feel through late. Six months and £60 million later, City finally got their man — arguably one of the most creative playmakers in the Premier League and the world.

What makes the move interesting is it is entirely possible Mahrez is little more than a rotation player on both tracks except for early in the season as players recover from World Cup responsibilities and again starting in December when the fixtures come fast and heavy. Still, his quality cannot be denied in being the driving force of Leicester City’s run to the Premier League title in 2016 and quarterfinal appearance in the subsequent Champions League.

Mahrez totaled 40 goals and 29 assists in all competitions in his last three seasons with the Foxes and was one of four players to rack up at least 35 goals and 20 assists in league play in that stretch along with Dele Alli, Roberto Firmino and Alexis Sanchez.

More grating to City’s rivals is the Citizens recouped more than half of that outlay by loaning out some of their promising younger players. Third-choice keeper Angus Gunn commanded almost £15 million in going to Southampton, while defenders Pablo Maffeo and Angelino nearly matched that total between them on loans to VfB Stuttgart and PSV Eindhoven, respectively.

Veteran midfielder Yaya Toure was released, and backup keeper Joe Hart is reportedly close to finalising a move to Burnley, which is in need at the position following a long-term shoulder injury to Nick Pope.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Kevin De Bruyne (MF)

There is something about De Bruyne’s game that borders on ethereal. If it’s not the direct pass that leads to the goal, he often gets the “hockey assist” in making the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.

Whether it is his vision to make passes few see, let alone successfully make, or his sense of timing when to take over a match in terms of trying to score, the Belgium international rightfully created a split in PFA voting last year and would have been a worthy winner had he not finished runner-up to another worthy winner in Liverpool’s Salah.

De Bruyne had a solid World Cup campaign in leading Belgium to a third-place finish in Russia, and with an embarrassment of riches around him in Aguero, Sterling, Jesus and now Mahrez, De Bruyne’s biggest threat comes in the form of being able to pop up anywhere in the opposing half of the pitch to create a scoring chance for others or fashion one for himself.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to become the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won the last of its three straight titles in 2009. The Citizens are 8/11 odds to win it all again, and there are ridiculous odds for top-four (1/20) and top-six finishes (1/500).

It is a little closer to even money Guardiola’s team will be atop the table on Christmas Day at 10/11, and for top-two finishes, City have 3/1 odds to finish 1-2 ahead of Liverpool and 9/2 with United.

Aguero is listed fifth in odds to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot at 8/1, with Jesus sixth at 14/1. Sane and Sterling are further long shots at 33/1. Player of the Year odds is where it gets interesting as De Bruyne is a slight favorite at 8/1, Sane fifth at 14/1 and David Silva seventh (16/1).

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 12 — Arsenal (6th) A
Aug. 19 — Huddersfield Town (16th) H
Aug. 25 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
Sept. 1 — Newcastle United (10th) H
—————
April 20 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) H
April 27 — Burnley (7th) A
May 4 — Leicester City (10th) H
May 12 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) A

OUTLOOK

For a team that won the Premier League by 19 points, reached 100, set all sorts of single-season records (it’s easier to just link to the Wiki page rather than add 200 superfluous words and numbers) and also registered a double by also winning the Carabao Cup, there is still unfinished business for Guardiola and Manchester City.

Some of that was self-inflicted by the Spaniard, whose decision to start Gundogan in the first leg of City’s Champions League quarterfinal at Liverpool ran counter to everything he had been building on the blue side of Manchester to that very point, and he paid for it.

Dearly.

Guardiola will not be prone to overthinking this time around, but it will also not be as easy to repeat as champions either. There is always a bizarre variable that comes off a World Cup summer, and while City have more than enough depth to rotate players to address any matchup issue Guardiola may perceive, there will be a creeping unknown of sorts until they actually play the matches and get through them.

Additionally, the primary foil in the Premier League is no longer City’s hated rivals across town, but is indeed, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Manchester City had five meaningful losses all of last season — the Champions League ones to Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Basel had nothing at stake — and three of them came to Liverpool.

Further, the one victory over the Reds can be talked away as a match turned on its head when Mane got his red card and a 1-0 game turned into a 5-0 laugher. Liverpool has spent… and spent… and spent to get its team up to a point where it can at least attempt to stand with Manchester City, and it will be upon the reigning champion to knock the Reds down once more.

The success of teams hitting on the counter at the World Cup will probably result in a renewed effort to do so among clubs who play Manchester City. It is nothing new for the Citizens to face, but it will be something to watch. Guardiola loves a game of cat-and-mouse like few other managers, and with his legacy on the line as he enters his third season at the Etihad, expect a cagey and focused Spaniard on the sideline as he hunts glory and beyond.

PREDICTED FINISH

1st place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City