Raheem Sterling Finally Proving His Worth to the Manchester City Cause.

Raheem Sterling Finally Proving His Worth to the Manchester City Cause.

Manchester City’s narrow 1-0 victory over Dutch outfit Feyenoord in the Champions League secured top spot in Group F, and ensured Guardiola’s men maintained their perfect 100% start in Europe’s elite competition this season with one final group game to go.

The goal coming from the sort of wonderful football City fans have been accustomed to so far in the Premier League this season. Raheem Sterling picked up the ball outside the D, played in Ilkay Gundogan, the German midfield maestro then executed a peach of a return pass which split Feyenoord’s defence like a knife through butter. Kevin De Bruyne would have been wondering how on earth could Gundogan attempt such a delightful ball when the Belgian has been shaping up similar passes at a canter this season.

What followed the pass was equally delightful, as Raheem Sterling pounced on the pass and dinked the ball confidently over the despairing Feyenoord goalkeeper to give City the lead, and make it his fourth Champions League goal in four starts this season. Follow that in with the vital winner against Huddersfield on Sunday as City looked as if they would drop points for only the second time this season. A tad fortuitous, but it goes to show the improvements Sterling is making by being at the right place at the right time in the penalty box.

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Raheem Sterling has been in red hot form of late.

To put it simply, Raheem Sterling is enjoying the most prolific period of his career to date. Check out his goal scoring record this season: 12 goals in just 17 appearances is remarkable for a player who has received countless criticism since his move to the Etihad in 2015. The finish against Feyenoord was of the sort any modern day forward would be proud of even his team-mate Sergio Aguero who endured a rather difficult night in front of goal. The way in which the English international took his opportunity encapsulated his massive maturity and the improvement in his game. Under Guardiola’s guidance Sterling has grown incredibly and his stats tell the reason why.

Few young players have had to cope with the amount of pressure and criticism Sterling has faced over the past few years. He is still a few weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, but he has already been accustomed to his performances being slated and his private life scrutinised to make matters worse. It is now more than two years since his big money move from Anfield to the Etihad, and his switch in allegiance is still bitter on the tongue to many Liverpool fans simply for the fact that they believe he only moved for the money.

This season so far, however, his critics are nowhere to be seen, running low on ammunition. Sterling has starred in what has already been a record breaking start to Manchester City’s campaign. His total of eight Premier League goals so far means he is amongst the leading scorers so far this season, and two behind top scorer Mohammed Salah of Liverpool (10). Throw in two assists as well, and Sterling has been one of the leading lights in City’s fantastic start.

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Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane have formed a lethal partnership on the wings for City.

This was a man believed to be down the pecking order when City brought in £43m signing Bernardo Silva from Ligue 1 champions Monaco in the summer. Sterling was even subject of a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal, many thought he would be the fall guy. Despite the brilliance of the Bernardo Silva, Guardiola has kept faith with Raheem Sterling and his belief has been duly rewarded.

Sterling has always had the faith of the man who matters most. A year on from phoning Sterling after his torrid time at Euro 2016 with England, to reassure him that his place on the City would not be in jeopardy, Guardiola rejected Arsenal’s enquiry out of hand. The winger only impressed in patches during Guardiola’s first season in charge, but that hasn’t stopped Guardiola showing his unwavering faith.

The Catalan coach has rotated his attacking players heavily this season, and Sterling has certainly made the most of his opportunities. His recent goals against Feyenoord, West Brom, Napoli, Bournemouth and Everton have proven pivotal. Sterling’s confidence is sky high, and with Leroy Sane on the opposite flank in similar vein of form, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva causing riot in midfield, City’s forwards will have no complaints about a lack of service. City have service in abundance.

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City’s attacking fire power can match any in World football.

When there was once ageing legs, Guardiola has been quick to get rid, and replace them with youthful exuberance. Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva are names that will light up any league in the world. Guardiola must be drooling every single week at the sight of the attacking talent at his disposal.

Nonetheless, Sterling ranked third for most touches in the opposition box last term, but with more willing runners on the overlap this season, he has found himself on the end of attacking moves more frequently. Even more significantly for Sterling though, is how he is making the most of getting into those positions. The lack of composure or conviction that has hampered him in the past seem to be no more. His shot conversion rate has lept from 10.9 per cent to 30.4 percent. Only Leicester’s Jamie Vardy has been more clinical in front of goal this campaign.

Raheem Sterling is comfortably on course for his most prolific season yet, if he carries on this sort of form. It is no surprise in the fact that Guardiola has kept him in the City line up despite the wealth of attacking talent in his arsenal. The signs of improvement and maturity for Sterling is there, he is losing possession more frequently and completing more passes, and it all extends to his dribbling too. His dribbling success rate has significantly increased this season from 49.7 per cent to 60 per cent.

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This campaign is shaping up to be a successful one for Sterling.

City are definitely reaping the benefits of Sterling’s improvement. From the passing and movement to the dribbling and finishing, Sterling is mastering the art of becoming an all round footballer. It seems as though the criticisms of the past have not only strengthened him but has also matured him to the extent that City can rely on him when needed as Tuesday night showed. An unerring finish from a player ticking all the right boxes so far this campaign.

It can only get better from here for Raheem Sterling.

 

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Liverpool’s Mo Salah Proving to be One Of The Signings of the Summer.

Liverpool’s Mo Salah Proving to be One Of The Signings of the Summer.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp recently revealed his recruitment staff at the club eagerly persuaded him to sign Mohammed Salah from Roma in the summer.

The Egyptian international has been a revelation since his £36.9m switch from the Italian capital in June, scoring an incredible 12 goals in 17 appearances, more than what Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres achieved during their own early days at the club. Salah’s brace helped Klopp’s men to a 4-1 thrashing against West Ham on Saturday.

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Salah opens the scoring against West Ham.

After the game, Klopp paid tribute to Salah, revealing how his signing was very much a collective effort:

“We watched Salah so closely, saw him so often. The scouting department was really behind me, and wanted to do it even earlier so that nobody else could jump in!

Klopp also added:

“We were sure he (Salah) can help us. Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry (Hunter), they were really in my ear and were on it: ‘Come on, come on, Mo Salah, he’s the solution.’

Indeed, Mohammed Salah has been worth the investment. Credit to Liverpool snapping him up so early in the summer transfer window with a host of clubs who would have desperately needed a player of his calibre.

Salah has been an absolute menace since his arrival on Merseyside. His pace – a trait we already knew about during his days in Chelsea colours in the past – his directness and sheer tenacity when out of possession, these are characteristics so dear to Klopp.

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Salah celebrates with fellow team-mate Sadio Mane.

His goals against West Ham were the perfect examples as to why Liverpool were so desperate to spend a considerable amount of money on him. The first goal was a joy to behold, with 21 minutes on the clock, West Ham midfielder Lanzini lined up a corner in front of Liverpool’s travelling fans. West Ham had initially started the evening spectacle brightly, restricting Liverpool to only half-chances and almost taking the lead themselves when Andre Ayew struck the post.

However, in 13 rapid fire seconds after their own corner, West Ham found themselves behind.

The kind of defending that was described as utterly “shambolic” and “naïve” by various pundits on Sky Sports News last week in the draw against Crystal Palace, but also another example of just how dangerous and deadly Liverpool can be on the counter attack. According to Opta, they have scored more goals from a counter attack than any other Premier League side this season.

It was fitting, that the counter attack started and ended with Mo Salah. The Egyptian has been simply electric since his summer move, and his opener – coolly slotted beyond Joe Hart after a lung-busting run from his own half with Sadio Mane – set the tone for what was yet another impressive showing.

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Liverpool have scored more counter attacks than any other Premier League side.

His second goal, a precise cutting edge finish low into the corner of the net, taking his tally this season so far to 12 goals in all competitions. Harry Kane is the only Premier League player to have scored more than Mo Salah. It’s only the 4th month of the season, and Salah is just two goals short of matching top scorer last season, Philippe Coutinho’s tally of 14 goals.

In defence, Klopp has some very well documented issues he needs to address. The criticism he has received for most of the season has been for which defender he did not buy in the summer. Yet, Salah just might be the best piece of business done by any of the top clubs in the Premier League.

Salah has been used on the right-flank for the majority of the season, but against West Ham on Saturday, he lined up alongside Roberto Firmino in what seemed to be a fluid 4-4-2 formation. A particular position he is unfamiliar with but a tactical move so in keeping with his flying start to life at Anfield, being able to adapt. For Roma, he often played as a second striker to Edin Dzeko last season – as a result, finding himself in similar goal scoring form for the Italian club.

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Mo Salah notches his second goal of the game and 12th of the season.

Salah’s best moments during the game, came mostly in tandem with fellow speedster Sadio Mane. Klopp was largely reliant on Mane for pace and penetration last season, but the addition of Salah has been a breath of fresh air and has eased that concern, making Liverpool even more threatening on the break. The pair have already cooked up a delightful understanding which was perfectly evident in both Salah’s goals.

Salah’s devastating form is a far cry from his previous Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea. A certain perception that Salah was not a natural finisher, that his trickery, incisiveness and speed were undermined by a lack of composure. That perception has been consummately placed to rest. His stats in Italy were equally as impressive, scoring with 19% of his shots. Elite finishing, for a player not even considered to be your modern day centre forward.

There’s reason to see why Salah has become a huge fan favourite by the Liverpool faithful who constantly sang his name against West Ham, and the statistics underline the extent of his impact. As well as seven goals and two assists in the Premier League, Salah ranks in the top three for shots, dribbles and touches inside the opposition penalty area.

It has fallen into place so nicely for Klopp and his recruitment staff, it seems as though their thorough analysis of Salah before signing him has already been shown during his time at the club so far. With so much of the season still to play, it is frightening to think that there could be more to Mo Salah than meets the eye.

The Egyptian is only just getting started.

 

 

 

 

Super Sunday Preview and Predictions.

Super Sunday Preview and Predictions.

nteIt’s a massive Super Sunday this weekend as the Premier League throws up another ‘Top Six’ battle as Manchester City host Arsenal at the Etihad stadium followed by Manchester United’s visit to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. There is no doubting that we are in for two massive six pointers as all four clubs will be aiming to stake a strong claim in this early race for the Barclays Premier League title.

Here’s a look at my prediction for this weekend’s Super Sunday’s games:

Manchester City vs Arsenal

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Wenger has not tasted victory at the Etihad stadium in three years.

 

The first of our ‘Top 6’ battle this Sunday is between high-flying Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad. Arsene Wenger’s side has not beaten City on the road in three years in which the Gunners claimed a memorable and significant victory over the then reigning champions, beating them in a robust, defensive and astute display, having only 35 per cent possession, taking fewer shots than their opponents.

Will Arsene approach this game on Sunday in the same manner? City are on fire right now and will be buoyed by their impressive 4-2 win over Napoli in Italy in the Champions League, midweek. There is no stopping City right now, with their scintillating football on show. Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero are all enjoying prolific starts to the season. Lets not forget about the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne who is desecrating defences week-in-week-out with his fabulous eye of the needle passes and vision. Guardiola has identified the perfect formula for this City side, and Arsene Wenger will have his work cut out if he does not have a game plan for this game.

Arsenal went to Chelsea a few weeks ago and snatched a draw, in which we thought the penny had dropped. Does Arsene now know to approach the big games with a particular game plan? The draw at Stamford Bridge showed he does, but right now City are on a different playing field than Chelsea. Arsenal’s impressive frontline of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette will have to be at their utmost best to get anything from the Etihad. City’s defence are vulnerable and without a recognised left-back, will Wenger target that area to go in his favour?

We’ll find out this Sunday.

I ain’t ruling out Arsenal, but my head is going towards a City victory to crank up the pressure on neighbours United.

Score Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal

 

Chelsea vs Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte lock horns once again this Sunday.

It’s worrying times for Chelsea right now, the Roma defeat on Tuesday would certainly have deepened the fears and worries surrounding the whole club right now. The Premier League winners need a massive win from somewhere to pick themselves up and there is no better place to do it than against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United on Sunday. Chelsea’s defence is a huge worry and Mourinho will be licking his lips at the prospect of inflicting further damage on his former club.

What’s interesting about these spectacles is that they throw up various questions on how both clubs will approach the game. Will Mourinho stick with the same approach he employed against Liverpool a few weeks ago or will he have a go at Chelsea’s struggling defence. United have been picking up victories aside from their surprise defeat to Huddersfield, the late win over fellow challengers Tottenham would was a much needed victory followed by a win over Benfica in midweek. Clean sheets are always a bonus and United have at this moment the best defence in the league, even picking up victories without their star performer Paul Pogba, and without him, Mourinho’s men have struggled to replicate the fast and exciting attacking football they showed earlier on in the season. Though, Pogba could make his return to the bench this Sunday, United will be in desperate need of his services if they strive to pick up a victory this Sunday.

Similarly, Chelsea have been poor without their main man N’golo Kante in midfield. At times over the past few weeks, their defence has been laboured and cut to pieces with ease because of Kante’s absence. Conte will be praying the Frenchman can make a return this Sunday which could be a much needed boost.

What’s certain, is that, this will be a very tight game. I don’t see Chelsea giving United another hiding like last season and without Kante, Chelsea may just struggle but all that depends on how Mourinho approaches this game. I don’t want to be biased here but Chelsea are struggling so I’m going for United to nick it.

Score Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United

 

Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace

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It was a memorable night for Tottenham on Wednesday as they beat last seasons CL winners Real Madrid.

 

What a night Tottenham experienced on Wednesday against European champions Real Madrid, not only did they beat them, but pretty comfortably too. Pochettino took advantage of Real’s poor form as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen ran riot. This weekend, its back to reality in the Premier League as they host Crystal Palace who are bottom of the Premier League table at this point in the season. Wednesday night proved that Tottenham have rid of their Wembley hoodoo and a win against Roy Hodgson’s struggling side is certainly on the cards. Pochettino and his men will be hoping to bounce back from their defeat to Manchester United last week and Wednesday nights antics will certainly boost them with confidence going into Sunday’s game.

Palace were awfully lucky last week, if it weren’t for West Ham’s naivety to close out the match at Selhurst Park last week, Palace would have been staring at another defeat. However, Hodgson would have been buoyed by his sides spirit after going 2-0 down, which must make the former England coach think why his players can’t start matches in similar vein. Players such as Wilfried Zaha has certainly given Palace hope, his new role up front has certainly filled him with responsibility. Can Palace cause an upset this weekend?

Score Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Crystal Palace

 

Everton vs Watford

It was a very disappointing result for Watford last week in their 1-0 defeat to Stoke, we would have expected better from Marco Silva’s men. It was the first time where they have turned up expecting a victory but cracked under pressure. Marco Silva will definitely want to resurrect the animal in Watford that we have been impressed with so far this season and what a time to get it, at struggling side Everton who are rock-bottom right now, out of the Europa League, managerless and in desperate need of fresh impetus.

The Everton hierarchy will certainly use the upcoming international break as a chance to choose the next manager to take over from sacked Ronald Koeman – it is a decision that could really make or break the future of the football club. They are in a relegation dog fight right now although its too early in the season, but within the club it seems as though there is no hope. Everton need something, now and fast.

Watford to take the three points.

Score Prediction: Everton 1-2 Watford

Week 8 Premier League Review in Numbers

Week 8 Premier League Review in Numbers

Written by Adrian Addai

 

Games after the international break usually seem to throw up bizarre results and this week was no different with some shocks at the top and bottom of the table. Here are some of the stats you may have missed from this weeks results.

0- Unfortunately that is the number of away games Arsenal have won this season. They are going have to start picking up points on the road if they have any desires of getting back into that top four. With trips to Goodison Park and the Etihad on the horizon it will not be getting any easier for Arsene and his side.

1- Tottenham, recorded their first win at Wembley in the Premier League with Erikson providing a cool finish to give Spurs all three points against Bournemouth. They will be hoping to keep up the momentum at Wembley when Liverpool are the visitors next weekend.

2- The number of goals Manchester United have conceded in the opening eight league games, currently sitting with the best defensive record in the league having kept 7 clean sheets. Although they have owe much to David De Gea and his speedy reactions for keeping a clean sheet at Anfield which was otherwise quite a drab draw.

 

 

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Only one player has scored past De Gea this season (Choupo-Moting with a double for Stoke)

 

3 – Crystal Palace collected their first three points of the campaign being the last team in all of the English Football League to record a league win. To do it against the champions is just as impressive and with Zaha in the form he’s showing surely Hodgson will be a little bit more enthusiastic about their chances of survival.

4- Watford leapfrogged Arsenal into fourth position after a well fought victory over the Gunners this weekend. Marco Silvas boys are going from strength to strength and sit above Chelsea,Liverpool and Arsenal in the table as it stands. They bullied Arsenal in that last period of the game and Troy Deeney showed he still has plenty still to offer playing a major part in both the goals.

5- The number of assists Kevin De Bruyne has now registered in the Premier League this season, second only to David Silva in that race. Some of the range of passes he displayed against Stoke were nothing short of breathtaking. what is more remarkable since his debut for Manchester City he has contributed 32 assists which in that time is better than any current player in the league.

 

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De Bruyne has been in scintillating form so far this season registering 5 assists.

6- Bournemouth have now lost 6 of their first 8 league games and lie 19th in the league, only Crystal Palace have lost more in the league this season. This should serve as a warning sign to Eddie Howe who needs to get back to winning ways or else they might find themselves drifting further from the teams above them.

 

Written by Adrian Addai

Top Candidates to Win the Barclays Premier League Golden Boot.

Top Candidates to Win the Barclays Premier League Golden Boot.

After 7 games of the return of the Barclays Premier League, its fair to say, we fans have not been disappointed. The Premier League table is already showing us a minor glimpse of how it could shape up come April and May. Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are fairly running away with it, but there’s still a long way to go yet. Although, that hasn’t stopped some pundits and fans debating who could win the Barclays Premier League come May, with the names of both Manchester clubs ringing on a most fans lips.

But the debate for the Premier League title isn’t the only most talked about topic of the Premier League so far, but rather who could end winning the Golden Boot come May. With three players on six goals, the race for the Premier League’s golden boot looks set to be hotly contested. Blessed with an abundance of top quality strikers and here we list the top contenders for the Golden Boot Crown:

Harry Kane, (Tottenham Hotspur)

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What a September Harry Kane has had.

August proved again a bad month for Kane but it did not take him long to start scoring within the first few days of September, and has followed that up with 11 goals for club and country – 7 in the Premier League so far, and five in the Champions League after his hat-trick against Apoel Nicosia on Tuesday. Add to that, another two goals on international duty for England. 38 goals in total in 2017? Kane is in remarkable goal scoring form.

The previous winner of the Golden Boot for the past two seasons, we can’t put it past him to famously win the prize three times in a row. Let’s be honest, Harry Kane has everything you’d want from your modern day goalscorer. Brilliant build-up play, first touch, pace, power and a wonderful strike on him, you could bet your mortgage on him putting the ball in the back of the net 3 or 4 times out of five opportunities.

Can we describe Harry Kane as world class? That’s the debate we’d have to leave open for a while, but it won’t be given a definitive answer until Tottenham can improve on their success over the past two seasons especially progress in the Champions League. Can he lead Tottenham to glory this season? We’ll find out.

Sergio Aguero, (Manchester City)

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Is there any limits to Sergio Aguero’s abilities? In my own personal view, I feel he is the best finisher in the Premier League, been a huge fan of his ever since he joined the blue half of Manchester.

He is Manchester City’s all time top Premier League goalscorer with 128 goals, and is only one (176) behind City’s all time record goalscorer Eric Brook who graced the club between 1927-1940 with. Sergio Aguero is one course to reach this magnificent feat, and he damn well deserves the mantle.

One of the greatest marksmen the Premier League has ever seen. At the rate City are going in the Premier League this season so far, Aguero would certainly be one of the leading contenders battling for the Golden boot prize come the end of the season.

His recent car accident in Amsterdam is surely a blow to himself and for Manchester City in particular, an incident that could potentially rule him out for a couple months but you can’t bet against Aguero coming back firing on all cylinders.

Romelu Lukaku, (Manchester United)

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Have a read of this “little” stat, Romelu Lukaku is eight goals shy of reaching 100 Premier League goals at the age of 24. Remarkable, for a player still with a lot to learn and working under one of the greatest managers ever to grace the game, it is a tad scary that Romelu Lukaku still has a lot to offer.

Finally been graced with club of his dreams and playing amongst the biggest stage in World Football in the UEFA Champions League, Lukaku is at the right age and the right club under the right manager to engross himself amongst the best players in the world. He has taken to his new challenge like a duck to water with 10 goals in as many games, just goes to show the quality the Belgium international has. Pace, power, aerial ability, movement, and great finishing.

Lukaku isn’t the finished article yet, but that’s a good thing. There is still a lot more to come from him. He could well fire United to the Premier League title this season. We wouldn’t put it past him. A shoe-in to finally break his duck and win his first ever golden boot prize in which he finished second to Harry Kane last season.

Alvaro Morata, (Chelsea)

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Any thoughts of Alvaro Morata being too soft, or too polite for the Barclays Premier League was certainly thrown out of the window in Chelsea’s thrashing against Stoke at the Bet365 stadium. The Spaniard was merciless, ruthless and predatory as he notched his first hat-trick in English football. Followed by a lovely finish in the famous Champions League win over Atletico Madrid.

This is a player with unerring abilities, no wonder Zinedine Zidane was distraught at letting him go from Real Madrid. But, Morata had to make the move for the betterment of his career, and he has started life at Stamford Bridge with a bang. Diego Costa who?

Antonio Conte has asked Morata to be more like Costa in his aggressive streak, and that advice is on its way to being answered. The reason Morata will thrive at the bridge is his relationship with Conte and the fact that he is the main man. He had Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema to contend with at the Bernabeu, but now under Conte’s tutelage, Morata has the chance to shine.

Alexandre Lacazette, (Arsenal)

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Two goals in Arsenal’s win against West Brom further solidified Alexandre Lacazette’s status as Arsene Wenger’s expected main goal threat for this season and years to come. This is a striker that has been amongst the leading scorers in Europe’s top 5 divisions over the past few years. His prolificacy at Lyon has not gone unnoticed, and was the reason why Wenger finally broke the bank to get his man.

4 goals in 7 Premier League games for Arsenal already, has placed Lacazette amongst the leading contenders for the golden boot even if we are already two months into the Premier League campaign. Most of Arsenal’s success this season will be based on the form of their new man and Alexis Sanchez, and if Lacazette prolong this form for most of the season, Arsenal could finally have a stable Premier League challenge on their hands. No doubt about it, the Frenchman will be there or thereabouts come May fighting for that Premier League golden boot prize.

Jamie Vardy, (Leicester City)

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It’s simple. Play to Jamie Vardy’s strengths and he will flourish. After an outstanding season in which Leicester famously claimed the Premier League title, Vardy was at the centre of everything good at the King Power. His second season under Claudio Ranieri didn’t go as planned, but that was down to a lack of confidence and the fact that the whole dressing room stopped playing for the Italian but as soon as Craig Shakespeare stepped in, Vardy has been back to his best.

That’s to down to two reasons, he’s regained his confidence and most of Shakespeare’s play revolves around the evergreen hitman. One thing is for sure, Jamie Vardy is back to his best with 5 goals in 6 games so far. Yes, Leicester won’t be fighting for the Premier League crown again or for even a top 6 place but that won’t stop Jamie Vardy wreaking havoc for the Golden Boot crown.

Gabriel Jesus, (Manchester City)

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What a player. From the moment he made his debut last season, you knew this guy was going to be a star, and he’s playing under the right manager to achieve his ambitions. Jesus is bound to get a handful of goals this season and that’s simply down to his relationship with Sergio Aguero and the abundance of attacking talent around him; Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane to name a few names. Frightening.

His goalscoring exploits in his short time at Manchester City is nothing short of brilliant with 12 goals in 18 appearance in all competitions. Jesus has taken on the new challenge at City with consummate ease.

The future of Brazilian football alongside Neymar.

Alexis Sanchez, (Arsenal)

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We already know about the sheer quality of Alexis Sanchez, but after his failed move away from the Emirates, the question we as neutrals need to ask is can Alexis get back to the form that made him so formidable last season with 30 goals.

Wenger has a huge job on his hands trying to get Alexis back to his best, but the Chilean does have to honour his contract and if Arsenal have any chance of mounting a serious assault on the Premier league title then Alexis will be key to their hopes.

For all we know, this could be Alexis Sanchez’ last season at the Emirates.

 

 

Kevin De Bruyne: The Belgian Architect Central to Pep Guardiola’s City Project.

Kevin De Bruyne: The Belgian Architect Central to Pep Guardiola’s City Project.

Wednesday night saw Manchester City kick off their Champions League group stage campaign with a resounding and comfortable 4-0 victory over Dutch champions Feyenoord at the De Kuip stadium. Two John Stones goals either side of Aguero and Gabriel Jesus strikes saw City record their biggest away victory in their Champions League history.

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John Stones celebrates his second against Feyenoord.

After their 5-0 thumping of Liverpool at the Etihad last weekend, it seems as though Pep Guardiola has got his side playing the way he wants them. Free-flowing, silky, attractive football, the kind reminiscent of his Barcelona glory days and they certainly showed in these two victories.

Now in his second season in England, it will take some time before City reach the levels of the beautiful football Barcelona between 2009 – 2012, the year of dominance under Guardiola. However, days such as Wednesday’s Champions League thumping and the victory over Liverpool can only help the idea that City are heading in the right direction under Guardiola’s guidance.

The Spanish coaches ideologies and philosophies inherited from the cathedral of his one time mentor and footballing great Johan Cruyff, a legend who founded the idea of ‘Total Football’, a model Guardiola has been following all his managerial footballing life.

What Guardiola is trying to build at City is that ‘Total Football’ aura and brand, where players such as the attacking outlets are given the freedom to express. These aren’t just any players, but individuals blessed with great technical skill, an eye for goal, the eye for the beautiful pass and above all, a total understanding of the game. David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Benjamin Mendy to name a fair few, but one man central to Guardiola’s ideology and plans, one man who just about completes the puzzle, the Belgian architect Kevin De Bruyne – Guardiola’s on-field lieutenant.

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Kevin De Bruyne put in a masterclass performance in the 5-0 thumping of Liverpool at the Etihad.

Guardiola was used as the same outlet for Cruyff in his playing days, just as Xavi and Andres Iniesta were for him at Barcelona, and also the evergreen Philip Lahm at Bayern Munich. De Bruyne is currently engrossed with the same responsibility as those footballing greats, whether he can reach those same heights is certainly up to him but he is going the right way about it with these kind of performances. He was the shining light in an otherwise disappointing but progressive campaign last season for Pep Guardiola and his City side.

In his post-match interview after the Liverpool game, while collecting his Man-of-the-Match award, the Belgian was talking about needing to “play smart” , “find gaps” and exploit Liverpool’s highline. You could tell, Guardiola has had an impact on the Belgian, the sort of impact where De Bruyne is Guardiola’s brains on field. The Spaniard progressively puppeteering De Bruyne to do as he desires on the football pitch.

The match at the Etihad being marred by the incident between Sadio Mane and Ederson drew the attention away from the midfield masterclass we experienced from Kevin De Bruyne. It was a performance so in tune with what his manager wants that if you looked and analysed closely, its possible to make out that Guardiola was definitely pulling the strings from the sidelines.

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Kevin De Bruyne has become Pep Guardiola’s orchestrator for City so far this season.

The architect of City’s first two goals against Liverpool, supplying Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero – the second being a perfect and sumptuous weighted through ball for Aguero which cut through Liverpool’s sorry defending, like something out of the parting of the Red Sea biblically delivered by Moses. Like something out of a gospel choir in a cathedral, caressingly soothing the souls of the congregation. City fans would have been graciously saved by the sight of Kevin De Bruyne’s deliveries. The Belgian killed the ball dead, pulled out his protractor and played a wonderful dissecting ball into Aguero’s path.

As far it gets from the tiki-taka or the total football, these are quick forward passes Guardiola loves where his players successfully force the issue. As always the case with Kevin De Bruyne, the weight at which the pass was measured was so mesmerising. If the Belgian was a butcher, he wouldn’t need scales.

To think, he couldn’t even make the grade under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, he was then catastrophically sold to Wolfsburg. Though – since then -the Belgian has grown and matured into a wonderful footballer, picking up the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck, the ability to control games at his own pace. Those characteristics were exactly on show in City’s two victories this past week. His cross for John Stones second against Feyenoord was also telling. A carbon copy of his cross for Jesus’s goal against Liverpool, a David Beckham-esque whipped delivery which Sky Sports Pundit Gary Neville was totally in awe of.

It is now 40 assists since he made the move to England from Wolfsburg for all of £51million in August 2015. According to Squawka, the 56 he has recorded since the 2013/14 season is more than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues over the same period. Simply outstanding.

Though, for him to be considered amongst the world’s best he would need to improve his goal return – as perhaps is the case with United’s Paul Pogba. Six and seven goals over the past two Premier League seasons is below what the Belgian is fully capable of . In fairness, he did hit the woodwork an astonishing nine times last season, more than any other player. Few are better in the world of football at keeping things simple than Kevin De Bruyne, no wonder why his performances go under the radar at times.

The flashiest thing he’s probably ever done is buy a king sized Twix. Even then, he would have probably thought it be better to save the other finger till later in the week. While his assists over the past week have been brilliant to watch, it is perhaps his innate and subconscious ability to find space when needed.

The Belgian international is not just one of the most creative players in the Premier League, he is also the most economical. He only runs when required. Acutely aware in a country raised on a culture where not running is deemed a crime, he has soon worked out that it would be easier to pick pockets by standing still.

Though in a more advanced role, Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich is another master at finding the only free deckchair on a really packed seaside. The technical term is the Raumdeuter – an interpreter of space.

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Kevin De Bruyne is entering the season in fine form.

Like many of the understudies of Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola has moulded the Total Football formula in his own image. When you don’t have the ball, you make the pitch as small as possible by pressing high up the pitch. And when you win it back, you do the opposite by making it as big as possible trying to pick out spaces.

At times, against Liverpool and Feyenoord, it was Total Football at its finest. Finding the space is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is another thing entirely. De Bruyne has that ability to see things that other players cannot, forever scanning and darting between opponents and team-mates. The perfect quarter-back at times, sitting deep and interpreting those exposed spaces. Think of it like this, he’s like a Google maps satellite. Technically speaking, he has all the attributes to hit almost every target possible.

The best way to control space is to have an on-field architect, someone to slow things down when play gets too hectic, then speed things up when the time is right. In terms of dictating the rhythm of a game – just like Xavi or Phillip Lahm in their own time – their are few better right now than Kevin De Bruyne. Against Liverpool, he was physically and technically on a different playing level to his Liverpool counterparts.

Whether Guardiola can succeed in his second season at the helm could hinge upon the form of his on-field lieutenant Kevin De Bruyne – along with David Silva. What would work in the Spaniard’s favour is the squad depth he has at his disposal, which means players cannot afford an off day, with Bernardo Silva, Yaya Toure, and Ilkay Gundogan, a trident of ridiculous talent, waiting in the wings.

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Pep Guardiola will hoping for massive improvement from his City contingent this season.

 

Nonetheless, City will be shoe in favourites with United and Chelsea for the Premier league title but part of any potential success City could enjoy this season whether it be in the Champions League or domestically hinges on the form of Kevin De Bruyne: The Belgian architect central to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City project.

Barclays Premier League, Week 4 Predictions

Barclays Premier League, Week 4 Predictions

This weekend marks the return of the Barclays Premier League. After a hectic transfer window which saw some of the biggest transfer deals in history, its time to get back to business domestically , the first round of fixtures after the summer window – a chance to fully see new signings in action this coming weekend.

The fourth round of matches throws up another set of tantalising spectacles to keep a look out for, here are my score predictions for this coming weekends round games:

Manchester City vs. Liverpool, (12:30pm)

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The first match of the weekend is definitely an exciting one. A match involving two teams who will almost certainly be in the hunt for the title come the climax of the season; Manchester City and Liverpool. Both clubs under the guidance of two of the best coaches in the game. What a way to start the weekend.

Manchester City v Liverpool has thrown up some classic encounters over the past few years, last years draw at the Etihad stadium was a perfect example, with both teams throwing everything they had during that 90 minutes – an all or nothing game – which in turn could only end in a draw. Ever since Klopp joined Liverpool in 2015, they have never lost a game to City, the Reds have won 3 of their 4 games. Although, City have only just lost one of their last 23 games at the Etihad stadium.

Liverpool return to the Etihad stadium on Saturday in good form, and all looks set up for another classic encounter as the old Bundesliga coaches renew their rivalry. With Liverpool looking frightening in attack so far this season and City’s undeniable quality, there will be goals in this one, so I am going for a high-scoring draw.

Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool

 

Arsenal vs. Bournemouth, (3:00pm)

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Will we see the best of Alexis Sanchez again?

What is going on at Arsenal? It’s the same old story at the Emirates with another torrid start to the Premier League season. And with questions arising whether we will still see the best of Alexis Sanchez after his failed deadline day move to Manchester City, it remains to be seen. Wenger desperately needs his team on his side though, as they have looked nothing short of shambolic so far, especially in opening weekend win over Leicester City, a game which saw some real struggles in defence for Arsenal.

Will Alexis be involved from the off against Bournemouth? A certain question that a lot of fans and pundits alike will asking in the lead up to the game. Arsenal are in desperate need of a win, and Saturday’s game against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth will not provide and easy ride. The south coast club were unlucky in their defeat to Man City as their quality pulled them through in the end.

Bournemouth will certainly be up for this one, but I can’t see anything other than an Arsenal victory. However, a win for Wenger will not unmask the problems that are present for Arsenal.

Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth

 

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. West Bromwich Albion, (3:00pm)

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Can Chris Houghton’s men claim their first Premier League win this weekend?

Brighton would have probably looked at this fixture and thought, this is the one they can win. They haven’t had it easy so far in the league with games against Manchester City at home and away games at Leicester and Watford. Brighton coach Chris Houghton has stressed the importance of his side having a good home record if they are to have any chance of becoming a stable Premier League club for years to come.

Though, West Brom will not be easy pickings for Brighton. Tony Pulis has created a stable and steady atmosphere at the Hawthorns, and the question remains, can he take the club to the next level this season?

Brighton just can’t find goals so far this season, so I am going for West Brom to place more misery on Chris Houghton and his Brighton team.

Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 1-2 West Bromwich Albion

 

Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur, (3:00pm)

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Ronald Koeman has stressed his disappointment at Wayne Rooney’s actions, could he start against Tottenham?

What a game we could have on our hands here.

You don’t know what you’re going to get with Everton. They were fantastic against Manchester City at the Etihad, only to then put in a disappointing display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, they played so poorly Chelsea couldn’t be bothered to score more goals. Koeman’s target this season is to snuff out those inconsistencies this season, and this big game against Tottenham is a good way to start. However, it could be difficult simply due to the fact that Everton have not replaced Romelu Lukaku’s goals. Rooney and Sandro Ramirez are good additions, but it is unlikely they will score the goals to fire Everton to break into the ‘Top 6’.

Tottenham would have been disappointed with the draw against Burnley, to concede so late in a game was so unlike Pochettino’s men. He will desperately be urging his side to put things right this weekend to fully kick start their season. Let’s be honest, we haven’t seen the best of Tottenham yet. Could we see the beginning of things to come against Everton. I certainly think so.

Prediction: Everton 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

 

Leicester City vs Chelsea, (3:00pm)

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Danny Drinkwater joined Chelsea from Leicester City on deadline day.

Another intriguing game.

Leicester City were unlucky against Manchester United at Old Trafford last time out but Mourinho’s men had enough quality in the end to snatch a comfortable win. Without a doubt, Craig Shakespeare has restored the confidence and belief back into the team, plus they have been able to keep star man Riyad Mahrez who has been a real professional so far this season as he pursued a move away from the club this summer. He finds himself still at the King Power, so how much will that have an effect on him?

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Deadline day saw Riyad Mahrez remain at the King Power.

And how will Leicester cope without Drinkwater who joined their opponents on deadline day? Will their be hostility in the air when Drinkwater makes his bow?

We’ll see.

I’m going for the Champions to edge this one, although I could be wrong. Chelsea have picked themselves up after their disappointing opening day defeat to Burnley, and with Morata and Willian on form, and Eden Hazard back to fitness too I expect them to grab a sneaky win here at the King Power.

Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 Chelsea

 

Southampton vs Watford, (3:00pm)

Watford under Marco Silva could look a real asset to watch out for this summer. Silva has really recruited well. Richarlison, Nathaniel Chalobah, Andre Gray and the addition of Will Hughes could be the players to take the club to the next level and Marco Silva is key to their success. They’ve started really well this season, and really impressed against Liverpool and also ripping Bournemouth to shreds in an impressive win.

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Mauricio Pellegrino looks a steady appointment for Southampton football club.

Southampton on the other hand have proved a difficult side this season, and Pellegrino has already proven some of his managerial qualities. Can he get Virgil Van Dijk back playing and on his side? That would be a huge boost for both Pellegrino and the club.

Nonetheless, this will be a tight battle. I’m going for a score draw here.

Prediction: Southampton 1-1 Watford

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United, (5:30pm)

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Can United make it four wins in a row at the Britannia?

After three wins from three, and no goals conceded, United find themselves top the table before the international break and this upcoming game against Stoke could prove to be their first real test of the season. United haven’t tasted victory at the Britannia since 2013 and will be looking to overcome their demons in Saturday’s evening kick-off. Mourinho’s men do look a much better side than last season, and with the addition of Matic, their attacking players have real sense of comfort and authority at this moment as their wins over West Ham and Swansea showed but, Stoke will not be rolled over that easy.

Mark Hughes once again has created a steady ship at Stoke, and after their impressive victory against Arsenal, they will have their tails up but I feel United’s quality will tell in the end. Lukaku, Martial, Pogba and Mkhitaryan all find themselves in scintillating form. Throw in Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata, and United may just have too much.

Prediction: Stoke 1-3 Manchester United

 

Burnley vs Crystal Palace, Sunday, (1:30pm)

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Palace manager De Boer is in desperate need of a first victory, away at Burnley could prove a tough ask.

 

Crystal Palace find themselves in a real heap of trouble, with Frank De Boer trying to implement a new style on the club. Yes, they have struggled and De Boer must be given time. However, patience is no longer a valuable trait in the Barclays Premier League and the Dutch coach needs a first victory, and fast or else he will lose the fans and the dressing room. The players are seriously lacking in confidence, and ideas. Is De Boer changing too much too fast?

Burnley are a very difficult side at home, and will prove a difficult test for Crystal Palace. Lets be honest, Sean Dyche’s side have started the season better than expected, a victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a draw against Tottenham at Wembley? Dyche couldn’t have asked for more from his players. An unimpressive loss to West Brom at home would have really disappointed them and they will want to put that right this weekend

I feel Burnley would have too much here.

Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Crystal Palace

 

Swansea City vs Newcastle United, Sunday, (4:00pm)

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Paul Clement may have pulled off a real coup in the loan signing of Renato Sanches from Bayern Munich.

How Swansea pulled of the signing of Renato Sanches, went to show the connections Paul Clement has. After formerly working with the Portuguese wonderkid while in his time at Bayern Munich, he was able to convince long time friend and Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti that Swansea City was the perfect environment for Sanches to continue his development away from the Bundesliga giants. What a signing this could be for Clement and his side, throw in the return of Wilfried Bony and Swansea will be delighted with their deadline day business.

If Clement can reinvigorate the form of both men, Swansea could be in for a very good season in the Premier League. Losing Gylfi Sigurdsson wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez will not be happy with his transfer dealings this summer, and he has constantly made his feelings known over the past two months. Now that the window is closed, Benitez must now make do with his side, but if his CV is anything to go by. Newcastle will do fine this season, but I have a sneaky feeling Swansea will nick this.

Prediction: Swansea 2-1 Newcastle

 

 

West Ham vs Huddersfield, Monday, (8:00pm)

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Slaven Bilic will be hoping his West Ham side right their wrongs against Huddersfield on Monday night.

 

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic is treading on thin ice. The Croatian is in dire need of results as he finds his team at the wrong end of the table after 3 games. His position has already been under review by the clubs owners and anything other than a win against Huddersfield could be the final nail in the coffin. Monday’s game against high flying new boys Huddersfield will be Bilic’s biggest game so far, and he needs a win.

Huddersfield will be no pushovers, and will be full of confidence going into this one. Manager David Wagner has really instilled an early belief and  But I’m going to go for West Ham here, their quality may shine through in the end.

Prediction: West Ham 2-1 Huddersfield