Man City face first test of their Premier League title defence

In some ways, Manchester City strolled to the Premier League title last season. They might have had Liverpool keeping pace with them for the majority of the way, but nonetheless Pep Guardiola’s team still went much of the season unchallenged by the rest of the English top flight.

By doing this, City managed to retain a Premier League title for the first time and now there are signs that what Guardiola has built could become a dynasty. The 2019/20 Premier League season started last week and there’s no suggestion that City won’t be the frontrunners to win a third-straight title.

Only Liverpool and possibly Tottenham Hotspur can challenge Guardiola’s defending champions. We will find out more about Spurs this weekend when Mauricio Pochettino’s team travel north to take on Man City at the Etihad Stadium. It’s the first marquee, top-of-the-table clash and do a lot to determine the title race for the season ahead.

However, we will also learn a lot about City and whether they can be potentially caught. Spurs have made progress over the summer, signing Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso to significantly strengthen what was already a strong squad. Pochettino led his team to the Champions League final last season, but he wants even more this season.

City were mightily impressive in the opening Premier League fixture of the season, putting five past West Ham away from home. This will be more of a test, though. Spurs aren’t just a strong team, but a group of players with the golden carrot of a piece of silverware still in front of their nose, leading them on. They are a motivated bunch.

There is a certain pressure that comes with being the chased. Man City, as the two-time defending Premier League champions, now play every week with a target on their back. Opposition sides up their game to take on Guardiola’s men and this will certainly be the case when Spurs come to visit this weekend.

What’s more, this is a side that caused City problems at the Etihad as recently as April, when Spurs knocked out the Premier League leaders on their way into the final four of the Champions League. Guardiola and his players cannot afford to take their challenge lightly. We will learn more about the dynamic between the two teams after Saturday.

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Did Liverpool miss an opportunity this summer?

It would be incorrect to say Liverpool went through the entire summer transfer window without making a signing. Technically speaking, the European champions made three additions to their squad, with teenagers Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott and former West Ham goalkeeper Adrian all signing.

It would, however, be fair to say none of these signings will greatly improve Liverpool in the short term, with the combined sum of just £1.7 million used to capture all three. In these case of van den Berg and Elliott, these were additions with one eye, maybe even both eyes, on the future. And Adrian was signed to replace Simon Mignolet as the Reds’ number two behind Alisson Becker.

Indeed, it was a quiet summer at Anfield. Last summer saw Liverpool make Alisson the most expensive goalkeeper in history, with Naby Keita also signed for big money. Six months before that they made Virgil Van Dijk the Premier League’s most expensive defender, smashing their club record transfer fee. The contrast between all this and the crickets of this summer was stark.

Some will argue that Liverpool didn’t need to make many squad adjustments. They are European champions, after all. But it is almost always a good idea to strengthen from a position of power and Jurgen Klopp’s side failed to do that this summer transfer window.

As historic as the 2018/19 season was for Liverpool, they still finished behind Manchester City in the Premier League table. The Reds may have pushed them all the way, but as far as their title ambitions are concerned there is still work to do to catch Pep Guardiola’s champions.

City made two big signings to improve their starting lineup, with Rodri signed from Atletico Madrid as the successor to Fernandinho and Joao Cancelo lured from Juventus. Both these players will strengthen a squad already considered the strongest in the Premier League, maybe even in Europe.

Klopp has moulded this Liverpool team in his own through good coaching, but the acceleration of their development came through ruthless spending. When the Anfield side needed a centre back, they got the best one they could find. When they needed a goalkeeper, they did the same.

There was nothing ruthless about Liverpool’s business this summer. It’s difficult to escape the feeling that having given themselves such a strong platform last season they have spurned an opportunity. Improving on last season was always going to be difficult. Even more so now.

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A week to forget for Manchester City

Let’s face it, it’s not been the best week for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Their Premier League Asia Trophy final loss to Wolves topped off a dismal time in China as part of their pre-season tour which looked destined for failure from the get-go, with the performances of Kevin de Bruyne and new signing Rodri the only things to shout about. Continue reading

Do Manchester City need another centre back this summer?

Vincent Kompany didn’t say a word. He knew all along that the FA Cup final against Watford would be his last match for Manchester City, that lifting aloft the famous trophy, City’s third piece of silverware in the one season, would be his last act as club captain. It wasn’t until the following day, though, that the Belgian announced he would be leaving.

He might have deteriorated somewhat in his final few years, but Kompany will go down as a City legend and one of the best centre backs the Premier League has ever seen. The 33-year-old could have played another season or two in England, but his decision to call it quits now means the memory of him at the top will be preserved forever.

Vincent Kompany

Kompany’s departure leaves City will a hole in their squad, though. The Belgian might have been in rotation with John Stones last season, with the two players vying to be Aymeric Laporte’s centre back pairing, but he was still a key figure. Look at the role he played towards the end of the season. Man City might not have kept their Premier League crown without him.

So will City need to enter the transfer market to find a replacement? They have already spent a club record fee of £62.8 million on Rodri £6 million also allocated to the re-signing of Angelino from PSV Eindhoven. Finding a top level centre back to fill the void left by Kompany would add to their summer outlay quite substantially.

“We are so happy with the squad we have,” Pep Guardiola explained when asked whether he intended to push for the signing of another centre back. “I don’t know if the players here will stay or new players will come, but since I came here I have been delighted with the players we have. Maybe we [will sign a replacement for Kompany], but we have three incredible central defenders. And Fernandinho can play in that position, also. We will see.”

Harry Maguire has been linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium, but it seems unlikely that City will pay the £90 million Leicester City are demanding for the England international. Matthijs de Ligt was another mentioned, but City’s offer never seemed all that genuine, with the Dutchman eventually opting to sign for Juventus.

Besides these two, it has been slim pickings this summer. City have two first team centre backs in the form of Laporte and Stones, but with the latter prone to injuries they might well be taking a gamble going a full season with just the pair (assuming Nicolas Otamendi is sold). This is the situation City face.

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Rhian Brewster eases Liverpool’s need for a new centre forward

Few expected Divock Origi to answer the call, but he did. Liverpool’s squad found itself stretched towards the end of last season. With an historic campaign, which saw them competing domestically and on the continent, on the line, the Reds appeared to be losing momentum. They allowed a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table to slip.

A large part of the problem was the injury suffered by Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian is central to the way Jurgen Klopp’s team plays. He is the one who leads the attacking line, but he does so by creating space for others. Firmino is not an orthodox number nine, but he is highly effective.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool Barcelona Champions League

Origi found something deep inside himself to act as a deputy for Firmino, though, scoring important goals against Barcelona and Newcastle United as well as against Spurs in the Champions League final. Nonetheless, the thinking heading into the summer was that Liverpool needed another centre forward to ease the burden on Firmino.

A number of names have been mentioned. Timo Werner has consistently been linked with a move to Anfield with the German international striker believed to be keen on a move away from RB Leipzig. It was also speculated that Liverpool could swoop for Marcus Haller before he signed for West Ham this week.

The emergence of Rhian Brewster might have eased Liverpool’s need to enter the transfer market for a new forward, though. The teenager has made quite the impression during pre-season with Klopp seemingly open to accommodating Brewster in his senior squad for the 2019/20 campaign.

“He has expectations, I have expectations. He has expectations and that’s good, it’s absolutely good,” Klopp explained. “The thing is, the Premier League is the Premier League and we need to make sure he is ready for that. We think he is ready, to be honest, but we have to see when and how often and stuff like this.”

Klopp has successfully managed to introduce a number of academy graduates into his Liverpool team since taking over at the club. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez have both become key figures, repaying the faith shown in them by the German coach.

It’s highly unlikely that Brewster will become a key figure in the same way, at least this season, but he could still have a role to play. Liverpool needed a forward to add depth and they may have found one without a penny being spent in the transfer market.

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Does Divock Origi deserve his new Liverpool contract?

Not so long ago, Divock Origi looked set to join the striker scrapheap at Anfield. Liverpool have, over the past decade, boasted a number of world class centre forwards – Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah to name just three – but they have also been burdened with a number of duds.

Andy Carroll, Fabio Borini, Danny Ings, Christian Benteke, Iago Aspas and Rickie Lambert have all passed through the club, all failing to live up to their billing. For much of his time as a Liverpool player, it seemed that Origi was about to join such company. A lot has changed since then, though.

Divock Origi

Wednesday saw the Belgian sign a new long term contract with the Merseyside club, putting pen to paper on a deal that will keep him at Liverpool for a good few years to come. But did he deserve such a show of faith? Might the Reds have been more ambitious in securing a back-up centre forward?

Of course, Origi earned his new contract on the back of his achievements towards the end of last season. His late winner against Newcastle United at St James’ Park kept Liverpool in the Premier League title race. More importantly, his double against Barcelona saw the Reds through to the Champions League final, with his goal against Spurs in the final sealing the win.

Many had written off Origi, expecting the 24-year-old to be sold by Liverpool at the end of the season. He appeared to be a misfit at Anfield. In truth, he still looks to be an awkward misfit, but he gives Jurgen Klopp’s team another dimension. He gives them an aerial presence, a different sort of target to hit.

“It’s a story really only football can write,” Klopp explained after the signing of Origi to another contract. ‘It didn’t really work out at Wolfsburg and, coming back, he was thinking about leaving. But he grew and grew and grew, in training sessions you could see it, and he scored unbelievably important goals. Now he is this wonderful player again so it’s great to have him.”

Some might argue that the signing of someone like Timo Werner would have made a greater statement of intent. After all, Liverpool still have a gap to close on Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. Will Origi really help them do that this coming season?

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The 2019/20 Premier League title looks destined only for Manchester City and Liverpool

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The Premier League season is literally only over a month away until it kicks off again which seems incredible as the last one only feels like it has ended. Unlike most seasons though this one could feel very predictable at least where the league title is concerned and it feels like it will be a two horse race between champions Manchester City and last seasons runners up Liverpool.

Liverpool don’t like coming 2nd two years in a row- just look at how the Reds under Jurgen Klopp responded to the disappointment of losing the 2018 Champions League final to Real Madrid in a game they lost 3-1. They came back fighting the next year despite being involved in an epic domestic league title and got back to the final and then beat Tottenham 2-0 to win their 6th European Cup overall. That is this Liverpool team and it seems built in their DNA.

So far Klopp has been quiet in the transfer market and has bought only Sepp van den Berg the Dutchman from PEC Zwolle for just over £1m. The likes of Daniel Strurridge and Danny Ings have been released and sold, with Ings going for £18m which was seen as great business.

Liverpool have not really dipped big into the transfer market but it seems that it is only a question of when and not if. At the same time one only has to look at the first team where there is quality all over the pitch to realise that they don’t need much improving with such a brilliant goalkeeper in Alisson and perhaps the best defence in Europe, attacking midfielders and strikers like Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, why would you be looking elsewhere?

As for Manchester City, the champions showed incredible mental strength to win the league last season, simply not blinking and winning every one of their games for the last 3 months of the season, it was incredible and manager Pep Guardiola has rightly said that it was his best title to win and certainly most hardest.

City are strong of course and have also like Liverpool been quiet on the transfer front. They have only bought goalkeeper Zack Steffen from MLS side Colombus Crew for a reported £7m. But City and Pep usually do spend money and it would be a surprise if they didn’t invest in some quality players before the window closes.

It is unlikely that City will give up their title easy but at the same time one could question if Liverpool will be the hungrier of the two teams as City really want what Liverpool have- the Champions League and Liverpool really want what City have the league.

With the teams below them having their own troubles and being so off the pace last season, this one coming up looks like it will be a straight fight between these two teams, and no other team looks like stopping that.

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Rodri the signing Manchester City need

Just days after Manchester United spent £50 million on Aaron Wan-Bissaka, it appears as though neighbours Manchester City are about to land their first multi-million-pound transfer target in Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodri. Although not yet official, Atletico practically confirmed the deal after unveiling new signing Marcos Llorente in Rodri’s No. 14 shirt. Continue reading

Has there ever been a better Premier League midfielder than David Silva?

At the time, it was considered a good signing, but the transfer of David Silva to Manchester City wasn’t given the sort of reaction the likes of Robinho and Sergio Aguero received. The Spaniard had shown his quality at Valencia, but nobody predicted that he’d become the face of the Etihad Stadium side.

Some might argue that 10  years later Silva has never been the face of Man City. At times, Silva has flown under the radar, never receiving the credit he probably deserves. With the 33-year-old now preparing for his final season as a City player, there is a question worth asking – has there ever been a better Premier League midfielder?

David Silva

“This is the last one,” Silva explained in an interview. “Ten years for me is enough. It’s the perfect time for me. Initially, City were talking about two [more] years. It completes the cycle. It’s a nice round figure. I can never see myself playing against City for another team. So 10 years – that’s it.”

Of course, some will put forward the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes as contenders for that unofficial accolade – best midfielder in the history of the Premier League. There’s also a case of classification – how can someone like Roy Keane or Ngolo Kante be compared to Robert Pires, for instance? And what about wingers? Do they count as midfielders?

Nonetheless, it’s worth considering the legacy Silva will leave behind at Manchester City and in the Premier League. The technical level he has brought to the English game has raised the water level of the whole league. Now, midfielders in particular are expected to be able to dictate the pace of games in the way Silva does and has done for the past decade.

The exit of Silva will mark the end of an era at the Etihad. He was central to the first phase of the Abu Dhabi project at Manchester City, helping to establish the club as a force. City made a habit of making statement signings in the early days of the Abu Dhabi takeoever (see Robinho, Aguero and Samir Nasri), but it was Silva who set a precedent on the pitch for the club.

Finding a replacement for Silva won’t be easy. City will hope Phil Foden can step into the void left by the Spaniard, but there’s no guarantee that the teenager will continue his development. Otherwise, they will have to spend big to find a successor for a player who holds a claim to being the Premier League’s best ever midfielder.

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Juventus or Real Madrid? Where will Paul Pogba end up?

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It is no secret that Paul Pogba has not enjoyed the greatest of times at Manchester United and the Frenchman looks set to leave the club this summer, but who for?

Reports have suggested that Fabio Paratici the sporting director of Juventus is in London and having talks with Manchester United representatives about Pogba joining the club. Actually he would be re-joining since United bought Pogba from the Old Lady back in 2016. What has been interesting is that if Juventus do buy Pogba then the player has spent his footballing career switching from these clubs alone, since he started his professional career with United back in 2010.

One wonders if Pogba’s indecisions and playing back and forth for the same clubs sums up his career thus far? The midfielder remains an enigma- a delightful player to watch on the ball and fearsome coming forward but his total inconsistency marks him out to be a player that may well end his footballing career as simply a footnote in the history of the game.

Alongside Juventus’ interest seems to be another and that is Real Madrid who are rebuilding this season after a chaotic last one. Los Blancos have already spent near to £300m on acquiring five players including Eden Hazard and it is thought that coach Zinedine Zidane would love to work with Pogba. Pogba himself may feel that a fresh change is needed from returning to Italy again. One thing is clear and that is United could do with offloading a player that they already know could fetch the club upwards of £100m and release funds to invest in players that want to play for the club and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Keeping with United they have upscaled their interest in Crystal Palace player Aaron Wan-Bissaka who impressed this past season as the Eagles finished strongly. But the talking price seems to be spiralling out of control and one figure has the Palace player at £70m. For now he is on top of Solskjaer’s list and United agree to that sum it seems highly unlikely that they won’t get their man.

West Ham raised eyebrows by purchasing the exciting 23 year old Pablo Fornals. The attacking midfielder cost the Hammers just £24m which is seen as a bargain in today’s football. He comes from Villarreal and even though he had an average last season he is seen as a very good prospect and will add attacking flair to West Ham’s forward line.

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