EPL Best XI – Riyad Mahrez leads the way

Riyad Mahrez

The sixth weekend of the Premier League season saw Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea maintain their unbeaten starts to the campaign, while Burnley picked up their first three points of 2018-19 with a 4-0 win over Bournemouth. Let’s take a look at which players made our Best XI of the Weekend.

GK: Petr Cech, Arsenal – seven points
With eight teams keeping clean sheets this weekend, EPL Fantasy managers picked up plenty of points from goalkeepers and defenders. Petr Cech was key in the first half of Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Everton, earning himself seven points.

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Musa and Iheanacho shine as Nigeria finally wake up against Iceland

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When Ahmed Musa woke up on Saturday morning, he had a new status as an unlikely hero in Argentina. The Leicester City striker scored two goals in Nigeria’s victory over Iceland in Volgograd on Saturday, keeping La Albiceleste’s faint hopes of reaching the World Cup last 16 alive despite them taking just one point from their opening two games.

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Croatia vs Nigeria Preview: Can the Super Eagles carry the hopes of Africa?

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Eight years on from when Africa came together at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the continent still seems as far away from winning the trophy as they were then. The hosts exited the competition at the group stage; it was down to Ghana to represent, but they fell in the cruelest manner possible in the quarter finals to Uruguay, on penalties. In Russia, Nigeria are attracting a lot of interest, both on and off the pitch. Their new shirt, brought out for the World Cup, has been lauded as one of the smartest for a long time, but it was in November last year when the world really sat up to take notice.

A 4-2 win, in Russia, against Group D opponents Argentina, showed just how dynamic and energetic their young team can be. They are all set to take on La Albiceleste again, as well as debutants Iceland and, on Saturday in Kalilingrad, Croatia.

With Lionel Messi hoping to take his country, who finished as runners up in Brazil four years ago, one step further this year, Argentina are favourites to top the group; this game could be huge for deciding who will finish second and reach the knockout phases. Iceland cannot be written off, having beaten England and given France a scare at Euro 2016, but their lack of experienice and quality should see them fall short. Nigeria have a nucleus of talent that can take them far into the tournament; but beating a team as strong as Croatia, with the plethora of options they have in midfield and attack, is vital for that to happen.

Luka Modric, the Real Madrid star, is their talisman; he is complimented by Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in the centre of the park. Inter’s Ivan Perisic and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic supply the firepower. It will be a tough test for Rohr‘s men, but they have shown their ability to take the game to their opponents with great intensity; their win over Argentina relied heavily on their pace on the counter attack. If the likes of Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, who usually operates at the base of a midfield three, can cut the supply line to Mandzukic and look to get the ball to John Obi Mikel, the captain who plays in a more advanced role than he did at Chelsea, Nigeria could cause problems.

Alex Iwobi is very important to the way they play; the Arsenal man may be on the periphery of things at the Emirates Stadium, but having scored twice against Argentina and once in the defeat to England at Wembley at the beginning of June, it is clear he will be the biggest threat for Croatia on Saturday. Victor Moses will add extra pace, while Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho and former Watford striker Odion Ighalo will be fighting to lead the line up front.

Croatia are a team that play to their strength by keeping possession and getting the wide players involved. Rakitic and Modric usually start alongside Milan Badelj, who offers an extra layer of protection in the middle. Nigeria are not in the best of form right now, winless in four since beating Poland 1-0 in March; they struggled to deal with England’s movement between the lines, but after John Ogu came on to replace Ogenyi Onazi at half time, they found a better shape. Iwobi scored almost immediately after half time and then they frustrated Gareth Southgate’s side. Nigeria do not have the same quality as Argentina, or Croatia for that matter, but Yusuf has selected a balanced squad with an identity and a style that can surprise a few people, starting in their first game.

Ahmed Musa, another player known to the Premier League, can come off the bench and stretch the play as the game goes on, but Croatia have been bringing both Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brosovic on as substitutes in their recent friendlies against Brazil and Senegal. Their strength in depth is very impressive, especially for a team not expected to challenge at the business end of the tournament. It could prove decisive in their battle with Nigeria, both in Kalilingrad and for a place in the knockout stages.

Senegal, who lost to Croatia last week, and a Mohamed Salah-inspired Egypt, are also flying the African flag this summer, but Nigeria are looking strong and their squad is developing together. Now is their chance to prove it on the biggest stage.

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The markedly contrasting current fortunes of Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane

Euro 2016

Two strikers to have scored prolifically in the English Premier League last season were Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane

Whilst Kane was the division’s leading marksman with 25 goals, Aguero scored just one less, to end the 2015-2016 campaign as the second top goal scorer in England’s top flight, alongside Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.

Nevertheless at present whilst Aguero is in a rich vein of form, both in terms of goal scoring and his contribution to Manchester City’s play, Kane is enduring a frustrating start to the current season, whereby the 23-year-old has been a peripheral figure in most of Tottenham’s games, similar to the way in which was for England at Euro 2016.

Kane endures frustrating start to the season

Despite ending a nine competitive match goal drought, which included his four England Euro 2016 appearances, by scoring in Tottenham’s 4-0 victory over Stoke to become the fastest man and only the fourth after Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Teddy Sheringham to score 50 Premier League goals for the North London club, Kane remains low on confidence.

That was clearly evident as he was once again unable to produce his best form as Tottenham opened their Champions League campaign with a 2-1 defeat against Monaco at Wembley.

In addition to struggling to make a positive impact upon the game, Kane missed the type of chance that he invariably scored last season, when presented with a great opportunity to equalise for Spurs late in the game.

The manner in which Kane snatched at that opportunity provided a vivid illustration that his confidence is fragile and requires rebuilding.  However he undoubtedly has the potential to do that by once again beginning to score goals regularly, just as Sergio Aguero currently is.

Aguero influential for Manchester City

The 28-year-old Argentinean striker scored his second Champions League hat-trick of the season to inspire Manchester City to a 4-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

In doing so Aguero showcased the current razor sharpness of his predatory instincts and assuredness in front of goal.  He has abundantly displayed that so far this season to score nine goals in five matches, to establish himself as Manchester City’s seventh all-time top goal scorer.

Specifically following his hat-trick against Monchengladbach, Aguero has now scored 145 goals in 213 appearances after joining the club from Atletico Madrid for £38m.

Although astronomical, that fee is one which Aguero continues to strive to justify, by providing a wonderful level of service to Manchester City, with the potential existing for him to do that throughout the current season.

Act of aggression marginally detracts from Aguero’s class

Whilst commencing that in excellent form, Aguero slightly tarnished his glowing reputation by being found guilty of a violent misconduct charge for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid during Manchester City’s recent 3-1 victory over Slaven Bilic’s side.

Subsequently for that misdemeanour Aguero is currently serving a three game domestic ban, which means he will not play again until his team’s second Champions’ League Group C game against Celtic on 28 September.

In the meantime Kelechi Iheanacho is the most likely candidate to be tasked by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with filling the void created by the absence of Aguero, with the 19-year-old Nigerian internationalist in fine form having scored in his last two appearances against Manchester United and Monchengladbach.

City duo outshining  Kane

Therefore whilst Iheanacho and Aguero are producing somewhat close to their best form, in marked contrast to that Harry Kane is not, although the top scorer in last season’s English Premier League is valiantly endeavouring to improve his current fortunes.

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Kelechi Iheanacho making a name for himself at Manchester City

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Young Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho has been making the most of game time presented to him by manager Manuel Pellegrini, and has been one of the surprise-packages of the season so far. The 19-year-old has made six Premier League appearances, all from the substitutes’ bench, and has already scored his first senior goal for the club. Such form has also seen him called up for the Nigerian national team ahead of World Cup qualifiers to come.

Iheanacho’s debut goal for Manchester City was a late winner against Crystal Palace, and he’s since added to the tally with a Capital One Cup goal versus the Eagles a month later. He has a composed nature about his finishing, and isn’t short of confidence either. Signed from the Nigerian Taye Academy in January 2014, Kelechi Iheanacho has developed quickly, and could have been playing last season but for an ankle injury.

In addition to his Capital One Cup goal against Palace, Iheanacho also set up two chances, and is looking a very good striker option as cover for the likes of Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony. Eyebrows were raised when Pellegrini allowed the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Steven Jovetic all to leave the Etihad Stadium in the summer, but clearly the Chilean boss had Kelechi Iheanacho in his mind to feature this season.

Pellegrini has been full of praise for Kelechi Iheanacho following his exploits against Palace, but added that his impressive form hasn’t come as a massive surprise given what he sees from the Nigerian on the training ground. “He didn’t impress me because I work with him every day, so I know what he can give to our team. Last season I think he was ready to do it,” said the City boss.

“We talked about his work permits but unfortunately for him he had a very serious injury in his ankles. That is why he couldn’t play last season. Now he is ready and I am very happy for him to demonstrate what he can do. But it is just one game, he must repeat, he must improve.”

“In the way he demonstrates what he can do, of course he has an option to start. It is not easy position to start in this team because we have important players like David (Silva), like Kun (Aguero). But in this moment they are not fit and for me it just depends on the performance of the players who start.”

Two goals and two assists from 133 minutes of game time isn’t a bad way to introduce yourself, and Kelechi Iheanacho could go on for a bright career if he can build on his impressive early season form.