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Could Manchester City become the best team in Premier League history?

Jake Jackman

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Manchester City

The Premier League has become a juggernaut since being launched in 1992 and it is now widely regarded as the best league in the world. The advancements in technology throughout that period have helped it become what it is today, and it is now possible to watch every kick of the season if you wanted to do so. There are often debates about the best team of the Premier League era, among various other categories that are frequently discussed.

It can now be argued that the league is the best that it has ever been and there is a team beginning to emerge as the best that the division has ever seen. There was a lot of excitement when Pep Guardiola was announced as the new manager of Manchester City during the 2015/16 season. He didn’t take charge until the following summer, but his reputation as the world’s best coach was enough to convince a lot of supporters that the club would now reach new heights.

There will always be criticism for anyone involved in football and the reputation that Guardiola has meant that his every decision was heavily scrutinised in the media. A lot alluded to his CV and that he had only ever taken easy jobs. Manchester City was far from that at the time of his appointment. They may have a lot of finances behind them, but they weren’t in a strong position when he took the job.

It was an ageing squad that needed to be re-hauled and the club weren’t seen as a huge European name. They had not enjoyed a lot of success in the Champions League and their lack of history meant that they weren’t known for that. City were still in the infancy of their journey to the summit of the game and the board recognised the need for a world-class manager. Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini were both respected, but neither have the ability of Guardiola.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager’s reputation preceded him, as City quickly became every pundit’s pick for the league title. However, Guardiola finished 15 points off the top of the table and it was a year of learning for the world-class coach. These quotes reported by the Manchester Evening News show that he benefited from his first season in England.

“I expected to do it quicker but football works like this sometimes. It takes more time but that is fascinating from my point of view. I am a better manager not because of the Premier League or English football but because I have lost more than in my recent past. When you lose more games, you learn more.”

These are fascinating quotes and a rare glimpse into the mind of a coach, who doesn’t rely on clichés when talking to the media. He didn’t panic or lose faith and learned on the job to deliver a team that can dominate the Premier League in a way that hasn’t been witnessed before. The weaknesses in goal and full-back were identified and corrected in the following summer. They are now flying high after securing 40 from the opening 42 points on offer.

Could they become the best team in Premier League history?

During the modern age, everything is over-hyped in football, due to the widespread media coverage and the growing presence of social media. Manchester City are already the overwhelming favourites to lift the title at odds of 1/8, which reflects how dominant they have been so far. It is early days into the Pep Guardiola era, but this team is shaping up to be the best we have ever witnessed in the Premier League.

They have dropped points on only one occasion this season, having beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea already. Their attack is the best in the division by some distance, as they have scored 44 goals in their first 14 matches. This averages at 3.1 goals per game, which is remarkable in a league as strong as the Premier League. In addition to an excellent attack, they have conceded at a rate of less than one a game and their organisation has improved a lot since last season.

As things stand, they are eight points clear at the top of the division and there isn’t a single team that look to be a realistic challenger to City. Their local rivals, United, are in second, but they haven’t been as convincing and their approach in big matches holds them back.

One pleasing aspect from this season has been the improvement of Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph, as both are now crucial members of the first-team. Guardiola has recruited well with Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Kyle Walker and Ederson coming in among others, but he is able to improve those players that he inherited and that is the mark of an elite coach.

It is too soon to state outright that they are the best team in Premier League history. They have yet to win a trophy with Guardiola at the helm and there is always a chance that they could go on a bad run at some point before May. However, the signs are that this group of players is set to dominate English football for the next few years at least. They look as impressive as Guardiola’s Barcelona team at times and that is no mean feat.

They have a long way to go, but this team could go the Premier League season unbeaten and in a more exciting fashion than Arsenal managed in 2003/4. Furthermore, they have the talent to win every competition they are in. They are that good. At the time of writing, they are one of the leading contenders for the Champions League.

Guardiola arrived as the best coach in the world and despite a disappointing first season, he is now backing up that reputation. There were a few that were too quick to write him off. The Spaniard deserves to be applauded for taking the job at the Etihad Stadium as it was a lot tougher than it was made out to be. He has dominated with two historically world class clubs, but he is now writing a new name into the European elite.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Manchester City

Manchester City left rattled after Wigan defeat: Is there still hope for their rivals?

After Manchester City’s Monday night defeat to Wigan Athletic, Martyn Cooke questions whether there is still hope for their rivals in the race for silverware this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

For much of this season Manchester City have appeared almost unstoppable with Pep Guardiola’s side nonchalantly brushing aside both domestic and European opposition with apparent ease.

This is demonstrated by City’s sixteen-point lead at the top of the Premier League, their progress to the League Cup final and the knock-out stages of the Champions League – all of which have been achieved without breaking sweat.

Guardiola is undoubtedly building something special at the Etihad and the exciting, dynamic and extravagant attacking style of play that he has implemented is something that should rightly be applauded.

The Spaniard looks certain to begin re-filling City’s trophy cabinet this season, after his debut season in English football ended without silverware, and his team’s performance this campaign continues to enhance his reputation as one of the leading coaches in the modern game.

City have been the proverbial run-away train this season and a host of the most prominent club’s in England and Europe have so far been unable to so much as dent their armour.

However, where others have failed, League One side Wigan Athletic succeeded on Monday evening as Will Grigg’s late goal knocked City out of the FA Cup.

It was a night that City lost their composure both on and off the pitch.

Fabian Delph’s red card in first half stoppage time was debatable, although admittedly his challenge was reckless and could have easily have been avoided, but it set the tone for the evening.

On the pitch, City dominated possession despite their numerical disadvantage but were unable to break down their resilient hosts before Kyle Walker’s mistake gifted Grigg the opportunity to be Wigan’s hero for the evening.

Off the pitch Guardiola appeared to lose his composure on the touchline immediately after Delph’s sending off and was embroiled in a confrontation with Phil Cook that continued in the tunnel as the team’s headed for the dressing rooms at half-time.

The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the home supporters that saw Sergio Aguero confronted by a Wigan fan as he attempted to leave the field.

The Argentinian appeared to swing an arm in response and was clearly unhappy by whatever he had seen or heard, with the stewards and police nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, a small group of City supporters reacted to the pitch invasion by hurling bottles, coins and advertising hoardings.

It was all rather unsavoury, from all parties involved, and it will not go down as one of City’s most memorable evenings.

Clutching at straws?

On Monday evening, for arguably the first time this season, City looked rattled.

Credit will go to Wigan Athletic, who were organised, resilient and able to capitalise on the numerical advantage that they were handed, but this result will also provide City’s rivals with a timely boost.

This was a reminder that Pep Guardiola’s side are not an invincible force and that they can be beaten.

For the first time a chink has appeared in City’s armour.

Guardiola and his players will not have time to digest Monday’s defeat and now head into a challenging run of fixtures that will possibly determine their season.

On Sunday they have an opportunity to claim the first silverware of the season when they face Arsenal in the League Cup final before facing The Gunners at the Emirates Stadium five days later in the league.

Then there is Chelsea and the second leg of their Champions League tie against FC Basel at home, before potentially tricky back-to-back away games at Stoke City and Everton.

If City’s season is going to unravel then it will happen over the next month or so.

However, the upcoming run of fixtures also provides City with an opportunity to win silverware, further cement their position at the top of the Premier League and capitalise on a four-goal advantage from the first leg of their Champions League tie against Basel.

Even a handful of defeats would not necessarily totally derail their season.

In effect here, we are clutching at straws, but Wigan provided a glimmer of hope that City’s dominance can still be stopped.

It may seem unlikely, but the dent that the Latics made in the armour of Guardiola’s side is the first sign of weakness or frailty that we have seen all season.

Guardiola and his side may still romp to a treble by the end of the campaign, but a League One side had provided the Premier League and clubs in the Champions League that there is still plenty to play for this season.

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Newcastle United

Mohamed Diame becoming a fan favourite in Newcastle United’s Premier League turn around

Mohamed Diame has changed his fortunes at Newcastle United in recent weeks becoming a key player in the Magpies Premier League survival bid, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Diame
Photo: Reuters

It has gone under the radar and received little publicity in the national press, but the turnaround of Mohamed Diame’s season has been sensational to watch.

The Senegalese international has been a regular for Newcastle United since their return to the Premier League and is often picked ahead of Mikel Merino and Jonjo Shelvey, both of whom are well liked by supporters.

That cannot be said of Diame, at least until very recently.

During the team’s nine-match losing run towards the end of 2017, the midfielder was a regular starter and was a main target for the fans’ anger.

Against Everton, he was booed off the pitch after being substituted and at that time, it became difficult to see a future for him in the team.

He was offering little and his languid running style made him appear lazy.

This was a player that had once been very good in the top-flight, but two seasons in the second tier had taken its toll.

The judgement was that he was no longer good enough to compete in the Premier League.

Despite arriving as an established Premier League player, Diame had struggled to make a good impression on the Newcastle supporters during his first season with the club.

It had been anticipated that he would stand out as one of the best players in the Championship and dominate matches from midfield.

However, he was in and out of the team, ultimately failing to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven.

The year prior to joining Newcastle, he had helped Hull City to promotion and his experience was a key reason why he was targeted by Rafa Benitez.

During the 2015/16 season, he contributed ten goals and four assists as the Tigers went straight back up to the top-flight.

It was a goal from range in the play-off final from the midfielder that clinched promotion and it was regarded a coup that the Magpies managed to sign him the following summer.

Diame clearly thought the long-term future at St James’ Park was brighter than the one on Humberside and nearly two years’ on, that has been confirmed.

Newcastle are now back in the Premier League, while Hull are fighting against relegation in the Championship.

Although he had to give up on a year of Premier League football, the Senegalese international is now benefiting from the decision.

It was thought that Diame would provide drive to the midfield and be able to contribute goals and assists.

During the Championship-winning season, the midfielder got only three goals and three assists.

He was predominantly played as a number ten with attacking license, so his poor return in the final third was somewhat a surprise, especially coming off the back of a great campaign in the same division.

There were some calls from supporters to sell the midfielder during the summer and if Benitez had been given a larger budget to spend, it may have led to the departure of Diame.

Due to his lack of impact in the Championship, there were doubts as to whether he could offer much at all in the Premier League.

Although his contributions on the ball weren’t great, the 30-year-old is a hard-working player and that goes a long way with his manager.

The Magpies’ boss knew that the former Hull City player was someone that he could rely on and that was a reason why he was kept for the current campaign.

Since the beginning of this season, Diame has featured prominently, but it was not until recently that he was a regular in the first eleven.

He has played 20 times for Newcastle in the Premier League and 12 of those appearances have come as a starter.

The midfielder made his first league start of the season against Burnley in October and this marked the start of an atrocious run for the Magpies.

They went on to take only one point from a possible 27 and Diame played in six of those matches, including starting against Watford and Everton.

These were regarded as two of the worst performance of the season and the 30-year-old was scapegoated as a result of coming into the team at the wrong time.

He will be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best, but he wasn’t the only player at fault.

When he was substituted in the match against Everton, he was booed off by his own supporters and it became difficult to see a way back for him at St James’ Park.

However, his manager never lost faith in him and he was given the start against West Ham United days before Christmas.

Newcastle desperately needed a win, but few supporters expected one.

Diame was excellent at the London Stadium as he completed five ball recoveries and scored the second Magpies’ goal with a lovely finish.

That performance kickstarted the midfielder’s season and he has started seven of the eight Premier League matches since.

He has become one of the first names on Benitez’s team-sheet and few would have expected that after the Everton game.

During this spell, he has scored twice and consistently performed to a high level.

In the most recent match against Manchester United, Diame dominated the midfield area alongside Jonjo Shelvey.

The former made six ball recoveries, while his midfield partner made the same number.

However, the 30-year-old was as effective on the ball as he was off it, as shown by his three key passes during the match.

That was more than any other player on the pitch.

The resurgence of Diame at Newcastle has been mind-blowing and one of the key reasons for the turnaround has been Benitez moving him back into central midfield.

For the first 12-months of his Magpies’ career, he was played in a number ten role and the game often passed him by.

Now, he is in the thick of the action and thriving with the increased responsibility.

If he is able to continue his good form and help Newcastle retain their Premier League status, he will become a favourite on the terraces.

That seemed impossible two months ago.

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Barcelona

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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