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Manchester City

Premier League: Team of the Week XXIX feat. Manchester United and City stars

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It was another pulsating weekend of football in the Premier League, as Antonio Conte and Chelsea continued their charge toward the Premier League title with a late 2-1 victory at Stoke. Despite losing star striker Harry Kane to injury when on FA Cup duty, second-place Tottenham were able to keep pace with the leaders, with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli handing them victory over Southampton.

Manchester United were comfortable winners on Teeside against Middlesbrough which saw them move up to fifth, leapfrogging a sorry Arsenal who slumped to a 3-1 defeat at the Hawthorns against West Brom. Manchester City and Liverpool remained third and fourth respectively after a fiery 1-1 stalemate at the Etihad.

Further down the table, Bournemouth were comfortable winners at home over Swansea, who remain in relegation trouble, as do Hull, who were humiliated on Merseyside in a 4-0 defeat by Everton. Crystal Palace earned a much-needed win at home to Watford, whilst Leicester City pulled clearer of trouble after winning a thriller 3-2 at London Stadium against West Ham.

But who stood out over the weekend’s match-ups to make it into our Pick of the Week for Gameweek 29 of the season?

Manager: Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City)

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Formation: 4-3-3

What a job this man has done since Claudio Ranieri’s controversial departure. Despite what may have been occurring behind the scenes at the club, the board’s decision that it was high-time for a change seems to have paid off. Their resurgence under Shakespeare is no longer so much of a surprise, but this week they got their first away win of the season, a 3-2 nail-biter at West Ham, with Shakespeare becoming the first manager in Premier League history to have his side score three-plus goals in his first three league games. He has also overseen victories in all four of his games in charge thus far, and seems to have re-ignited the fire within Riyad Mahrez, who looked something more akin to the player he was last season at London Stadium, netting the Foxes’ first, before combining with Marc Albrighton for the latter to craft the second for Robert Huth to score.

The reasons for Ranieri’s departure remain under dispute, but the transformation Leicester have undergone under Shakespeare since has been seamless. The former Number Two made history this week, and he is well worth his billing as Coach of the Week this time around.

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)

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Granted he may have shipped two goals, but equally, Kasper Schmeichel was a hero for Leicester in helping preserve the points, and the Foxes’ efforts would have come to little without him. He pulled out a superb stop to thwart Andy Carroll’s headed effort before a wonderful reaction save to keep him out later on, getting a strong hand to his volleyed effort after only parrying Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick in stoppage-time. He might’ve done better with Andre Ayew’s headed goal, but more than atoned for it later in the game, whilst Manuel Lanzini’s set-piece strike left him with no chance.

In a testing season for the defending champions, Schmeichel has been among their more consistent players and seems to have gone from strength-to-strength, like his team-mates, since Shakespeare has steadied the ship.

Right-Back: Craig Dawson (West Bromwich Albion)

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Despite his role being more about preventing goals than scoring them, Craig Dawson saw fit to take advantage of Arsenal’s poor run of form at the Hawthorns, scoring two headers from almost identical set-piece situations to compound the Gunners’ misery and pile the pressure on beleaguered boss Arsene Wenger. Dawson also remained a cool head at the back for the Baggies, letting little get beyond him down the Arsenal left.

Centre-Back: John Stones (Manchester City)

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A marked contrast to the game he had at Monaco during the week, John Stones looked back to his best in City’s home clash with Liverpool, putting in two crucial blocks and remaining a composed presence next to partner Nicolas Otamendi in increasingly testing conditions at a rain-swept Etihad Stadium.

Stones currently has the best average passing accuracy of any defender in the top-flight this season with 92%, which reflects his growing comfort in playing the ball out from the back. If he can stamp out taking risks within his own half across all competitions as well as just the Premier League, then City may be much closer to silverware and European success in the coming years.

Centre-Back: Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace)

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Since Sakho’s arrival at Selhurst Park, a porous defence has hardened into an outfit ready to roll up its sleeves and do battle to keep the Eagles in the Premier League. The France international was indomitable in the air and made his presence felt on the ground as well against Watford, as Troy Deeney’s own goal secured the points and the South Londoners dug in for a clean sheet, so typical of Sam Allardyce’s teams. This latest clean sheet was their third in succession and moves them four points clear of danger.

Left-Back: Allan Nyom (West Bromwich Albion)

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The Cameroon international not only did his defensive duties well in keeping Theo Walcott quiet but did a wonderful job going forward as the Baggies claimed a memorable Premier League scalp for the season by beating Arsenal. His work-rate going down the flank was exceptional, and he nearly got an assist to his name when he ventured down the flank and flashed a ball in towards Salomon Rondon, but the Venezuelan failed to react in time.

Right-Midfield: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

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The Ecuadorian’s performance was one of chasing lost causes throughout, and it yielded all the rewards. His effort to put pressure on goalkeeper Victor Valdes completely ruffled the Spaniard’s feathers, and he subsequently slipped over to present Valencia an open goal to tap home for the visitors.

Such work rate made Valencia a tireless and potent force down the right-flank, a constant menace to Middlesbrough as he continually overlapped his midfielder and sought to provide balls into the box. The statistics also show that he has provided the most successful crosses of any United player this season, with a season total of 39 which found their target.

Centre-Midfield: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)

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For any worrying about the absence of Harry Kane, Sunday’s win over Southampton will have been of huge reassurance. Just as it was last time Kane spent time on the sidelines, Christian Eriksen was the man through whom everything good about Tottenham flowed, and he has remained one of the club’s most consistent players this season, creating a Premier League season best of 82 chances, including the assists he has registered.

His performance in the opening 45 minutes against Southampton was that of a player determined to prove a point in that Spurs did not need to rely on one player, and he broke the deadlock in fine fashion, with a well-taken strike that left Fraser Forster a mere spectator. Should Eriksen continue this form, Spurs may well seal a second-place finish, a first finish above their rivals Arsenal – who are a circus at the moment- for 22 years, and an FA Cup triumph may not be out of the question either.

Left-Midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)

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It was a fast, frantic, and overall excellent encounter for the neutral as Manchester City ground out a home draw with Liverpool, and it was David Silva who once again was the beating heart behind City’s creative force, with Fernandinho pressing higher as the game went on to support him, and Kevin de Bruyne in creative mood alongside him as the three probed and passed through the Reds in midfield.

Since making his Premier League bow back in 2010, the Spaniard has registered 62 assists, the best return of any player in the top-flight, and he almost made it 63, after his chipped through-ball for Raheem Sterling found its target, but the youngster just couldn’t get the vital touch.

Right-Forward: Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

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For all the good performances in the Manchester City camp during the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, the Reds themselves came up with a number of contenders for Team of the Week. The nod, however, must go to Sadio Mané, for when Liverpool did venture forward, it was the Senegalese who looked the most dangerous, interchanging between the flanks to give City’s full-backs a torrid time. He almost got on the scoresheet himself as well, when he found himself in on goal after his pace left Nicolas Otamendi for dead, only to dawdle when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, allowing Willy Caballero the time to fly off his line and claim the ball at his feet.

Centre-Forward: Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

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It was a difficult game for the Belgian to settle into, possibly unsettled by the emergence of the news that he had refused to put pen to paper on a new deal with Everton, but he grew into the game following Tom Huddlestone’s bizarre sending off, laying on an assist and netting twice late on to kill the game.

His brace ensures that he becomes the first Everton player to net 20 or more goals in a season since one Gary Lineker managed it in 1985/86. The current Match of the Day presenter scored 30 goals that year, Lukaku is currently nine behind. Matching that record may not be at the forefront of his mind, but doing so would be some achievement. For now, though, Evertonians can appreciate the feat he has managed thus far, particularly so given that he may not be around those parts for much longer.

Left-Forward: Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)

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When Jesse Lingard is in the mood, he looks to be some player, and that was certainly the case against Middlesbrough, as he netted his fifth Premier League goal for the Red Devils with a corker that left Victor Valdes with no chance.

The strike proved the winner, and such confidence in front of goal will need to be shown on a regular basis if United are to keep up their momentum amidst one or two injury troubles, but this display was good to be going on with, as Lingard and fellow youngster Marcus Rashford gave ‘Boro’s defenders a torrid time on Teeside.

Lingard is clearly a player with much potential, but all that he lacks  is consistency. If he can incorporate that into his game, United will have created yet another young star.

Coach: Craig Shakespeare

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Mijss and Sir Thao and Phuc.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Manchester City

Manchester City must guard against complacency

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Photo: Reuters

Manchester City have been absolutely fantastic this season after they failed to pick up any silverware last term, the first time Pep Guardiola has gone a whole season as manager without winning a trophy of some description.

It looked like the Premier League leaders would become the second side to complete an invincible campaign but Liverpool ended their hopes of that with a classic 4-3 win.

After the weekend’s action, the Citizens have a 16-point lead over 2nd-placed Manchester United but must make sure they don’t let that slip away.

It is an extremely tough task for any of the Premier League’s top sides if they want to catch the Citizens but they certainly shouldn’t lose hope of closing that substantial gap.

In the two games after losing to Jürgen Klopp’s side, Man City didn’t falter and scored six goals to earn six more points but in the third match, they failed to beat a resilient Burnley unit.

They drew 1-1 which was disappointing after taking the lead from a scorching Danilo strike in the first-half.

The two results against the Clarets and Liverpool have showed that Pep Guardiola hasn’t built a completely bulletproof team.

The two matches that they have dropped points in since the New Year were against very different teams.

Liverpool are sublime going forward but leave a lot to be desired for at the back, while Burnley are an incredibly tight defensive squad with little cutting edge in attack.

The latter relied on an 82nd-minute ‘smash-and-grab’ equaliser while the former overcame City with a furious nine-minute spell in which they scored three goals to put the fixture beyond doubt.

This should give confidence to every other team in the league as a side who aren’t considered by anyone as one of the Premier League’s ‘big teams’ managed to take points from them.

Man City are facing a few tough fixtures in the league as well as some congestion as they are still fighting on four fronts.

Their next four matches are in four different competitions with one in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, and their first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League, before a return to Premier League action.

Their two league games after next week are against Arsenal and Chelsea and while wins in those would be considered as them getting one hand on the title, they could easily slip up.

You can get 21/5  for Chelsea to beat City on Sunday 4th March. For a Man City win, punters can get 8/13 and 29/10 if it’s a Draw.

You can have Man City to beat the Blues in your 5+ Acca Insurance with Coral Betting and if one of your legs lets you down, you’ll receive your stake back.

To win the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side currently sit at odds of 1/500, so you’re likely to find more value in the race for the top four, where you can back Chelsea at evens and Arsenal at a HUGE 14/1.

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With four matches in the space of three weeks, including the EFL Cup final and a Champions League match, Manchester City might encounter some injuries and that could be their undoing in the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The two London sides have certainly got their problems but the Gunners look like a different animal with a couple of very good January signings while Chelsea can be absolutely fantastic if all of their players are fit and firing, especially Eden Hazard who has been linked with a move to Man City.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are in an unbelievable position to go on and win their third Premier League title but as their Spanish boss has said, they aren’t over the line yet and still have a lot of work to do over the next 12 matches.

It would be unimaginable for them to let their lead at the top of the table slip but a run of poor results or a bad set of injured players and they could be in a bit of trouble.

However, they are still on for a sublime quadruple and at the end of this month they have the chance to win their first piece of silverware in the EFL Cup final against Arsenal.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Arsenal

Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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