Having been given the path that comprises the most elusive trophy of their “Quadruple Quest,” Manchester City look to keep the pressure on Liverpool as they host Brighton and Hove Albion at the Etihad on Saturday.
(Potential Starting XIs)
One can argue the price of City’s domestic treble last term came in the form of their second consecutive quarterfinal Champions League exit to a Premier League rival – this time Tottenham Hotspur after Liverpool in 2018. The Cityzens (2-1-0) were given a very straightforward group to start their path to Istanbul, with familiar foes Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian debutants Atalanta and Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb joining them in Group C.
“I think we played brilliantly in the second game against Tottenham,” midfielder Kevin De Bruyme told City’s official website, “and we should have gone through. It’s the way it goes – you have to take it and this year, we will be there again. It’s not about improving. At the end of the day, it’s just the way it goes.
“We’ve been out in the last four years I’ve been here and three times, it was almost a draw. Against Real Madrid in the semi-finals, it was just one own goal. The level is so high that the difference between the teams is so minimal. We will try and see what’s going to happen.”
De Bruyne set a Premier League record by being the fastest to 50 assists – needing 123 matches — after setting up Sergio Aguero’s goal in the 16th minute of City’s 3-1 victory at Bournemouth on Sunday. David Silva marked his 400th appearance in all competitions with helpers on Raheem Sterling’s goal just before halftime and Aguero’s second to cap the scoring.
The Belgium international has recorded four assists in the first three league matches, while Sterling and Aguero have been ruthless finishers with nine of City’s 10 goals. The lone blemish was the controversial disallowed late go-ahead goal after VAR review that consigned City to a 2-2 draw versus Spurs in their home opener a fortnight ago.
For the third straight match, a call went against City and Guardiola, this time missing what looked to be a clear penalty drawn by Silva on a foul by Jefferson Lerma. One could already see the frustration building within the Spaniard since right now it looks like VAR could be the second-biggest domestic stressor in trying to win a third straight Premier League title behind Liverpool.
“Was it a penalty? No, no, no,” he sarcastically groused in a post-match press conference that lasted all of 90 seconds. “Just like last week’s clear handball. Penalty? Of course not.”
Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-1) welcome the role of David to City’s Goliath for this match as Graham Potter’s side have gotten off to a solid start. The Seagulls bounced back from their first league loss with a 2-1 victory Tuesday at Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup, with ageless Glenn Murray bagging the winner in second-half stoppage time.
Potter showed a surprising amount of confidence in his club’s depth as he overturned the entire XI with an eye on this match. Nineteen-year-old Aaron Connolly scored in his competitive debut for Brighton before the 35-year-old Murray supplied the late heroics.
“Glenn pulled me through at the end because I was struggling as I hadn’t played that much senior football. To be out on the field with someone with his experience and knowledge is only going to benefit me,” Connolly told the club’s official website. “He was talking to me every few minutes and looked after me out there. He had a slightly different role to me because he was out wide, and I was central, but he was encouraging me beforehand and to have that on the pitch with me is always a bonus.”
Though taking down City at the Eithad – where they have lost just one of their last 23 league matches (20-2-1) is daunting, Potter has had experience with long odds and high-profile opponents previously, having stunned Turkish side Galatasary in Europa League qualifying with Norwegian side Ostersund in 2017.
“It’s a bit sad if you can’t believe (an upset is possible),” he told the Brighton and Hove Independent. “You have to be respectful of course, with what they have achieved but you always have to believe there is a possibility and that’s what is great about football. If we lose that, then it all becomes a bit dull.”
Brighton will be without striker Florian Andone as he serves the second of his three-match ban for his red card in last weekend’s loss to Southampton.
City have swept all four Premier League matches between the sides by an 11-2 count and clinched the title in the reverse fixture on the final match day last term with a 4-1 romp as Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez, and Ilkay Gundogan all scored.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Manchester City 1/12; Draw 10/1; Brighton 28/1
Both Teams to Score: Yes 13/10; No 8/15
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 2/7; Under 5/2
First Goal Scorer Manchester City: Aguero 13/5; Sterling 11/4; Mahrez, Bernardo 5/1; Silva, De Bruyne 7/1
First Goal Scorer Brighton and Hove Albion: Murray, Maupay 14/1; Trossard 22/1; Gross 28/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Manchester City: Aguero 4/7; Sterling 6/10; Mahrez 13/10; Bernardo 11/8; Silva 15/8; De Bruyne 2/1; Foden 21/10
Anytime Goal-Scorer Brighton and Hove Albion: Murray, Maupay 7/2; Trossard 6/1; Gross 7/1; Jahanbakhsh 8/1
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 5, Brighton and Hove Albion 0.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Manchester City 2, Brighton and Hove Albion 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Raheem Sterling
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(Manchester City group photo courtesy Raheem Sterling official Twitter account)