KAMPALA: How much has high player turnover contributed to Manchester City’s comparatively slow start to the English Premier League season? Put another way, can Cityzens boss Pep Guardiola continue to give free rein to whichever of his charges wants to seek greener pastures elsewhere? Departing players have previously not stopped the Catalan football alchemist from creating even hungrier outfits. Could this season be the exception?
When Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Oleksandr Zinchenko swapped Etihad Stadium for London, it didn’t stop Manchester City from taking their game to the next level because replacements Erling Braut Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Manuel Akanji worked a treat for their manager. Can the same be said of Mateo Kovacic, Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol as substitutes for last summer’s departures Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Aymeric Laporte?
Those are some of the questions Guardiola’s treble winners will attempt to answer when they confront Roberto de Zerbi’s free wheeling Brighton on Saturday afternoon. In losing three consecutive games in domestic competitions for the first time since 2018, the champions didn’t miss any of Gundogan, Mahrez or Laporte as much as they missed Rodrigo Cascante Hernandez ‘Rodri’, and to a less extent Kevin de Bruyne because hitman Haaland is in his best element with the Belgian maestro swinging in pinpoint crosses.
Rodri is City’s directing intelligence whose organisational attributes and ability to snuff out danger has been proved during his three game suspension. Lest we forget, City have lost six out of the last 16 games in which Rodri was absent compared to 5 out of 67 with him in the side. The reasonable doubt to City’s invincibility created by setbacks at Newcastle United, Wolves and Arsenal dictates that going forward, it’s easy to foresee Guardiola grooming a Rodri clone just like he prepared Spain’s midfield metronome to succeed former skipper Fernandinho.
With joint leaders Tottenham Hotspur not in action until Monday night when they host Fulham, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool can take temporary leadership of the standings when they host Everton in the Merseyside derby in Saturday’s early kick off. The German will order his side not to switch off during the opening half to avoid falling behind for the umpteenth time.
The pick of this weekend’s matches takes place at Stamford Bridge where Mauricio Pochettino’s young Chelsea outfit will attempt to beat Mikel Arteta’s Gunners on home turf for the first time in four attempts. The international break came at the most inopportune time for Chelsea who had strung together a three game winning streak. Unbeaten Arsenal will test their improvement to the limit. Cameras are to be squarely focused on Manchester United keeper Andre Onana when the record champions travel to basement club Sheffield United in Saturday’s late kick off.
Liverpool v Everton,
Bournemouth v Wolverhampton Wanderers,
Brentford v Burnley,
Manchester City v Brighton,
Newcastle United v Crystal Palace,
Nottingham Forest v Luton Town,
Chelsea v Arsenal,
Sheffield United v Manchester United
Aston Villa v West Ham United
Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham