Manchester City are the defending Premier League champions and have won their last eight games. They have shown why they will be difficult to dislodge as a favorite, but weaknesses in defense and inconsistent midfield mean Liverpool’s time is now.
Manchester City show why the Premier League is theirs to lose. Though the flaws are there, they have a chance of winning it all this year. Read more in detail here: manchester city schedule.
3:21 p.m. Eastern
Dawson, Rob Correspondent
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Manchester City proved why they’re favorites to win the Premier League championship again this season during the opening 25 minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day. Then they proved why they may not in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Pep Guardiola’s team scored four goals in less half an hour against Leicester City, scarcely sweating through their Christmas supper. They could have had eight before halftime if Kasper Schmeichel hadn’t made two excellent stops and a handful of near-misses.
However, City were reminded that they, too, can shoot themselves in the foot, and when Leicester scored for the third time in just 10 minutes after the break to make it 4-3, there were some worried looks among the home fans, perhaps recalling the famous 4-4 draw between Newcastle and Arsenal more than a decade ago.
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The worry was short-lived owing to two more City goals to make it 6-3, but they were not as dominating as the scoreline indicated or as Guardiola would have liked, especially after such a quick start.
“It was a roller-coaster,” Guardiola remarked afterward, “a traditional Boxing Day with a lot of goals, for everyone it was an interesting game.” “Three more points and a terrific game to see.” We continue on our journey. Because of the kind of players we have, we have been able to generate this volume of goal-scoring actions. Without quality, no management or approach will be able to fix the problem.
“It was strange. Even with a 4-0 lead in the first half, they arrived in the final third with superb passes every time they got the ball. They relocated a large number of players. They are quite high-quality. They are experts at counter-attacking.”
While having 72 percent possession, Leicester, which has been decimated by sickness and injuries, will be disappointed with the outcome. Guardiola, on the other hand, will be upset that his squad allowed 14 shots and eight on target despite having 72 percent possession. City’s weakness on the break made it seem almost inevitable that they would surrender again when Kelechi Iheanacho made it 4-3 on 65 minutes, Leicester’s third goal in a 10-minute stretch. They were lucky that Leicester went to sleep four minutes later at a corner, enabling Aymeric Laporte to head in a fifth and give the hosts some much-needed breathing room.
City raced into a 4-0 lead after only 25 minutes, with to goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and a penalty apiece from Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, which Rodgers vehemently challenged. At half-time, Rodgers switched to a back three, and James Maddison and Ademola Lookman scored twice in four minutes before Iheanacho added a third to offer Leicester supporters who didn’t leave early hope of a Christmas miracle, only for City to come back and win just in time. Laporte’s header shifted the tempo, and Sterling added his second three minutes from time to make it six.
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City has scored 17 goals in their past three games after scoring seven against Leeds and four against Newcastle. These are alarming stats, particularly without a known striker, but some of their defense was as worrisome. Liverpool and Chelsea aren’t about to give up just yet.
“Clearly, we didn’t get off to a fantastic start,” Rodgers said. “You know you’re going to be up against it.” The second goal was not even close to being a penalty. It’s quite aggravating. The VAR, Paul Tierney, has missed some highly violent tackles in recent weeks, but does not consider this a penalty. He [Laporte] has tripped. In the first quarter of an hour, we’ve gone behind 4-0.
“At halftime, we asked the players whether they thought they could win the second half and draw closer to them. The most significant thing was that it was critical not to physically or emotionally breakdown. That’s something they’ve never done before. It may have been simple for the guys to do that when we were down 4-0 and everyone was against us. They didn’t, though. Set-pieces have left us unhappy at 4-3.”
Man City’s offensive prowess is unsurprising, but their recent collapse against Leicester revealed the flaws that give the chasers hope. Williamson, James Getty Images/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA/AMA
Guardiola has such a strong squad that, while many Premier League teams are struggling to field teams due to the ongoing wave of coronavirus cases and postponements, he can afford to leave Jack Grealish and Phil Foden on the bench against Leicester, after they were left out for a disciplinary issue at Newcastle. He has a plethora of attacking options, but Leicester’s second-half barrage — most of it based on quick, smart counter-attacks — may have shown just how essential Rodri has become.
The absence of the Spanish midfielder was a huge loss at the basis of the midfield. It’s no accident that City has an 86 percent victory record this season with Rodri on the club. Without him, the percentage lowers to 29%.
The most crucial statistic for Guardiola will be that, despite their recent wobble, City have won nine consecutive league games. It’s the cornerstone of the sort of run that wins championships. The greatest challenge to keeping the championship may be themselves, after displaying their best and worst against Leicester.
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