EPL

Five-star Manchester City blow away Luton to return to the Premier League summit

By Sports Desk April 13, 2024

Champions Manchester City moved back to the top of the Premier League with an emphatic 5-1 victory over relegation battlers Luton on Saturday.

A fortuitous early own goal from Daiki Hashioka set the hosts on the way at the Etihad Stadium before a Mateo Kovacic screamer and Erling Haaland penalty effectively secured victory after the break.

Plucky Luton defended stoically throughout and earned consolation through Ross Barkley but Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol wrapped up the scoring.

The result took City above Arsenal and Liverpool at the summit, putting pressure on their title rivals ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.

Victory was almost as routine as it comes, with City not getting anywhere near top gear in a one-sided cruise.

Rodri got his wish for a rest as Pep Guardiola made six changes following Tuesday’s pulsating draw at Real Madrid.

With the Spanish giants visiting the Etihad next week, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones also sat out – the latter not even in the matchday squad – while goalkeeper Ederson replaced Stefan Ortega.

Kevin De Bruyne returned after illness while Kyle Walker was on the bench after recovering from injury.

Luton’s task was daunting enough without the outrageous slice of misfortune that saw them concede the opener inside two minutes.

Thomas Kaminski did well to save after Haaland had been played through by De Bruyne and Doku’s follow-up was also blocked.

Haaland had City’s third attempt as the ball looped up but his acrobatic volley was heading well wide until it took a huge deflection off Hashioka’s head and ended up in the net.

With the luckless Hashioka requiring treatment from the forceful blow, it was apparent the Hatters were facing a long afternoon.

Yet, to the battling visitors’ credit, they defended with great determination.

Kaminski parried a powerful effort from Gvardiol before saving comfortably from Matheus Nunes, De Bruyne and Ruben Dias.

Haaland put over a chance at the back post and Nunes shaved the upright with an effort that ran across goal.

De Bruyne forced a good save from Kaminski just before the interval and Dias sent a long-range effort narrowly wide early in the second half.

Julian Alvarez also missed the target with a shot on the turn but City finally doubled the lead with a Kovavic thunderbolt just after the hour.

The Croatian had a first strike deflected wide but made no mistake from the resulting corner, hitting an unstoppable effort as the ball bounced along the edge of the area.

Luton responded with their first meaningful attack, and Fred Onyedinma pulled the ball back for Cauley Woodrow, but the substitute fired against the bar.

It proved a short-lived foray into City territory, with normal service soon resumed and Doku winning a penalty after tricking and being brought down by Onyedinma.

Haaland calmly sent Kaminski the wrong way to register his 31st goal of the season but only his second in six outings.

Barkley robbed Nunes to pull one back but City, despite taking off a frustrated-looking De Bruyne, finished with a flourish.

Doku claimed their fourth after weaving through the area in the 87th minute and Gvardiol followed up his fine strike against Real with another stunner in time added on.

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    Arne Slot should block out any noise around trying to catch Manchester City and instead set his sights on compiling 90 points in his first season in charge of Liverpool.

    That is the view of former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, who believes securing Champions League football should be seen as the minimum requirement for former Feyenoord boss Slot, who is replacing Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.

    While Klopp lifted the EFL Cup in his final campaign as manager, James feels it is very difficult for Premier League teams to set any targets relating to any silverware due to the consistent dominance of City under Pep Guardiola.

    City have won an unprecedented four straight Premier League titles and will face rivals Manchester United this weekend at Wembley in an attempt to win back-to-back FA Cup crowns. Guardiola also has four EFL Cup trophies to his name.

    James feels Slot should therefore focus only on what he can control and believes 90 points is an aspirational target that will at least put the Reds in contention.

    Liverpool made it to 82 points in 2023-24, which saw them finish nine behind Man City and seven adrift of second-placed Arsenal.

    That tally was comfortably enough to seal a return to the Champions League for next season, a status which James says Slot must ensure he maintains.

    "As we have seen under Jurgen Klopp, the fantastic manager, there are teams around in the Premier League who don't really care what you think you want to do, namely Manchester City," James said to Stats Perform when asked what Slot's minimum target should be.

    "There could invariably be a situation where whatever it is, such as if Pep decides it is his last season, then it might be fairytale stuff again, that he goes for the quadruple and he does it.

    "Then it doesn't matter [what your targets are], no one wins anything domestically. 

    "The minimum requirement, which Pep can't stop you from doing, has to be qualifying for the Champions League of course. But beyond that, I think it's just getting the performances. 

    "If you get 90 points, and I know this has happened to Liverpool and they have got records to prove it, but if you get 90 points or even more and still don't win the league, then it's not down to you doing something wrong, it's down to the excellence of whoever finishes above you. 

    "I would say minimum Champions League qualification and then just going for 90 points and see where it takes you. As I say, 90 points is the benchmark in the Premier League.

    "You know, it isn't that difficult to achieve when you think about it. You can literally lose to the four best teams, again subjectively, four best teams, home and away, and as long as you beat the others, the other 30 games, that's 90 points.

    "Who cares [which teams you beat]? You don't get an extra three points for beating the teams above you. It's just winning."

    James expects to see plenty of movement in the transfer window now that there have been substantial changes to the staff, but says Slot and his coaching team may not always get their own way.

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    "This wasn't just about Jurgen leaving, this was the whole staff going. This is a massive shift, and everybody [left at the club] has their opinion [on the squad], even the analysis guys.

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    "The conversation with Slot will be a whole room of [new] opinions added to a data analysis group [trying] to find replacements because some of the players are leaving. 

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    Wirtz has been in irresistible form throughout Xabi Alonso's first full season at the BayArena, which could yet end with an unbeaten treble.

    Leverkusen won 28 of their 34 games as they became the first team to go unbeaten through a Bundesliga campaign, and they face a pair of finals this week – against Atalanta in the Europa League and Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal.

    Wirtz was named Bundesliga Player of the Year earlier this week, having scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists throughout the campaign. He has also been involved in eight goals (four goals, four assists) and created 28 chances from open play in the Europa League this term.

    That form has reportedly put the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United on alert, but Leverkusen are not entertaining a sale.

    "He will stay. His father and agent said it before. He has a contract here and he's really happy," Rolfes told Sky Sports.

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    "It's not normally the attribute of a number 10 but he combines talent with the work rate of a six or a defensive player along with producing special magic moments."

    When Bayern Munich last failed to win the Bundesliga title in 2012, they responded by raiding rivals Borussia Dortmund for the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels over the next few years.

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    "It's an international market now with the Premier League, and clubs in Spain, Italy and France as well."

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  • Jackson laments Pochettino exit as Palmer thanks departed Chelsea boss Jackson laments Pochettino exit as Palmer thanks departed Chelsea boss

    Nicolas Jackson appeared to question Chelsea's decision to part company with Mauricio Pochettino as Cole Palmer paid thanks to the Argentine.

    On Tuesday, Chelsea announced Pochettino had left the club by mutual consent after just one season in charge, which ended in a sixth-place Premier League finish.

    Several pundits expressed shock at the decision, after an upturn saw Chelsea recover from a poor start to the season to clinch European qualification.  

    Only four teams – Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United – had a better expected goals (xG) figure than Chelsea (75.3) in the Premier League in 2023-24, while only three – City, Liverpool and Arsenal – had more shots on target than the Blues (215).

    From March 11 onwards, Chelsea's return of 27 points was only bettered by eventual champions Manchester City, who took 28 in that span.

    A number of Chelsea players appeared to be surprised by Pochettino's exit when reacting on social media, most notably Jackson.

    Alongside an image of himself alongside Pochettino, Jackson wrote on Instagram: "Love you coach. Wish we could stay together more.

    "But may God continue to bless you and your family. Thanks for the advice and support, you're a true lion and a fighter, wish you all the best."

    Leading goalscorer Palmer, meanwhile, paid a heartfelt tribute to Pochettino in an Instagram post of his own.

    "Gaffer, thank you for everything you have done for me and making my dreams come true," the England international wrote. "All the best."

    Former Blues captain John Terry, meanwhile, said he was "gutted" to see Pochettino depart.

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    Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna and Brentford's Thomas Frank have been touted as possible successors, with co-owner Todd Boehly reportedly looking to hire a progressive young coach to work within Chelsea's existing structure. 

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