EPL

Mahrez justifying the hype as Sterling remains unruffled despite frustration

By Sports Desk September 28, 2019

Raheem Sterling's lightning start to the season undoubtedly highlighted the immense extent to which he has improved in recent years, becoming a regular Manchester City match-winner almost as decisive as Sergio Aguero.

He struck his sixth Premier League goal of the season in Saturday's 3-1 win at Everton, and although his performance was otherwise erratic, the England international's persistence showed just how far he has come.

It was by no means vintage City on display at Goodison Park, as Everton were unfortunate to not come away with at least a point.

Pep Guardiola's myriad of defensive issues again reared their head, with Everton bullying them aerially on numerous occasions – Yerry Mina proving a colossal thorn in City's side with his prowess in the air.

Hindsight is 20-20, but even before Aymeric Laporte's serious knee injury, it was clear City needed greater depth in quality at the back, yet the failure to secure Harry Maguire did not lead to the arrival of anyone else.

With John Stones joining Laporte in the treatment room, Fernandinho has filled in capably at the back for the past three matches, but at Goodison he looked every inch the makeshift option he is – a feeble clearance and attempted tackle leading to Everton's equaliser.

Beside him Nicolas Otamendi was no more convincing, the Argentina defender routinely struggling aerially against Mina at set-pieces.

Aside from Gabriel Jesus' header after Kevin De Bruyne's outrageous cross, City were similarly unimpressive in the opposing penalty area for long periods of the match as well.

Sterling spurned a glorious chance on the hour, inexplicably missing the target when one-on-one with Jordan Pickford, a let-off that suggested Everton might just hang on for a point.

Mahrez had other ideas, however.

The Algerian has struggled for consistency since joining City in his big-money move last year, but when expertly bending a 30-yard free-kick into the bottom-left corner with 19 minutes to go, he was netting in a third successive start across all competitions.

There was more to Mahrez's performance than just that goal, however, the winger toying with Lucas Digne relentlessly – and his solo run leading to De Bruyne's pass for the opener.

All five of the winger's shots were on target and he also laid on five opportunities for team-mates, a figure bettered by no one else on the pitch.

Mahrez then troubled Everton for City's final goal, his cross finding its way through to Sterling after and the former Liverpool talent slammed an effort in off the crossbar, holding his nerve when he might have failed in the past on an otherwise frustrating day for him.

A consistent Mahrez added to attacking options including an unflappable Sterling should make City unstoppable, yet as impressive as the champions' attitude was on Saturday, there remain the lingering defensive doubts that could ultimately cost them the title.

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    Mikel Arteta was left bemused by what he felt were VAR inconsistencies after Jamie Vardy escaped a red card during Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Tuesday.

    The Gunners looked to be heading for a fourth successive Premier League win after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's first-half opener, but Eddie Nketiah's straight red 15 minutes from time – shortly after coming off the bench – gave Leicester encouragement.

    Nketiah caught James Justin with a high boot to the knee and a VAR check led to the striker's dismissal, but Arteta felt it highlighted inconsistency.

    Vardy, who went on to score a late equaliser, had been involved in an incident just before half-time where his flailing foot caught Shkodran Mustafi in the face as the pair fell to the floor.

    Despite the presence of VAR, the former England striker avoided punishment, but Arteta thinks he should have been dismissed.

    "I have my opinion, I prefer to keep it like this," he said. "What I am saying is, if you review incidents of that type, you should review them all.

    "If Eddie's is a red card then for sure the other is a red card. If [Nketiah] can be a red card then Leicester has to play with 10 men after 42 minutes – that has to be a red card as well."

    Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers claimed to have not seen the incident involving Vardy, though he was adamant Nketiah's sending off was justified for "a horrific challenge".

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    "I think when you see it like he [the referee, Chris Kavanagh] has, it was a clear red. The kid is just stretching but it ended up being an horrific challenge so was absolutely deserving for a red card."

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    ROUND-UP

    - Sport reports Barcelona still want to sign Inter star Lautaro Martinez, despite his release clause expiring.

    Borussia Dortmund have issued an ultimatum to United. Sport Bild claims United have been told if they want to bid for Jadon Sancho, the deal must be done by August 10. Sancho has been heavily tipped to move to Old Trafford.

    Arsenal want to sign Lyon's Moussa Dembele if they lose Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, reports Foot Mercato. Lacazette has been linked to Atletico Madrid and Inter, while Barca, PSG and other clubs are reportedly interested in Aubameyang.

    Inter are not David Alaba's first choice should he leave Bayern, says Sport Bild. Alaba has been linked to Madrid, Barca, PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City.

    Sevilla are leading Juventus and Inter in the pursuit of Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin, says the Express.

    - According to the Express, Tottenham are confident of signing Kurt Zouma from London rivals Chelsea at the end of the season.

    - Could Inter be about to hijack Napoli's bid for Lille forward Victor Osimhen? The Nigeria international has been tipped to join Napoli in a €80million deal, however, Le10Sport says Inter are making a last-ditch attempt to sign Osimhen.

    - Chelsea full-back Emerson Palmieri has handed in a transfer request as he looks to reunite with Antonio Conte at Inter, reports Gazzetta journalist Nicolo Schira.

    Milan are trying to hijack Inter's move for Brescia star Sandro Tonali, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter have been favourites to land Tonali but Ralf Rangnick – who is tipped to become Milan's head coach in 2020-21 – has reportedly made the Italy international his top target.

  • Jesus woes, missing Aguero - An Opta look at Man City's misfiring attack Jesus woes, missing Aguero - An Opta look at Man City's misfiring attack

    A couple of days on, Manchester City's 1-0 defeat at Southampton – their ninth loss of a limp and unsuccessful Premier League title defence – still appeared to be irritating Pep Guardiola.

    How had it happened again? Such wastefulness.

    Guardiola warned his players their FA Cup and Champions League hopes will go up in smoke if they remain so profligate, with his suggested remedy sounding more like exasperation than a practical solution.

    "The only solution when you create 26 chances [and don't win] is to do 35," he said, recalling the precise number of attempts City had without scoring on England's south coast last weekend.

    "And if 35 is not enough, 40. And if 40 is not enough, 45."

    The City manager stopped before his chances to minutes ratio ran away from him entirely, but his team do create a phenomenal amount of opportunities.

    In a Premier League table compiled using results from each game returned by Opta's Expected Goals (xG) metric, City would be top and not a mammoth 23 points in arrears.

    Put simply, if fairly absurdly, the division's top scorers have a goalscoring problem.

    NO SALVATION FOR JESUS

    Sergio Aguero's knee-injury absence means Gabriel Jesus is City's only fit senior striker. This is certainly not the best time for the Brazil international to be enduring a nine-match goal drought.

    Speaking ahead of Wednesday's home game against Newcastle United, Guardiola made a point of praising Jesus' performance at Southampton, but his numbers make for grim reading.

    Of the five opportunities Opta classified as big chances to pass the visitors by at St Mary's, Jesus spurned three of them. His xG figure for that barren showing was 1.36.

    In 29 Premier League appearances, the 23-year-old has scored 10 times in 2019-20. This is a significant under-performance of his 14.7 xG.

    Jesus' big-chance conversion rate is 25 per cent. No City player has enjoyed more than his 28 opportunities of that sort, yet just seven have ended up in the net.

    However, as noted above, this is a team-wide problem for which Jesus is currently – albeit somewhat understandably – the main scapegoat.

    THREE AND NOT SO EASY

    As of Monday, there had been 24 occasions this Premier League season when a team registered an xG in excess of three during a single match.

    City have done so six times, more than any other club. However, their xG of 3.25 against Southampton means they are also the only team to have lost when racking up such a dominant statistic.

    Burnley's 3.15 xG only amounted to a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham, but in the other 22 instances, the team creating such a high volume of quality chances prevailed.

    City also had an xG of exactly three during their 2-2 draw at home to Spurs last August - an outcome Guardiola still frequently references when assessing where the campaign went awry.

    AGUERO LEADS THE WAY

    City's all-time leading goalscorer, Aguero turned 32 last month and is out of contract at the end of next season.

    The team's recent struggles arguably give an uncomfortable insight into the not-too-distant future. None of Guardiola's other main forward options are as reliably clinical or prolific.

    Aguero' 16 Premier League goals this season arrived at a frequency of one every 91 minutes. In contrast to Jesus, he out-performed his xG of 14.6. The Argentina international converted 13 of 25 big chances (52 per cent).

    Raheem Sterling was on target during the recent comprehensive wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, but his haul of 13 dips below an xG mark of 14.8, in part due to 10 of 26 big chances being finished off (38 per cent).

    MAHREZ AND FODEN OFFER HOPE

    Elsewhere, Opta's numbers show not all City players should despair when confronted with a sight of goal.

    Riyad Mahrez has an xG projection of six Premier League goals this term, but is up to nine in reality.  The former Leicester City winger isn't entirely immune to the jitters, however, with four of his six big chances missed.

    Perhaps the situation calls for bold belief of a special young talent.

    Phil Foden's provides a smaller sample size in terms of minutes played, yet the England Under-21 star has four goals despite an xG figure of 1.3.

    All of those goals – a brace against Burnley in between strikes versus Arsenal and Liverpool – have come since lockdown and Foden is two from two when it comes to big chances.

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