'Gulf' in class between Man City and Newcastle shows what 10 years of investment can do

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Newcastle United travel to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday dreading the unenviable task ahead of them.

The Magpies go up against the reigning Premier League champions after a poor start to the season during which they’ve gone winless in four including a 3-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest in midweek, eliminating them from the Carabao Cup.

Rafa Benitez, who was left frustrated by the club’s lack of investment in the squad during the summer transfer window, must somehow devise a plan for his injury-hit team to miraculously resist Manchester City‘s overwhelming attack.

The hosts on the other hand, look in ominous form and are favourites to retain their Premier League crown despite a hiccup away to Wolves last week. City were unfortunate at Molineux, having conceded a contentious goal that appeared to go in off Willy Boly’s hand, been denied a penalty and seen Sergio Aguero strike the woodwork twice.

The Argentine will nevertheless be brimming with confidence as he lines up against Newcastle. Having scored 14 goals against them in just nine outings, they are comfortably his favourite opponents over the course of his career. City relish Newcastle’s visits as well, scoring at least three goals against them in six of their last seven meetings at the Etihad across all competitions.

The gulf in class is palpable but how easily the shoe could’ve been on the other foot.

Over a decade ago, the Abu Dhabi United Group owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were considering expanding their interests into England’s top flight and weighed up Newcastle as an option, as well as Everton, before settling on City.

It’s perhaps fitting that on the 10th anniversary of their £210 million takeover, the team faces Newcastle – a club riddled with underachievement and battles with relegation, encapsulating what City might have been – and indeed were – without the significant investment of the owners.

That overpowering financial muscle was immediately flexed in 2008 when City signed Robinho from Real Madrid for a then British transfer record £32.5m soon after the takeover was complete. Several marquee signings followed in the succeeding transfer windows. After their fair share of poor acquisitions as well, it was Roberto Mancini who put the final pieces of the puzzle together and won the club’s first league title in 44 years.

Champions in 2012: Manchester City.

Champions in 2012: Manchester City.

In the grand scheme of things though, that was not the most significant step for the club in 2012.

“We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars,” Sheikh Mansour declared in 2008 and after winning the league four years on, City appointed former Barcelona’s executive duo Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to reshape the club’s business model and football strategy.

The Citizens began to steer away from a path that Chelsea have stubbornly persisted upon since Roman Abramovich’s takeover. The Londoners’ model based on immediate success is a risky one and requires copious, and continuous, amounts of investment in the squad to sustain – not to mention a revolving door at Stamford Bridge to facilitate the comings and goings of several head coaches. City, had other ideas.

Having already been set on the right course, investing £200m in a cutting edge training complex and academy, their decisions – football and business related – in recent years have defined the club and their desire to build a dynasty.

Built for success: Manchester City's training complex.

Built for success: Manchester City’s training complex.

The appointment of Pep Guardiola was inspired and could well be remembered as one of the most significant moments in the club’s history. The Spaniard was already a renowned visionary and built a stellar reputation during his trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

In Guardiola, they attained a revolutionary manager capable of delivering on both fronts. Not only has he assembled a team equipped to sweep all before them, but he’s also laid the foundation for the club to dominate English football for years to come.

City were undeterred by his trophyless first season in charge, and instead backed him heavily ahead of the next campaign, spending over £133m solely on his requirement of three new full-backs and it has paid dividends.

Guardiola has silenced critics who suggested that his possession-based style of play would not thrive amid the physicality of the English game. In doing so, he has contributed heavily to the club’s identity going forward, one they should persevere to maintain long after his eventual departure.

Another in a long line of emphatic home victories is there for the taking at the Etihad on Saturday, and with it, a celebration of the behemoth this football club has transformed into.

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FPL tips: Chelsea's Marcos Alonso is a bold captain choice, swap Richarlison for Theo Walcott

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Each week, Sport360 will bring you tips for the English Premier League’s official fantasy football game. Fancy pitting your wits against us? You can join “Sport360 Fans League” using the code 2326997-532303.

Most managers who performed well in the opening two weeks of this season’s Fantasy Premier League were handed a reality check in gameweek three.

Many of the early big-hitters didn’t deliver and while there are a couple of adjustments to make, there’s no need to panic just yet.

Here’s a few tips to help guide you ahead of GW4.

CAPTAIN – SERGIO AGUERO | MANCHESTER CITY | 11.3M

Manchester City’s all-time leading goalscorer blanked in GW3 away to Wolves as Pep Guardiola’s side were given a tough test by the newly promoted side.

However, the striker still looked very sharp and hit the woodwork twice, even demanding to take a late free-kick which crashed off the crossbar.

When a striker of his calibre is in the kind of form he is now, you have to back him and make the most of his good run.

Moreover, Newcastle United, who were dumped out of the Carabao Cup in midweek to Nottingham Forest, are among the Argentine’s favourite opponents.

Aguero has scored eight goals in his last two meetings with the Magpies who have a daunting trip to the Etihad this weekend. Rafa Benitez may instruct his side to sit deep like they did against Chelsea, but expect Guardiola to play a 3-5-2 formation and simply batter the visitors into submission.

Aguero is City's leading scorer this season.

Aguero is City’s leading scorer this season.

ALTERNATIVES

MOHAMED SALAH (13.0m) was among the most popular captain picks last week who came through with points. His goal against Brighton made for healthy return of eight points but Leicester City away could be a tougher test. However, there’s still a lot more to come from the Egyptian. No midfielder has had more shots from inside the box (11) than him and only Callum Wilson managed more overall (13). He’s also attempted 12 assists so far.

THEO WALCOTT (6.7m) may just thrive for Everton in the absence of Richarlison. After the Brazilian’s red card, Walcott’s goal helped the Blues to a point against Bournemouth. Everton are creating chances under Marco Silva and more will fall to the Englishman in Richarlison’s absence. The former Arsenal man should score again against Huddersfield at home.

BOLD CHOICE

MARCOS ALONSO (6.7m) is an FPL sensation. Concerns that he wouldn’t be as attacking under Maurizio Sarri have quickly been rubbished by the defender already, having scored double figures in each of the three weeks so far. Bournemouth at home is another great opportunity for him to add to his tally.

Marcos Alonso

Marcos Alonso

TWO TO WATCH

ALEKSANDAR MITROVIC  | FULHAM | 6.6M

With three goals and an assist to his name already, Aleksandar Mitrovic is hard to ignore. His four big chances so far are exceeded only by Wilson (6) among strikers. Fulham travel to Brighton next and even though they face City the following week, having scored away to Tottenham, Mitrovic is proving to be a striker capable of delivering against any opposition.

Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Aleksandar Mitrovic.

N’GOLO KANTE | CHELSEA | 5.0M

This may be a slightly controversial pick and even though N’Golo Kante is by no means a must-have, he is more than likely to exceed expectations given his price. He’s definitely getting into dangerous positions and his place in the side is secured. His finishing has let him down but he’s bound to chip in with a few and is a good option if you need to free up money for another signing.

N'Golo Kante

N’Golo Kante

TWO TO AVOID

JOHN STONES | MANCHESTER CITY | 5.5M

Someone whose place in the starting XI isn’t secure, is John Stones. The England international was left on the bench against Wolves. With Aymeric Laporte, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi to compete with, he may not start every week and that’s unacceptable for a premium defender.

John Stones

John Stones

RICHARLISON | EVERTON | 6.7M

Given his incredible start and the way he performed under Silva at Watford last season, the temptation to hold on to Richarlison and ride out his suspension is understandable. However, he misses two of Everton’s more comfortable games and returns away to Arsenal after which their fixtures are no longer as appealing.

Richarlison

Richarlison

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Biggest winners and losers from Premier League gameweek three

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Flying winger Lucas Moura was on the scoresheet during Spurs' win at Old Trafford.

Time is flying. The third round of Premier League fixtures have already flashed before our eyes but as usual, it was a frantic, action-packed and wild three days.

Liverpool, Watford, Chelsea and Tottenham are the only teams to continue their 100 per cent win record as Bournemouth and Manchester City were held to draws by Everton and Wolves respectively.

Leicester picked up their second win in a row whist London clubs Arsenal and Fulham secured their first three points of the campaign, with Huddersfield also getting off the mark with a draw.

However, there is concern growing at the London Stadium as Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham remain rock bottom with zero points after losing their third successive match.

So, who stood out from the rest and who had a weekend to forget? Here’s our picks.

WINNERS

1) Lucas Moura – Tottenham

Spurs produced a phenomenal performance to beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford, with Lucas Moura’s brace the highlight of the match.

The diminutive forward was a constant threat and he found the back of the net with his only two efforts on target.

Moura started life with the north London club slowly last season, but he has now scored three in the opening three fixtures of the league season. Definitely a day to cherish for the former Paris Saint-Germain man.

2) Aleksandar Mitrovic – Fulham

Mitrovic made his big-money move from Newcastle to Fulham for afternoons just like these. The forward was given immaculate service by his team-mates, allowing him to power home two goals to earn Fulham their first win since returning to the top-flight.

The Serb has been in irresistible form ever since he joined the London club, with only Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah matching his league goals tally of 15 since February.

He seems to be thriving under the spotlight at Craven Cottage and he’ll be hoping to be the one to fire the Cottagers to survival this season.

3) Eden Hazard – Chelsea

After much speculation regarding his future at the club, Hazard produced a dazzling display at St James’ Park to prove his worth to the Blues.

Hazard was almost unplayable, and he was at his sparkling best to help Chelsea to a crucial 2-1 win to maintain their winning streak under Maurizio Sarri.

This was the Belgian’s first start of the season and he showed why he is one of the best players in the league by nonchalantly slotting in a penalty to give the Blues the lead. If he continues this level of performance, then good luck to all the defences who will try to stop him!

LOSERS

1) Richarlison – Everton

The Everton man quickly went from hero to zero after he received a red card against Bournemouth for a headbutt.

The Brazilian has been in fine form, scoring three times in the opening two matches but he’ll want to forget this match against the Cherries in a hurry.

To add to his misery, the winger will miss the next three matches for the Toffees, which could see him lose his early season momentum, and fantasy football picks!

2) Manchester United

The Red Devils were swept aside by Spurs on Monday night and manager Jose Mourinho is suddenly under immense pressure to produce results.

United have lost two of their opening three matches and need to bounce back from the disappointment immediately.

Things just didn’t seem to go their way, with Romelu Lukaku missing a glorious chance to give them the lead with the score still 0-0.

This was the second successive match that Mourinho’s men conceded three in a match, which has alarm bells ringing throughout the club.

Doom and gloom: Jose Mourinho.

3) Issa Diop – West Ham United

The last thing that you want to happen on your debut for a new club is to score an own goal, but that was the fate suffered by Diop as the Hammers fell to a 3-1 defeat against Arsenal.

The defender sliced a clearance and then diverted Alexandre Lacazette’s cross into his own net to give the Gunners the lead with only 20 minutes to play.

This isn’t a match he’ll want to tell his grandchildren about in the future as the Hammers still search for their first point of the season.

KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Issa Diop of West Ham United the Carabao Cup Second Round match between AFC Wimbledon and West Ham United at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on August 28, 2018 in Kingston upon Thames, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Disappointing outing: Issa Diop.

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