Man City's near-flawless midfield gets an A+ but the defence is a B

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Having amassed as much as 198 points in consecutive Premier League seasons, the scope for improvement in squad depth was not high for Pep Guardiola heading into the new season. But, nevertheless, Manchester City have strengthened their glittering side with some marquee signings.

Rodri, Joao Cancelo and Angelino were signed from Atletico Madrid, Juventus and PSV Eindhoven respectively, while Danilo and Fabian Delph were among the big names departing the Etihad Stadium.

Ahead of their opening match against West Ham on Saturday, we take a look at the new, improved City squad that will be bidding to clinch a third successive league title.

GOALKEEPERS – B+

In Ederson, the Sky Blues have a well-rounded keeper who is great with his feet and solid with his hands. He has proved to be an astute purchase, having integrated the team’s style of play effectively over the past two title-winning seasons.

Back-up keeper Claudio Bravo, 36, has established himself as a specialist in domestic cup games, especially when penalty shoot-outs are on the menu. However, the Chilean has rarely been preferred in league matches, after a series of blunders in his maiden season.

While Bravo can be relied upon to take City through in a crucial FA Cup tie, a long-term injury for Ederson could shake things up in the league. Derby County custodian Scott Carson was roped in on loan on deadline day but there is not much clarity as to what Guardiola has in mind for the new-signing.

DEFENCE – B

It would not be a stretch to suggest that City have the second-best defence in the league, with Liverpool stepping highest on the podium.

The Aymeric Laporte-John Stones centre-back pairing has been solid, bar the rare loss of concentration that is generally dealt with by the reliable Ederson. The pair have developed a great sense of chemistry that can only develop over time.

However, the lack of depth in central defence could come back to bite the Premier League champions during the business end of the campaign.

Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala could have formed a solid partnership back in 2015/16 but both players have experienced a steady decline ever since. The Sky Blues should have scanned the market for a better third/fourth choice centre-back during the summer but opted against it.

The full-back positions are well-decorated with big names and talented players. In new signing Joao Cancelo, the Portuguese will ensure Kyle Walker has to work for his place before eventually replacing him.

Oleksandr Zinchenko was City’s break-out player from last term and has displayed enough skill to act as a back-up for the constantly injured Benjamin Mendy.

MIDFIELD – A+

The best midfield in Europe surely deserves top marks.

City have Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva as their first choice midfield three. A dream trio. The former enjoyed a stunning season at Atletico Madrid and is tipped to shine in Guardiola’s system. The latter two were among the best players in City’s title-winning season and are showing no signs of slowing down.

Their back-up midfield of Fernandinho, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan are capable of starting for most teams around Europe. This depth will allow them to compete for the Champions League and sustain their domestic dominance at the same time.

Their seventh midfielder Phil Foden, 20, is one of the best prospects in the world and is likely to climb higher in the hierarchy over time.

City are set to dominate the Premier League again and there is little scope for improvement in this flawless midfield.

ATTACK – B+

There’s a thin line between midfield and attack in Guardiola’s system. This was evident last season when Bernardo was deployed as a right-winger regularly. Foden was also called in to take guard in the left-wing in some games when he came off the bench.

Regardless, the wings are well-equipped with fire-power that accompanies the likes of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane. The latter is set to miss the first half of the season due to a torn ACL but Sterling’s versatility should ensure City don’t miss the German that much. The option to step midfielders higher up the pitch is also present, as is the option to deploy second choice striker Gabriel Jesus on the left.

Sergio Aguero will spearhead the attack again in search of yet another goal-laden campaign. The versatility of the players in midfield and attack should more than make up for any injury-related complications that could arise during the season.

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Liverpool forward Sadio Mane wins race to be fit for Premier League opener

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Sadio Mane is fit and available for Liverpool’s Premier League opener at home to Norwich on Friday night.

Mane missed last weekend’s Community Shield against Manchester City after only returning from an extended break on Monday, but has trained with his team-mates this week.

James Milner has also been training after sitting out last weekend’s Wembley contest with a minor muscular complaint.

Norwich boss Daniel Farke will be without experienced centre-back Timm Klose, who has not recovered fully from a hip problem, as his side return to the Premier League.

Fellow defender Christoph Zimmermann has also been ruled out with a knee problem.

Midfield pair Alex Tettey and Louis Thompson are also expected to be absent.

Liverpool provisional squad: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk,
Robertson, Fabinho, Henderson, Milner, Salah, Mane, Firmino, Origi, Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri, Wilson, Brewster.

Norwich provisional squad: Krul, McGovern, Aarons, Byram, Godfrey, Hanley, Lewis, Heise, Roberts, Vrancic, Leitner, Hernandez, Cantwell, Buendia, Stiepermann, Trybull, McLean, Amadou, Drmic, Pukki, Srbeny, Idah.

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Burnley loan move for Chelsea's Danny Drinkwater in the works, says Sean Dyche

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Sean Dyche has revealed Burnley are working to bring Danny Drinkwater to the club on loan from Chelsea.

The midfielder was understood to be at the Clarets’ training ground on Thursday but Dyche insisted it was not yet a done deal just three hours before the deadline.

Asked about his likely transfer deadline day dealings, Dyche said: “There’s a maybe on Nakhi Wells going out and a maybe on Danny Drinkwater coming in.

“That’s not confirmed. There’s more than just the i’s to dot and t’s to cross. It’s got a reasonable chance but everyone needs to agree to get it done.”

After beginning his career with Manchester United, Drinkwater starred in Leicester’s stunning Premier League title-winning campaign, earning him a £35million move to Chelsea two years ago.

But he has made just five Premier League starts for the Blues and his only appearance last season came in the Community Shield a year ago.

If he can show anything like the form he produced for the Foxes, then Drinkwater would be a coup for Burnley, who lacked creativity in midfield last season in the absence of Steven Defour.

Defour missed most of last season through injury and is still some way away from a return following calf surgery.

Dyche said of Drinkwater: “I think it would be a challenge for him. I don’t think for one second he’d come here thinking that he walks in the team – or he’d be naive if he did. We like the players that have done well for us over time.

“We all know there’s no guarantees with any signing you make, you can only hedge your bets in the right way and I can only imagine after a quiet couple of years he’s hungry and he’s got a desire to prove himself, first of all to himself.

“He’s a good player, we all know that. But to prove to himself what he’s about and obviously that knocks on to the team, and that’s the idea.

“But first things first, we’ve got to get it done, and then second thing he’s got to be fit enough and ready enough and full of that desire to go and oust the people who are here.”

Wells joined Burnley two years ago from Huddersfield for £5million but is yet to start a game and looks set to return to QPR, where he spent last season, on loan.

Burnley sold goalkeeper Tom Heaton to Aston Villa but rebuffed interest from Leicester in England defender James Tarkowski.

“It’s a different club now than even as short as two or three years ago,” said Dyche.

“We’re not splashing it, as you know, massive net spend of about £5million in this window. But we are in a very healthy position on the other side. When people come knocking, we’re certainly not a club that needs to open the doors easily now, unless it’s right and it’s proper to do so.”

With Heaton out of the picture, Nick Pope looks set to reclaim the number one jersey, although Dyche insisted Joe Hart – and new signing Bailey Peacock-Farrell – are in the picture.

“I don’t put people in a pecking order,” he said.

“I think we’ve got three good keepers. Joe’s delivered a very strong pre-season so he’s obviously showing signs that he’s ready. Popey equally and then Bailey has come in to support that.”

New signings Erik Pieters and Jay Rodriguez, back at the club where he began his career, could make their debuts against Southampton on Saturday.

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