EPL

Mendy returns for Man City as Aguero eyes milestone

By Sports Desk September 21, 2019

Benjamin Mendy is back in the Manchester City starting XI for Saturday's Premier League match at home to Watford.

It is the France international's first start in the top flight since April and Pep Guardiola will hope it marks the end of an injury nightmare for the left-back he bought from Monaco for £52million in July 2017.

Mendy has only made 17 appearances across City's back-to-back title triumphs, twice undergoing knee surgery.

He lines up in a defence that again features Fernandinho at centre-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi, in the continued injury absence of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones.

Raheem Sterling drops to the bench, meaning Sergio Aguero will be supported by Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez in attack as the striker chases a 100th Premier League goal at the Etihad Stadium.

Quique Sanchez Flores began his second stint at Watford boss with a rousing 2-2 comeback draw against Arsenal last weekend and makes two changes to that line-up, with Adrian Mariappa and Dimitri Foulquier replacing Andre Gray and Christian Kabasele.

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  • Jesus joins Messi, Lewandowski and Aguero on illustrious list after netting 50th Man City goal Jesus joins Messi, Lewandowski and Aguero on illustrious list after netting 50th Man City goal

    Gabriel Jesus joined an illustrious list of players after scoring his 50th Manchester City goal in the Premier League champions' 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

    Jesus sent a glancing header in off the post to put City ahead 39 minutes into Saturday's encounter at Selhurst Park.

    David Silva doubled City's advantage with a wonderful volley two minutes later as Pep Guardiola's side moved to within five points of league leaders Liverpool.

    With his goal, Jesus brought up the milestone of 50 in all competitions for City, having joined the club in January 2017.

    The 22-year-old also became the seventh player to achieve the feat while playing for Guardiola, joining Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski, along with City team-mates Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling.

    Jesus is only eight behind Pedro, but Messi leads the way with an incredible 211 goals during four seasons under Guardiola at Barca.

    "I'm very happy, you know, because last season I had a difficult start to the season," Jesus, who has now scored in each of his last seven starts for City, told Sky Sports.

    "This season is going to be different for me. I worked hard as well. I focus on the goal all the time and I think that's why I score a lot."

    1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona - 211

    2. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City - 103

    3. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich - 79

    4. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City; Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich - both 67

    6. Pedro, Barcelona - 58

    7. Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City - 50

  • Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove

    Bernardo Silva had just set up the opening goal for Manchester City with a sumptuous cross – a suggestion that last season's form might be starting to return.

    But this was no time for the Portugal playmaker to rest on his laurels and he set about harassing Crystal Palace left-winger Jeffrey Schlupp, whose pass towards the danger zone where specialist centre-backs should reside was intercepted.

    Rodri's outing in the heart of the City defence was unexpected and frequently uneasy during the early stages at Selhurst Park. A slip momentarily left Wilfried Zaha unattended before a rushed, hacked clearance went unpunished.

    Pep Guardiola deployed his two defensive midfield commanders. Rodri and Fernandinho, in defence due to Nicolas Otamendi joining Aymeric Laporte in the treatment room and John Stones not yet being match fit following an ailment of his own. City entered the field eight points behind Liverpool in the title race, with the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany starting to look season defining.

    But if being the last line of protection against attacks does not come naturally to Rodri, he specialises in starting them. His interception from Schlupp doubled as an expertly cushioned pass to David Silva and City were away.

    Kompany's successor as club captain deposited the ball at Kevin De Bruyne's feet in unfussy, one-touch fashion. Where the 2-0 loss to Wolves played out under a fug of doubt and laboured decision making, the whirring cogs of Guardiola's machine were clicking into place.

    De Bruyne promptly pushed down the accelerator, powering through midfield. The Belgium star, who did not start either of City's league defeats in the opening eight games, had already proved a menace to Palace. His twinkling triangle on the right flank alongside Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo providing a persistent first half threat.

    A great gift of De Bruyne's, a player on record as saying her prefers assists to goals, is he knows when to slip from leading man to supporting character. He found the opening goalscorer Gabriel Jesus.

    The Brazil striker's scruffy diving header a little over a minute earlier was his fifth in as many starts for City this season. But the presence on the bench of club-record goalscorer Sergio Aguero – a man not so clinical behind the wheel on the road to training going off this week's evidence – means Jesus must always strive, always prove himself and always make the decision to please his manager.

    A pass to the buccaneering Benjamin Mendy was just that. Fit again, for now, the left-back and his ravaged knees provides Guardiola with an extra dimension he will need if a third Premier League title in succession can be achieved despite early arrears.

    Mendy's touch was heavy but he was fortunate to see the ball fall to Raheem Sterling, Manchester City's sure thing.

    Goals 12 and 13 of the season for club and country came as England routed Bulgaria in midweek, Sterling revelling in tormenting those who send vile abuse his way.

    An inspirational figure with improvement still in him – as evidenced by a couple of second-half attempts against Palace – Sterling's chipped pass over the top of the home defence was a string on his bow drawing the sweetest sound.

    It was a pass worthy of David Silva, who on this occasion watched the whole picture unfold and found himself on the end of it. For all their discomfort over the early weeks of this campaign, operating without their long-time creator and magician will really sting City this time next year.

    His clinical over-the-shoulder volley through Wayne Hennessey's legs was equal to many of his finest moments over a wonderful decade in the Premier League and crowned a little masterpiece. 2-0 was enough for the three points.

    Second-half wastefulness and Ederson's athletic stops from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha showed City will have to be sharper in their next Premier League away game. That's at Anfield next month, but after talking about putting his players in the fridge over Christmas, Guardiola will have seen enough in a cool, calculated gem of a goal to suggest there is life in this title race.

  • Guardiola wants to see a more clinical Man City despite coasting at Palace Guardiola wants to see a more clinical Man City despite coasting at Palace

    Pep Guardiola thinks Manchester City can still be more clinical, despite seeing his side produce a largely comfortable 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

    Gabriel Jesus and David Silva scored within 93 seconds of one another with the first half drawing to a close at Selhurst Park, the second a particularly fine effort as Raheem Sterling producied a memorable assist.

    In truth, City might have been far more comfortable winners, with Sterling, Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne guilty of missing presentable second-half chances.

    "We enjoyed the second goal - it was nice. But in the Premier League we have to score the third and fourth because it was difficult in the end with the pressure," Guardiola told BBC Sport.

    "If [Christian] Benteke scores to make it 2-1, then it's difficult. The only problem is we could not score the third one. We deserved it but have to be more clinical."

    City produced a fine riposte to a 2-0 defeat at home to Wolves prior to the international break to cut the gap to Liverpool to five points ahead of the unbeaten Premier League leaders' trip to Manchester United on Sunday.

    Guardiola hopes the victory is the start of another run for his defending champions.

    "Hopefully we can start from here and continue our good performance," he added. "Their keeper made a lot of saves but hopefully we can be more clinical."

    City started the match with a makeshift centre-back pairing of Fernandinho and Rodri, who performed well at the heart of the visitors' defence.

    He said: "Our build-up was quicker because they have more intelligence and they pass the ball so well because they are central midfielders.

    "The season is too long, everybody is going to play. It's another option we have."

    Roy Hodgson had no qualms over the result but rued the fact Palace conceded the goals in such quick succession.

    "I thought they worked unbelievably hard, we came across a Man City side in top form, I thought their pressure was excellent they gave us literally no time on the ball whatsoever," he said.

    "It was unlucky the two goals came so close after the other, had we got in 1-0, who knows? I've no complaints over the result. 

    "I'm proud of the way we kept fighting, we never dropped the heads or gave up and could have come up with a goal on our sheet."

    Benteke almost brought Palace back into the game with his first touch, but saw his thumping header brilliantly tipped on to the bar by Ederson as his wait for a maiden Palace goal of the campaign continued.

    "It would have been a great moment for him. It was such a good header and I don't know how the keeper kept it out," Hodgson added.

    "I was thinking, 'Oh great, Christian's got off the mark with a great goal against the champions'. But hopefully he can still take confidence from that and take that into the next games."

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