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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Manchester City

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to maintain their unbeaten start to 2019 in the Premier League at Vitality Stadium when they host defending champions Manchester City tomorrow.

Ahead of the game, afcb.co.uk caught up with Dan O'Toole, one of the Manchester Evening News' City correspondents, to get his expert opinion on Pep Guardiola’s team.

afcbco.uk: What’s your take on the title race?

Dan: You would probably have to say City are in the ascendancy. They had a blip in December when they lost three in four Premier League games and again when they lost to Newcastle in January.

But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that City are the ones to beat, even though Liverpool have the point advantage.

I think the City squad, even though it’s depleted at the moment, will probably come out on top in the long term.

It’s going to be a fantastic title race and it will be interesting to see how Pep Guardiola copes with one of this magnitude.

He hasn’t really been involved in a serious title race since his first couple of seasons at Real Madrid. He won all three of his titles at Bayern Munich by at least 10 points.

His first season at City was a bit of a write-off as he was still getting his ideas across.

His focus has been very much on playing style and making sure they keep their standards high and that’s the mantra his players seem to have bought into quite successfully since December.

afcb.co.uk: Guardiola has hinted that Sergio Aguero could be rested against the Cherries due to exhaustion – is that a red herring or do you think it could happen?

Dan: You never know with Guardiola! We try to predict his line-up every week and never get it right.

Saying that, you would happily put in Gabriel Jesus. He hasn’t had as many chances as he would have liked in recent weeks but, when he has played, he’s been lethal in front of goal.

At any other club, you imagine he would be the first-choice striker. People forget how young he is and, although he has a lot to learn, he is doing very well at City. If he were to come in then you would still fancy their chances going forward.

afcb.co.uk: Are City better equipped to handle the pressure because they are the defending champions and Liverpool have the 29-year noose of never winning the title around their necks?

Dan: The weight of that length of time is a big thing to carry on your shoulders and City are used to winning.

They are in the routine and have winners in their squad. Players like Vincent Kompany, Aguero and David Silva have all been there and done it. Liverpool might not have quite as many.

City will call on the experience they have in their squad and I think that could prove useful to them as well as Guardiola being a serial winner.

Jurgen Klopp hasn’t won that many trophies but everywhere Guardiola has been, he’s won every league he’s been involved in. You think that could be the difference between now and the end of the campaign.  

afcb.co.uk: Who is City’s dangerman?

Dan: Bernardo Silva. He came on against West Ham and completely changed the game. It’s probably between him and Raheem Sterling for the player of the season.

Playing inside, I think Bernardo has really cracked on this season. He played out wide a lot last season but has come in-field, partly due to Kevin De Bruyne’s two knee injuries.

He lights up City’s play and is the driving force. The ground he covers and the energy he gives are invaluable to Guardiola’s team.  

afcb.co.uk: Who has been the unsung hero this season?

Ben: Aymeric Laporte. There has been a lot of praise for him but I don’t think there has been enough.

In the Premier League this season, everyone has been saying Virgil van Dijk is the best defender by some distance but I think Laporte is not too far off him.

He didn’t have the best of starts to life in England and his first six months were a bit shaky but he’s been as solid as a rock this time round and has shown his versatility.

He can play left-back and centre-back. He’s Guardiola’s most trusted centre-back.

Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi have struggled to get him out of the defence and, for me, he’s been a very important player this season.

afcb.co.uk: City are the only team the Cherries have failed to take a point off in the Premier League – do you think they can break their duck tomorrow?

Dan: Bournemouth create chances and have dangerous players going forward.

I’ve been very impressed with David Brooks this season and City have been prone at times to not taking their chances as well they might.

At West Ham on Wednesday, they had a shed-load. I think they had 10 in the first half alone but they didn’t finish them off.

If Bournemouth can stop City from taking their chances and keep either Aguero or Jesus quiet, there’s always a chance.

City don’t keep clean sheets as often as they should so if Bournemouth are to win that could be a beacon of light for them.

Follow Dan on Twitter by clicking here.

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