Raheem Sterling latest dilemma signals problems with Pep Guardiola and Man City ahead of Brighton
Every season, a dark horse emerges from the shadows to make a stand against the Premier League juggernauts.
West Ham surfaced from nowhere last campaign with a convincing bid to qualify for Champions League football, finishing 6th just two points short of Chelsea on the final day.
Rewind a year and Wolves staked a similar claim, missing out on a top six finish to Spurs on goal difference alone. And of course, since Leicester’s extraordinary title win in 2016, the Foxes have all but surpassed the dark horse moniker; now, they are considered on par with the Premier League’s powerhouses, having finished 5th two years running.
It’s early days, but some optimistic Brighton fans may already be wondering: why not us this season?
Following a robust start to the campaign, Albion find themselves in a Champions League position, having leapfrogged out-of-form Manchester United at the weekend.
In fact, in a parallel universe where European Super League exists – and the self-elected top six have been ejected from the Premier League – Brighton are top of the division, a point ahead of West Ham and Everton. However, if they wish to remain in the top four conversation at the start of November, Potter’s troops will first have to navigate their way through an incredibly challenging schedule. Brighton face Manchester City at the Amex on Saturday before a trip to Liverpool on 30th October.
No doubt their toughest test to date, Albion could raise a few eyebrows with a good performance and perhaps strengthen their position as dark horse contenders this weekend. Locking horns with Manchester City is never an easy task: Pep Guardiola has drilled his identity into the roots of the football club and built a dynasty of serial winners. However, there may be no better time to face the defending champions.
Guardiola may have an ocean of squad depth at his disposal, but there have been whisperings of unrest at the Etihad concerning game time. Last week, Raheem Sterling spoke out about his lack of minutes under Guardiola, speculating his future at the club.
Similarly, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus were reportedly unhappy with game time over the summer but have since managed to hold down more permanent spots in the first team.
Whilst there’s no denying the quality of City’s well-oiled machine, some players are growing increasingly tired of Guardiola’s ruthless rotation and this negativity may bleed on to the pitch and affect performances.
Holding City to the unparalleled high standard they’ve set over the last few seasons, it’s fair to say the club has struggled to fly out of the gate this campaign.
In what has frankly been a hot-and-cold season so far, City opened with a defeat to Leicester City in the Community Shield before losing to Spurs in the opening Premier League weekend.
Sure, the men in blue surpassed bottom-the-league Norwich and ten-man Arsenal by five goals – and narrowed out a 1-0 win against Chelsea – but they haven’t exactly set the world alight like we’d normally expect. Pep suffered more Champions League heartache last month losing 2-0 to Paris Saint-Germain, and City had to win ugly against Burnley at the weekend in a rather off-colour performance.
With their trip to the Amex sandwiched between a Champions League fixture against Club Brugge and a tricky EFL Cup tie versus West Ham on Tuesday, City may not view Brighton as a priority and choose to rest key players.
Perhaps most crucially of all, Albion have already proven they have the firepower to cause the champions problems. Brighton’s 3-2 comeback against City in May was arguably the most impressive victory of last season: 63% possession and 19 attempts on goal demonstrated just how dominant and fearless they can be against the Premier League elite.
There’s no doubt the Seagulls still have a tall mountain to climb on Saturday – however, if Potter had to choose an ideal time to face Manchester City, he’d be hard pushed to find a better occasion.