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Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in line for return against Burnley -- Pep Guardiola

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in line for return against Burnley -- Pep Guardiola


LIVERPOOL, England -- Jurgen Klopp has once again slammed the UEFA Nations League as he believes there is too much football at international level.

Klopp described the new competition as "senseless" prior to the recent international break and elaborated on his opinion at a news conference on Friday afternoon.

Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all handed the Liverpool manager injury scares in the last week when they were away with their respective national teams, although only Netherlands defender Van Dijk played in the Nations League..

"Do you want opera every night or every two months?" Klopp said. "I like big competitions, but at some point everyone has to step back.

"Nations League is a good idea, but do it in another sport because in football there is no space for it.

"I may as well have said it to the coffee machine. No one is interested."

One quarter of the way in, the 2018-19 Premier League season is shaping up to be among the division's best campaigns. There is a genuine title race -- Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea share first place after eight games -- plus plenty of competitive teams with, as I wrote in a recent column ranking styles of play, various managers reshaping their sides effectively to find a true identity. 

Here are some awards, based on the best we have seen so far.

Hazard has been Chelsea's best player in two title-winning campaigns -- 2014-15 and 2016-17 -- and yet it still felt like he had room for improvement, particularly in terms of goalscoring. After an excellent World Cup, in which he won the Silver Ball for tournament's second-best player, he has reached new heights this season and been far ahead of every other player in the Premier League.

In almost every game, Hazard has wreaked havoc and been decisive. Left on the bench at Huddersfield on the opening day, he came on to assist Pedro after a mazy dribble. The following week against Arsenal, he was again a substitute and again provided an assist, this time for Alonso's winner.

In his first start, Hazard converted a penalty at Newcastle; the following weekend against Bournemouth, he and Alonso caused chaos down the left, including during the build-up to Hazard's goal. He smashed a hat trick past Cardiff and was Chelsea's most dangerous player in the draw at West Ham, even if a couple of touches in the box could have been better.

He opened the scoring against Liverpool by playing a quick passing combination on the halfway line before streaking in behind and finishing across Alisson. In Chelsea's last game before the October international break, the 27-year-old netted one and made another for Alvaro Morata at Southampton.

This London derby on the second weekend of the season felt like a new dawn; managers Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery were appointed at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively to overhaul each club's style of play. Both promised open, attacking football and that is what we got in a five-goal thriller on a sweltering day at Stamford Bridge, with most of the action taking place before half-time with four well-worked goals.

Chelsea raced into a 2-0 lead after a clever attack down the left that resulted in Marcos Alonso squaring for Pedro Rodriguez, who had been lingering in an offside position but not interfering with play. Another all-Spanish combination doubled the advantage, when Cesar Azpilicueta assisted Alvaro Morata to break past Arsenal's poor offside trap.

But the away side hit back, creating a series of chances by playing cut-backs from wide positions. Henrikh Mkhitaryan rounded off a quick break to halve the deficit before a wonderful passing move, which justified Emery's faith in Petr Cech playing out from the back and flowed through 10 players, ended with Alex Iwobi's finish.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had several good chances to give Arsenal the lead, but the winner came from Alonso -- the left-back who constantly caused problems -- who swept home Eden Hazard's low cross to cap a wonderful game.

Arsenal became renowned for two types of goals during the Arsene Wenger era: Quick, sweeping counter-attacks from one end to the other, and intricate, edge-of-the-box combination play featuring flicks and tricks. This goal was a combination of both and suggests that Unai Emery has not discarded the best features of his predecessor's teams.

There were so many times when the move should have gone wrong! Ramsey's chip over an opponent in the Arsenal right-back zone was bold considering it was his first touch after coming on as a substitute, while Alexandre Lacazette's volley to Hector Bellerin could have been overhit and the right-back's acrobatic backheel was a spectacular way of finding the charging Ramsey.

From there, the Welsh international completed a rare double-header in the centre of midfield, after which Henrikh Mkhitaryan's weight of pass to the overlapping Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang was perfect. Ramsey's subsequent method of converting Aubemeyang's cross, flicking it behind his other leg and in off the far post, was perfectly judged.

The beauty of this goal was that none of the flicks were showboating; it was just various players offloading the ball with necessary, if completely unconventional, touches.

Tottenham might not have bought a single player in the summer transfer window, but the arrival of Lucas Moura from Paris Saint-Germain in January felt like a signing for this season.

Lucas had long been regarded as a hugely talented attacker, but the surprising aspect of his good form this season is his positioning. Never previously considered anything other than an outside-right who outpaced opponents, he has been shifted centrally by Mauricio Pochettino, and his speed and directness have compensated for Harry Kane's sluggishness.

In Spurs' third game of the season, Lucas scored twice and was man-of-the-match in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford. After Kane opened the scoring, the Brazilian international doubled the lead with a calm finish after Tottenham attacked down the right and Christian Eriksen played a neat pull-back.

His second was more typical: After a sudden burst of pace left Chris Smalling trailing in his wake, Lucas thumped a shot past David De Gea to complete a matchwinning performance, which showed that Lucas had fully arrived in English football.

There is no shame in being thrashed by Man City -- Pep Guardiola's side have scored five vs. Cardiff and put six past Huddersfield -- but their most dominant, ruthless display was at home to Fulham, a game in which they should have scored more than three and barely allowed their opponents a chance at the other end.

Fernandinho intercepted a misplaced Jean-Michael Seri pass in the build-up to Leroy Sane's opener after two minutes, and from there Fulham were guilty of chasing the game too much, allowing the champions space. David Silva scored a scrappy second after Bernardo Silva's work down the right flank, before Raheem Sterling completed the scoring with a typical City tap-in after Sergio Aguero's powerful dribble.

However, what summed up City's dominance was that Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli could have won man-of-the-match, while Bernardo blazed hopelessly over the bar to slightly mar an otherwise wonderful performance. Guardiola's men were great, though Fulham are a very inviting side for pass-and-move specialist to play against.

Fraser has always appeared a very likeable player; a diminutive, quick-footed playmaker who drifts inside into clever positions and gets passing combinations going, he is perhaps Bournemouth's most typically Bournemouth player.

End product was not always there, however, but this season has seen Fraser get into more scoring positions, as evidenced by his goal in the first game of the season, a close-range finish following good work from strike duo Josh King and Callum Wilson.

The next weekend, Fraser assisted Steve Cook's winner at West Ham and he was also bright in a loss at Chelsea, before his best performance saw him bag a brace in a 4-2 thrashing of Leicester. The first was a Thierry Henry-esque curler from the inside-left position and was followed by a cool finish from a through ball. He was also heavily involved in two of Bournemouth's four goals at Watford.

British football does not produce many players like Fraser and while he was forced to withdraw from last week's Scotland squad through injury, he should be a key part of his national side's future.


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With much of the focus upon Wolves' eye-catching summer recruitment, some of the promoted club's old guard have proved most impressive. Centre-backs Conor Coady and Willy Boly have been dependable, but Doherty's attack-minded displays down the right have been outstanding.

A holdover of the club's last top-flight experience -- although he only made one appearance as a youngster in the 2011-12 relegation season -- Doherty has played like a top-flight veteran. He created Raul Jimenez's winner against Burnley with a low cut-back, overlapped dangerously at Southampton and scored the game's only goal last time out against Crystal Palace, combining with Jimenez to fire home at the near post.

A league-wide shift away from 3-4-3 means there has not been much competition, but Doherty has probably been the Premier League's best wing-back this season.

MANCHESTER, England -- Pep Guardiola has confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne is ready to make his comeback in Manchester City's clash with Burnley on Saturday.

The Belgium international has been out with a knee ligament injury since August but has been back in first-team training for the past two weeks.

Guardiola decided not to risk De Bruyne, 27, for the game against Liverpool before the international break but has confirmed he will be in the squad to face Burnley, although he may not play a full 90 minutes.

"I don't know if he is able to play for 90 minutes but he has trained really well for the last two weeks and has no pain, so he is ready to be part of the group again," Guardiola told a news conference. "He is an important player for us. Every player that is out and comes back makes us stronger."

Meanwhile, Guardiola has said that former City winger Jadon Sancho is unlikely to make a return to the club following his England debut against Croatia on Oct. 12.

Sancho, 18, left City for Borussia Dortmund last summer in search of game time and has registered more assists than any other player in Europe this season.

If Dortmund decide to sell the player, City have first refusal to match any bid made but Guardiola doesn't see the winger, who has been linked with £100 million moves, returning soon.

"I don't know, in football you never say no, but I don't know," the City boss said.

"I think when he decided to move on from here it is because he doesn't want to be here. 

"When he doesn't want to be here I think he's not looking forward to coming back here. That is what I think right now. Maybe in the future -- new club, new managers -- but I don't know."

A number of young players have been linked with potential moves to the Bundesliga with highly-rated City youngsters Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz seen as potential targets. But Guardiola says he is not concerned about interest from German clubs despite the early success of Sancho.

"English players look at Spanish players and Spanish clubs look at Italian and English players, there is an age when you cannot control them and that can happen," he added.

"We know what we have done with Jadon. We did absolutely everything and he decided to move on to Germany so all the best, he's doing really well.

"He's started his career and hopefully he can achieve what he was looking for. It's a good sign for England that players are going there because it's important for the future. I'm glad he's playing well."