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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 32 vs. Manchester City

Manchester City v Watford FC - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Don’t worry, the misery will come to an end soon. This season will come to an end. This fixture will be the last time Fulham will play a top six side all season. But like all slow painful deaths, they just can’t end any sooner.

With the good guys playing Manchester City today, it will truly be their toughest test. Yes, the 5-1 home defeat to Arsenal was their worst result on paper. However, Fulham’s 3-0 defeat to the Citizens at the Etihad was truly their most lopsided. It was the first of what would be many occasions where Pep Guardiola’s team truly made every part of the senior team look second best. Fulham never felt comfortable with the ball at their feet and their defense became the slice of cheese as we know it today. To this day, it was shocking how this contest didn’t end 10-0 or even 20-0. Manchester City were that quick and moved the ball with real purpose.

Besides this matchup being a complete nightmare for Fulham, this is a time to reflect how pathetic and unforgivable the ownership group has been across all departments of the football club. In particular, there will be a protest all matchday, along with a 55th minute banner and sign reveal from supporters demanding that their voices should be heard in the demand to end the price gouging on tickets. In America, an issue that started back in the 1990s with the rise of cable television has turned into an en masse apathetic acceptance in the sporting landscape over there. It was a combination of a collective “what are we supposed to do about it” and the shear fact that sport isn’t treated as life and death as it is in Europe.

However, English football truly is a way of life and a integral part of the community and society. Any part of it turning toxic has a complete affect on the people going to games and the people working in and around the football clubs. The game was built as a time for the working class to take a break from their day job on the weekends and that is what it still is to its core today. However, the demands of the Premier League and European competition are pricing out even the curious out the game and the long term implications to what Shahid Kahn and his board have done will be felt for quite some time.

Everything about this season was supposed to be the continuation of building something for the long term. It’s one thing to fail that objective on the pitch, but to fail on that portion off the pitch is a failure that will know no bounds. To all those joining in the protest, I do wish you all the success and may your voices be loud and proud while demonstrating peacefully. Your voices will be why this club will keep going for generations to come. Not those who seek the extra pound, unnecessarily.

On that note, here are three players to watch out for from the blue side of Manchester.

Raheem Sterling

All data from whoscored.com

It’s quite fitting on a day of expressing one’s own opinion that Raheem Sterling is the first name to be called up. He truly has been a voice to call out the racist society, intentional or not, that England and Europe wrath upon on an everyday basis. Along with that, his football has truly been doing the talking to the point where he might be putting the best season of his entire career.

Over the past two seasons alone, Sterling has racked up 33 goals and 20 assists in 4,742 league minutes. That is the exact amount of goal contribution as he did in his previous 11,493 league minutes (31 goals, 22 assists). Besides the fact that he’s hitting the prime of his club and international footballing career at age-24, it is astounding the amount of improvement Sterling has shown. It was like yesterday when the footballing world would wonder if the teenage sensation from Liverpool would ever breakout and become the best talent England have produced in some time. Five years and 49 England caps later and we are finally beginning to see those prognostications come true.

Bernardo Silva

All data from whoscored.com

Next up is another player that has stepped up for Manchester City, but this came in the form of filling a hole rather than age progression. This season, Bernardo Silva has been astounding for his role as the second box-to-box midfielder next to David Silva in place of Kevin De Bruyne. It’s amazing how such a debilitating injury account can make everyone forget how special the Belgian was last year.

But with De Bruyne out, Bernardo has come on in and played as if there wasn’t a step off in production and talent. That’s Man City for ya, after all. For those that made the trek to Manchester back in September, it was quite obvious who the best player was on that pitch that night as he was a highlight reel in ball retention and dribbling. Let’s hope that doesn’t continue in the exact manner down in Southwest London.

Aymeric Laporte

All data from whoscored.com

Finally, let’s talk about a player who has improved without that much fanfare. There has been plenty of change across Guardiola’s backline since he has taken over, but even he couldn’t have completely anticipated losing John Stones to injuries and Vincent Kompany advancing in age. Along with that Nicolas Otamendi, hasn’t been as bad of an addition to the center of defense over the years. But at age 31, Manchester City needed somebody more for the long haul.

In stepped Aymeric Laporte and the 24-year old has been getting better for each City appearance. It has only been a bit surprising to not see him get called up for his country during his professional career, but we are talking about France here. It’s really hard to surpass Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane. Still, Laporte has grown leaps and bounds since Guardiola has gotten a hold of him and it’s only a matter of time before the accolades come rolling along.