Sadio Mane has beaten Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah and Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez to the CAF African Player of the Year award for 2019.

Mane was a standout player as Liverpool went all the way in the 2018-19 Champions League, while he has also enjoyed a strong start to the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

The Senegal international placed in the top three in each of the previous three years, finishing runner-up to Salah in 2017 and 2018, and third in 2016, when Mahrez came first.

But this time Mane claimed the prize, ahead of Liverpool team-mate Salah and Mahrez, who won a domestic treble with City and captained Algeria to glory at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

It is the first time since 2002 that a Senegalese player has claimed the award, with El Hadji Diouf winning it shortly after switching Lens for Liverpool.

While Liverpool's Champions League success undoubtedly helped Mane's chances, he also enjoyed a wonderful year individually.

In 36 Premier League outings in 2019, Mane scored 24 times and got six assists to leave Salah (18 goals and five assists from 34 matches) and Mahrez (seven goals and seven assists from 24 games) trailing in his wake.

Mane, Salah and Mahrez also formed part of CAF's star-studded Team of the Year.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was selected to lead the line, with Hakim Ziyech and Idrissa Gueye chosen in midfield, while Andre Onana takes the place in goal.

Kalidou Koulibaly, Joel Matip, Serge Aurier and Achraf Hakimi – who won the Young Player of the Year award – were the back four and Algeria's Djamel Belmadi was crowned Men's African Coach of the Year.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants his Manchester United players to strike another blow in Tuesday's derby against a Manchester City team who have "raised the bar so much" in English football.

A month on from stunning City at the Etihad Stadium with a 2-1 victory in the Premier League, United will have home advantage in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final.

There remains little doubt where the power lies in Manchester, with City emerging as the dominant side in the north-west hotbed over the past decade by winning four of the last eight league titles.

United continue to rebuild after the end of the Alex Ferguson era, with Solskjaer currently the manager trusted with producing a successful Red Devils side.

The Norwegian said: "It's a different era and a different time.

“We are still, in our own heads, one of the biggest clubs in the world but it’s going to take time.

"We have been up and we’ve been down but we’ve always come back."

The leadership of Pep Guardiola over the last three and a half years has taken City to a new level, and they are defending the EFL Cup after last season's domestic treble.

"They've raised the bar so much," Solskjaer told reporters. "It's something to aim for."

While Solskjaer may have learnt plenty from his own time as a player under Ferguson, former Barcelona boss Guardiola has taken his tactical lead from another former Nou Camp chief in the late Johan Cruyff.

The United manager added: "Pep has had a big influence and, since he took over Barca, I've admired his teams.

"You do see one of the best managers ever and you can see where he has taken his wisdom from.

"I had the pleasure of speaking and meeting Johan [Cruyff] back in the day when Jordi [Cruyff, the former Manchester United midfielder] was here and you can see certain similarities."

With Manchester City's Premier League title defence in tatters and a mounting injury list in defence, Pep Guardiola's side need reinforcements.

Aymeric Laporte and John Stones have been struck down by injuries this season, leaving City with limited options in defence.

As Liverpool run away with the title, City are eyeing an Inter star to rebuild their central defence.

 

TOP STORY – CITY TARGETING SKRINIAR

Manchester City have set their sights on Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, according to The Mirror.

Premier League champions City have struggled with injuries in defence this season as rivals Liverpool charge towards the title.

City are reportedly ready to buy in January and Skriniar – also a target for LaLiga champions Barcelona and Real Madrid – is on the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic says MLS outfit DC United want to sign Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric after Wayne Rooney's exit.

Juventus are "still hopeful" of signing Paris Saint-Germain loanee Mauro Icardi, reports Calciomercato. Icardi left Inter for PSG at the start of the season, having been linked to Juve and Napoli.

- Sky Sports claims Manchester United are interested in Leicester City star James Maddison, but are aware a January transfer will be difficult. Sky Sports also says the Red Devils are chasing Lille's Boubakary Soumare, along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Madrid and Valencia.

Mario Gotze will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, according to Bild. Gotze's contract is set to expire and he has been unable to agree a new deal.

- TZ says Bayern Munich are interested in Manchester City full-back Joao Cancelo, with the Bundesliga champions distancing themselves from RB Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said he would rather live in the Maldives than manage Premier League rivals Manchester United.

The EFL Cup semi-finals are headlined by a Manchester derby as Guardiola's City visit United at Old Trafford for the first leg on Tuesday.

Guardiola was in the frame to move to United before swapping Bayern Munich for City in 2016 and the former Barcelona head coach has gone on to dominate English football – winning back-to-back Premier League trophies, consecutive EFL Cups, the FA Cup and Community Shield.

Asked whether he would ever take charge of City's fierce rivals and neighbours, Guardiola – who has been linked with an Etihad Stadium exit – shot the possibility down.

"After training City, I would never train United. It's like I would never train [Real] Madrid," Guardiola told reporters.

"I'll be in the Maldives if I don't have offers. Maldives, no, because there are no golf courses, but a place like that."

While City have flourished since Guardiola's arrival, United have struggled to bridge the gap.

United finished sixth under Jose Mourinho in Guardiola's first year in England in 2016, while the Red Devils slumped to sixth again last season after the Portuguese manager was sacked and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer's side are fifth this term – 27 points behind leaders Liverpool and 13 adrift of third-placed City in the Premier League.

"I'm sure I didn't come here to just beat United or be in front of United," Guardiola said. "That was not the target. [The target] was to play good, try to win the title, which we did in the last two seasons. This season, we won the Community Shield, and now we have the chance to get into another final."

Guardiola, who said Leroy Sane is edging closer to a return, also again denied City commit tactical fouls as a strategy after Solskjaer called for greater protection for his players.

"I said many times when I was at Barcelona and here: never, in my life, I had one meeting about tactical fouls," Guardiola added. "Sometimes it happens because you are late. They are so quick and you make a foul.

"It's simple: when you lose the ball, you have to make an incredible, fast transition, and sometimes you are late and you make a foul. If the people can judge, our legacy will be for our tactical fouls. It's their own problem."

Pressed on former assistant and now Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta instructing City players to foul in transition during an Amazon documentary, Guardiola replied: "You have to go to London to Mikel and ask him.

"We have 65, 62 per cent average of the ball. When you have the ball, you cannot make fouls. Normally, it's the guy who cannot take the ball.

"If it happens, it's because the others are good and we are late. When I said two days ago, when the people accuse me, 'Why don't you have tackles? How can you win the Premier League without doing tackles? You have to do tackles, what are you doing in this country if you don't do tackles?'

"I don't train tackles and I don't train tactical fouls. We have a lot of things to do as a manager and a team to improve. Sometimes you are late, sometimes the player makes a dribble and you don't want to be dribbled [past] so you make a foul, yellow card, the referee thinks we deserve it."

Manchester City will continue their FA Cup defence at home to Fulham, while Liverpool must travel to Bristol City or Shrewsbury Town.

After beating Port Vale 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, City were pitted against Fulham – 2-1 victors against Premier League Aston Villa – in the draw for the fourth round on Monday.

A youthful Liverpool side beat Merseyside rivals Everton 1-0 to progress and their reward will be a clash with whoever wins the replay between Bristol City and Shrewsbury.

If Manchester United get past Wolves at the second attempt, they face a trip to Watford or Tranmere Rovers.

Chelsea were given a trip to Hull City, while Tottenham must go to Southampton if they emerge from their replay with Middlesbrough triumphant.

The winner of Arsenal's meeting with Leeds United on Monday will head south to Bournemouth.

 

FA Cup fourth round draw in full:

Watford or Tranmere Rovers v Wolves or Manchester United
Hull City v Chelsea
Southampton v Middlesbrough or Tottenham
QPR v Sheffield Wednesday
Bournemouth v Arsenal or Leeds United
Northampton Town v Derby County
Brentford v Leicester City
Millwall v Sheffield United
Reading or Blackpool v Cardiff City or Carlisle United
West Ham v West Brom
Burnley v Norwich City
Bristol Rovers or Coventry City v Birmingham City
Manchester City v Fulham
Rochdale or Newcastle United v Oxford United
Portsmouth v Barnsley
Bristol City or Shrewsbury Town v Liverpool

Pep Guardiola believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his Manchester United starting to play in the manner Alex Ferguson's side did.

Guardiola's Manchester City visit United on Tuesday for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.

Solskjaer's men won the Premier League encounter between the two at the Etihad Stadium last month, a victory that followed a defeat of Tottenham and greatly eased the pressure on the Red Devils boss.

United were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in the league on New Year's Day before being held to a 0-0 draw by Wolves in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Despite those results, Guardiola has seen plenty of signs of encouragement for Solskjaer.

He told a pre-match media conference: "He's starting to see the team he wanted. That is my feeling when he sees his teams, even the last game against Arsenal that they lost, we see clear what he wants.

"It was not easy to take over a team in a big, big club, always demanding to be champion in all competitions, but I think every manager needs time and I have the feeling that United start to play the way he wants or he was for his old manager Alex Ferguson."

Asked what he learnt from the 2-1 league loss to United, Guardiola replied: "How fast they are, how solid, how aggressive.

"We concede a few counter-attacks in the beginning, and in two or three seconds, they are in the box, so they have incredible pace and talent. In general, the game was good, we create chances and unfortunately we could not win."

Since taking over City in 2016, Liverpool have been closer challengers than United and appear poised to dethrone the Premier League champions. Jurgen Klopp's men hold a 13-point lead at the top, with City third and 14 points off the pace.

Ferguson frequently used to say Liverpool was a bigger fixture for United than meetings with City, but Guardiola claimed not to know enough to say whether the same is now the case for his side.

"I know for the years I was not here we were the noisy neighbours, now I don't know who we are," he said. 

"The derby in Spain [for Barcelona] was Espanyol and Real Madrid, here of course United is a derby, then here in England there are many top teams, not just one or two like in other countries.

"That's why the derby is important for our fans, but there are other top teams that are important. I'm not here for one century, maybe it's hard to feel for our fans what Liverpool means. I know exactly what United means for them."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Jesse Lingard to be an important player for Manchester United, amid rumours of the midfielder being set for an exit from Old Trafford.

England international Lingard endured a frustrating 2019 for his club, finishing the year without a goal or an assist in the Premier League.

The 27-year-old has made 26 appearances in all competitions this season, with a report by the Daily Mail claiming he is now represented by Mino Raiola, who counts Paul Pogba among his clients.

With Pogba's future uncertain, reports have also surfaced suggesting Lingard could be set to leave United, amid links of a swap plus cash deal for Leicester City playmaker James Maddison.

"Jesse has had his ups and downs as I've spoken about before but against Manchester City and Tottenham, [there were] examples of how important he can be for us in difficult games," Solskjaer told a news conference ahead of Tuesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg at home to holders and local rivals City. "We want him back scoring and making assists.

"There's no one who runs as much, he's a great trigger in the pressing, a lively bubbly character. I don't think you see as much social media from Jesse as you used to.

"He's a player I've known for a long time. He's got his head down and is working hard, getting back to the Jesse I knew."

United's hectic fixture list has been compounded by an FA Cup third-round replay, with the Red Devils drawing 0-0 at Wolves on Saturday - failing to muster a single shot on target throughout the match.

However, United impressed in the first Manchester derby of the season, winning 2-1 on December 7 thanks to goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

And though Solskjaer is waiting on the fitness of Martial, Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire ahead of the semi-final derby, he is confident his side can replicate the level of performance they display at the Etihad Stadium.

"We're going to aim for performances like that," Solskjaer, whose side beat Jose Mourinho's Tottenham in the match before the derby, added.

"There were two good days against Tottenham and City in a short spell but every game lives its own life. When you get highs like that I'm sure they will look back on it and that's the Man United we want to see, but we can improve on that one.

"City had Port Vale at home [in the FA Cup], could rest a few. No matter what team [Pep Guardiola] plays it's going to be a good team and we'll put a strong team out.

"I can't give you the team at the moment, because I don't think the boys know who's fit and available yet either.

"City are back winning games but form goes out of the window when we play each other. We know they're a top team. I admire Pep's team, they've raised the bar so much since he came. The standards set are something to aim for."

Wolves star Adama Traore is reportedly attracting interest from Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester City.

Traore, formerly of Barcelona, has continued to impress this season, helping Wolves sit seventh in the Premier League.

Now, the former Spain youth international is reportedly being targeted by three of Europe's biggest clubs.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, BARCELONA & MAN CITY EYE TRAORE

Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester City are interested in signing Traore, according to 90min.

Traore has scored four goals and provided four assists in the Premier League this season.

The report says Wolves want at least £70million for Traore.

 

ROUND-UP

- Dani Olmo is expected to leave Dinamo Zagreb and is being eyed by several European giants. Goal reports Barcelona lead Chelsea and Manchester United in the race for the 21-year-old Spain international.

- Arturo Vidal is linked with a move to Inter, but he may be going nowhere. The cover of Sport reads 'You stay', with the report saying Barcelona have told the midfielder he will remain with the LaLiga giants due to his importance to the club.

- Chelsea have identified their top January transfer target. The Daily Express reports the Premier League side want Inter forward Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa this month to ease the pressure on Tammy Abraham.

- Inter are considering reinforcements on the left-hand side. CalcioMercato says Chelsea's Marcos Alonso and Parma's Matteo Darmian are both being considered by the Serie A high-flyers.

- It seems Edinson Cavani's time at Paris Saint-Germain is just about over. Gianluca Di Marzio reports Atletico Madrid and Cavani have an agreement in place and the LaLiga club want the forward to arrive in January.

- Wojciech Szczesny is set to extend his stay at Juventus. The goalkeeper will re-sign with the Serie A giants until 2024, according to CalcioMercato.

Another day, another Paul Pogba story.

The Manchester United star continues to be linked with a move away from Old Trafford.

Inter have reportedly emerged as a possible destination for Pogba, though United want a player in return…

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT MARTINEZ IN POGBA DEAL

Manchester United want to swap midfielder Paul Pogba for Inter star Lautaro Martinez, according to The Mirror.

Pogba has been linked with a return to Serie A champions Juventus and LaLiga giants Real Madrid as his future dominates headlines.

But a reunion with former Juve boss Antonio Conte at Inter could be in the pipeline. However, the Italian club might have to part with Barcelona target Martinez to prise Pogba to Milan.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Mirror also claims United have set their sights on Wolves forward Raul Jimenez after missing out on Erling Haaland, who opted to swap Salzburg for Borussia Dortmund.

- It comes as the Mirror says United are set to offer cash plus Jesse Lingard for Leicester City star James Maddison. The Sun, meanwhile, claims United want Toni Kroos in return if Pogba heads to Madrid.

- According to Sky Sport Italia, Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo is on his way to join Milan, with the LaLiga champions keen to agree a loan deal with a counter-option should they wish to recall him. Meanwhile, the Gazzetta dello Sport says Atalanta want to re-sign Milan centre-back Mattia Caldara.

- The Daily Express reports West Ham have emerged as shock contenders to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly. The star defender has been linked to United and Manchester City.

- Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa has said goodbye to Flamengo supporters via social media, prompting speculation in The Sun that the Inter-owned striker is on his way to either Chelsea or West Ham.

Chris Smalling is keen to secure a permanent deal at Roma and is ready to snub United should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempt to persuade him to return to Old Trafford, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

- The Mirror says Carlo Ancelotti's Everton are eyeing a loan move for Madrid playmaker James Rodriguez.

Going up against John Stones in person seemingly changed Port Vale striker Tom Pope's perception of the Manchester City defender's ability, but not for the better.

Having previously stated he would score 40 goals a season if he faced Stones on a weekly basis, Pope cheekily revised the figure to 50 after a goalscoring display in Vale's 4-1 FA Cup third-round loss to City on Saturday.

The League Two forward's initial comments were made after Stones made a pair of costly errors in England's 3-1 loss to Netherlands at the Nations League Finals in June.

Pope called the centre-back "soft" on Twitter and declared he would have a field day up against him.

The 34-year-old made his mark against Stones' side by heading in David Amoo's cross to cancel out Oleksandr Zinchenko's opener at the Etihad Stadium.

Although Sergio Aguero, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Phil Foden ensured there was no upset in Vale's favour, Pope did not seem too downcast when he took to social media after the game.

"Sorry I can't reply to everyone it's gone mental! I'd just like to say I was completely wrong and bang out of order to say I'd score 40 a season….. it's more like 50," Pope posted on Twitter.

Pep Guardiola says he is not in the business of giving "presents" to Manchester City's academy stars and believes Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Phil Foden can have an impact at first-team level.

Harwood-Bellis, 17, and Foden, 19, started and scored in a 4-1 FA Cup win against Port Vale on Saturday, while 18-year-old Tommy Doyle appeared as a substitute.

Foden is a more established name than his teenage team-mates, having started in the Premier League, but manager Guardiola urged his young players to keep working hard for their chances.

"Of course, it is important [to have local young players] with Taylor and Phil - and Tommy," Guardiola said. "[Doyle] played a month ago in the Carabao Cup and played a few minutes today.

"It's not because they are English - we believe they can do it because they are good players. We don't give presents. They have to earn [it] for themselves.

"In these games, we have space for everyone. But from what we have seen so far, they have the quality to help.

"Young players have to not talk too much, to train, to work and to listen and learn and learn and learn. They have to learn.

"The minutes are good for their development, and then the future is in their hands. The privilege for them has to be in this club and playing minutes with this team."

City invited Vale into their dressing room post-match, and Guardiola added: "It was a pleasure. I saw the manager and the sporting director.

"It's nice for us to host these clubs and for their players to realise we are the same. We play at a different level but dreams are dreams."

Port Vale's Tom Pope had the FA Cup impact he promised before holders Manchester City ran out 4-1 winners at the Etihad Stadium.

Pope, whose disparaging Twitter post about City defender John Stones came to light following the third-round draw, nodded in a superb 35th-minute equaliser after Oleksandr Zinchenko's deflected opener.

However, Sergio Aguero ensured the hosts went in ahead at half-time before youngsters Taylor Harwood-Bellis – inadvertently scoring his first senior goal after Stones thought he had City's third – and Phil Foden sealed the Premier League champions' progress.

Nathan Smith scrambled an eighth-minute effort from Foden out of the goalmouth but fellow Vale centre-back Leon Legge was not so effective with his own last-ditch attempt – turning Zinchenko's speculative 20th-minute strike past Scott Brown.

David Silva inexplicably scuffed Ilkay Gundogan's low cross into the turf and against the crossbar with the goal at his mercy and City would rue that miss.

On a rare Vale attack, David Amoo raided down the right and Pope found space off the back of Harwood-Bellis to dispatch a fine header.

Another player who would certainly fall under Pope's self-applied label of "bagsman" is Aguero, and City's all-time record goalscorer restored his team's lead after Foden stayed just onside to steer Gundogan's chipped pass across goal.

Brown made superb early second-half saves to deny Bernardo Silva and Foden, yet City had the breathing space they desired before the hour.

Stones looked to have levelled the personal duel with Pope – insofar as there was one – but a VAR check showed his close-range shot clipped Harwood-Bellis on the line.

A wretched clearance from Stones, half-blocked by Pope, meant Vale substitute Tom Conlon almost reduced the deficit with a diving header, while David Silva's frustrating outing in front of goal continued as he dragged wide.

But Foden got the goal his efforts deserved from a drilled Angelino cross, allowing attentions to turn towards a blockbuster midweek derby.

What does it mean? Guardiola's Cup kings march on

Pep Guardiola selected a team with one eye on the forthcoming first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Manchester United and City were far from their fluent best. Still, City have now prevailed in 22 of their past 23 domestic cup ties, with a 2018 FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Wigan Athletic the only blot in the past three seasons.

Pope walks the walk

Vale's veteran striker arguably set himself up for a fall seven months before this tie with a tweet claiming he would "get 40 a season" playing against Stones. Pope's bravado was duly unearthed after the draw and, although the visitors' goal had nothing to do with any short-comings on Stones' part, he relished backing up his bold words.

City understudies come up short

Angelino and Claudio Bravo should probably thank Pope for targeting Stones on social media, because their parts in the goal might be overlooked. The left-back's lacklustre efforts when it came to stopping Amoo's cross left City in trouble. It was a fine finish but, not for the first time in his City career, Bravo appeared awfully flat footed, meaning his chances of pulling off the save were limited to begin with.

What's next

City resume their other domestic cup defence with the first of a Manchester derby double-header at Old Trafford on Tuesday, while there is a Manchester United-flavour to Vale's midweek assignment as they travel to Salford City in the EFL Trophy on the same day.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is puzzled by John Stones' fitness problems and says the defender will not fulfil his potential unless he finds a solution.

Stones has missed 19 of City's 31 matches in all competitions this term because of separate muscle injuries, last playing in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United on December 7.

The England international, a reported £47.5million signing from Everton in August 2016, is in line to make his latest return in Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie against Port Vale.

And Guardiola has challenged Stones to put his injury issues behind him in order to get his career back on track.

"He has the conditions to do it, but to be the best central defender you have to play one entire season, being there every three days," Guardiola said.

"He has to be at the level to play regularly. The last three seasons he could not do it. It's difficult to know the reason why.

"Sometimes when you have a tough injury it's unlucky. But in the case of John I don't know. I don't know why he is not able, we are not able, to be a regular for a long, long period because he's a young player.

"As a player he has his future in front of him, it depends on him. It's in his hands and in his head to become one of the best."

Stones' absence, combined with Vincent Kompany's departure and Aymeric Laporte's long-term lay-off, has left Guardiola short of options at centre-back.

Teenage defender Eric Garcia has featured in City's last three matches, starting the last two, and Guardiola was pleased with the youngster's displays over the festive period.

"Eric is so clever," Guardiola said. "'Everything you say to him, he understands, he doesn't need more time to understand.

"Life is about opportunities. We are delighted with how he has taken his. He's helped us in tough moments."

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has been appointed head coach of Guangzhou R&F, quelling speculation he could succeed Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

The former Netherlands captain heads to the Chinese Super League after ending an informal association with the City Football Group (CFG) that enabled him to spend time at City's training ground.

Van Bronckhorst's presence in Manchester gave rise to suggestions he was being lined up as a replacement for Guardiola amid rumours the Catalan could leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.

CFG executives were said to have been impressed with the ex-Feyenoord boss and reportedly tried to lure him to MLS side New York City before his move to Guangzhou.

"After coming here, I see everyone is motivated and everyone wants to contribute to the development of the club," Van Bronckhorst told his new club's website.

"Not only the daily work, but also the facilities of the club are improving. Coming here is a new challenge. I also hope to contribute my strength and work for the development of the club."

Van Bronckhorst, 44, replaces Dragan Stojkovic, who left Guangzhou this week after more than four years in charge.

The club finished the 2019 CSL season in 12th place.

Pep Guardiola is confident Fernandinho will sign a new deal at Manchester City – hailing him as one of the greatest players in the club's history.

The Brazil international, who joined the Premier League champions from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, is out of contract at the end of this season.

There has been speculation this could be Fernandinho's final campaign at the Etihad Stadium – something fuelled in part by Riyad Mahrez inadvertently suggesting the 34-year-old would follow David Silva in seeking pastures new when the winger took part in a Sky Sports Christmas quiz last month.

Silva's exit will continue a procession of club greats, after Vincent Kompany bade an emotional farewell last May, 12 and 24 months respectively after Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta did likewise.

But Guardiola has no doubt he wants to see Fernandinho, who has impressed as an emergency centre-back this term, stick around.

"It’s a Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football] issue, it’s not my issue," he told a news conference ahead of Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie against League Two Port Vale.

"Of course I want him to stay. I am so confident [he'll stay] and I am so delighted about our three-and-a-half years together.

"He does not have to convince me to stay longer. He convinced me on day one, three-and-a-half years ago when we started to work together.

"He doesn't need to do anything special to convince me. It is just [a matter of] his age, his desire and how he is going to finish the season. Many, many things.

"He knows exactly the opinion we have about him in this club over many, many years. He is one of the greatest players this club has had in its whole history."

Fernandinho being pressed into repeated service at centre-back is primarily down to Aymeric Laporte suffering a meniscus injury.

The former Athletic Bilbao defender has now resumed light training, having last played against Brighton and Hove Albion at the end of August.

"Yesterday, for the first time he trained with the team for 10 or 15 minutes. The rest individually and he's getting better," Guardiola said.

"He feels good and in the next weeks I think he will complete all the training sessions with us.

"I don't know when he will be ready. He will dictate, it depends on how he feels. He was more than four months out.

"The day after he trains he cannot [play] 90 minutes. The important thing is he didn't make a step back in these four or five months, the same cast as with Leroy [Sane].  That's really good and we are incredibly grateful for the physios and the guys who worked with him during this time."

Recent injuries to Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones have given academy centre-back Eric Garcia a chance in City's previous two league games against Sheffield United and Everton, with Guardiola hailing the 18-year-old's performances.

"He is a guy who doesn’t make mistakes. He is so clever and he is intelligent in his movement," he added.

"It is not easy for him to play on the left side [of the back three against Everton] because he is right-footed. I am not a nice guy, not giving him the opportunity to play on his right foot, but he played so well.

"He helped us with the problems that we have."

Ederson has recovered from illness but understudy Claudio Bravo customarily starts in goal for City's domestic cup games.

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