Raheem Sterling's development into one of the Premier League's leading players is down to a change of lifestyle off the pitch and taking more responsibility on it, according to Manchester City team-mate Fernandinho.

Sterling, 24, joined City to much fanfare in 2015 after breaking into Liverpool's first-team as a teenager, his potential costing the Blues a reported £50million.

While he continued to show signs of his capability in the first two seasons at the club, Sterling also attracted criticism for his lack of composure in front of goal and erratic final pass.

But in 2017-18 he found another level, scoring 18 Premier League goals. He then went on to net 25 across all competitions the following campaign, helping City retain the league title.

He is on track to easily surpass that figure this term, having already scored 13 in 14 games on all fronts, and Fernandinho puts his success down to off-field maturity, having often been the subject of negative headlines as a youngster.

"I think this is maybe a case of us all being human beings," Fernandinho said ahead of Saturday's visit of Southampton. "Sometimes we fail in some actions, sometimes we make some mistakes, that's normal, especially when you are young.

"He's improved outside the pitch. He changed his style of life, style of living, it helps him a lot on the pitch. He's taken more responsibility on the pitch.

"He's a father too. You start to see the world in a different way and you start to see things changing [when you're a father]. I think he's done very well and, as I say, we are so happy for him.

"I think he is taking the chances we create as a team and that's good because the way we play as a team, we create a lot of chances in the box.

"The players know we're going to create chances, he understands it really well. He's improved a lot, the way he finishes, he scores goals and the way he grew up as a player and a person, he got more experience.

"That's good for him and I hope he can continue to grow up and improve more."

At 34, most players would be considering their future in professional football.

And while Fernandinho is not about to set an age target for his retirement, he is no rush to hang up his boots while his body remains able to meet the demands of top-flight football.

"To be honest, I just thank God for giving me a body that I can do this," he added. "Every three days, I have to be mentally ready and improve my body to be ready.

"Of course, I take care of myself, but we have great staff taking care of us behind the scenes which helps because first you have to get the mind ready and then the body and just go on.

"I always say I'll play until my mind will allow me to play. When I feel happy and motivated to play every day, this is important, to train happy and fresh every day.

"So, until I don't feel like this, I will play, but I don't want to say until 37, 38…40; we shall see."

Jurgen Klopp is open to fielding two entirely different teams in the EFL Cup and Club World Cup next month but says Liverpool's star men would be in Qatar.

The European champions are due to play a Club World Cup semi-final on December 18 - the day after a scheduled domestic quarter-final at Aston Villa.

Klopp suggested after Wednesday's remarkable last-16 victory over Arsenal that his side may have to pull out of the EFL Cup altogether, but an alternative solution may yet be found.

The Liverpool boss made 11 changes against Arsenal and, in a bid to fulfil nine fixtures in December, he might consider leaving a young squad of fringe players behind to face Villa.

"We have discussed it already," Klopp said at Friday's news conference before playing Villa in the Premier League. "We have to because there's not too much time to make that decision. 

"There's not a final decision yet but, if we would play while we are in Qatar, it would be two different teams. We cannot leave any [senior] players at home for the EFL Cup - we have two games [in Qatar] in a very busy period. 

"It's not that we can go there with 11 players and say these 11 guys play the two games in Qatar and the other [senior] guys play at home in England against Aston Villa. We have to make a decision and we will make a decision but not yet."

Klopp also criticised the scheduling of Liverpool's festive fixtures last year and has previously taken aim at UEFA for putting further demands on his international players with the introduction of the Nations League.

When asked if there is a concern his players are being pushed too far, Klopp offered an impassioned reply as he highlighted some issues with the English football calendar.

"Let's have a look how they deal with it," he said. "If you see the schedule that's coming up, it's all okay.

"The Premier League, what a competition, sensationally cool; then the EFL Cup, nice competition, what a game we had on Wednesday night. 

"But then at the end of January, after a very busy schedule in December, there are two semi-finals. It's an easy decision for me to say if you keep that competition then why don't you make just two semi-finals?

"We still have, in February, March and April, FA Cup games at the weekend.

"I'm four years in and, before I knew about it, people discussed it already. That's the difference to other countries - Italy has 20 teams as well.

"England is the only country where nobody wants to touch it, or maybe wants to touch it - the FA wants to touch the League Cup, the Football League wants to touch the FA Cup - but nobody really wants to discuss it. 

"Then, on top of that, UEFA decides to make the Nations League to give the boys who are already pretty busy - some very successful players, good players - another couple of intense games. 

"I said it before and it always sounds like it's my problem. I'm not involved in Nations League games, I don't play international games at all. I have a couple of days off, it's not my problem. I only discuss from the same perspective that you should discuss it but you don't."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola backed Klopp's stance on fixture congestion and called on the relevant governing bodies to do more to protect players.

"I completely agree," he said. "How do we pay bigger squads? We need less fixtures, less competitions, more recovery. We play [December] 27 or 29 in winter time.

"In UEFA meetings, always they talk about it. I'm with Jurgen when he makes these kind of statements about too many games."

Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola offered sympathy to beleaguered Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka following his confrontation with Gunners fans, acknowledging an understanding of the midfielder's emotions.

Arsenal were held to a 2-2 draw by Crystal Palace on Sunday in their most recent Premier League match, throwing away a 2-0 lead, but the match was marred by a second-half incident that saw Xhaka react angrily when fans ironically cheered – and then booed him - as he was substituted.

Xhaka sarcastically encouraged the jeering by throwing his arms up and cupping an ear, before shouting expletives at the crowd and taking his shirt off as he headed straight for the tunnel.

Coach Unai Emery, who said Xhaka was wrong to react in such a way, left him out of the squad for the EFL Cup clash with Liverpool and the upcoming Premier League visit of Wolves.

It remains to be seen if Emery keeps Xhaka as his captain, or indeed if he ever plays for the club again, but Guardiola sympathised with the Switzerland international, who revealed on Thursday he and his family have received abusive messages for months.

"We have to respect our supporters," Guardiola told reporters. "But it is not easy for the players sometimes.

"I understand Xhaka, the emotions, the moment. I don't know what's going on inside, but maybe I'm not the right man to say, because sometimes I cannot control my emotions, but you have to try it.

"At the end, it's just a game, to have fun, to do their best, and I'm sure all the players, Xhaka included, do their absolute best for Arsenal, do the best for his mates and for winning games. He is the captain because he has something special in the locker room.

"It's happened because sometimes you lose control. It will be forgotten, they'll move forward and hopefully the fans can forgive Xhaka and he can show what an incredible player he is."

Jurgen Klopp has confirmed Liverpool will be without Joel Matip for "a few weeks" more due to his knee injury, meaning he is expected to miss the potentially vital clash with Manchester City.

Matip began suffering from discomfort in the win over Sheffield United at the end of September, though he managed to feature in the 1-1 draw at Manchester United on October 20.

Despite that return, the 28-year-old defender did not look completely sharp at Old Trafford and has missed the Reds' three matches since.

Before the next international break later this month, Liverpool face Aston Villa, Genk in the Champions League and then Manchester City, their biggest threat in the Premier League title race.

While Naby Keita's situation appears less certain after he sustained a minor strain in the EFL Cup clash with Arsenal, Matip looks set to miss the next three matches, meaning Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren are likely to be called upon.

When asked about the fitness of Keita and Matip, Klopp told reporters: "Naby, I don't know yet, we'll see.

"And Joel, he is not ready for the next few weeks, unfortunately. A couple is two [weeks] – a few is more than three [weeks]. He needs more than a couple."

Meanwhile, Klopp is contemplating the idea of resting midfielder Fabinho against Villa on Saturday due to the Brazilian being one booking away from missing the City clash through suspension.

The German said: "I don't know yet. I will have to see. I know he is [one booking from suspension]. No challenges at all!

"It's not possible to play against Aston Villa and play without making tackles, we know that. We have to deal with this information, either him or me with the line-up."

Gabriel Jesus is happy to occupy a wide position for Manchester City while continuing to learn from "legend" Sergio Aguero.

Pep Guardiola made the rare decision of starting the two forwards together for the 3-1 home victory over Southampton in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, although Jesus was shunted out onto the flank as Aguero played through the centre.

The 22-year-old was initially deployed on the wing when he made his breakthrough at Palmeiras and featured from the right in Brazil's triumphant Copa America campaign this year.

Jesus, who has been named in Guardiola's starting line-up just seven times this season, would not be averse to featuring in that role more regularly for City, and with Southampton visiting the Etihad Stadium again in the Premier League on Saturday he may get another opportunity to do so.

"I like this position and I know always I'm going to respect the manager's decision," said Jesus.

"Since the Copa America I've played for Brazil as a right winger. I like it.

"I started with the position in Brazil in my old club and after I got to play like a striker, but I like to play both positions. It's very important you can play more than one.

"It was my first game as a winger with five at the back for Southampton, so it's difficult when you dribble past one defender and have another one.

"So it's more difficult, but I like to play like a winger and I like it as a striker as well. I don't have a preference."

Aguero has scored 12 goals in as many appearances in all competitions this season and Jesus acknowledged there is plenty he can glean from City's all-time leading marksman about being a clinical a finisher.

"It's difficult to describe Sergio. Sergio is the top scorer of the club and every game he shows us why he is the top scorer," said Jesus.

"I have to learn from him because he's a legend. Every game he scores. I want to score every game but I think it is different, me and Sergio.

"I'm 22 years old, I have to improve my football, practise my finishing and I have to learn from Sergio.

"This is City, the competition is very high, but I think City has good players and an amazing team, so whoever is playing I think is going to do a very good job."

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is back in Argentina's squad for next month's friendlies against Brazil and Uruguay after serving a three-month suspension.

Messi was banned by CONMEBOL in August and fined $50,000 for accusing the governing body of corruption following his side's semi-final loss to Brazil at the Copa America.

The 32-year-old has missed Argentina's past four matches - all friendlies - but is in line to make his return in November after being named in Lionel Scaloni's latest 26-man squad.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is also included for the first time since Argentina's 2-1 third-place play-off victory over Chile in the Copa America, while Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso returns after sitting out of this month's draw with Germany and victory over Ecuador.

There is still no place in the squad for Paris Saint-Germain's in-form striker Mauro Icardi, however, with his most recent cap coming against Mexico in November 2018.

Club team-mate Angel Di Maria, absent since the Copa America, is also missing again.

Argentina meet Brazil in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 15 and then travel to Tel Aviv, Israel, to face Uruguay three days later in the final international break of the calendar year.
 

Argentina squad in full:

Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Emiliano Martinez (Arsenal), Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors), Juan Musso (Udinese); German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nehuen Perez (Famalicao), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Renzo Saravia (Porto), Walter Kannemann (Gremio); Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Guido Rodriguez (Club America), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP), Nicolas Dominguez (Velez Sarsfield), Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Rodrigo de Paul (Udinese); Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Manchester United have been granted a golden chance to advance to the EFL Cup's semi-finals after being drawn against fourth-tier Colchester United in the last eight.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side won 2-1 against Chelsea on Wednesday and will now host the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.

Manchester City, comfortable 3-1 winners against Southampton in the last round, have a similarly promising path into the final four as Pep Guardiola's men seek to secure the trophy for the third successive season.

The holders are set to visit Oxford United, who sit fifth in League One, at Kassam Stadium.

The other two ties are both all-Premier League clashes.

Liverpool were drawn away to Aston Villa following a see-sawing shoot-out triumph over Arsenal, while Everton and the under-pressure Marco Silva will welcome high-flying Leicester City to Goodison Park.

Each of the four quarter-final ties are scheduled to take place in the week beginning December 16.

European champions Liverpool are simultaneously due to be in Qatar for the Club World Cup, further complicating an already congested fixture list.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp threatened to boycott the next stage of the EFL Cup if an appropriate solution to the logjam cannot be found.

"If they don't find an appropriate place for us, not 03:00am on Christmas Day, then we don't play it," Klopp said after the Arsenal encounter, which ended level at 5-5 after 90 minutes.

"They have to make that decision. You have to think about these things."

EFL Cup quarter-final draw in full: 

Oxford United v Manchester City
Manchester United v Colchester United
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Everton v Leicester City

Lionel Messi will be hoping to dethrone Cristiano Ronaldo at the Globe Soccer Awards after both were named among the nominees for the Best Men's Player for 2019.

Virgil van Dijk and Liverpool team-mates Alisson, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are also up for the annual honour, which is to be presented in Dubai on December 29.

Bernardo Silva, part of the Manchester City side largely snubbed at the FIFA Best awards, rounds out the seven-man field.

Juventus forward and five-time winner Ronaldo claimed the main prize for the third consecutive year in 2018.

Barcelona superstar Messi has won it once, in 2015.

United States stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan headline the contenders for the Best Women's Player title.

Lyon trio Amandine Henry, Lucy Bronze and Ada Hegerberg are all shortlisted and the French outfit have been nominated for Best Club, alongside Liverpool and Ajax.

Jurgen Klopp, Erik ten Hag, Fernando Santos and Djamel Belmadi, who guided Algeria to victory at the Africa Cup of Nations, are in contention to succeed Didier Deschamps as Best Coach, as is former Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri.

Other award categories include Best Agent, Best Sporting Director and Best Revelation, designed to recognise emerging players.

Inter's Antonio Conte, ex-England manager Fabio Capello and Portugal legend Luis Figo form part of the judging panel.

Juventus are not resting on their laurels.

Despite their domestic dominance, Juve are craving European glory as they eye a first Champions League crown since 1995.

So much so that they have three Premier League stars on their mind.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WATCH SALAH, SON & ERIKSEN

Juventus scouts watched Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen during Liverpool's Premier League clash with Tottenham, according to Tuttosport.

Seeking a ninth successive Scudetto, Serie A champions Juve are prepared to spend heavily in pursuit of Champions League glory.

With money no obstacle as they reap the benefits of Cristiano Ronaldo's presence, Liverpool star Salah and Tottenham duo Son and Eriksen are reportedly on Juve's list.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Jose Mourinho wants to become the first manager to win major trophies with three English clubs as the former Manchester United boss is linked to Arsenal. Gunners head coach Unai Emery is under pressure at the Emirates Stadium amid growing fan frustration.

Manchester United are hopeful of completing a deal for Lyon striker Moussa Dembele in January, reports Soccerlink. With Dembele's future uncertain, Lyon are lining up Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- Staying at Old Trafford and United's name has again been thrown into the mix for Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali. The 19-year-old Italy international is fast becoming one of the most sought-after players in Europe, attracting interest from Juventus, Manchester City and Inter. Now, The Suns says United are weigning up a £40million move for Tonali after sending scouts to watch him once more.

- Calciomercato claims Napoli are considering a January move for Benfica full-back Alejandro Grimaldo. The 24-year-old Spaniard has been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham and Barcelona.

Newcastle United are close to agreeing a deal to sign Strasbourg's Ibrahima Sissoko. The 21-year-old French midfielder is poised to make the switch when the transfer window opens in January.

Pep Guardiola was impressed with the performances of youngsters Eric Garcia and Tommy Doyle in Manchester City's EFL Cup victory over Southampton.

Holders City eased into the quarter-finals with a 3-1 win on Tuesday – Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero getting on the scoresheet before Jack Stephens snatched a consolation for the visitors.

With City suffering an injury crisis in defence, teenager Garcia partnered Otamendi at centre-back, while Doyle played in a holding midfield role behind Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden.

Their displays drew praise from manager Guardiola, who believes the EFL Cup provides the perfect opportunity to test City's fringe players.

"Eric Garcia has once again played a high level, like has this season and last season in the EFL Cup," Guardiola told City's official website.

"He didn't make one mistake. Tommy, as well, played well in a position that isn't his natural his position.

"We had just one holding midfielder available - Ilkay Gundogan - and he's played a lot of games.

"I thought he played really well. Congratulations on his debut. We have Fernandinho who can play there but he is playing centre-back and was suspended.

"That's why Tommy played. I didn't have another alternative. He was with us in pre-season and I've seen him in the academy. I didn't have any doubts he would play a good level."

Success in the EFL Cup has provided City with a springboard to win further trophies in the previous two campaigns, and Guardiola's side seem well placed to push on again this term, with two of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to drop out of contention on Wednesday.

"This competition is good to move the team on. We played seriously; the quality of our passing was high," Guardiola said.

"It's not easy to attack the system Southampton had, with eight players back and fast players up front. It was a good game and we go through to the quarter-finals.

"You cannot win four titles in one season when you don't play games so seriously. For the players who didn't play the last games it's good for me to see the rhythm they have and I was happy with what I saw."

Sergio Aguero scored twice as Manchester City made light work of Southampton in the EFL Cup, the holders easing into the quarter-finals with a 3-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium.

Reeling from their 9-0 trouncing at the hands of Leicester City last Friday, Southampton - in their first of two outings against City in the space of four days - were little match for Pep Guardiola's side.

Nicolas Otamendi and Aguero had City comfortably in control by half-time, with the latter on hand to nudge City further ahead 11 minutes after the restart.

Two stops in quick succession from Claudio Bravo looked to have ended Southampton's hopes of a consolation, but Jack Stephens headed in with 15 minutes remaining to ensure Ralph Hasenhuttl's side restored some pride.

Southampton went behind after 10 minutes against Leicester, though they did manage to hold on for slightly longer on Tuesday.

However, having already kept Angelino at bay, Alex McCarthy could do little to deny Otamendi the opener in the 20th minute - City's centre-back rising between Jan Bednarek and Oriol Romeu to head home.

Aguero should have done better to get a close-range free-kick on target shortly after the half-hour, but he made no mistake when he tucked in from Kyle Walker's cross at the culmination of a slick team move.

City soon had their third early in the second half - Aguero reacting sharply to turn in Riyad Mahrez's deflected shot moments after McCarthy had kept out Bernardo Silva's prod.

Bednarek made an outstanding block from Mahrez's close-range effort, before Bravo was finally called into action to keep out a Sofiane Boufal strike.

While the former Barcelona goalkeeper could not deny Stephens to preserve his clean sheet, City still comfortably claimed a first win over their opponents in the competition.

The Gareth Bale transfer saga continues to roll on as he remains frozen out at Spanish giants Real Madrid with seemingly no way back.

The 30-year-old was linked with a move to China in the summer but the move did not materialise and Bale has since continued to find himself out of favour with Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

All is not lost for Bale though with three Premier League clubs battling for the Welshman's signature in January, as he builds towards a possible Euro 2020 campaign with Wales next June.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE TRIO KEEN TO SIGN BALE IN JANUARY

Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have all been linked with a January swoop for Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale, according to AS.

The three Premier League giants are seeking solutions to solve inconsistent starts to their respective seasons and believe the Welshman could provide a timely boost leading into 2020.

Bale is seen as the perfect fit for a return to Premier League football, having maintained his good reputation from time spent with Southampton and Spurs, but it remains to be seen whether Madrid's asking price or the player's wage demands will be met. 

Marca believe Bale could revisit a potential move to China, however, with the player's agent believed to be in talks with Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter Milan are hopeful of signing Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen on a free transfer this summer, according to The Guardian.

- Sky Italia say Inter are also considering a move for out-of-favour Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic, which would see the Serbian reunite with Antonio Conte.

- Staying in Serie A and Corriere dello Sport claim Roma have rejected the opportunity to sign former Sunderland flop Jack Rodwell on a free transfer.

- Corriere dello Sport also believe Napoli have pulled the plug on a potential move for Salzburg star Erling Braut Haaland as they expect the 19-year-old to join Manchester United in January.

- Manchester City will replace Leroy Sane with Real Sociedad playmaker Mikel Oyarzabal should the Germany winger get his move to Bayern Munich, according to Sky Sports.

- Turkish news outlet Takvim claim Besiktas are keen to cancel their two-year loan agreement with Liverpool for goalkeeper Loris Karius.

Rumours linking Paul Pogba to Real Madrid are refusing to go away.

Pogba – nursing an ankle injury which is set to keep him sidelined until December – wanted to leave Manchester United in the previous transfer window but a move did not materialise.

With the January window approaching, Madrid are eyeing the French star again.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID PLOTTING POGBA PURCHASE

Real Madrid are preparing to make a January bid for Manchester United star Paul Pogba, according to OK Diario.

Pogba was wanted by Madrid and former club Juventus in the previous window as he eyed an Old Trafford exit, yet United were unwilling to part with their prized asset.

But with Pogba reportedly set to make it clear he will not renew his United contract beyond 2021, Madrid are lining up a €150million (£129.5m) offer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Another Frenchman is also reportedly high on Madrid's radar. AS reports the Spanish powerhouse are hoping to take advantage of a tense relationship between Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe and head coach Thomas Tuchel. Madrid are determined to lure Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season.

- Linked with Madrid and LaLiga champions Barcelona, in-demand Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz is also wanted by Premier League holders Manchester City. Gazzetta dello Sport claims City are set to make an approach for the Spain international.

- According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona are interested in Inter forward Lautaro Martinez. The Argentina international has been linked with Barca after his agent previously revealed the club's interest in Martinez. Now, Ernesto Valverde's side are eyeing the in-form marksman – who has also reportedly attracted the attention of Manchester United – as Inter pursue Barca pair Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal.

United are prepared to meet Borussia Dortmund's demands for England sensation Jadon Sancho, reports the Mirror. Sancho has also been linked to Liverpool and Madrid.

Stefano Sensi's exploits at Inter have not gone unnoticed. On loan from Sassuolo with the option to buy, Sport says there is already contact between Barca, Inter and the player's agent.

Pep Guardiola concedes Manchester City's defensive injury woes could cost his team when they face elite opposition.

City were made to work for a 3-0 Premier League win over Aston Villa on Saturday, where Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan were all on target after half-time.

Guardiola's side ended the game with 10 men when Fernandinho was set off for a second bookable offence.

The veteran midfielder has been deployed as an emergency centre-back of late, much like Rodri – who pulled a hamstring during the 5-1 midweek win against Atalanta in the Champions League.

John Stones made his first Premier League start since September against Villa, having endured an injury-hit start to the campaign, while fellow centre-back Aymeric Laporte will not feature until the new year due to meniscus surgery.

A back complaint compromised Nicolas Otamendi as erratic form did likewise and Guardiola has grappled with central defensive conundrums ever since Vincent Kompany ended his decorated City career at the end of last season.

"When the spirit is correct and you want to help, always you go through [these problems]," Guardiola said, having converted Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko into workable left-back options amid shortages in that position over the past two seasons. 

"If the problem is for a short time we can handle it; for a long, long time I don't know.

"Against top, top, top teams, when you don't have the players who play in their own positions I don't know what will happen.

"But before that, I am not going to say, 'Oh, disaster. Oh, pity', like this. It's what it is. The ideal situation does not exist in football, especially in a long season."

City travel to Anfield to take on Premier League leaders Liverpool on November 10, a game for which Laporte, Rodri, Zinchenko and Leroy Sane (both knee) will all be unavailable.

Before then, academy products Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis are in line for more action at centre-back when City host Southampton in the EFL Cup this week.

"In the next game Fernandinho cannot play but other ones are. We have an academy, we have other solutions," said Guardiola, who went on to point out one of his defining triumphs came amid a defensive crisis.

When his Barcelona beat Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final, they did so with Yaya Toure at centre-back, Carles Puyol shunted out to right-back and veteran Sylvinho on the left of the back four.

Dani Alves, Eric Abidal and Rafael Marquez all being unavailable did not prevent the Blaugrana running out 2-0 winners in Rome.

"I played my first Champions League final as a manager against United with a back four, with three of the players who played regularly injured," he said.

"Against Cristiano [Ronaldo], [Carlos] Tevez, [Dimitar] Berbatov, Ryan Giggs – an incredible squad, one of the best squads I ever faced in my career.

"I would prefer to have Laporte, honestly, but [against Villa] John Stones played incredibly well.

"That is the only way. We have these players – okay, we go with them. That is the best way to go through."

Ilkay Gundogan believes there are "no limits" for Raheem Sterling and has hailed his Manchester City team-mate as one of the best five attackers in world football.

Sterling opened the scoring 20 seconds after half-time in City's 3-0 win over Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, having been the only home player to impress Pep Guardiola in the first period as the Premier League champions struggled.

The forward's latest goal was his seventh of the season in England's top flight and followed a midweek Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta.

"I think he made a big step forward," Gundogan, the scorer of City's third, said of his in-form team-mate. "The way he is now on matchdays, with his mentality, with his aggressivity, with and without the ball, it is crucial for us.

"We need these kind of players, game-changing players. At the moment, he is probably the one player that can change everything for us and we want to help him keep going like that, scoring and scoring.

"I feel at the moment, there are no limits for him. It's [on] us to help him to achieve all his targets and try to get out the best possible Raheem Sterling in the next few months.

"I think he is among the best five attackers in the world right now. It's all about consistency - he has shown in the last year and a half that he is able to be that consistent. If he continues like that, he can be on the top."

Gundogan became the latest City midfielder to fill in at the heart of defence, albeit briefly, after Fernandinho picked up a second yellow card with three minutes of normal time remaining.

The Germany international added: "I got a little feeling in the last few minutes of the game [playing as a centre-back]. I think I did well, but obviously it's a position that I don't really feel very comfortable with.

"But if it's necessary, if I'm needed in that position, I will play it. I don't mind.

"I want to help the team wherever I can, so if the manager decides to put me there one day, I will give my best and I will try to help the team as much as possible."

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