Pep Guardiola is relishing the competition for places at Manchester City that means "unique" Kevin De Bruyne may no longer be an automatic selection. 

De Bruyne made his return from a month-long hamstring injury lay-off as a late substitute against Everton last week and started the 1-0 win against Arsenal four days later.

However, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year was an unused substitute for City's trip Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek, despite Guardiola confirming the playmaker was fully fit.

City won that Champions League last-16 first leg 2-0 through a Bernardo Silva header and Gabriel Jesus' strike, having also won all five-top-flight games De Bruyne missed during his time on the sidelines, scoring 15 times and conceding just once.

And with Bernardo continuing to excel in City's midfield three alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, Guardiola has reiterated De Bruyne is no longer indispensable.

"They are quite similar but Kevin gives us something Bernardo doesn't give and vice versa," Guardiola said. "Every player has his own skills but they do it for the benefit of the team. That's why they are so stable.

"It's good for us, this competition between themselves. It was the same for [Kyle] Walker in the last game - because he knows Joao [Cancelo] is playing so good. It's the only way to maintain consistency. 

"Every three days there's a game and there's a competition among them. Our transitions with Kevin are much better - he is unique in the world. Without Kevin maybe we are more calm and have more time to pause, but it's not that we want one way or the other, it's the quality of the players we have."

De Bruyne's 10 assists in the Premier League this term are bettered only by Harry Kane's 11, the Tottenham striker having played three games more, while only Mason Mount (62), Bruno Fernandes (71) and Jack Grealish (75) can better his 58 chances created.

Bernardo may lag some way behind De Bruyne in both categories - assisting three goals and laying on 16 opportunities for team-mates - but Guardiola believes the Portuguese brings other qualities to the side.

City dominated possession away to Gladbach with 61 per cent of the ball and the manager said: "Sometimes you need more passes and Bernardo has that quality when he receives the ball.

"With opponents behind him, he can make two or four touches then give it. Kevin is a different player, more of a free mind, more explosion, and we need it.  He sees something that other ones cannot see and he provides passes others can't see. Sometimes I need him to be more behind, Bernardo up front. 

"It depends on the opponent. Sometimes the striker jumps, it depends on our movement, it depends on every game."

City are looking to make it 20 wins in a row in all competitions when they take on West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, a run that includes 13 successive victories in the top flight. Only on five previous occasions has a side won 14 or more on the spin.

Guardiola jokingly said earlier this week that money was the most important factor behind his side's incredible winning streak, which has them on course for a clean sweep of silverware.

But while the Catalan coach is thankful to have been financially backed by the club's wealthy owners, he insists there is more to his project at City than simply spending big sums of money, with others doing likewise during his time in England.

"I'm proud for the fact that [after] one team wins the Premier League they struggle a lot but we won back-to-back," he said. "Last season we could not fight against Liverpool - it was incredible. We were second but today, this season, again we are there - this is what I'm proud of most. 

"Four Carabao Cup finals, this is what I am proud of the most. And of course, we created this ourselves. But to do this you need top talents, top players and top players cost money. But honestly, I think United spent money too and Chelsea spent money, and Barcelona spent a lot and in Madrid they spend, as do all the clubs in that position."

Guardiola has used Joao Cancelo in a hybrid full-back/midfield position during City's ongoing winning streak but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, who has won 29 trophies during his managerial career, does not believe he deserves more credit than his players for their success.

"You are not convincing me," he said. "The difference is the players. "I didn't invent anything. It's just the way I do it. I can play like this but sometimes I'm going to play in a different way. It's not about that. I would tell if I believed the reason why was me. I would tell you. 

"I would be grateful to say that the reason behind this success is because I'm so handsome and that's the reason why. It's not like that. It's the players. The big clubs have incredible success, in South America and Europe, and it's due to the quality of the players, the mentality."

He added: "Still I have the feeling when we finished the game against Gladbach maybe it will not be enough to reach the last stages of the Champions League if we don't improve in some departments. It’s the only way to getting better. 

"If I did not feel we could get better, I would not have extended my contract here. One hundred per cent. If I extend my contract, it's because they convinced me for different issues and still that we can do better. If not, [my time with] the team would be over."

Bernardo Silva revealed a personal competition between himself and Manchester City team-mate Ruben Dias helped to inspire his opening goal in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

Silva headed City into a 29th-minute lead in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Budapest before nodding down for Gabriel Jesus to score midway through the second half.

It was the diminutive playmaker's 35th goal for City in all competitions and, perhaps a little surprisingly, his third with his head.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Silva explained he and Portugal team-mate Ruben Dias – a centre-back certainly more adept in the air but yet to open his account for City – are competing to see who can score the most headers this season.

"Usually I'm not [good at scoring headers]. I try to practice a lot – especially now with Ruben," he said.

"We make a little competition to see who scores the most goals with the head.

"I think I was lucky that Joao [Cancelo] gave me a great ball and, yes, I'm happy to have scored and helped the team."

Speaking at a news conference after the game, boss Pep Guardiola said Silva's work on his heading on the training ground – irrespective of whether it is mainly for bragging rights – had not gone unnoticed.

"He is really good at headers, he is really good! I saw in the training sessions," he said.

"When you make an action for a header you have to use the body, not just the head. He used his neck perfectly. He was strong, the goal was fantastic.

"Attacking midfielders have to arrive in the box and Bernardo and Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] have this quality."

Another of Silva's international team-mates, Joao Cancelo, was named man of the match after he supplied a sumptuous cross for the opener and the centre that led to Jesus' close-range effort.

"He's an amazing player. I've played with him seven years at Benfica. We're from the same generation," Silva added, with Dias also having also come through the ranks with the Lisbon giants.

"I know him very well, so the connection is good. He knows my timing, I know how good he is on these kind of balls.

"It was a very good goal because of his passing qualities. Overall, he's been doing a great season and I'm very happy for him."

Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City must be sharper in front of goal if they are to end their quest for Champions League glory.

City won 2-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie against Borussia Monchengladbach in Budapest, with Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus on target either side of half-time.

Despite watching his team show almost complete domination while racking up a 19th consecutive win in all competitions, Guardiola sometimes cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines at the Puskas Arena.

Speaking to BT Sport after the match, the City boss warned his players not to repeat the mistakes of botched chances that have stained three consecutive quarter-final exits.

"In general, it was good," he said. "We controlled the game, we concede one chance at the end.

"Unfortunately, we were not clinical enough up front – one against one, against the defender and keeper

"It's something we have to improve in this competition.

"The situation is clear – the one against one against the keeper or against the defenders and we were not able to even dribble.

"In this competition, you have to be perfect to make sure you go through."

Jesus and Raheem Sterling were among those to show hesitation when presented with opportunities in the Gladbach area, with four of City's nine attempts over the course of the 90 minutes on target.

Three missed the mark, while a further two were blocked.

Both goals owed much to Joao Cancelo's sublime deliveries from the left, with Bernardo Silva heading in his fellow Portugal international's cross for the 29th-minute opener.

Silva then nodded down another fine centre for Jesus to smuggle home after the hour.

"He has to improve sometimes and take some risks in some positions but he gives us something special in our process of play," Guardiola said of Cancelo.

"His physicality is so strong. I'm very pleased for the two passes to assist in the final third."

City have progressed from all four of their previous Champions League two-legged knockout ties when they have won the first leg away from home.

But Guardiola baulked at the notion of his team being favourites for European glory, having watched holders and his former employers Bayern Munich demolish Lazio 4-1 on Tuesday.

"When I see Bayern Munich yesterday, I would not think so," he added, before insisting City's sole focus is their next Premier League game this weekend.

"But my target now is just West Ham. For three weeks, we do not know what happens [in the Champions League].

"If the people say [we are favourites], we have to accept it. A team who in our whole history have arrived once in the semi-finals. Okay, it's no problem."

Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus were on target as Manchester City put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals with an assured 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach

Pep Guardiola's side dominated the vast majority of this last-16 first leg and the City manager might have been frustrated by the failure to turn that into a more commanding lead until Jesus prodded in after 65 minutes.

Silva and Joao Cancelo created that goal after the Portugal duo had also combined for the 29th-minute opener, with the full-back's dipping delivery from the left for his diminutive compatriot to head home a truly sublime moment.

It brings a familiar hurdle into sight for the Premier League leaders, who have fallen at the quarter-final stage in each of the past three seasons.

Gladbach soon found themselves hemmed in by City's slick passing and astute pressing, with last-ditch challenges needed to thwart Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

Guardiola's men were content to bide their time and the opener arrived just before the half hour, with Silva nodding in Cancelo's sumptuous cross from deep at the back post.

Ramy Bensebaini sloppily gave the ball to Jesus in the 53rd minute but he hesitated and let Nico Elvedi get back to make a goal-saving challenge.

A rare moment of encouragement arrived for Gladbach as the hour approached, with Denis Zakaria powering past Rodri but overhitting a pass into the City box that Ederson swept up easily.

The Brazil goalkeeper was scampering in the 63rd minute when Alassane Plea's audacious flick bounced just beyond the far post.

Those minor scares roused City and Jesus showed sharp poaching instincts when Silva again played the unlikely role of back-post target man to tee him up.

When Phil Foden thrashed over from Ilkay Gundogan's 78th-minute knockdown, it was no surprise that Cancelo's chipped ball into the box crafted the opening.

A careless pass in stoppage time from Rodri gave Gladbach substitute Hannes Wolf a chance to reduce the deficit but Ederson prevailed in their one-on-one.
 

What does it mean? Savvy City look primed to push for glory

As Gladbach failed to register a single touch inside their opponents' box during the first half at Budapest's Puskas Arena, it was impossible to imagine this City getting involved in the sort of Champions League firefights that have proved their downfall – ties finishing 6-6 and 4-4 on aggregate against Monaco and Tottenham, only to depart on away goals, springing instantly to mind.

Such total control means Guardiola's team are unlikely to quicken the pulse as they did on those occasions but it makes the one major honour to have eluded the Catalan in Manchester a far more likely prospect.

What's next

City host in-form West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday, when Gladbach travel to title-chasing RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes Bernardo Silva is back to his "unstoppable" best after the Portuguese star shined in the Premier League leaders' 3-1 win against Everton.

After Everton forward Richarlison cancelled out Phil Foden's opener, Silva set up Riyad Mahrez to put City in front in the 63rd minute at Goodison Park on Wednesday.

Silva then turned from provider to goalscorer, collecting Gabriel Jesus' pass to extend the advantage with 13 minutes remaining and seal City's 17th successive win in all competitions.

Harking back to his outstanding form in City's 2018-19 title-winning campaign, Guardiola heaped praise on the impact Silva has made during his 28 starts this season.

"What a player. I can say that, what a player. Everything he does, he does incredibly well," Guardiola told reporters.

"The year that we won the second Premier League in a row, he was unstoppable.

"He was an important player for us and he's back.

"I'm more than pleased because, I've said many times, he's a lovely person.

"As a manager, you will dream to always have people like Bernardo. I think his mum and dad must be so proud about the son that they have."

Manchester City moved 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday. 

With in-form goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan missing through injury, it was fellow midfielders Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva who stretched City's winning run to 17 games in all competitions. 

Mahrez struck a sublime second for City in the second half, his fourth league goal on this ground, after a fortuitous Richarlison effort had cancelled out Foden's deflected opener. 

Silva's third 13 minutes from time – shortly before Kevin De Bruyne made a return from injury off the bench – ensured Carlo Ancelotti's side have only won twice in eight league games in 2021, and their season is in danger of unravelling. 

City controlled the first half-hour but Everton limited them to few chances, with Michael Keane covering well to deny Gabriel Jesus the clearest opening. 

The Toffees went behind in unfortunate fashion 32 minutes in, Foden's right-foot shot flying past Jordan Pickford via a big deflection off Seamus Coleman.

The lead last only six minutes, though. Coleman's cross from the right was smashed goalwards by Lucas Digne – Everton's first shot of the match – and the ball came back off the post and bounced in off Richarlison's knee. 

The second half followed a similar pattern, Jesus and Rodri each missing the target from presentable chances, although Gylfi Sigurdsson led two promising breaks for Everton that should perhaps have yielded more. 

City's pressure told 63 minutes in, Mahrez cutting in from the right and curling a superb strike in off the left-hand post after Silva had created some space. 

Silva capped a fine performance with the decisive third, collecting Jesus' lay-off, working space on the edge of the box and firing in a shot that Pickford could only parry into the net.


What does it mean? Record-breaking City continue title charge 

City's lead at the top over Manchester United now stands at 10 points after 24 games and, on current form, it is a gap that looks unlikely to be bridged. 

This was their sixth league win in a row over Everton and made it 10 consecutive top-flight victories to start the calendar year, surpassing the record of nine first set by Bolton Wanderers in 1906 and then United in 2009. 

Everton, who have lost three league games at home in a row for the first time in five years, stay seventh. 

Silva service 

Everton were just beginning to look comfortable in defence when Silva produced the telling impact, pulling apart the backline to set up Mahrez and then rifling home a goal of his own. 

The Portugal midfielder misplaced just two of his 62 passes, 43 of which were in the Everton half. 

Mina injury adds to mounting Everton worries 

Yerry Mina went off injured in the first half to leave Everton's task even more daunting, as well as give Ancelotti a selection headache ahead of the weekend trip to Liverpool. 

The Italian last lost three league games at home in a row back when he was in charge of Milan in 2006 and, with Southampton and Chelsea to play after the champions, this could be a tough few weeks for him. 

What's next? 

City head to Arsenal on Sunday, with Everton next up at the home of the champions for Saturday's Merseyside derby. 

Pep Guardiola did not see the point in sugar coating the news that Manchester City will be without Kevin De Bruyne for between four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

"It is [a huge blow] but we have to move forward," he said after confirming the extent of the setback for the Belgium international.

"He has an important part of the season out and we have to find a solution."

Handily for Guardiola, having the likes of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden to choose from within his creative department means such solutions are - in theory at least - close at hand.

Here, we will examine how well equipped City are to face a run of fixtures including games against Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Borussia Monchengladbach and possibly Manchester United without their star midfielder.

Kevin the kingpin

Even when acknowledging City's enviable squad depth and Guardiola's career-long emphasis on the importance of the collective, De Bruyne's individual contribution throughout the Catalan's Etihad Stadium tenure is a heavy one.

Across 204 appearances since Guardiola took over at the start of the 2016-17 season, De Bruyne has supplied 88 assists - one every 2.3 matches.

Those come from 592 chances created, an average of one per 26.3 minutes.

David Silva is next with 365 opportunities created, with his 47 assists over the period in question second to Raheem Sterling (54).

Basically, daylight is second to De Bruyne in those and a host of other categories.

He has created 138 "big chances", according to Opta, with Sterling (73) and Silva (47) up next.

De Bruyne's 2,015 passes into the penalty area, including crosses, are more than double the amount attempted by any other player during the Guardiola era.

Keeping standards high

Although City finished a distant second to Liverpool in the Premier League last season and bowed out of the Champions League with a dispiriting quarter-final loss to Lyon, De Bruyne was named both PFA Players' Player of the Year and UEFA Midfielder of the Season.

He equalled the Premier League record of 20 assists in a season in 2019-20 and already has 10 this time around, with that figure rising to 15 in all competitions.

Once again, he leads the way for City in terms of chances created (73), big chances created (21) and passes into the penalty area (209).

Sterling (six assists), Riyad Mahrez (45 chances created and 106 passes into the box), are next best in those categories, again demonstrating the how central De Bruyne is to City as an attacking force.

Had De Bruyne been struck down when Guardiola's men were limping through the early weeks of the season, it might have cut off any title bid in its infancy.

However, the manager now has a number of other midfielders stepping up in impressive fashion.

Bernardo is back

Perhaps the most reassuring development for City this week came in the immediate aftermath of his injury.

The game was all square at 0-0 when he departed, Bernardo Silva dropped back to his team-mate's role on the right of the midfield three and promptly thrashed into the top corner to break the deadlock.

"He's back," Guardiola said defiantly of the Portugal playmaker on Friday.

"He struggled last season - maybe for the lack of minutes I gave him or maybe because he was not like him. Always he has been so important for me, for all of us."

Bernardo being "back" is a message understood loud and clear by regular City observers. It means the player who scooped the club's player of the year award when they won an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19; a player who has been difficult to spot for much of the subsequent 18 months.

Arguably the most impressive element of that trophy-laden campaign, when City pipped Liverpool to Premier League glory with 98 points to their rivals' 97, is they were without De Bruyne for large chunks of it.

The former Wolfsburg man twice sustained knee ligament damage before a calf strain kept him out for a key stretch of the run-in.

Bernardo's versatility is what makes him a Guardiola favourite, but playing for much of the season in De Bruyne's midfield berth, he registered 13 goals and as many assists in all competitions - a career best return for the ex-Monaco favourite.

The goal against Aston Villa was the 26-year-old's first in the Premier League this year and another drought would be deeply unhelpful as De Bruyne looks on, even though midfield goals have been flying in from elsewhere.

Gundogan and Foden in the goals

Gundogan rounded off the scoring from the penalty spot in midweek and will probably retain duties from 12 yards with De Bruyne out, having scored four out of five at City.

The Germany international is on a hot streak in front of goal since a torpid 0-0 draw at Manchester United in December persuaded Guardiola to tweak his formation and allow Gundogan more attacking license from central midfield.

Five in his past seven Premier League games is part of an all-competitions tally of seven - already the best single-season return of the 30-year-old's career.

Goalscoring is one area where De Bruyne has been under par this year. Two of his three Premier League goals are penalties, and his solitary strike from open play is the yield from 57 shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 5.1.

Gundogan (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.7) is out-performing his xG almost as impressively as Foden (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.5).

The England playmaker is level on eight with Raheem Sterling as City's top scorer in all competitions this season and has excelled in a left-wing role over recent weeks.

Like Bernardo, Foden's preference would probably be to operate in De Bruyne's favourite position but he has repaid both the faith of Guardiola and the clamour from City fans for him to start Premier League games more regularly.

City's overall statistics in the eight top-flight matches where Foden has made the XI this season are similar to the 10 when he did not, with a 62.5 per cent win ratio set against 60 per cent falling slightly in the hometown hero's favour.

However, they are considerably more active in front of goal when Foden starts, averaging 19.3 shots per game as opposed to 13.7.

The man himself has plenty to do with such an upturn if his five shots and six chances created against Villa are anything to go by - his most shot involvements in a single Premier League game.

Replacing De Bruyne's similarly weighty numbers in other areas is a task almost certainly beyond any individual at City but, with Bernardo, Gundogan and Foden among the collective, Guardiola has ample talent to keep his team's title challenge on track.

Bernardo Silva was relieved to end his Premier League goal drought as Manchester City earned a late 2-0 win over Aston Villa to go top.

The Portugal international superbly scored a disputed first Premier League goal of the season 11 minutes from time.

Villa boss Dean Smith was sent off for his protests after he felt Silva's strike should have been ruled out for offside against Rodri, who won the ball back from Tyrone Mings in the build-up.

The Spain international was in a clear offside position when Mings received possession but the officials allowed the goal to stand because, under the current interpretation of the law, a new phase of play began after the Villa centre-back touched the ball.

Ilkay Gundogan's last-minute penalty sealed the points to extend City's winning run to nine matches.

Rivals Manchester United can replace them at the summit if they are victorious when they face Fulham later on Wednesday.

For Silva, it was his first league strike since the 5-0 win at Brighton and Hove Albion in July.

And it was his first Premier League goal at the Etihad Stadium in 20 appearances, since scoring a hat-trick against Watford in September 2019.

"It has been a long time since I have scored," Silva said to BT Sport.

"I'm happy to score. It doesn't matter who scores the goals but I'm happy to score.

"Most important we are leaders for now. There is still a long way to go but still, very happy. We are doing very well, very solid at the back. We are happy with the last two games and our momentum."

The breakthrough arrived just as it looked like Villa would halt City's fine run of form.

Silva's opener was the 36th effort at goal in a dramatic match, and City's 25th of the contest.

Asked about Villa's complaints over his goal, Silva added: "I haven't checked it yet. 

"Our player was offside but when their defender touched it, he stops being offside, I think. But I haven't checked it.

"It was a very important win, a tough game for us. Just three more points and on to the next one.

"It felt like an important win because we got to the 75th minute without scoring, so to get those two goals, we are very happy."

City have now won 15 of their past 16 Premier League home games against Villa, including an on-going streak of 11 in a row.

And their forthcomig fixtures appear favourable as they look to extend their winning run.

After an FA Cup match with League Two Cheltenham Town, City face struggling trio West Brom, Sheffield United and Burnley prior to their crunch clash with champions Liverpool at Anfield on February 6.

Bernardo Silva scored a controversial first Premier League goal of the season as Manchester City beat Aston Villa 2-0 to go top of the table.

City dominated much of an entertaining encounter on a miserable evening but looked set to miss out on the chance to take over at the summit until Silva struck 11 minutes from time, albeit in contentious circumstances.

Villa boss Dean Smith was sent off for his protests after he felt Silva's goal should have been ruled out for offside against Rodri, who had won the ball back from Tyrone Mings.

Ilkay Gundogan's penalty sealed all three points to extend City's winning run to nine matches and put them top, although Manchester United can replace them when they face Fulham later on Wednesday.

City lost Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker to injury but they are now unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions.

Manchester City eased into the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a Bernardo Silva-inspired 3-0 win at home to Birmingham City on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola made the somewhat surprising decision to name what was essentially his strongest possible XI, and their superior quality was telling from the start as they quickly raced into a 2-0 lead.

Silva opened the scoring with a gorgeous volley and swiftly doubled City's advantage to cap off a fine move in the 15th minute, before Phil Foden effectively killed off any hopes of a Birmingham comeback before the interval.

City were less deadly in the second period as they failed to add to their lead, but it mattered little as they had no difficulty seeing out a comfortable victory.

Aitor Karanka and Birmingham will have been braced for a difficult day after seeing the line-up chosen by Guardiola, though nothing could have prepared them for the hosts' start.

Silva displayed remarkable technique to make it 1-0 as he unleashed a stunning volley just inside the box to punish a poor clearance, picking out the top-left corner.

He soon got a second with a simple close-range finish, guiding home Kevin De Bruyne's cutback after the Belgian had been well spotted by Riyad Mahrez.

City found their stride again after something of a lull, and Foden increased the lead just past the half-hour mark, rifling into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards after being picked out by Mahrez.

The hosts withdrew De Bruyne, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias at half-time, with youngsters Felix Nmecha and Taylor Harwood-Bellis entering alongside John Stones.

City remained dominant and thought they had a fourth goal just past the hour, only for VAR to confirm Mahrez had strayed offside when latching on to Foden's pass.

Silva passed up the chance to complete his hat-trick as he dragged wide when the ball fell kindly for him, and that proved to be his final opportunity as City settled for a three-goal victory.

 

What does it mean? City emphatic but Guardiola learns little

It is fair to say, Guardiola may have surprised a few by naming such a strong starting XI and it seemingly yielded the desired result as City went into half-time 3-0 to the good.

Nevertheless, Guardiola will have learnt very little about that first-half performance given his line-up was full of first-team regulars and they were facing a side struggling in a Championship relegation battle.

A few of the kids were sent on in the second half and did their chances of further opportunities no harm, though the game had become little more than a training exercise by that point.

Foden runs Birmingham ragged

There were several City stars who produced classy displays, but Foden was arguably the most enjoyable to watch. His goal was a great strike, while he had already threatened beforehand with his other two shots. The England international also made three key passes – one of those was particularly clever, as he chested down a long ball to tee up Silva for an effort that hit the side-netting.

Gabriel Jesus frustrated

City's Brazilian striker was by no means poor here – with three shots and a couple of key passes, he was actually quite bright. But he will likely be frustrated by the fact he could not get his name on the scoreboard, particularly given one of his first-half opportunities was a one-one-one situation that he spurned.

What's next?

It is back to Premier League action on Wednesday for City, who host Brighton and Hove Albion. Birmingham continue their quest to get clear of the Championship's relegation zone three days later when they go to coach Karanka's former team Middlesbrough.

We need to talk about Kevin. Because if you noticed something was different about Kevin De Bruyne this season, you were on the money.

The PFA players' player of the year, the FIFPro World XI star and the reigning Champions League midfielder of the season has been performing a modified role for Manchester City since David Silva departed.

And is it pure coincidence that in this phase of semi-transition, a goal-shy City have scored 3-0, 3-1 and 4-1 wins when starting without their Belgian playmaker, the man who supposedly makes them tick?

De Bruyne is a wonderful footballer, and laying on seven goals in 13 Premier League games this season attests to that, a strong follow-up already to last term's record-equalling 20 assists.

Supremely skilled with both feet, you feel he could play anywhere and be hugely influential.

But the right flank has been his established station, and this term there has been no such instinctive attraction to that side of the pitch.

De Bruyne is roaming, occupying positions to the left, right and centre as a number 10 in all but number (he remains in the 17 shirt). Opposition right-backs who were rarely closer than waving distance to the City maestro are seeing him encroach on their territory, an unwelcome pest few can handle.

Chelsea, his former club, will not be relishing the task of stopping De Bruyne when City visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

But does the 2020-21 deployment truly suit De Bruyne, and more pertinently does it suit City?

TOUCHED BY HIS PRESENCE

Touch maps from Opta show how evenly distributed De Bruyne's involvement has been in this Premier League campaign.

He's here, there and in fact he's everywhere across the attacking midfield zones, and it is hard not to think that is to cover for the loss of the creativity previously provided by close-season departee David Silva, a player whose much-missed promptings were helping to thrust Real Sociedad towards the front of the LaLiga leading pack until injury struck in November.

In 14 Premier League games this season, City have created 166 chances, an average of almost 11.9 per game, but last term they ran up 583 across 38 games, marginally above 15.3 each match.

De Bruyne's chance creation rate has hardly nosedived, but it has slipped from one every 20.6 minutes in 2019-20 to one every 26.2 minutes this season.

His total of 42 chances created in the Premier League so far (31 open play, 11 set-play) far outstrips team-mates, with Riyad Mahrez next on the list with 23 carved out, followed by full-back Joao Cancelo who has teed up 22 opportunities.

Bernardo Silva was creating chances at a rate of one every 39.8 minutes last term but that has crashed to one every 138.5 minutes in 2020-21, while Raheem Sterling has gone the same way, a slight fall from one every 55.4 minutes to one each 64.1 minutes.

Mahrez is making chances at one every 33.4 minutes this season compared to 32.3 last term, while Phil Foden, long touted as the natural successor to David Silva, has a rate of a one every 84.2 minutes, down from per 49.6 minutes.

Could De Bruyne be inadvertently cramping the style of his team-mates as he spreads his wings across the pitch, inevitably a magnet for the ball?

A VIRTUOSO IN NEED OF A BACKING BAND

De Bruyne has missed just one Premier League game this season, the home clash with Arsenal back in October that City won 1-0 thanks to a Sterling strike.

There was little to catch the eye in the chances created (11) or shots (13) columns that day, but City's attacking midfielders and forwards were noticeably less bunched over the 90 minutes that day than was the case in their Etihad Stadium clash with Newcastle last time out.

For that December 26 fixture, in which De Bruyne played, his average position was tucked in just behind Sterling, with Ferran Torres and Bernardo Silva close at hand.

City won 2-0, but the average position map points to limited midfield width. A little social distancing to ease congestion between the front quartet, as was the case in the Arsenal game, could be in order.

Despite having De Bruyne on board, City created just a modest 10 chances and had 11 shots against Newcastle. Seven of those opportunities were defined as 'big chances', though, a season-high for City, so perhaps they are belatedly creating the right quality of opening with their new shape, if not the quantity. Or perhaps Newcastle are ripe for that sort of thing.

While De Bruyne continues in his virtuoso way and can clearly be devastating anywhere across the midfield, the likes of Bernardo Silva and Foden must prompt more frequently. They might be encouraged to do so if City's strikers were putting away chances with a higher degree of efficacy. It is a two-way road.

WHAT ABOUT THE THUMPINGS WITHOUT DE BRUYNE?

It might be doing De Bruyne a disservice to read too much into City piling on the goals without him, looking at the 3-1 home win over Porto, which he missed with a muscle injury, and the 3-0 box-ticking exercise that was Marseille in Manchester for City's final Champions League group game.

Arsenal were then under-strength and hopelessly out of form before the 4-1 EFL Cup trouncing they suffered at City's hands, on December 22.

What the data tells us from City's season is that De Bruyne's levels remain extraordinary, but he is now a roving beacon of midfield genius rather than a master of one position.

With this tactical switch clearly coming at the behest of Pep Guardiola, it falls to the City manager to examine the evidence of its impact and make the strategy and selection tweaks that could still make it effective.

Failing that, Guardiola could revert to Plan A.

Many a wide player has coveted a role further infield, and it has not always come for the betterment of the team. Giving De Bruyne his old job back may be City's easiest get-out.

Pep Guardiola is confident Bernardo Silva will enjoy a strong season for Manchester City after a below-par 2019-20.

Silva scored for Portugal against Sweden in the Nations League on Wednesday, and received backing from Guardiola ahead of City's clash with Arsenal.

While the playmaker was directly involved in 13 goals last Premier League season – compared to 14 in 2018-19 – he created fewer chances.

Silva created 71 chances, including assists, in 2018-19 and that number dropped to 51 last season, when he played 824 fewer minutes.

Guardiola said the 26-year-old was exhausted last season, having helped City win four domestic trophies and Portugal clinch the Nations League the campaign prior.

"He was injured in some moments and he didn't reach the levels of previous season, but it happens. I've an opinion that if there's one player I have absolutely no doubts about who he is as a football player, it's Bernardo," the City manager told reporters. 

"He played absolutely incredible all season when we won four domestic titles, incredible, then was the best player with Portugal at the UEFA Nations League Finals.

"He didn't have time to refresh, he was exhausted and his mind was exhausted and he struggled with this. It is not because he didn't want it, it was because we demand a lot of the players and sometimes it is not possible.

"In the NBA – the best league in basketball and we can say the Premier League is one of the best in football – they have three or four months break, they play a lot of games – 70 or 80 – but they have three or four months' break."

Guardiola added: "With Bernardo it was like this – he couldn't refresh mentally and started the season tired mentally.

"But I have a feeling he'll have a very good season this season because he's coming back in many things to what we've seen in the past."

Ahead of hosting Arsenal on Saturday, City are 14th in the table after earning just four points from their opening three games.

Diogo Jota scored two and assisted another as Portugal earned a 3-0 win over Sweden in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence to remain top of the Nations League Group A3 standings.

Juventus forward Ronaldo scored both goals in last month's 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture but was ruled out of this match after testing positive for coronavirus on Tuesday.

Jota, brought back into the line-up for Wednesday's clash in Lisbon, stepped up by playing in Bernardo Silva for the opener and then scoring the second before half-time.

The Liverpool attacker rounded off the scoring 18 minutes from time as the Nations League holders returned to winning ways after successive stalemates with Spain and France over the past week.

Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva appeared to suffer a muscle injury on international duty just days before the start of the Premier League season.

Silva started for Portugal in their Nations League meeting with Sweden on Tuesday but lasted just 22 minutes.

The City man was injured while sending in a superb right-wing cross for Pepe, who could not turn the ball goalwards.

Silva indicated an issue in his leg as he received treatment on the pitch and was quickly replaced by Goncalo Guedes.

The new Premier League campaign begins on Saturday, although City are not involved until September 21 at Wolves due to the short turnaround since last season's Champions League.

Pep Guardiola's right-sided options have already been hit as Riyad Mahrez tested positive for coronavirus, while Phil Foden missed England's match in Denmark after breaching protocol relating to COVID-19.

Manchester City appear favourites to sign Lionel Messi, should he leave Barcelona.

Messi has sensationally handed in a transfer request at Camp Nou.

City are reportedly stepping up their chase as Pep Guardiola looks to reunite with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PREPARE MEGA OFFER FOR MESSI

Manchester City are ready to offer £89million (€100m) plus Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Eric Garcia for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Sport.

Messi wants to end his association with embattled LaLiga giants Barca amid links to City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

The Guardian also claims City are convinced they have a chance of signing the superstar captain.

ROUND-UP

- Goal says Barca forward Luis Suarez has been offered to Juventus as the Serie A champions consider a move. Suarez has reportedly been told he is not part of Ronald Koeman's plans.

Barca offered Antoine Griezmann to former club Atletico Madrid in exchange for Joao Felix, reports Marca.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Milan have made a new bid to sign Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali. The Italy midfielder has been linked to Inter, though the Nerazzurri are yet to reach any agreement with Brescia as they eye Barca's Arturo Vidal.

Inter, meanwhile, have opened talks with Roma to sign veteran full-back Aleksandar Kolarov, according to Fabrizio Romano. Chelsea's Emerson Palmieri has also been targeted but Inter are refusing to meet their demands.

- The Mirror claims Tottenham are weighing up a move for Atletico striker Diego Costa. Jose Mourinho worked with Costa during the pair's time together at Chelsea. Sky Sport Italia also reports Spurs have had a request for Nicolo Zaniolo rejected by Roma.

City remain in talks to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, says Romano. Negotiations are taking place indirectly following the fallout from Jorginho's switch to Chelsea in 2018, having been set for City.

- Bayern Munich veteran Javi Martinez has turned down a move to Fiorentina as he is close to joining David Silva at Real Sociedad, says La Razon.

- Liverpool star Sadio Mane has been offered to Barca amid uncertainty over Messi's future, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

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