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."

Those Chelsea fans who reacted angrily to Frank Lampard's sacking appeared to settle upon a conclusion when it came to what the problem was at Stamford Bridge.

The youth products given the opportunity to shine in the Chelsea first team by the club's all-time leading goalscorer were not the problem. They were giving supporters a bright vision of the future and a recognisable identity.

Players acquired at great expense from abroad who seemed to fill no role in particular and clogged up the numbers in the squad, there was the problem.

You might say, in this analysis, the problem was players like Mateo Kovacic.

However, the former Real Madrid midfielder has been a mainstay since Thomas Tuchel replaced Lampard at the helm.

A coach who has gained a reputation for being standoffish with players over the course of his career has admittedly fallen head over heels.

"I love him,” Tuchel said after the win over Newcastle United earlier this month. "It is very easy [to love Kovacic].

"You can wake the guy up at 3am and he will be at Cobham [Chelsea's training ground] at 3.15 ready to give everything."

Previously, Chelsea fans might have taken this to mean Kovacic was being selected because he is a light sleeper who lives locally.

The Croatia international lacks the range of passing with which Jorginho is blessed, nor does he have N'Golo Kante's combative streak or the creative zest of Mason Mount.

However, his quality in tight spaces and underrated dribbling ability is something Kovacic uses to fine effect. Tuchel, a tactician who places a primacy upon his team's positional play, has quickly identified his key man when it comes to shifting Chelsea up the field.

Among players in the Premier League to have attempted 40 or more dribbles this season, Kovacic has the highest success rate of 81 per cent, having rounded out 34 of his 42.

Across Europe's top five leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti is able to boast a better return of 41 out of 49 for 83.7 per cent.

Of players to have featured frequently in central midfield this season, only Manchester City duo Rodri and Bernardo Silva can better Kovacic's 368 carries – defined by Opta as a player moving the ball five metres or more – and 3,821.2 metres carry distance.

For carries ending with a completed pass, Kovacic is second on 309, behind Rodri (352) and a shade ahead of Silva (306).

Although he is yet to score in 31 appearances this season heading into a crunch weekend clash against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Kovacic is certainly eager to involve himself at the business end of the field when the opportunity arises – further underlining his credentials when it comes to progressing play.

No player in the Premier League this season has taken a shot having been involved in a build-up move more frequently than Kovacic (10).

If a few of those attempts fly in before the season is out to secure a top-four place and maybe even some silverware, Kovacic's popularity will surely reach far beyond the confines of Cobham and his not-so-secret admirer Tuchel.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is relishing the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford after being blown away by the late-career rejuvenation of the Swedish great.

Manchester United and Milan were drawn together in the Europa League last 16 on Friday, giving the second-tier competition a glamour tie.

A serious knee ligament injury sustained in April 2017, near the end of his first season with Manchester United, raised doubts about whether Ibrahimovic would play at the highest level again. He got fit enough to make a first-team return before heading off to LA Galaxy, seemingly to wind down his career in the United States.

Yet Ibrahimovic was not finished with European football and in December 2019 embarked on a second spell with Milan, which has surpassed the most generous of expectations.

Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in 40 games so far for the Rossoneri, including 16 in 20 appearances this season to help Milan mount a title challenge. In doing so, the 39-year-old has passed the 500-goal mark in his club career.

Milan's lead in the Scudetto race was reined in by Inter, who now lead the way in Serie A, but Ibrahimovic's impact has been seismic in Italy.

United loanee Diogo Dalot, who has played 19 games for Milan this season, may also be heading back to Manchester for the March 11 first leg as he is eligible for the tie.

"Zlatan, of course, I've been so impressed, I've got to say, by how his career has gone," United manager Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He had a career-threatening injury when he was here but came back from that and went to MLS, then came back to Milan and has really lifted them. They're on the up and have done really well this season.

"I've been so impressed by him, and Diogo we know. He went there to get some experience at a big club and he's learned a lot. He's played a lot more games this season, kept fit and, hopefully, we can give him some bother!"

Ibrahimovic hit 28 goals in 46 games in his first season at United, adding one more strike in seven games in the following season as he fought his way back to full fitness.

His United goals came at a rate of one every 139.1 minutes, compared to his stunning Milan average strike rate of 109.9 minutes per goal.

He has also boosted his big chance conversion rate from 35.7 per cent at United to 45 per cent with Milan.

Solskjaer, whose side face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday, may have wished for a kinder European draw, particularly as it came on the Norwegian's 48th birthday.

"It's a nice birthday gift, isn't it? To watch that draw!" he said. "We do have the tradition of making it hard for ourselves in draws.

"It's one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game. It's good for us to have these games to look forward to. This team needs challenges and we enjoy challenges and we embrace them.

"The tradition and history of AC Milan, it's a great club that we welcome and it's a great stadium that we go to there, and we're looking forward to it."

Neymar remains on schedule with his recovery from injury and has been boosted by his return to individual training, Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino said.

The world's most expensive footballer suffered an adductor injury against Caen in the Coupe de France on February 10.

A four-week lay-off was predicted, potentially allowing for a return against former club Barcelona in the Champions League on March 10.

However, PSG won the first leg 4-1 thanks to a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick, easing the pressure on Neymar ahead of his comeback.

The Brazil superstar has only appeared in 18 of PSG's 35 games in all competitions this season and their win rate has actually improved from 66.7 per cent with the forward to 70.6 per cent when he has been absent.

But Neymar has still been involved in 17 of the 33 goals PSG have scored with him on the pitch in 2020-21; his 13 goals and four assists have him rank second only to Mbappe - 21 goals and nine assists for 30 involvements - among Parisian players this term.

Pochettino will certainly relish having Neymar back in the fold and detailed his progress on Friday ahead of the weekend clash with Dijon.

"Ney follows the protocol that the medical staff have established for him," the coach told a news conference.

"He has started running again on the field and he has done individual physical exercises, not with the team.

"He is in a very good state of mind. He is happy. He is on schedule for his return and, until then, everything is under control."

PSG head to Dijon third in the table and four points off the pace, unable to afford another setback having lost to Monaco last Sunday.

That was their sixth league defeat this term, their most across a single campaign since 2010-11 (eight), the season prior to Qatar Sports Investments' lucrative takeover.

PSG will have to improve in the final third against Dijon, having mustered only a single shot on target at home to Monaco, but will have to cope without the talents of Marco Verratti.

The midfielder, who played 35 minutes as a substitute last week, in which time he played 38 passes in the Monaco half, sustained a knock in training.

"The team lacked freshness and therefore creativity against Monaco," Pochettino said, with Verratti having started from the bench after sparkling as he assisted Mbappe's first goal at Camp Nou.

"In Barcelona, ​​we had been good in this area. In Dijon, we will find solutions and the players on the pitch will be up to the task."

PSG will also be without Mauro Icardi (gastroenteritis), Alessandro Florenzi (adductor) and Leandro Paredes (suspension).

Thomas Muller will be involved for Bayern Munich against Cologne, Hansi Flick has confirmed, as the reigning Bundesliga champions aim to get their title defence back on track.

Muller tested positive for COVID-19 while away with the squad at the Club World Cup but is now clear of the virus, allowing him to resume training at the club's headquarters on Thursday.

Speaking to the media, Flick confirmed Muller is to be included in the squad for Saturday's game at the Allianz Arena, with the pressure firmly on after two games without a win in the league.

Ahead of the 100th all-time meeting with Cologne, Bayern have already lost twice as many games (two) in Bundesliga action in 2021 as they did across the entire previous year, with RB Leipzig now just two points behind the leaders in the table.

"He will definitely be part of the squad," Flick said of Muller on Friday. "Things went really quickly with him. 

"Yesterday he had a quick session. Obviously he trained at home, as much as he was able and allowed to do. He's the kind of player who has a good foundation, so he will definitely be a part of that [the matchday squad]. 

"I don't know if it will be possible for him to start or come off the bench, we haven't decided that yet." 

After a surprise 3-3 draw at home with Arminia Bielefeld following their return from clinching Club World Cup success in Qatar, Bayern went down 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend.

They were impressive in midweek, however, thrashing Lazio 4-1 in Rome in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. 

"Against Bielefeld and Frankfurt, there were certain scenes we saw that indicated that better things were to come, but we had missed players and had done a lot of travelling," said Flick, who revealed Tanguy Nianzou is expected to be back after the international break in March. "I don't want to use that as an excuse, though.

"It was important for us to play in the Champions League against an opponent we respected. We followed our plan with great discipline, that's what I also expect tomorrow against Cologne.  

"I expect the team to show great willpower and a great willingness to win that game. We want to continue and play the way we did against Lazio, that's our job."

Jamal Musiala scored in the rout of Lazio before announcing his intention to represent Germany, rather than England, at international level. It now remains to be seen if Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Low calls up the teenage forward for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in March.

"It's his decision," Flick said of the choice made by Musiala, who turned 18 on Friday. "Obviously I'm a bit biased towards German football, so I think it's a good decision for German football.

"I always said there is enough good talent in this country, you don't have to worry about that. You have to make sure they develop well. 

"Now it's up to the coaches of the Germany team. If he's invited to join the national team, then we accept that. I do think that is going to give him a push. On the other hand, we have a lot of internationals in our squad who can offer support to him, so I don't think it will be a problem."

For years now, Barcelona have relied on one superstar above all others, with Lionel Messi the player that has glued the team together at Camp Nou - the Argentinian's very presence bringing a sense of calm.

But now there is another South American whose impact upon the team has been quietly telling, and the anticipated return to action of Ronald Araujo this weekend could have a major impact at a crucial stage of the season.

Araujo does not have a cachet anywhere near that of Messi, but his absence was sorely felt as Barcelona stumbled to painful defeats against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

Thankfully for coach Ronald Koeman, central defender Araujo is fit again after the ankle injury he sustained early in the 3-2 win at Real Betis three weeks ago.

The 21-year-old Uruguayan has missed the past five games, and his value to the team has perhaps never been quite so glaring as during his absence.

He was also sidelined for a five-week stretch in the autumn, and the evidence is mounting to show that Araujo, when fit, is now key to Barcelona's success.

"Ronald has had a very good season," Koeman said on Friday, when he named Araujo in his squad for the LaLiga home game against Sevilla.

"He is young and has learned a lot, he has shown his quality and physique. It is important to have strong and fast people. He must improve his game with the ball but defensively he contributes many things."

Koeman must know the data that shows exactly what a difference Araujo can make for Barcelona.

In the 20 matches that Araujo has played this season, Barcelona have won 14 times, drawn four and lost just twice, but when he has been absent that win ratio has nosedived.

Without Araujo's involvement, Barcelona have won nine, drawn two and lost six of their 17 games - amounting to a win percentage of 52.9, down from 70.

There is a curious contrast to be drawn here with Gerard Pique, the longest-serving centre-back at Barcelona.

A knee injury kept the 34-year-old out for almost three months until he returned to action in the shocking 4-1 home defeat against PSG on February 16.

In the 13 games Pique has played this season, Barcelona have a modest record of W6, D3, L4. Without him, they have won 17, drawn three and lost four.

As Koeman says, Araujo "contributes many things" to his defence, but perhaps in the twilight of his career that applies increasingly less so in the case of club great Pique.

Jose Mourinho has hinted he could start Dele Alli and Gareth Bale in the same Tottenham team as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

The prospect of those four attacking stars being regulars for Spurs this season appeared remote in the first half of the season.

While Son and Kane thrived, Alli and Bale struggled with their fitness and fell out of favour with Mourinho amid intense speculation over their Spurs futures.

Alli and Bale have been revitalised over recent weeks and all four players were on the pitch with Lucas Moura as Tottenham almost staged a late Premier League comeback in the loss at West Ham last week.

Asked about fans wanting all four to play together, Mourinho told reporters: "Do you give me four names or 11? Do you want to give the other seven? I do the other seven and you do the four!

"You could see against West Ham, it was not from the start of the game, but for 20 minutes or so, we had Bale, Lucas, Dele, Harry, Sonny. So you had it. 

"We didn't turn the result around or score to win that game, but we could leave the game with positive feelings.

"They played well, the interaction was good, we create chances. All of them, they had their ball to score their goal, it was positive.

"When they are in top form, and when they are fit, and when they are ready to play matches, it is never a problem for good players to play together.

"Since the beginning of the season I'm saying that, and I don't forget Gio [Lo Celso], because he is out for two or three months or whatever, I don't forget him, because he also belongs to that quality of the creative players, as well as Tanguy [Ndombele].

"We could even speak about [Erik] Lamela, [Steven] Bergwijn - we have players with these qualities."

Alli was the star of the show on Thursday, scoring a spectacular goal and adding two assists as Spurs thumped Wolfsberger 4-0 in the second leg of their last-32 tie.

Mourinho believes the England international has come through a testing time and feels better after every outing.

"In relation to Dele, when you have players performing like he did, it's easier for the team to play well and when the team plays well it's easier for players to perform well individually," Mourinho said ahead of Sunday's home Premier League match against Burnley.

"I'm happy with him. Difficult period. Sometimes small injuries in accumulation are more difficult than a big injury where after a few weeks or months you are back.

"Small injuries are mentally not good, players getting disappointed, lack of motivation, frustration. He went through all that.

"He came back. We had good conversations, training well, playing minutes or part of matches. Not yet a 90-minute match but he went through periods and basically now 75 or 80 minutes.

"Condition also improving. His feelings after matches always is better. In the first match in Budapest, he played 60 minutes or something like that and he [was] super, super tired after the game.

"This time he played more and two days later he's good."

Tottenham's struggles with injuries have taken a positive turn ahead of the clash with Burnley.

Ninth-placed Spurs are in desperate need of a run of results against Sean Dyche's team, Fulham and Crystal Palace over the next week.

Spurs have lost five of their last six Premier League games, more than they had in their previous 28 in the competition.

Since winning against Arsenal in December, Mourinho's men have taken just 12 points from 13 top-flight games – only strugglers Newcastle United, Sheffield United and West Brom have taken fewer in that span.

Mourinho said: "Now it never stops so we need everybody and, in the particular case of Dele Alli, I'm very happy.

"We need him and we need them all. In a long, long time, we didn't have every player on the pitch and today we did have it - that is great news for us because we have so many matches."

Thomas Tuchel is resigned to losing out in the fashion stakes to Olivier Giroud but he rhapsodised about the Frenchman giving Chelsea a winning edge ahead of a "huge" fixture.

Manchester United head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with the Red Devils still unbeaten on their Premier League travels this season.

Tuchel may be new to the Premier League but he is no stranger to United, having faced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

His PSG side twice lost to United at the Parc des Princes but won on both of their visits to Old Trafford.

"We hope we can turn this around and win at home," Tuchel said on Friday.

If Chelsea are to continue their impressive progress since Tuchel's January appointment, it may fall to the likes of Giroud to make the difference, just as he did with a spectacular overhead kick winner against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Sunday's Bridge battle could see Giroud on one side and Tuchel's former PSG frontman Edinson Cavani in the United ranks, both 34-year-old strikers with a point to prove.

"Look at them when they switch shirts - they are totally fit, their fitness is key," Tuchel said. "Oli is 100 per cent fit, zero body fat, the same as Edi.

"Edi is a player, like Oli, who as a number nine is always concerned about the team, always ready to suffer for the team, always ready to sacrifice and always ready to do runs to open spaces, always ready to defend with the team.

"This is the characteristic of them both and then in the box they're both excellent finishers, they have the experience, they don't get nervous, they have the composure.

"For me, their fitness and their self-discipline is key to their success."

Tuchel knows he cannot compete with the suave looks and man-about-town fashion style of Giroud, who he described as "a leader" within his squad.

"I try to close the gap," he said. "At the moment it's not possible because I arrived with only one suitcase, so there's no chance for me.

"I will have to trust you that the guy is top-notch and highest level. I will try to close the gap, so it's not embarrassing for Oli that I'm his coach."

Tuchel stopped short of promising Giroud a starting role against United, but he would clearly have no reservations about the striker's credentials for such an important game.

"He's used to playing a high rhythm, he's used to playing Premier League, and this helps him a lot to be on this level," Tuchel said.

"He's in a fantastic mood every day to push everybody around him, to win every little game we do in training and be very positive with everybody around him."

Chelsea will be without centre-back Thiago Silva, who has been absent for three weeks with a thigh injury but managed an individual training session on Friday and is making "big progress", according to Tuchel.

The Blues' boss was typically complimentary of a United side he knows well, declaring they can "hurt you any second with individual quality and speed".

Chelsea go into the game six points behind United, who head into the weekend in second place. The Blues went down 2-0 to United at Stamford Bridge last season and have not lost consecutive home Premier League games against the Red Devils since October 1995.

In all competitions, United have won their past three away games against Chelsea, winning in the FA Cup in February 2019, EFL Cup in October 2019 and Premier League in February 2020. They have never won four in a row away against Chelsea.

"If we get a win out of this game it will be huge for us," Tuchel added. "If they can a win it will be huge for them to put a difference between us, to increase the difference."

Jurgen Klopp remains hopeful Jordan Henderson will be back in action for Liverpool before the end of the season after undergoing groin surgery.

The Liverpool captain was injured during the first half of the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton last Saturday. It is unclear when exactly he will return, though the club has confirmed Henderson will not feature prior to the international break in March.

Klopp was not willing to be more specific over a comeback date for the midfielder when he spoke at a news conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

However, the Reds boss was clear that, despite not being able to participate on a daily basis, Henderson - like Liverpool's other long-term absentees - can still have an influence on the rest of the squad.

"They all have to be influential [while out], that is clear with so many players unavailable at the moment. Most of them are leaders in this group, here doing their rehab," Klopp said.

"Hendo is not here yet but Virgil [van Dijk], Millie [James Milner] and Joel [Matip] all have to be influential here. That's what they will be. When Hendo is back, he will have to play this role while doing his rehab.

"The best-case scenario? I don't know, to be honest. It's not a quick one, but of course we all hope there is still a possibility for him to play a few games this season, but we will see."

Henderson will miss Premier League games with Chelsea, Fulham and Wolves next month, as well as the second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie against RB Leipzig. There are also three World Cup qualifiers for England that he must sit out.

The 30-year-old has started 20 times in the league this term, during which Liverpool have a 45 per cent win percentage and an average of 1.7 points per game.

Unsurprisingly, those figures drop when the skipper is missing. Klopp's side have won two of their five outings in the league when Henderson - so often used as a makeshift centre-back due to injuries in defence - has not played, averaging 1.4 points per match. They have also faced more shots, the average rising from 7.8 per game to 10.

There is some good news for Liverpool over the return of Diogo Jota, while Fabinho is also set to resume training ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

Jota has not played in 2021 due to a knee injury but Klopp will not take any unnecessary risks with the forward, even with his side struggling to score goals.

"Diogo trained twice with the team and has looked very good, very good," Klopp said. "But he was long-term out and we have to see what we can do with that, though in training he looks really promising."

Asked later if Jota's return is a timely boost in the battle to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, Klopp replied: "Of course it's positive, but it's not the only positive.

"It's very positive that Diogo's back after a long time, the others who are out for a long time we will not see any more on the training pitch until the end of the season.

"Yes, it's very positive, and the way he came back in training is very positive. We just have to make a decision about what makes sense for him, when it makes sense for him, these kind of things."

Liverpool travel to bottom club Sheffield United on Sunday on the back of four straight defeats in their title defence; they have not lost five in a row in the top flight since a slump spanning August and September in 1953.

Klopp confirmed no decision had been made on the availability of Alisson for this weekend following the death of the goalkeeper's father back in Brazil.

Diego Castro was the Perth Glory hero as his double secured a 3-1 home A-League victory over second-placed Brisbane Roar.

Perth have won three straight matches, after captain Castro netted either side of a fine Bruno Fornaroli volley.

Jack Hingert headed in on the stroke of half-time to ensure the match was level at the interval, but Brisbane fell to defeat despite racking up 20 attempts on goal.

On his A-League debut, Perth substitute Kosuke Ota had a hand in creating the second-half goals from Fornaroli and Castro for the free-scoring hosts, who have now netted 18 times across their first six games, an A-League record.

Glory have three games in hand on most of the teams above them and are up to fifth in the table, two points behind Brisbane and six adrift of leaders Central Coast Mariners.

It is now four matches without a win for Brisbane, who hit the woodwork twice and saw impressive performances from Corey Brown and Jay O'Shea – who combined for 10 chances created – go unrewarded.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledges Manchester United must sharpen up in defence if they are to achieve their ambitions of winning major trophies. 

United eased into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday after a goalless draw with Real Sociedad at Old Trafford secured a 4-0 aggregate victory. 

It was their 16th clean sheet in all competitions this season, the third-most of any Premier League team, behind only Chelsea (19) and Manchester City (24). 

However, conceding goals has been a problem throughout 2020-21. The Red Devils have shipped 46 across all competitions – more than twice as many as City (20) – with 32 of those coming in the league, more than any other side presently in the top five. 

Although 11 of those were conceded in United's first three league matches of the season – an aberration Solskjaer put down to a lack of pre-season preparations – their defensive frailties have cost them valuable points despite scoring 53 goals, the most in the top flight, and 85 in all competitions, as many as rivals City. 

Ahead of Sunday's clash with Chelsea, who are unbeaten under new head coach Thomas Tuchel, Solskjaer highlighted the need to become more resolute at the back in order to close the gap to Pep Guardiola's men, who are top by 10 points.

The United manager told reporters: "We're on a good path. We feel we have improved but we're nowhere near where we want to be, and that's higher up the table, winning trophies. So, the hunger in the group and the mentality in the group is good, and that's the main thing now: that we keep on improving. 

"We know we've scored quite a few goals; of course, we need to be a better team defensively. 

"Certainly, the amount of goals we've conceded, even though we had 11 in the first three games, those three games almost don't count in my head because we were so far away from a Man United team in the preparation, no pre-season. 

"Even then, we've conceded too many goals, so we need to improve on that, definitely. And win tighter games: we've had many games against, you know, City, Chelsea, nil-nil, Liverpool nil-nil, so get the goals in those games. 

"We just have to focus and tick one game off at a time. The [next] three games are massive. We've got Chelsea just behind us, City a way in front of us, and we can't let them run further away if we have ambitions of catching them and we can't give Chelsea too much hope of catching us, either. 

"It's still 38 games for every team, so if you get a run, either good or bad, it might impact you. Of course, as a group and a culture, bouncing back for us after a couple of setbacks we've had, it's an important period. 

"But our group mentality is really good, and we look forward to these games. We know Thomas has come in, it's changed a little bit at Chelsea, so it's going to be a great challenge for us. 

"You can see the results, the stats, the possession they've had. They keep teams away from their goal, keep the possession. He's done really well. 

"It's never easy coming into a season halfway through, so he must be pleased as well. Hopefully, we can stop that run. That's my job now." 

With captain Harry Maguire rested, Eric Bailly produced a strong performance against Sociedad alongside Victor Lindelof, making three clearances and winning all four of his contested duels. 

"Both of them played well, so Eric and Victor and Harry, three very good centre-backs that I can rely on, and Axel [Tuanzebe] as well. I've got four to choose from," said Solskjaer, who has a decision to make for his team against Chelsea. 

"Sometimes it's the opposition, sometimes it's the form, sometimes it's little things. I think the two of them will keep on playing and they might be playing together as well." 

Anthony Martial endured another goalless outing, producing only one shot on target. The 25-year-old has now failed to score in 14 of his past 15 appearances in all competitions and has not found the net in his six games since scoring twice in the 9-0 demolition of Southampton. 

"Anthony knows what we want and Anthony's working really hard to do well for the team. That's what's pleasing me," Solskjaer added. 

"I see him every day in training. He's not going to sit down and wait for things to happen; he knows he has to make things happen for himself. 

"We encourage him, coach him, and we know he's got this quality and class. Everyone goes through a little difficult patch at the moment, or at times, and Anthony, I think we saw tonight, he's working harder and that's the main thing."

Liverpool securing a top-four finish in the Premier League would now be a surprise given their dramatic dip this season, according to former Reds midfielder Jamie Redknapp. 

Injury issues have badly hampered Liverpool's title defence, with captain Jordan Henderson the latest to go down. 

The England international is expected to be out until April after undergoing surgery on the groin injury sustained in the derby defeat to Everton. 

Liverpool are sixth in the Premier League table with 13 matches to go, with a realistic prospect of them dropping further if Everton and Aston Villa below them win their games in hand. 

They have lost six of their last nine Premier League games, as many as they had in their previous 100 in the competition. 

"Teams have found a way," Redknapp told Sky Sports' Pitch to Post Preview podcast. 

"When West Brom came to Anfield, they sat back and let Liverpool get crosses into the box and because they haven't got that focal point of a big striker - you end up crossing the ball for the sake of it. 

"Liverpool have struggled, especially when they go a goal behind, to find the answer. 

"It will come, of course it will come, but right now everything Liverpool do feels difficult, when you're in a team struggling for form, even the basics are not quite happening. 

"They might not finish top four. It wouldn't be a surprise - it's actually more of a surprise if they did finish top four in the form they're in. 

"I don't know what they're going to end up with as their centre-back pairing at the moment. Henderson [being out] is terrible news. They're not a team who can keep going through these partnerships.  

"There's nothing to be scared of about Liverpool right now. This isn't a short fix. Liverpool's results up until the end of the season are going to be up and down."

The return of influential defender Virgil van Dijk and fans coming back to Anfield were highlighted by Redknapp as factors that should ensure a return to form next season. 

But reflecting on their 2020-21 woes, he insisted injuries were not the only issue, with individuals also struggling. 

"One thing you can't deny is the levels have dropped," Redknapp added. 

"If you were to go through the team, the keeper has not been as good, Trent Alexander-Arnold, last year and the year before, his levels have been so high. 

"The best right-back in the world we were talking about, but he's not been the same player this year. 

"That can be through a number of reasons - is he thinking, 'I've cracked it? All I have to do is turn up and play', and maybe not do the basics of what made him one of the best right-backs. 

"I have seen a drop off and if he's honest he'll look in the mirror and say I've not been as good this year. 

"When you get a bit of criticism, what you've got to do is look at yourself and think can I do better? And there are a number of players who can do better, make no mistake.  

"Individuals have to do better. They'll know that. They have to work harder." 

Liverpool are away to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United on Sunday.  

The Blades have lost 20 of their 25 Premier League games this season (W3 D2) - the fewest amount of games a team has taken to reach 20 defeats in a single campaign in English top-flight history. 

Liverpool will hope Mohamed Salah can continue his impressive form on the road. The Egypt international has scored 16 goals in his last 17 away games in all competitions, as many as he had netted in his previous 51 away games for the Reds. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is prepared for "bumps in the road" as the Milwaukee Bucks build foundations they hope will help them succeed when it really matters.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points - becoming the first Milwaukee player to have 35 or more in three straight games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1973 - as the Bucks prevailed in a close encounter with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

The victory makes it four in a row for Milwaukee, who had lost five on the spin prior to the start of their current winning run.

For the two-time MVP, however, the focus in the regular season is working out methods that will serve them well when it comes to the playoffs.

"We won in the two previous seasons, we know how to," Antetokounmpo told the media, with the Bucks now owning a 20-13 record after the 129-125 result against New Orleans.

"It's obviously a new group and we have to figure out how to win with this group, but we know how to win, know what it takes and how hard you have to go out there to win.

"There will be bumps in the road, for sure. This season is different. Being able to go on a five-game losing streak and then come out with a four-game winning streak - I don't remember the last time that happened.

"It's good, it's good that we learn how to play when we're down, when we're not feeling good about ourselves, when we think things are not working.

"This is when we get better. This is what is going to help us."

The Bucks have finished top in the East for the previous two years, winning a combined total of 116 games. However, they failed to get out of their Conference in the postseason on both occasions.

Antetokounmpo highlighted how, considering those issues in previous campaigns, there was a need to become more versatile.

"We are trying new things that we haven't done in the past," he said. "We are a team that can adjust, and it's good to have that habit that when things don't go the way you want them to, adjust and find a different way.

"I feel in previous seasons we had our own way - and it worked. Then, at the end, when it didn't work, we didn't have plan B, plan C.

"It's good that we are trying things out. Obviously, it's not going to always look great, at times it's going to be ugly. But we are learning. We are going to create good habits and, hopefully, when it matters, we are good to go."

Once again without guard Jrue Holiday, who missed out on going up against his former team due to health and safety protocols, Milwaukee saw Donte DiVincenzo have a career-high 24 points.

"He was really good tonight, he was calm and collected," Antetokounmpo said of DiVincenzo. "He was getting to his spots and making his right plays. He was aggressive, going downhill, finding guys. He was unbelievable.

"He's a big part of who we are. We need him every single night and he had an unbelievable game."

Wales go in search of a Triple Crown in a blockbuster battle against England, but France will not have an opportunity to make it three Six Nations wins out of three this weekend.

Wayne Pivac's Wales side are level on nine points with Les Bleus following victories over Ireland and Scotland, both of whom had a man sent off.

George North will become the youngest player in history to win 100 caps, but defending champions England will be determined to spoil the Wales centre's big occasion at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The Red Rose beat Italy 41-18 last time out, following a loss to Scotland at Twickenham.

Winless Ireland will be expected to defeat the Azzurri to get up and running in the opening match of round three at Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's planned showdown between France and Scotland was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad.

We preview the matches in Rome and Cardiff with help from Opta.

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have scored 45 tries across their last seven games against Italy in the Six Nations (6.4 per game), scoring eight or more tries in three of their last five clashes.

Italy have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of their 22 matches since those incentives were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017; only England (9) have picked up more bonus points in the championship than Ireland (8). The Azzurri are the only side yet to register one.

Ireland have lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time. The last time they lost their opening three matches was in 1998, when they were beaten in all four Five Nations clashes.

ONES TO WATCH

Sebastian Negri has made 96 metres and made 21 tackles combined in Italy's losses to France and England. Franco Smith will need another strong showing from the flanker.

Ireland back-row CJ Stander has made more carries (36) than any other player in the 2021 Six Nations. He has topped the final rankings for this category in three of the last four editions of the championship.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

England have won six of their last seven Six Nations matches against Wales, with the last six of those fixtures all decided by a single-figure margin.

Wales have won their opening two games of the tournament for a sixth time. On four of the previous five occasions when they have started with back-to-back victories, they have gone on to win a Grand Slam (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019, not in 2009).

This weekend's visitors are the only team to have never conceded more than two tries in a Six Nations game played in Wales. They have scored 19 tries in Wales during the Six Nations, no visiting team have scored more (Ireland also 19).

ONES TO WATCH

North will become only the sixth Wales player to win a century of caps. The 28-year-old will form a new pairing with Jonathan Davies and will be looking to bring up his hundred with an all-action display.

Elliot Daly will win his 50th cap for England and coach Eddie Jones will expect the full-back to repay the faith he has shown in him after a slow start to the tournament.

Manchester City will be looking to stretch their record winning run to 20 matches when they welcome fellow in-form side West Ham to the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this weekend.

Pep Guardiola's men are 10 points clear at the summit and two of their players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with a couple of Everton men on the back of last week's long-awaited derby win at Liverpool.

Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester City players are also selected ahead of games against Chelsea, Burnley and Arsenal respectively.

 

EDERSON

There are many factors behind the leaders' winning run - not least an incredible defensive record, with goalkeeper Ederson more than playing his part.

The Brazil international has kept 15 clean sheets from 24 Premier League games this term, averaging one every 1.6 matches.

Only two keepers to have played at least 10 times have averaged fewer games per clean sheet across an entire season - Chelsea's Petr Cech (24 in 35 apps in 2004-05) and former Manchester United stopper Edwin van der Sar (21 in 33 apps in 2008-09).

JOAO CANCELO

Simply keeping out the opposition is not enough in the life of a modern day full-back, best epitomised by Cancelo at Man City.

On top of helping City to that formidable defensive record, he has also created the most chances (34) from open play among fellow Premier League defenders this season.

Cancelo may only have set up two goals in the top flight this season, but he has the highest number of expected assists (4.28) among defenders, just ahead of Manchester United's Luke Shaw (4.04).

 

LUCAS DIGNE

Carlo Ancelotti was delighted with the news Digne had signed a new long-term deal with Everton this week and little wonder given the full-back's impact on the side.

No Premier League defender has more assists than the 27-year-old's six this season - level with West Ham's Aaron Cresswell and one more than Andy Robertson and Shaw.

Since Digne's debut for Everton in August 2018, only Liverpool pair Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have assisted more goals than the Frenchman (17).

GYLFI SIGURDSSON

There was a point when Sigurdsson's time at Everton appeared to be up not so long ago, but the creative midfielder has more than proved his worth to the side of late.

He was been involved in six Premier League goals in 23 appearances this term - four goals and two assists - which is one more than he managed in 35 games last season.

That is a tally he will be confident of building on this gameweek, as the Iceland international has only scored more Premier League goals against Chelsea (six) than he has versus opponents Southampton (five).

 

MARCUS RASHFORD

In the week he celebrates the five-year anniversary since scoring twice on his United debut, Rashford takes on his favourite opponents in Chelsea.

The United academy product has scored five times against the Blues in all competitions and registered a couple of assists.

Only against Leicester City has he found the net as many times, while only against Newcastle United and West Ham (both seven) has he been directly involved in more goals.

HARRY KANE

If Rashford enjoys playing against Chelsea, the same is true of Kane against Tottenham's next opponents Burnley.

The England skipper has been directly involved in 10 goals in nine Premier League appearances against the Clarets, finding the net seven times and laying on three assists.

Burnley's defenders will not look forward to coming up against Kane, with Riyad Mahrez the only player to score against them more often (eight times) in their Premier League history.

 

JAMIE VARDY

Vardy's scoring record against the division's traditional top four is well known by now, particularly when it comes to facing Arsenal.

The Leicester striker has scored 11 goals in 12 previous Premier League appearances against the Gunners, including a late winner in the reverse fixture.

Those 11 strikes place Vardy behind only Wayne Rooney for goals scored against Arsenal in the competition, the United legend netting 12 times against the London club in his career.

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