Lionel Messi has been tipped to leave Barcelona for either Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

But Haaland could reportedly unlock Messi's future.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND TO CITY MEANS BARCA STAY FOR MESSI?

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could hold the key to Lionel Messi's future at Barcelona, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Barca, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

City have been tipped to sign Messi, but should they step up their pursuit of Haaland, the Premier League leaders could reportedly drop their interest in the Barca captain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo says new Barca president Joan Laporta is preparing a contract renewal for Messi, who is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- Bayern Munich are eyeing a move for Tottenham star Son Heung-min, claims Football Insider. Son has reportedly been offered a bumper new contract by Spurs, but the former Bayer Leverkusen forward is wanted in Munich.

- Sporting CP's Joao Palhinha, Borussia Monchengladbach star Denis Zakaria and Sander Berge of Sheffield United are on the list of midfielders to replace City veteran Fernandinho, reports A Bola.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Juventus and Barca are interested in Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli. The Italy defender is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly seeking a €6million-a-year contract.

Napoli are eyeing Lazio head coach Simone Inzaghi and sporting director Igli Tare, claims Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli. Gennaro Gattuso has been tipped to leave Napoli at the end of the season, with ex-Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri, Luciano Spalletti and Hellas Verona's Ivan Juric among the possible replacements. But Lazio duo Inzaghi and Tare are being monitored to replace Gattuso and Cristiano Giuntoli in Naples.

United are interested in Lille defender Sven Botman, according to Fabrizio Romano. Sevilla star Jules Kounde has been on United's radar but the club's asking price of €80m (£68m) is too steep.

- Romano also says there is no agreement with United and Paul Pogba over a new contract. Pogba has been linked with former club Juve, Madrid and PSG.

Pep Guardiola insists it makes "no sense" for players who will have to quarantine upon their return to the UK to go on international duty later this month – stating Manchester City will not release such players.

In light of on-going coronavirus travel restrictions, FIFA has made the unprecedented move of giving clubs the right to prevent players from joining up with their national teams if the fixtures in question mean a quarantine period of five days or more upon their return.

In the UK, anyone travelling to 'red list' countries must isolate for 10 days when they come back, with no exemptions granted for elite sportspeople.

The list features all of South America and parts of Africa. Portugal, the only European country on the list, have sought to mitigate the impact by moving their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on March 24 to Turin.

Although that seemingly frees up City trio Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias, Guardiola will be able to put his foot down when it comes to Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and Brazil contingent Ederson, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus.

"We didn't speak. We will wait until after this game against United and I am pretty sure that next week we'll talk about that," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby.

"But I think it makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back. It makes no sense.

"We've worked incredibly hard for seven, eight or nine months and after the international break comes the real part of the season, and important players cannot play for 10 days? It makes no sense.

"They are not going to fly. That’s for sure. If they can fly, play with the national team and come straight back to training, they’ll fly.

"We invest a lot of time and money for the important part of the season and if six, seven, eight players cannot play with us, it makes no sense, honestly. No sense."

Guardiola's stance means the runaway Premier League leaders are aligned with the reigning champions after Jurgen Klopp also said Liverpool players from affected countries would not be released.

The City boss, who famously went against Barcelona's stance during his time as head coach and allowed Lionel Messi to win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, insists he is not acting to devalue international football – just merely reacting to the realities of these times.

"We want to let them go to the national team. I know how important it is for them. I'd never say don't go to represent your country and to prepare for the European Cup or American Cup," he added.

"But it's no sense to do it and not play for 10 days, no training session, be at home, when we are playing for the league.

"If we go through, we will still be in the Champions League and we don't play with these players.

"They are not going to fly. I don't know what is going to happen but they are not going to fly, for sure.

"We've followed the protocols for eight, nine months. No restaurants, closed. The people are here - home, home, here, in the bubble, don't do it [break protocols], protect them, test them every two days.

"And after, in an important part of the season in the league, we don't have the players because the government has decided it is in a red zone and they cannot play when we are playing every three or four days?

"They are not going to fly, sure. I'm pretty sure that UEFA or FIFA will understand this argument."

Bukayo Saka was one of the Arsenal players who made Manchester City suffer during their 1-0 win at Emirates Stadium, according to Pep Guardiola.

Raheem Sterling's second-minute header was enough for City to extend their record-breaking winning run in all competitions to 18 matches and restore a 10-point advantage at the Premier League summit.

Guardiola's side briefly threatened to run away with the contest, but Saka's threat from the left flank brought Arsenal back into the match.

The 19-year-old England international completed all three of his attempted dribbles, while three shots were more than any of his team-mates managed.

"All the team suffered when Arsenal had the ball," Guardiola told a post-match news conference

"With [Martin] Odegaard and especially with Saka they are a really tough opponent to play. They have incredible young, talented players and I see a bright, bright future for Arsenal.

"If they can get a few players in a few positions they will make an incredible step forward. They are a team who make all the opponents suffer a lot when they play against them."

There are perhaps no City players more adept when it comes to addressing the suffering their manager identified than veteran holding midfielder Fernandinho.

The 35-year-old club captain made his first Premier League start since the end of January and gained possession nine times – more than any other City player.

Fernandinho also stood above his team-mates in terms of clearances (four), tackles (three) and interceptions (two).

"What a game, what a game he played – without the ball, winning duels in the important moments," Guardiola said.

"Rodri has been exceptional but needs rest. What a game Fernandinho played. He is an incredible player, person and captain.

"Always, I will remember him. We have been together since day one and he has been so important."

That association could come to an end at the end of the season, when Fernandinho's contract expires, but Guardiola suggested he could be capable of similar feats next term.

"Why not? He's so incredible," he added. "He knows exactly what he has to do. What a game he played in a tough, tough game."

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero is reportedly wanted by Barcelona.

Aguero's future at City is uncertain with the 32-year-old coming out of contract at the end of the season.

And the forward is unsurprisingly wanted by Europe's biggest clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA WANT AGUERO

Barcelona are eyeing Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, according to The Sun.

Aguero has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain as City's all-time leading goalscorer entered the final six months of his contract.

The Argentina international has scored two goals in nine games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Barcelona and Eric Garcia looks set to join the club from City. The cover of Mundo Deportivo says Garcia is poised to move to Barca in January in a deal worth €5million (£4.5m) plus variables.

- Also facing an uncertain future is Fernandinho. The Telegraph reports Fernandinho is undecided about his future, with the City man having offers from South America.

- Matteo Guendouzi is set to see out his loan spell at Hertha Berlin. Fabrizio Romano says the midfielder will not return to Arsenal in January, with the Bundesliga club wanting him to stay until season's end.

- Wolves seem unlikely to sign a forward in January. The Mirror claims they have aborted interested in Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- With Frank Lampard under pressure at the helm of Chelsea, help could be incoming. Sky Sports reports Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is considering bringing back former manager Avram Grant to work with Lampard.

Fernandinho is close to making a decision on his Manchester City future with a number of clubs interested in signing the midfielder, according to agent Giovanni Branchini. 

The 35-year-old is into the final six months of his deal at the Etihad Stadium having signed a one-year extension with the Premier League club in January 2020. 

Pep Guardiola revealed earlier this week that the Brazil international, who is in his eighth season with City, may move on at the end of the campaign. 

A return to Brazilian side Athletico Paranaense, where he started his career before moving to Shakhtar Donetsk and then City, has been touted. 

Branchini has confirmed that approaches have been made for his client and he is now weighing up what to do next. 

"We've received several proposals, good projects from Brazilian and European clubs for Fernandinho," he told Globo Esporte.  

"He's a phenomenal player and person. I believe it won't be long before he knows what decision he'll make.

"Everyone knows that Fernandinho has a great affection for Athletico and the board. I, too, have an excellent relationship with president Mario Celso Petraglia. 

"Conversations have always happened, but I can't go ahead and say that we talk about values, for example. It hasn't happened yet. 

"I confess that it's difficult to think of Fernandinho returning to Brazil and not playing for Athletico. But we have to wait - it's a difficult decision, which he has to make with his family." 

Fernandinho has been a regular for City since joining from Shakhtar for a reported £30million in June 2013, featuring more than 300 times in all competitions. 

That includes 15 outings this season, eight of which have come in the Premier League, albeit just three starts. 

He has made 57 passes into the final third during his league outings at a rate of 15.18 per 90 minutes, placing him behind only Jordan Henderson (16.31) and Pablo Hernandez (16.57) among players to have played at least at least six times. 

Only six players have played more passes per 90 minutes than Fernandinho's average of 84.94 - a metric topped by Liverpool skipper Henderson (97.99).  

City have won one, drawn one and lost one of the three league games Fernandinho has started this term for a win rate of 33.3 per cent, which rises to 58.3 per cent in the 12 games he has not been included in the XI.

Sergio Aguero's mood is "better than ever" as he tentatively nears the end of an injury nightmare, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola confirmed City's all-time top scorer will start Sunday's FA Cup third-round tie against Birmingham City at the Etihad Stadium as he looks to put the after-effects of meniscus surgery behind him.

Aguero underwent an operation in June and has been forced to manage ongoing discomfort in the joint since a hamstring injury at West Ham curtailed his initial return in October.

Despite being ravaged by a coronavirus outbreak among their squad, City head into the weekend buoyed by their two finest performances of the season - a swashbuckling 3-1 win over Chelsea preceding a 2-0 win against rivals Manchester United in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup.

Four minutes from the bench at Stamford Bridge was the sum of Aguero's action across the those games, as he was an unused substitute at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, his goalscoring prowess has been an obvious miss across the course of the campaign. In their most recent title-winning season, City averaged 2.6 goals per game in the Premier League with Aguero in the side.

That has fallen to 1.6 in all matches this time around, with a win percentage of 53.9 per cent, set against 84.8 with Aguero in harness two seasons ago. Shots per 90 minutes are also down from 18.1 to 15.6 when the two data sets are compared.

"Just look at the numbers, the quality he has in the box, Sergio is unique," Guardiola told a pre-match news conference.

"He has a tough, tough injury. The important thing is his mood is exceptional, I would say better than ever.

"It's important that the feeling, the last two weeks, his knee's reaction was really good after training. This is the best news we can have.

"He’s going to start, the minutes his performance level or knee will dictate. What's important is good quality minutes, as much as possible, we start from the beginning and after we'll see what happens.

"It will be great to have Sergio fit. He’s so optimistic. He says 'I will score goals' and that is the most important thing."

Aguero is out of contract at the end of the season, as is fellow fans' favourite Fernandinho.

The 35-year-old Brazil international has returned to his customary central midfield position this season, having deputised at centre-back for much of last, and completed the scoring with a sweetly struck volley against United in midweek.

Following the departure of David Silva over the close season, Fernandinho has stepped up as club captain and impressed Guardiola greatly with his leadership skills.

"With the players in this part of the season, everything is open," Guardiola said, when discussing the prospect of the veteran earning a fresh deal.

"I am more than impressed with the first captain role of Fernandinho, he is leading in an exceptional way. In the good moments and the bad, bad moments.

"If everyone can take an example of what he has done so far, the team will be stronger."

Pressed for examples of how the quietly spoken star commands the dressing room, Guardiola replied: "How he talks with his mates, how he talks with my assistant coach, before the game, at half-time.

"Not just talking to players about football matters, in life, how to behave in training, every single day. He's the first who proves that he's able to do it.

"That's why he goes to Old Trafford, plays holding midfielder there. It was not easy for Bruno Fernandes to control him.

"At the beginning of the season he stepped forward and showed how to be a captain."

City will have Ederson, Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle available for selection once more, provided they returned negative COVID-19 tests on Friday.

The trio tested positive ahead of the postponed Premier League match at Everton on December 28.

Pep Guardiola dedicated Manchester City's 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win over Manchester United to club great Colin Bell.

Former City and England midfielder Bell died on Tuesday after a short illness, aged 74.

City's players wore retro shirts bearing Bell's number eight before kick-off at Old Trafford, where a minute's silence was observed.

When the action got underway, an absorbing contest at odds with a dour 0-0 draw between the sides in the Premier League last month ensued, with City prevailing thanks to second-half goals from John Stones and Fernandinho.

"It's for him and, of course, for his family," Guardiola told Sky Sports in a post-match interview which he conducted wearing a t-shirt featuring Bell's likeness.

"This person helped to build something special for this club that doesn't have many, many trophies in the cabinet. But that is not important.

"What is important is the legacy that players provide from the past and some of these players in the future. That is the club we have now.

"It is an incredible victory for us to beat United away and be in another final.

"But especially today, it is for him. Absolutely."

City might be considered to have "many, many" EFL Cups if they are able to claim a fourth in a row against Tottenham in April's final.

Guardiola praised his players for a notable upturn in form of late after they followed up Sunday's swashbuckling 3-1 win over Chelsea in impressive fashion, despite Scott Carson and Cole Palmer taking the number of positive COVID-19 tests among his squad to eight since Christmas Day.

"You are frustrated when you play bad. When the team don't run, don't help, don't celebrate every defensive action," he said, rejecting the suggestion he was unhappy after a goalless first half.

"The team is ready. That is why we came here with an outstanding performance.

"We suffered a little bit in the second half because we were tired after the game at Stamford Bridge. They had two more days off to rest but when a team has the mentality to do it we achieve something incredible.

"I know the Carabao Cup is not the Champions League but four times in a row reaching the final is incredible. I am so impressed by the quality of this team."

As Manchester City's players huddled around the centre circle in number eight shirts to pay a poignant pre-match tribute to Colin Bell, it occurred a Pep Guardiola team might never have been so fittingly dressed.

England international Bell, widely revered as the finest player in City's history, passed away after a short illness on the eve Wednesday's 2-0 Manchester derby win the semi-final of the EFL Cup.

Bell, according to the loud and often repeated refrain of the Kippax Stand at City's old Maine Road home, was the greatest inside forward that the world had ever seen.

A technically gifted all-round midfielder, somehow simultaneously graceful and powerful, Bell thrived in those dangerous pockets between winger and centre-forward to cause maximum damage in Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's celebrated City teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The inside forward had long gone out of fashion before Pep Guardiola ushered in his era of "free eights". From Xavi and Iniesta, through Thiago Alcantara and Toni Kroos to David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, City's former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss delights in filling his side with such players.

During Sunday's swaggering 3-1 win over Chelsea, De Bruyne was joined in the line-up by Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. That quartet of playmakers probably would have resumed duties together at Old Trafford had Silva not been suspended.

After paying tribute to City's eternal eight, Guardiola's team of number eights got to work. Where the league fixture on this ground a month ago was as stodgy as the pitches Bell graced in his heyday, the pop and fizz to the early passing was much more in "Nijinsky's" image.

The date of January 1 is typically the time for New Year's resolutions but for some footballers in Europe's top five leagues it signals the day they can plot a lucrative move to a new club.

A number of top players, including Barcelona's Lionel Messi, are out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and from the start of the year are free to open talks with other teams.

Messi, of course, will be the one that takes the limelight but there are some other big-name players who will be free to leave their clubs for nothing in six months.

Here's the best players (and a couple of pretty good second choices) who are out of contract in 2021 and make up a free transfers XI.

FREE TRANSFERS XI (4-3-3)

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Marko Dmitrovic)
The youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy – at 17 years and 189 days – has now matured into one of Serie A's most consistent performers between the sticks. The 21-year-old has been key to Milan's surge to the top of the table with four clean sheets in the league so far this season.

RB: Elseid Hysaj (Kenny Lala)
Comfortable on both the right and left flanks the versatile Albanian full-back, 26, has been a dependable, and largely unsung, part of Napoli's defence since 2015. He may lack the eye-catching assists of attacking defenders but Hysaj uses the ball intelligently in possession.

CB: Eric Garcia (Shkodran Mustafi)
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy he joined Manchester City in 2017 where Pep Guardiola has been influential in his development. Blessed with an excellent reading of the game, and a superb positional sense, the 19-year-old has rejected a new contract at City and appears hungry for regular first-team football elsewhere.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Jerome Boateng)
The knees might be creaking at the age of 34, but the Real Madrid and Spain centre-back's mix of bloody-minded determination and charismatic leadership make him an asset to nearly any defence despite being at the back end of his career.

LB: David Alaba (Romain Saiss)
Able to operate in defence or midfield the 28-year-old Austria international has spent a decade as one of Bayern Munich's most consistent and reliable players. With nine Bundesliga and two Champions League winners' medals under his belt he has bucketloads of experience at the top level.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Hakan Calhanoglu)
The Dutch midfielder has been converted by Jurgen Klopp from a goalscoring attacker into an intelligent midfield workaholic integral to Liverpool's style of play. Largely unheralded, he is man for the big occasion as his two goals in Liverpool's famous 4-0 comeback win over Barcelona demonstrate.

CM: Fernandinho (Mesut Ozil)
He turns 36 next May, and may lack the bite of old, but the Brazilian still has a lot to offer either as an efficient defensive midfielder or classy centre-back. Another player whose influence and quality may only be fully appreciated by City when he has actually left the club.

CM: Luka Modric (Julian Draxler)
A cultured and experienced midfield playmaker who, despite his diminutive frame, still oozes class whenever he is on the ball. Part of the furniture at Real Madrid since 2012 the 35-year-old Croatian looks like he still has plenty of years at the top ahead of him provided injuries do not take their toll.

RF: Lionel Messi (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Vazquez)
Should he stay or should he go? The transfer saga of 2020 looks set to dominate much of 2021 as well. Barcelona's greatest ever player needs no introduction. Since his debut in October 2004, Barca have won 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without Messi (won 66, drawn 39 and lost 22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (won 368, drawn 83 and lost 48).

CF: Sergio Aguero (Olivier Giroud, Arkadiusz Milik, Diego Costa)
Injury problems appear to be catching up with the 32-year-old Manchester City striker. On his day, there are few better natural finishers around. Aguero has more hat-tricks (12) than anyone else in the Premier League and is the highest non-English scorer in the history of the competition with 180 goals.

LF: Memphis Depay (Angel Di Maria)
A pitiful return of just two league goals in 33 appearances saw him jettisoned by Manchester United in 2017 but since then Depay has rebuilt his career and started to flourish. The Dutch forward has a respectable 62 goals in 154 appearances for Lyon in Ligue 1 and aged 26 is about to hit his peak.

Fernandinho believes Gabriel Jesus' pace and passion can give Manchester City's attack the cutting edge they have lacked this season.

Jesus came off the bench during the second half of City's 0-0 draw at Porto on Tuesday, a result that sealed top spot in Champions League Group C.

It was a frustrating outing in front of goal for Pep Guardiola's side, something that has become familiar during a stuttering start that sees them lying 11th in a compressed Premier League table, and City's 18 attempts were their most without scoring in a Champions League match.

Jesus looked to have ended their frustration 10 minutes from time, beating inspired Porto goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin at the second attempt before a VAR review showed Joao Cancelo was offside before delivering the cross to set him up.

The Brazil striker has three goals from seven appearances in an injury-interrupted campaign and his compatriot Fernandinho believes Jesus gives another dimension to a City forward line that is still without Sergio Aguero after his latest knee setback.

"A striker always should be alert in the box and he showed his quality," the veteran midfielder told BT Sport.

"Unfortunately, it was offside but I'm glad for him. He changed the game with his passion and his pace

"It was a good point for us and we’re glad to finish top of the group."

Fernandinho made his first start since suffering an injury during the initial encounter with Porto in Manchester six weeks ago.

He was in the thick of a frequently combative affair - contesting 10 duels, making three interceptions and committing five fouls, while also winning a pair of free-kicks.

"It's important to get one point away from home. Especially against a tough team like they are," the 35-year-old said.

"They fought the whole game to get the point and go through as well.

"I think we tried to win the game since the beginning. We tried to play our game since the first minute."

Pep Guardiola is expecting captain Fernandinho to be out of action for between four to six weeks after the midfielder sustained another injury in Manchester City's win over Porto.

The Brazil international was brought on in the 85th minute of Wednesday's Group C clash at the Etihad Stadium but failed to see out the game after pulling up with a suspected leg injury.

He has suffered several muscle issues in recent seasons, seeing him sit out 15 games two seasons ago as City won a clean sweep of domestic honours.

And Guardiola, who was also without Gabriel Jesus, Nathan Ake, Benjamin Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte against Porto, is predicting another lay-off for the versatile midfielder.

"It is bad news. It is in the place he was injured before," Guardiola told BT Sport. "He will be out a long time. It's happened."

Fernandinho has made 228 Premier League appearances for City since joining the club in 2013, often filling in as an auxiliary centre-back in recent times.

Providing a further update at his post-match news conference, Guardiola added: "It will be four to six weeks. It's a big blow as we have a run of games ahead and no people there."

However, Guardiola delivered more positive news on the fitness of De Bruyne and Laporte, with the key pair possibly in contention for Saturday's league trip to West Ham.

"I think Kevin and Laporte start training tomorrow but I don't know how they will be tomorrow and the next days so we will see," he said.

"Unfortunately people came back and now we have lost another but it is really important to come back. 

"In three days we go to London and after we travel to France to play against Marseille and then Sheffield [United] three days after.

"The schedules are so demanding and we need all the players."

City trailed to Luis Diaz's impressive early solo strike against Portuguese champions Porto but soon hit back through Sergio Aguero's penalty, awarded for Pepe's sloppy challenge on Raheem Sterling.

Ilkay Gundogan then put his side in front with a dipping free-kick and substitute Ferran Torres added a third 17 minutes from time as the hosts made a winning start to their 10th successive Champions League campaign.

"This is a good start for us. The last 10-15 minutes of the first half and the start of the second we played well," Guardiola said.

"Obviously we concede the first goal so it was even more difficult to come back. In periods we played quite well and in periods we can still improve. 

"So at the end the most important thing is we have the three points and started well to the competition."

Gundogan's stunning free-kick was the turning point in the contest, the German midfielder sending his effort up and over the wall as Guardiola was preparing to replace him.

"I'm glad he didn't [make the substitution]!" Gundogan told BT Sport. "I was quite sure he was going to take me off but saw there was an opportunity for me so thankfully he didn't sub me.

"I have to admit I don't practice it a lot but there are certain distances I feel comfortable with a free-kick. 

"That was the perfect distance for me. I had a little discussion with Raheem and I was quite confident to take it. Thanks to him for allowing me to take it. Obviously I'm very happy I could score."

Fernandinho will be Manchester City's captain for the 2020-21 season, manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

David Silva took the armband after the departure of long-serving skipper Vincent Kompany last season before the Spain playmaker opted to call time on his decade-long stay at the Etihad Stadium.

It means the responsibility will now be passed to Fernandinho, another stalwart of City's modern era, after the 35-year-old was voted captain by his team-mates and other members of staff.

"He will be good [as a leader], as he always has been since I met him," Guardiola said of the Brazil international who joined City from Shakhtar Donetsk for £30million in 2013 and is out of contract next June.

"It doesn’t matter [whether or not Fernandinho has] the armband, he is always a guy who leads in the bad moments.

"We decided in the locker room, the players, the backroom staff, we decided that Fernandinho is captain and I am more than delighted with that."

A versatile performer across midfield throughout his career, Fernandinho reverted to centre-back last season and looks well-placed to retain that role in City's Premier League season opener at Wolves on Monday.

Aymeric Laporte only returned to training on Friday after a positive coronavirus test and is short of match fitness.

Guardiola did bolster his central defensive options with the £40m capture of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth but attempts to recruit Kalidou Koulibaly have stalled.

A report from Marca over the weekend claimed City were looking to Sevilla's Jules Kounde as an alternative and the Europa League winners had rejected an opening bid of £51.7m.

Irrespective of the position in which he adds to 314 appearances across all competitions for City, Fernandinho's role as a guiding influence to youngsters like Phil Foden could also be key.

Foden is aiming to build on a breakthrough campaign last time around but badly undermined his preparations for the new season when he broke coronavirus protocols while on international duty with England in Iceland and was sent home in disgrace.

Manchester United youngster Mason Greenwood also erred alongside Foden, with the duo entertaining women at England's team hotel in breach of strict self-isolation rules.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went on the offensive last week, questioning England's handling on Greenwood at a time when he was physically and mentally fatigued.

However, Guardiola believes Foden should simply learn from an error of judgement for which he has must accept responsibility.

"I am pretty sure Phil is going to make a good season," he said. "He knows he made a mistake.

"If every one of us put the same high expectations on ourselves as we put on others, our society would be better.

"Look to what you have done in the past when you demand things of other ones and stick to what you have to do."

Back when Pep Guardiola was in his playing pomp and Zinedine Zidane was plotting his path towards the summit of the European game, elite clubs loved to look towards Brazilian brilliance to supply a vital measure of Champions League pizzazz.

Guardiola could delight in picking out the lethal Romario from midfield. Where he trod for Barcelona, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho duly followed.

"Pep has a special feeling for Brazilian players," Guardiola's former assistant and newly appointed Flamengo boss Domenec Torrent told Globoesporte earlier this year.

"In fact, he has a preference for Brazilians because they are very versatile and can adapt to any type of football."

It was little surprise to see Brazil internationals at the heart of Guardiola's plans for Friday's Champions League showdown with Real Madrid, with a 2-1 win and 4-2 aggregate victory their reward. But Jogo Bonito, this was not.

FERNANDINHO'S STEADYING HAND

Eric Garcia's decision to reject a new contract at City has the teenage centre-back heading for the exit door – a situation sure to have caused his manager anguish on the eve of Madrid's arrival in Manchester.

Guardiola has placed great faith in a 19-year-old he declares "does not make mistakes". Negotiating your way out of a potentially triumphant Champions League campaign might count as one.

Garcia had established himself as Aymeric Laporte's first-choice partner in central defence over recent weeks. His apparently pending return to boyhood club Barcelona meant a defensive recall for a man 16 years his senior.

In their first season since Vincent Kompany's departure, City have wanted for leadership and presence on the big occasions. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all have victories over them.

The sight of Fernandinho, striding out as captain felt like a grown-up heading into a situation where one was required. Converted from a central midfielder this season, he made a perfectly judged tackle when the in-form Karim Benzema lurked on the edge of the City area in the fifth minute.

TIRELESS JESUS GIVES VARANE NO REST

At the other end of the field, Fernandinho's international team-mate Gabriel Jesus resumed the hard yards he carried out in City's 2-1 first-leg win. Guardiola doesn't often have a need for left-wing donkey work. When he does, Jesus dutifully trots over from centre-forward and gets to work. Romario would never have entertained such a thing.

Jesus lined up in an ever-alert and harassing front three alongside Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling. He seized upon Raphael Varane's first error of a personal ordeal to selflessly give Sterling his 100th goal in City colours.

The Brazilian in the City line-up possessing the most flair was arguably their goalkeeper. Ederson's passing was once again bafflingly good in its range an execution, but he had the basics of his craft in immaculate order as he denied Benzema sharply and snaffled any other shot that came his way.

He had little chance when Madrid's number nine powered in a header to equalise on the night. After that wobble, Jesus bought a free-kick then won a header from a long ball pumped to his flank.

Little flecks of dirty work to draw the sting from a difficult moment. And all while a Yorkshireman at right-back was gallivanting about like gloriously renegade Cafu. Kyle Walker gained possession nine times - more than any other City player - and won all seven of his duels.

MADRID'S AURA EBBS AWAY

As has been the case over the course of City's season, chances were created and spurned by vibrant but profligate attackers. If they lose in Lisbon, it will probably be in circumstances were they feel they shouldn't have.

It felt dicey to have left the door ajar to such greats of the competition. But during an increasingly torrid second period for Madrid – in line with Juventus's woes in Turin – the layers of an aura fell away and time ticked loudly on some great careers.

Kevin De Bruyne was romping around and tearing holes in a manner reminiscent of the man in the away dugout and errors from a ragged Madrid defence were piling up.

Dani Carvajal, who could have done without Sterling's company when Guardiola shuffled his front three at half-time, coughed up possession 15 times. Ferland Mendy and Varane were also into double figures in that regard, with the latter culpable when the tie was put to bed.

Lurking with maximum nuisance value was Jesus, producing a one-touch finish to make Romario and his other great countrymen purr. A moment of triumph etched from a thousand beads of sweat rolling down Guardiola's robust Brazilian spine.

Manchester City's record signing Rodri has been picking the brains of Pep Guardiola as he seeks to get to grips with the Premier League.

The 23-year-old Spain international has been a mainstay for Guardiola's men since joining City from Atletico Madrid last year, making 39 appearances in all competitions.

An elegant operator at the base of the midfield, Rodri has chipped in with some valuable goals – most notably a blistering strike from the edge of the box in a 4-1 win at Burnley and header that ultimately proved decisive in the 2-1 EFL Cup final win over Aston Villa.

However, the former Villarreal player has sometimes appeared ill at ease with the pace of the play around him, with Liverpool storming into a 25-point lead that left them on the brink of ending City's two-season reign as champions when the Premier League went on hiatus.

Whenever a resumption comes, Rodri feels he is working under the best man to learn and improve.

"To me, he is the best coach in the world. His success speaks for himself. Everything that he's won with all the clubs he's been at," he said.

"I have learnt lots of things from him, I couldn't say only one. He has lots of experience as a player and as a coach. It helps me a lot that he played in the same position as me.

"It's not easy for me as a young player, coming from LaLiga, to fit in the Premier League with such competition, [where it's] so strong physically, with great teams, but it has been an amazing experience this first season.

"I try to learn every day from him [Guardiola]. He has helped me a lot, especially tactically. It's been the first time I played alone as a holding midfielder, so I have to adapt to the new situation. I'm happy because I fit very well with the team and the club. I feel I'm growing every day."

When it comes to teething problems in the Premier League, Rodri cites a familiar problem for new imports.

"It's another style of football. You can't take a breath or relax during the 90 minutes, not even for one second," he said.

"I realised straight away that in this league you need to think really quickly. I tried to adapt my game in the first games of the season.

"When I got the pace of the Premier League, I also started adapting my game and my skills to the team.

"It wasn't easy, because we have lots of attacking players, but we need to defend as well. One of my biggest responsibilities in the team is specifically that part."

Rodri is playing a role in which Fernandinho has excelled under Guardiola.

However, form and fitness issues for specialists in the position have left the veteran Brazil international operating exclusively at centre-back this season.

"He has helped me a lot," Rodri said of Fernandinho. "He is now playing more often as a centre-back so that he can have a bigger picture of the game.

"He has helped me a lot from the back, [telling me] where to find the spaces.

"What I learnt the most from him is the experience he has. He's 35 years old, he has been at the club for seven seasons now. So I listen to him a lot and try to learn a lot from him."

Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho is "very much missing football" with the season suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Premier League campaign was stopped last month because of COVID-19, which has killed more than 206,000 people worldwide.

Fernandinho, who returned home to Brazil with his family, is feeling football's absence during the break.

"I am very much missing football. Not just the football, but my relationships with my team-mates, with the staff and all the people at the club," he told the club's website.

"I miss arriving at the club in the morning, having a chat with everyone in the kitchen. This is a tough time for everybody, and I am feeling it right now because I am really missing everyone."

City were sitting second – 25 points adrift of Liverpool – when the Premier League season was stopped.

While Fernandinho is staying in touch with his team-mates, the 34-year-old admitted it is difficult living in isolation, as he misses all aspects of life at the club.

"[I miss] the training sessions, the relationships with team-mates and staff, the time before training you are talking with the physios, sometimes the kitchen after breakfast and even on the pitch before training starts. Everything," he said.

"We live in different ways so now we are just isolated far from everyone. You make some phone and video calls, but it is not the same. It is hard to be honest."

Page 1 of 3
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.