Pep Guardiola believes Gabriel Jesus should be valued in his own right at Manchester City and not compared unfavourably to the club's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

A knee injury to Aguero has afforded Jesus his latest chance for an extended run as first-choice striker at City, although the opportunity has arrived with the Brazil international enduring a barren run in front of goal.

Since scoring a vital winner at Leicester City and heading in the equaliser in City's 2-1 Champions League win at Real Madrid in February, the 23-year-old has gone eight matches without adding to his season tally of 18.

As his attacking colleagues dazzled in Thursday's 4-0 win over Premier League champions Liverpool, Jesus endured another evening of personal frustration and missed the opportunity for a statement performance with the 32-year-old Aguero into the final year of his contract.

Ahead of Sunday's trip to face Southampton at St Mary's – where Jesus enjoyed one of the highlights of his City career two years ago, scoring decisively in stoppage time to seal a 100-point season in 2017-18 – Guardiola offered his backing, citing the forward's "unique" selfless qualities.

"No one can compare to Sergio, what he has done in his career – first because he is older than Gabriel," he said.

"It is perfect for us because they are complimentary. What one guy has the other one maybe struggles with.

"Gabriel has something that is unique in the world. He helps us to be more aggressive. He is a fighter.

"I remember how many goals we have scored the last three or four or five games thanks to him.

"Gabriel is something special for us. It is unfair to compare players. Every player is different. We have to adapt his qualities for the benefit of him and the team."

By contrast, there are no notable questions over the talents of midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne at present.

The playmaker turned in another swashbuckling showing to down Liverpool, opening the scoring with his fourth consecutive penalty conversion before having a hand in all of the other goals.

De Bruyne wore the captain's armband last time out and, a year on from long-time skipper Vincent Kompany leaving City and with club captain David Silva heading for the exit door, Guardiola praised the 29-year-old's growing leadership qualities.

"Yes [he is a leader], for the role he takes in the locker room and takes responsibility on the pitch," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss added.

"When he is captain, he wants to be captain. He wants to help, he wants to play a part and put the club and the team in front of himself.

"For sure [I see increased maturity]. Myself, I am not the same person I was when I was 25. I changed in many things. Kevin, for sure."

Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in world football, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Liverpool's first outing as Premier League champions proved one to forget as Guardiola's dethroned City ran out 4-0 winners at the Etihad Stadium.

De Bruyne slotted home a 25th-minute penalty after Joe Gomez fouled Raheem Sterling, who doubled the advantage against his old employers 10 minutes later.

Phil Foden made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain turned Sterling's shot into his own net to complete the scoring.

The latter two goals featured typically precise De Bruyne passes in the build-up and the Belgium midfielder underlined his case for being the Premier League's outstanding player against unquestionably the division's outstanding team this season.

"He is a really good player. A really, really good player. He has something unique," Guardiola told reporters afterwards.

"He can run, the vision he has. The personality he shows right now, scoring four penalties in a row when we struggled this season with them.

"Right now in the midfield position is the best.

"Of course he can get better. How? He knows it."

Foden was again worthy of praise within the supporting cast, with the England Under-21 midfielder's assured finish bringing his fourth goal in three Premier League outings since the resumption.

"What we have done is try to protect him," Guardiola said.

"Don’t let him play every single game. Young players have to be careful in the first steps.

"He has an incredible thing that makes me convinced for the next decade he will be an incredible player.

"There is not one day when he has had a bad face for not playing. In training sessions, every single action is positive. Every one – look forward, don't regret.

"He is a huge competitor, he is a guy who scores incredible goals, so fast, defensively so strong.

"It's a reality that he played at Old Trafford, he played here. Against incredibly top teams he was there, always playing at a high level.

"I don't want to say anything wrong, but Gareth Southgate has an incredible talent for the national team in his hands. I saw many players in my life, training with incredible players and Phil will be one of them."

Foden's fellow academy graduate Eric Garcia returned to action after suffering a concussion in the 3-0 win against Arsenal and recovered well from a shaky start at centre-back, after Mohamed Salah hit the post during a deceptively strong Liverpool start.

"He played against Salah and [Sadio] Mane. He's 19, he had a kick against Arsenal, was training for three or four days after 10 days out and he was awesome," Guardiola added.

"He doesn't make mistakes. He is always focused, he guides the line, he knows what he has to do.

"As a club, we are so proud to have Phil and Eric. We can count on them, without a doubt."

If it was a night that carried the now familiar whiff of fireworks for Liverpool, it was one that reeked of total humiliation for Manchester City.

Even after dazzling showings from their goalscorers Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in an irresistible 4-0 win, the gap is 20 points. The analysis of where a Premier League title defence helmed by the most celebrated coach of a generation went so far awry should be unsparing.

But, as Pep Guardiola has pointed out frequently since the Premier League title was ceded to Merseyside, City still have plenty to play for this season. The EFL Cup can still be joined in the trophy cabinet by the FA Cup and the Champions League.

They started tentatively – their trademark passing from the back dangerously pedestrian against the most ravenous press in world football, even allowing for the prospect of a week's liquid refreshment drawing some of its bite.

Ederson made a double save from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino before the former skipped inside Eric Garcia to hit the post.

At that point, Guardiola's mind might have flashed back to a match that was both stinging for him as a proud Catalan and hugely significant in his own career.

After Barcelona surrendered LaLiga to Real Madrid in 2007-08, Frank Rijkaard's side performed a guard of honour for their bitter rivals – albeit at a braying Santiago Bernabeu as opposed to a deserted Etihad Stadium – and were soundly beaten 4-1.

It was an abject embarrassment that rubber-stamped the end of Rijkaard's tenure and Guardiola's elevation from the B team.

His rise has continued more or less unchecked ever since, except for encounters with Jurgen Klopp teams.

A win here does little to remove the stains of an inadequate title defence, but another league loss to follow the error-strewn reverse at Chelsea that gift-wrapped the trophy Liverpool craved beyond all others could have done significant damage.

A creaky defence, all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero crocked, Leroy Sane in Munich never to return. As Salah led blue shirts a merry dance during the opening exchanges, it was easy to see more Mancunian misery unfolding.

But De Bruyne was having absolutely none of that. The Premier League's outstanding player was about to take apart the Premier League's outstanding team.

Even as his team-mates struggled to find their footing early on, two glorious passes released Gabriel Jesus, only for the Brazil forward to mistime his runs.

Guardiola's heart will have been in his mouth when his midfield talisman trod on the ball and landed in a twisted heap for a rare unsuccessful assault on the Liverpool backline.

Hopes of FA Cup and Champions League glory can be launched into the sky with whatever assortment of corner shop explosives you like if City don't have De Bruyne fully fit.

It feels like a trick of the mind that the Belgium playmaker was confined to the margins by two medial knee ligament injuries last term, as City edged Liverpool in that titanic title tussle. He is the heart and soul of a team that has shown too little of those qualities as a collective at times in 2019-20.

The supporting cast sparkled here, though, with Sterling enjoying an overdue night of revelry against his former employers.

According to most versions of events, Joe Gomez handled a rampaging Sterling far more effectively in the St George's Park canteen last November than he did here.

The Liverpool centre-back grappled to foul his international team-mate and De Bruyne slotted the opener from the penalty spot. Gomez could not stop Sterling doubling the advantage and was substituted at half-time.

By that point, De Bruyne had pinged a one-two into the path of Foden for an ebullient finish. There was no let-up early in the second period – Jesus drove at the Liverpool defence and shot too close to Alisson, Sterling saw an effort deflected wide after a run of his own and Virgil van Dijk intervened in the goalmouth to deny Foden.

There was undoubted catharsis in all of this for City, as De Bruyne worked through his full repertoire. Another pass of geometric precision had the insatiable Sterling looking for number four, which arrived as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his fine scoring run in this fixture in the wrong net.

A headed attempt by De Bruyne to make it five was more Ballon p'Or than Ballon d'Or, but his unrelenting brilliance was the source of relief and pride for City and Guardiola. In the wider context this result can mean little more.

Nevertheless, they have a base camp for the next instalment of a domestic rivalry that has enthralled for three years. "Next season starts today," a defiant Sterling told Sky Sports afterwards.

In Europe, they could be punting for the big prize next month with a two-season ban confirmed. De Bruyne operating in that last chance saloon is a terrifying prospect for anyone.

Liverpool's first game since being confirmed as Premier League champions did not go to plan as deposed title-holders Manchester City romped to a 4-0 win at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

The Reds' first top-flight title in 30 years was confirmed when City lost to Chelsea last week and the celebrations of their long-awaited success perhaps caught up with Jurgen Klopp's side, who were ruthlessly dismantled by the rampant hosts. 

A Kevin De Bruyne penalty and clinical finishes from Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden put the game to bed before half-time, while an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal in the second half added to the ignominy.

Liverpool remain a whopping 20 points ahead of City, who are 11 clear of third-place Leicester City.

The visitors had started brightly, Mohamed Salah crashing a low effort against the post inside the opening 20 minutes.

City soon hit the front, though, De Bruyne stroking home a 25th-minute penalty after Sterling was hauled down by Joe Gomez following a sumptuous turn.

Sterling made it 2-0 when he collected Foden's pass inside the area and cleverly clipped past Alisson from eight yards.

Foden added a sublime third shortly before the break, firing over Alisson after the brilliant De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan had combined to carve open Liverpool's defence.

Substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain then turned into his own net in the 66th minute as he stretched to clear Sterling's effort on goal.

City substitute Riyad Mahrez had a stoppage-time goal ruled out by VAR after a handball by Foden in the build-up, but it mattered little as the damage had been well and truly inflicted on Klopp's men by then.

 

What does it mean? Wounded City humble new champions

Given the scoreline, you would be forgiven for thinking Klopp had decided to field a team of youngsters following their confirmation as Premier League champions. As it was, this was the Reds' strongest XI. They were no match for a City side clearly hurt by losing their title last week, though.

Pep Guardiola will have seen this as an opportunity to lay down a marker for next season and his side did not let him down. Roll on the 2020-21 campaign.

Sterling finally makes his mark against Reds

The England international had to wait until his ninth appearance against his former club to net against them and he certainly enjoyed the moment. He was superb throughout, linking up with De Bruyne and Foden to devastating effect.

Gomez endures game to forget       

Gomez and Sterling had a spat while on England duty last year and the Liverpool defender had a torrid time against his international colleague here.

The City man forced Gomez into a foul for De Bruyne's penalty and generally ran him ragged throughout.

What's next?

Guardiola's men travel to Southampton on Sunday, while the Reds host relegation-threatened Aston Villa at Anfield on the same day.

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Ahead of Liverpool's trip to City on Thursday, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

Kevin De Bruyne has been backed to solve Manchester City's penalties problem after his spot-kick helped Pep Guardiola's team sink Newcastle United.

The Belgian drove home a first-half penalty, with Raheem Sterling wrapping up a 2-0 victory in the FA Cup quarter-finals when he fired home from outside the box in the second half.

City saw their reign as Premier League champions ended by Liverpool, and a poor spot-kick record did not help their cause, with Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan all failing from 12 yards this season.

De Bruyne showed precision with the penalty that gave City a memorable 2-1 at Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie back in February.

He was again entrusted with the job at St James' Park, sweeping the ball beyond Karl Darlow.

When asked about De Bruyne's penalty prowess, Guardiola said: "Hopefully he can maintain his level because we struggled without him this season. I think we've missed five or six penalties. Much too much.

"With different takers, we've struggled a lot. I remember many games where we dropped points and now Kevin takes the responsibility.

"We've scored three or four since we came back. It's important for us to have his confident personality and to try and continue to score those."

De Bruyne converted a penalty against Arsenal in City's first game back after the coronavirus stoppage, with Riyad Mahrez netting a spot-kick in the 5-0 win over Burnley.

Mahrez took responsibility that time as De Bruyne was a substitute, but when the former Wolfsburg player is involved, which will be in most if not all of City's crunch fixtures, the duty will be his.

Guardiola wants City to be faultless across all departments over the closing weeks of the season; despite Liverpool being confirmed as Premier League champions they still have a potential treble on the cards, having already won the EFL Cup.

An FA Cup semi-final against former Mikel Arteta's Arsenal awaits, while City will hope to go further in the Champions League. The second leg of the Madrid tie will be played on August 7 or 8, UEFA recently announced.

"We have spoken [with the players] after what happened in the Premier League," Guardiola said.

"We need two more victories to qualify for the [2020-21] Champions League mathematically and after lockdown, we said that two competitions are still on course.

"Now we make the first step, a semi-final and it will be good. It will be good to arrive for Madrid in the best physical condition to play these kinds of games. To reach the [FA Cup] final will be the best preparation, to win the title and to prepare [for the game] against Madrid."

Newcastle United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester City on Sunday, but Steve Bruce clearly liked what he saw.

Kevin De Bruyne was typically influential in City's dominant 2-0 win at St James' Park, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half after Fabian Schar's foul on Gabriel Jesus.

That goal set the holders on their way to a quarter-final victory that Raheem Sterling wrapped up after Dwight Gayle improbably missed a chance to equalise from point-blank range.

So taken was former Manchester United captain Bruce by the performance of De Bruyne, who also scored a wondergoal for City in their Premier League meeting with the Magpies in November, he joked Newcastle would be signing the Belgium superstar.

Interrupting De Bruyne's post-match interview with City's club media, Newcastle boss Bruce grabbed a grinning De Bruyne and told the reporter: "He's going to stay here.

"He's going to stay here, come here - that's an exclusive out of Newcastle tonight. He's had enough of Manchester City and he's going to come and play for Newcastle."

Bruce was able to confirm the arrival of one new signing post-match: former Motherwell goalkeeper Mark Gillespie on a free transfer.

With restaurants and bars shut, Manchester City did the best they could to mark Kevin De Bruyne's 29th birthday: they enjoyed a stroll in the park.

Presumably De Bruyne was presented with a king-sized sweet treat too, because City must be wise after Yaya Toure and cake-gate when plotting their star midfielders' celebration days.

There are more inviting, leafier parks in the north of England than Newcastle United's St James', but De Bruyne had a rum time with his chums.

The locals even presented him a gift, a first-half penalty after Fabian Schar foolishly pushed Gabriel Jesus in the back.

City's park strollers might have been surprised by whom they found waiting for them in the city centre park: mostly young 'uns who ran about skittishly, with vague purpose, at one end of the field, and a big lad with a funny beard who mainly stayed away from the others, taking social distancing to the extreme.

Naturally, City ran rings around them, on a day when their pink and yellow outfits against the locals' black and white made it look like a sweet-shop colour clash of fruit salads and humbugs.

And bah humbug for Newcastle, who never looked as though they could be competitive, certainly not until manager Steve Bruce saw sense after 64 minutes and realised big Andy Carroll was not the man to get them back into this FA Cup tie, turning to substitute Dwight Gayle.

Gayle, within two minutes of coming off the bench, showed he too was not the man to rescue the hosts, as he shovelled over a sitter from six yards after Allan Saint-Maximin fizzed a low cross his way.

Two minutes later and Raheem Sterling added the second goal City wanted to make the rest of their afternoon as much as a saunter as the first half had been. That made it 2-0: job done.

It was all too easy for City, while Newcastle were spectacularly low on ambition, most notably by picking Carroll, a player who has not scored a competitive goal all season and who indeed had not started a game since December, and giving him no service.

In the quarter-finals last year, Swansea made life desperately uncomfortable for City, to such an extent Pep Guardiola felt compelled to apologise after his team scraped a 3-2 win in south Wales.

City, on that occasion, came from 2-0 down to prevail 3-2, helped by a questionable penalty and an offside winner from Sergio Aguero.

But whatever the instructions Bruce fed his Newcastle side, the effect they had was allowing City to attack with impunity, raining in eight shots in the first 19 minutes.

A full St James', rather than this empty-seats version, would have surely been raging at Newcastle's plodding ways, particularly in the first half, when it took desperate defending to keep the score down.

Sterling's strike was a soother for City, and so Guardiola allowed De Bruyne to sit out the rest of the game, substituting the Belgian jewel in City's crown, the end of this cakewalk in sight.

Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were on target as holders Manchester City coasted into the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 win at Newcastle United.

A 2-1 reverse at Chelsea on Thursday officially ended City's reign as Premier League champions and Pep Guardiola's men looked out to make a statement from the off at St James' Park.

De Bruyne, who turned 29 on Sunday, coolly slotted home a 37th-minute penalty in what was scant reward for a dominant first-half showing.

Sterling then added a fine second 22 minutes from time as City booked a last-four date with Arsenal at Wembley.

Riyad Mahrez blazed one over and bent another effort wide of the right post from 20 yards as City threatened early.

Karl Darlow twice denied Sterling in a match that was fast becoming an attack-versus-defence training drill.

It took a silly push from Fabian Schar on Gabriel Jesus to break Newcastle down, though, with De Bruyne rolling the resulting penalty into the bottom-left corner.

Aymeric Laporte headed narrowly wide just before half-time and Mahrez flashed another chance just over shortly following the restart.

Newcastle should have been level when Allan Saint-Maximin laid one on a plate for substitute Dwight Gayle, who astonishingly skied over from six yards with the goal gaping.

City immediately made them pay. Sterling drove at the Newcastle defence and cut inside before curling a cute finish into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.

 

What does it mean? City's treble dream intact

The Premier League trophy may be about to reside in Liverpool's trophy cabinet for the first time but City are still in the hunt for an EFL Cup, FA Cup and Champions League treble. They seldom had to get out of first gear here.

Sterling and Mahrez torment Magpies defence

Steve Bruce's game-plan was clear – play deep, keep it compact and hit on the counter. The only problem is such a tactic allowed Sterling – who scored his first goal from outside the box since November 2018 – and Mahrez ample opportunity to attack and both men were a constant threat. 

That Schar was silly, Fabian…

Newcastle were unimaginative but defensively stubborn until Schar had two goes at pushing Jesus to ground. It was a real head-scratcher of a decision from the centre-back, one that ended the hosts' resilience. 

What's next?

City face Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals but are next set to give Liverpool a guard of honour when the new champions visit the Etihad Stadium on Thursday, a day after Newcastle make the mammoth trip to Bournemouth.

Thomas Muller broke Kevin De Bruyne's assist record as he provided his 21st of the Bundesliga season on Saturday.

The Germany forward set up Kingsley Coman to put Bayern Munich 1-0 up against Wolfsburg inside four minutes on the final day of the season.

Muller had equalled De Bruyne's haul from the 2014-15 campaign, when the Belgian was with Wolfsburg, with two assists in Bayern's 4-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on June 6.

The 30-year-old's stunning form helped Hansi Flick's side claim an eighth successive Bundesliga title.

Kevin De Bruyne has urged his Manchester City team-mates to make 2019-20 a season to remember from the rubble of their failed title defence.

A stunning free-kick from the Belgium midfielder could not avert a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea – a result that ended saw Liverpool crowned Premier League champions and ended City's two-year stint as top dogs in England.

Attention now turns to an FA Cup quarter-final at Newcastle United on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola's side looking to add to the EFL Cup they collected thanks to a 2-1 triumph over Aston Villa in March.

Then there is the small matter of a tilt at an elusive Champions League success, after Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne gave City a 2-1 advantage over Real Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 encounter.

Their focus in Europe's elite competition might be further sharpened if the club's appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA tournaments is not overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month.

"I think we have still got big chances in the FA Cup and Champions League," De Bruyne said.

"Imagine if we come out after winning these cups, it will be an unbelievable season. We have got a lot to play for and look forward to it."

Thursday's game with Chelsea amounted to City's season in microcosm, as a moment of De Bruyne brilliance nestled frustratingly alongside missed chances and costly defensive errors.

As such, the 28-year-old has no qualms in crediting Jurgen Klopp's side for a richly deserved triumph.

"We didn’t play badly, but at the end of the day, too many mistakes cost us," he said.

"We knew it was impossible [to catch Liverpool after lockdown]. You are always disappointed when you don't win, but I think we are honest enough to say Liverpool were better this year.

"I think we worked really hard, we played really well but we weren't good enough and that's no problem for us to admit.

"If everything goes to plan for us then I think we still have 13 or 14 games, so we still have a lot to play for and a lot of objectives."

Individual awards at the end of the season might be considered an objective for De Bruyne, given his frequently stellar showings and the likelihood of a split Liverpool vote.

His strike at Chelsea took him on to double figures for goals and assists in the Premier League campaign.

Nevertheless, after missing out to Mohamed Salah for the PFA and Football Writers' Association prizes in 2017-18, De Bruyne takes a typically phlegmatic view.

"It is not me who decides that," he added. "Two years ago I was second and we won the title 20 points ahead, so I don’t know how people decide.

"I think I have a chance. It is not me who decides and I think I can make my own analysis of how this season has gone.

"Whatever you get in the end is nice, but we will see."

City welcomed Phil Foden, John Stones and Claudio Bravo back to training ahead of the trip to Newcastle.

Foden picked up a knock during his two-goal showing against Burnley earlier this week, while centre-back Stones (ankle) and back-up goalkeeper Bravo (hamstring) have not featured since City resumed their season.

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Here, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

Liverpool are Premier League champions after Manchester City were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.

Pep Guardiola's side had the chance to prolong the Reds' 30-year wait at least until the two sides meet at the Etihad Stadium next week, but the title was within touching distance when Christian Pulisic gave Frank Lampard's side a 36th-minute lead.

Kevin De Bruyne's spectacular free-kick brought City level and Raheem Sterling hit the post, but their vulnerability on the break was eventually punished when Fernandinho handled in a desperate 75th-minute goalmouth scramble.

The veteran Brazil international was sent off and his countryman Willian sealed the points and crowned Jurgen Klopp's dominant league winners.

Kepa Arrizabalaga acrobatically pushed Fernandinho's header from Riyad Mahrez's free-kick over the crossbar amid a controlled opening half-hour from City.

Ederson saved well from Pulisic and Andreas Christensen in quick succession at the other end, and he merited better protection when Chelsea took the lead.

Poor communication between Ilkay Gundogan and Benjamin Mendy and the latter's botched recovery tackle that left Pulisic in the clear to finish coolly.

There was questionable wisdom in Mendy seeking to atone for his errors by shooting frequently from distance early in the second half.

In the 55th minute, De Bruyne added finesse to that tactic with a sumptuous dipping free-kick after N'Golo Kante clumsily fouled Mahrez.

A one-touch counter-attack then ended with Sterling dinking against the post, with Chelsea's efforts noticeably more laboured.

Ederson launched that attack but a poor pass out was almost punished as Mason Mount thumped into the side netting.

City's slick dominance of the ball but creaky defence lent an intriguing balance to the final quarter of the contest – Sterling curling agonisingly wide before Kyle Walker somehow got back to improbably deny Pulisic a second on the goal line.

Fernandinho was unable to be so precise when denying Tammy Abraham, leaving Willian to send Ederson the wrong way and prompt celebrations on Merseyside.

 

What does it mean: Chelsea take important step towards the Champions League

Although most of the focus was understandable on the main consequence of this Chelsea victory, it was a huge three points for the Stamford Bridge side. Their five-point advantage over a resurgent Manchester United in fifth is restored, while a wobbling Leicester City are now just a point better off with seven matches remaining.

De Bruyne shows his class once again

It feels like a trick of the mind that City won a thrilling title battle last season with De Bruyne reduced to a bit-part role by two medial knee ligament injuries. He has performed at a level above his colleagues this time around, with his free-kick here another champagne moment that adds weight to his case for end-of-season honours.

Mendy's moment to forget

In the build-up to this match, Mendy spoke of how this was his "time" and how he wanted to show people "the real Mendy" following his injury nightmare. Presumably, the slapstick version on display for Chelsea's opener was not what he had in mind. Guardiola needs a more reliable left-back next season, in terms of both form and fitness.

What's next?

Liverpool will emerge at the Etihad Stadium as champions, with the main bit of pre-match intrigue now set to revolve around whether a guard of honour is workable in the age of social distancing. Before that, City and Chelsea have away FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday at Newcastle United and Leicester respectively.

Sven-Goran Eriksson has urged Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne to stay at Manchester City and resist the temptation of Real Madrid.

City this week made their case in an appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA competition, after being found to have breached Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

The outcome of that challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport is reportedly not expected until July, by which time City's reign as Premier League champions is likely to have been ended by Liverpool.

If City are forced to miss two Champions League campaigns, such a blow could tempt their top players to look elsewhere. Madrid have been frequently linked with forward Sterling, while De Bruyne has hinted he would consider his future if the two-season ban was upheld.

Former City and England manager Eriksson says Sterling and playmaker De Bruyne can choose their own destiny, but cautioned that they are already playing at the highest level in domestic club football.

“Well, they will play for Real Madrid if they want to do it, but I would be disappointed," Eriksson told Stats Perform News.

"I don't know - I really hope they stay in England. When you look at it so far, and for many years now, the Premier League is the best league in the world, no doubts about that - most popular, the best league to see.

"Other leagues are good, but how many people are looking at Spanish football if it's not Barcelona or Real Madrid, maybe Atletico Madrid? I don't think many.

"Bundesliga, it's a little bit the same if [Borussia] Dortmund's not playing, if Bayern [Munich] is not playing, are you sitting looking at it? In England it's different because any team can beat any other team. It's good football and it's always a fight, a good fight in England."

To lose Sterling, De Bruyne, or both, would be a huge setback for City on the pitch, but Eriksson knows Pep Guardiola is just as important to the four-time Premier League winners.

Manager Guardiola has a year left on his City contract and has not ruled out signing an extension.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss appears likely to at least see out his current deal, having this week brought in his mentor Juanma Lillo as a new assistant coach, but much could still happen to change that.

"Of course it's important," Eriksson said of the Spaniard's future. "He's considered one of the best, if not the best coach in the world. He has been so for a long time.

"To lose him before the contract finishes would be bad for Manchester City: bad for the fans, bad for the players, bad for the club. Not sending out a good message.

"I hope they will do everything to try to keep him at least until the contract finishes."

Manchester City's appeal against their two-year ban from UEFA competitions will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week.

The reigning Premier League champions were hit with the punishment in February after they were found to have committed "serious breaches" of UEFA's club licensing and financial fair play (FFP) regulations.

UEFA's independent Adjudicatory Chamber of its Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) also fined City €30million (£27.2m) after finding they had overstated sponsorship revenues in accounts submitted to European football's governing body between 2012 and 2016.

City have persistently denied wrongdoing in relation to the matter, which stemmed from a series of articles published by Der Spiegel in November 2018, drawing on information purportedly obtained by the whistleblower Football Leaks.

"The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position," read a statement at the time from City, who UEFA said had "failed to cooperate" with the investigation.

The hearing begins on Monday and whether or not City are able to have their ban cut or quashed is likely to have a huge impact on their future planning.

Manager Pep Guardiola is out of contract in June 2021, although the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss reiterated his commitment in the aftermath of UEFA announcing their punishment.

"Unless they sack me, which can happen, I will not leave," he said. "Why should I? I love this club, I like to be here, and after we have seen the sentence [appeal] we will focus on what we have to do.

"I want to stay to continue to help the club and maintain this level as long as possible. That's not just because I have a contract, we want to fight to the end for the people who support this club."

In an interview with HLN last month, star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne suggested he might be happy to stay at City in the event of a reduction to a one-year ban, although a two-year Champions League absence would force him to consider his options.

"I'm just waiting," he said "The club told us they are going to appeal, and they are almost 100 per cent sure they are right. That's why I'm waiting to see what will happen. I trust my team.

"Once the decision is made, I will review everything. Two years would be long, but in the case of one year I might see."

Despite winning six of the past seven domestic trophies on offer in England, Champions League success has proved elusive for City and a pause in trying to tackle that final frontier would be a considerable blow in financial and sporting terms.

In this season's competition, which was halted along with the rest of elite European football due to the coronavirus pandemic, goals from Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne gave them a 2-1 win at Real Madrid in the first leg of a last-16 encounter.

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