Fernandinho's stoppage-time own goal gave Crystal Palace a 2-2 draw at Manchester City, while Wolves fought back from two down to beat Southampton and Norwich City claimed a huge Premier League win on Saturday.

Cenk Tosun's first Palace goal put the London club in front, but Aguero equalised with his 250th for City eight minutes from time before putting the second-placed champions in front at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola's side were unable to see it out, though, as Fernandinho turned the ball into his own net to leave City 13 points behind leaders Liverpool, who play Manchester United in one of their two games in hand on Sunday.

Resurgent Saints looked set to move into the top half when they were two up at St Mary's Stadium, but Raul Jimenez's double after a Pedro Neto strike moved Wolves up to sixth.

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki scored the only goal against second-bottom Bournemouth, who had defender Steve Cook sent off for a spectacular save, while fellow strugglers Aston Villa drew 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion.

John Fleck rescued a 1-1 draw for Sheffield United at Arsenal, while it was the same scoreline in the clash between David Moyes' West Ham and his former club Everton.

 

CITY SLIP UP DESPITE AGUERO BRACE 

Palace claimed a stunning 3-2 win at City last season and looked like picking up another three points until Aguero intervened with a late brace.

New boy Tosun headed the Eagles into a first-half lead with his first goal for the club, but the leading overseas scorer in Premier League history levelled to take his City tally to 250 and struck again with time running out.

VAR overturned a penalty decision after Jairo Riedewald was penalised for handball before Aguero equalised and there was more drama when Wilfried Zaha squared the ball, with Fernandinho turning it into his own net.

 

WOLVES BRING SAINTS BACK DOWN TO EARTH

Saints, on a high after five wins and a draw from their last six games, appeared to be making further strides up the table after Jan Bednarek and Shane Long put them in command at half-time.

But Wolves were transformed after the break, Neto giving them hope and the clinical making Jimenez no mistake from the penalty spot following a VAR intervention for Jack Stephens' challenge on Jonny.

Jimenez was on target again to win in 13 minutes from time, Adama Traore setting the striker up with his second assist, to give Wolves a first win in five in all competitions.

 

CHERRIES PAY THE PENALTY FOR IMPULSIVE COOK STOP

Norwich claimed their first top-flight win since November courtesy of a Pukki penalty as Bournemouth endured another miserable afternoon at Carrow Road.

Pukki converted from 12 yards 33 minutes in after Cherries defender Steve Cook made an acrobatic one-handed stop to keep out Kenny McLean's goal-bound shot.

Cook was given his matching orders and there was no way back for Bournemouth, who have picked up only four points from their last 12 games, as Norwich held on despite Ben Godfrey's dismissal 13 minutes from time.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola lamented the poor defending that allowed Crystal Palace to escape with 2-2 draw after a thrilling finish at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The hosts were behind for the bulk of the contest after Cenk Tosun's 39th minute opener but Sergio Aguero punctuated the frustration with his 250th goal in City colours eight minutes from time.

Aguero duly headed home Benjamin Mendy's cross to put Guardiola's men ahead but there was a sting in the tail and Wilfried Zaha tore past the timid efforts of John Stones and forced Fernandinho to put through his own goal.

"We have to avoid the mistake we have made on the second goal," Guardiola told a post-match news conference.

"Just do not allow Zaha to run, it’s that simple. And we allowed it.

"No [it was not a loss of concentration], it was a decision. Concentration was always there. We are going to solve it and improve it.

"In those positions we need to have the back four there and not let them run on this counter-attack."

Although he did not name the England international specifically, this felt like a damning indictment of Stones' efforts in what has been a difficult campaign for a centre-back frequently short of form and fitness.

At the end of his forlorn pursuit of Zaha, Stones appeared to jar a knee but Guardiola could not offer a fitness update.

"I didn't see the doctors. Now we are going to see," he said.

Champions City are 13 points behind leaders Liverpool having played two games more and Guardiola gave a weary response to a question over whether the title race was still alive – suggesting he might be better served preparing for his team's Tuesday assignment at Sheffield United as opposed to watching Manchester United's trip to Anfield on Sunday.

"I answered the question millions of times in the past few weeks," he added.

"Maybe I will watch it, maybe I will see Sheffield United. I don't know."

City thought they had a penalty at 1-0 down, only for referee Graham Scott to overturn his decision after a VAR review of the incident when Jairo Riedewald deflected Raheem Sterling's cross on to his own arm.

Guardiola said of the incident. "I don’t know the rule of the hands, honestly. It looks like hands, but…"

Pep Guardiola feels it is pointless rooting for Manchester United at Anfield this weekend given Liverpool's huge advantage over Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp's unbeaten Reds host United - the only side to take points off them in the Premier League this season - on Sunday in a blockbuster encounter that is sure to be of interest to fans across the world.

Those of a City persuasion are in the unenviable position of knowing a victory for their cross-city rivals would be beneficial to Guardiola's side.

Yet, given the Reds would still be 11 points clear with a game in hand if they lose and City beat Crystal Palace at home on Saturday, Guardiola sees little point in even paying attention to how Liverpool are faring.

Asked whether he would be supporting United on Sunday, Guardiola replied: "Being so far away from [Liverpool], I think it's not interesting to look a little bit [at] what Liverpool does.

"It's better to focus on what we can improve for the rest of this season in all competitions, in the Premier League as well, and prepare the next one."

While they have not been able to gain on Liverpool given the relentless pace of Klopp's men, City have enjoyed an upturn in recent weeks, winning nine of their previous 10 games in all competitions.

Guardiola, who is under contract at the Etihad Stadium until 2021, has already stated he would like to stay on next season and the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss stressed the only way he could depart is if the club sack him.

"Unless they sack me, I'm going to stay another year here," he added.

"I don't have to announce, I have a contract. I'm going to stay, 100 per cent.

"[Unless] they don't like it and say, 'We want to change the manager.' But for sure 100 per cent I'm going to stay here next season, not because we won the last two games, or the last month we are playing a little bit better.

"Even if it was going bad or not qualifying for the Champions League, I'm not going to give up.

"The managers have good moments and bad moments, not all the managers win all the time. In the bad times we can say we are bad because we've lost some games so what can we do to get better? So, it's simple."

Pep Guardiola joked Roy Hodgson must get "bored at home" ahead of his next meeting with the veteran Crystal Palace manager.

Manchester City boss Guardiola turns 49 on Saturday, when the Premier League champions welcome Palace to the Etihad Stadium for a fixture the Eagles won 3-2 last season.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach was once again quick to voice his admiration for Hodgson, 72, who has made a successful return to top-flight management after his England tenure ended in 2016.

"Of course I admire him. It's incredible how he still has the patience to be a manager at his age," Guardiola told a pre-match news conference.

"It's incredible and he is doing really well. We cannot forget the situation when he took over when they had zero points and everyone considered them relegated.

"Instead of that, he did an incredible job and it is a pleasure and an honour for me every time I get to see him."

Guardiola, a famously intense presence at the training ground and in the dugout, does not envisage emulating Hodgson's longevity.

"I think when you are still training at 74 it is because you are bored at home," he chuckled.

"When you retire you have curiosity to do other things. The problem is when you have no interests to do anything else and you are at home doing nothing.

"If afterwards you want to enjoy other things, why should it be a problem? I am interested in other things and I think I am going to do them when I am not a manager, but I enjoy being a manager."

Guardiola reported Aymeric Laporte had enjoyed another encouraging week working with his team-mates as he closes in on a return from meniscus surgery.

Form and fitness problems mean John Stones has not been able to effectively step up in his fellow centre-back's absence, but the City manager joined his former assistant Mikel Arteta in shutting down talk that the England international could join Arsenal on loan.

"I am not going to talk in this period about the rumours, our players or other players," he added.

"We are linked so far with five million players we are going to buy.

"Don't ask about that because you know the answer."

Mikel Arteta has claimed there is "no truth" in speculation linking Arsenal with a move for Manchester City defender John Stones.

Injuries to Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin have left Arsenal short of numbers at the back.

Reports casting doubt over Stones' future at City have also emerged, with Arteta having been linked with a move for the England international, who he worked with for three-and-a-half years at City.

However, Arteta insisted there is little truth behind the speculation, despite acknowledging his admiration for Stones, who has not been a regular starter for City this season.

"Bad news for you guys I have nothing to say," Arteta told a news conference when asked if Arsenal were expecting any immediate incomings in the January transfer window.

"No, no truth at all," he added when pressed on the Stones reports, while the Gunners' coach also dismissed links with Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

"John is a player I really like. When I look at centre-backs he's got many attributes I like but I'm not looking at him."

Arteta did, however, confirm Arsenal are keen to bolster their squad this window if the right opportunity arises.

"It has to be the right player, in the right context, that financially, we can do and attract," he said. "All these factors, we put them together, it's not easy in this market. I have a [wishlist] yes. 

"We have a lot of injuries, it can happen, between December and January it's very common. We have to live with the situation, it's what we have. We have to put 11 players out on the pitch on Saturday. They will try their best and I will try my best to select the ones which are the best fit."

Arsenal will be without leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Saturday's clash with Sheffield United and subsequent meetings with Chelsea and Bournemouth – in the Premier League and FA Cup respectively – after the striker's three-match suspension for a red card against Crystal Palace was upheld.

It means much of the goal-scoring burden will be on Alexandre Lacazette, who has not found the net in a Premier League match since December 5.

"It's a concern for me if he is concerned about not scoring," said Arteta of Lacazette. "In terms of his performances, I'm really happy.

"You can give him confidence but the ball has to end up in the net. That's the best medicine."

Harry Kane may have suffered an untimely injury, but England boss Gareth Southgate could well be blessed with a wealth of attacking options heading into Euro 2020.

Kane's hamstring injury should not see him miss the European Championship, but it has handed plenty of England hopefuls the chance to prove their worth.

And it seems as though this season, the Premier League belongs to homegrown forwards.

Jamie Vardy – who has retired from international duty – leads the way with 17 goals, ahead of three players sharing second place in the scoring charts with 14: Danny Ings, Marcus Rashford and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal striker Aubameyang is one of only four non-English players to take their place in the Premier League's list of leading scorers as things stand, along with Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Raheem Sterling, Tammy Abraham and Kane complete the top 10 and, using Opta data, we assess whether the 2019-20 Premier League campaign is an anomaly or the start of something new.

SIX OF THE BEST

Vardy's incredible form has been key to propelling Leicester City up the league, with Brendan Rodgers' side currently sitting third. 

The 33-year-old has 17 league goals to his name this season, though it is another Englishman who has been making the headlines recently – one who downed the Foxes last time out. 

Southampton's Ings has scored 10 goals in his past 11 top-flight appearances and is already the highest-scoring Southampton player in a single season since Jay Rodriguez in 2013-14. 

Level with Ings is Manchester United's Rashford, who seems to have finally taken up the mantle as the Red Devils' talisman and has scored 19 times across all competitions, one less than England team-mate Sterling, who has 11 league goals. 

Chelsea's transfer ban in the off season handed Abraham the chance to shine, and shine he has, scoring 13 times in the top flight, two more than England captain Kane. 

It should also be noted the six leading English scorers all represent different clubs, showing that homegrown talent is shared across the league. 

THE NEXT GENERATION

Of the English players leading the way this season, two – Rashford and Abraham – are 22, while City sensation Sterling is only just 25.  

Indeed, only Vardy, of the English forwards in the top 10, is above the age of 30. 

After overcoming a glut of injury issues, Ings is finally hitting his stride once more, with Southampton the benefactors.  

But, with the 27-year-old averaging a goal every 109.8 minutes in the league – a figure bettered only by Vardy among the other English players – Ings must be in serious contention for a place in Southgate's squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Denmark. 

There is also plenty of potential for the future outside of the players in the top 10. After Sterling and Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the highest-scoring English player and the 22-year-old seems to be coming into his own for Everton. 

He has scored eight league goals and 10 in total across all competitions, while United's Mason Greenwood is the highest-scoring teenager in the competition. 

Away from the Premier League, Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho has been lighting up the Bundesliga since his move from City in 2017.

HISTORY SAYS...

Only twice in the past nine Premier League seasons has an English forward won the Golden Boot, with Tottenham star Kane doing so in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Last season, the award was shared between Mane, Salah and Aubameyang, though each only managed 22 goals – the lowest amount since Carlos Teves finished top of the charts with 20 in 2010-11.

Since the start of the previous decade there has been a steady increase in the number of English players finishing in double figures for the season, with five last term being the most. But with six players inside the top 10 – and Calvert-Lewin not far away – this season, 2019-20 is proving the best season for homegrown strikers in that timeframe.

With Euro 2020 on the horizon, it appears this could well be the season that kick-starts a new wave of English talent starring in the big time.

Christian Eriksen appears set to get his move away from Tottenham.

Out of contract at the end of the season, Eriksen has been keen to test himself elsewhere after moving to Spurs in 2013.

Inter look poised to bring the Denmark playmaker to Milan…

 

TOP STORY – INTER IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH SPURS OVER ERIKSEN

Inter have offered €10million (£8.5m) plus bonuses to Tottenham after agreeing personal terms with Spurs star Eriksen, claims Sky Sport Italia.

With Inter head coach Antonio Conte keen for midfield reinforcements and soon-to-be free agent Eriksen eyeing a new club, a transfer is reportedly on the horizon.

However, The Mirror reports that Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are ready to rival Inter for Eriksen.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Sky Sports Germany, Paul Pogba is likely to leave Manchester United at the end of the season. Recovering from ankle surgery, Pogba continues to be linked with LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus.

Manchester City will reject any bids for centre-back John Stones as Premier League rivals Arsenal circle, says the Daily Mail.

- Corriere dello Sport reports Matteo Politano and Leonardo Spinazzola are set to swap clubs. Inter winger Politano will join Roma, while full-back Spinazzola will move to the Nerazzurri.

- According to Gianluca Di Marzio and Tuttomercatoweb, PSV are prepared to pay €6m for Milan full-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

- Globoesporte says LaLiga champions Barcelona are close to signing Palmeiras midfielder Matheus Fernandes.

Barcelona top the Deloitte Money League for the first time after also becoming the only club to break the €800million mark for revenue. 

The Camp Nou club generated €840.8m during the 2018-19 season, seeing them topple bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of Deloitte's table.

Barca finished ahead of Madrid by some distance, with Los Blancos bringing in €757.3m across the course of the campaign, though that was enough to keep them second and in front of Manchester United.

The Red Devils may have underwhelmed on the pitch in recent seasons, but they remain a major financial power, with revenues reaching €711.5m.

United are one of eight Premier League clubs in the top 20, with Manchester City (fifth), Liverpool (seventh), Tottenham (eighth), Chelsea (ninth), Arsenal (11th), West Ham (18th) and Everton (19th) joining them.

However, United could potentially slip next year due to a lack of Champions League action this term, with Bayern Munich (€660.1m) and Paris Saint-Germain (€635.9m) the biggest threats to knocking them out of the top three.

Deloitte also understand United are at risk of losing their status as the Premier League's highest revenue-generating club for the first time next year, with City and Liverpool very much on the rise.

Napoli and Lyon are the only new entrants to the top 20.

Bruno Fernandes is seemingly set for Manchester United, but just whether a deal can be done appears uncertain.

Fernandes, 25, has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford from Sporting CP in January.

But there are contrasting reports over the status of a potential deal as United look to strengthen amid an injury crisis.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD SET TO COMPLETE FERNANDES SIGNING

Manchester United are set to sign Fernandes for £60million (€70m) by the end of the week, according to The Sun.

However, the Daily Mail reports United are offering £50m (€58.4m) plus £10m (€11.7m) in add-ons and Sporting want £64m (€74.7m) up front.

Meanwhile, Fernandes has told Sporting he wants to make the move this month, according to The Telegraph, while reports in Portugal suggest Marcos Rojo could return to Lisbon as part of the deal.

ROUND-UP

- Inter and Tottenham started talks over Christian Eriksen on Monday, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Serie A giants are reportedly hoping to land the midfielder for €10m (£8.6m) as his contract expires at the end of the season.

- John Stones has emerged as a transfer target for Arsenal. The Sun reports Mikel Arteta is targeting the Manchester City defender, even if it is a loan move. Stones has played just 10 Premier League games this season.

- With Harry Kane set to be sidelined until at least April, Tottenham are eyeing a forward. The Independent claims Milan's Krzysztof Piatek and Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani are options for Spurs this month.

- Another surprise target for Tottenham has emerged. Gazzetta dello Sport says Fernando Llorente could be set for a return to the Premier League club, having left at the end of last season and signed with Napoli.

- Inter are close to completing a deal for Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud, according to the Daily Mail. The report says Giroud has already agreed personal terms with Inter, who are set to pay between €5.3m (£4.5m) and €7.6m (£6.5m) for the Frenchman.

- Moves are expected at San Siro this month and Gianluca Di Marzio understands Roma have entered the race for Inter's Matteo Politano following Nicolo Zaniolo's serious knee injury.

Jose Mourinho insisted he was "not jealous" of the squads assembled by Liverpool and Manchester City, saying Tottenham was a different job.

City are coming off back-to-back Premier League titles, while Liverpool are 14 points clear with a game in hand this season.

Mourinho was appointed Spurs head coach in November, and his side are battling in eighth in the table.

But the Portuguese tactician said they could not be compared to City and Liverpool, although he has no complaints.

"Come on, it is what it is. We cannot have a squad like some other teams. It's not us," Mourinho said.

"I was watching Man City [against Aston Villa] and I looked to the bench – [Raheem] Sterling, Bernardo Silva, [Ilkay] Gundogan, [Nicolas] Otamendi. You know?

"Liverpool, you see the team, you see the bench. And they have injured [Joel] Matip, [Dejan] Lovren, [Naby] Keita, Fabinho.

"I'm not jealous, I have an amazing job, but they are different jobs. This is a different club."

Mourinho suggested the job at Spurs was his most difficult since he was at Porto, where he took over in early 2002.

The former Real Madrid, Inter and Chelsea boss – who would lead Porto to Champions League glory in 2004 – said he had to reset at the Portuguese giants.

"It is the second time I get a team mid-season, just the second time," Mourinho said.

"The first time was also not easy because it was the end of a team, the end of an era. It was an era without titles.

"Porto was not winning but it was the end of... I don't want to say of a generation but it was the end of a team in the end of a season.

"Twelve players out, twelve players in, start everything from the beginning. Forget the good things of the past, forget the bad things of the past and let's build from new.

"That is my experience in Porto coming in the middle of the season."

Tottenham face Middlesbrough in an FA Cup third-round replay on Tuesday.

Sergio Aguero's phenomenal goalscoring exploits for Manchester City make him one of the best in world football, but Pep Guardiola maintains Lionel Messi still stands apart.

Aguero fired a hat-trick in City's 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa on Sunday, replacing Thierry Henry as the most prolific overseas player in Premier League history.

A 12th treble in the competition represents a new all-time best mark, edging City's record goalscorer ahead of Alan Shearer.

Asked afterwards whether Aguero was the best he has worked with, City manager Guardiola felt compelled to highlight his alliance with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi at Barcelona.

"The best is Messi," he smiled, before a follow-up enquiry pondered whether Aguero was the finest out-and-out striker he had handled in his decorated career.

Guardiola added: "Messi is [the best] number nine, number 10, number 11, number seven, number six, number five, number four…

"But Sergio, [among] the rest, he is certainly one of them. I said many times, he will die scoring goals. It is his talent."

It has proved a tempestuous few days at Barcelona, with club great Xavi reportedly turning down the chance to replace the under-fire Ernesto Valverde.

Guardiola expressed sympathy with the former Athletic Bilbao boss, who has won LaLiga in each of his two full seasons in charge, with the Blaugrana joint-top this time around.

"Barcelona is a special place, because wining the league is not enough," he said.

"I am so sorry for Ernesto. I think he doesn't deserve that.

"Hopefully we can solve it soon, as an associate of this club."

Liverpool continued their relentless march towards the Premier League title with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham while Sergio Aguero sent records tumbling in Manchester City's resounding win at Aston Villa.

The Reds moved 16 points clear at the top thanks to Leicester City's defeat to Southampton – as Danny Ings kept up his superb form – though the gap was reduced slightly when City thrashed Villa on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Manchester United ended a three-match winless streak with a resounding 4-0 triumph over lowly Norwich City.

We review the key top-flight matches with the help of Opta data.

 

CHAMPIONS-ELECT SET NEW BENCHMARKS AS TITLE TILT CONTINUES AT PACE

Barring a collapse of epic proportions, it seems certain that the Premier League title will be Liverpool's for the first time come the end of the season – or earlier, at this rate.

Roberto Firmino's fifth goal in his past six appearances handed Jurgen Klopp's side the points at Tottenham, who lost successive league matches for the first time this season, and have also conceded 20 goals in 13 matches under Jose Mourinho.

Liverpool sit on 61 points at the top of the pile, the most any side has ever registered after 21 matches in a single season across Europe's big five leagues.

Klopp's team have amassed 104 points across their past 38 Premier League games, winning 33 times and drawing on five occasions; this is a record total by any team across a 38-match run in the competition's history.

It is 38 league games since Liverpool last suffered a defeat. In the same amount of time, Spurs have lost 16 matches – including three defeats to the Reds.

AGUERO SMASHES RECORDS IN SIX-GOAL ROMP

It was a waltz in Villa Park for City on Sunday, as Aguero's hat-trick and a masterclass from Kevin De Bruyne propelled Pep Guardiola's side to a 6-1 win and up into second place.

With his second goal – which came early in the second half to put City 5-0 up – Aguero became the highest-scoring non-British player in Premier League history, moving ahead of Thierry Henry.

Aguero moved onto 177 top-flight goals when he thumped in his third, making the former Atletico Madrid forward the outright record holder for hat-tricks in the Premier League with 12 to his name – one ahead of Alan Shearer's tally of 11.

After his first-half double and assist for Aguero's hat-trick goal, Riyad Mahrez is the only Premier League player to both score and assist 20 goals or more since the start of last season in all competitions. 

De Bruyne, meanwhile, is now on 15 assists for this campaign after teeing up two of City's goals.

INGS KEEPS GETTING BETTER

Two of the Premier League's leading scorers went head-to-head at the King Power Stadium, but while Jamie Vardy failed to inspire Leicester City to victory, Southampton's Ings proved the match-winner as the Saints gained revenge for their 9-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.

Ings' effort nine minutes from time was his 14th of the season and his ninth goal in his past 10 top-flight appearances.

It means 40 per cent of Ings' 35 Premier League goals have come in this campaign, while he is also the highest-scoring Southampton player since Jay Rodriguez in 2013-14.

Dennis Praet put Leicester ahead and is the 14th different player to have scored for the Foxes in the Premier League this term, while Brendan Rodgers suffered successive home defeats for the first time since he took over.

UNITED'S FORWARDS RUN RIOT IN OLD TRAFFORD ROUT

Missing leading scorer Teemu Pukki, Norwich City never looked likely to trouble United, who cruised to a convincing win to lift themselves into fifth place.

It is the first time United have scored four goals in consecutive home games in the league since September 2017, while the Canaries have not won in nine Premier League matches.

Marcus Rashford scored twice and is now on 19 goals in all competitions this season – only Raheem Sterling, with 20, has more among Premier League players.

Juan Mata set up two goals, the first time he has provided two assists in a league match since October 2012 – also against Norwich – while Mason Greenwood has scored four top-flight goals this term, more than any other teenager in the competition.

Gabriel Jesus dispatched an unfussy left-footed finish to put Manchester City 4-0 up before half-time at Villa Park but knew this was no time to bask in his own achievement.

Beaming in a giggling grin, the Brazil forward made straight for Kevin De Bruyne, City's playmaker extraordinaire who had made it virtually impossible for him not to score the 14th goal of a quietly impressive season.

De Bruyne collected possession just inside the Villa half and strode purposefully away from Danny Drinkwater, who was enduring the sort of debut the director of a slasher horror movie might have found a little on the nose.

Soon enough he was in the position. The Kevin De Bruyne position.

You know the one – just on the edge of the final third, a little wide of the right-hand side of the penalty area. The perfect angle for De Bruyne to wrap that delectable right foot around the ball and arc it towards and then tantalisingly away from goal.

The sort of cross that screams "score me". All of Villa's back three heard the cries, with right-sided centre-back Ezri Konsa flinging himself in an ungainly heap in a futile attempt to stop the inevitable.

It was De Bruyne's 14th assist of the Premier League season and plenty of those have been similarly picture perfect. Number 13 also featured Drinkwater in the rear-view mirror for a simple pass to Sergio Aguero, who rifled in spectacularly from 20 yards to set himself on the way to a hat-trick.

Aguero's part in this scintillating 6-1 spree saw him pass Thierry Henry as the Premier League's top-scoring overseas player and Alan Shearer as the man with the largest collection of trebles (12) in the competition.

But there is no doubt De Bruyne is the beating heart of this City team, something that has become abundantly clear over recent weeks in the face of a new reality established by Jurgen Klopp's relentless and ravenous Liverpool.

Without wishing to underplay Guardiola's achievement in marching an intricate, high-end team to back-to-back Premier League titles, the past two seasons largely consisted of him sending out his favoured 4-3-3 formation and watching the marvellous Mancunian machine take flight.

Compromised by form and fitness problems for key players this time around, and with Liverpool disappearing over the horizon, the City manager has shuffled his pack into a range of tactical shapes over the past month.

A fluid 4-2-3-1 was rolled out for a 3-0 triumph at Arsenal in December – the second victory in a run of 10 wins from 11 in all competitions, where City began a recent theme of doing decisive damage before half-time.

De Bruyne ran the show as a number 10, scything a bouncing ball into the top corner with outstanding technique and curling home a more controlled effort either side of bursting through the right-hand side of the Gunners defence to set up Raheem Sterling.

There were similar antics the following weekend, from the right this time, as the Etihad Stadium bellowed De Bruyne's name after another assist that relegated a Jesus finish to a role in the supporting cast. High-flying Leicester were condemned to a 3-1 defeat.

City's only defeat in this prolific sequence came amid Ederson's early red card at Wolves. Guardiola substituted De Bruyne – whose throughball created Sterling's second of the game – and watched a 2-1 lead become a 3-2 loss.

A 3-4-3 reboot followed a lacklustre first half against Sheffield United. Guardiola deployed De Bruyne as a deep-lying and roving midfield general, who tore forward to make the points safe having set up Aguero to break the deadlock.

That configuration remained for a 2-1 win over Everton before De Bruyne excelled as one of Guardiola's false nines in a beguiling besting of Manchester United in the EFL Cup. He left Phil Jones twisted and bereft on the turf for the third goal in a 3-1 semi-final first-leg win.

It was back to old faithful and 4-3-3 at Villa Park, with De Bruyne lurching low and high into those pockets of maximum destruction. He even managed to create Riyad Mahrez's opener without touching the ball thanks to a delightful dummy.

City's newfound flexibility bodes well for when their Champions League campaign resumes with a mouth-watering last-16 clash against Real Madrid. Opening up these new shape-shifting possibilities would have been impossible for City and Guardiola without their Belgian master key.

Pep Guardiola hailed Sergio Aguero as "a legend" after the Manchester City striker broke two records in Sunday's 6-1 win over Aston Villa.

Aguero netted three times as he surpassed Thierry Henry as the Premier League's top-scoring non-Englishman, while he is now the division's leading scorer of hat-tricks after completing his 12th at Villa Park.

Although the hosts were charitable in their defending, Aguero's opener showed his clinical finishing ability as he lashed home from outside the box.

A jinking run and finish doubled his tally before an emphatic close-range effort secured the matchball and the warm praise of his manager.

"He's a legend and the legend rises tonight," Guardiola told Sky Sports after a match in which Riyad Mahrez scored twice and Gabriel Jesus also netted.

"Thierry Henry is one of the most incredible players to play in this league and he will be proud that Sergio is the guy who breaks his record. He was a legend and Sergio is the same.

"We congratulated him in the locker room because to score this amount of goals means you have done for many, many years a lot of good things.

"He's been consistent for many, many years, so an incredible compliment for him.

"The most important thing is he is an incredible person. You cannot achieve this without being a guy who loves to play football and in the final third he is the guy who has the goal in his head."

Villa boss Dean Smith was left to reflect on a one-sided contest in which his side were second best throughout, a late Anwar El Ghazi penalty providing scant consolation.

"It was a chastening experience," he conceded. "We know they are a top-class team but some of the goals we have given away were dreadful. The third one probably summed it up.

"They had 15 or 16 passes and we hadn't laid a glove on them. They have been allowed to pass the ball too easily and Aguero sticks it in the top corner from 20 yards.

"Mahrez got into the penalty box and under no pressure passes into the bottom corner. It is hard when you are three goals down against a team of this quality. The three players that scored today are worth more than my whole squad.

"They kept going but we shouldn't be sitting here happy with ourselves and we're not. We are embarrassed."

Sergio Aguero wants to complete his trophy collection at Manchester City with the Champions League after Sunday's 6-1 win at Aston Villa saw him break a pair of notable Premier League records.

Aguero opened his account for the afternoon at Villa Park with a blistering 20-yard strike that put Pep Guardiola's side 3-0 up inside the opening half hour.

He sashayed past a beleaguered Villa defence to make it 5-0 in the 57th minute, the 31-year-old's 176th Premier League goal seeing him surpass Thierry Henry as the top scoring overseas player in the history of England's top flight.

Aguero completed his hat-trick nine minutes from time, marking a 12th Premier League treble to move him clear of Alan Shearer with the most in the competition.

Having won all of the major domestic honours on offer since joining City in 2011, shining under Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and now Guardiola, the 31-year-old has designs on the one competition to have eluded City over the course of a decorated decade.

Real Madrid, the 13-time Champions Leage winners lie in wait for Aguero and his team-mates in this season's last 16.

"I want to keep scoring more goals but it all depends on my team-mates. If he passes to me it's fine," he told Sky Sports, speaking alongside Riyad Mahrez, who scored twice as Villa were put to the sword.

"Normally, I don’t think how many years [I would] be here in one club. When I came here, the club and my team-mates received me very well - in that moment with Mancini.

"I adapted very well. Keep going now.

"I want to keep scoring, keep focused every game. I will be happy if we do a good Champions League."

Mahrez laid on Aguero's hat-trick following a mistake from Villa defender Kortney Hause and marvelled at his team-mate's clinical qualities.

"The statistics speak for themselves," he said. "He is a legend for this club and the Premier League. He shows it week in and week out

"He has a lot of quality but, to be honest, he does not need a lot of chances to score. This shows how big a striker he is."

Aguero is now fourth on the Premier League's all-time list, level with Frank Lampard.

However, he conceded Shearer's towering mark of 260 might just be a little out of reach.

"Okay, well I will try," he chuckled.

"It's too far to Shearer, too much goals. I don’t know – maybe I will try."

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