Manchester City made it 13 consecutive Premier League victories as Pep Guardiola's team cast aside Arsenal 1-0 thanks to Raheem Sterling's early header.

Hunting an eighth straight win over the Gunners, City made a supreme start which was capped by Sterling's 13th goal of the season for the club in all competitions.

After 30 minutes of dominance, City rather took their foot off the accelerator, though Ederson only had one save to make as City maintained their superb defensive record.

Though they ultimately laboured to victory, City have now won their last 18 games across all competitions, and their march towards the title is showing no sign of slowing.

Sterling had been involved in six goals in his last five Premier League appearances against Arsenal heading into Sunday's game, and he added to that tally inside the opening two minutes.

Having already sliced wide, Sterling was left unmarked to leap up and glance Riyad Mahrez's cross from the right beyond Bernd Leno.

Sterling has only scored more league goals against Bournemouth than against Arsenal, and he would have had a second in this game if not for Leno's later save.

Though City's assault continued – Ilkay Gundogan and Mahrez squandering presentable chances – Arsenal, driven by Bukayo Saka, wrested some control as the first half went on.

Kevin De Bruyne's lob landed wide early in the second half, while Leno was at full stretch to deny German compatriot Gundogan.

De Bruyne's comeback ended with just over an hour gone, Gabriel Jesus replacing the City playmaker.

Joao Cancelo caused problems for Ederson with a dreadful pass – Mohamed Elneny drilling wide from the City goalkeeper's sliced clearance.

Cancelo looked set to atone when he found space in the box, only to prod wide, though City kept Arsenal at arm's length to ensure the full-back's miss did not cost them as their remarkable run rolled on.


What does it mean? City stumble, rather than stomp, to another victory

A 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League shows City's commanding grip over their rivals. Since losing 2-1 at Emirates Stadium in December 2015, City are unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League meetings with Arsenal, who have not been a factor in this year's title race.

The Gunners sit in 10th – 25 points shy of City. Arsenal have now won just three of their last 19 Premier League games when facing the side who started the day of the match in top spot (W3 D4 L12).

Sterling shoots down the Gunners yet again

Sterling has now been involved in more league goals than any other City player this season (14 – nine goals, five assists), while he has scored home and away against Arsenal in each of the last two seasons.

The 26-year-old is also the third player to score in three consecutive away games against Arsenal in the Premier League, after Nicolas Anelka (four games, ending in May 2009) and Ian Harte (three games, ending in May 2003).

Anonymous Aubameyang

After a stuttering start to the season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has come up big for Arsenal lately, and he went into the game looking to become the first Gunners player to score two goals in three consecutive league starts since Derek Tapscott in March 1956.

However, you will not get many goals if you do not manage a shot, and Aubameyang did not have one effort throughout the match, while he also failed to create any chances.

What's next?

Both sides are in European action in midweek – City facing Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Wednesday, while Arsenal travel to Athens to face Benfica in the second leg of their Europa League tie.

Kevin De Bruyne was handed his first start since January 20 as Pep Guardiola was also able to welcome Ilkay Gundogan back from injury for Manchester City's clash with Arsenal.

Having suffered a hamstring injury in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa last month, De Bruyne came on as a substitute to help Premier League leaders City beat Everton 3-1 on Wednesday.

City won that rearranged fixture at Goodison Park without Gundogan, who had stepped up in De Bruyne's absence.

The Germany international scored twice and won a penalty in City's 3-0 win over Spurs last weekend but later sustained a minor groin injury.

Both De Bruyne and Gundogan – who has scored nine league goals since the turn of the year – were named in Guardiola's line up for the meeting with the Gunners, managed by former City assistant Mikel Arteta.

Phil Foden, who scored against Everton, made way, along with Gabriel Jesus, seemingly accommodating De Bruyne's place in a false nine role he has occupied in several matches this term, with Sergio Aguero again only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench.

Guardiola made five changes in all, welcoming back captain Fernandinho, centre-back John Stones and full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were boosted by the return of Kieran Tierney from injury. The left-back had been absent from the XI since January 18.

Arteta also made five changes from Arsenal's 4-2 win over Leeds United last week,

Tierney's introduction was one of five changes from Arteta compared to the side that started in the 4-2 win over Leeds United last week, with Pablo Mari and Rob Holding forming a new centre-back pairing.

Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe - the latter replacing Emile Smith Rowe - were also brought in.

Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

Europe's elite are lining up to sign Erling Haaland, but who will he join?

Whoever it is, Haaland is set to command a mammoth contract.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND ASKING FOR LUCRATIVE DEAL

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland wants a contract in the region of £78million (€90m) as speculation intensifies over his future, according to the Daily Star.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Bundesliga side Dortmund, linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

The report claims Haaland wants a five-year deal worth around £300,000 (€346,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Should Kylian Mbappe leave for Madrid, Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to replace him with Tottenham star Harry Kane, claims the Mirror.

- Bild says Chelsea, Liverpool and United are interested in signing RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. His centre-back partner Dayot Upamecano is set to join Bayern Munich at the end of the season, having been linked with the Premier League's elite.

Liverpool are preparing a £40m bid for Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White, reports Football Insider. Jurgen Klopp is desperate to bolster his injury-hit defence amid a difficult 2020-21 campaign.

- The Daily Mail says United are considering a move for Everton youngster Jarrad Branthwaite. The 18-year-old defender has impressed since joining the Toffees.

Leipzig lead the race to sign Ajax sensation Brian Brobbey, according to Diario AS. United, Milan and Bayern have also been linked.

Milan and Inter target Odilon Kossounou – who plays for Club Brugge - is also wanted by Premier League duo Arsenal and Wolves, claims The Sun.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are eyeing Leicester City winger Timothy Castagne, who arrived from Atalanta at the start of the season.

Martin Odegaard has the character and intelligence to be a true leader for Arsenal, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

The 22-year-old has made four appearances since joining on loan from Real Madrid, where he struggled for starts, in the January transfer window.

He caught the eye in Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League, with no Arsenal player creating more big chances (two) than the midfielder, level with Hector Bellerin.

Odegaard also led the way for passes in the opposition half (29) and tackles (three), highlighting two different aspects to the Norway international's game.

Arteta has been impressed by what he has seen so far and has backed the loanee to grow in stature over the coming weeks.

"On the pitch he is showing a lot of character and intelligence - ingredients any leader should have," Arteta said. "He's been here a very short time but has adapted really quickly.

"He's gaining more and more respect from the players and staff. I think his weight on the team will increase week in week out."

Odegaard, who has previously spent time on loan with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad, is due to return to Madrid at the end of the campaign.

There has been talk of Arsenal signing the Stromsgodset player permanently, but Arteta remains unsure if Madrid will agree to a transfer.

"We've got him for a few months. We have to maximise this time with him to bring all his qualities to the team," the Spaniard said.

"At the end of the season we will see together if we can take this relationship forward. But at the moment that doesn't just depend on us."

Odegaard is in line to start Arsenal's clash against Manchester City on Sunday, with the Gunners seeking to end a seven-match Premier League losing run in this fixture.

The game will see Arteta reunite with Pep Guardiola, who he worked under as City's assistant boss for three and a half years before switching to Arsenal in December 2019.

Although Arteta acknowledged he shares many coaching similarities with Guardiola, the Arsenal boss intends to do things his own way at Emirates Stadium.

"You can share some values and ideas. The way we've been raised and educated in football is similar because we have the same background and worked together," Arteta said.

"But what do you do to make it work the way you need? You sometimes need investment, sometimes you have players who can already provide what you want. 

"You have to keep evolving and finding a way. There's not just one formula that works. If you try to do that you will fail."

Arsenal have won just three of their last 18 league games against the side starting the day in top spot, which is the position occupied by City heading into Sunday's match.

Kevin De Bruyne has a fight on his hands to win a place back in Manchester City's starting XI, but Pep Guardiola insists he would not have it any other way.

De Bruyne, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year, made his return from a hamstring injury as a second-half substitute during City's 3-1 win over Everton in midweek – a result that increased their lead at the top of the Premier League to 10 points.

Guardiola's side won all five top-flight games De Bruyne missed, scoring 15 times and conceding once, while they also negotiated away ties at Cheltenham Town and Swansea City in the FA Cup.

It is a body of work that has helped to rack up a record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions.

Bernardo Silva has excelled on the right of Guardiola's fluid midfield three, as he did when De Bruyne missed chunks of City's treble-winning campaign of 2018-19, and this is another factor to give the City boss food for thought heading into Sunday's trip to Arsenal.

"I cannot forget, [during] this incredible run of games, Kevin was there," Guardiola said. "We have not done these incredible things without him.

"But, of course, it is a challenge. He has to play good. That is what we need. That's what I want and that's what he wants.

"The competition is so healthy, today in this crazy schedule – 11 months, playing every three days. It is not human to maintain mentally and physically."

In all competitions this season, City have won 15 of 21 games with De Bruyne in their starting line-up, drawing four and losing two.

However, that impressive win percentage figure of 71.4 vaults to 87.5 – 14 victories, two draws, no defeats – when he has been injured or taken out of the first XI to rest.

Guardiola believes watching on from the sidelines and witnessing fine performances is fuel for De Bruyne, whose 15 assists on all fronts remains the best return of any Premier League player in 2020-21, with only Bruno Fernandes (90) and Jack Grealish (79) able to better his 74 chances created.

"It is so good, when a player is out injured or for my decisions, seeing his mates playing good and winning games. That is the best way to be a competitor, the best way," said Guardiola.

"We cannot be a competitor team if everyone knows, 'It doesn't matter what happens, I am going to play.'

"They have to play good to stay in the team because they know, when they are not playing good, they have no chance to stay in the team."

This sense of collective endeavour is backed up by City's capacity to work effectively off the ball – a hallmark of all Guardiola's best sides.

No team in the Premier League has had more high turnovers resulting in a shot this term than their 49, with Brighton and Hove Albion second on 35.

In terms of winning the ball back within 40 metres of the opposition goal, only Liverpool (227) have done so more often than City (224) this season.

However, perhaps with an eye on the compressed schedule Guardiola mentioned, it also appears his team are working smarter.

In 2019-20, City ranked third in the division behind Liverpool and Southampton when it came to pressed sequences – defined by Opta as passages of play where an opponent has three or fewer passes and it ends within 40 metres of their own goal.

This time around, they lie sixth on that metric and are allowing rivals an average of 11.9 passes per defensive action (PPDA), as opposed to 10.1 last term – figures that underline an increased efficiency to their pressing, given the impressive high turnover numbers.

"It's about being effective when you run. If you run, run, run you are not effective," Guardiola said. "The ball is quicker, the opponents are better and you can run like a marathon and not take the ball.

"I am pretty sure you cannot take the ball if you make an endurance season or go 100 per cent in all the actions.

"We can talk about this a little bit but we are more concerned… 80 or 90 per cent of our talks are about keeping the ball. It is about how you do with the ball, not without the ball.

"All the times we run, we run to take the ball, to keep the ball as much as possible. I never consider putting the players on the pitch just to follow the opponent.

"We have to do it when the opponent is better but when they decide to be football players they do it to play with the ball.

"I want them to come back to the amateur feeling that they enjoy playing football because there is the ball."

Another Guardiola belief where the returning De Bruyne would appear to be a key disciple.

Manchester City are reportedly yet to begin talks over a move for Lionel Messi, while Erling Haaland is Barcelona's ideal signing.

Messi's future continues to be a major talking point as the star's contract at Barcelona expires at the end of the season.

City have been one of the clubs most strongly linked with a move for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, but it seems the Premier League giants are waiting.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY YET TO BEGIN MESSI TALKS

Manchester City are yet to open talks with Lionel Messi, according to ESPN.

The report says City will wait until the Argentina international has decided his Barcelona future before considering negotiations.

It comes after claims the Premier League side had already tabled an offer to Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland is wanted by numerous European giants. Mundo Deportivo reports the Borussia Dortmund star would be Barcelona's ideal signing, but the LaLiga side are considering more affordable options.

- Manchester United were seemingly keen to land Barcelona forward Ansu Fati last year. Mundo Deportivo says a £129.7million (€150m) bid from United for the 18-year-old was rejected ahead of 2020-21.

- With Tottenham slipping to ninth in the Premier League, Jose Mourinho has come under fire. ESPN reports Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will wait until the end of the season to make a decision on the head coach.

- Out of contract at the end of the season, Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to agree to a new deal with Milan. 90min claims the 21-year-old wants to succeed Manchester United shot-stopper David de Gea as the highest paid goalkeeper in the world, although he is prepared to take reduced terms at Milan.

- Thierry Henry could be set to take over at Bournemouth. talkSPORT reports the Championship club have requested permission from CF Montreal, where Henry is currently in charge, to talk to the Arsenal great.

The return of UEFA club competitions this week offered a reminder that there remain significant hoops to jump through before the delayed European Championship kicks off.

Fixtures being switched to alternative venues due to local coronavirus regulations cast the multiple host city model for Euro 2020 in an unhelpful light, with March's international break set to throw up fresh challenges.

Postponing and rearranging a major sporting event due to ongoing and unspeakably tragic global circumstances makes any focus on the footballing concerns within the equation feel somewhat crass.

But all 24 men leading countries into the finals will look at their squads before kick-off and ponder whether the additional 12 months of waiting and haphazard preparation have been a help or a hindrance in terms of form and personnel.

For England manager Gareth Southgate, the delay looks to have been advantageous.

It is highly unlikely the now resurgent John Stones and Luke Shaw would have featured in his defensive plans, much less centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is now the obvious back-up to captain Harry Kane.

Aston Villa's sparkling creative inspiration Jack Grealish now has England caps to his name, while a crop of richly gifted youngsters are flourishing.

None more so than Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, who will go head to head when Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Arsenal on Sunday.

Learning on the job

When Southgate comes to whittle down his final 23, versatility will count as a plus point for those hopeful of making the cut.

Foden and Saka have it in abundance, even if they have edged towards a degree of specialism during stunning runs of individual form during English football's winter months.

A central midfielder on his way through the youth ranks at boyhood club City, Foden's deployment on the left-wing has more or less coincided with the record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions that left Pep Guardiola's side 10 points clear at the start of the weekend

Not that it stopped Guardiola starting the 20-year-old as a false nine away to Liverpool, before switching Foden to the right flank for the second half, from where he provided an assist and a goal to inspire a statement 4-1 win.

Then, with Ilkay Gundogan injured, he was back in midfield to open the scoring during Wednesday's 3-1 win over Everton.

"He can play in both positions, he is so young," Guardiola said ahead of the Arsenal game.

"Phil just needs - and for the age [he is], he will get it –  the timing to play inside.

"When you play as a winger you have to play in one tempo, with one timing and one rhythm. When you play in the middle you have to play with another one.

"When he gets this balance, he will be 10 times the extraordinary player that he is right now. It's just a question of time."

Foden has four goals and two assists since the turn of the year in the Premier League, the same figures that can be attributed to Saka since Mikel Arteta selected him on the right wing for the Boxing Day clash against Chelsea.

Saka has featured at left-back, in both wing-back roles and centrally during Arteta's tenure, but he got on the scoresheet in a dominant 3-1 derby victory and has not looked back.

"I see Bukayo evolving, getting better and getting to understand different positions and finally we will fit him in one that gives the best [result]," Arteta said back in July. It appears he has his answer.

Variety is the spice of life

Splitting Saka's 21 Premier League appearances this season into centre, right or left positionally, Opta data shows he creates 1.1 chances per 90 minutes when on the right.

Both of his top-flight assists this term have come when starting on that flank, while an expected assists (xA) scored of 0.23 per 90 indicates a better quality of pass into danger areas when set against stints on the left or through the middle.

The 19-year-old, whose four England caps have come at left wing-back, is similarly effective dribbling on either flank, with 1.4 (left) and 1.5 (right) completed per match.

That figure rises to 3.1 when Saka has played through the middle this season, although two appearances and a solitary – albeit goalscoring – start in a central three versus Sheffield United skew his numbers to a degree.

Guardiola's words this week suggest Foden will find himself back on the flanks at Emirates Stadium, but the City star's feel for a goal comes to the fore when he plays through the middle.

In six Premier League games where he has operated centrally, his goals per game rate of 0.81 per 90 minutes and 2.4 dribbles completed per game are his highest across the three categories.

A shot conversion of 30 per cent also dwarfs his efforts from the left (11 per cent) but 2.5 chances created from open play per 90 in the latter role is perhaps the most significant statistic when it comes to explaining why he has made Leroy Sane's old position his own.

Among Europe's best

Saka and Foden each stack up very well when compared to the leading players under 21 throughout Europe. Indeed, no player within their age range has played more than Saka's 2,317 minutes in all competitions across clubs in the big five leagues.

Foden (2,130) comes in sixth in that regard, while his 11 goals are third behind Moise Kean (16) and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (25). Saka's six goals overall place him seventh.

Jadon Sancho (11) is the only under-21 player with more assists than Foden (six), while the City player's 44 chances created from open play comes in second to the Dortmund winger – another handy illustration of the ample resources at Southgate's disposal.

How he should deploy them will be relentlessly discussed before June, even if those arguments are now the preserve of Zoom calls rather than crowded pubs.

What increasingly appears beyond debate is that Foden and Saka have established ironclad cases for inclusion, having at best been outside punts a year ago.

Along with their dazzling array of skills, the versatility Guardiola and Arteta have used to their benefit could prove invaluable to Southgate amid the cut and thrust of tournament football.

Jurgen Klopp hopes Liverpool can have a little more luck with regards to injuries next season, believing a full-strength squad would see them sitting much closer to runaway leaders Manchester City. 

Liverpool finished 18 points clear of second-place City in the 2019-20 Premier League season as they ended a 30-year wait to be crowned champions again. 

However, while they have struggled in the defence of their title, Pep Guardiola's squad are once again the team to beat. They set a new record with Wednesday's 3-1 triumph at Everton, becoming the first top-flight team to start a calendar year with 10 straight league victories. 

The Reds' focus has switched to finishing in the top four - they sit in fifth place ahead of Saturday's Merseyside derby, 16 points behind City - but Klopp feels such a huge gap would not have existed if he had key players available. 

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been long-term absentees, with fellow centre-back Joel Matip now out for the rest of the season. Diogo Jota, meanwhile, has not featured since December 9, while Naby Keita is only just nearing a return having yet to make an appearance in 2021. 

Asked in his pre-match media conference about what it will take to be closer to City next season, Klopp replied: "We don't have to think about that now.

"We don't play them this year anymore - probably not, maybe the Champions League. For next year, then we have a little bit more time.  

"It's never the case that we thought, 'How can we overtake City and become the finest team in English football?'. We never saw it like this – we wanted the best version of ourselves.  

"We have that chance again, then if that's good enough, it's good enough. If another team is better, then that's how sport works. You cannot do more than be the best version of yourselves.   

"That's what we really try again, as a team especially. We need a little bit more luck, then a few other things as well.  

"But, in the beginning, slightly more luck with injuries would help. Then we can come closer to them.  

"I think we can all agree if I would say, probably Pep would say it too, that a full season for both teams and we wouldn't be 16 points away. But we are. That's how it is, we accept that.  This season, though, it is not about how close we can come to Manchester City."

Van Dijk has been out of action since the previous Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, back in October 2020.  

The defender was hurt early in proceedings following a challenge from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, while team-mate Thiago Alcantara also suffered an injury in the game after a wild tackle from Richarlison that saw the Brazilian sent off. 

Klopp, however, made clear the game takes on no extra importance because of what happened in that 2-2 draw last year, as Liverpool look to avoid suffering four consecutive Premier League defeats for the first time since December 2002.  

"We play the way we play. It's very emotional but we are always emotional, to be honest," Klopp - who confirmed on Friday that Fabinho will not feature at Anfield - said. "That's our way to play.  

"What the other teams do I don't know, because I have no influence on that. I can imagine that after the first game you try to create some stories around that, but we will be prepared for a football game, for a derby, like we always do.  

"Nobody can say about his team that they are not ready for derbies, from an attitude point of view, from an understanding point of view over how important it is.  

"This team always was [ready] and will be tomorrow. Obviously, there are stories around, all these kind of things, but I have nothing to say."

Pep Guardiola insists he has had no significant influence over Mikel Arteta's fledgling managerial career.

Arteta spent three and a half seasons working as one of Guardiola's assistants at Manchester City before leaving to take the top job at Arsenal in December 2019.

City travel to Emirates Stadium on Sunday looking to extend their record-breaking winning run of 17 matches in all competitions.

Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League means Arsenal have only won once in their past five games but Guardiola nevertheless expects a tough test from his former understudy, who he does not believe has been getting much luck of late.

"What I see the last month or two months, every game Arsenal plays better than the opponent," he said.

"Our dream as managers is to deserve the results. We play to deserve what we want to get. Sometimes you lose or you win, you cannot control.

"What we want to deserve he is doing and in the games over the  last month, always they are better than the opponent – analysis in terms of controlling the game, creating more chances and conceding few.

"We must have an incredible performance to play as good as possible with the ball and run a lot in the right tempo to get the ball because they have an exceptional build-up already.

"In the final third they have incredible energy with [Emile] Smith [Rowe], [Bukayo] Saka and [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang.

"In the future they will be a real contender to fight for the titles."

Despite such ambitions being a constant of Guardiola's career, he does not feel his influence is prominent in the work of a man who overcame him in last season's FA Cup semi-final.

"He doesn't need help. He is more than well prepared than to get help from me," he said.

"He is an important person in my life. We had a lot of contact in or period here in Manchester

"Everything going well for him makes me happy."

Guardiola added: "No, I didn't inspire him. What he knows he knows for himself.

"I'm not, absolutely in this case, any influence. What he is doing is all the credit for him and his backroom staff."

A look at some of the Opta data behind the two teams' performances this season backs up Guardiola's assertion that Arteta is not simply building a replica of City in north London.

City's patient build-up play is a hallmark of Guardiola's style and their 582 open-play sequences with 10 or more passes is almost 100 more than the next highest team in the division on this metric (Chelsea 493).

Arsenal are fifth in terms of such passages of play behind Liverpool and Manchester United, although their 338 is a significant drop on the numbers City's domination of matches has allowed them to rack up.

Similarly, when it comes to build-up attacks – sequences of 10 or more passes that end in a shot – City are top of the pile with 141, while Arsenal's 73 is once again fifth best.

When Guardiola teams are playing well, it generally follows that they are pressing very well. For high turnovers – those sequences that start 40 metres or less from an opponent's goal – only Liverpool (227) fare better than City (224) this term.

Arsenal are 10th in the league with 160, while they allow opponents 13.7 passes per defensive action on average, compared to City's 11.9, which further suggests a more aggressive pressing approach from Guardiola's men.

Manchester City have denied reports of a £433million package being proposed to lure Lionel Messi to the Premier League.

Messi is out of contract at Barcelona at the end of this season, having tried to engineer a departure from Camp Nou last August.

During that time, he was heavily linked to City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola, while Barca's appeal to the superstar forward arguably suffered another heavy blow as they were thrashed 4-1 by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League this week.

On Friday, The Sun reported Messi had a five-year proposal worth £606m put to him by City before the current campaign, although this figure has been revised due to the wider financial climate of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the fact the six-time Ballon d'Or winner will be 34 in June.

However, a club spokesperson told Stats Perform no such offer has been made, nor are there any talks currently ongoing.

Were Messi to sign for City, it looks increasingly likely he would be joining a title-winning side.

Guardiola's men extended their record-breaking winning run for an English top-flight team to 17 matches across all competitions by beating Everton 3-1 in midweek, a result that stretched their lead at the top of the table to 10 points.

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti said he felt City were "impossible" to play against after a dazzling second-half showing at Goodison Park, where fine strikes from Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva - both players adept in the right-sided attacking roles Messi has filled for large chunks of his career - saw the visitors pull clear.

"I appreciate it, but I don't agree with Carlo, absolutely I do not agree," Guardiola said ahead of Sunday's trip to Arsenal.

"We can lose, the opponents are good and we try to do better than them every single game. This is the only target.

"I love Carlo, he is an incredible inspiration for me as a manager, for many things, but I don't agree with him."

Ilkay Gundogan sat out the Everton game with a groin complaint and Guardiola will make a late call on the Germany playmaker, who has been in sparkling form of late with nine goals in as many Premier League games since the turn of the year.

Gundogan's performances meant Kevin De Bruyne's absence with a hamstring injury was not felt as keenly as might have been expected.

The Belgium star returned from the bench versus Everton and came through will no ill-effects, leaving defender Nathan Ake (hamstring) as City's only remaining senior absentee.

"Nathan is back training on the pitch alone but is closer to coming back with us," Guardiola added.

"Gundo trained just part of the training session today, we'll see how he feels. The rest are fit."

Manchester City are counting the cost of the current financial climate and have slashed the budget assigned to lure Lionel Messi away from Barcelona.

The 33-year-old Barca captain could depart his boyhood team in the 2021 off-season after publicly trying, and failing, to force an exit from the Catalan club last August.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has been the subject of much speculation, but Messi may have to compromise to make the move happen as the Premier League leaders' bargaining power has taken a hit.

 

TOP STORY – CITY FORCED TO LOWER MESSI CONTRACT OFFER

City had already tabled a five-year contract designed to tempt Messi to switch LaLiga for the Premier League – but the numbers have now changed, reports The Sun.

A package worth £600million (€693m) had reportedly been prepared in order to tie the six-time Ballon d'Or winner down for the rest of his career, should he opt to leave Barca at the end of the season.

But The Sun says City will now not match the terms set in August, and the offer has dropped to £430million (€496m), potentially opening the door for Paris Saint-Germain to swoop.

ROUND-UP

Chelsea have already made contact with winger Jonas Hofmann, according to Bild, as the Borussia Monchengladbach exodus threatens to begin following the news that coach Marco Rose is leaving for Borussia Dortmund next season. Hofmann played for Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie is also in Tuchel's sights, and the Blues could offer Fikayo Tomori to the Serie A giants on a permanent deal as part of a player-plus-cash exchange, reports Il Milanista.

- Everton loanee Moise Kean has netted 14 goals in 25 games for PSG and his parent club will not part with the Italy international for any less than £60m, says Fabrizio Romano, while Juventus want to bring the striker back to Turin, according to Le 10 Sport.

 

Everton 'will demand £70m for Moise Kean transfer' after impressing at PSG https://t.co/3PvjhBQ1rf

— Sun Sport (@SunSport) February 18, 2021

- 'If there are opportunities, I will have a look at them,' is what Wilfried Zaha told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit, reports The Sun. The Crystal Palace winger has been previously linked with Arsenal and Tottenham.

- Gunners midfielder Lucas Torreira, currently on the fringes while on loan at Atletico Madrid, is close to securing a move to Fiorentina for next season, claims Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Manchester City appear to be cruising towards the Premier League title and will look to extend a 17-match winning run away to Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.

While top spot is firmly in their hands, the chasing back have plenty to play for, with Manchester United in need of a win at home to Newcastle United and Tottenham heading to West Ham for a tough London derby.

Chelsea's winning streak under Thomas Tuchel has put them firmly back into top-four contention, and Timo Werner's welcome return to goalscoring could have come at a critical time.

That said, fantasy football managers would also be wise to consider Danny Ings, whose impressive scoring record will be of concern to Tuchel's men.

 

EMILIANO MARTINEZ

Aston Villa's reported £20million spend on Emiliano Martinez is a candidate for the best piece of Premier League business this season.

Martinez kept his 12th clean sheet of the season to help Villa grind out a draw at Brighton and Hove Albion last time out.

The former Arsenal man is just the fifth Villa keeper in the Premier League era to keep at least 10 clean sheets in a season and is only three short of Brad Friedel's tally set back in 2009-10. Leicester City's impressive attack could have met its match.

 

LUKE SHAW

Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw has enjoyed perhaps his best season for the club, with his form rarely affected despite his team's up-and-down recent results.

He has provided an assist in each of his previous three appearances, registering five in total this term, his best tally in a single league season.

Against a struggling Newcastle side, Shaw could become only the fourth United player to assist a goal in four consecutive games, after Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia.

LEWIS DUNK

Brighton have not conceded more than one goal in any game since drawing 3-3 with Wolves on January 2.

On Saturday, they host a Crystal Palace side who have failed to score in a higher share of their away league games this season (58 per cent) than in any other campaign in the competition's history.

A clean sheet for Brighton and Lewis Dunk looks likely, and given the centre-back has scored more goals (six) than any other defender except Virgil van Dijk (also six) since the start of 2019-20, he could be worth the captaincy this weekend.

 

RAHEEM STERLING

If Arsenal are to stop City's run, they will need to keep Raheem Sterling quiet.

The England forward has scored seven times in the league against the Gunners – he has only scored more often against Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth.

Sterling has netted in all three of his previous league meetings with Arsenal and has registered four goals and two assists in his most recent five games against them.

SON HEUNG-MIN

West Ham have rarely gone into recent games with Tottenham as favourites, but they are six points ahead of Jose Mourinho's men in the table, after playing a game more.

However, they will have to contend with Son Heung-min if that points gap is going to grow. The South Korea star has been involved in six goals in his past five league games with the Hammers and assisted in each of the last three.

In fact, he has assisted more goals (four) against West Ham than he has against any other side in the Premier League.

 

TIMO WERNER

Timo Werner ended his league goal drought against Newcastle United last time out, scoring exactly 1,000 minutes after his previous effort against Sheffield United in November.

Despite that much-publicised goal drought, Werner has actually been directly involved in more goals (10) in the league than any other Chelsea player this season, while only Mason Mount (105) has had a hand in more shots (73).

With his confidence beginning to grow, this could be a good time to back the Germany striker in your selection.

DANNY INGS

Southampton have lost six games in a row since knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, so backing a win over Chelsea would seem a little bold.

Still, expecting Danny Ings to be among the goals is usually a safer bet.

The striker has the best minutes-per-goal ratio of any Saints player with at least 15 in the competition, averaging one every 161 minutes.

Premier League boss Richard Masters is hopeful this season's champions will be spared having to lift the trophy in an empty stadium.

Chief executive Masters is eyeing next term for a major return of supporters, but he says there is a possibility some may return before the 2020-21 campaign ends.

Fans have been absent for almost all of this season to date due to the COVID-19 crisis.

A brief window in December saw up to 2,000 fans allowed in a number of games, but that was quickly shut as infection rates climbed.

It has created the possibility of the champions, like Liverpool last season, having to celebrate their title success behind closed doors.

Yet Masters, who spoke at the FT Business of Football summit on Thursday, is holding out hope that falling coronavirus numbers may mean stands can soon be occupied, even if only by a small number of fans.

"No-one can say but we have not lost hope we might see a few back this season, depending what happens with the numbers," Masters said.

"Hopefully the season finishes as planned on 23 May and wherever the trophy presentation might be, there might be some supporters in the ground as well.

"It depends what happens with the numbers but next season I hope it opens up quickly, so we can get fans back in stadiums and get back to the real Premier League."

Manchester City appear to be surging towards a third Premier League title in four seasons, having opened up a 10-point lead over nearest rivals Manchester United and Leicester City with 14 games remaining.

Football clubs across the world have haemorrhaged money in the last year, with the income stream provided by fans in stadiums taken away.

Some are facing battles to survive and meet payments, while there are concerns for TV deals in many parts.

According to Masters, the Premier League can avoid settling for reduced broadcast income, which is the fate that has affected some major leagues.

He said, quoted by the BBC, that the European picture was "not necessarily relevant" to how deals may pan out in the United Kingdom.

Masters stressed he would not "accept things have plateaued and we are looking at a downward curve".

He added: "We have done some media rights deals during the pandemic and are ahead of our current position in the markets where we have been selling."

Following Manchester City's 3-1 victory at Swansea City in the FA Cup last Wednesday, Pep Guardiola's side won their 15th successive match.

In doing so, they set a new record for an English top-flight club in all competitions, overtaking the 14-game winning runs of Arsenal and Preston North End in 1987 and 1892, respectively.

They have since extended this streak to 17 after great wins over both Tottenham and Everton in the Premier League.

Back in 2017, it was claimed by some that City had secured 20 wins on the trot, between August 26 and December 3 until they eventually lost 2-1 away at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 6.

The bone of contention stemmed from the 12th game in this run; a 0-0 draw against Wolves in the EFL Cup, which saw City progress 4-1 in a penalty shootout.

Here at Stats Perform, we have worked on the basis that a penalty shootout is a method to find a winner of a tie or to decide a tournament/trophy winner, rather than to decide who won an individual match.

The official Laws of the Game, which are the responsibility of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) could be interpreted in other ways, but we have always held the belief that they explain the situation as we understood it.

A high-profile example of why the winner of a penalty shootout cannot be considered the winner of a match is that of the 2011-12 Champions League semi-final tie between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The two sides drew 3-3 on aggregate and it was in the second leg – which Real Madrid won 2-1 on the night – that Bayern Munich progressed to the final with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory.

Based on the assumption that the team to win the shootout wins the match, you would have two winners in a single game; Madrid won 2-1 but also lost because of a 3-1 shootout reverse to Bayern, who lost as well due to suffering a 2-1 defeat in the actual game.

City have been involved in an occasion similar to this in recent times. They won 2-0 at home to Danish club Aalborg in the first leg of their 2008-09 UEFA Cup round of 16 tie, before losing 2-0 away a week later.

City progressed 4-3 following a penalty shootout on the night but lost the actual game 2-0.

Following City's current phenomenal run of form, the IFAB's technical director David Elleray spoke to Stats Perform and put the matter to bed, once and for all. He referred to Law 10.2 in the 2020-21 Laws of the Game.

Elleray told Stats Perform: "Law 10 makes it clear that a match is drawn, won or lost according to the number of goals both teams score in 'normal' time or in 'normal' time plus extra-time.

"'Away goals' and 'kicks from the penalty mark' (KFPM) [penalty shootouts] are not part of the match itself and are only used to determine a 'winning team' where one is required. For KFPM, this is made clear in the next section of Law 10."

"Thus KFPM (as with 'away goals') do not change the result of the match itself as they occur after the match has ended," added Elleray.

Clearly, we're not the overlords of the statistics world.

Clubs, competitions and statisticians may choose to deem 'penalty shootout' wins as match victories – we can't change that. What's important is that terminologies need to be tightened up by those that choose this way of thinking, as there is an important technical difference between a match that's won in 'normal' time (or after extra-time) and one that's drawn and then 'won' as a result of kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shootout).

For example, the latter might constitute part of a 'winning' run (general term) but, for some, not necessarily part of a 'match-winning' run.

We'd like to thank David Elleray for his time and willingness for his statements to be put on record for publication, hopefully clearing up any confusion about this subject.

It further highlights just what an incredible run of form City are currently enjoying.

Kylian Mbappe's future is in his own hands after showing the world what he is capable of while scoring a hat-trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

With his contract in the French capital set to expire in June 2022, Mbappe ultimately has the choice of either signing a new deal or leaving his hometown team – and the World Cup winner has been non-committal so far.

Should the 22-year-old sensation decide to take his career abroad, there will be no shortage of suitors, with four European giants ready to swoop.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, REAL MADRID, JUVENTUS EYE IN-DEMAND MBAPPE

If PSG cannot persuade Mbappe to sign a long-term extension, they will not want to lose a world-class talent without a fee, so the Ligue 1 champions have placed a €200million (£173m) tag on his head, according to Le Parisien.

Le Parisien reports the price may not deter the Frenchman's admirers, who include Premier League rivals Manchester City and LiverpoolReal Madrid and Juventus.

While those clubs may want him, it is unclear if all of them would be able to afford Mbappe, who is set to make more than €30m per year gross on his next contract. Reports claim PSG will aim to price their Champions League rivals out of a deal.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.