Passing the ball can sometimes look like the easiest thing in the world to do. At least, it does when these guys do it.

Our latest dive into the data of 2019-20 sees us look at the best playmakers in Europe's top-five leagues before the season was called to a halt.

We've deliberately broadened our approach to what constitutes a playmaker here – Gerard Pique doesn't often appear as a number 10, unless Barca are in real trouble – as the idea is to offer a wider consideration of those players who generally use the ball better than most when in possession.

To that end, we've looked at 12 different metrics to come up with the top performers of the campaign, again from among those to make at least 10 league appearances.

While some stars are not exactly strange to see in the list below, there is a handful of more surprising names, too...

 

THE TOP PLAYMAKERS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most successful passes: Sven Bender (1,766)
Highest passing accuracy: Axel Witsel (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Joshua Kimmich (873)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Axel Witsel (92.2)
Most passes ending in final third: Jadon Sancho (576)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Axel Witsel (88.4 per cent)
Most chances created: Christopher Nkunku (65)
Most big chances created: Thomas Muller (24)
Most assists: Thomas Muller (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Dennis Geiger (50 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most successful passes: Gerard Pique (1,688)
Highest passing accuracy: Toni Kroos (93.6 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Sergio Busquets (957)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Toni Kroos (92.4)
Most passes ending in final third: Lionel Messi (698)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Toni Kroos (90.3)
Most chances created: Jose Campana (58)
Most big chances created: Lionel Messi (22)
Most assists: Lionel Messi (12)
Most assists from open play: Portu and Lionel Messi (8)
Most crosses/corners successful: Jesus Navas (43)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most successful passes: Marco Verratti (1,581)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Marco Verratti (956)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Thiago Silva (92.8 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Angel Di Maria (543)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Colin Dagba (86 per cent)
Most chances created: Dimitri Payet (87)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Angel Di Maria (14)
Most assists from open play: Angel Di Maria (10)
Most crosses/corners successful: Dimitri Payet (63)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Marco Verratti (54.6 per cent)

 

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: John Stones (94 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (23)
Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Kevin De Bruyne (14)
Most crosses/corners successful: Kevin De Bruyne (69)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Christian Atsu (47.1 per cent)

 

SERIE A:

Most successful passes: Fabian Ruiz (1,488)
Highest passing accuracy: Marlon Santos (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Fabian Ruiz (932)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: Eljif Elmas (91.5 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Luis Alberto (723)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Walace (89.7 per cent)
Most chances created: Luis Alberto (75)
Most big chances created: Luis Alberto (16)
Most assists: Luis Alberto (12)
Most assists from open play: Luis Alberto and Alejandro Gomez (9)
Most crosses/corners successful: Erick Pulgar (46)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Armando Izzo (54.6 per cent)

 

AND THE TOP 12:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Thomas Muller and Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

 

Few players have had an impact on Premier League football like Alan Shearer, the greatest goalscorer the competition has seen.

The former England striker started out at Southampton in the old First Division, before going on to enjoy goal-laden spells with Blackburn Rovers and the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United.

His impact was significant at all three, but his legacy is arguably felt the most at St. James' Park, where he spent the final 10 seasons of his career.

His goalscoring feats began on this day in 1988, but April 8 has also proven momentous in baseball, as we examine below.

1974 - Hank Aaron overtakes Babe Ruth

For many years after Babe Ruth's retirement in 1935, his record of 714 home runs looked unbeatable until 'Hammerin' Hank' Aarons became the first to surpass Ruth on April 8 ,1974. He might have done so earlier were it not for racially motivated death threats so prolific that his team – the Atlanta Braves – had to hire him a secretary to sift through it. The US Postal Service believe he received more than 930,000 pieces – positive and negative – in 1973. He broke Ruth's record against the Los Angeles Dodgers and later retired on 755, a record which stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds went beyond it in August 2007.

1988 - Alan Shearer makes his mark

Over 400 goals in professional football at international and club level,  it all started for Shearer on April 8, 1988. Then at Southampton, a 17-year-old Shearer had already made some substitute appearances, but with Arsenal visiting The Dell, he was afforded a first league start. In a 4-2 win, Shearer scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest player to do so in top-flight history at 17 years and 240 days old. He went on to make a habit of setting new records over the following 18 years.

1989 - One-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

There aren't many sports where manual dexterity is more crucial than in baseball. That said, Jim Abbott enjoyed a successful career in MLB despite only being born with his left hand. He pitched for the California Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, starting out for the former, where he made his debut 31 years ago.

Manchester City became the first Premier League club to confirm that their non-playing staff will not be furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic after leaders Liverpool were heavily criticised for their handling of the crisis.

A number of Liverpool's non-playing staff were suspended on furlough, it was announced on Saturday, leaving them free to claim 80 per cent of their wages from the United Kingdom government while the club tops up any shortfall in their pay.

Tottenham, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth took similar action by utilising the government's furlough scheme, prompting widespread criticism of wealthy clubs opting to put further strain on public funds.

Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy was among those to slam the quintet, describing their actions as "grotesque".

City took a divergent move on Sunday, with a club spokesperson saying in a statement: "We can confirm, following a decision by the chairman and board last week, that Manchester City will not be utilising the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (government funded furloughing).

"We remain determined to protect our people, their jobs and our business, whilst at the same time doing what we can to support our wider community at this most challenging time for everybody."

City are second in the Premier League table, 25 points behind Liverpool, and the league announced on Friday that play will not resume in early May as had been planned.

Premier League clubs met on Friday to discuss the prospects for completing the season, and the possibility of players taking a 30 per cent wage reduction was also discussed.

Danny Rose claimed Premier League players feel their "backs are against the wall" following a minister's comments about pay cuts, with the left-back revealing efforts were already being made to help the coronavirus fight.

Newcastle United and Tottenham are two of the top-flight sides to have placed non-playing staff on the United Kingdom government's furlough scheme, and on Thursday health secretary Matt Hancock suggested players "should take a pay cut and play their part".

Rose, who is loan with Newcastle from Tottenham, found such comments unhelpful and said efforts were already being made behind the scenes, spearheaded by his England team-mate and current Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

"Seeing comments from people at the House of Parliament, we sort of feel our backs are against the wall," Rose told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Conversations were being had before people outside of football were commenting. I just got off the phone to Jordan Henderson, and he's working so hard trying to come up with something.

"It was just not needed for people who are not involved in football trying to tell footballers what to do with their money. I found that so bizarre."

On Friday the Premier League announced the 20 top-flight clubs had agreed to consult with their players about taking 30 per cent salary reductions while football is on hiatus.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid players have accepted a 70 per cent pay cut to protect the salaries of their non-playing staff, while Barcelona and Real Madrid's squad have taken similar measures.

On the possibility of helping medical staff, Rose added: "I can only speak for myself, but I have no problems whatsoever contributing any of my wages to people who are fighting this on the front line, and to people who have been affected by what's happening at the minute."

There have been over 38,000 cases of COVID-19 in the UK, where 3,605 people have died due to coronavirus.

As the world continues to battle against the coronavirus pandemic, football fans across the globe face another weekend scratching around for something to fill the void.

The domestic calendar in England has been halted in a bid to reduce social gatherings and the Premier League has confirmed its fixtures will not resume at the start of May.

While we cannot say for sure how this weekend's Premier League fixtures would have gone, our friends at Opta have come up with a system to predict the outcomes.

What chance would your team have had? Take a look below.

Predictor explainer:

The Opta Predictor estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) given each team's attacking and defensive quality. The team's attacking and defensive qualities are based on four years of historic results, with more weighting given to their most recent results. The model will take into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes against and reward them accordingly.

ASTON VILLA v WOLVES

Home win: 27 per cent
Draw: 28 per cent
Away win: 45 per cent

Struggling Aston Villa were rated as unlikely to get a key victory in their battle against relegation in their scheduled fixture at home to Wolves. A home win is the least likely of the three results, with Villa having lost five straight matches across all competitions. Top-four chasing Wolves have only won five of 14 top-flight away games this season, but are backed to pick up a sixth here.

BOURNEMOUTH v NEWCASTLE UNITED

Home win: 39 per cent
Draw: 29 per cent
Away win: 32 per cent

The predictor percentages for this match are all in a very close range across the three results, indicating how hard it would have been to call. Home advantage sees Bournemouth, who sit in the bottom three, rated as narrow favourites, as they were bidding to end a four-match winless run against a Newcastle side sitting five places and eight points above them.

ARSENAL v NORWICH CITY

Home win: 67 per cent
Draw: 21 per cent
Away win: 12 per cent

The predictor rated Arsenal versus Norwich City as the most one-sided match of the week, with the Gunners given a massive 67% chance of victory. No other team got over the 50% mark. Three straight wins boosted Mikel Arteta's men prior to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Meanwhile, bottom-of-the-table Norwich only have one win in 15 away attempts in this season's Premier League.

BRIGHTON v MANCHESTER UNITED

Home win: 25 per cent win
Draw: 29 per cent
Away win: 46 per cent

Of the 10 away teams in action, Manchester United were rated as the second-most likely to earn victory in their contest at Brighton and Hove Albion. Prior to the halt in football, United had closed within three points of Chelsea in the race for fourth place, while struggling Brighton are still yet to win a match in 2020.

CRYSTAL PALACE v BURNLEY

Home win: 41 per cent
Draw: 30 per cent
Away win: 29 per cent

No game in this match week was rated as more likely to end in a draw than the mid-table battle between Crystal Palace and Burnley at Selhurst Park. Sitting 10th and 11th, Palace and Burnley are level on points and also have the same goal difference, with Sean Dyche's side only ahead in the table due to goals scored. It is Roy Hodgson's hosts who would have gone into the clash with a narrow advantage in win probability.

WATFORD v SOUTHAMPTON

Home win: 39 per cent
Draw: 29 per cent
Away win: 32 per cent

Another tight match would have seen Watford host Southampton as Nigel Pearson's side continue their battle against relegation. Playing at home and with a win over Liverpool in their last contest at Vicarage Road, they would have gone in as very slight favourites, but Saints sit seven points better off and this is another that goes down as too close to call. 

SHEFFIELD UNITED v TOTTENHAM

Home win: 32 per cent
Draw: 30 per cent
Away win: 38 per cent

A game between two teams chasing a European place, Sheffield United and Tottenham, was the one the predictor had significant trouble calling a winner for. At 30%, it is tied with the Palace v Burnley contest as the most likely draw of the weekend. Interestingly, Spurs – who have not won for six games - do go in with a better chance of victory despite the contest being held at Bramall Lane and Sheffield United, by contrast, being on a six-match unbeaten run.

WEST HAM v CHELSEA

Home win: 25 per cent
Draw: 27 per cent
Away win: 48 per cent

Of the 10 away teams, Chelsea are given the best chance of victory in their match on the road against West Ham. Frank Lampard's men thumped Everton 4-0 before the break in action and are given a 48% chance of following that up with a win over their London rivals West Ham, who are on a poor run of one win in 10 games.

MANCHESTER CITY v LIVERPOOL

Home win: 46 per cent
Draw: 27 per cent
Away win: 27 per cent

Unquestionably the biggest match of this week was due to be second-placed Manchester City's clash with runaway league leaders Liverpool. After an almost perfect season, Jurgen Klopp's men had finally started to show some vulnerability prior to the suspension of action. They had lost three of their last four games in all competitions and the predictor believes they were most likely to go down to another defeat here, although surely it would not have been enough to derail their title bid.

EVERTON v LEICESTER CITY

Home win: 36 per cent
Draw: 29 per cent
Away win: 35 per cent

The closest match of the week is the game that was going to be the Monday night contest between Everton and Leicester City. The predictor can hardly split the two teams, with Everton given a 36% chance of winning, compared to 35% for the Foxes. Of the teams who are favourites, Carlo Ancelotti's men have the lowest percentage. They would have come into the game having collected only one point from three games, but those were against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. Leicester are third but without a win in three top-flight away fixtures.

Premier League footballers have been accused of living in a "moral vacuum" and urged to reduce their huge salaries by two prominent politicians amid the coronavirus crisis.

Tottenham, Newcastle United and Norwich City are among the clubs to have used the UK Government's furlough scheme for non-playing staff.

That job retention initiative enables employees to be paid 80 per cent of their wages - up to a maximum of £2,500 per month - by the Government while on temporary leave.

Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, says the scheme was not brought in to assist top-flight clubs while players remain on massive wages.

"It sticks in the throat," said Knight. "This exposes the crazy economics in English football and the moral vacuum at its centre."

He added: "This isn't what it was designed for. It's not designed to effectively allow them to continue to pay people hundreds of thousands of pounds, while at the same time furloughing staff on hundreds of pounds.

"I don't know whether or not the Treasury can legally turn down these applications.

"But at the same time I think football needs to have a good, long, hard look at itself and see whether or not morally this is really right, and whether or not actually what they need to do is come to an arrangement with some of their stars so they can continue to pay their [non-playing] staff 100 per cent of their wages rather than furloughing them on 80 per cent."

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, echoed those sentiments.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "My view is always that those who are the least well-off should get the most help.

"Highly paid football players are people who can carry the greatest burden and they should be the first ones to, with respect, sacrifice their salary, rather than the person selling the programme or the person who does catering or the person who probably doesn't get anywhere near the salary some of the Premier League footballers get.

"It should be those with the broadest shoulders who go first because they can carry the greatest burden and have probably got savings, rather than those who work in catering or hospitality who have probably got no savings and live week by week and who probably won't get the [furlough] benefits for five weeks."

As the world continues to battle against the coronavirus pandemic, football fans across the globe face another weekend scratching around for something to fill the void.

The domestic calendar in England was halted last week in a bid to reduce social gatherings and the Football Association confirmed its leagues would not return until at least the end of April.

While we cannot say for sure how this weekend's Premier League fixtures would have gone, our friends at Opta have come up with a system to predict the outcomes.

What chance would your team have had? Take a look below.

 

Predictor explainer:

The Opta Predictor estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) given each team's attacking and defensive quality. The team's attacking and defensive qualities are based on four years of historic results, with more weighting given to their most recent results. The model will take into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes against and reward them accordingly.


 

BURNLEY v WATFORD

Home win: 49 per cent
Draw: 26 per cent
Away win: 25 per cent

Watford may have handed Liverpool their first defeat of the Premier League season, but with just one victory in their past three visits to Turf Moor it is Burnley who are expected to win by the predictor. Sean Dyche's side have gone unbeaten in seven top-flight matches to move into a more comfortable position in the middle of the table.

CHELSEA v MANCHESTER CITY

Home win: 30 per cent
Draw: 24 per cent
Away win: 46 per cent

Manchester City are the pick to prevail at Stamford Bridge, a ground where Pep Guardiola has lost on two of his three Premier League visits. Kevin De Bruyne's winner in September 2017 fired City's charge to a 100-point title romp but goals from N'Golo Kante and David Luiz saw the Blues hand Guardiola's men the first league defeat of their triumphant 2018-19 campaign. Kante and De Bruyne were both on target when the sides met at the Etihad Stadium back in November, before Riyad Mahrez sealed a 2-1 comeback win for the hosts.

LEICESTER CITY v BRIGHTON

Home win: 62 per cent
Draw: 22 per cent
Away win: 16 per cent

Brighton won at Arsenal back in December, but that was just one of two away victories for the Seagulls so far in the Premier League this season, so their prospects at Leicester were inevitably looking bleak. After a worrying slump, Leicester looked to have rediscovered their mojo by the time the league ground to a halt, with Jamie Vardy back on the goal trail following a drought. Leicester’s nine wins at the King Power Stadium this term looked highly likely to become 10.

LIVERPOOL v CRYSTAL PALACE

Home win: 76 per cent win
Draw: 16 per cent
Away win: 8 per cent

A predicted triumph for Liverpool at Anfield is by no means a surprise given they are on a top-flight record of 22 straight home wins. With just an eight per cent chance of winning, Palace had the lowest chance of victory in this round of fixtures. However, with City predicted to come out on top against Chelsea, the Reds' wait to clinch the Premier League title would have continued.

MANCHESTER UNITED v SHEFFIELD UNITED

Home win: 48 per cent
Draw: 30 per cent
Away win: 22 per cent

The halt in football action came at a bad time for Manchester United, who were on a magnificent roll - 11 matches unbeaten with eight victories. The Opta predictor backed the hosts to continue that run, but at 48 per cent, a home win was seen as far from a certainty. Amid an amazing season, Sheffield United are just two points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men and at 30 per cent, it is the most likely contest on the matchday to end in a draw. That was also the outcome in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane in November.

NEWCASTLE UNITED v ASTON VILLA

Home win: 54 per cent
Draw: 24 per cent
Away win: 22 per cent

The predicted win for Newcastle is something Aston Villa – second from bottom and 10 points shy of Steve Bruce's men – could ill afford in reality. Newcastle are unbeaten in five matches at St James' Park, although that run includes three consecutive 0-0 draws. Villa have lost four in succession in the Premier League and only won three times in the top flight since beating the Magpies 2-0 in the corresponding fixture on November 25.

NORWICH CITY v EVERTON

Home win: 28 per cent
Draw: 26 per cent
Away win: 46 per cent

Norwich prop up the Premier League table and the predictor reflects as such, with Everton having a greater chance of victory on the road. The Toffees' last win at Carrow Road came in 2004, though, and Everton were beaten 2-0 at home by Daniel Farke's side back in November, Todd Cantwell and Dennis Srbeny with the goals at Goodison Park.

SOUTHAMPTON v ARSENAL

Home win: 28 per cent
Draw: 24 per cent
Away win: 48 per cent

Southampton’s resurgence during December and January had given way to a worrying patch of form over February and early March. Ralph Hasenhuttl's men did beat Aston Villa at home, but this Arsenal side under Mikel Arteta’s leadership are a different prospect to the team Saints held 2-2 in north London back in November. The Gunners are unbeaten in the Premier League in 2020, and they would have fancied claiming all three points on offer at St Mary's.

TOTTENHAM v WEST HAM

Home win: 70 per cent
Draw: 17 per cent
Away win: 13 per cent

The Hammers were not predicted to fare particularly well at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but they did defy the odds with a 1-0 win at the same venue in April 2019, Michail Antonio scoring the winner. Tottenham were the victors in the reverse fixture this season, a 3-2 triumph in Jose Mourinho's first match in charge.

WOLVES V BOURNEMOUTH

Home win: 58 per cent
Draw: 23 per cent
Away win: 19 per cent

Wolves are unbeaten in all three of their Premier League matches against Bournemouth, including a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture, and the predictor has them as the more likely winners on this matchday. That would come as a welcome relief to Wolves, who have won just one of their last five home top-flight matches, while Eddie Howe's men would be primed for a seventh consecutive away loss.

The Premier League has been suspended until at least April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, so what does that mean for the rest of the season?

Decisions made by UEFA and CONMEBOL to push back Euro 2020 and the Copa America until 2021 opened the door for domestic competition to continue longer than initially planned.

Upon announcing a four-week extension to the initially planned hiatus on Thursday, the Football Association (FA) revealed it would allow its leagues to continue beyond the June 1 deadline set out in its regulations.

The eventual run-in could prove to be heavily congested. Some Premier League teams are still competing on three fronts, others possess a game in hand, while UEFA is still hoping for a round of international matches in June.

If no games are cut out, we look at how the calendar for English teams could hypothetically shape up if competitions across Europe were able to resume following April 30.

 

May 2/3 - Matchday 30

May 7 - Postponed Europa League last-16 first legs and unplayed matchday 29 games

May 9/10 - Matchday 31

May 12/13/14 - FA Cup quarter-finals

May 16/17 - Matchday 32

May 19/20/21 - Champions League and Europa League last-16 second legs

May 23/24 - Matchday 33

May 26/27/28 - Champions League and Europa League quarter-final first legs

May 30/31 - Matchday 34

June 2/3/4 - Champions League and Europa League quarter-final second legs

June 6/7 - Matchday 35

June 13/14 - International week

June 20/21 - Matchday 36

June 23/24/25 - Champions League and Europa League semi-final first legs

June 27/28 - Matchday 37

June 30/July 1/2 - FA Cup semi-finals

July 4 - Matchday 38

July 7/8/9 - Champions League and Europa League semi-final second legs

July 11 - FA Cup final

July 15 - Europa League final

July 18 - Champions League final

Boxing icon Floyd Mayweather Jr suggested he might have an interest in buying Premier League club Newcastle United as he appeared at an event in England.

Mayweather boasts a 50-0 record but has not fought since defeating UFC star Conor McGregor in August 2017, although the 43-year-old has hinted at a rematch this year.

The former five-weight world champion has reportedly made $1billion in his career, however, and cheekily entertained the idea of investing his wealth in the Magpies during a talk in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Newcastle fans have been keen for a new owner on Tyneside since 2008 when current chief Mike Ashley caused outrage in a split with popular former manager Kevin Keegan.

Ashley went on to rename the club's St James' Park stadium after his sports retail company, oversaw two relegations and made a number of unpopular appointments.

Given the hunger for Ashley to move on, and with talk of rival takeover interest fading, Mayweather played to the crowd.

Asked if he was "very, very interested" in buying the club, he said: "In the US, we call it soccer, but the Newcastle football team is an unbelievable team, a hell of a team."

The American added to cheers: "If the people want me to buy the Newcastle team, let me know."

TMZ reported Mayweather had an interest in purchasing a stake in Newcastle, although no negotiations had taken place.

Newcastle are 13th in the Premier League, eight points clear of the bottom three after beating Southampton on Saturday, and will play holders Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals later in March.

Manchester City could let Sergio Aguero leave at the end of the season, according to a report.

City were handed a two-season Champions League ban last month over Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches, although they are appealing the ruling.

However, that could lead to a big-name exit at the end of the campaign.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY COULD LET AGUERO LEAVE AT END OF SEASON

Manchester City are willing to let Aguero go if they fail to overturn the European ban, according to The Sun.

The report says the 31-year-old Argentina forward would be allowed to leave if he indicated he wanted to do so despite being contracted until 2021.

Aguero is the Premier League club's all-time leading goalscorer and is enjoying another fine campaign, netting 23 times in 29 games.

 

ROUND-UP

- Luka Jovic has struggled at Real Madrid and could be set for a switch. AS reports Napoli are considering a move for the 22-year-old forward, who has scored just twice this season after joining Madrid for a reported €60million from Eintracht Frankfurt.

- Chelsea seem ready to move on from goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Daily Express reports the Premier League club have been alerted to the potential availability of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who is said to be weighing up his future at Barcelona. The Mirror reports Chelsea are monitoring Dean Henderson, who has impressed on loan at Sheffield United from Manchester United.

- Also at Stamford Bridge, The Mirror reports Tammy Abraham has rejected a contract offer from Chelsea. Abraham – who has 15 goals this season – has a deal until 2022 but reportedly wants fresh terms similar to the club's other stars before recommitting.

- Looking to strengthen their defence, Manchester City are prepared to spend £80m (€92.5m) on Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, according to the Daily Express.

- With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang perhaps set for an Arsenal exit, CalcioMercato reports Inter are considering a move for the forward, who played for AC Milan's youth team but never made an appearance for the senior side.

- Everton are eyeing a move for Newcastle United's Allan Saint-Maximin in the close season, according to The Sun.

Liverpool came from behind to beat Bournemouth 2-1 and set a record for the most consecutive home wins in England's top-flight history.

Jurgen Klopp's side edged closer to a first Premier League title thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, after Callum Wilson had put the Cherries ahead at Anfield.

Arsenal were given a tough time by West Ham before Alexandre Lacazette came off the bench to drag them closer to the Champions League places, but Wolves slipped up against Brighton and Hove Albion.

At the foot of the table, Norwich City are beginning to look a lost cause, but Newcastle United gave their own survival hopes a real boost.

LACAZETTE KEEPS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HOPES ALIVE

Arsenal are now five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and three adrift of Wolves in fifth after battling to a 1-0 win over West Ham.

David Moyes' side managed 14 shots to the Gunners' nine, hit the post through Jarrod Bowen and were thwarted more than once by Bernd Leno, but they were undone by substitute Lacazette with 12 minutes to play.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's shot deflected to Mesut Ozil, who headed the ball to Lacazette to allow the striker to lash home the winner, the goal awarded after a VAR check overturned the initial offside call.

Wolves are only three ahead of Mikel Arteta's side, having missed out on the chance to move into the top four after failing to break down Brighton in a 0-0 draw at Molineux.

 

CENTURION SALAH GETS REDS BACK ON TRACK

Having lost three of their past four games across all competitions, Liverpool's Anfield home was not exactly in good spirits when Wilson tapped in Jefferson Lerma's cross to give Bournemouth a ninth-minute lead.

Bournemouth, though, are a team who had lost their previous five league games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 17-0, so banking on them keeping the leaders at bay was always a long shot.

Unfortunately for Eddie Howe, Bournemouth rather gifted Liverpool their goals. Salah scored his 70th Liverpool goal in his 100th league appearance after Jack Simpson carelessly lost the ball to Mane, and it was 2-1 before the break when the visitors gave up possession in midfield and Virgil van Dijk played Mane in to score.

It was not a vintage display, but it did give Liverpool a record 22nd top-flight home victory in a row and put them 25 points clear at the top. Bournemouth remain 18th, behind Watford on goal difference, the Hornets having lost 1-0 at Crystal Palace.

MAGPIES ON THE UP BUT CANARIES ARE IN TROUBLE

Newcastle's run of five league games without a win - and four without a goal - came to an end with a 1-0 defeat of Southampton on the south coast.

Matt Ritchie, who signed a new contract at Newcastle this week, saw a penalty saved in the first half, not long after Moussa Djenepo had been sent off in a separate incident for a reckless challenge on Isaac Hayden, but Allan Saint-Maximin struck 79 minutes in to lift the Magpies eight points above the bottom three.

Norwich, though, are still six points from safety after a Billy Sharp goal and another fine performance from Dean Henderson saw them lose 1-0 at Sheffield United, who sit sixth.

Newcastle United duo Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie have signed new contracts with the Premier League club until 2023.

Shelvey joined Newcastle from Swansea City in 2016 and, after falling out of favour last season, he has been more of a regular this term.

The midfielder has made 16 Premier League appearances in 2019-20 and scored five goals, three more than he had managed in his previous 61 top-flight games for the club.

Shelvey and Ritchie previously had contracts until the end of June 2021, but Newcastle have moved to secure the futures of both players.

Winger Ritchie, 30, missed most of the first half of the season with an ankle injury, but quickly reintegrated after his return to fitness and has played 10 matches across all competitions since finding fitness at the start of the year.

FA Cup holders Manchester City face a trip to Newcastle United in the quarter-finals.

Pep Guardiola's men were unconvincing in their fifth-round clash with Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, Sergio Aguero scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win.

City's reward is a trip to St James' Park, where they were held to a 2-2 Premier League draw in November.

Chelsea, who knocked out runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool on Tuesday, will visit fellow Champions League chasers Leicester City.

Arsenal's quest to extend their competition record to 14 titles next takes them to Bramall Lane, the Gunners having suffered a 1-0 defeat there in October when Unai Emery was still at the helm.

Derby County, the sole remaining non-Premier League side in the competition, will travel to Norwich City should they stun Manchester United on Thursday.

Wednesday's clash between Tottenham and Norwich was locked at 1-1 in extra time, but Tim Krul denied Gedson Fernandes in a penalty shoot-out to send the Canaries through.

The quarter-final matches will be played on the weekend of March 20-22.

 

Draw in full:

Sheffield United v Arsenal
Newcastle United v Manchester City
Norwich City v Derby County/Manchester United
Leicester City v Chelsea

Chelsea dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, while Newcastle United and Sheffield United also moved into the quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Watford inflicted a shock first Premier League defeat on runaway leaders Liverpool on Saturday and they suffered a third loss in their past four games in all competitions three days later.

Adrian's howler gifted Willian the opening goal 13 minutes in and there was no way back for Jurgen Klopp's side after Ross Barkley doubled Chelsea's lead in the second half.

Kepa Arrizabalaga impressed on his return to the Chelsea team, making a flurry of saves in quick succession in the first half on a frustrating evening for a much stronger Reds side than they fielded in previous rounds.

Newcastle reached the last eight for the first time since 2006, ending their goal drought to beat Championship leaders West Brom 3-2.

The Magpies had gone three games without a goal, but Miguel Almiron's first-half brace and Valentino Lazaro's finish put them three up. 

Matt Phillips pulled one back and although Kenneth Zohore added a second in stoppage time, that could not prevent Newcastle from putting their name in the hat.

Sheffield United needed extra time to get past Reading, Billy Sharp nodding in the winner after a George Puscas penalty cancelled out David McGoldrick's opener.

Marcos Alonso's 85th-minute equaliser earned Chelsea a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth as Frank Lampard's men missed the chance to go six points clear in fourth.

The Blues would have put some breathing room between themselves and Manchester United, who travel to Everton on Sunday, but they only claimed a share of the spoils as Alonso's brace was sandwiched between goals from Jefferson Lerma and Joshua King.

West Ham moved out of the bottom three as they beat Southampton 3-1, Jarrod Bowen marking his first start for the Hammers with a goal.

Jordan Ayew's strike earned Crystal Palace a 1-0 success at out-of-sorts Brighton and Hove Albion, while Newcastle United's home clash with Burnley ended goalless.

 

ALONSO'S ACTION-PACKED WEEK CONTINUES

Chelsea were looking to bounce back from their 3-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, a game in which Alonso was sent off seven minutes from time.

The full-back retained his place at Bournemouth and scored for the second successive Premier League game to put Chelsea ahead only for Lerma and King to net within three minutes of each other in the second half.

Alonso headed in a late equaliser, though, as Chelsea moved four points clear of United and five above Tottenham and Sheffield United, all of whom have a game in hand.

BOWEN'S HOME BOW LEAVES HAMMERS HAPPY

David Moyes' West Ham won for the first time in eight Premier League games to climb above Aston Villa and Bournemouth up into 16th.

Bowen, who moved to London Stadium from Hull City for a reported £20million in January, scored the opening goal.

Although Michael Obafemi levelled, Sebastien Haller restored the hosts' lead before half-time and Michail Antonio made sure of the points.

EAGLES MARK HODGSON'S CENTURY WITH WIN

Croydon-born Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson took charge of his 100th top-flight game with the club at Brighton.

Ayew's second-half winner ensured Hodgson had extra cause to celebrate as they got one over their rivals.

Defeat for the Seagulls extended their winless run to eight Premier League games and they remain without a top-flight victory in 2020.

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