Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Phil Foden sat out England's training session on the eve of the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

Manchester City midfielder Foden was absent due to a "minor knock", with all other members of Gareth Southgate's 26-man squad present.

Southgate will address the media later on Saturday, when he is expected to give an update on Foden's condition.

The 21-year-old was named Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year in 2020-21 after scoring 16 goals and supplying 10 assists in all competitions as City won the Premier League and retained the EFL Cup.

He began Euro 2020 on the right-hand side of England's attack, hitting the post during the early stages of the opening 1-0 win over Croatia.

But Foden was substituted during the lacklustre 0-0 draw against Scotland and did not feature again until an impressive extra-time substitute appearance in the 2-1 semi-final victory versus Denmark.

 

He has created two chances for team-mates at the tournament and completed 87 per cent of his 71 passes in open play.

Bukayo Saka returned on the right flank to face Denmark after Jadon Sancho played in the 4-0 quarter-final thrashing of Ukraine, with the Arsenal winger favourite to retain his place.

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Kevin De Bruyne has retained the men's PFA Players' Player of the Year award, matching the achievement of Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry.

Belgium star De Bruyne saw off competition from Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes, Tottenham's Harry Kane and three of his Manchester City team-mates – Ilkay Gundogan, Ruben Dias and Phil Foden, who scooped the Young Player of the Year accolade.

Foden had been nominated for the young player prize alongside fellow England internationals Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood.

De Bruyne's win in voting for the Professional Footballers' Association main prize sees him match Ronaldo and Henry, greats from United and Arsenal who are the only previous players to have won the award in back-to-back seasons.

"The fact that the players chose me for this award means that I've done really well. You want to win all the trophies with the team, and this is probably the most important one as an individual trophy in the league," De Bruyne said.

"To be voted for by your competitors... that means a lot.

"When you have these things, you can show your kids and say, 'Look! This is what Daddy did when he was younger.'"

Only three Premier League players created more chances in the competition in 2020-21 than De Bruyne (80) – Fernandes (95), Mount (87) and Jack Grealish (81) – though all of them made more appearances than the 29-year-old.

De Bruyne crafted 19 big chances – defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would reasonably be expected to score – with only Fernandes (20) managing a higher total.

The City playmaker scored six goals and created a further 12 in the Premier League. In that regard, he was below his expected goals estimation (9.26), but some way above his expected assists of 6.21. Ten of his assists came from passes in open play, with two from set-pieces.

On average, De Bruyne created 3.6 chances per 90 minutes, more than any of those who made the PFA's final list.

 

Foden, meanwhile, made fewer league appearances than any of his competitors for the Young Player of the Year award, and also tallied the fewest minutes (1,613).

However, his nine goals put him two ahead of the haul that Greenwood – his nearest challenger in that regard – managed, with his five assists second only to Alexander-Arnold.

Indeed, when calculated per 90 minutes, Foden averaged 0.5 goals and 0.28 assists, ranking him top among those in the frame for the award, while he also attempted more dribbles (4.18) with the highest success rate (2.83).

Another City player to scoop an award was Lauren Hemp, who took the women's Young Player of the Year prize.

Chelsea and England forward Fran Kirby won the women's Players' Player of the Year award after a prolific campaign for Emma Hayes' side in the WSL and Women's Champions League.

Saturday had seen more awards sent City's way, with Pep Guardiola named the Premier League's Manager of the Season winner, while Ruben Dias took the league's own Player of the Season prize.

Manchester City have completed a clean sweep of the Premier League's end-of-season awards after reclaiming the title in impressive fashion.

Pep Guardiola and Ruben Dias have been named the top manager and player respectively for the 2020-21 season, while Phil Foden was chosen as the best youngster in the competition.

City finished 12 points clear of second-placed Manchester United as they reclaimed the title from Liverpool, winning their third league crown in the space of four seasons, albeit an excellent campaign ended in disappointment with a defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final.

Key to their domestic success was the form of centre-back Dias, who elevated the defence following his arrival from Benfica.

City kept more clean sheets than any other team in the Premier League last season (19), while Dias featured in more of those matches (15) than any other outfield player at the club.

The 24-year-old Portugal international also helped bring the best out of John Stones, with the duo integral to City's remarkable run of 21 straight wins across all competitions between December and March.

Dias, who also won the Football Writers' Player of the Year Award and has been nominated for the PFA Player of the Year accolade, played more league games (32, all of them starts) than any other City defender, helping Guardiola's team to 23 wins in the process, while they lost just four times when he featured.

He won 62 of his 101 aerial contests, again topping the charts for City's defence, while only Joao Cancelo (163) won more duels than Dias (111), who also made the most headed clearances (49) and clearances overall (90).

As for Foden, the 21-year-old contributed nine goals in 28 league appearances – 17 of which were starts – as his involvement in the first team increased following the departure of club legend David Silva.

Guardiola, meanwhile has been named the top manager by the Premier League for a third time, having previously received the honour in City's title-winning years of 2018 and 2019.

Only United's legendary manager Alex Ferguson has won the award on more occasions than Guardiola, though he will have some way to go to match the Scot's haul of 11.

Nominated alongside Guardiola were Marcelo Bielsa, who guided Leeds United to an impressive ninth-placed finish and took four points off City, West Ham's David Moyes, Brendan Rodgers of Leicester City and United boss Ole Gunnar Solskajer.

Dias, meanwhile, saw off competition from Harry Kane, City team-mate Kevin De Bruyne, Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, Aston Villa's talisman Jack Grealish, Mason Mount of Chelsea and West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek.

Manchester City have four players in the running for the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Men's Footballer of the Year award.

City cruised to Premier League success this term, with Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne all key to their triumph.

All four have been named on the PFA's six-man shortlist for the prize, which is voted for by the players.

Portugal centre-back Dias – winner of the Football Writers' Association gong – is seen as arguably the favourite after a stellar first campaign at City following his move from Benfica last year.

While City only conceded three goals fewer (32) than in 2019-20 (35) when they finished second to Liverpool, many have compared his quick adaptation and influence to that of Virgil van Dijk after he joined the Reds from Southampton.

Admirers have also credited Dias' steadying of the City backline with playing a major role in the improvement of John Stones alongside him, the England international finally reaching a level many suspected he may never find despite his potential.

For a while earlier in the season Gundogan looked as though he would probably be the frontrunner for end-of-season prizes, as he embarked on a remarkable scoring run that ultimately helped him finish with 13 in 28 Premier League appearances – more than double his previous best for a domestic season.

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) can better that among midfielders, though nine of his were penalties – none of Gundogan's were, with the German deployed in a more advanced role as City largely played without an out-and-out striker.

De Bruyne's nomination did not come as a surprise either, the Belgian having laid on 12 assists this term, a haul bettered by only Harry Kane (14).

Foden is the youngest of the six nominees and it is likely to be the first of many for him, with the 21-year-old having a hand in 14 goals (nine scored, five assisted) in what was a breakthrough season – his 1,611 minutes played not far off double the 892 he managed in 2019-20.

Fernandes and Kane are the two non-City representatives up for the award – they are also the two players with the most goal involvements in the 2020-21 season.

Tottenham star Kane took home the Golden Boot thanks to his tally of 23, while he also topped the assist charts.

Fernandes netted 18 times for Manchester United and equalled De Bruyne's assists haul of 12.

They are two of just nine players across the top five European leagues to reach double figures for assists and goals in 2020-21.

Foden is also up for the Young Player of the Year award with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Greenwood, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka – an all-English shortlist.

A lifetime of going toe-to-toe with bigger boys stands Phil Foden in perfect stead for the biggest game in European club football on Saturday.

Foden, who turned 21 on Friday, has enjoyed a superb season for Premier League champions Manchester City, progressing from undoubted talent and potential to be one of the first names on Pep Guardiola's team sheet.

The attacking midfielder's rise has delighted Steve Eyre, a former youth coach at City who oversaw some of Foden's earliest steps on the road to stardom.

"It's amazing, really. He just keeps evolving and getting better. As a supporter, first and foremost, I am mesmerised by some of his performances and capabilities," Eyre told Stats Perform ahead of the Champions League final between City and Chelsea at Estadio do Dragao this weekend.

"His temperament has come to the fore recently, now that the opposition are more aware of him. There are more people wanting to foul him, there are more people wanting to mark him tighter."

Foden joined City as an eight-year-old and Eyre said: "He's got such a hunger and such a desire to affect the scoreline in a variety of positions now that I don’t think the lad himself knows what his best position is."

Nedum Onuoha was a product of the youth set-up, overseen by Jim Cassell – viewed by Eyre as "the best academy manager of his generation" – that serviced City's first team after the turn of the century, producing the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Daniel Sturridge and Kieran Trippier.

Nevertheless, despite that esteemed list of internationals, ex-City defender Onuoha believes Foden's gifts put him on another level.

"I wouldn't necessarily say there are going to be a ton of people like Foden to come after him, because for me - not to downplay the people that came before - he's the best player I've ever seen come out of our academy," Onuoha told Stats Perform.

"That academy has seen players come through who've won Premier Leagues, not just at City, like Kasper Schmeichel. You've had players come through and play for England. But in terms of actual talent and ability, the fact Phil can fit into this City team, like he has done over the past couple of years, says a lot about how good he actually is.

"From hearing little things, from players and people who spend time with him, he's got this obsession with winning and an obsession with getting better. And a true love for the football club."

Foden's capacity to excel was spotted quickly by Cassell's team and Eyre had a conversation with the player's father, asking if he could train for an extra night a week to mix it with the older age groups.

"He said 'no problem', he agreed," the coach recalled, before explaining the rationale.

"It's very important that you don't divorce a boy from his childhood. It's important that he plays with lads his own age and mixes and socialises with them. The challenge for Phil – we think it suited him; it doesn't necessarily suit others – was to design a mixed age-group programme for him.

"Very quickly he had to find a way to make space and find space to avoid contact with the big boys. When everything became a bit more familiar, they wanted to get stuck into him a little bit and make sure he didn’t have everything his own way. What he had to do then was the opposite and learn how to take contact.

"What you see now, with his incredible balance, is he's absolutely amazing at avoiding contact.

"When he takes contact these days, he either wins the physical battle with upper-body strength or if he's thrown to the floor he's very, very durable and he just pulls his socks back up, looks at the referee for a little bit of support, gets on his feet and gets playing again."

Even if emulating Foden will prove beyond most of the hopefuls who tread the pitches at the City Football Academy, Onuoha believes his progress to become a first-team star for Pep Guardiola and England boss Gareth Southgate provides a shining light for City's next generation.

"It does matter because it justifies the academy, it justifies why your kid comes into the place," Onuoha said. "If you don't have somebody in the first team who's come through the ranks, you start to ask bigger questions about what's the point.

"But ultimately, City do invest in their academy. It doesn't guarantee that everybody will play for the first team, but it shows that you can. Seeing an academy face, especially a Mancunian one for fans, that really, really matters and it makes you feel excited. It shows that pathway is still there."

Onuoha added: "When Phil was growing up, there were people in City's first team who he was looking up to, like a David Silva. Who's to say that the next Phil Foden-level talent isn't looking at him now? They're 10 years old, thinking, 'I want to be like Phil Foden'."

Phil Foden turned 21 on Friday, the day before he will play for Manchester City in arguably the biggest game in his boyhood club's history.

For all Foden's understated public persona and the unfussy way he goes about his business on the field, such a high-stakes landmark has felt inevitable since he emerged as a precocious and remarkably fully formed talent four years ago.

"I don't have words. I would like to have the right words to describe what I saw," Pep Guardiola told reporters after Foden sparkled in an International Champions Cup friendly against Manchester United in Houston, Texas.

"You are lucky guys, believe me, you are the guys who saw his first game in the first team at Manchester City. I've not seen something like I saw today for a long time. His performance was another level."

It is a level at which Foden has largely remained, meaning Guardiola frequently had to resist clamour to give the youngster more game-time. Over the past six months, he has become one of the first names on the team-sheet, so that is no longer a problem.

Ilkay Gundogan, the only City player to have previously featured in a Champions League final, when Borussia Dortmund lost to Bayern Munich in 2013, expects Foden to take Saturday's encounter with Chelsea at Estadio do Dragao smoothly in his stride.

"Phil has become one of our main players throughout the season," Gundogan said. "He's doing incredibly well, he improved in so many details of his game, mainly in taking the right decisions at crucial times.

"For such a young age it is really impressive. I wouldn't recommend him to change anything from what he's done over the past few weeks. He is one of the game-changers for us and he can be one on Saturday."

Next on the horizon will be the European Championship, where Gareth Southgate will have designs on Foden being a game-changer for England. It could be a momentous few weeks for the quicksilver attacker, so it feels like a very good time to have a look at some of the numbers – from one to 21 – that got him to this point.

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Foden has scored 31 times for City in all competitions but few have been as important as goal number one in the Premier League. Starting for just the second time in the top-flight, he showed an aptitude for timing runs into the box to nod home Sergio Aguero's header across goal against Tottenham in April 2019. It was the only goal of the game, coming four days after Spurs knocked City out of the Champions League in dramatic fashion and at the business end of a knife-edge title battle with Liverpool, where Guardiola's side prevailed by a point, 98 to 97.

In the book Pep's City by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, Foden was described as "lighting up the darkness that engulfed the first team squad in training" after the Champions League heartbreak.

                               *********************

Foden probably overhauled that Spurs goal twice in the eight days when he made it two winning goals in two against Borussia Dortmund in this season's Champions League quarter-finals. First, he struck in stoppage time for a 2-1 win in Manchester after Marco Reus equalised for the visitors, and then he smashed home from a short corner to spark frenzied touchline celebrations with Guardiola as City won by the same scoreline at Signal Iduna Park.

It meant Foden was the second player under the age of 21 to score in both legs of a Champions League quarter-final after Kylian Mbappe, who did so for Monaco against Dortmund in 2017. Considering the prolific start to Mbappe's career in Europe's elite club competition and his exclusive use as a forward, Foden shapes up pretty well by comparison. In 1,544 minutes of Champions League football he has 11 goal involvements (six goals, five assists). After 1,540 minutes in the tournament, Mbappe had 17 (12 goals, five assists).

                               *********************

The 2020-21 season saw Foden make it three Premier League winners' medals for his personal collection. He has played a far bigger part this time around. All of his five appearances in 2017-18 came from the bench. When City retained the league the following year, that vital winner versus Spurs was his only goal involvement in three starts and 10 outings as a sub.

This time around, Foden played in 28 of City's 38 matches, starting 17. His final-day goal against Everton took his Premier League tally to nine, alongside five assists.

                               *********************

After his first trip away with the England senior side ended in ignominy last September, Foden needed something special to fire himself back into the Euro 2020 reckoning upon his return. He duly delivered in November with a first international goal against Iceland at Wembley. His second followed four minutes later.

At 20 years and 174 days, he was the youngest England player in history to score more than once in a game at Wembley.

                               *********************

Foden has truly excelled since making the left-wing spot his own at City this season. When Aston Villa arrived at the Etihad Stadium for a thrilling encounter in January he was in full flight. Five shots and six chances created over the course of a 2-0 win made him the youngest player to register 10+ shot involvements in a game under Guardiola at 20 years and 237 days.

He overtook a certain Lionel Messi, who managed the feat against Sporting Gijon at 21 years and 89 days in 2008 – during Guardiola's first season in charge of Barcelona – giving a timely reminder that Foden has come under his tutelage at an earlier stage of development.

"I didn't meet Leo Messi at 17 years old like when I met Phil. And at that age, I never saw a player with this potential," Guardiola told BT Sport. "But you have to see them on pitch in the biggest stages, and he is a guy who is comfortable, who loves to play."

                                    *********************

Following his first pre-season tour with the senior City squad, Foden served loud notice of his potential by standing above his peers in England's 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup win. Featuring in all seven of his country's games in India, scoring three times, including two in the 5-2 final victory over Spain, Foden was named player of the tournament.

                               *********************

The prizes have continued to stack up for Foden, with this season's Premier League being a major trophy number eight in City colours. Alongside three league titles are four EFL Cups in succession and the 2019 FA Cup, where he scored three times over the course of the competition to help complete a domestic treble.

He also starred in Community Shield triumphs against Chelsea and Liverpool in 2018 and 2019 respectively, but we're not counting those as major honours. Don't tell Pep!

                               *********************

Although a knack for scoring crucial goals has been a defining feature of his early career, Foden's reputation is built upon his exceptional creative skills. In 2019-20, as his prominence in Guardiola's plans was increasing, he supplied nine assists from 41 chances created, placing him fifth overall for City in all competitions as Kevin De Bruyne led the way with an absurd 22 assists from 177 chances created.

This season, De Bruyne is still out in front (18 assists, 111 chances created) but Foden is up next on 10 assists. He has created 75 chances overall, 13 of which have been classed as big chances by Opta.

                               *********************

But back to those goals, because this is certainly an area where he has shifted rapidly through the gears. In 2020, Foden completed the calendar year with 11 to his name. He already has the same amount in 2021 heading into Saturday's final.

"I am feeling really confident in front of goal. Every chance I get, I feel like I am going to score,” he told Sky Sports last year, having put his time to good use during lockdown..

"I was in okay form before we broke up, if I am honest, but I have come back flying. Through quarantine I tried to work on some things like one-on-ones and come back stronger."

                           *********************

Much like the goals and assists stats, another Foden figure that is likely to climb rapidly over the coming months and years is the fact he has only started 12 competitive games against the other members of English football's 'big six', including Community Shield meetings with Chelsea and Liverpool.

"Now Phil is demanding other things from the manager," Guardiola said in his BT Sport interview with Rio Ferdinand. "Before, play five minutes, 20 minutes he is happy; play Carabao Cup, he is happy. Now next season, don't play him in a Champions League game, see what happens. He is another status, he is going to demand."

This status looks like being beneficial to Guardiola, given Foden's overall record in City colours, which reads: played 123, won 100, drawn 10 and lost 13. In matches he has started this season, the English champions are W30 D3 L2 and W17 D3 L5 when Foden has been on the bench or missing, a win percentage drop from 85.7 to 68.

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Foden's enhanced standing means he is now less likely to be a victim of the dreaded Guardiola "overthink". This is, of course a disingenuous tag attached to a coach who gets so deeply into his work he has spent press conferences eulogising over the terrifying qualities of Nathan Redmond and Sam Vokes. If he overthinks, he does it every single game, for better and for worse.

However, plenty of City fans will dread an unusual team selection in Porto, such as the 3-5-2 that collapsed in a heap against Lyon in last season's quarter-final. Foden had started in the previous round's second leg against Real Madrid as a false nine and had 14 goal involvements for the season (eight goals, six assists), but looked on as an unused substitute in Lisbon. His blossoming is one of the reasons the City team sheet should be more predictable this time around.

                           *********************

Having led his country to glory in India, Foden graduated to England Under-21 level, where he was similarly dazzling over the course of 15 caps and four goals.

He scored both in a 2-0 win over Kosovo and curled in a wonderful free-kick in Albania. The Young Lions flopped badly at Under-21 Euro 2019, but Foden's deft solo goal in a 2-1 defeat to France marked a rare high point.

                           *********************

Only Gundogan has managed more than Foden's 16 in a season where City have shared the goals around. Although plenty would back him should a key opportunity fall his way at Estadio do Dragao, there is room to become more clinical.

In terms of expected goals overperformance among City players to have scored 10 or more times this season, Foden is in a good place, over-performing his xG of 10.88 at a similar rate to Gundogan (17 goals, xG 11.69).

A shot conversion rate of 16.2 puts him below Gundogan, Ferran Torres and Gabriel Jesus within this group of players, while he has scored seven and missed eight big chances (46.7 per cent).

                           *********************

Foden's early breakthrough at City meant he achieved a cluster of age-related records. At 17 years and 283 days, he became the youngest English player to feature in a Champions League knockout match when Guardiola shuffled his pack thanks to a 4-0 first-leg advantage over Basel in the 2017-18 round of 16.

The next season, the cherished moment of Foden's first senior goal arrived, at the start of one of those triumphant EFL Cup campaigns against Oxford United. By now 18 years and 120 days, he was the first City player to score for the club having been born since the turn of the millennium.

                           *********************

When the following season's competition concluded, at a full Wembley a couple of weeks before the pandemic took hold of the UK, Foden was a surprise starter and man of the match at 19 in a 2-1 win over Villa.

Along with an assist for Sergio Aguero's goal, he completed 90 per cent of his 41 passes in the opposition half, made 70 touches overall and won seven out of 10 duels.

He was all over the contest and his prominence has increased exponentially since that point. This February, when City roared to a 4-1 win at Liverpool – their first away win in the fixture since 2003 – Foden bent the game to his will and crowned victory with a blistering individual strike. At 20 years and 255 days, he was the youngest player to score and assist in a Premier League game against Liverpool at Anfield.

                           *********************

And now, to another big game. The biggest.

The day after he turns 21, Foden will take all of this prodigious talent and elite experience and try to build upon it in pursuit of European glory. And we all get to watch.

"You are lucky guys, believe me."

At long last, Manchester City have made it to the Champions League final – ever since their 2008 takeover, becoming the major force in Europe has been one of their main targets.

Achieving that goal is finally within their grasp, with Saturday's showpiece being the club’s first final in the competition.

For all the success during Sheikh Mansour's ownership, the Champions League has been the missing piece of the puzzle, a situation City set out to remedy in 2016 when they hired Pep Guardiola.

It is no surprise the Catalan coach has been the man to get them to the edge of glory, such is his pedigree and reputation, though it may have taken a little longer than some expected.

However, success in Porto on Saturday is by no means a foregone conclusion, with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea standing in their way.

Ahead of the biggest match in European football, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta data…

The Coaches

Much of the focus until now has been centred around the two coaches, whose situations are rather different.

While Guardiola may be taking charge of Champions League final newcomers, he of course has a stellar reputation in the competition and will become only the third manager to win it three times if City prevail – the others being Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.

Tuchel, on the other hand, was here just last year in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, who were defeated in the final by Bayern Munich. He is already the first coach to reach successive Champions League/European Cup finals with different teams, while only Marcello Lippi and Hector Cuper have lost two in a row.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has lost more matches to Chelsea in all competitions across his managerial (seven) than any other club, including the past two.

The Records

City have already made history by getting this far, with this their first European final in 51 years since beating Gornik Zabrze 2-1 in the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup final – it's the longest gap between finals for a team, beating the 41 years that Sporting CP chalked up between 1964 and 2005.

Another record in sight for City is Real Madrid's benchmark of 12 wins in a single Champions League campaign, with Guardiola's side on 11. However, Los Blancos' haul is a little less impressive when you consider their 12 victories came from 17 matches – City have played 13 so far.

Although both clubs have become European mainstays this century, they have only actually played each other outside of domestic football once, meeting in the two-legged 1970-71 Cup Winners' Cup semi-final when Chelsea won 2-0 on aggregate.

City's regularity in this competition has been impressive, though as previously mentioned it will be their first final, which means it will be the third year running that a new team contests the main event, following on from Tottenham and PSG – this last occurred from 1986 to 1988 when Steaua Bucharest, Porto and PSV contested finals.

The Star Names

As with any Champions League final, there will be an impressive array of quality on show, including Kevin De Bruyne, a former Chelsea player.

Along with Riyad Mahrez, the Belgian has scored in the quarter-final and semi-final this season. If they both net in the final, they will be the first duo to accomplish the impressive hat-trick since Real Madrid greats Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas in 1959-60.

Phil Foden's career trajectory already suggests this will not be his last European final, and if he is named in the starting XI he will be the third-youngest Englishman (21 years, one day) to start a Champions League decider after Owen Hargreaves (20y 123d) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (19y 231d in 2018 and 20y 237d in 2019).

Foden is also on the second-longest unbeaten run in Champions League history at 21 matches, a streak that stretches back to a defeat to Basel in March 2018.

And the longest unbeaten run in Champion League belongs to? That's right, another City player: Bernardo Silva. He hasn't lost in the competition since September 2018, a sequence of 26 appearances.

Sergio Aguero will play his final match for City should he make an appearance, and few would bet against that given he has scored 13 times against Chelsea, a record he has only bettered against Newcastle United.

Standing in City's way, however, will be Edouard Mendy – Chelsea hope. The Senegal international suffered a knock against Aston Villa and the Blues will be desperate for him to be make it given he has kept eight clean sheets in Europe this term. Only Santi Canizares and Keylor Navas have ever kept nine in a single campaign.

Another man who has been key to Chelsea's defensive solidity this term, particularly since Tuchel took over, is Thiago Silva. The Brazilian is set to become only the fifth player to feature in consecutive finals with different teams.

The others? Marcel Desailly (1993 Marseille, 1994 Milan), Paulo Sousa (1996 Juventus, 1997 Borussia Dortmund), Samuel Eto'o (2009 Barcelona, 2010 Inter Milan) and Alvaro Morata (2014 Real Madrid, 2015 Juventus) – now there is a quiz question for you.

Phil Foden is a gamechanger for Manchester City who could make the difference in Saturday's Champions League final, says team-mate Ilkay Gundogan.

Foden's first season as a regular first-team starter at City has yielded rich rewards, with a strike in Sunday's closing 5-0 win over Everton his 16th in all competitions.

That places him second in the club's scoring charts this term, just behind midfielder Gundogan on 17.

Foden has also chipped in with 10 assists – only Kevin De Bruyne (18) has more – and he looks set to have a key role to play in England's Euro 2020 campaign after making his international breakthrough.

First up are Chelsea in City's maiden appearance in the Champions League showpiece, an occasion for which Gundogan feels Foden need not make any special preparations.

"Phil has become one of our main players throughout the season," said the ex-Borussia Dortmund midfielder, who was a losing finalist despite scoring a penalty against Bayern Munich at Wembley in 2013.

"He's doing incredibly well, he improved in so many details of his game, mainly in taking the right decisions at crucial times.

"For such a young age it is really impressive. I wouldn't recommend him to change anything from what he's done over the past few weeks. He's doing great.

"He is one of the gamechangers for us and he can be one on Saturday. But there is no need to put anyone under pressure because everyone has done the right thing over the past few months.

"It's just about maintaining that level and form and going with that attitude into the game."

Another player at the opposite end of his career to Foden is City's captain Fernandinho.

The 36-year-old could become the first Brazilian to skipper a Champions League-winning side and, despite having found himself below Rodri in the pecking order for much of the season, a rousing display in the second leg of the semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain has given boss Pep Guardiola something to think about.

"I really can't express how important Fernandinho is to us as a group," Gundogan said, before doing precisely that.

"He is immense. He didn't get as much game time as others in the squad this season, but he exactly knows his role and his responsibilities and what he has to do and say in the right times.

"This is what a leader is. A leader is maybe not always the one scoring the goals or playing every minute, who has the best passing rate or whatever.

"A leader is someone who is not scared to say the truth in the bad moments, who has that sense of empathy inside themselves.

"Even though his role from a sporting perspective was not the easiest one, the way he handled it was just incredible. He is a big part of our success and when he played, he played amazing.

"If you wish to have the right characters in a squad, you wish to have a lot of players like Fernandinho."

Gundogan is one of the virtual certainties to be on the City teamsheet and assuaged any injury doubts after he was substituted having opened the scoring in last week's 3-2 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion before watching the Everton match from the bench.

"I'm alright, I was a little bit cautious in that Brighton game," he explained. "Because of the knock on my knee I started to feel all the muscles around it a little bit and I didn't want to pull anything.

"I didn't miss any training sessions, so I'm feeling good."

Chelsea edged towards Champions League football for next season, but Leicester City's fate is now out of their hands.

The Blues gained swift vengeance for their FA Cup final defeat, running out 2-1 winners over Leicester at Stamford Bridge, meaning the Foxes are now reliant on results elsewhere as Liverpool have a game in hand to play.

Champions Manchester City surrendered a two-goal lead against Brighton and Hove Albion, meanwhile, and Edinson Cavani's stunning goal was not enough for Manchester United. Elsewhere, Leeds United defeated Southampton.

We take a look at the best facts, courtesy of Opta, from across Tuesday's Premier League games.

Manchester United 1-1 Fulham: Cavani delights Old Trafford crowd, but Cottagers hit back

United have now dropped 10 points from winning positions at Old Trafford this season – their highest ever such total at home in a Premier League season – after Joe Bryan cancelled out Cavani's sensational opener.

Cavani became only the third United player over the age of 33 to reach 10 goals in a single Premier League season, after Teddy Sheringham in 2000-01 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016-17, with a sublime 36.4-yard effort in the first half.

The Uruguay forward is the 25th different United player to reach double figures in a Premier League campaign, but it was not enough for the Red Devils as relegated Fulham gained a point from a losing position at Old Trafford for only the second time in their history in the competition, previously doing so in February 2014.

United have conceded 28 home goals in the Premier League this season – they last conceded more at Old Trafford in a single league campaign back in 1962-63 (38) – with Bryan's first top-flight goal, in his 43rd such appearance, snatching a share of the spoils.

Southampton 0-2 Leeds United: Bielsa's charge continues

There could feasibly still be a European place for Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds, who are just three points behind seventh-placed West Ham heading into the final game of the season after a 2-0 win over Southampton.

It was Leeds' 10th league win on the road this season, their best effort in a top-flight campaign since 1973-74, when they won 12 on the way to winning the title.

Southampton are without a clean sheet in their past 10 home league games (15 goals conceded) after keeping shutouts in six of the eight before that.

Patrick Bamford netted his 16th goal of the season, which is the most by a player from a promoted side since Charlie Austin scored 18 for Queens Park Rangers in 2014-15, with Tyler Roberts' maiden Premier League goal rounding off the success.

Leeds are only the second team in Premier League history to finish a campaign without a single away draw (W10 L9), after Tottenham in 2018-19.

Brighton and Hove Albion 3-2 Manchester City: Seagulls seal famous comeback

Brighton picked up their first ever Premier League victory over City, and their first in the league since 1989, as they came from two goals down to win 3-2 at the Amex Stadium.

Graham Potter's side fell behind to Ilkay Gundogan's early goal – the 10th City have scored in the opening two minutes under Pep Guardiola in the Premier League – but were buoyed by Joao Cancelo's red card.

Timed at 09:03, Cancelo's dismissal was City's second-earliest from the start of a Premier League game, after Dedryck Boyata was sent off after 04:28 against Arsenal in October 2010.

This was just the second time in Premier League history a team starting the day top of the table has led by two goals and lost, after City themselves did so against Man Utd in April 2018.

Their possession figure in this match was just 37 per cent – the lowest recorded by a side managed by Guardiola in a single top-flight match.

Phil Foden has scored 15 goals in all competitions this season. Among players in the top five European leagues currently aged under 21, only Erling Haaland (39) has scored more, but his stunning effort was not enough.

Leandro Trossard and Adam Webster pegged City back, before Dan Burn's first Brighton goal, and his first in the league for any team since April 2018, completed the turnaround.

Chelsea 2-1 Leicester City: Tuchel's team clinch Champions League qualification

After their FA Cup disappointment, Chelsea took a step towards Champions League football, getting revenge in the process.

Jorginho's penalty sealed the win, with Kelechi Iheanacho's goal ultimately proving a consolation, though the Leicester striker is the first player in Premier League history to score a goal on all seven weekdays within a single season. 

No player has scored more Premier League goals in a single campaign with 100 per cent of them coming from the penalty spot than Jorginho's seven this season (level with James Milner in 2016-17). 

Leicester have won just two of their past 30 away league games against Chelsea (D11 L17), winning 1-0 in December 2018 and 2-0 in September 2000.

And the win for Thomas Tuchel's men means that City, United and Leicester, the top three teams starting the day, all failed to win. It is the first time it has happened since January 2017 (Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea).

Manchester City surrendered a two-goal lead as Dan Burn's first Premier League goal secured a thrilling 3-2 comeback win for Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Premier League champions led early through Ilkay Gundogan but had to play for over 80 minutes without Joao Cancelo, who was sent off for a foul on Danny Welbeck. Buoyed by an 8,000-strong crowd, Brighton eventually made their numerical advantage count.

Phil Foden's sensational solo goal seemed to have dampened the spirits, but Leandro Trossard's strike ignited the charge which was rounded off by two unlikely scorers.

With Gundogan trudging off with a worrying knee injury, City found their lead wiped out when Adam Webster powered home, before Burn scooped in at the second attempt four minutes later to cap a famous triumph for the Seagulls.

Pep Guardiola became the fourth Premier League manager to see his team score 10 times in the first two minutes of a top-flight game as they went ahead 107 seconds into proceedings – Gundogan deftly heading home from Riyad Mahrez's pinpoint delivery.

But any assumptions of an easy ride were dispelled in the 10th minute, Cancelo receiving a straight red card for the denial of a goalscoring opportunity when he tangled with Welbeck.

Brighton recorded more shots and registered more possession in the first half but for all their efforts, they were 2-0 down to a piece of supreme individual skill moments after the restart.

Having skipped away from Ben White, Foden capped off a run which started in his own half with a clinical, toe-poked finish across Robert Sanchez.

Brighton hit back within three minutes, though, as substitute Trossard – on for the injured Welbeck – kept his composure to round a glut of City defenders and lash the ball high into the net.

Having continued following a robust first-half challenge from Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Gundogan was forced off with a knee injury soon after, and City's resolve crumbled in the 72nd minute.

Webster towered over City's defence to head in Pascal Gross' cross, setting the stage for fellow defender Burn, who was initially denied by Ederson, to drill in a winner.

After Adam Lallana survived a VAR check for a tackle on Gabriel Jesus, Webster nearly went from hero to zero for Brighton when he cleared straight to Fernandinho.

Jesus' resulting effort drew a fine save out of Sanchez and Eric Garcia could only hammer over the rebound, meaning City lost their final away game of the season for the first time since 2008-09.

Manchester City have won their third Premier League title in the past four seasons, also making it a hat-trick of triumphs in England's top flight for manager Pep Guardiola.

Even more so than when City racked up remarkable 100 and 98-point totals in their back-to-back 2017-18 and 2018-19 successes, this has been a tale of collective endeavour.

After a November defeat at Tottenham left Guardiola's men languishing in 11th, with 12 points from eight games, a steady turnaround occurred, with City establishing irresistible momentum by the early weeks of 2021.

This version of City might not be as freewheeling and freescoring as in previous years – they are set to fall well short of the 102 goals they managed despite coming a distant second to Liverpool last term – but they have proved no less effective.

Here, we look at some of the key figures in their revival.

Ruben Dias

There were a number of factors that helped Guardiola to put the pieces back together after a crushing 5-2 defeat in City's first Premier League home game of the season versus Leicester City, but the fact they secured Dias as a club-record signing from Benfica two days later feels heavily symbolic.

The Portugal centre-back instantly provided the defensive leadership City have lacked since Vincent Kompany's departure in 2019 and shoring things up at the back took the pressure off an attack struggling to adjust to Sergio Aguero's more marginal role.

In Dias' 30 Premier League appearances, City have conceded 18 goals, four of which were penalties, set against an expected goals against (xGA) figure of 21.3. In the 30 games prior to his debut, Guardiola's men conceded 32 goals, including six penalties, from 29.5 xGA against.

The 23-year-old has unquestionably added a layer of steel that City previously lacked - something that was emphatically demonstrated by his heroic midweek showing against Paris Saint-Germain - although he is not the only player responsible for this development.

John Stones

Forlorn battles with form and fitness in 2019-20 left Stones at a career crossroads. Had Eric Garcia signed a new contract instead of running his deal down in order to join Barcelona on a free, his race might have been run at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite a lengthy chase for a senior centre-back – Dias having not been City's first choice – and Nathan Ake's arrival from Bournemouth, Stones chose to buckle down to rich rewards.

He impressed in City's opening 3-1 win over Wolves but then had to bide his time as a rotation option. Those midweek performances persuaded Guardiola to install him at Dias' first-choice partner after some unsteady outings from pervious mainstay Aymeric Laporte.

A goal-costing error on his return to England duty in March and a recent red card at Aston Villa showed some of the old frailties remain, but bravura showings in the Champions League wins at Borussia Dortmund and PSG demonstrated how far the 26-year-old has come.

With Stones on the pitch this season, City have conceded one goal every 195 minutes. Among defenders to have played at least 1,000 minutes in 2020-21, only Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger (219) has a better rate.

Joao Cancelo

Dias' compatriot Cancelo has typified two familiar elements when it comes to Guardiola teams – players often fare far better after a mixed initial season getting used to the Catalan tactician's demands, while innovation and excellence in the full-back areas is usually a sign of things being in very good working order

"He arrived last season, he was confused in the beginning, he expected something we could not offer him but he is a nice guy with a great heart," Guardiola said in January, by which time it had become apparent how effective the former Juventus man was in his hybrid full-back/midfield role.

When City motored clear of the pack during 21-match winning run in all competitions that spanned December to March, Cancelo was key in helping to provide the numerical superiority in midfield Guardiola desires, while also proving versatile enough to operate both inside and outside from right-back or left-back.

Cancelo is the first Premier League player to average more than two tackles (2.7), 1.5 chances created (1.7) and 50 successful passes (61.5) per 90 minutes since Cesc Fabregas in 2017-18. To perhaps underline his unique interpretation of the full-back position, Cancelo is the only defender among the previous 10 players to hit these combined marks, going back to Aaron Ramsey in 2013-14.

Ilkay Gundogan

Particularly this season, everything in a Guardiola team is noticeably connected. The Dias-Stones axis has shored things up to the extent Cancelo can provide both extra midfield protection and an additional creative outlet.

A knock-on from this is Gundogan being able to make hay further up the field. When City last won the league in 2018-19, he performed with distinction in a holding midfield role during the run-in.

This term, the Germany playmaker has been unleashed to devastating effect, hitting a particular purple patch in front of goal as City swept all before them in January and February – netting braces to sink Liverpool and Spurs in the latter month.

In 26 appearances, Gundogan has scored 12 times. His 11 non-penalty goals are three better than any other midfielder in the division.

Gundogan's contributions have been particularly valuable give City's lack of a reliable goalscoring attacker, while also helping Guardiola's now go-to striker-less formation to flourish.

He could still finish the campaign as the lowest scoring top-scorer from a Premier League champion, a distinction presently held by Frank Lampard, who scored 13 times when Chelsea claimed glory in 2004-05.

Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne was named PFA Footballers' Footballer of the Year last season and has not stolen the limelight in quite the same way this time around. However, that is perhaps down to his team-mates not leaving him to fight a lone hand as he did for much of the previous campaign.

The Belgium maestro's contribution has still been very impressive. He has five goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, while he has now scored in City's past five Champions League knockout ties.

He has created 74 chances in 24 appearances, averaging 3.44 per 90 minutes – the best rate of any player in the Premier League, albeit down on his remarkable average of 4.37 last season.

Phil Foden

For club and country, Foden has enjoyed the kind of breakout season that seems to have been craved for some time, despite the fact he is still a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

A central midfielder as he came through the ranks at City, Foden has largely been deployed as a wide attacker and to devastating effect.

His 12 goal involvements (seven goals, five assists) are more than any under-21 player in the Premier League, while his performance and stunning solo goal in a 4-1 win at Anfield showed his taste for the big occasion – a priceless facet again demonstrated as the England international scored the winner in each leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Dortmund.

Having faced frequent calls to give Foden more game-time, Guardiola now counts the youngster as a practically locked-in selection for big games. As in each of his four seasons in senior football, Foden has featured more regularly, with 26 Premier League appearances and 15 starts to his name.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is reaping the benefits of taking a patient approach with the "absolutely sensational" Phil Foden, according to Stuart Pearce.

Foden has long been tipped for stardom with boyhood club City, having been part of the England squad that won the Under-17 World Cup four years ago.

However, he has had to bide his time to get opportunities under Guardiola, making just 12 Premier League starts prior to this season.

His lack of minutes led to speculation over possible loan moves to get regular football, yet the talented playmaker has instead remained at the Etihad Stadium to continue his development.

This season, however, Foden has become a key figure. The 20-year-old has scored 14 goals and provided 10 assists to help City enjoy success at home and abroad, with a league title within touching distance, the EFL Cup already secured and a Champions League final to come on May 29.

"Pep [Guardiola] was the only one who was patient [with Foden]," former City boss Pearce told Stats Perform News.

"When everyone in the media was fluttering around and wants him to go out on loan and making statements about what's best for Phil Foden, the only two that really mattered in this whole scenario was the manager and Phil Foden.

"Phil's had to be a little bit patient, but we're seeing the rewards now, he's been absolutely sensational.

"He's a regular starter for Manchester City, he's got the trust of the manager and he's had to work for that. I don't think that's a bad thing to be honest with you, the manager's handled Phil Foden brilliantly well."

While Foden is part of the long-term plans, a club legend is coming towards the end of his time with the blue half of Manchester.

Sergio Aguero will be leaving when his contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season, ending a decade-long stay that will see him depart as City's all-time leading scorer.

Pearce – who spent a season as a player at City at the end of his career, then returned to take over as manager in 2005 - pinpoints Aguero's dramatic winner against Queens Park Rangers to seal the 2011-12 title as a pivotal moment, helping to lay the foundations for future success.

"His goal got the title for City some years ago which was the start of this journey that the club are on," the former England international said.

"When arguments come up about who’s been the best Premier League centre forward there has ever been, his name is certainly going to get mentioned, there’s no doubt about that.

"I was looking at his stats, someone asked me if I'd keep him for another year, and the important thing to do is to look at his stats.

"If you go back the last 10 years or so, or even more, he's played 30-odd games each year, sometimes 40, sometimes 50. That's a mark of a player that plays game after game after game, his goal tally replicates his appearance tally, near enough.

"He's been one of the best we've ever had, he's been a wonderful import for this country and he deserves all the accolades he gets. He will do at City, the fans know the value of Aguero."

Phil Foden made the difference for Manchester City once again at Aston Villa, with Pep Guardiola feeling the England international is coming of age.

Having lost their previous Premier League game at home to 10-man Leeds United and slumped to 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, City emerged from the whirlwind of the European Super League debacle to go behind after 20 seconds to John McGinn's strike at Villa Park.

But Foden excelled, crowning a fine team move to equalise before Rodri headed home Bernardo Silva's cross to seal a 2-1 win before half-time.

There were further twists, as City ended the opening period with 10 men after John Stones clattered into Jacob Ramsey.

It was 10-a-side before the hour, though, as Foden tormented Villa right-back Matty Cash into a pair of yellow cards.

Overall, it was a supreme display from the England international, following on from his goals in each leg of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

"He's growing, this guy is growing. He is making steps forward every time," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"His influence in our game is massive right now. He scored a goal, provoked the two yellow cards, in the final third he ran a lot and he is so aggressive without the ball.

"He is becoming a serious player."

Foden's 14 goals and nine assists mean only Kevin De Bruyne (24) among his team-mates has more than his 23 goal involvements this season and he is second to Ilkay Gundogan (16) in City's scoring charts.

Whether the 20-year-old is ahead of where he was expected to be in terms of development is not something that overly concerns Guardiola when the returns he is producing right now are so good.

"There are guys at 19 and 20 years old who are unstoppable, at 29 and 30 they are not," he said.

"The players dictate who they are. Right now for the last games, Phil is becoming such an important player

"Against Dortmund he scored an important goal, the cross for the penalty, the final goal in the last minute against Dortmund at home.

"He can play inside, outside, he is so aggressive with the ball."

It was not such a pleasing outing for Foden's international team-mate Stones.

Guardiola was initially infuriated by the decision after referee Peter Bankes consulted the pitchside monitor and elected to upgrade his initial booking.

Villa boss Dean Smith also felt Stones was harshly done by, but the City manager feels the centre-back's woes should serve to sharpen minds in his squad ahead of Sunday's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and the Champions League semi-final showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

"He is late but the intention is not bad. He wanted to get the ball," Guardiola said.

"We are happy. If we lost we would be angry, but okay.

"It is a good lesson for the final on Sunday. You play a final 10 v 11, you have no chance. And especially then against PSG."

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