Raheem Sterling has explained how a toll of media criticism forced him to speak out over the coverage given to black players.

In December 2018, Manchester City and England forward Sterling drew attention to two articles published by the Daily Mail concerning his club team-mates Phil Foden and Tosin Adarabioyo.

The pieces both reported on the then-teenagers buying houses worth £2million, although the headline declared Adarabioyo "splashes out on mansion... despite having never started a Premier League match".

England Under-21 international Foden, who was similarly yet to make his full top-flight debut at that stage, was portrayed comparatively fondly as a "starlet" who "buys new £2m home for his mum".

Sterling highlighted the contrast in an Instagram post where he claimed such media coverage "fuels racism" – a day on from himself receiving abuse while playing for City at Chelsea.

"As an individual I feel I can take a lot, I can receive criticism and handle it well. I kind of thrive off stuff like this, not racism but criticism," he explained in a webchat with USA star Megan Rapinoe on his YouTube channel, putting his post into the context of articles that targeted him as a young player

"I try to turn the negatives into positives. But when I started to get [criticism] about materialistic things that were being referred back to me and labelling me, that’s what upset me.

"I felt like it was a constant attack for no valid reason and there were times I was really, really low.

"I wouldn’t even say stuff to my mum or girlfriend. I'd take it in, keep moving, keep moving."

Wary of how such criticism impacted him, Sterling felt compelled to step in to defend Adarabioyo and others.

"I thought to myself, if I know how much it is affecting me, what would happen to a 17-year-old kid who's probably not as mentally strong as I was, where would their career end up or where would it lead to?" he said.

"I felt I had to say something because I was in a changing room with two young lads - same team, both trying their best and working their socks off, both want to be professional players at Manchester City, both wanting to do the right things for their families.

"The wording of two pretty similar stories – Phil looks like a good kid and Tosin looks like a money-oriented person. Not just us players, but the media too have a responsibility. It wasn't something I was looking for the credit for – it's just something I feel I truly believe is wrong."

Rapinoe praised Sterling for his "positive impact" and called on white players to take a similar stand in the fight against racism.

"Hopefully other players, especially white players, will see that even just saying it, lending support, retweeting something you said or saying something of their own, they can just help so much," said the reigning FIFA Best Women's Player.

"I think people feel overwhelmed, like, 'I don’t know what to do to help, I’ve got to start a huge charity', but you really don’t, you can just say something in support.

"You have this huge platform and the littlest thing can make such a difference. For kids who want to be Raheem Sterling when they grow up it’s not always the easiest road. It’s super brave you said that and you're standing up for that. I hope other players do as well."

Rapinoe has spoken out on a varied of social issues and, in 2016, leant her support to NFL player Colin Kaepernick and his protest against police brutality towards black people in the United States.

For Eduardo Camavinga, Ansu Fati, Phil Foden, Joshua Zirkzee and Youssoufa Moukoko, a delayed European Championship may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

It was confirmed this week that the 24-team tournament, which will be staged across the continent in a dozen countries, will be postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The likelihood is that several nations will have different starting line-ups in 2021 as new stars emerge.

We take a look at those uncapped youngsters who could now break into their country's team for the Euros.

 

EDUARDO CAMAVINGA

The central-midfield axis of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante was well established during France's run to glory at World Cup 2018, though, due to injury, neither man featured regularly in the Euro qualifiers as Didier Deschamps utilised Corentin Tolisso, a bit-part player for Bayern Munich, and Moussa Sissoko, who is about to turn 31.

Teenager Camavinga shot to prominence by dominating in a win over Paris Saint-Germain as a 16-year-old in August and he has been a regular for a Rennes side riding high in third in Ligue 1.

Already a France Under-21 international, Camavinga has been linked with a move to Real Madrid and, based on his current trajectory, it is easy to see him muscling his way into Deschamps' plans.

 

ANSU FATI

The youngest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League was granted Spanish citizenship in September and it appears only a matter of time before Fati is a senior La Roja international.

There were reports that the Barcelona forward, who was born in Guinea-Bissau, would have been included in the preliminary Spain squad for these March friendlies had they taken place.

However, there were no teenagers in the most recent Spain squad so, at 17, Fati can use the extra time to convince Luis Enrique he is a special case worthy of a regular spot in his XI.

PHIL FODEN

You have to be pretty decent if Pep Guardiola has called you "the most talented player" he has ever coached.

Despite that claim, there have been only fleeting glimpses of Foden in a Manchester City shirt, though regular playing time will surely be less of an issue for the 19-year-old once David Silva departs after the 2019-20 season.

His heir apparent Foden has already caught the eye for England Under-21s, and might have made the cut for Gareth Southgate's squad in 2020 anyway, but both club and country will have earmarked the classy midfielder for a breakthrough campaign next year.

JOSHUA ZIRKZEE

This enforced break could be considered both a blessing and a curse for Bayern Munich's young Dutch striker Zirkzee.

An injury to Robert Lewandowski had resulted in the 18-year-old starting Bayern's previous two Bundesliga games before the suspension and, having scored three times in 170 minutes already, he could have enhanced his reputation further in the coming weeks.

However, having only represented Netherlands at Under-19 level so far, Zirkzee still has a way to go to force his way into Ronald Koeman's senior XI for competitive fixtures. Another year of development will surely aid his case, particularly at a footballing behemoth like Bayern. 

YOUSSOUFA MOUKOKO

A name that may be unfamiliar to many outside of Germany, though perhaps not for much longer given the ridiculous goalscoring record Borussia Dortmund's 15-year-old prodigy has.

Moukoko netted for the 34th time in his 20th Under-19 Bundesliga game earlier this month, setting a new record for the competition, having scored 50 in 28 appearances at U17 level last season.

An on-time Euros would have definitely come too soon for Moukoko but Lucien Favre wants the Germany youth international training with his first team soon. By this time next year, a man already on Joachim Low's radar may just be a long shot for Die Mannschaft's senior team too.

Pep Guardiola insists he has no fear when it comes to trusting Manchester City youngster Phil Foden in big games.

Foden was handed a start in Sunday's EFL Cup final against Aston Villa and responded with a man-of-the-match display in a 2-1 victory – City's third consecutive triumph in the competition.

There had been murmurs of discontent in some quarters over the lack of meaningful minutes granted to the 19-year-old this season and Guardiola is set to face further demands to select the playmaker after his Wembley outing sparked talk of an England call-up.

The City manager is content with this state of affairs, however, pointing to Foden's goalscoring outing in a pivotal 1-0 win over Tottenham during last season's knife-edge Premier League title race as another demonstration of his trust.

"I'm not scared in the important games to put in the players I decided. I play games without strikers. I play a final with Phil because I see Phil every day," Guardiola said on the eve of an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Sheffield Wednesday.

"The only problem for Phil and other players who maybe do not have the minutes that they deserve is the squad – some players have more experience than Phil and something that he does not have just yet because he is 19 years old.

"Every time I decide to let him play he always plays good. Always he was at a high, high level.

"Last season he played against Tottenham to win the Premier League after being knocked out of the Champions League, he played against Leicester.

"When I select him, I do not have any doubts. When Leroy Sane was injured in the pre-season and the people said we have to maybe go to the market, I said, 'No – Phil can play in the middle and play wide'.

Guardiola shuffled his pack to produce some eyebrow-raising team selections last week, although he was ultimately vindicated as City claimed wins on the road at Leicester City and Real Madrid before retaining the EFL Cup.

Right-back Kyle Walker and central midfield duo Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were the only ever-presents as their boss deployed a range of tactical shapes, while the consistency of City's play in challenging circumstances pleased Guardiola the most.

"In all games we were like what we are. We changed some things in the way we attacked, the way we defend, but we played the way we are over the last years," he said.

"We spoke about that – try to be ourselves whatever happens from the beginning – and we did it."

One player seemingly still to get up to speed with these demands is Joao Cancelo.

The Portugal full-back was a high-profile close season arrival from Juventus but has so far struggled at the Etihad Stadium.

After remaining an unused substitute in Leicester and Madrid, Cancelo missed out on the matchday squad at the weekend.

Asked what the 25-year-old must do to get back in favour, Guardiola replied: "Be himself, open-minded, listen, try to do his best. We are here to help him – the normal things I want from all the players.

"It depends on him, absolutely. We can suggest but the rest, the players have to decide."

Phil Foden has the sort of attitude that means he can achieve whatever he wants to in football, according to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

The 19-year-old put in a fine display as City won the EFL Cup for the third year running with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday.

Foden's performance has apparently put him in contention for an England call-up when Gareth Southgate's men face friendlies with Italy and Denmark at the end of March.

Guardiola says Foden's immediate aims should just be to keep improving but the former Barcelona coach has no doubt about the attacking midfielder's potential.

"I want the best for him. He will get what he deserves and of course I'm delighted about his performance and behaviour in good and bad moments," Guardiola said when previewing the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Sheffield Wednesday. 

"He just works, and it always pays off. At 19 you have a lot to improve but with this behaviour he can do whatever he wants."

City have little time to dwell on their latest domestic success with preparations having already begun for the trip across the Pennines to face Wednesday at Hillsborough.

Leroy Sane was tipped to be in contention against the Owls after playing 57 minutes for City's Under-23 side on Friday. 

The Germany winger sustained a serious knee injury in August's Community Shield triumph over Liverpool, but Guardiola says the Wednesday game comes too soon.

"No. He's not ready. Six months, he needs the process. When you're out, you start, you feel good but he's not especially confident. He's doing the normal steps he needs to come back," added Guardiola, who confirmed Sergio Aguero is fit after sustaining a knock versus Villa and Claudio Bravo will again play in goal.

"[With the] second team [he played] 50-60 minutes, now it's weeks and weeks and weeks [of gaining full fitness]."

City remain a huge 22 points adrift of Liverpool in the Premier League, but the Reds saw their unbeaten top-flight record ended by Watford a day before Guardiola's men triumphed at Wembley.

Guardiola, though, did not entertain the notion the two results suggest the gap between Liverpool and City this season is not as big as the table suggests.

"The league is deserved, and it is done," he said. 

"In other competitions, we have won two this season and now we have the cup and the Premier League because we have to improve to finish second and get the most points as possible and then there are two competitions: the FA Cup and Champions League."

Guardiola also said he was impressed by the focus his team have shown in training ahead of the Wednesday fixture and insists there is no complacency from the EFL Cup success.

"They trained so well today [Tuesday], they were focused, the team is so ready to play tomorrow. I like that," Guardiola observed.

Phil Foden is hopeful of breaking into the England senior squad in time for Euro 2020 after playing a starring role in Manchester City's EFL Cup triumph on Sunday.

Foden, 19, was the best player on the pitch as City claimed a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, winning the Man of the Match award as Pep Guardiola's men retained the trophy at Wembley.

The playmaker, who came through City's academy, teed up Sergio Aguero for the opening goal in the final, before generally impressing in his role from the right flank.

England manager Gareth Southgate namechecked Foden in the past, adamant it is only a matter of time before the teenager forces his way into the squad, and the youngster hopes he can do that before this year's tournament.

"I want to be there [at the Euros], obviously, but it's very difficult with the players that we have there," he told reporters.

"But hopefully Gareth was watching, and hopefully he saw things that he liked.

"That is all I can do, just show what I can do every time I play and see where it takes me."

Guardiola has not been shy about previously dubbing Foden as David Silva's heir at City, and such comments fill the England Under-21 international with confidence rather than pressure.

"If the manager says something like that it gives you a lot of belief and courage to keep playing and doing well," he added. "That gives me a lot of confidence on the pitch.

"Not many young players like myself could play in a team like this, so it just shows the belief of the manager and the players, that they have in me which is really nice.

"When you are growing up you dream about playing at Wembley for City on a big stage, and that's a dream come true for me now.

"My dream came true [on Sunday] for me, playing in a final, and obviously to win it is even better."

The 19-year-old man of the match strolled through the Wembley mixed zone on Sunday evening wearing a beaming grin along with his winners' medal, only to receive one more instruction from his manager.

"Phil, you must!" said Pep Guardiola, gesturing towards the gaggle of waiting journalists, eagerly wanting a piece of Phil Foden.

But no sooner had he headed towards the microphones, the midfielder was told in no uncertain terms it was time to go right now as the team bus was ready to leave.

It meant Manchester City's coach driver had done something largely beyond Aston Villa for the duration of Sunday's EFL Cup final by stopping Foden from doing whatever he wanted. 

City continued their recent dominance of the competition with a third successive triumph thanks to first-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri, before Mbwana Samatta pulled one back in the 41st minute for a valiant Villa.

It proved a day to savour for City's old guard. Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva now have five winners' medals apiece from English football's mid-season final.

Club record goalscorer Aguero settled nerves after a scrappy start with a typically astute piece of poaching. Ever the man for the big occasion, the Argentina star has been directly involved in eight goals across 10 Wembley appearances, while Villa will be sick of the sight of a man boasting 10 strikes in his past six outings against them.

Within the context of Aymeric Laporte's injury struggles this season, Fernandinho has shifted seamlessly from defensive midfield lynchpin to become City's most reliable option at centre-back.

The 35-year-old typically provides an expert combination of aggression and poise while his rotating cast of partners cough up goal-causing mistakes.

Fernandinho's probing, purposeful passing from deep to get Guardiola's men back on the front foot early in the second half after John Stones' forlorn grapple with gravity in the build up to Samatta's powerful header ensured both sides of that equation were clearly evident at the national stadium.

Aguero and Fernandinho are under contract for 2021-22 but the current campaign amounts to a victory lap for the mercurial Silva, who will end a glorious decade in Manchester over the next three months.

Guardiola has frequently stated his plan for the club captain to symbolically pass the torch to Foden, who has waited diligently in the wings since his 2017 debut as the understudy to City's twinkling left-footed magician.

The realities of elite sport and the passage of time mean succession planning is rarely completely smooth, however, and the match against Villa often felt like Foden ripping the baton from his mentor's hand and tearing off on a journey mapped out in boyhood dreams.

Across 90 minutes in which Villa's refusal to go quietly was the main factor in City lacking the relentless rhythm that defines their best work, Foden was their most reliable outlet.

No-one else in their Hacienda-inspired black shirts led the dance as the teenager did, unquestionably the player most in tune with Guardiola's "take the ball, pass the ball" mantra when in opposition territory.

Foden completed 90 per cent of his 41 passes in the Villa half, set against 87.5 per cent of 32 from Silva, who he also outstripped in overall touches (71 to 57) and tenacity – (7/10 duels won to 3/8).

All the unmistakable Silva visuals remain – gliding into pockets of space in front of defenders and receiving the ball with eloquent mischief, all while shuffling easily as if in his favourite pair of carpet slippers.

And yet, each refined movement feels the tiniest split-second slower. Opponents can now generally close out those shafts of light where the 34-year-old used to thread his most delightful passes.

Foden became the player most familiar with the whites of Aston Villa eyes, daring them not to blink. One particularly velvety touch on the end of Oleksandr Zinchenko's raking 29th-minute pass almost brought a goal to savour.

Guardiola talked up the youngster's goal threat afterwards and no City player could match his five attempts on the day. Although not noted for his aerial ability, Foden's 20th-minute knockdown for Aguero means he now has seven assists to go with a pair of goals in 10 competitive starts in 2019-20.

Even without those impressive numbers, the evidence presented to 82,149 spectators was enough. On a gala day for City's most influential players of the past 10 years, Foden made a statement of intent for the decade to come.

UEFA's decision to hit Manchester City with a two-season ban from European football for Financial Fair Play breaches is likely to send shockwaves across elite club football.

But what next for the reigning Premier League champions at the eye of the storm?

Here, we have a look at what Friday's judgement means for City, Pep Guardiola and his Etihad Stadium stars.

 

Appeal could see City feature in next season's Champions League

City were swift in their response to UEFA's punishment, announcing their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Irrespective of whether City are successful in their attempts to overturn the sanctions or not, any CAS case is likely to run for months, meaning the appeal could still be ongoing when next season's Champions League rolls around.

However, even if this means City kick the can down the road and line up in Europe's top competition in 2020-21, there is little doubt the spectre of UEFA coming down hard on the club does little for long-term planning.

Guardiola's future

Guardiola is under contract at City until the end of 2020-21 and, throughout the course of an uneven campaign this time around, has frequently hinted he could be open to a longer stay.

The prospect of being denied annual shots at the competition that has eluded him since a second win with Barcelona in 2010-11 might change that, while UEFA landed their bombshell during the same week rumours linking Guardiola to Juventus surfaced once more.

The 49-year-old might find it harder than most managers to separate himself emotionally from boardroom events, given his close friend Ferran Soriano – a man instrumental in bringing him to Manchester – is City's chief executive officer and mastermind of their commercial strategy. Will his response be motivated more by loyalty or disappointment?

Summer rebuild on ice?

Despite intermittently hitting their brilliant best, City's laboured pursuit of Liverpool this season has suggested the end of a cycle for a gifted squad that has swept all before them domestically.

At least one centre-back, a left-back, a winger and possible even another central attacker could all have been on the agenda, but a prospective Champions League ban must now alter City's transfer plans.

Leroy Sane's long-rumoured exit now appears even more likely, while Europe's elite might even chance their arm with enquiries over the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Time for the Foden generation

City will now be on the outside looking in as a cluster of Europe's elite pursue their former academy product Jadon Sancho, but the immediate prospects for those currently in residence at the Etihad Campus look to have suddenly improved.

Guardiola has long earmarked 2020-21 as the campaign where Phil Foden will come to long-awaited prominence, given David Silva is bringing down the curtain on a glorious decade in Manchester when this season concludes.

Centre-back reinforcement can also come from within in the form of Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, while the prodigiously gifted Jayden Braaf might find some of his reported disciplinary problems within the academy system can now be met with a blind eye.

Domestic dominance 2.0

City will cede the Premier League to a relentless Liverpool but their 2018-19 treble might be chased again with renewed vigour next term.

The first-team squad might lose some of its depth of quality in these new circumstances, but a talent pool such as City's only being required to compete on a weekend-to-weekend basis represents a problem for those Premier League rivals being extended at home and abroad.

City's Champions League relationship broken beyond repair

City's fanbase have long nursed an uneasy relationship with the Champions League and the detente Guardiola clearly desires is now nothing other than a pipe dream.

Expect the booing of the competition anthem to reach a seething boiling point when Real Madrid visit the Etihad Stadium next month.

In a tournament where they have frequently flattered to deceive, City could do worse than to harness a siege mentality in what Guardiola can sell to his players as a now-or-never tilt for glory.

European heavyweights thumbing through their accounts

UEFA's FFP system is safe for now, but the forthcoming CAS appeal could become a long and torrid process.

City are sure to present a thorough case, which could end up casting a light on the business operations of other major clubs.

All of European football's major players will be watching on with unswerving interest and suspense.

Pep Guardiola warned Barcelona they would need time to readjust when Lionel Messi leaves the club, after Real Madrid's struggles following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus in July 2018 and the Spanish giants battled that season, winning only the Club World Cup and seeing three different coaches at the helm, including the return of Zinedine Zidane.

Manchester City manager Guardiola expects his former club Barca to endure a similar problem when Messi, another all-time great, departs Camp Nou.

"It is inevitable, these players are so transcendent," he told Post United in an interview conducted by Spanish YouTuber DjMariio, via Marca.

"When Messi leaves Barca it will take time to readjust. It is inevitable.

"They score 40-50 goals per season."

Guardiola has continued to enjoy coaching success since leaving Barcelona, a spell at Bayern Munich preceding his move to Manchester.

Already a two-time Premier League winner, Guardiola has another young star in his squad in highly rated midfielder Phil Foden.

Foden has only made two Premier League starts this season, but Guardiola talked up the 19-year-old's talent.

"He will be a bomb," he said.

"There are no clauses here, you have it raw, you have to negotiate with me."

Pep Guardiola is heartened by the progress of Manchester City's youngsters this season but knows there is no guarantee of a golden generation, such as the one he oversaw at Barcelona a decade ago or Manchester United's 'Class of '92'.

England Under-21 midfielder Phil Foden has ticked past 50 career appearances for City and scored his 10th goal for the club in last weekend's 4-1 FA Cup win over Port Vale, when Taylor Harwood-Bellis was also on target for the first time in senior football.

Harwood-Bellis' fellow teenage centre-back Eric Garcia was accomplished as he started the recent home wins over Sheffield United and Everton as part of a back three, while Tommy Doyle – who counts City greats Glyn Pardoe and the late Mike Doyle as his grandfathers – made his full debut against Southampton in the EFL Cup in October.

Footage of Doyle and Harwood-Bellis celebrating City's 3-1 first-leg win over Manchester United in the semi-finals of that competition from the away end at Old Trafford went viral this week.

Guardiola saw and enjoyed the clip but was hesitant when asked to assess the chances of City's breakthrough stars becoming household names – citing the pressures they must navigate to establish themselves at an elite club.

"I don't know. I would like to answer and say 'yes' but I don't know. To figure out if young players will become incredibly top players for the future, I don’t know," he said, speaking ahead of Sunday's Premier League trip to Aston Villa.

"This is a club that is so demanding, you have to win games. Sometimes you win four titles and it's not enough

"Four titles last season is not enough; we didn’t win the Champions League. That is the reality.

"Sometimes they compete against incredible central defenders and, for Tommy Doyle, incredible midfielders.

"For Phil Foden, it is an incredible reality. He is an exceptional player and sometimes he doesn't play the minutes he should play because he competes with what happened at Old Trafford. All the midfield players played and they played incredibly well.

"I am a big, big fan who respects the process with the young guys. But we have a tendency in all the countries – here as well – that they make the two games and already they will be the new [Wayne] Rooney or the new George Best or will be the new David Beckham."

As Foden and his contemporaries continue the early steps of their journey at City, greats of the modern era they will hope to emulate are moving on.

David Silva will depart at the end of this season, while Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero's deals expire in June 2021.

Former captain Vincent Kompany bade an emotional farewell after completing last term's unprecedented domestic treble, following the exits of Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta 12 and 24 months earlier respectively.

"We cannot deny how important all these names you name have been for this club," Guardiola said, with Kompany set to be honoured at a Football Writers' Association tribute night in London on Sunday.

"Vinny is unique, Sergio will be unique, David – these type of players are incredible. I think the club, they have the duty and the obligation to find the best replacement for all of them, as quick as possible and anticipate it.

"We have to try and find them or build them from here – it is our obligation as a club."

As he negotiates this changing of the guard at the Etihad, Guardiola again reiterated his belief that Silva's replacement will be a young man built from within.

"David is going to leave this season and we are not going to buy any player in his position because we have Phil," he added.

"Maybe this season Phil will have more minutes, or maybe less. I don't know. We trust Phil.

"If we didn't believe in him we might go to the market to replace David, but we have Phil."

Pep Guardiola says he is not in the business of giving "presents" to Manchester City's academy stars and believes Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Phil Foden can have an impact at first-team level.

Harwood-Bellis, 17, and Foden, 19, started and scored in a 4-1 FA Cup win against Port Vale on Saturday, while 18-year-old Tommy Doyle appeared as a substitute.

Foden is a more established name than his teenage team-mates, having started in the Premier League, but manager Guardiola urged his young players to keep working hard for their chances.

"Of course, it is important [to have local young players] with Taylor and Phil - and Tommy," Guardiola said. "[Doyle] played a month ago in the Carabao Cup and played a few minutes today.

"It's not because they are English - we believe they can do it because they are good players. We don't give presents. They have to earn [it] for themselves.

"In these games, we have space for everyone. But from what we have seen so far, they have the quality to help.

"Young players have to not talk too much, to train, to work and to listen and learn and learn and learn. They have to learn.

"The minutes are good for their development, and then the future is in their hands. The privilege for them has to be in this club and playing minutes with this team."

City invited Vale into their dressing room post-match, and Guardiola added: "It was a pleasure. I saw the manager and the sporting director.

"It's nice for us to host these clubs and for their players to realise we are the same. We play at a different level but dreams are dreams."

Port Vale's Tom Pope had the FA Cup impact he promised before holders Manchester City ran out 4-1 winners at the Etihad Stadium.

Pope, whose disparaging Twitter post about City defender John Stones came to light following the third-round draw, nodded in a superb 35th-minute equaliser after Oleksandr Zinchenko's deflected opener.

However, Sergio Aguero ensured the hosts went in ahead at half-time before youngsters Taylor Harwood-Bellis – inadvertently scoring his first senior goal after Stones thought he had City's third – and Phil Foden sealed the Premier League champions' progress.

Nathan Smith scrambled an eighth-minute effort from Foden out of the goalmouth but fellow Vale centre-back Leon Legge was not so effective with his own last-ditch attempt – turning Zinchenko's speculative 20th-minute strike past Scott Brown.

David Silva inexplicably scuffed Ilkay Gundogan's low cross into the turf and against the crossbar with the goal at his mercy and City would rue that miss.

On a rare Vale attack, David Amoo raided down the right and Pope found space off the back of Harwood-Bellis to dispatch a fine header.

Another player who would certainly fall under Pope's self-applied label of "bagsman" is Aguero, and City's all-time record goalscorer restored his team's lead after Foden stayed just onside to steer Gundogan's chipped pass across goal.

Brown made superb early second-half saves to deny Bernardo Silva and Foden, yet City had the breathing space they desired before the hour.

Stones looked to have levelled the personal duel with Pope – insofar as there was one – but a VAR check showed his close-range shot clipped Harwood-Bellis on the line.

A wretched clearance from Stones, half-blocked by Pope, meant Vale substitute Tom Conlon almost reduced the deficit with a diving header, while David Silva's frustrating outing in front of goal continued as he dragged wide.

But Foden got the goal his efforts deserved from a drilled Angelino cross, allowing attentions to turn towards a blockbuster midweek derby.

What does it mean? Guardiola's Cup kings march on

Pep Guardiola selected a team with one eye on the forthcoming first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Manchester United and City were far from their fluent best. Still, City have now prevailed in 22 of their past 23 domestic cup ties, with a 2018 FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Wigan Athletic the only blot in the past three seasons.

Pope walks the walk

Vale's veteran striker arguably set himself up for a fall seven months before this tie with a tweet claiming he would "get 40 a season" playing against Stones. Pope's bravado was duly unearthed after the draw and, although the visitors' goal had nothing to do with any short-comings on Stones' part, he relished backing up his bold words.

City understudies come up short

Angelino and Claudio Bravo should probably thank Pope for targeting Stones on social media, because their parts in the goal might be overlooked. The left-back's lacklustre efforts when it came to stopping Amoo's cross left City in trouble. It was a fine finish but, not for the first time in his City career, Bravo appeared awfully flat footed, meaning his chances of pulling off the save were limited to begin with.

What's next

City resume their other domestic cup defence with the first of a Manchester derby double-header at Old Trafford on Tuesday, while there is a Manchester United-flavour to Vale's midweek assignment as they travel to Salford City in the EFL Trophy on the same day.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola claims midfield superstar Kevin De Bruyne plays the type of passes other footballers are simply incapable of.

The Belgium midfielder produced a dominant display to inspire City to a comfortable 3-0 away win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.

De Bruyne scored two fine goals either side of an assist for Raheem Sterling, leaving defending champions City 14 points behind leaders Liverpool.

The two-goal star played in a more advanced role and, while lauding his passing, Guardiola acknowledged the benefits of De Bruyne being shorn of defensive responsibility.

"Kevin made an incredible two goals and an assist," Guardiola said in his post-match news conference.

"He is an extraordinary player so we don't discourage his quality. He sees passes and action that normal humans can't see, having a special vision and assists.

"Always we speak to him, 'You have to score more goals', and today he scored two incredible goals and got an assist for Raheem Sterling.

"Kevin can play in different positions, but, of course, when they can think more in attack and less in defence, it is much better."

Guardiola was satisfied with the performance of Phil Foden, who made his first Premier League start of the season against Arsenal.

City frequently looked to hit the hapless Gunners on the break, though, which Guardiola suggested did not suit the 19-year-old's game.

"Phil always plays good," the manager said. "He doesn't always touch the ball but he played well defensively.

"We make the actions for the counter-attack but not as much ball possession, so that's why he did not touch the ball too much.

"Always when he has the ball, he does another extraordinary thing. He is a great player.

"He did what he should do and helped us to win the game, especially in the first half. He’s so clever with his passes and so on."

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne vowed the champions will "keep fighting" for the Premier League title despite the huge gap to leaders Liverpool even after crushing Arsenal.

The Belgium international scored two goals and provided an assist in City's clinical 3-0 win at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

City are 14 points adrift of table-topping Liverpool and four behind second-placed Leicester City, who they face next weekend.

But while manager Pep Guardiola has acknowledged a third straight City championship is "not realistic", De Bruyne was encouraged by the response to last week's Manchester derby defeat.

"We keep fighting," De Bruyne told Sky Sports. "I think every time you lose a game, the only reaction you can show is to win the next one. 

"Every time we lose points, we come back with a good reaction. We know we have not been at our best this year, but there are still a lot of games to play for us."

De Bruyne fell short in his bid for a stunning hat-trick, seeing one effort saved spectacularly by Bernd Leno, but he was content with his work.

He said of the goals: "For the first, the ball came with the bounce and I tried to keep composed, not lean backward, and keep it as low as possible, and, fortunately, it went low enough and under the bar.

"I think the second goal and the shot [that was saved] after were similar, but the goalkeeper doesn't see the ball [for the goal] and it gives him less reaction time.

"It would have been nice to get a third, but to score two goals and win after the struggles we have had is good. It's good to come back with a win."

Alongside De Bruyne, teenager Phil Foden made a long-awaited first Premier League start of the season.

He acknowledged the merits of featuring in the same midfield as the two-goal star, adding: "When you have a guy like this, anything can happen. It's a pleasure to play with him. 

"I can't be in a better position than I am to learn from him."

Guardiola added: "Kevin made incredible goals and assists. The first and third goals - both were fantastic.

"The reaction was always there to losing the derby. We played much better than this in the past and lost or drew, and here we win. That is football."

There was a time when the thought of Manchester City without David Silva would have left supporters in a nervous sweat, such has been his influence and impact in the Premier League.

The crafty Spaniard will arguably go down as the greatest import in Premier League history, with his technical and passing abilities almost unrivalled, while he has enjoyed incredible success with City.

Yet, if Sunday's exceptional 3-0 demolition of Arsenal proved anything about City, it's that their midfield now looks better without Silva, who will depart at the end of the season.

One man stood out in particular in north London.

After the whistle was blown to signify the end of the first half at Emirates Stadium, Kevin De Bruyne ambled towards the tunnel appearing typically expressionless – his face showing no hint of acknowledgement of what he had just done to Arsenal.

It was an absolute masterclass from the barnstorming Belgian, whose trademark blend of emphatic power and technical wizardry left the Gunners utterly helpless.

The first goal, just 89 seconds into the match, was quintessential De Bruyne. Receiving Gabriel Jesus' cut-back as it sat up for him, he found the roof of the net with a finish that seemed to defy the laws of physics, picking up remarkable speed despite it being a controlled, side-footed strike.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, however.

There was a purpose and relentlessness to De Bruyne's performance that gave the impression he was playing with a vengeance, like he'd been wronged and was out to exact revenge by imposing misery on the hosts.

That drive was plain to see when creating City's second goal, exchanging passes with Jesus before darting forward with three defenders for company and squaring to Raheem Sterling for an easy finish.

But there was even more to that goal than De Bruyne just running very fast in a straight line and then passing. The move began just outside City's own penalty area, with Rodrigo doing brilliantly under pressure before Phil Foden took several out of the equation with a line-breaking pass.

It was a fitting involvement from the 19-year-old, who was making his first Premier League start of the season in place of the injured Silva.

Many had long been calling out for Foden to secure a place in the starting XI ahead of Silva, who by his own standards has been underwhelming this term.

The talented England Under-21 international quietly went about his business during the first half, often filling the half spaces towards the flanks. Although by no means devastating, almost every time Foden got the ball he looked capable of picking through Arsenal's midfield line.

He did just that when setting up De Bruyne's gorgeous second, turning cleverly and darting into space before nudging possession to the Belgian, who sumptuously found the bottom-left corner.

History almost repeated itself late in the half, the same pair combining – only this time Bernd Leno displayed a comparable level of brilliance with an astonishing save, tipping De Bruyne's strike on to the post.

With De Bruyne's ruthlessness, Foden's nous for finding dangerous spaces and Rodri's authoritative conducting, City's midfield looks set for the foreseeable future.

Though Pep Guardiola's use of Foden does continue to puzzle.

The decision to withdraw him in the 56th minute when 3-0 up against a team with barely a modicum of mental fortitude was eyebrow-raising, particularly given Guardiola's regular backing of Foden as Silva's so-called heir.

Foden's ability has even led Guardiola to lauding him as the greatest young player he's ever worked with. This from the man who coached Lionel Messi during his early years.

If Foden even gets close to De Bruyne's standard, City fans will consider themselves extremely fortunate, as on Sunday's evidence there are few better than the Belgian.

In De Bruyne and Foden, City have a creative hub that could dominate for years – but Guardiola needs to let go of the reins if the latter is to succeed Silva and reach the level he appears destined for.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola handed Phil Foden a first Premier League start of the season in Sunday's clash at Arsenal.

Midfielder Foden has made seven league appearances for City this season but all had come from the bench before his promotion at Emirates Stadium.

The 19-year-old's inclusion came as one of four changes made by Guardiola to the side which lost the Manchester derby last weekend as Nicolas Otamendi, Bernard Mendy, Ilkay Gundogan were also recalled.

John Stones, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Angelino were the players to make way.

Arsenal interim boss Freddie Ljungberg made two changes to the side which beat West Ham on Monday.

Sead Kolasinac and Matteo Guendouzi were included in the starting line-up with the injured Kieran Tierney and Granit Xhaka the players dropping out.

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