Juventus and Inter are reportedly ready to do battle for Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo.

Zaniolo, 21, made his return from a serious knee injury this month and has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Roma.

A pair of Serie A giants may be ready to fight for the midfielder's services.

 

TOP STORY – INTER, JUVE TO BATTLE FOR ZANIOLO

Inter are ready to challenge Juventus to sign Roma star Zaniolo, according to CalcioMercato.

Zaniolo is considered one of Europe's best young talents, and left Inter for Roma in 2018.

Roma reportedly want at least €50million for the five-time Italy international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Contracted at Manchester City until 2021, Sergio Aguero may yet stay at the Etihad Stadium a little longer. The Mirror reports City have not ruled out giving the star forward, 32, a one-year extension.

- With Neymar repeatedly linked with a return to Barcelona, it seems the LaLiga giants are wanting to distance themselves from the Paris Saint-Germain star. Marca says Barca are keen to see the rumours of a potential return for Neymar stop.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Barcelona apparently have interest in two players from Tottenham. The Daily Star says Barca want Ryan Sessegnon and Tanguy Ndombele. However, it reports Spurs will reject all offers for Sessegnon this close season.

- Philippe Coutinho's future remains unclear. Mundo Deportivo reports the playmaker, who is on loan at Bayern Munich from Barcelona until the end of the season, will not decide his future until after the Champions League next month.

- Plenty of talk continues to surround Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is coming out of contract at the Premier League club next year. The Daily Star reports the forward will sign a contract extension with Arsenal – if no other club makes an official approach.

- After just two goals in 25 games for Real Madrid, Luka Jovic seems set for an exit. According to Mundo Deportivo, Juventus, Inter, Chelsea, Leicester City, Milan and Napoli are all considering moves for the forward.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero will not recover from his knee injury in time to face Real Madrid in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

Aguero sustained meniscus damage during last month's 5-0 Premier League win over Burnley and was operated on by Guardiola's preferred surgeon, Dr Ramon Cugat.

A four-to-six-week recovery period appeared to place Aguero in contention for the August 7 second leg with Madrid, which UEFA this week announced was clear to take place behind closed doors at the Etihad Stadium.

City hold a 2-1 advantage over the 13-time European champions but, after Friday's draw paired the winner of their last-16 tie against Lyon or Juventus, they will have to try and seal a place at the final stages in Lisbon without their all-time record goalscorer.

"I told you many times no. [Defintely] no," Guardiola told a news conference when asked about Aguero's prospects.

Friday's draw mapped out City's potential route to glory, with prospective semi-final opponents coming from a quarter-final between Napoli or Barcelona and Chelsea or Bayern Munich. 

Nevertheless, Guardiola insists City must not look past an in-form Madrid who appear set to wrest LaLiga from his beloved Barca's grasp. 

"We play against Real Madrid," he said. "If we think about the next step the kings of this competition, Real Madrid, will put us out.

"There is not one person who knows Real Madrid better than me, their potential and history, and we have to play this game.

"I saw the draw maybe two or three hours after it was made. I’ve got Brighton [in the Premier League on Saturday] and continue to prepare for Arsenal [in the semi-finals of the FA Cup].

"After that, we have two games and a potential [FA Cup] final to prepare for Real Madrid. That's all I have in my mind." 

City's bid for an elusive Champions League crown might be thrown into sharper focus on Monday if the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) uphold their two-season ban from UEFA competitions for violating Financial Fair Play regulations.

Guardiola reiterated his belief that City will be cleared by CAS and, irrespective of the verdict, he does not feel events in a Swiss court room will fuel his players.

"The intention is every season to play in the Champions League as best as possible, it's not about Monday," he said.

"On Monday, I'm so confident because I know and hear the arguments of the club. Next season we will be there and after I will give my opinion and the club will give a statement."

City head to Brighton and Hove Albion looking to snap a run of three successive away defeats in the Premier League.

Guardiola could once again call upon Benjamin Mendy after revealing the left-back sat out matches against Southampton and Newcastle United over the past week due to "muscular issues". 

A couple of days on, Manchester City's 1-0 defeat at Southampton – their ninth loss of a limp and unsuccessful Premier League title defence – still appeared to be irritating Pep Guardiola.

How had it happened again? Such wastefulness.

Guardiola warned his players their FA Cup and Champions League hopes will go up in smoke if they remain so profligate, with his suggested remedy sounding more like exasperation than a practical solution.

"The only solution when you create 26 chances [and don't win] is to do 35," he said, recalling the precise number of attempts City had without scoring on England's south coast last weekend.

"And if 35 is not enough, 40. And if 40 is not enough, 45."

The City manager stopped before his chances to minutes ratio ran away from him entirely, but his team do create a phenomenal amount of opportunities.

In a Premier League table compiled using results from each game returned by Opta's Expected Goals (xG) metric, City would be top and not a mammoth 23 points in arrears.

Put simply, if fairly absurdly, the division's top scorers have a goalscoring problem.

NO SALVATION FOR JESUS

Sergio Aguero's knee-injury absence means Gabriel Jesus is City's only fit senior striker. This is certainly not the best time for the Brazil international to be enduring a nine-match goal drought.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's home game against Newcastle United, Guardiola made a point of praising Jesus' performance at Southampton, but his numbers make for grim reading.

Of the five opportunities Opta classified as big chances to pass the visitors by at St Mary's, Jesus spurned three of them. His xG figure for that barren showing was 1.36.

In 29 Premier League appearances, the 23-year-old has scored 10 times in 2019-20. This is a significant under-performance of his 14.7 xG.

Jesus' big-chance conversion rate is 25 per cent. No City player has enjoyed more than his 28 opportunities of that sort, yet just seven have ended up in the net.

However, as noted above, this is a team-wide problem for which Jesus is currently – albeit somewhat understandably – the main scapegoat.

THREE AND NOT SO EASY

As of Monday, there had been 24 occasions this Premier League season when a team registered an xG in excess of three during a single match.

City have done so six times, more than any other club. However, their xG of 3.25 against Southampton means they are also the only team to have lost when racking up such a dominant statistic.

Burnley's 3.15 xG only amounted to a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham, but in the other 22 instances, the team creating such a high volume of quality chances prevailed.

City also had an xG of exactly three during their 2-2 draw at home to Spurs last August - an outcome Guardiola still frequently references when assessing where the campaign went awry.

AGUERO LEADS THE WAY

City's all-time leading goalscorer, Aguero turned 32 last month and is out of contract at the end of next season.

The team's recent struggles arguably give an uncomfortable insight into the not-too-distant future. None of Guardiola's other main forward options are as reliably clinical or prolific.

Aguero' 16 Premier League goals this season arrived at a frequency of one every 91 minutes. In contrast to Jesus, he out-performed his xG of 14.6. The Argentina international converted 13 of 25 big chances (52 per cent).

Raheem Sterling was on target during the recent comprehensive wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, but his haul of 13 dips below an xG mark of 14.8, in part due to 10 of 26 big chances being finished off (38 per cent).

MAHREZ AND FODEN OFFER HOPE

Elsewhere, Opta's numbers show not all City players should despair when confronted with a sight of goal.

Riyad Mahrez has an xG projection of six Premier League goals this term, but is up to nine in reality.  The former Leicester City winger isn't entirely immune to the jitters, however, with four of his six big chances missed.

Perhaps the situation calls for bold belief of a special young talent.

Phil Foden's provides a smaller sample size in terms of minutes played, yet the England Under-21 star has four goals despite an xG figure of 1.3.

All of those goals – a brace against Burnley in between strikes versus Arsenal and Liverpool – have come since lockdown and Foden is two from two when it comes to big chances.

Pep Guardiola believes Gabriel Jesus should be valued in his own right at Manchester City and not compared unfavourably to the club's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

A knee injury to Aguero has afforded Jesus his latest chance for an extended run as first-choice striker at City, although the opportunity has arrived with the Brazil international enduring a barren run in front of goal.

Since scoring a vital winner at Leicester City and heading in the equaliser in City's 2-1 Champions League win at Real Madrid in February, the 23-year-old has gone eight matches without adding to his season tally of 18.

As his attacking colleagues dazzled in Thursday's 4-0 win over Premier League champions Liverpool, Jesus endured another evening of personal frustration and missed the opportunity for a statement performance with the 32-year-old Aguero into the final year of his contract.

Ahead of Sunday's trip to face Southampton at St Mary's – where Jesus enjoyed one of the highlights of his City career two years ago, scoring decisively in stoppage time to seal a 100-point season in 2017-18 – Guardiola offered his backing, citing the forward's "unique" selfless qualities.

"No one can compare to Sergio, what he has done in his career – first because he is older than Gabriel," he said.

"It is perfect for us because they are complimentary. What one guy has the other one maybe struggles with.

"Gabriel has something that is unique in the world. He helps us to be more aggressive. He is a fighter.

"I remember how many goals we have scored the last three or four or five games thanks to him.

"Gabriel is something special for us. It is unfair to compare players. Every player is different. We have to adapt his qualities for the benefit of him and the team."

By contrast, there are no notable questions over the talents of midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne at present.

The playmaker turned in another swashbuckling showing to down Liverpool, opening the scoring with his fourth consecutive penalty conversion before having a hand in all of the other goals.

De Bruyne wore the captain's armband last time out and, a year on from long-time skipper Vincent Kompany leaving City and with club captain David Silva heading for the exit door, Guardiola praised the 29-year-old's growing leadership qualities.

"Yes [he is a leader], for the role he takes in the locker room and takes responsibility on the pitch," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss added.

"When he is captain, he wants to be captain. He wants to help, he wants to play a part and put the club and the team in front of himself.

"For sure [I see increased maturity]. Myself, I am not the same person I was when I was 25. I changed in many things. Kevin, for sure."

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Ahead of Liverpool's trip to City on Thursday, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

Real Madrid or Manchester United? 

The two European giants appear to be the likeliest options for Jadon Sancho, who continues to be linked with a move away from Borussia Dortmund. 

Sancho has been tipped to make the move to Old Trafford but the England international could be set to grace the Santiago Bernabeu instead. 

 

TOP STORY – MADRID AND UNITED FIGHTING OVER SANCHO

Real Madrid and Manchester United are going head-to-head to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to Le10 Sport.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Dortmund for United, though Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have all emerged as possible destinations.

Zinedine Zidane reportedly wants to bring Sancho to Madrid as Dortmund demand a huge fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Sergio Aguero and Milan Skriniar be set to swap clubs? Calciomercato reports Inter are eyeing Manchester City star Aguero in a deal that would see Nerazzurri defender Skriniar move in the opposite direction. Inter could be in the market for a forward as Barca eye Lautaro Martinez, while Pep Guardiola's City are desperate to bolster their defence.

- There has been no decision on David Alaba's future, according to Bild journalist Christian Falk. The Bayern Munich star has been linked to City, Juventus, Chelsea and PSG.

Mauricio Pochettino is in talks to take over Portuguese giants Benfica, Record says. Pochettino has been out of work since he was sacked by Tottenham in November.

- Calciomercato claims Milan's hierarchy will confront Mino Raiola in the next 48 hours to try to finalise a new contract for star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Arsenal have made an offer for Levante midfielder Enis Bardhi, reports Onda Cero. Fiorentina and an unnamed Bundesliga club are also interested.

Barca and Juve are expected to announce the swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic on Monday after undergoing medicals, according to widespread speculation. Arthur will join Juve, while Pjanic is set to replace the Brazilian at Barca.

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Here, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

Pep Guardiola is hopeful Sergio Aguero can return for the conclusion of Manchester City's Champions League campaign after the club's all-time leading scorer underwent knee surgery.

Aguero was operated on by Guardiola's preferred surgeon, Dr Ramon Cugat, in Barcelona on Wednesday, two days on from aggravating a pre-existing complaint during Monday's 5-0 win over Burnley.

City have not confirmed the precise nature of the striker's setback but reports in his native Argentina claim Aguero has suffered meniscus damage.

The recovery period from such a surgery typically ranges from four to six weeks, meaning a return for the second leg of City's last-16 encounter against Real Madrid – which will take place on August 7 or 8 – looks a possibility.

Speaking ahead of the trip to Chelsea in the Premier League, Guardiola acknowledged being without his most reliable goalscorer would be a significant setback in the quest for continental glory.

City have won six of the past seven domestic trophies on offer but have not been able to take that dominance onto the European stage, where they are facing a two-season absence pending the outcome of their appeal against a UEFA ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"Of course, the impact is big," said Guardiola, whose side will progress to a final eight tournament in Lisbon from August 12-23 if they can drive home a 2-1 advantage established at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"To win the Champions League you have to arrive in the right moment, the right time in the best possible condition.

"But at the same time, the situation is what it is and sometimes the rest of the players step forward to solve these situations.

"We have to wait and hopefully [Aguero] can help us against Madrid and, if we are good enough to go through, maybe for the next rounds."

As the games come thick and fast in the restarted season, Guardiola is ready to think creatively with Gabriel Jesus now the only fit natural striker in his first-team squad.

Selecting players in unusual roles to fine effect has become something of a forte for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, although the suggestion Ilkay Gundogan – who has spent most of this season in defensive midfield – could be used as an attacking spearhead raised eyebrows.

"The players who understand the game and are so smart, they can play in all the positions," Guardiola said. "There are incredible players who play in just one position and Ilkay can play in many positions.

"Not like a striker, a main target, but a striker who can drop and play and get to the box. He is an outstanding player because he is so intelligent.

"That's why, for the disappointing situation for Sergio because we need him a lot, we have Gabriel. We don't have any doubts about him.

"But of course, we play a lot of games in a short time of recovery and preparation. So that's why you have to think of different options."

City produced arguably their two finest performances this season when Guardiola picked teams without a conventional striker.

En route to EFL Cup success, a side with Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne roaming as nominal leaders of the attack beat Manchester United 3-1 in the first leg of the semi-final – racing into a 3-0 half-time lead.

The same hybrid 4-4-2 setup was also deployed from the start against Madrid, and Guardiola feels he has plenty of options with which to unleash that strategy again.

"[Raheem] Sterling can play there without a doubt, I think it is an incredible position for him," he added.

"At the same time we can play Bernardo. Bernardo played there at Old Trafford and helped us to qualify for the cup final.

"Bernardo is another player like Gundogan who can play in different positions because he is so smart."

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has undergone surgery on his left knee in Barcelona.

Aguero sustained an injury, reported to be damage to his meniscus, during Monday's 5-0 Premier League win over Burnley.

Pep Guardiola told reporters on Wednesday that his top scorer would be operated on this Thursday by his preferred surgeon Dr Ramon Cugat, who has treated City players including Benjamin Mendy, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne during the Catalan's time in Manchester.

However, shortly after his boss' news conference to preview the forthcoming match at Chelsea, Aguero tweeted a picture of himself from his hospital bed, suggesting the procedure had already been carried out.

"Everything went well and I'll soon begin recovery," he wrote.

"A big thanks to Dr Cugat and his team – and to all of you for your support."

Recovery from meniscus surgery generally ranges from four to six weeks, meaning Aguero could return for the concluding stages of this season's Champions League.

City hold a 2-1 advantage over Real Madrid ahead of the second leg of their last-16 tie, which will take place on August 7 or 8.

Should Guardiola's men progress, they will take part in an eight-team mini-tournament in Lisbon, between August 12 and 23, comprised of one-off quarter-final, semi-final and final matches.

Aguero has scored 16 goals from 24 Premier League appearances this season, just 18 of which were starts. He averages a goal every 91 minutes.

If the injury rules him out of City's final eight top-flight matches, his streak of scoring at least 20 times in the league for the last five seasons will come to an end.

Sergio Aguero is to undergo knee surgery on Thursday, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

City had said on Tuesday that Aguero would travel to Barcelona for an assessment on his damaged left knee.

The Argentina striker was in discomfort after winning a first-half penalty in Monday's 5-0 Premier League victory over Burnley and the injury appeared to be aggravated in a challenge with Clarets skipper Ben Mee.

Following the game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted it did not "look good" for Aguero, who was struggling with the injury in training prior to the top-flight's resumption.

He will now go under the knife, although he has not definitively been ruled out of the conclusion to the Champions League campaign, which will take place in August.

Sergio Aguero is to travel to Barcelona for an assessment on his damaged left knee, Manchester City have confirmed.

The Argentina striker was in discomfort after winning a first-half penalty in Monday's 5-0 victory over Burnley and the injury appeared to be aggravated in a challenge with Clarets skipper Ben Mee.

Following the game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted it did not "look good" for Aguero, who was struggling with the injury in training prior to the Premier League's resumption.

Original reports suggested Aguero had damaged his left meniscus and would require surgery.

City stopped short of confirming the 32-year-old will go under the knife, but it remains a distinct possibility.

"@aguerosergiokun suffered damage to his left knee in our recent 5-0 win over Burnley," City posted on Twitter.

"The striker will now travel to Barcelona to see Dr Ramon Cugat for further examination.

"Everyone at City wishes Sergio the best with his recovery."

It remains to be seen if CIty's top scorer will have any further involvement in the side's Premier League and FA Cup campaigns.

City also face a nervy wait to see if their talismanic striker will be available for the resumption of the Champions League in August.

Guardiola's men still have to complete their last-16 tie against Real Madrid, which they lead 2-1 from the first leg.

Should they progress, City will compete in an eight-team straight-knockout tournament in Lisbon to determine this season's Champions League victors.

Sergio Aguero is to travel to Barcelona for an assessment on his damaged left knee, Manchester City have confirmed.

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gives Argentina time they must use wisely to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

A sixth Ballon d'Or and a host of typically imperious performances this season show Messi is going nowhere just yet, but he turns 33 this month. His own 'Last Dance' is nearing.

Realistically, the rearranged 2021 Copa America that they will co-host with Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds is a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core – even if a diet of friendlies this season makes progress a little hard to judge.

At centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing, Lautaro Martinez looks to have established himself as the new number one ahead of Messi's great friend Aguero.

Since Scaloni took charge, the Inter star has nine goals in 13 starts – averaging one every 109.6 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 6.4. Messi has five goals at 160.4 per minute from an xG of 6.3 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has during an acclaimed campaign at San Siro (11 Serie A goals at one every 152 minutes). Aguero's 16 Manchester City goals have arrived every 87.6 Premier League minutes in 2019-20, but his strikes come every 201.7 minutes in the Scaloni era.

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero still looks highly likely to have some role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. Others have not been spared as Scaloni quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of two years into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties

Angel Di Maria has not added to his 102 caps since being dropped to the bench during the Copa. Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Rodrigo de Paul.

One of Scaloni's dependable in a new-look engine room alongside Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes, De Paul's 81 dribbles completed for Udinese were the second most in Serie A last season and his eight assists put him joint fifth alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Staying in Serie A, German Pezzella's 60 interceptions, 155 clearances, 96 headed clearances and 30 blocks all see the Fiorentina man rank highly. A late bloomer on the international stage, the 28-year-old was named captain against Ecuador – alongside Ajax's left-back dynamo Nicolas Tagliafico – and he might have just enough about him to offset Nicolas Otamendi's frequent reversions to slapstick.

Scaloni still looks light on quality and cover behind an all-star attack, where Lucas Ocampos and Angel Correa are also thrillingly part of the equation. This is where the 12-month delay could really come in handy.

Paredes, De Paul and Pezzella will all be better with another year of their primes under their belts, while Giovani Lo Celso's development under Jose Mourinho at Tottenham will be watched with interest.

Leonardo Balerdi and Exequiel Palacios are each 21 and early in their Bundesliga careers at Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen – two clubs with exceptional records when it comes to developing young talents.

If this more unheralded generation continue to grow in stature, Scaloni might just have a team to let Argentina dream again. After all, their captain isn't bad either.

Lionel Scaloni said playing alongside countryman Lionel Messi is better for Inter star Lautaro Martinez amid growing links to Barcelona.

Martinez has been tipped to swap Serie A side Inter for LaLiga champions Barca in the off-season following his exploits in Italy.

The Argentina international forward scored 16 goals in 31 matches across all competitions before the 2019-20 season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As speculation grows over Martinez's future, Argentina head coach Scaloni discussed the 22-year-old.

"If he plays with Messi he is better, no doubt. Beyond that later he will have to fight for the position as he did in Inter," Scaloni told TyC Sports.

"We have to be calm. If he changes clubs, maybe he does not have to be the undisputed starter, and it will not affect us, as long as he has a number of minutes that allows him to be in force.

"He has a huge future but still has a lot to give."

With Martinez dominating headlines, Scaloni issued a reminder about Sergio Aguero's exploits for Argentina and Manchester City.

Aguero is City's all-time top scorer as he celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday, while he is third on Argentina's overall goals list with 41.

"Talking so much about Lautaro, it is Sergio who is breaking all the records," added Scaloni. "That is why you have to go calmly and wait for the moment of each one."

Sergio Aguero might struggle for somewhere to put his birthday cards, given his living room cabinets are liberally decorated with hat-trick balls and man-of-the-match trophies.

But if the social media window into the home life of Manchester City's all-time leading scorer has shown he is unlikely to be celebrated for his approach to interior design any time soon, fans can relish one of the modern game's elite goal-getters soon returning to action.

Aguero brought up a double landmark at the end of January – completing a record 12th Premier League hat-trick with his 250th City goal in a 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa.

Eric Brook's previous best mark of 177 was overhauled in a Champions League win at Napoli in 2017 and, as he turns 32, Aguero has considerable daylight between himself and the rest in the club record books.

Alan Shearer, whose hat-trick mark he surpassed, is still the division's leading scorer by some distance with 260, although Wayne Rooney (208) in second and third-placed Andy Cole (187) are vulnerable to Aguero, who is fourth on 180.

Going back to when he first moved to Atletico Madrid from Independiente as a teenager, Aguero has 254 league goals in 376 starts across LaLiga and the Premier League.

Since joining City in 2011-12, his top-flight haul places him seventh among all players in Europe's top five leagues.

Naturally, Lionel Messi (319) and Cristiano Ronaldo (287) are way ahead over that period, but how does Aguero compare to the best of the rest?

Using Opta data, we compared Messi's Argentina colleague with a group of his contemporaries who might also lay claim to being the finest out-and-out number nines of their era.

Record in Europe's top five leagues since 2011-12

GOALS

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) - 180
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Saint-Etienne, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal) - 182
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) -139
Edinson Cavani (Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain) - 190
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Milan, PSG, Manchester United) - 161
Harry Kane (Tottenham) - 136
Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund, Bayern Munich) - 223
Luis Suarez (Liverpool Barcelona) – 207

Like Aguero, a striker to have thrived despite the particular demands Pep Guardiola places upon his centre forward is Bayern star Robert Lewandowski. He is out in front within this elite group and showing no signs of slowing down. Luis Suarez is the only other man through the 200 barrier during the period in question, which Messi and Ronaldo handily obliterated.

MINUTES PER GOAL

Aguero – 106.9
Aubameyang – 130.8
Benzema – 146.5
Cavani – 110.4
Ibrahimovic – 101.3
Kane – 120.6
Lewandowski – 106.4
Suarez - 114.4

While he is outscored by an esteemed handful of his counterparts, few can match Aguero when it comes to efficiency. His 106.9 goals per minute is another all-time Premier League best (for players with a minimum of 20 goals) and is almost identical to Lewandowski's figure. Zlatan Ibrahimovic sits atop this metric – as the man himself would no doubt expect – thanks largely to a brutally prolific four-year spell at PSG.

SHOT CONVERSION PERCENTAGE

Aguero – 18.2
Aubameyang – 20.1
Benzema – 18.2
Cavani – 21.1
Ibrahimovic – 18.7
Kane – 18
Lewandowski – 19.8
Suarez – 18.6

There is little to choose between them here, although Aguero ranking second-bottom is a little surprising given his superb goals-per-minute record. Within the group, only Harry Kane scores with a lower percentage of his shots. Edinson Cavani, who has dutifully performed in the shadow of other star turns in Paris, is the most lethal.

ASSISTS

Aguero – 46
Aubameyang – 46
Benzema – 71
Cavani – 31
Ibrahimovic – 50
Kane – 20
Lewandowski – 43
Suarez – 88

Aguero's involvement in City's all-round game has unquestionably improved under Guardiola and he is closing in on a half-century of assists – matching Aubameyang's number in 31 fewer appearances.

Playing alongside Messi and Ronaldo looks a good way to feather your stats in this regard, with only CR7's old Madrid foil Karim Benzema coming close to Suarez, the S in the MSN forward line that delighted under Luis Enrique. Ibrahimovic might not be noted for his selflessness as Suarez and Benzema are, but he again ranks impressively, while Lewandowski's all-round game is to the fore once more.

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