Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia for free after the end of the season, presidential candidate Toni Freixa says.

The centre-back has been tipped to return to Camp Nou, where he was a youth player until 2017, since telling City last year he would not be signing a new contract.

It has been suggested Barca could look to bring in Garcia this month to bolster their defence, but Freixa suggested January incomings are highly unlikely due to their financial problems.

Instead, the 20-year-old Spain international is expected to join after his contract expires this year.

Speaking after a meeting with the interim Barca board and other presidential candidates, Freixa was quoted by Sport as saying: "We've valued the signing of Eric Garcia, but he will arrive in the summer when the season ends and he's available for free."

Freixa, who is running for president against favourite Joan Laporta and Victor Font, says head coach Ronald Koeman has not made any demands for the present transfer window.

Indeed, spending is highly unlikely given the major impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the club's finances.

Barca posted pre-tax losses of €100million last season, with debt more than doubling to €488m, as a 24-per-cent reduction in matchday revenues and a drop in merchandise sales took a huge toll.

The senior players agreed to a wage cut to help reduce costs and prevent club staff being made redundant, which helped to save €74m, but investment in the squad this year remains difficult.

"Koeman has not demanded anything," said Freixa. "He's only stated what is needed. We talked about what to do, and in the current situation, we cannot spend.

"The situation of the club is what it is. What we all know is that it's a critical situation as a result of the stadium being closed and we can't generate income as we normally did.

"But it's not an alarming situation that requires us to take an extraordinary decision."

Freixa added that the elections are due to be held on March 7, having been postponed this month to avoid the risk of members travelling to polling stations amid rising coronavirus cases across Spain.

"They've explained to us that the implementation of postal voting won't allow for the voting date to be earlier than March 7. Therefore, it's set for that date," he said.

Dani Ceballos knows only too well why Martin Odegaard has become frustrated at Real Madrid, insisting ambitious young players "need to play regularly" to further their development.

Odegaard impressed last season during a loan spell at LaLiga rivals Real Sociedad, yet he has struggled for minutes this term having returned to Madrid.

The Norway international has started just five games in all competitions and clocked up a mere 233 league minutes, leading to reports in Spain that he wants to leave in the January transfer window.

Ceballos himself is spending a second season on loan at Arsenal, a decision taken to make sure he had a greater opportunity for first-team action.

"I don't know exactly what happens with Martin, but it is obvious that any player who wants to succeed at Madrid is going to grab the opportunity he has," Ceballos said in an interview with Efe.

"I don't know what Martin thinks, but I know I think that when you're young and you have goals and objectives, what you need is to play regularly.

"If you don't, it's like something is missing. I guess that's what's happening to Martin."

Odegaard has failed to score or assist in his nine appearances for Madrid this season, having contributed seven goals and nine assists in 2019-20 while away on loan.

The 22-year-old has been linked with a return to Sociedad, potentially in a loan deal that includes an option to buy.

Ceballos, meanwhile, has not given up hope of forcing his way in at Madrid, though will need assurances over his future role if he is to remain in the Spanish capital next season.

"They don't have to tell me anything," the midfielder - who has won 11 caps for Spain - said of his own future. 

"It would be to have a talk with the coach and the coaching staff that is in at that moment and know that I will have equal opportunities with him.

"From there, you have to earn it on the field."

Ceballos has played in 24 games for Arsenal this term under Mikel Arteta, his most recent start coming in the 0-0 home draw with Crystal Palace on January 14.

Former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson would like to see Jack Grealish make a move to Old Trafford.

Aston Villa star Grealish has been linked with the Red Devils in the past 18 months but there has yet to be a concerted effort to sign him.

However, with the future of Paul Pogba unclear beyond this season, talk has again emerged that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could look to Grealish as a possible replacement for the France star.

The England international has created a competition-high 55 goalscoring chances in the Premier League in 2020-21 from only 15 appearances.

The 25-year-old has become integral to Villa's improved performances this term, making 11 per cent of all of their passes and drawing 73 fouls, the most of any player in the division.

Former skipper Robson, twice a league champion with United, thinks Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be making a smart move if he added Grealish to his squad.

"It was a good decision giving [Jack Grealish] the [Aston Villa] captaincy," he told Stats Perform. "I think it's made him a bit more mature.

"He's a powerful player. He's quite a strong boy and he's quick and the way he can sort of go either way past people, he's always going to be a danger and that's why he gets so many free-kicks. Him and Villa have been terrific this season.

"He's been linked with us but those decisions, thank goodness, are with Ole and the board of directors. I wouldn't mind seeing Jack Grealish in a Manchester United shirt. I don't know whether the staff at Old Trafford fancy him, much as you'd like to see him play for your club."

United face Fulham on Wednesday looking for a win that would take them back to the top of the Premier League.

Grealish and Villa are in action away to in-form Manchester City.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos has left Arsenal after agreeing to terminate his contract with the club.

The defender has not made a Premier League appearance since March 7 last year and has not featured in a matchday squad in any competition in 2020-21.

The 32-year-old is now free to speak to other clubs, with Sevilla, Real Betis and Genoa among those said to be interested.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Sokratis said: "One of the most enjoyable times in my career ended today.

"It has been an honour to wear the Arsenal shirt and I want to thank all the coaches, team-mates, staff and fans around the world for the love and respect they have given me.

"I gave everything for Arsenal and Arsenal also gave me a lot. I wish you all the best health and success always. Thank you."

Arsenal technical director Edu said: "On behalf of Mikel [Arteta], our coaches, players and everyone at the club, I would like to thank Papa for his contribution to the club.

"He has been an important part of our group and has been a model professional throughout. The negotiations to end his contract have been collaborative and we wish Papa and his family well for the future."

Sokratis, whose deal had been due to expire at the end of the season, joined Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in July 2018.

He made 69 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners, reaching the Europa League final in 2019 and winning the FA Cup last year.

In his time at the club, Sokratis won 57 tackles, 158 aerial duels and 314 duels, as well as making 248 clearances. Only Shkodran Mustafi ranks higher among Gunners defenders in that time.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has dismissed comments by Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo confirming they would be interested in signing Lionel Messi.

Leonardo said on Monday PSG have a seat "reserved" at the table of clubs who are "following closely" the developments around Messi's future.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is in the final six months of his Barca contract and could leave on a free transfer after this season.

Koeman, though, thinks it is normal for top players to be coveted by other clubs, saying he could never claim to have no interest in having PSG's star forwards at his disposal.

"If you ask me if I'm interested in Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe, I'd say yes," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I don't know what will happen in the future; I can't give an opinion on those. We try to have the best squad possible."

Messi is serving a two-match ban for his red card in Barca's Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao, although the club are appealing against the punishment.

"The club told me it's two games, the club doesn't agree [with the sanction] and we'll see," said Koeman. "There are things that can be defended and hopefully they reduce the sanction. If not, we play two games without Leo.

"We've trained, Leo has trained with a lot of eagerness and I haven't seen anything odd. Everyone is sad for the Supercopa result, but we're on the road to better things, above all defensively. Leo is right in the middle of this."

Barca face a Copa del Rey clash at Cornella, the team that shocked LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid in the previous round, on Thursday.

Sergino Dest and Sergi Roberto are sidelined with minor injury problems and Koeman says further first-team regulars will be rested given both Barca games at the Supercopa went to extra time.

"For them, it's the game of the year and for us it's the next one to be ready for. We have to go through because we're Barcelona. It depends a lot on mentality," he said.

"We're angry, it's normal. We have to be like that because we had the Supercopa close and they equalised in the last minute.

"I think we're on a good path - I think so, at least. And we have to keep moving forward. There are players with knocks but it's normal after two matches in extra time and two flights.

"We're going to make changes. We'll see tomorrow [how many]. We want to put out a strong team and, above all, a team that's strong mentally."

Estudiantes winger Dario Sarmiento is reportedly destined for Manchester City and the Argentine club's chairman Juan Sebastian Veron believes he offers abilities that are not common in the modern game.

Sarmiento has made just 14 league appearances for Estudiantes since being handed his debut as a 16-year-old by former Barcelona defender Gabriel Milito in October 2019.

Although he is yet to score or provide an assist in Argentina's top flight, City are reportedly willing to part with £17million to bring him to the Premier League.

His evident ability running with the ball at his feet and the fact he stands at just five feet and five inches has inevitably led to comparisons to six-time Ballon d'Or winner and Argentina captain Lionel Messi.

Veron has no doubt Sarmiento has the talent to enjoy a successful career but warned plenty of work in the right environment is needed for him to reach his potential.

"He has incredible improvement margins. To me, he has quality," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"Now a lot of clubs look for this kind of player, who runs on the flank. It is so easy for him to dribble his marker – not something so easy to see these days.

"He is fast, agile, nice left foot and great at dribbling, but he is still a project of a player.

"Will he become a great player? It depends a lot on him and on what team he will join to carry on his development. A lot of it is up to him."

A dribbling specialist

Argentina has long provided a hotbed of young talent that has been poached by the financial might of European clubs and Sarmiento looks set to move across the Atlantic Ocean in the near future.

Looking at players born after the turn of the millennium to have played at least 450 minutes in the Liga Profesional Argentina since the start of 2019-20 gives a good indication of how this burgeoning talent compares to his contemporaries.

It is his dribbling ability that has marked him out as a potential star - only Thiago Almada (20) of Velez Sarsfield has more carries with a chance created than Sarmiento (nine).

However, when looked at on a per-90-minutes basis, Sarmiento comes out on top with a league-leading rate of 1.4 compared to Almada's 1.1.

He has averaged 2.6 carries with a take on per 90 minutes, the fourth-best behind Pedro de la Vega (3.0), Alan Velasco (4.1) and Gaston Gonzalez (4.8).

Going at defenders

It is clear that Sarmiento is certainly not afraid to take people on.

He has averaged 5.4 attempted take ons per 90 minutes over the past two Liga Profesional Argentina seasons – enough to rank fifth – and has a success rate of 58 per cent. Among players fitting the aforementioned criteria that have attempted at least 20 take ons in total, that puts him eighth in the league.

Perhaps Sarmiento's success rate is affected by the fact he also looks to beat his man in dangerous areas. He has attempted 0.9 take ons in the box per 90 minutes, well clear of Franco Orozoco (0.6) who registers second in that metric. Furthermore, his 0.5 take ons with a shot per game is another league-leading mark.

It is clear there is plenty of substance to Sarmiento's play and he could become a potent force if, as Veron suggests, his talent is fostered astutely.

Could Harry Kane land in Paris?

With Kylian Mbappe tipped to join Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly eyeing replacements.

Mauricio Pochettino has a familiar face in mind…

 

TOP STORY – POCH WANTS KANE IF MBAPPE LEAVES

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino wants to sign Tottenham striker Harry Kane, according to El Chiringuito de Jugones.

That is if PSG star Kylian Mbappe leaves the Ligue 1 champions for LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

Pochettino coached Kane for five years at Tottenham before he was sacked by Spurs in November 2019.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sky Sport Germany claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba will not decide on his future until he has spoken to Barcelona. Marca reported that Madrid had struck a deal to sign Alaba on a free transfer at the end of the season. However, Alaba is reportedly holding out for Barca as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and PSG try to lure the Austria international.

Martin Odegaard has asked to leave Madrid on loan due to his lack of game time, reports Marca and Diario AS.

Romelu Lukaku has no intention of leaving Inter for City, says Express Sport. Lukaku spent two years at United before moving to Italy in 2019. Pep Guardiola's City have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland amid doubts over Sergio Aguero's future.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester City defender Eric Garcia could join Barca this month or at the end of the season.

Milan are eyeing Barca's Junior Firpo on loan, while Serie A rivals Napoli are also interested, according to Calciomercato.

- Eurosport reports Tottenham are looking to prise Danny Ings away from Southampton. Ings is reportedly stalling on a new contract as he eyes a Champions League club.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted the Premier League giants only sign players that fit the club's long-term strategy amid ongoing transfer links.

With the January transfer window open, United have once again been linked to Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, Bayern Munich's soon-to-be free agent David Alaba and Lens defender Facundo Medina among others.

During the previous window, United signed 33-year-old forward Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles, Facundo Pellistri and teenage sensation Amad Diallo – who arrived from Atalanta this month.

As United eye their first Premier League title since 2012-13, Solskjaer discussed the club's transfer plans.

"Whenever you get the chance to speak to players or learn about their personalities, what you get through a chat when you've been put together, that is very important," Solskjaer said ahead of Wednesday's trip to Fulham.

"And of course, we've been here, we know where we want to get to at Manchester United. Do you want to be part of bringing us back to the successful times - that's always been one of the topics that we've discussed.

"We're not here for a quick fix, we have players who have a long-term role to play. Even if it's, say Edinson [Cavani] coming in at the age of 33, he still has a part-long term by who he is, and how he comes in and what he does to the club and to the players."

United are second in the Premier League but can reclaim their two-point lead atop the table with victory at Fulham midweek.

Solskjaer's United are unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League away games. In their top-flight history, they have only once gone longer without defeat on the road – 17 matches between December 1998-September 1999.

Luke Shaw has played a key role for United following his man-of-the-match display in Sunday's 0-0 draw against defending champions Liverpool at Anfield.

Form and fitness have hampered Shaw since his big-money arrival from Southampton in 2014, but the 25-year-old full-back is returning to his consistent best.

"Luke has immense quality," Solskjaer said. "He has a very good technique, good quality. You see against Liverpool, he takes the ball and drives forward, that is something that I have pushed him more to do because we know he can do it.

"It is generally down to the boy himself, mentally he is very good at the moment, he has become a dad. He is physically very good, his fitness is so much better and he keeps beating his high-intensity stats and his total distance stats. He has been consistently up there with what a full-back should be doing.

"When you have the talent of Luke, when that fitness and the mental bit is sorted then you are always going to get good performances."

United are the only side without an away defeat in the Premier League this season (W7 D2), while the Red Devils have picked up the most points (23) and scored the most goals (22) on the road in the competition this term.

The Manchester team are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games against promoted sides (W6 D2), scoring 25 goals in those games since a 2-0 loss to Cardiff City in May 2019.

Meanwhile, of all clubs to have played more than two Premier League games on Wednesdays, United have the highest win rate (62 per cent - 70/113).

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino heaped praise on Kylian Mbappe amid doubts over his future with the Ligue 1 champions, though he was reluctant to discuss Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

Mbappe has been tipped to join LaLiga champions Real Madrid, but PSG remain committed to trying to re-sign the star forward – who is out of contract in 2022.

The 22-year-old has gone four matches without a goal, while he has managed just two goals in his last eight appearances for league leaders PSG.

Pochettino was asked about the possible renewal of World Cup winner Mbappe, who has scored 12 goals in 16 Ligue 1 appearances this term and 14 across all competitions.

"The club are working on retaining the best and he has a huge future ahead of him," Pochettino – who was absent from the win over Angers due to coronavirus – told Cadena SER's El Larguero programme. 

"What coach wouldn't want to work with Mbappe?".

Asked about Mbappe and Neymar after replacing Thomas Tuchel at the start of January, former Tottenham boss Pochettino added: "They've both welcomed me and are open to a new footballing proposition and I can only thank them for the warm reception."

Barca captain Messi has been heavily linked with a move to PSG as he prepares to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Messi has entered the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou and PSG sporting director Leonardo admitted the club are keeping a close eye on the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Premier League giants Manchester City have also emerged as a destination for Messi, while Serie A side Inter are believed to be interested.

But Pochettino refused to give much away when quizzed on Messi, saying: "To be honest, I haven't had time to sit with the president and talk about the transfer market as we're just focused on the present. So many times, a throwaway phrase can be twisted and used out of context."

When it was put to him that PSG are monitoring Messi, Pochettino replied: "No comment. When I was at Espanyol or Southampton, my dream was to have the best players at the club and Messi came close to being loaned out to Espanyol… The deal was well advanced but he delivered a great display in pre-season and that was the end of that.

"We've met over the years in places such as London or in Italy. We both share the love for Newell's, as we both came through their academy and that is our common bond."

"I'm aware of all that is going on. I've been watching everyone from West Ham to Valladolid and these days you need to keep your eyes on every team," Pochettino added ahead of PSG's clash with Montpellier on Friday. "I really don't want to talk about Messi as everything then gets blown out of proportion."

Lionel Messi is free to negotiate a move to clubs outside LaLiga and Juan Sebastian Veron thinks Javier Zanetti will be key to Inter's hopes of signing the Barcelona superstar.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is in the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou, having failed to engineer a move away during the close season.

The 33-year-old has long been linked with a switch to Serie A giants Inter, where his former Argentina team-mate Zanetti – the Albiceleste's most-capped player of all time – is vice-president.

Former Nerazzurri and Argentina midfielder Veron does not expect Messi to be at Inter next season, but believes it will be down to Zanetti if he does complete a move to San Siro.

"I don't think he can go to Italy. If he will, it is because of Javier Zanetti, who knows him and will try to talk to him, making him feel important again and to explaining the future projects of the club," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"At the end of the day it is purely Messi's decision. But if Inter want to make an attempt, they have to use seduction and get to his heart to draw him near. 

"I don't know how many more years Messi wants to play at this level, but if you want to sign him, Inter have to make Messi their flagship and make clear they want to be at the top level."

After a 2-0 victory over Juventus on Sunday, Inter sit second in Serie A three points behind leaders Milan.

Antonio Conte's side have not been lacking in attack this term, though, with Romelu Lukaku (12 goals, three assists) and Lautaro Martinez (nine goals, three assists) developing a potent partnership in the league.

No forward in Serie A to have played at least 10 games this season has had more Opta-defined 'big chances' than Lukaku, whose tally of 20 is only matched by Edin Dzeko and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Belgium international has the best conversion rate of the trio, scoring from 12 such openings for a 60 per cent success ratio. Ronaldo is second on 55 per cent, while Dzeko is third on 35 per cent.

Messi has scored 11 goals and assisted two more in LaLiga this term, while converting 58.3 per cent (seven out of 12) of his big chances.

The Barca captain's 35 key passes are only bettered by Iago Aspas (37), and his 100 attempts on goal in the Spanish top flight this season are almost twice as many as Karim Benzema (51) in second.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar is heading back to Schalke for one last mission in his career after leaving Ajax to join a battle to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

The 37-year-old former Milan and Real Madrid striker recently announced he would retire at the end of this season, and Huntelaar now says he wants to "play my part" in saving lowly Schalke.

He previously played for Schalke from 2010 until 2017, scoring 126 goals for the Royal Blues before heading to Ajax, and he departs the Dutch giants to join a team now coached by Christian Gross.

Schalke sit bottom of the Bundesliga with seven points from 16 games, having won only once in the league this season.

Huntelaar told Schalke's website: "We need to win games and score goals to climb up the table. I want to play my part in the club staying up. Schalke belongs in the Bundesliga and it's our responsibility to make sure that we stay here."

The moves means Huntelaar's Ajax playing career is over after a second spell in Amsterdam, having first caught the eye there from 2006-08, opening the door to his San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu stints and a career in the Netherlands national team.

In all, Huntelaar scored 158 goals in 257 official games for Ajax. He won an Eredivisie title in the 2018-19 season.

Marc Overmars, director of football at Ajax, said it was the honourable thing to do to let Huntelaar ride to the rescue of his old team.

"It was Klaas Jan's wish to help Schalke avoid relegation in the last four months of his career," Overmars told Ajax's website.

"We thought it was important for him to let this move go through and fill his shoes internally with Lassina Traore and Brian Brobbey. We wish the best for Klaas Jan with this transfer and thank him very much for everything he has done for Ajax."

Hansi Flick insists he has heard nothing from David Alaba about a transfer to Real Madrid amid reports the defender has agreed to join the LaLiga champions.

Alaba will be out of contract at Bayern at the end of the season and Spanish sports newspaper Marca claimed on Monday that agreement on a four-year deal at the Santiago Bernabeu had been reached.

However, Alaba's father and advisor denied that is the case while Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane refused to discuss the issue in his media conference on Tuesday.

Despite the reports, Flick appears to still be hopeful Alaba could remain with Bayern, though he accepts matters appear to be trending in a different direction.

Bayern head coach Flick told a news conference ahead of Wednesday's clash with Augsburg: "Those are things that are always possible when there is a transfer window and contracts are expiring.

"At the moment I have to admit that I have not heard anything from him regarding this topic. Hope dies last.

"However, I know that things are moving towards a direction which means change for the team.

"David Alaba showed a good performance against Freiburg and it is important for him to stay focused. That is how I experience him, as does the whole team.

"We have to continue. We know things like this are possible in football and that there are always changes at the end of a season.

"Change also has the potential to develop the team. We'll have to wait and see what happens. There's nothing more we can do at the moment."

Flick indicated that if Alaba does depart at the end of the season, Bayern will move quickly to find a replacement for the Austria international.

"Obviously, David Alaba is a player who is not only valuable for the team on the pitch, but also in the locker room and elsewhere," Flick added.

"But these kind of things [transfers] happen. Where the road takes him, we don't know. We have to wait and see what happens. I'm not having any thoughts around that at the moment.

"It is clear though that if a player of his calibre leaves the club, the club has to react and get another player. The future will tell what happens.

"Currently, this is not a topic for me because we will have this squad until the end of the season, so the focus is on this team and all the players we have available.

"What happens after that is a new chapter for the club and the team, and one has to make the best of it then."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Amad Diallo has made a "quite remarkable" impact in training and could be given his Manchester United debut soon.

The 18-year-old completed his move to United from Atalanta, which was originally agreed in October, this month.

Diallo did not start a competitive game for Atalanta, only making a handful of substitute appearances.

But Solskjaer has been impressed by how the winger has adapted so far and suggested he could be on the pitch for the first team within a month.

Solskjaer has previously praised Diallo's training performances and went even further ahead of Wednesday's game with Fulham.

"Very good [first impression]," Solskjaer said about Diallo.

"He can handle the ball, he has enjoyed training, makes a difference in training, which is quite remarkable at his age.

"Some adjustment to settle into the hustle and bustle of the Premier League but I can't see it's too long until he’s in the squad."

Asked if it might be four or five weeks until his debut, Solskjaer added: "It might be quicker than that, he has definitely settled down well.

"Players have taken to him, he is a good character, polite, smiley boy who works really hard.

"He is doing his sessions, getting used to us, there is always a period of adjustment needed but he is settling in well."

United boss Solskjaer expects one or two more players to depart before the January transfer window concludes.

He said: "I don't want to go into individuals but we can probably allow one or two more to go out.

"But the strength we have is we have a deep squad, strength in depth, we don't want to give our advantage away by easing off on our players, I can't give you a better answer than that."

Defenders Brandon Williams and Phil Jones were the only players who did not train ahead of the Fulham clash.

Solskjaer added United were still waiting for their latest batch of coronavirus results 30 hours after undergoing tests and hoped to receive them soon.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has no concerns over Bruno Fernandes' form or fitness ahead of the clash with Fulham.

Fernandes has not registered a goal or an assist in his last three appearances for the Premier League leaders.

He showed his frustration when being substituted late in Sunday's 0-0 draw against champions Liverpool at Anfield.

Much has been made of United's reliance on Fernandes and how much of a risk it would be to rest him.

And Solskjaer has no plans to do that ahead of the away game with Fulham on Wednesday, having launched a staunch defence of the Portugal international's recent displays.

"His form is very good, he was just voted [Premier League] Player of the Month," Solskjaer said about Fernandes.

"He is not tired, no, no chance. 

"He is one of the players that runs and covers the ground every single game, very good at recovering, very good at recharging his batteries.

"If he scored his free-kick [against Liverpool], if it just had a little air on the ball when Luke [Shaw] put the cross in, he would have been lauded as best player in Premier League again.

"Since he came in, he's been absolutely immense. He is not tired and if I ask him he will say there is no chance he is tired."

Fernandes only completed 11 of his 20 passes in the Liverpool half on Sunday and crafted a solitary chance, but Solskjaer believes such performances come with the territory when a player shoulders so much of a team's creative burden.

"He is expected to create goals, score goals and sometimes the margins are against him," he said. "That free-kick, thought that was in, some passes he plays are marginal, on or offside.

"So he's always on the verge of creating something even when he loses the ball.

"That's the position I want him in and what he's been told to do, he has to be the creative one. I want him to play the passes he sees."

United are unbeaten in their past 11 league games against Fulham and have scored 29 goals in the process.

The have also not lost any of their previous eight Premier League matches against promoted sides, winning six of them.

But Solskjaer is wary of a team who have improved since a miserable start to the season, drawing with Liverpool and Tottenham recently as well as running Chelsea close with 10 men.

"I think they have had a good turnaround from a slow start," he said.

"They have made some very good signings towards the end of the window and they are very well coached. 

"Scott [Parker] and the team trust their own organisation, team shape, and it is one of the hardest teams to break down.

"It's hard enough to go to Craven Cottage anyway but at the moment they are really well structured on and off the ball, quick strong players defensively and players that can make the difference."

United are the only side without an away defeat in the Premier League so far this season, having won seven of their nine games. 

Solskjaer's men have the most points (23) and have scored the most goals (22) on the road in the top flight this term.

Pep Guardiola has ruled out Manchester City delving into the transfer market with Sergio Aguero to again be absent when they host Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Aguero has made just five Premier League appearances this season and has missed City's past three games in all competitions while in self-isolation despite testing negative for COVID-19.

Guardiola has used Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Ferran Torres in the central attacking role during the Argentina international's absence but is not interested in bringing in further options.

The City boss simply replied "no" when asked if the club could look to bolster their options in January after he confirmed Aguero would not return to face Villa.

"He is not ready for tomorrow. He is still isolating," Guardiola said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"We need Aguero, we miss him. The numbers speak for themselves. He's the best striker in our history.

"He can win games by himself and for a long time he has not been with us, but we have not sat here complaining. We moved forward with the players that we have and found alternatives."

Aymeric Laporte has not been part of a matchday squad for City since December 26 but Guardiola confirmed he is nearing a return from a thigh injury.

However, with Ruben Dias and John Stones having developed an incredible centre-back partnership, the City boss warned Laporte it will not be easy for him to regain his spot.

"He is at the last step. He is not ready for tomorrow, but he is training with us. Yesterday was the first one, today was the second," said Guardiola.

"Hopefully [back to face Cheltenham Town on Saturday]. That would be good news. We need him. We cannot play with just Stones and Ruben. We need Nathan [Ake], we need Eric [Garcia], we need Laporte.

"It depends on him [whether he can get into the starting line-up]. The quality is there so if he is in top form and his mind is open he is the best left-sided centre-back.

"He has special qualities on the ball. He has to be focused to come back as best as possible and he will have the minutes. Being in the team or not depends on the performance of everyone."

In the eight Premier League games Stones and Dias have started together, City have dropped just two points and conceded a single goal.

In the nine matches where either one of them has not started, they have conceded 12 at an average of 1.3 per game.

No Premier League defender has been involved in more clean sheets (eight) or has a superior passing accuracy (93.4 per cent) than Dias, whose 78.3 successful passes per 90 minutes are only bettered by Thiago Silva (83.8).

On Dias, Guardiola said: "We knew his quality on the pitch, we knew a bit his personality but we have been impressed at the consistency, being ready mentally and physically to play every three days.

"You always expect the best but we are more than delighted with what he has given to the team.

"[His impact] has been massive, not just with John. He has the ability to live every single action, always concentrated on what he has to do and helping his team-mates. It is not easy to find that in someone who is 23 years old."

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