It is not unusual for centre-backs to have high passing accuracy, especially in teams that prefer to play out from the back, but Aymeric Laporte's precision in Manchester City's win over Everton was perfect.

The Spain international completed all 110 of his attempted passes at Goodison Park, surpassing a record he set in December, as Premier League leaders City went on to claim a crucial 1-0 victory thanks to Phil Foden's late goal.

While Everton will lament their luck after a VAR call went against them, City controlled the game in the second half, after initially being pushed back by their hosts in the opening 45 minutes.

Indeed, City's expected goals (xG) of 0.18 in the first half was the lowest figure for them in the first period of any Premier League game this season. Their xG rose to 2.0 by full time.

However, the pressure City were under makes Laporte's composure on the ball even more impressive.

Of his 110 passes, 57 came in Everton's half, while his 124 touches was also a game-high, with the defender chipping in with a joint team-high three tackles to boot.

Most of his passes (37) went to defensive partner Ruben Dias, while he found Joao Cancelo on 20 occasions and Rodri on 14, with a combined 20 going into City's starting front three.

Laporte's 110 successful passes were the most by a player in a Premier League game without failing to find a team-mate at all since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04. The 27-year-old also held the previous record, having completed all 109 of his passes in the 6-3 win over Leicester City on Boxing Day, in which he also scored.

When stacked up against players in Europe's top five leagues, Laporte is the only one to have recorded 100 per cent passing accuracy when attempting over 100 passes on more than one occasion.

Napoli's Amir Rrahmani (114/115 against Cagliari) and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Leandro Paredes (105/106 against Nantes) are the only other players to have registered at least 99 per cent passing accuracy when attempting over 100 passes.

Laporte has recorded over 95 per cent passing accuracy in 12 of his 22 league appearances this term.

Manchester City's 12-match winning run in the Premier League came to an end with a 1-1 draw against Southampton at St Mary's Stadium on Saturday. 

The runaway league leaders conceded a first-half goal for just the third time this season through Kyle Walker-Peters' sublime finish on the half-volley after seven minutes.

Southampton had an Armando Broja goal ruled out for offside and continued to pose a threat, though City dug deep and levelled through Aymeric Laporte's 65th-minute header.

City dominated possession and looked the more likely side to claim all three points, but they failed to do so in a league game for the first time since October 13.

Walker-Peters gave Southampton a shock early lead with his first Premier League goal after carrying the ball down the right, exchanging passes with Nathan Redmond and sending a controlled outside-of-the-boot strike away from Ederson.

Having survived another scare when Broja had a goal chalked off, City showed signs of life and would have been level before half-time if not for a fine close-range save from Fraser Forster to deny Raheem Sterling, who had plenty of the goal to aim for.

The lively Broja headed against the post from a couple of yards out and Jan Bednarek skewed the follow-up off target, while Rodri skimmed the top of the crossbar at the other end as the game opened up.

Southampton had conceded in each of their last 10 league matches, however, and they were once again undone by a set-piece as Laporte got away from his marker and guided home Kevin De Bruyne's free-kick. 

That sparked a City onslaught, with De Bruyne hitting the post from range and having a penalty appeal rejected, but Southampton held on to make it two points from their two meetings with the champions this term.

Barcelona are in the market to bolster their squad in January.

The Spanish giants have financial challenges to overcome.

But after an ordinary start to the season, they are ready to get busy to build Xavi a stronger squad.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA TO MOVE FOR LAPORTE

Barcelona could move for another Manchester City star, with The Sun reporting that the Blaugrana want to sign Spain international Aymeric Laporte.

The defender has lost his starting spot to John Stones and is said to be unsettled at City.

Barcelona announced a deal to sign Ferran Torres from City this week.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus have no interest in a potential swap deal with Barcelona whereby Alvaro Morata would trade places with Memphis Depay, reports Football Italia.

Newcastle United are set to complete their first piece of January transfer business by signing Lille defender Sven Botman, claims the Mail.

Liverpool are interested in Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, claims the Express. Saka is contracted to the Gunners until 2024.

Liverpool have also pitched a contract offer to Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, reports Ansa.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was unhappy with the decisions to send Aymeric Laporte off and disallow Gabriel Jesus' goal as his side slipped to a 2-0 defeat against Crystal Palace.

Wilfried Zaha scuffed in an early opener before Laporte was shown a straight red card for hauling the Ivory Coast forward down in a promising position.

Jesus thought he had snatched an equaliser despite City's man disadvantage, but the strike was ruled out for a marginal offside after a VAR check, and Conor Gallagher made it 2-0 late on to seal the result.

Leicester City defender Jonny Evans committed an almost identical offence to the one Laporte was dismissed for against Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earlier in the day, but was only shown a yellow card.

Guardiola, who was unable to mark his 200th Premier League game with a victory, revealed his frustration with the inconsistency of the decisions made and claimed that his team played well for long spells, despite the error that led to the opening goal.

"Many things went wrong," Guardiola said to the BBC after the game. "We conceded an early goal, played a good first half but at the same time there was the sending off and the interpretation from the referee.

"The fans were behind us but unfortunately the goal was disallowed. This afternoon, Jonny Evans with the same action got a yellow card. It is an interpretation from the referee. We made a mistake for the goal and the second one a yellow or red card it depends on the referee.

"It's VAR. I don't know the line. It was a yellow card in Leicester a red here. The referees are the bosses and they decide. The goal we conceded was our mistake."

Palace manager and former Arsenal and City midfielder Patrick Vieira, meanwhile, declined to pass judgement on whether the decisions were accurate, but said that luck was necessary to overcome difficult opponents.

"I wasn't really well-positioned to make a call [on Laporte's red card]," Vieira told the BBC. "That went in our favour, the offside went in our favour. You need that if you want to win at City and we will take it because in the last couple of games we have not had that luck."

The Frenchman also hailed his side's defensive work as a unit, while also singling Zaha out for special praise after a superb showing from the forward.

"You have to defend well and we did it," Vieira continued. "You have to take your chances and we did it and you need a bit of luck because of the quality of their players. When you have those three aspects you have more chance but I am really proud of the way we fought.

"We could not come to a place like this and not have players taking part of the defensive work. Everyone worked really hard. When you sacrifice yourself like that you are really pleased when you get a win.

"What is important is to keep improving ourselves. This is a group that needs to play more games together and believe more in themselves. I am pleased with the step we made today. We have started to have confidence in ourselves but there is still a lot they can give.

"When Wilf is like that, taking his chances and working really hard, he is somebody who is really strong on one versus one. His personality, his character he is a winner. He worked really hard and this is what I expect and want from him."

Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha heaped praise on manager Patrick Vieira after a shock 2-0 victory over defending Premier League champions Manchester City.

Zaha opened the scoring in the sixth minute, becoming the first player to reach 50 goals in the Premier League for Palace, before Aymeric Laporte was sent off for bringing him down and Conor Gallagher wrapped up the points late on.

The unexpected win at the Etihad Stadium saw the Eagles end their run of four consecutive draws and rise to 13th in the table, and Zaha was quick to credit Vieira for the team's positive form.

Vieira ended his playing career at City and then began his coaching career with the north-west club, bossing the reserve team before moving on to sister club New York City FC. He had a spell with Nice and joined Palace in July of this year.

"I feel like we have had a threat [before] but the difference now is that we keep the ball from the back and build and make our chances," Zaha said after the game. "We are exploiting our talent.

"[Vieira] knows what he is talking about and we have all seen him do it. It's surreal because he was an amazing player. Every player is buying into it and slowly the results will come."

The Ivory Coast forward was pleased with how Palace disrupted City and revealed delight at his growing connection with on-loan Chelsea midfielder Gallagher.

"It was about getting in their faces and not letting them play," said Zaha, according to the BBC. "We know how good they are, we wanted to show them what we could do."

His goal was not a clean strike, as Zaha admitted.

"I scuffed it, but a goal is a goal," he said. "I was just buzzing to see it go in, so I was happy. Conor Gallagher brings a lot of energy and I needed people to link up with."

City defender Dias was downcast about the result and questioned whether Laporte's challenge on Zaha was worthy of a red card, with Leicester City's Jonny Evans shown only a yellow for a similar offence against Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earlier in the day.

"The reaction is that we have a game in a short period of time and we are already thinking about it," Dias said. "Today we lost three very important points, but it is football. We are not happy but looking forward. Today we were not at our best, but even so the team fought and gave everything and it was not enough."

On the dismissal of Laporte, Dias said: "It was a little bit strange to see a red. I was walking back thinking it was a yellow. I never thought [the referee] would go for a red but we have to accept it."

Crystal Palace earned a stunning 2-0 win at Manchester City as Wilfried Zaha and Conor Gallagher spoiled the party in Pep Guardiola's 200th Premier League game.

City suffered a first home league defeat of the season and had Aymeric Laporte sent off, the defender having earlier committed the error that gifted Zaha his sixth-minute opening goal - his 50th in the league for Palace.

Spain international Laporte struggled to deal with the Eagles' star forward and was caught out again in first-half stoppage time, denying Zaha a goalscoring opportunity as the last man with a clumsy challenge and being shown a red card.

Gallagher put the result beyond doubt with two minutes of normal time left to play, emphatically finishing off a counter-attack after good work from Zaha and Michael Olise.

Zaha gave Palace a shock early lead as Gallagher caught Laporte on the ball at the back before finding the Ivory Coast forward, who scuffed a low shot beyond Ederson and into the bottom-right corner.

City struggled to find their rhythm for most of the first half and Laporte's afternoon went from bad to worse just before the break as the centre-back was shown a straight red card for hauling Zaha down as the Eagles forward was set to go clean through on goal.

The hosts thought they had drawn level on the hour mark as substitute John Stones – a minute after his introduction – picked out Phil Foden with a terrific raking pass and the 21-year-old clipped a ball to the back post where Jesus squeezed home from a tight angle, but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside after a VAR check.

City pushed for an equaliser in the remaining half-hour, but Palace remained resolute and stung the hosts in the 88th minute. Zaha held the ball in the box before squaring to Olise, who laid it off for Gallagher with one touch, allowing the midfielder to thump into the top-right corner and ensure Guardiola's landmark game ended with the Spanish boss empty-handed for once.

Luis Enrique claimed Spain are among the top teams in the world, but insisted they have to improve if they want to be the best.

La Roja defeated a plucky Kosovo side 2-0, making it consecutive wins to top Group B after Sweden ended their 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying that stretched back to 1993.

Pablo Fornals was on target for his first international strike, while Ferran Torres scored to become the first player to score six goals in a calendar year for Spain since David Silva (seven) in 2017.

Second-place Sweden slipping up against Greece opened a four-point gap but Luis Enrique implored his team to improve if they are to challenge to be the world's number-one outfit.

"We have made many mistakes, we have had many inaccuracies and we have suffered because of that," Luis Enrique told reporters post-match.

"It was a great relief to score the second goal, which ended the match and see the result that we all hope.

"This group is excellent and eager to improve, accept everything that they are told with the idea of being a stronger team. [We] made changes, six or seven new players coming in but the idea and philosophy stays the same.

"But we are not the best in the world even though we are among the best. Anyone can beat us and there is no one who wins every game."

The Spain head coach also bemoaned the quality of the pitch in Pristina, a sentiment echoed by Aymeric Laporte, who recorded a game-high 139 touches and completed another game-leading 96.9 per cent of his 129 passes.

"It was a highly contested game, we got [the win] at the end and it relieved us," Laporte said post-match.

"The pitch was not optimal. We kept our idea of playing and with a pitch like this, it is complicated.

"In the end, the important thing is the result. We have the determination to win everything, we are Spain and now we have to win everything."

Liverpool fans enjoyed their return to Anfield for Saturday's 2-0 win over Burnley, and Jurgen Klopp's subsequent comments ensured the focus remained on the Reds.

Discussing Burnley's approach, Klopp said: "Watch wrestling if you like that kind of thing."

Indeed, the Clarets' physicality is "too dangerous", according to the Liverpool manager.

Some of the most intriguing Opta facts from the Premier League weekend emerged from that feisty encounter, while there were predictable developments as Manchester United visited Southampton...

No reds against Reds despite 'wrestling' claims

The clash at Anfield was not quite WWE, but there was also limited football on display. The ball was in play for just 49 minutes and 47 seconds.

That was the second-shortest such length of time for a Liverpool league game under Klopp, longer only than the 48 minutes and 46 seconds against Watford in 2015.

The Hornets won that game 3-0, so it can be an effective stifling tactic, but it did not work on this occasion as Liverpool scored in either half through Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane.

Klopp's men have now won seven consecutive Premier League games while scoring in both halves in each of them. Liverpool's own run of 11 victories with goals before and after half-time in 2014 was the last longer streak.

Burnley are on their own impressive run, though – one at odds with Klopp's frustrations.

Sean Dyche's side are now 95 Premier League matches without a red card since Robbie Brady's late dismissal against Huddersfield Town in January 2019, surpassing the previous competition record that saw Ipswich Town go 94 games without having a player sent off prior to December 1994.

Home comforts at last for City star Laporte

In Manchester City's 5-0 demolition of Norwich City, Aymeric Laporte scored his ninth goal for the club but first at the Etihad Stadium.

Laporte had turned out at City's home stadium 44 times previously without hitting the net, with each of his eight prior strikes coming at different grounds.

The Spain centre-back had goals at the AMEX, Emirates Stadium, Goodison Park, Groupama Stadium, Metalist Stadium, Molineux, Wembley and Vicarage Road before finally celebrating in front of the Etihad supporters.

Another Villa pen makes for Premier League first

Danny Ings' outrageous overhead kick lit up a tight affair between Aston Villa and Newcastle United, but it was a controversial second from the penalty spot that put the game beyond the Magpies.

Ings had scored from 12 yards on his debut against Watford – his volley against Newcastle making him the fourth Villa player to net in each of their first two Premier League games for the club – and so was expected to step up again when Jamaal Lascelles was adjudged to have handled.

Instead, Anwar El Ghazi grabbed Villa's second, maintaining his perfect penalty record in the competition with six from six.

Ings was overlooked despite missing just one of his nine attempts, meaning Villa became the first side in Premier League history to have two different players score spot-kicks in the first two games of a season.

There had been previous examples of two team-mates converting penalties in the same game – Fulham's Louis Saha and Steve Marlet on the opening day in 2002-03, and Southampton pair Dusan Tadic and Charlie Austin on matchday two in 2017-18 – but never in different matches at the start of a campaign.

Dom spot on at Leeds as Gray makes amends

There was a personal penalty first at Elland Road, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin kickstarted Everton's 2-2 draw with Leeds United. It was the England striker's 55th Toffees goal but his first from the spot.

Demarai Gray had Everton in front for a second time in the second half with his maiden strike for the club. Having netted in a 2-0 Leicester City win in 2017, he became the 34th player to score for and against Everton in the Premier League.

That puts Everton fourth in that regard, behind West Ham (46), Aston Villa (42) and Liverpool (39). Villa's Ings and Liverpool's Mane are both included.

Saints brush off Fred the Red's helping hand

It is a fixture best known for a famous grey-clad Manchester United loss, but Southampton's slip-up against a Red Devils side unmistakably dressed in blue and yellow went entirely to script.

Saints led through a Fred own goal, the fourth time United have netted for Southampton in the competition. Only against Newcastle (five) have United scored more own goals.

But Mason Greenwood's equaliser ensured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are now unbeaten in a record-equalling 27 away league fixtures.

For Southampton, this was nowhere near as bad as last season's clash when they collapsed from 2-0 up to lose 3-2 – or, of course, the 9-0 Old Trafford humiliation – but it was still painfully familiar. They have now dropped 42 points from winning positions against United in the Premier League, fewer only than Tottenham's 45 against Arsenal.

Since the start of last season, Saints top the charts for squandering leads, giving up 28 points – three ahead of second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.

Jack Grealish was among the scorers as Manchester City eased past Norwich City 5-0 on Saturday for their first win of the Premier League season.

The reigning champions fell to a 1-0 loss at Tottenham in their opening game but had no trouble in seeing off their newly promoted opponents at the Etihad Stadium.

British record signing Grealish scored in an unconventional manner 22 minutes into his home debut after Tim Krul's unfortunate own goal had given the hosts an early lead.

Aymeric Laporte added to the scoring in the second half and substitutes Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez piled the misery on Norwich, who slipped to a second successive defeat on their return to the top tier.

City had won their previous three home league games against Norwich by an aggregate score of 14-1 and were ahead inside seven minutes of this latest one-sided encounter.

Gabriel Jesus chested down Rodri's diagonal pass and fired a low cross into the six-yard box, Grant Hanley diverting the ball against goalkeeper Krul and into the net.

Ferran Torres was denied a goal by VAR for Bernardo Silva's trip on Milot Rashica in the build-up, but Grealish netted soon after as Jesus' cross hit his thigh and beat Krul.

Having played a part in those opening two goals, Jesus went close to scoring one of his own early in the second half when dragging a shot just wide from range.

City's third did arrive nine minutes later when Laporte stroked home after Norwich failed to deal with a corner and the ball bounced around in the box.

Sterling was next to register with a close-range finish after being teed up by the impressive Jesus, while Mahrez rounded out the scoring late on, brilliantly controlling Ruben Dias' long pass and tucking in off the inside of the post.

The transfer window is not even closed but attention is already turning to next season.

Kylian Mbappe is into the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract, while Erling Haaland's Borussia Dortmund deal has clubs queuing up.

Manchester United are reportedly set to pursue both.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE, HAALAND FUTURE RED DEVILS?

Manchester United have made Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe a target for next season, according to ESPN.

Mbappe has long been tipped to join Real Madrid and Saturday's Marca and Diario AS claim the LaLiga giants are still trying to sign the PSG star before the end of the transfer window.

Liverpool have also previously been linked with Mbappe, but United are keeping tabs on his situation, with the Frenchman out of contract at the end of 2021-22.

French journalist Julien Laurens, meanwhile, also suggests next year could be the perfect time for United to prise Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland has no shortage of suitors, linked with Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich as his release clause comes into force at season's end.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail says City are willing to sell defender Aymeric Laporte for £60million (€69m). The Spain international is reportedly wanted by Juventus and Madrid.

Chelsea remain interested in Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde, per The Telegraph. The Blues have also been linked with Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez, who has also caught the attention of United and Liverpool.

- Diario AS says wantaway Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele is eyeing a switch to Madrid, Barca or Bayern.

Real Sociedad are tracking PSG star Pablo Sarabia, according to Le Parisien. Sevilla could also reportedly rival Sociedad for the Spain international.

- Sky Sport Italia reports Juve are set to meet with Paulo Dybala's agent to discuss a new contract.

Pep Guardiola will take the mental health of his international stars into consideration as Manchester City prepare for a quick turnaround into the new season.

The Premier League champions went down to a 1-0 Community Shield defeat against Leicester City on Saturday, their former striker Kelechi Iheanacho coming off the bench to win and convert a late penalty at Wembley.

Guardiola remained without Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus after their respective runs to the finals of Euro 2020 and the Copa America with England and Brazil.

The sextet will return to training on Monday, while Kevin De Bruyne is still on the mend after an ankle injury sustained during Belgium's progress to the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Aymeric Laporte – a Euros semi-finalist with Spain – must self-isolate until the middle of next week because a passenger on his flight back to the United Kingdom after a vacation tested positive for COVID-19. The defender has tested negative.

It adds up to a far-from-ideal preparation for next weekend's league opener at Tottenham, a fixture likely to be lent a tempestuous edge by City's pursuit of Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Guardiola knows a return to peak physical fitness will come in time, even though he again took aim at scheduling arrangements by UEFA and FIFA in his post-match comments at Wembley.

The former Barcelona boss is more concerned about the mental strain endured by players who have been on a near non-stop schedule since returning to action from the coronavirus lockdown last June.

Asked whether his England players would benefit from being afforded an extra week of rest, he replied: "It depends on their heads. They have to rest and now they can be ready, but it depends on here [the head].

On whether his returning internationals would be ready to play at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Guardiola replied: "A few players get the condition so quick, others need a little more time. We will see the weight, the body fat, how they arrive. And especially their heads.

"There are players who play three, four or five days and their mentality is positive and they are ready to fight and suffer in the bad conditions. Some of them take a little more time.

"We will try to discover which ones are ready immediately."

Foden is unlikely to be among that group, given he must still recover from the foot injury that ruled him out of England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Stones was an ever-present at centre-back for Gareth Southgate's side, while Sterling and Walker were each named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

"All of them, they played really well. I'm glad and happy for them. They have had many years together," Guardiola said.

"They made an incredible achievement. When you achieve a final in the Euro it's a big, big thing.

"They have to be so proud of what they have done with the national team. The benefits to the confidence will be there.

"But the past is the past. What you have done with the national team is for the memories. The challenge is ahead of us to do a good season."

European champions Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker this off-season.

The Blues chased Erling Haaland without success and have now set their sights on Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku was on Chelsea's books from 2011 and 2014 but has since become one of the world's best forwards.

 

TOP STORY - CHELSEA TO TABLE NEW BUMPER LUKAKU BID

Chelsea  are preparing to table a new bid of between £100million and £110m (€120-130m) bid for Inter forward  Lukaku  claims Fabrizio Romano.

The Blues had an initial £85m (€100m) offer, including Marcos Alonso, for the Belgian striker rejected by Inter.

The Sun claim Lukaku is keen on a return to Chelsea, citing "unfinished business" from his previous stint in London.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are not guaranteed to retain Real Madrid target  Kylian Mbappe , reports AS. The France superstar has already informed PSG that he will not extend his current contract, due to expire in 2022, and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is set to take over talks.

- Aymeric Laporte has told Manchester City he wants to leave to return to Spain this off-season, reports 90min. Barcelona and Real Madrid are both interested in the Spain international, who is not first choice at City.

- Arsenal have proposed a player-plus-cash deal, believed to be worth £60m, for Leicester City's James Maddison according to Football.London, but negotiations are "very slow". 

- Tottenham will complete a £47m (€55m) deal for Atalanta defender  Cristian Romero imminently according to Romano. Atalanta will fill the void by signing Merih Demiral from Juventus.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed the impact of newcomer Aymeric Laporte after his controversial allegiance switch ahead of Euro 2020.

Laporte is the only Spain defender to play every game at Euro 2020 and looms as a key figure in Tuesday's semi-final against Italy in London.

The France-born Manchester City centre-back only made his international debut last month after being granted Spanish nationality in May.

Laporte, who moved to Spain as a 16-year-old and came through the Athletic Bilbao system, had been capped at every under-age level by France and called up twice for the senior team in 2019 but never debuted for Les Bleus.

Luis Enrique and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) pursued Laporte over the past three years, despite the player claiming it was "out of the question", eventually winning him over ahead of Euro 2020.

"As soon as he was able to play with us he began to do a huge amount for us," Luis Enrique said during Monday's news conference. "He's a top defender, both in the attacking and defensive phases.

"We obviously need our defenders to have composure in order to bring the ball out and pick out that free man in midfield.

"He is strong in the air, he can play with both feet, he is physically strong, he's quick, he's strong, as I've said, he is good at playing on the front foot, he is good with how he covers.

"He's a top defender and we are delighted that Aymeric has decided to play for Spain."

Laporte's inclusion in Spain's European Championship squad has arguably vindicated Luis Enrique's decision to exclude veteran captain Sergio Ramos.

Luis Enrique has a selection headache with Pablo Sarabia unlikely to be fit to face Italy due to a muscle injury, having started in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.

RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo replaced Sarabia at half-time against Switzerland and is a likely preferred option.

"They are all fit except Sarabia," Luis Enrique said. "Physically they are well and tiredness ends 45 minutes after finishing the quarter final game."

Luis Enrique's Spain bossed possession (73 per cent) against Switzerland but relied on penalties to advance to the last four, despite having 28 shots to eight.

Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). They have gone on to win the Euros on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.

After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five games there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Luis Enrique was wary of Italy's desire for possession too, in a looming clash of styles.

"I think that's one of the main questions really," he said. "We are leaders in terms of possession stats but they are also a side that can use the ball and enjoy their football with the ball.

"I guess that's the first battle to win. I think that they are very good without the ball as well. They've shown that at times during the championship, but they are far more comfortable with the ball.

"Our objectives are clear. We need the ball, we want to have it. If we have to play a different game we'll adapt but of course we'd prefer to have possession."

Aymeric Laporte has claimed Didier Deschamps did not reply to his messages before the defender switched international allegiance from France to Spain.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte declared for La Roja last month after being granted Spanish citizenship, leading to him being included in their 24-man Euro 2020 squad.

Laporte represented France at youth level, including the Under-21s, but was never handed a senior cap despite being called up by Deschamps.

The 27-year-old has made a positive start to his Spain career by helping his side to three clean sheets in his first four caps, while also scoring in last week's 5-0 win over Slovakia.

Spain finished second in their Euro 2020 group and are on course to face France in the quarter-finals should the heavyweight nations see off Croatia and Switzerland respectively in the last 16.

Deschamps insisted ahead of the tournament he was only ever contacted once by Laporte to discuss an injury issue, but the player has refuted those suggestions.

"They called me six years ago. But in 2019? No, they didn't call me. While I don't want to go over this again, I had sent a message and didn't get a reply," he told The Guardian.

"I have it here. Maybe [Deschamps] changed number, got a new phone. Could be. I don't know, but I replied to the same number he'd called from before.

"I didn't get a reply then. Anyway, given everything that happened, nor did I think I was important enough to France to have to inform them of anything.

"My importance to them has been more a media issue than anything. I've always been very clear that I'm going to be with those that want me, not those that don't.

"I'm not saying France didn't want me, but I'm grateful to those that bet on me. Spain did and I'm trying to return that faith."

 

Laporte's passing accuracy of 96.64 is the third-highest of any player to have played more than 90 minutes at Euro 2020, behind Axel Witsel (96.91) and Dedryck Boyata (97.74).

The former Athletic Bilbao man's 86.33 successful passes per 90 minutes, meanwhile, has been bettered by just five others, including new team-mate Pau Torres (94.52), reflecting how quickly he has settled in with his adopted national team.

"Everyone has different feelings. I felt comfortable coming with Spain, fully identified," he said. "That's what made me change everything. 

"Also, my family hasn't spent eight years in Spain like me.

"I'd been in contact with Spain for years because they've always wanted me. Luis Enrique called. I took the decision.

"It wasn't easy at all. My family still lives in France and from very young I played there with the national team. 

"There were family chats, discussions, an exchange of opinions, the same doubts there would be if you had dual nationality I imagine."

Spain profited from Martin Dubravka's goalkeeping howler and then turned on the style to thrash Slovakia 5-0 and book their place in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Luis Enrique's men required a win in Wednesday's clash to guarantee a last-16 spot after drawing their first two games and were given a huge helping hand by Dubravka.

The Slovakia keeper saved an Alvaro Morata penalty early on – the fifth in a row Spain have missed – before comically flapping the ball into his own net with half an hour played.

That put Spain on their way to an emphatic win, the first time they have ever scored five times in a European Championship match, after Aymeric Laporte's first international goal and strikes from Pablo Sarabia and Ferran Torres before Juraj Kucka's own goal.

Spain were awarded a penalty inside the first 12 minutes after VAR intervened and adjudged Jakub Hromada fouled Koke when attempting to clear the ball.

Dubravka dived to his right and got two hands to the powerful attempt but, after chances went begging for Sarabia and Pedri, the keeper went from hero to zero.

Sarabia's long-range shot looped into the air after striking the crossbar and Dubravka, under a bit of pressure from Morata, inexplicably pushed the ball into his own net.

Dubravka could have done better for Spain's second goal, too, as Gerard Moreno beat the marauding keeper to a ball and crossed for Laporte to head into the top-right corner.

Spain were in complete control of the game when Sarabia swept home Jordi Alba's pass into the bottom-right corner with 56 minutes on the clock.

Slovakia still had a chance of advancing as one of the best third-placed sides, but substitute Torres flicked Sarabia's cross past Dubravka just 44 seconds after entering the pitch and Kucka knocked the ball into his own net soon after for Spain's fifth.

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