Cristiano Ronaldo's future beyond this season has been a hot topic of discussion.

The 36-year-old Portuguese forward appears set to exit Juventus after three seasons in Turin, despite being contracted for another year.

Ronaldo has been linked with former club Real Madrid and a switch to the United States, but there may be another option.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO IN UTD-JUVE SWAP DEAL

Manchester United want to sign Cristiano Ronaldo this off-season and would consider a swap deal with Juventus for Paul Pogba, according to Calciomercato.

Ronaldo played for United from 2003 to 2009 in the earlier part of his career, making almost 300 appearances for the Red Devils before his blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

Pogba, who spent time at Juventus from 2012 to 2016, has also been the subject of transfer speculation.

Juventus have this week been linked with a mega swap deal with United as they look for a transfer shake-up this off-season.

ROUND-UP

- The Independent reports Harry Kane's preference, if he was to leave Tottenham, is to remain in England and join either United or Manchester City.

- Juve forward Paulo Dybala has attracted interest from Premier League pair United and Chelsea, claims Tuttosport.

- United are also keen on an off-season move for Madrid defender Raphael Varane, according to The Mail. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United have also been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla star Jules Kounde and Villarreal defender Pau Torres.

- The Daily Mail reports Bayern Munich are bullish they can sign Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland as Robert Lewandowski's heir if he remains in Germany for one more season amid widespread interest this upcoming off-season. Haaland has been heavily linked with City, United, Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira is wanted by Argentine giants Boca Juniors, reports TyC Sports. Torreira is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid.

Erling Haaland has not been impacted by the transfer rumours amid Borussia Dortmund's Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, according to Edin Terzic, who also ruled Jadon Sancho out of Wednesday's second leg.

Dortmund host City having lost 2-1 in Manchester last week and the omens are not bad for BVB, as in the Champions League the team that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

Terzic's side will also be confident that Haaland will not have such a quiet evening in front of goal again, as he only managed one shot in Manchester – it was a wonderful opportunity as well with an xG value of 0.4, meaning the average player would be expected to take it 40 per cent of the time.

By Haaland's standards – he has nine open-play Champions League goals from an xG value of just 5.7 in 2020-21 – it was a brilliant chance to hammer home why he has received so much praise and attention this season, although he did manage the assist for Marco Reus' goal at the Etihad Stadium.

Some of that attention has developed into incessant transfer speculation, with his agent Mino Raiola spending part of the recent international break talking to potential suitors.

City, whom his dad Alf-Inge played for, have been suggested as being among those keen and Terzic is convinced all the chatter has not impacted him, despite Haaland being without a goal for club or country since March 20.

"I didn't notice anything and it wasn't even an issue for us," Terzic said of the rumours during the international break.

"He was very happy to come back from the national team. He was happy to see all the faces and they were happy to see him.

"He did very well last time [against City]. He is known for making good runs from deep, but he also gave us a few seconds of possession. He often secured the ball well; he is a very important part of our team."

Terzic – who is only in charge until the end of the season when Marco Rose will take over – was not about to get drawn into the debate around Haaland's future by putting a valuation on him, however.

"As a coach, I have to get the best out of him, that's my job. It's not my job to put a price tag on him," he said. "I have to get the best out of the team and want to advance to the next round."

Just as he missed the first leg, Sancho will also be unavailable against his former team on Wednesday – and he could yet be joined by others in missing out.

"We have a few ailing players where we have to wait and see," Terzic added. "Mats Hummels and Marco Reus had to be replaced last time. It won't be enough [time] for Jadon, otherwise we'll have to see."

Pep Guardiola insists he trusts Manchester City to take the next step in the Champions League, adamant he would be "crazy" not to have that belief ahead of Wednesday's quarter-final second leg.

City go to Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 lead from last week's home leg, meaning the Germans will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset given they managed an away goal.

While City have progressed from 13 of their 15 knockout ties in European competition when winning the first leg, in the Champions League the side that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

The tie is in the balance and Guardiola knows too well to take anything for granted given City have been eliminated at this stage of the competition in each of the previous three seasons.

In 2019-20 they were dumped out at the hands of Lyon, a defeat that led to serious questions being asked of Guardiola and his management of such games, with some suggesting he overcomplicates life for himself.

Ahead of the second leg, the focus was more on the players rather than the Catalan's preparations, and Guardiola was unequivocal when asked about trusting the team.

"After 27 victories in 29 games, if I don't trust the players we have a big problem – I would be crazy," he said in his pre-game news conference on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow we can win or lose. What we have done so far, we deserve to be where we are now. We know if we win we go through or lose we are out. In the Premier League we need three wins and a draw to be champions because we expect United to win seven in a row.

"If we go out, we will be disappointed but we have another chance. Life is like this. If you fight you get another opportunity. We are going to try.

"We lose against Lyon, we were better, but we were out. We are fighting for four competitions, especially the Premier League. We are already qualified for the Champions League, 11 years in a row, which has never happened before [for City]. That is fantastic.

"Now is the time for another step, the players want it. They were sad when we didn't get to the semi-finals [in 2019-20] but nobody will give it to us, we have to do it.

"Nobody gives you the semi-finals, we have to do it in 90 minutes if we don't do mistakes like against Lyon when we give them three goals. I'm so excited to travel to Germany, to try to do it."

City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan struck a similar chord when he addressed the media prior to Guardiola, as the former Dortmund star suggested they gifted Lyon the 3-1 win in August.

"For me it's important to take the next step, not just the experiences we had in the last few years, but also I have expectations of myself and team-mates and I know we have a great team and are capable of going into the semi-finals," he said. "We should have been there earlier in the last few seasons but we were lacking something, individual mistakes which led to goals - and it's tough.

"I feel we are much more stable at the moment this season, especially defensively, the more you proceed in this competition the more important it gets. It gives you a safe feeling when you know your defence and goalkeeper are working very well. Combined with the feeling we know we're always able to score it's a great potential."

While he accepts there has been progress, Gundogan feels they have to show that improvement extends to their character, having appeared emotionally fragile at times over the past few years.

"I feel sometimes this is the case, we need to learn it's normal to struggle," he continued. "On that stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it's normal, everyone has quality.

"It's normal to concede a goal, we're not used to running behind a goal. Conceding or struggling, we're used to dominating games and having possession, but it's normal in Champions League and Premier League there are games it might not be that easy. Mistakes are normal.

"Learning to deal with it is the only thing that was missing when we speak of those Tottenham games [in 2018-19]. Just dealing with those situations is something we might need to learn still, these stages will show it now. It's something we need to accept."

Jesse Lingard has been in blistering form during his six-month loan spell at West Ham.

As a result, speculation is rife over the 28-year-old England international's future.

Lingard is contracted with parent club Manchester United for one more season.

 

TOP STORY - EUROPEAN GIANTS CIRCLE FOR LINGARD

European powerhouse clubs Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Inter are all interested in Lingard, claims ESPN.

Lingard has scored eight goals in nine games for the Hammers, who are surprisingly sitting fourth in the Premier League.

ESPN reports those clubs are monitoring Lingard's situation, with West Ham keen to sign him permanently and the player yet to declare a preference, although it is believed he wants to play  Champions League football.

 

ROUND-UP

- Serbia international Sergei Milinkovic-Savic has garnered interest from European giants Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The midfielder is contracted with Lazio until 2024.

- Manchester United may have missed out on Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho last off-season but they are set to revive their interest, says the Manchester Evening News.

- Calciomercato reports that French winger Ousmane Dembele is open to joining Juventus from Barcelona in the next transfer window.

- Tottenham are making their move to sign off-contract Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, reports Sky Germany.

- Arsenal have joined the race to sign Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard, alongside Leicester City, according to the Telegraph.

- Tuttosport says Torino's Italy international forward Andrea Belotti is being courted by Chelsea, Everton, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid.

- Fiorentina want to hire Gennaro Gattuso from Napoli as their next coach, claims Sky Sport Italia. Gattuso is out of contract at Napoli at the end of the season.

Bayern Munich will approach Wednesday's quarter-final second leg against Paris Saint Germain with the confidence expected of Champions League holders.

Sure, they lost 3-2 in an enthralling meeting at the Allianz Arena last week and are without star striker Robert Lewandowski, but Hansi Flick's men had more than enough chances to have emerged victorious and face up to a PSG defence likely to be without the influential Marquinhos.

The main problem for Bayern is Kylian Mbappe's apparent bid to turn the competition into his own personal playground.

Having put Barcelona to the sword with a hat-trick at Camp Nou in the previous round, the France forward was PSG's match-winner once more with a brace in Bavaria.

When the second leg gets under way, Mbappe will be 22 years and 115 days old. No player has scored more than his 27 goals in the Champions League by that age. For reference, Lionel Messi had 18, Raul 12, Wayne Rooney 12 and Cristiano Ronaldo three at the same vintage.

A place among the Champions League greats looks to be Mbappe's for the taking and we've decided to compare his Barcelona and Bayern performances to some of the most memorable goalscoring outings of recent years on the biggest stage.

Lionel Messi – Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal: April 6, 2010

A second-leg penalty from Mbappe as PSG overcame Barcelona 5-2 on aggregate in the round of 16 made him the youngest player in Champions League history to reach 25 goals at 22 years and 80 days, usurping the great Messi.

Of course, Mbappe still has plenty more to accomplish if he is to get close to Messi's deeds in the competition. The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has won Europe's top competition four times. Barca were triumphant finalists in 2009 and 2011, with Messi netting in each game against Manchester United. They fell short in 2009-10, but a dominant quarter-final win over Arsenal that season found him at his very best.

The Gunners battled to a thrilling 2-2 draw at Emirates Stadium and led at Camp Nou through Nicklas Bendtner, but the tie was as good as over before half-time as Messi compiled a blistering hat-trick – smashing in from the edge of the area, finding the roof of the next with an opportunistic effort and then racing clear to sublimely lob Manuel Almunia.

He nutmegged the Arsenal goalkeeper having dribbled through a bedraggled defence for his and Barcelona's fourth. Messi's haul came from eight shots overall, with six on target. Three goals came from his impeccable left boot, with the second right footed. He stamped his mark all over the contest, completing 46 of 52 passes and making 77 touches – a greater level of overall involvement than any other performance on this list.

Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund 4-1 Real Madrid: April 24, 2013

Injury has robbed us of the Mbappe v Lewandowski showdown we crave and the quarter-final first leg might have panned out differently if Bayern had been able to call upon their attacking talisman.

Lewandowski's deadly finishing has been a constant over the past decade and he produced a breakout performance in the 2013 semi-finals against Real Madrid, while still at Borussia Dortmund.

The Poland striker reached to volley home Mario Gotze's eighth-minute cross and controlled Marco Reus' mis-hit shot to finish smartly early in the second half – prompting a run of three goals in 16 minutes as Lewandowski showed immaculate close control to rifle into the top corner before converting a penalty in similarly emphatic fashion.

All Lewandowski's goals came from inside the area, all with his right foot as he netted four of five attempts on target (seven in total) to fire Dortmund towards an all-Bundesliga final against his future employers.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid 4-2 Bayern Munich (aet): April 18, 2017

Mbappe has the opportunity to build on eight goals in this season's competition in the return against Bayern – the joint-most by a French player in a single campaign alongside Wissam Ben Yedder (2017-18) and David Trezeguet (2001-02).

In terms of huge one-season hauls, Ronaldo sets the gold standard. His 17 en-route to glory with Real Madrid in 2013-14 were followed by 16 in 2015-16 and 15 in 2017-18 as Los Blancos claimed three in a row.

In between, when Madrid went all the way in 2016-17, Ronaldo's personal total was – by his own remarkable standards – a relatively meagre 12. However, six of these came in quarter-final and semi-final hat-tricks versus Bayern and Atletico Madrid.

The Bayern treble was the most dramatic as Madrid diced with elimination. They lost 2-1 in 90 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu but Ronaldo would not be denied, netting in the 76th minute and then twice more in extra time to complete a perfect hat-trick from nine attempts, five of which were on target.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus 3-0 Atletico Madrid: March 12, 2019

Ronaldo's ambition of winning a sixth Champions League at a third club looks set to come up short after Juventus's meek exit against Porto last month. But during his first season in Turin, everything appeared to be falling into place against a familiar foe.

Atletico Madrid won the first leg of the last-16 encounter 2-0, but the writing was on the wall from the moment Ronaldo powered in a towering back-post header in the 27th minute.

Early in the second half, Jan Oblak could only claw away another headed Ronaldo attempt from behind the goal line and the Atlei goalkeeper had no chance when faced with penalty from the Portugal great five minutes from time.

Ronaldo netted with all three of his attempts on target, while his five efforts overall on the night had an xG value of 1.39.

Lucas Moura – Ajax 2-3 Tottenham: May 8, 2019

The 2018-19 season provided relentless drama when it came to improbable comebacks and Tottenham were surely down and out when 2-0 behind after 35 minutes Amsterdam, nursing a 3-0 semi-final aggregate deficit against an Ajax side who had already seen off Real Madrid and Juventus. Enter Lucas Moura.

The Brazilian forward, leading the line for Spurs in Harry Kane's injury absence, streamed into the Ajax penalty area to pull one back early in the second half and by the time he engineered space to dispatch a fine left-footed finish in the 59th minute, the whole complexion of the contest had changed.

Five minutes of stoppage time had just expired when Lucas clipped a third with his trusty left boot to break Ajax hearts. Opta began collecting xG data in the Champions League in 2013-14. Of the hat-tricks on this list with those figures available, Lucas' is the only one with an overall shot value (0.88) below an xG of one.

Kylian Mbappe – Barcelona 1-4 Paris Saint-Germain: February 16, 2021

Despite Messi putting Barcelona ahead with a first-half penalty, Mbappe soon took charge. Magnificent close control, nimble movement and a thumping finish with his left brought PSG level.

Mbappe was again happy to crash home with his weaker foot on the other side of half-time and curled in a majestic strike on the counter-attack after Moise Kean made it three. Four of his six attempts (xG 1.84) were on target in an all-action display.

It made Mbappe the third player in Champions League history to score a hat-trick against Barcelona after Faustino Asprilla for Newcastle United and Andriy Shevchenko for Dynamo Kiev in 1997.

Kylian Mbappe – Bayern Munich 2-3 Paris Saint-Germain: April 7, 2021

Mauricio Pochettino's men overwhelmed Barcelona at Camp Nou but were forced to play a different game against Bayern last week, spending long spells on the back foot.

This gave Mbappe the chance to show his ruthless side as he scored from each of his two shots, albeit helped by an error from Manuel Neuer for the opener. A fit-again Neymar laid on that goal and he and Mbappe have assisted one another 10 times in the Champions League since joining forces in 2017-18 – at least three more than any other pair during this period.

Neymar also set up compatriot Marquinhos to make it 2-0 before Eric Maxim Choupo Moting and Thomas Muller brought Bayern level.

Mbappe's electrifying pace and unerring poise were again on display when he cut inside Jerome Boateng to send the winner fizzing past Neuer at his near post. His five away goals in the knockout rounds is already a single-season record in the Champions League. To earn the chance to add to that number, there is first some mouth-watering business to attend to at Parc des Princes.

Borussia Dortmund have made it clear they do not want to sell Erling Haaland in the next transfer window, the striker's agent Mino Raiola has said.

Haaland has become arguably the most in-demand player in Europe following a spectacular individual season for Dortmund, despite the team's inconsistencies.

Haaland has scored 33 goals and provided nine assists in 34 appearances in all competitions this term. Among players in Europe's top-five leagues, only Robert Lewandowski (50), Harry Kane (45) and Kylian Mbappe (43) have been directly involved in more goals.

With the 20-year-old excelling at Signal Iduna Park and with Dortmund facing a battle to qualify for next season's Champions League, rumours have persisted that the player could seek to leave before next season.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona have been touted as the most likely destinations for Haaland, who could command a fee in the region of €150million, according to reports.

Raiola, however, says Dortmund are insistent they are not prepared to sell the forward this year, although he indicated he would be prepared to speak with interested parties.

"I can confirm that I have held some talks in Dortmund," Raiola told Sport1. "There's no war between Dortmund and us, absolutely not.

"My relation to [Dortmund directors] Michael Zorc, Aki Watzke and Sebastian Kehl is as good as it was before.

"Zorc has made it clear that Dortmund do not want to sell Erling this summer. I respect his opinion, which does not automatically mean that I share it. BVB made their views very clear. That's okay for us."

Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

Jadon Sancho has returned to training with a ball at his feet as he continues his comeback from a muscle injury, a timely boost for Borussia Dortmund as they prepare to face Manchester City.

Sancho has not featured since March 2 due to a thigh issue, but BVB posted social media footage of him carrying out an individual on-pitch session on Sunday.

The England international's recovery comes ahead of Dortmund hosting City in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.

Sancho was unable to feature against his former club in the initial meeting, a game the Premier League club won 2-1 thanks to a late goal from Phil Foden at the Etihad Stadium.

Prior to the first leg, Dortmund coach Edin Terzic had said of Sancho: "He started with a bit of running for the last couple of days and we hope that it won't take a long time to get back to team training, but he won't be ready for the next week, let's say.

"For the future it's hard to tell. First of all, we still have seven games left in the Bundesliga to qualify for the Champions League."

Dortmund have been beaten in their previous two home games against English sides in the Champions League - against Tottenham in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 - having lost just one of their first seven such fixtures.

Their only home meeting with City ended in a 1-0 victory for the German side, and a repeat of that result in midweek would be enough to earn a place in the semi-finals.

Even if the clash with City comes too soon for Sancho, the 21-year-old looks set to feature in a critical run-in.

Dortmund sit fifth in the Bundesliga table, seven points behind fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt with eight games to play.

There also remains the possibility of silverware in the DFB-Pokal, with BVB facing Holstein Kiel – the second-tier side who knocked Bayern Munich out of the competition – in the last four.

Sancho has managed 12 goals and provided 13 assists in all competitions in the 2020-21 season so far, having scored 20 and set up 19 in the previous campaign.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Mbappe has been heavily linked with Real Madrid, while Ronaldo's future at Juventus is far from certain.

A possible switch to the Spanish capital could reportedly impact Ronaldo.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, RONALDO IN AT PSG?

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo could join Paris Saint-Germain if Kylian Mbappe leaves for Real Madrid, according to Tuttosport.

Mbappe has long been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid, who have been linked with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.

If Mbappe makes the move to the Santiago Bernabeu, it could send Ronald to Paris as Juve look to reduce their wage bill in Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic reports Harry Kane will ask to leave Tottenham if they do not qualify for next season's Champions League. The Spurs star has been linked with Manchester United, Manchester City and Madrid.

Barcelona are eyeing Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez, claims Mundo Deportivo. The LaLiga giants are not rumoured to be interested in Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng, who is set to depart Bavaria at season's end.

- The Mirror says Liverpool are interested in signing Barca star Pedri, who reportedly has a release clause around £70million (€81m).

United have been warned West Ham will not accept an offer to include Jesse Lingard as part of a deal to prise Declan Rice to Old Trafford, claims The Sun. United are also keen to bring back Sam Johnstone from West Brom if David de Gea or Dean Henderson leave.

- Bild says Liverpool are entering the final stages of a deal for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. Premier League rivals United have also been linked.

Pep Guardiola insisted he had no regrets over ringing the changes as Manchester City went down to a shock 2-1 defeat at home against Leeds United.

Stuart Dallas broke away to score his second of the game in stoppage time to give Marcelo Bielsa's men a hard-fought triumph over the Premier League leaders, despite losing captain Liam Cooper to a red card shortly before half-time.

Ferran Torres cancelled out Dallas' first-half opener with 14 minutes to play but it was a frustrating outing in front of goal for Guardiola's men overall as they racked up 29 largely fruitless attempts and Leeds scored from their only two shots.

City will defend a slender 2-1 advantage in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Borussia Dortmund and Guardiola named an XI showing seven changes from the initial encounter with the Bundesliga side.

Spain forward Torres was making only his third Premier League start since the beginning of February, while centre-back Nathan Ake played for the first time in 2021 following a serious hamstring injury.

"When you win I'm a genius, when you lose you have to take it," Guardiola said at a post-match news conference.

"I don't have regrets about the 11 selected because I trust them a lot. Maybe they don't trust me, but I trust them. If I didn't trust them they would not play.

"John [Stones] was fantastic, Nathan, Benja [Benjamin Mendy], all of them. Everyone was good.

"Playing against Leeds is difficult because they are used to winning duels and when you beat that duel they come back more aggressive than before to dribble again."

Guardiola blamed the defeat on City failing to stem counter-attacks when Leeds emerged from their defensive shell during the closing minutes, with Ederson making a vital sliding challenge to deny Raphinha before Dallas latched on to Ezgjan Alioski's throughball with aplomb.

"It is a game of transitions. We had to avoid it, they did it. We defended well at their goal kicks, short and long. And after, 10 against 11, we needed inspiration of the players and especially don't let them run," Guardiola said, having withdrawn Ake in favour of playmaker Ilkay Gundogan before the hour mark – a move that appeared to leave City more vulnerable on the break.

"We did it during 37 minutes [in the second half] but before the goal we conceded Raphinha had a chance and Edi saved. The second one at the end we could not control it and we had to.

"In the last five years, always we work and talk about that. When you attack and attack and attack, always we have to control and don't let them run. If you don't, then it's impossible to play in this way."

If that is a lesson Guardiola is preparing to repeat once again before his squad heads to Signal Iduna Park, he will also be keen to draw attention to their recent achievements with pivotal fixtures on the horizon.

City take on Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley next weekend before returning to England's national stadium on April 25 to face Tottenham and attempt to win a fourth consecutive EFL Cup.

"What happens when you lose a game is you realise how difficult it is, what we've done so far," he added, with a maximum of 10 points required from their final six Premier League games for City to secure the title.

"When you see in the last 28 games we have won 26, you realise how difficult it is what we have done.

"The Premier League must be won. We need points still because now our opponent can win all the games. We need to do it again.

"We have Aston Villa in the middle, but three of the next four games are finals - in the Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.

"If you tell me about faith, wow, we have incredible confidence in the guys. Sometimes defeat is necessary to understand what we have done and what we need to do to move forward."

Manchester City will take an aggregate lead into the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final for the first time when they travel to Borussia Dortmund, but there was another break with tradition in Manchester this week.

An hour and 15 minutes before events got underway at the Etihad Stadium, Pep Guardiola picked a starting XI that did not lead to raised eyebrows and mass consternation.

No midfield diamond, like the one that quickly lost its shine in a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in 2018; no overt caution as in the 1-0 loss at Tottenham that preceded a crazy second leg and an exit on away goals; no unwieldy 5-3-2 within which City froze so badly against Lyon last year.

Much of the runaway Premier League leaders' success this season has been based upon Guardiola harnessing the full depths of a talent-rich squad, mastering the art of pandemic football through shrewd rotation. So, given his line-ups have become increasingly tricky to predict, the prospects of a pre-match bolt from the blue were reduced.

However, if he has a best XI, the side that eventually prevailed 2-1 against Dortmund were something close to it. A midfield trio anchored by Rodri, ablaze with Kevin De Bruyne's creativity and gilded by Ilkay Gundogan's supreme movement and timely goals. Up front there was, well… no one in particular as Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden hovered around false nine Bernardo Silva.

And at the back, in front of an unusually erratic Ederson, were City's four best defenders this season. There was Joao Cancelo, the wildcard full-back/midfield hybrid who has given Guardiola's side a new dimension and added control. On the other flank, Kyle Walker – a right-back in the most conventional sense and one of Guardiola's most reliable performers of the past four campaigns.

At centre-back, the reborn John Stones was alongside Ruben Dias. An error on his England return last month stood out so much because Stones has been immense in sky blue this term. City have only conceded seven times with him on the field this season.

Then there is Dias, who joined as a club-record signing from Benfica in the aftermath of a 5-2 defeat to Leicester City. Such humiliation has never looked like being repeated with the Portugal international in harness.

"He’s been so important so far but still we have two months before the end of the season," Guardiola said ahead of Saturday's match with Leeds United, against whom Dias made his debut six months ago.

"He has been so important in the leadership and quality he has."

Despite their impressive individual performances, the Dortmund game was only the fifth time the Walker-Stones-Dias-Cancelo quartet has lined up together.

Given City have two Wembley dates this month and possibly more showpiece encounters to come as they pursue honours on four fronts, their potential status as a go-to defensive line is interesting, mainly because it is a setup in which the influential Dias seems a little uncomfortable.

The reason for this is rooted in the fact that, since City embarked upon their remarkable ongoing run of 27 wins in 28 matches, Guardiola's back four has not really been a back four.

In possession, which is most of the time when you're Manchester City, Cancelo's role is generally to bolster the midfield numbers. When Guardiola highlighted some of City's struggles in central areas against Dortmund, it was Rodri and Cancelo – tellingly not one of the Spain international's teamsheet midfield colleagues – who he namechecked.

That leaves three strung across the backline to start the build-up, a fundamental basis for any strong Guardiola performance. When Cancelo has started nominally from right-back, that three is usually Stones-Dias-Oleksandr Zinchenko. Walker's starts at right-back have often come with the left-footed central defender Aymeric Laporte in the line-up, meaning the back three in possession is Walker-Dias-Laporte.

Dias thrives in this position at the heart of things, with ball players on their natural sides flanking him. The problem when Walker and Cancelo start is Dias ends up on the left of the three, with Stones central.

"You are completely right, good point," Guardiola conceded when it was raised Dias was put slightly out of his comfort zone in midweek.

"We don't have left footer to pass the ball to the wider winger quicker with a natural left foot. That's true.

"But in that game we needed specifically Ruben in that position, with John, and that's why you use it. We won for other aspects in other positions and other situations."

So, Guardiola felt the trade-off was worth it due to benefits elsewhere. Considering how City came on strong down the stretch before Foden's dramatic winner, it is hard to argue too much.

A closer inspection of the games Walker, Stones, Dias and Cancelo have started shows Marco Reus' equaliser for Dortmund was the first goal City have conceded in this configuration. Previously, they drew 0-0 at Manchester United, beat Southampton 1-0 and Aston Villa and Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0, although Walker went off injured before half-time versus Villa and was replaced by Zinchenko.

But what of Dias? When starting with Stones, Walker and Cancelo, he averages 12 fewer passes per 90 minutes (78 down from 90) at a lower accuracy (91.1 from 93.8) than his overall season statistics, suggesting he is not so sure in possession on his unfavoured side of the field.

His duel success rate drops from 62.7 per cent to 50, with aerials falling from 66.1 to 54.5 per cent. His tackles per 90 minutes track upwards slightly from 0.9 to 1.3, although this could indicate the build-up flaws of this back three/four means more last-ditch defensive work.

Another game where Dias was on the left of the three in possession came in February against West Ham, where Walker started and Zinchenko performed the Cancelo role from the left.

Although Dias and Stones were the goalscoring heroes in a 2-1 win, City were ragged and Opta's expected goals (xG) figures for the game saw David Moyes' men 1.9-0.5 to the good at full-time, indicating Guardiola's normally smooth outfit rode their luck.

These are minor drop-offs and it is not as if City have looked useless in the games mentioned above. However, as Guardiola often likes to say, the biggest games can come down to the "small details".

Having the man who turned his defence around performing an uncomfortable task on one of those occasions is a risk he should perhaps avoid.

Pep Guardiola insists Raheem Sterling is only out of the Manchester City side due to the "incredible, incredible, incredible top form" of Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

Sterling has been a key performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but a scoreless outing in last month's 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton stands as his only start in City's past six matches across all competitions.

He was in the first XI for all three of England's World Cup qualifiers during the recent international break, scoring against San Marino.

The 26-year-old was back to a substitute's role when the Premier League leaders took on Leicester City last weekend before failing to feature in the 2-1 Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

Sterling might have the chance to press his claims once again when City host Leeds United on Saturday, with Guardiola expected to ring the changes.

Both men denied a reported bust-up in the aftermath of last month's Manchester derby defeat and the City manager insists the form of midweek matchwinner Foden and Mahrez – who was named PFA Premier League Player of the Month for March on Friday – is what has forced his hand.

"Raheem has been so important in our period here since we arrived, nothing would have been possible without him," he said.

"Right now, I decided because I see Riyad and Phil in incredible, incredible, incredible top form. This is the only reason why, there is not another one.

"Phil, you see the last 30 minutes he played against Dortmund, he created all the chances that we had [after] 1-0, he scored the last goal with an incredible control and assist from Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan].

"And Riyad, the last month always has been so decisive, so this is the only reason why.

"He's important for the team and the club, there's no doubt about that. That was the reason for the selection."

Mahrez and Foden more creative

Since the turn of the year, during which time City have won 24 of 25 games across all competitions, Sterling has started 15 matches compared to 16 apiece for Mahrez and Foden.

Foden leads the way with 1,480 minutes, to 1,312 for his England counterpart and 1,462 for the Algeria international.

Despite missing a couple of gilt-edged chances before his winner, Foden's eye for goal has been a notable feature of City's campaign, and his seven goals for 2021 is more than Mahrez (five), who is outscored by Sterling (six) over the period in question.

However, operating nominally as wide forwards, Foden (38) and Mahrez (34) have created considerably more chances than Sterling (19) this calendar year and are second only to Kevin De Bruyne (44) in the City squad. That output has yielded six assists for Mahrez, five for Foden – level with De Bruyne - and three for Sterling.

Mahrez's 47 crosses from open play are more than any other City player in 2021, with Foden's 28 coming in behind De Bruyne (34) and Joao Cancelo (33). Sterling is back on 13, with one completed.

The former Liverpool man's dribbling prowess remains to the fore, with the most attempted (79) and completed (38) among his team-mates during this period. Mahrez boasts an impressive dribble success rate of 55 per cent thanks to 33 out of 60, while Foden has completed 26 of 53 after tormenting Dortmund at times.

Looking after the ball

This season, Guardiola's City have often seemed to play in a more controlled fashion and the manager underlined the importance of retaining possession in all areas of the field.

"There are players who are incredible to make movements in behind, runs in behind and there are others who have the quality to not lose the ball in any circumstances," he said.

"They are good at keeping the ball and sometimes, in some games, we need this more than the other situations.

"Some players suit better the way we have to play than the other ones, just for the skills, not being on bad form or whatever."

While acknowledging Sterling, Foden and Mahrez are each very well-rounded attackers, Sterling's forte lies more with the piercing runs in behind that Guardiola identifies.

Mahrez and Foden – as you might expect for a player who came through City's ranks as a central midfielder – tend to be a little more reliable in possession and this could further explain Guardiola's recent thinking.

Creative attacking players generally rack up more instances of possession lost due to the kind of passes and dribbles they attempt, so a good measure of how well they use the ball is to calculate their giveaways as a percentage of their overall touches.

In 2021, 1,067 touches and 202 instances of giving away possession amounts to 18.9 per cent for Mahrez, making him the most judicious of the trio.

Foden has lost possession 221 times from 1,008 touches (21.9 per cent) but Sterling's percentage is a little higher at 22.3 despite only 883 touches (possession lost 197 times).

This aspect might not be to the fore if Saturday's showdown with Leeds is similarly chaotic to October's 1-1 draw at Elland Road, but it is perhaps the desire for elusive Champions League glory that has persuaded Guardiola to seek greater control, leaving Foden and Mahrez as his go-to men and Sterling with unfamiliar work to do.

Growing speculation over Erling Haaland's future will not force Borussia Dortmund into setting any deadlines, insists sporting director Michael Zorc.

The Norway international is in high demand after netting 49 goals in 51 appearances for Dortmund, attracting interest from the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Talk of a transfer intensified after Haaland's agent, Mino Raiola, was said to have been in contact with a number of clubs, having reportedly spoken with representatives from Barca and Madrid.

But Zorc, who is eager to keep hold of the 20-year-old, claimed the Bundesliga club would not be rushed into a panic move.

"I don't see the need to set deadlines at the moment [for transfers]," he said on Thursday.

Widespread reports last year suggested Dortmund gave United a deadline in talks over Jadon Sancho, with the winger ultimately staying in Germany.

Zorc continued: "With Erling Haaland, we have a clear stance which we have communicated to the parties involved.

"Yesterday I spoke to Mino Raiola. We've made our intentions very clear. It's no problem when Alfie [Haaland's father] and Mino want to take a sunbathe on the Mediterranean Sea.

"I am relaxed because I know what we want."

Haaland drew a blank this week in Dortmund's Champions League loss to Manchester City, though he still boasts 10 goals in seven appearances in the competition this term.

Since Haaland scored a 23-minute hat-trick on his Dortmund debut, his 49 goals across all competitions have been bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (67) and Cristiano Ronaldo (53) among players in Europe's 'top five' leagues.

He has 21 league goals this season, with Edin Terzic's side sitting fifth in the Bundesliga.

What does the future hold for Lorenzo Insigne?

The Napoli captain is no certainty to remain at his boyhood club as his contract runs down.

A switch to Milan could be on the cards…

 

TOP STORY – MILAN TARGETING INSIGNE

Milan met with Lorenzo Insigne's agent as they eye a move for the Napoli captain, according to Gianluigi Di Marzio.

Insigne – previously linked with Liverpool – has one year remaining on his current contract and the Italy international is yet to re-sign with his boyhood club.

Serie A rivals Milan are monitoring the situation and ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- A move for Insigne depends on the future of Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The 27-year-old is set to become a free agent and Arsenal and Chelsea are eyeing the Turkey international, reports Sky Italy. Manchester United have also been linked.

- The front page of Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter and neighbours Milan are going head-to-head to sign Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic. The Serbia international is also reportedly wanted by United, Juventus and Tottenham.

Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City are vying to sign Inter star Romelu Lukaku this off-season, claims Calciomercato. Lukaku has emerged as a target for all three clubs, who are also eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling HaalandReal Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, United and Liverpool have also been linked with Haaland.

- According to Corriere dello Sport, Roma and Milan both want to sign Torino captain Andrea Belotti. With Torino struggling, the Italy forward could be ready to jump at the chance for European football.

Tottenham are stepping up their pursuit of Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard, says the Express. Spurs have long been linked with Inter star Milan Skriniar, but Vestergaard appears to be an easier option.

Lionel Messi's future is a popular topic.

Messi wanted to leave Barcelona at the start of the season but opted to remain at Camp Nou.

With his contract expiring at the end of 2020-21, the Barca superstar is continuing to make headlines.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WAITING ON BARCA

Barcelona have yet to make a move to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Marca.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and his future is far from certain, having been tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.

Led by new president Joan Laporta, Barca are determined to retain the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo reports Ousmane Dembele wants to continue with Barca, but speculation is mounting that Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar could return to Camp Nou. Neymar – who left Barca for PSG in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 – has been negotiating a new contract in the French capital. Dembele has previously been linked with Manchester United.

Manchester City are eyeing a new striker but they are unwilling to spend "crazy" money, claims Fabrizio Romano. With Sergio Aguero – linked with Chelsea, Inter, PSG and Barcelona – leaving on a free transfer, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland has emerged as City's prime target, while Tottenham star Harry Kane is another option.

- Goal says Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli and Juventus' Federico Bernardeschi could swap clubs. Both players have struggled this season and they could reportedly be involved in an exchange deal. Romagnoli has attracted interest from Barca and Chelsea.

- Eurosport reports United and Liverpool could go head-to-head in a battle to sign RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. The 21-year-old has been heavily linked with Liverpool, but United are also interested. Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Villarreal's Pau Torres and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly are also reportedly being monitored at Old Trafford.

- Romano claims there are "huge chances" for Hector Bellerin to leave Arsenal. The Spaniard was previously linked with PSG and Barca.

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