Jack Grealish could not have imagined he was setting himself up for a fall when he picked on Newcastle United flop Miguel Almiron while celebrating his first Premier League title triumph.

On an individual level, Grealish's debut season at Manchester City had not been a roaring success.

But his six goal involvements in the Premier League dwarfed Almiron's one, giving Grealish the confidence to talk down the Newcastle winger the day after City's dramatic 3-2 title-clinching win against former club Aston Villa.

Misfiring City team-mate Riyad Mahrez needed to be substituted "as soon as possible" in that match, a drunken Grealish said, because he had "played like Almiron".

For his part, Almiron brushed off the barb and wished Grealish well.

Meanwhile, the horrified City winger, having sobered up, sought to apologise to the Paraguay international and acknowledged he deserved "a lot of stick off the Newcastle fans".

Grealish was at least spared slightly in that regard as a minor injury kept him out in August when City visited St James' Park for a match in which Almiron scored his first of 10 goals this season.

Almiron then netted six in October alone, when it seemed he could do no wrong. Only once in his Premier League career has Grealish tallied more than six across an entire season.

But heading into Saturday's reverse fixture between City and Newcastle in Manchester, Grealish is the form man, playing his best football under Pep Guardiola.

Since the World Cup, a period in which fellow left-sided attacker Phil Foden has struggled for fitness, Grealish has two goals and four assists in the league. Including cup competitions, he has a further two assists on top.

Those eight goal involvements in 16 matches (one every 134 minutes) compare to 11 in 55 (one every 343 mins) over the first 16 months of Grealish's City career.

However, his is an upturn that can be explained no more easily than Almiron's.

Following the World Cup, looking at slightly more granular per-90 metrics, Grealish has actually seen a decline in chances created, passes into the box, touches and touches in the box. A very slight boost in expected assists does not account for those improved assist numbers.

Yet as long as Grealish continues to deliver in big games, supplying goals against Manchester United and Arsenal and assists against Chelsea and Arsenal, Guardiola is unlikely to mind.

City at least have alternative options if this run proves unsustainable. They head into Saturday's latest sizeable match on a high – in complete contrast with a stuttering Newcastle and their leading marksman regressing to the mean.

Almiron outperformed his xG by 3.3 across that inexplicable October but has otherwise almost exactly matched his expected figure over the rest of the season.

Worse still for Newcastle, Almiron's team-mates have failed to even do that since the World Cup.

In all competitions, only four Premier League teams have scored fewer goals per game than Newcastle (0.9) over that period, yet the Magpies rank fifth for xG per game (1.8).

Eddie Howe's side should have scored roughly twice as many goals as they have, underperforming their total xG of 25.6 by 12.6. Chelsea's underperformance of 9.4 is next-worst, followed by a distant 6.3 from Everton.

While Newcastle have won only five of 14 matches since the restart, they have come out on top on xG in 11 of those.

Almiron is not the problem, it appears, but another run like that of earlier in the season might be required to set Newcastle back on track.

Instead, confidence is again on Grealish's side, with the England man primed to this time do his talking on the pitch after last May's title party mishap.

Pep Guardiola claims Manchester City are in the position he "dreamed" of at the beginning of the season as he urged Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish to keep them top of the Premier League.

It remains a nip-and-tuck title race, but Guardiola is more than happy with City's standing within that battle for silverware after they nudged into top spot with victory at Arsenal.

He insists Arsenal remain firmly in the hunt but would have settled for this situation, being confident his City team can apply a kick finish and leave their rivals scrapping over second place.

Manchester United could yet have a big say in the destiny of the title, being just five points adrift, but City and Arsenal are the frontrunners for now, locked on 51 points.

"Arsenal still have one game in hand, so nothing has changed much," Guardiola said initially at Friday's press conference ahead of the weekend trip to Nottingham Forest.

He later pointed to City's mindset in Premier League campaigns and their view that nothing is won early in the season.

The gap to Arsenal reached eight points at one stage, but it has been clawed back, with the Gunners suffering a dip in form.

City have the scent of a third successive Premier League title and a fifth in six seasons.

"We were aware we had to put the shoes on again and try to be close to the top of the league, and now we are there, we are close," Guardiola said.

"There are still 15 games left, a lot of games, but we want to arrive at the last eight, 10 games, being there, close, top or close to the top of the league."

Guardiola added: "We have to make the last rush, the last effort. The last weeks have helped us, for the results of Arsenal but especially for the victories we have done.

"We are in the position I would have dreamed at the beginning of the season.

"I could not expect to be a lot of points in front; after winning back to back, it's almost impossible."

All the same, Guardiola is not buying into talk of City momentum.

"Momentum is where you win 10 games in a row, and that didn't happen this season. We lost three games ago in London against Tottenham, so momentum is tomorrow at 3pm be ready mentally against a team who have lost one game in their last six," he said.

De Bruyne and Grealish, City's midfield pearls, both scored in the 3-1 win at Arsenal on Wednesday.

Neither man has been guaranteed a start, with De Bruyne notably benched for the Tottenham game.

But Guardiola spoke of the influence both can now have, hailing Grealish's "ambition and his aggressivity" to attack defences.

"The quality was always there but his commitment to take a risk in important decisions is making the difference. But he has to continue," Guardiola said.

It was a similar message for De Bruyne, whose form Guardiola described as "really good".

"It's like Jack and like everyone, I'm so pleased for everyone, but I want more," Guardiola said. "So I still have the feeling Kevin can do more, Jack can do more and can do better.

"They can do it. Of course, he made a fantastic goal, but I know the demands we have here until the end of the season and a tough and aggressive opponent, and we need the players to have the feeling we can do better."

The manager also said it was healthy for City's players sometimes to have discussions without him present.

"It's good," Guardiola said, "because at the end they play, and they are the artists, and they have to take the solutions and decisions and everything that is going on on the pitch, and I cannot be involved in that."

Jack Grealish felt Arsenal were "a lot better" than Manchester City despite the champions running out 3-1 winners at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Grealish and Erling Haaland, were enough to earn City a vital three points in the Premier League title race despite Bukayo Saka scoring from the spot for the hosts.

The victory leapfrogs City above Arsenal on goal difference as they chase a fifth title in six seasons, although Mikel Arteta's men do have a game in hand.

Grealish feels City were fortunate to beat the Gunners, who held 63.6 per cent of the possession and had 10 shots to the visitors' nine.

"If I'm being honest, I don't think we actually played that well," Grealish told Amazon Prime after his fifth goal involvement in nine Premier League matches since returning from the World Cup.

"I think Arsenal played a lot better than us. I thought they were the better team, I think so."

Grealish won the Premier League title last season in his first campaign with City after they made him the most expensive English player of all time by activating his £100million release clause at Aston Villa.

The 27-year-old believes City showed the mentality of champions against Arsenal, saying: "If you win titles, you've got to come to grounds like this.

"Even when you're not at your best, you've got to win games."

Grealish scored in the 2-1 derby defeat to Manchester United last month and added another goal in a big game against Arsenal on Wednesday.

The winger says scoring in important matches is exactly what he had in mind when he made the move to City, explaining: "Honestly, it was massive. For me, it was a great night.

"That's what I’ve wanted to do. I feel like I've been playing well. I want to come and affect these big games.

"To score tonight was so important, honestly, I was absolutely buzzing, for myself and the team. I thank the manager really, he's letting me play a lot and with freedom."

Grealish had a potential red card on his mind as he celebrated after his 72nd-minute strike, having already been booked earlier in the game for dissent.

"I know [Ilkay] Gundo[gan] and I knew he was going to pass it. He's so unselfish, I just knew he was going to pass," Grealish recalled.

"As it was coming, it felt like 10 seconds. I was going to try and reverse it, but I know [Aaron] Ramsdale from our time at England.

"When I was celebrating, I was going to take my top off, but I was on a yellow card already!"

Pep Guardiola believes his decision to change his "horrible" first-half tactics was the key to Manchester City's crucial 3-1 victory over Arsenal.

City headed into Wednesday's vital clash at the Emirates Stadium three points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, but Kevin De Bruyne struck to give City the lead after 24 minutes.

Although Bukayo Saka levelled from the spot, Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland scored second-half goals to earn three points for City and put them top on goal difference.

Arsenal had seven first-half shots to City's four, and a much-improved display was required from the champions after the interval to hold the Gunners to no shots on target in the second period.

Guardiola, who has now won eight of his nine matches against Mikel Arteta's Arsenal after having him on his coaching staff at City between 2016 and 2019, pointed to a change in tactics at the break as the key reason for his team's excellent second-half performance.

"The first half they were much better than us," Guardiola told Amazon Prime. "The second we were much, much better.

"We were not playing, we were defending because they were so good. In the first half, my tactics, I tried something new and it was horrible.

"We adjusted in the second half and we were more aggressive towards [Martin] Odegaard and controlled more of the ball. Erling used his power to keep the ball.

"We suffered in the first half, but in the second we were there, we were more aggressive, winning duels, and when that happens we are a better team. We are built to go as a crazy team."

When asked why he felt City were better in the second half, Haaland also noted Guardiola's half-time changes, explaining: "[There were] small adjustments in half-time from Pep.

"In the end, we have good quality players and we have to get it out of every player and we did today.

"We have to play a little bit more like this sometimes and that is what we did today."

Despite City leapfrogging Arsenal to the Premier League summit, the Gunners hold a game in hand as they look to lift a first title since the 2003-04 'Invincibles' season.

Guardiola knows the title race is far from over, saying: "Now we are top of the league, but they have one game in hand. We have a lot of games to play.

"Arsenal will be back. In three days we have another one. [There are] still many, many games to play for everyone, and we are not an exception."

Jack Grealish joined Manchester City for moments like this.

Upon completing a £100million move from Aston Villa in August 2021 – a British-record fee that was eclipsed by Enzo Fernandez's move to Chelsea last month – Grealish was asked about his biggest motivation after leaving his boyhood club.

"Competing for major trophies is something that I wanted to do," he replied. "[The move] was something I couldn't turn down. Let's hope it is a successful one."

With a Premier League title under his belt from last season, Grealish had already achieved that aim. But after playing a peripheral part in that first triumph, the England international is starting to make far more of an impact this time around.

Never was that more evident than in Wednesday's top-of-the-table showdown with Arsenal at Emirates Stadium, in which his 72nd-minute goal helped City on their way to a 3-1 win that moved them above the Gunners in the table.

A poor Gabriel Magalhaes pass was pounced upon, and Grealish had the ball in the net seconds later to restore City's lead after Bukayo Saka's penalty had earlier cancelled out Kevin De Bruyne's opener. 

At 1-1 with less than a quarter of the pivotal clash to go, sitting three points clear with a game in hand to play, Arsenal would still have considered themselves title favourites. Grealish's goal, which Erling Haaland added to before full-time, changed the complexion of the title race entirely.

Grealish had impressed in spells up until his decisive moment, with no player on the field completing more dribbles (four), but it is goals and assists he was brought into the team to provide.

The 27-year-old admitted as much in a candid interview at the turn of the year when saying he never expected to find life at City so difficult. How quickly the narrative can change.

From scoring just one goal and providing no assists in eight Premier League appearances heading into the World Cup break, Grealish now has two goals and three assists in nine matches since.

Not that Arsenal were not already aware of his quality when he has the ball at his feet in the box, as he proved with an assist for Nathan Ake's winning strike when these sides met in the FA Cup last month.

Another telling Grealish contribution made Arsenal pay as they suffered an 11th successive league loss to City – their longest losing run against any opponent in their league history – and squandered top spot.

There will be plenty of twists and turns ahead, particularly with the two sides set to face off again at the Etihad Stadium in April, but City's pursuit of Arsenal has had a sense of inevitability about it. From eight points adrift a month ago, they are top on goal difference.

This was undoubtedly a huge psychological blow for Arteta's side, who did well to respond to a City lead that was self-inflicted as Takehiro Tomiyasu's blind pass was seized upon by De Bruyne. The Belgian needed only one touch to loop the ball over a stranded Aaron Ramsdale for his sixth league goal against his favourite opponents.

Arteta said on the eve of this match he would not be satisfied with an apology for the officiating in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Brentford until Arsenal were given their two dropped points back.

A controversial penalty award in Arsenal's favour might have gone some way to easing those tensions as Ederson was adjudged to have felled Eddie Nketiah, allowing Saka to convert his fourth successful spot-kick from four since his Euro 2020 heartbreak.

Another big call went Arsenal's way when a penalty awarded for Gabriel's challenge on Haaland was overturned by the VAR as the prolific striker was marginally offside. 

However, the referee was not the big talking point come the end of this huge tussle thanks to Grealish's crucial strike paving the way for what was a deserved victory in the end for Pep Guardiola's side.

Having already matched his tally for both goals and assists (three each) from the whole of last season's Premier League campaign, Grealish may yet prove to be City's difference-maker – even accounting for Haaland's goals – in a title race that looks set to go right down to the wire.

Jadon Sancho was flooded with support from team-mates and Premier League rivals after declaring he was "so happy" to be back in action for Manchester United.

The former Borussia Dortmund winger had been absent due to what manager Erik ten Hag described as "circumstances with fitness and mood".

He played his first game since October 22 when he came off the bench in Wednesday's EFL Cup win against Nottingham Forest.

Ten Hag said Sancho's issues had been physical and mental, and the club have been careful not to rush him back. After three months out of action, however, Sancho will be hoping to repay United's patience on the pitch.

He wrote on Instagram: "Wow! Just want to say a massive thank you to everyone for the support I've received over the past few weeks especially to the fans. My focus is to give my all to my team and the club, I'm so happy to be back out on the pitch, see you soon."

Sancho played the last 27 minutes against Forest, receiving a huge ovation from the Old Trafford crowd, and Ten Hag spoke afterwards of the England international's "really high standards" and "great capabilities".

United team-mates Lisandro Martinez, Diogo Dalot and Christian Eriksen sent messages of approval in emoji form, the modern footballer's conversational currency.

There was also backing from Sancho from rivals Manchester City, with Premier League top scorer Erling Haaland sending emojis signalling thankfulness and congratulations as he welcomed his former Dortmund team-mate back to the field.

City's Jack Grealish also sent emojis of applause and love to Sancho, while Aymeric Laporte posted a similar message, and Riyad Mahrez sent a heart and the message: "Welcome back bro."

Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior noted his approval with applauding hands and a white heart.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, Forest's former United man Jesse Lingard and Roma striker Tammy Abraham added to the groundswell of goodwill, while Sancho's good friend, Newcastle United's Joe Willock, wrote: "Love you bro."

Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes scored in quick succession as Manchester United came from behind to beat Manchester City 2-1 in a dramatic derby at Old Trafford.

Just four minutes separated the two efforts from Erik ten Hag's side as first Fernandes levelled the scores with a controversial goal to cancel out Jack Grealish's opener.

There were no arguments about United's winner, however, with Rashford prodding home at close range after Alejandro Garnacho's pass across goal.

The win puts United just a point behind their arch-rivals, while handing Arsenal the opportunity to move eight clear with a victory over Tottenham on Sunday. 

In-form United had the first opportunity after capitalising on a loose Bernardo Silva pass, Christian Eriksen feeding a pass through to Fernandes who dragged an effort wide of the target.

City started poorly with sloppy passes throughout the opening half hour, providing encouragement to the home fans, though United could not profit.

Rashford came closest as he was first denied by Manuel Akanji after rounding Ederson, with the Brazilian goalkeeper then diving at the England star's feet after Eriksen had sent him through on goal.

Pep Guardiola shuffled his deck 11 minutes into the second half, replacing Phil Foden with Grealish, who took just three minutes to make an impact, heading home Kevin de Bruyne's chipped cross at the far post.

United equalised in contentious fashion, Fernandes curling home past Ederson as Rashford, who was in an offside position, ran onto the pass but did not touch the ball, with the initial offside decision being overruled by VAR. 

And there was more drama soon after when Rashford diverted Garnacho's low cross in to put United within touching distance of City in the Premier League standings after a ninth consecutive win in all competitions. 

Jack Grealish admits adapting to Manchester City's style of play has been "much more difficult" than he imagined it would be.

Having joined City for a Premier League record £100million fee in 2021, Grealish has largely struggled to replicate the displays he produced for Aston Villa, though he made a decisive impact in Thursday's 1-0 win at Chelsea.

Grealish's fine ball across the six-yard box teed up Riyad Mahrez for City's winner just three minutes and 43 seconds after the pair were introduced as second-half substitutes.

That represented Grealish's third assist in his last three Premier League games – the same amount as he managed in his first 34 league appearances for City, and the England international acknowledges he struggled on his arrival at the Etihad Stadium.

"When I came here, I'll be honest with you, it was so much more difficult than I thought," Grealish told Sky Sports.

"In my head I thought I was going to the team sitting top of the league and I was going to get so many goals and assists and obviously it isn't the case. 

"A lot of teams tend to sit in against us and that wasn't the case at Villa.

"[Former Villa boss] Dean Smith would tell me to go and find the weak link in the defence, whether that was on the right, the middle or whether I wanted to hug the touchline, and at Villa, I always had an overlapping full-back.

"I came to City, having been at Villa my whole life, and I've never had to change [before]. I've always been used to that. I didn't realise how hard it is to adapt to a different team and manager."

City's victory at Stamford Bridge was their fourth in a row against Chelsea in all competitions, and Grealish believes the Blues' willingness to attack the champions played into their hands.

"We've had games this season – against Everton and Brentford recently for example – where they've had a back five and they've sat in against us," Grealish said.

"Against a back four today it just felt so much more open, and we were desperate to come on."

Pep Guardiola has frequently been accused of overthinking during his time as Manchester City manager, with some even putting their continued failure to win the Champions League down to this reason.

As a case in point, City lost to Chelsea in the 2021 final of that competition when Guardiola decided against fielding a naturally defensive midfielder.

Perhaps it has been a fair criticism at times, but by extension it highlights the self-belief that he can outmanoeuvre opponents before they've even set foot on the pitch.

He might even be accused of having overcomplicated plans for Thursday's trip to Stamford Bridge.

Yet Guardiola also inspired the 1-0 win over Chelsea with his own apparent recognition that he got his initial line-up wrong, his second-half changes proving key as City returned to winning ways after that disappointing 1-1 draw with Everton on New Year's Eve.

It took a while for victory to look likely, though, even with a patched-up Chelsea enduring an injury nightmare.

There was unmistakably a sense of bewilderment around the stadium as Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic sustained knocks that forced their withdrawal.

Only 22 minutes had been played. The double blow continued Chelsea's remarkably bad luck on the fitness front of late, with those two taking their injury list to 10 players having also lost Mason Mount in the previous 24 hours.

And if there's any team primed to capitalise on such misfortune, it's City.

Or, it usually is.

Despite Chelsea's predicament, they were the better team in the first half – quite comfortably so, some fans might even suggest.

Pulisic looked destined to score when John Stones produced the forceful – but clean – last-ditch tackle that ultimately forced the American's substitution.

Bernardo Silva made a similarly important intervention to block an attempt from Pulisic's replacement, Carney Chukwuemeka, who looked lively off the bench.

While it may not have been a case of City struggling to stay afloat, their lack of invention and control was curious, even against a team like Chelsea.

It was nothing like the City we've come to expect.

Still, though, Chelsea deserved credit. For all their problems and poor recent form, they looked sharp, up for a fight, and went agonisingly close just before the break as Chukwuemeka hit the post at the end of a rapid breakaway.

It was in moments like that, when the game was stretched, that Chelsea looked their most threatening – perhaps, then, it was no surprise to see Guardiola make changes at the interval.

City reverted to a back four. Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo were withdrawn; Manuel Akanji went to centre-back; Rodri moved back into midfield, and Rico Lewis came on as a right-back-cum-central-midfielder.

Almost instantly City had the greater control they'd desired. Suddenly Chelsea were struggling to keep their heads above water as the visitors relentlessly poured men forward and snuffed out any counter attempts.

Chelsea survived in the 52nd minute when Nathan Ake's header hit the post and Phil Foden saw a follow-up blocked; Kevin De Bruyne then drilled wide from inside the box a few minutes later.

But while Guardiola's half-time adjustments undoubtedly played a role in altering the course of the match, it was his additional tinkering on the hour that was truly decisive.

Foden's restoration to the starting XI would have been popular among the army of supporters calling for his return, but he was largely anonymous here – the impact of his replacement will have surely drawn a smug grin from Guardiola.

Jack Grealish, with his first major involvement three minutes after coming on, played the ball across the face of goal to put it on a plate for Riyad Mahrez.

He was left with a simple tap-in, opening the scoring with what was also Mahrez's first proper involvement as he got in behind Marc Cucurella.

It had been that area of the pitch where most of City's joy had previously come from, with Bernardo's substitution for Mahrez almost surprising at the time given the Portugal midfielder had been giving Cucurella the run-around in the first 14 minutes of the second period.

Yet Guardiola's decisiveness was crucial. He went back to the wide pairing that had become his favoured option lately, and they showed why that'd been the case in one simple move – and just a few moments after being introduced.

Chelsea's attempts to claw back the slender deficit were valiant, spirited, their young substitutes battling away encouragingly. It was ultimately beyond them, but there is only so much you can expect given the Blues' list of absentees.

No, this was all down to City and Guardiola.

Maybe Guardiola did overcomplicate things for himself, but if you don't have anyone good enough to play chess against, sometimes you've just got to play yourself.

Manchester City are reportedly prepared to offer Jack Grealish as well as a hefty transfer fee to Milan for in-demand forward Rafael Leao.

Leao, 23, has scored six goals with five assists in his 14 Serie A fixtures this campaign, following a 2021-22 season where he contributed 11 goals and 10 assists in 34 league appearances.

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Grealish has been trending in the opposite direction, with the most expensive Englishman in football history only playing a complete 90 minutes in two of his 10 Premier League outings this season.

Chelsea have reportedly already seen a £62million (€70m) bid for Leao brushed off by Milan, who have apparently said they will wait for someone to meet his £133m (€150m) release clause, though a new report suggests City could be ready to make their move for the Portugal international.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PREPARED TO OFFER GREALISH IN BID FOR LEAO

While it remains to be seen exactly what price Milan would be happy to part ways with for their young star, City reportedly feel they have an ace up their sleeve in negotiations due to their willingness to send over a replacement player as part of their offer.

According to Calciomercato, City are willing to offer a package of Grealish plus cash to Milan for Leao, and the same outlet reported on December 6 that Milan had interest in Grealish in the event of Leao's departure.

Further reporting from Football Insider has stated City are looking to recoup £60m of their £100m initially spent on Grealish for a potential pursuit of Jude Bellingham.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to L'Equipe, Napoli are the leading candidates to land 22-year-old Angers midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, while the Express adds Leicester City will also mount a charge for the Morocco standout if Youri Tielemans leaves in January.

– Media Foot is reporting Everton are in discussions with Montpellier about a potential £22m (€25m) move for 20-year-old striker Elye Wahi, who has represented France at the under-19 level.

Manchester United are one of the clubs keeping a close eye on 25-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram after reports the French international will be available for just £10.6m (€12m) in January as he enters the final six months of his contract, per the Daily Mail. 

– Sport Arena is reporting Arsenal have agreed to a five-year contract with 21-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk

– According to Fichajes, Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong has had a change of heart and would now like to join Man Utd at the end of the season.

Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez playing together could help Manchester City to break down teams who sit back against them, according to Pep Guardiola.

City lost ground in the title race on Saturday after drawing 1-1 at home to struggling Everton, with leaders Arsenal then extending their advantage at the Premier League summit to seven points with a 4-2 victory at Brighton and Hove Albion.

Haaland had given City the lead against the Toffees, but Demarai Gray scored a superb strike to peg the champions back and hold them to just a point, putting another dent in their title hopes after losing at home to Brentford in the final game before the World Cup break.

In his attempts to win the game, Guardiola brought on World Cup winner Alvarez up top with Haaland in the 87th minute, and though it did not reward him with three points on this occasion, he says he may have to start the pair if they are to improve their results at home.

"You have two strikers who are going to score goals," City boss Guardiola said after the game.

"To create the chances you have to make the process and for the process sometimes you need other types of players to create these chances.

"But of course they can play together - especially in defence against five at the back they can play together.

"In the last minutes when it is 1-1, we needed people in a central role, in and around the box, and that's why he [Alvarez] played."

Phil Foden has come off the bench in all three of City's games since returning from the World Cup, with England team-mate Jack Grealish preferred to start over him in the last two league matches.

Asked whether Foden needs to adapt to be included in his starting line-up, Guardiola replied: "No, Phil can play in a thousand, million positions.

"When I am in the pitch and in the training sessions, I see something with my intuition and I decided to play with Jack for these games because Jack give us extra, extra, extra passes.

"When it is more vertical, Phil is better, so both can combine, both can play together but this time I decided on this line-up."

Erling Haaland haunted his hometown club with a second-half brace as Manchester City beat Leeds United 3-1 on their return to Premier League action on Wednesday.

Haaland – who was born in Leeds when his father Alf-Inge represented the Whites – missed two good chances as the champions dominated the first half, but Rodri poked them ahead on the stroke of half-time.

The Norwegian striker was not to be denied after the break, tapping home following an error from home captain Liam Cooper before doubling up with a right-footed finish.

That meant Haaland reached 20 Premier League goals in record time on his 14th appearance, helping City move back into second place despite Pascal Struijk's consolation.

City almost went ahead inside 36 seconds, but Illan Meslier got a hand to Haaland's chipped effort after the striker was released Nathan Ake.

The Leeds goalkeeper made another one-on-one save from Haaland on the half-hour mark, before Jack Grealish missed two glaring opportunities to break the deadlock – the second a dire mishit from Rico Lewis' cut-back.

However, the hosts' resistance was finally broken in first-half stoppage time, with Rodri pouncing to bundle home when Meslier denied Riyad Mahrez following a flowing City move.

Leeds were masters of their own downfall five minutes after the restart, as Cooper's sloppy pass allowed Grealish to steal possession and tee up Haaland for a simple finish.

Haaland had his second of the game just past the hour, Meslier failing to keep his powerful right-footed shot out.

Leeds cut the deficit 17 minutes from time when Struijk headed Sam Greenwood's corner beyond Ederson, though City managed to see out the win despite Joe Gelhardt threatening.

Miguel Almiron holds no grudges towards Jack Grealish and "would shake his hand" despite the Manchester City man's disparaging jibe.

Grealish suggested team-mate Riyad Mahrez had "played like Almiron" after being substituted in City's victory over Aston Villa to secure the Premier League title on the final day of last season.

The England international has since acknowledged he regrets the comments in a clip that went viral on social media – referencing Almiron's previously underwhelming performances for Newcastle United.

Almiron's form has since upturned, with the Paraguay international scoring seven goals in eight games for Newcastle before the World Cup break, and he insists he has no issues with Grealish.

"I didn't pay a lot of attention, I was on holiday with my family," Almiron told The Daily Mail. "And I didn't have a mobile phone signal! So no, I didn't watch the video. I wasn't bothered.

"I'm not interested in that. Jack's a great player and I will always wish him all the best. He's at Manchester City for good reason. I just avoid making any comparisons.

"It's about me focusing on what I do. It's no big deal."

Almiron believes Grealish's apology highlights the character of the 27-year-old.

He added: "I saw the interview and heard that he spoke positively about me. I've never had anything against Jack and have maintained all along that I think he's a great player and a good guy.

"There's never been any issue for me. It was a nice interview and the fact he spoke the way he did reinforces the type of person he is. I would shake his hand, no problem."

Almiron returns to Premier League action with Newcastle at Leicester City on Monday.

Jack Grealish tipped England to "make history" at future tournaments after their World Cup exit against France, as Marcus Rashford joined him in pledging the Three Lions would respond.

England suffered their seventh World Cup quarter-final elimination – a tournament record – on Saturday, as goals from Aurelien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud maintained France's bid to retain the trophy.

Harry Kane scored one penalty and missed another as England experienced a familiar sinking feeling at Al Bayt Stadium, but Grealish believes Gareth Southgate's men will atone in the future.

The Manchester City playmaker was sorry it did not work out this time, having been convinced England were on course for trophy glory.

"Absolutely devastated to go out, words can't describe it as I really thought this was our year," Grealish wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"I'm so proud to be part of this team and it's been a privilege to be with this group of players and staff for the past four weeks.

"We all have an unbelievable bond and we look forward to the future because we want to make history for all of you at home.

"Thank you to every England fan for your support during the past four weeks."

Rashford, who alongside Bukayo Saka was England's joint-highest scorer in Qatar with three goals, struck a similar tone to Grealish.

"The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions, each and every one of our team gave everything we had to be ready for what was thrown at us," Rashford said in a Tweet.

"We got close, but not close enough. I'll make a promise that we will come again! Thank you for the unconditional support."

Manager Southgate believes the identity of England's quarter-final opponents makes it difficult to say whether his team's campaign should be considered a success.

"Before any tournament, people are always asking what round you need to get to for it to be a success," Southgate said in a video on England's media channels.

"I've always said that's hard to define, because you can play a France and have the type of game we've had, and have a different reaction to getting to a final or a semi-final, as we've experienced.

"It's a difficult time for everybody in our country, and I think the players have represented them in the right way, we've played in the right way. I hope everybody's enjoyed the journey."

Jack Grealish's future at Manchester City has been the subject of speculation lately despite being only 18 months into a six-year contract.

The 27-year-old England attacking midfielder has not quite met expectations since his big-money switch from Aston Villa.

Grealish has scored one goal in 16 appearances this season, after netting five times in 33 games in his maiden season at City.

 

TOP STORY - MILAN PLOT SHOCK MOVE FOR GREALISH

Serie A champions Milan are set to launch a shock transfer bid for Grealish, according to Calciomercato.

City are open to selling the playmaker, who they signed from Villa last year for £100 million, the most expensive transfer of an English player.

The Premier League champions are willing to let Grealish go to fund their bid for Borussia Dortmund's England international Jude Bellingham. Milan would likely make a move for Grealish at the end of the season.

ROUND-UP

Bellingham's management have informed Real Madrid that Liverpool are ahead in the race for the Dortmund midfielder's signature, according to Bild.

Liverpool have joined the pursuit of Valencia's United States international Yunus Musah, competing with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, reports Calciomercato.

– 90min claims both Tottenham and Liverpool are considering a move for Fiorentina's Morocco international midfielder Sofyan Amrabat in January.

Milan may be interested in Barcelona target Gabriel Martinelli, should the Italian giants sell Rafael Leao in January, claims Calciomercato. Martinelli is contracted with Arsenal until 2024.

Marseille are interested in a move for Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha when his contract is up at the end of the season, reports 90min.

– Bild reports that Bayern Munich are close to agreeing a new deal for 19-year-old whizzkid Jamal Musiala.

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