Portugal moved two points clear at the top of Nations League Group A2 with a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Lisbon on Thursday.

The two sides entered the contest at Estadio Jose Alvalade level on four points apiece after two rounds of fixtures, and it was Portugal who took control at the summit.

Joao Cancelo blasted the home side in front from a tight angle and Goncalo Guedes added a second before half-time, with both goals assisted by Bernardo Silva.

The Czech Republic were unable to find a route back into the contest as they were leapfrogged by Spain – 1-0 winners over Switzerland – in second place.

Portugal had to see out a spell of early pressure, with Michal Sadilek volleying over from a good position, before taking a 33rd-minute lead.

Cancelo, who rounded off the scoring in Portugal's 4-0 win over Switzerland last weekend, took a pass from Silva in his stride and fired past Jindrich Stanek into the far corner.

Silva played in Guedes for Portugal's second, the Valencia winger picking his spot beyond Stanek to leave the Czech Republic with a mountain to climb with 38 minutes played.

Diogo Jota was denied by Stanek as Portugal attempted to extend their lead further and Guedes had a strong penalty appeal rejected when challenged by Sadilek in the box.

Cristiano Ronaldo was also thwarted by the opposition keeper, while Adam Vlkanova missed a big chance at the other end after a mix-up, but Portugal comfortably saw out the win.

Kevin De Bruyne and Son Heung-min have joined Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold in being nominated for the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

De Bruyne, who won the award in 2019-20 despite Manchester City missing out on the title to Liverpool that season, is enjoying his best goalscoring campaign for the club.

He netted four goals in a 5-1 thrashing of Wolves on Wednesday, taking him to 19 in all competitions.

Salah is the only other past winner to be up for the award, having scored 22 goals and provided 13 assists (both league-high tallies) in another outstanding campaign as Liverpool battle City for the title.

Fellow Reds star Alexander-Arnold is also on the shortlist after racking up 12 assists in 31 appearances, as is Tottenham forward Son, who scored his 21st league goal of the campaign in Spurs' 3-0 win over Arsenal on Thursday.

Despite hitting 18 and 15 league goals respectively this season, Manchester United and Spurs strikers Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane are among the highest-profile players to miss out being nominated.

The other players on the eight-man shortlist are City defender Joao Cancelo, Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse, and West Ham's Jarrod Bowen.

Bowen is one of just three Premier League players to record double figures for goals and assists this season (both 10, along with Salah and Chelsea's Mason Mount).

Meanwhile, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are in contention to be named Manager of the Season at the end of another enthralling title race between their teams.

Guardiola has already won the award on three occasions (in 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21), the same amount as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Only Alex Ferguson, with 11, has won it more often.

Klopp won the award when he led Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 2019-20, while the other three nominees all manage sides currently in the bottom half of the table.

Brentford's Thomas Frank is among them after leading the Bees to safety in their first top-flight season since 1946-47, as is Patrick Viera after an impressive first campaign with Crystal Palace.

Newcastle United's Eddie Howe is the final boss on the five-man shortlist, after the Magpies became the first side to go winless through their first 14 games in a Premier League campaign and avoid relegation (three had done so and gone down - Swindon Town in 1993-94, QPR in 2012-13, and Sheffield United in 2020-21).

Public votes will contribute towards deciding the winner of each award, with Premier League club captains also getting a vote on the players' award and a "panel of football experts" helping to choose the winning manager.

Manchester City edged closer to the Premier League title, while there was significant change at the bottom of the table on Sunday.

City were eliminated from the Champions League semi-finals in dramatic fashion by Real Madrid in midweek, but saw their domestic hopes boosted when Liverpool dropped points against Tottenham on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola's side subsequently breezed past Newcastle United to move three points clear of the Reds with three games remaining, while West Ham hit relegated Norwich City for four.

Elsewhere, Arsenal continued their charge for Champions League qualification with a narrow victory over 10-man Leeds United, who ended the day in the relegation zone after Everton triumphed at Leicester City.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of the Opta data from the day's top-flight fixtures.

Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle United: Sterling provides as title charge continues 

Raheem Sterling was at the double as City strengthened their grasp on top spot with a 5-0 rout of Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium.

Sterling and Aymeric Laporte struck in the first half, with Joao Cancelo teeing up the England international's opener as the full-back became the fourth of Guardiola's players to reach 10 assists in all competitions this season (also Kevin de Bruyne with 13, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus - both 11).

City are the only team in Europe's big five leagues to have four or more different players reach 10 assists in all competitions this campaign, and Guardiola's men furthered their advantage after the interval.

Rodri then scored following a corner, as Laporte did in the first half, as City managed their 19th and 20th goals from set-piece situations this term in the league, excluding penalties. They have conceded just once from set-pieces themselves, with their plus-19 differential the best figure recorded in a single season in the Premier League since such records are available (2006-07 onwards).

Foden added a fourth before Sterling capped a fine victory with his 51st Premier League goal at the Etihad, becoming only the second player to pass 50 strikes for City at home in the competition after Sergio Aguero (106).

City have beaten Newcastle 28 times in the Premier League (D8 L8), more than they have any other side in the competition. In their league history, they have only beaten Everton (72 times) more often than the Magpies (68 times).

Meanwhile, Eddie Howe has lost all 12 of his Premier League meetings with City – 10 of those against Guardiola – the worst 100 per cent losing record a manager has against a single opponent or against another boss in the competition.

Arsenal 2-1 Leeds United: Ill-tempered Whites fall into relegation zone

An Eddie Nketiah double kept Arsenal on course for Champions League qualification as they triumphed 2-1 against 10-man Leeds, who dropped into the bottom three for the first time since October 30.

Nketiah fired the Gunners into a 2-0 lead as he became just the second Arsenal player to score twice in the opening 10 minutes of a Premier League game after Kanu (versus Sunderland in October 2002).

With Alexandre Lacazette out of favour, Nketiah has stepped up as Mikel Arteta's talisman, scoring four goals in his last four league games – just one fewer than he had managed in his first 52 top-flight appearances.

Luke Ayling was then dismissed for a mindless two-footed lunge on Gabriel Martinelli after 27 minutes, Leeds' earliest red card in the competition since April 1998 (when Lucas Radebe saw red after 17 minutes against Everton).

Tempers continued to flare before the interval as Leeds picked up their 95th and 96th yellow cards of the season, setting a new record for the most bookings for a club within a single Premier League campaign.

Diego Llorente offered Jesse Marsch's visitors brief hope as he poked home with Leeds' first shot on target, which marked the first home league goal Arsenal have conceded from a corner since February 2021 (also against Leeds).

However, Arsenal held on for victory to move four points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham, who they face on Thursday knowing victory will secure Champions League football next campaign.

Leicester City 1-2 Everton: Toffees move out of bottom three

Mason Holgate's second-half header proved the difference as Everton climbed out of the relegation zone with a battling 2-1 victory at Leicester.

Before this game, Leicester had won eight of their last nine top-flight matches against sides starting the day inside the relegation zone (D1), but the Foxes were caught cold by Vitalii Mykolenko's early volley.

That made Mykolenko the first Ukrainian to score a Premier League goal for Everton, the 39th different nationality to find the net in the competition for the Toffees, the sixth most of all clubs.

Patson Daka restored parity five minutes later, with all five of the striker's Premier League goals coming at the King Power Stadium – only Jamie Vardy (6) has netted more often at home for the club in the top-flight in 2021-22.

Holgate delivered the decisive finish in the 30th minute with his second league goal in his last five matches, one more than he had managed across his previous 109 top-flight appearances beforehand (one).

Brendan Rodgers will be left frustrated by the nature of Holgate's goal, given it was the 15th Premier League strike Leicester have conceded from a corner this campaign – the most by a side in a single campaign since Brighton and Hove Albion in 2017-18 (16).

Victory marked the first away league win in 15 games for Everton, ending a seven-game losing streak on the road as Frank Lampard's side moved a point clear of Leeds and Burnley having played one game fewer.

Norwich City 0-4 West Ham: Bowen and Benrahma on song to down Canaries

Said Benrahma scored twice as West Ham responded to Thursday's Europa League semi-final heartbreak by cruising past relegated Norwich 4-0 at Carrow Road.

Benrahma struck after 12 minutes before Michail Antonio ended his joint-longest goal drought in the top-flight with his fifth Premier League strike against the Canaries, only against Tottenham (six) has he scored more in the competition. 

Algeria international Benrahma doubled his tally before the interval, taking him to 21 direct goal contributions in the competition (nine goals, 12 assists). Since his debut in 2020, Jarrod Bowen (30) and Antonio (28) are the only other Hammers to register 20+ top-flight goal involvements.

Bowen assisted both of Benrahma's strikes as the former Hull City man became just the second player for West Ham to register at least 10 goals and 10 assists in a Premier League season, and the first since Paolo Di Canio in 1999-00 (16 goals, 13 assists).

Indeed, only Harry Kane (32) has been involved in more goals among English Premier League players in all competitions than Bowen this season (27 – 16 goals, 11 assists).

Manuel Lanzini's second-half penalty rounded off the victory as West Ham won a Premier League away game by at least a four-goal margin for just the third time, while it was the first time the Hammers have put at least four goals past a side in consecutive league visits since doing so against Tottenham in November 1966.

Meanwhile, Norwich have failed to score in 20 different league games this season, becoming the first side to do so in at least 20 matches in three different Premier League campaigns (also in 1994-95 and 2019-20).

Pep Guardiola acknowledged Manchester City have to improve defensively if they are to overcome Real Madrid and reach the Champions League final for the second successive year.

City take a 4-3 lead into Wednesday's semi-final second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu following a thrilling contest in Manchester last week.

Premier League leaders City held a two-goal lead on three separate occasions but, inspired by Karim Benzema, Madrid ensured the tie remains firmly alive.

City will be boosted at the back for the return fixture, however, as Joao Cancelo returns from suspension and Kyle Walker is expected to be fit to feature.

The England international has not played since injuring his ankle against Atletico Madrid last month, but he was back in training on Tuesday and is part of City's squad.

And Guardiola, who confirmed John Stones is injured, accepts that City must be stronger at the back if they are to see out the job.

"Probably, we have to be better but we can play much worse than we played and we can win," he told a news conference.

"Sometimes you get what you don't deserve, sometimes you don't get what you deserve. We have to perform incredibly well and win the game.

"Last week's game is in the past. The tie is 180 minutes. We try to do better than what we have done. We go there for that and everyone is ready to try to do it."

Pushed on whether he expects Walker to be ready to start, Guardiola added: "He trained, he'll travel and we decide tomorrow. I'm happy he's back."

City had registered clean sheets in their previous four knockout matches, keeping Sporting CP and Atletico quiet in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

The 26 shutouts City have kept across 53 games this season is the third-most of any side from Europe's top five leagues, behind Chelsea (27) and Liverpool (31).

Reflecting on last week's tie, the joint-highest scoring first leg in Champions League semi-final history, Guardiola said: "It was a lovely open game.

"The fact the teams scored seven goals between them. We were happy, we could have maybe got a better result but also a lot worse. 

"You look at it, recover the next day, analyse it in the cold light of day. For better or worse we always knew this would be over two games. 

"The Etihad and the Bernabeu. To knock Madrid out you have to perform well over two games."

Guardiola has won four Champions League matches against Madrid – only Ottmar Hitzfeld has won more (seven) – with two of those wins for the Catalan coming at the Bernabeu.

In the opposite dugout is Carlo Ancelotti, who last week celebrated becoming the first manager to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

Guardiola praised Ancelotti for his achievement but insisted Madrid's players will not have lost focus.

"Congratulations to him for winning the Spanish league," said Guardiola, who won three LaLiga titles with Barcelona. "I did it, he did it last week. 

"I admire him. He's been all over the world, big football countries and fantastic teams. It's always incredibly tough, the football is really good. 

"Part of that is he's an exceptional person. Every time with him he's calm, controls his emotions perfectly."

Should City complete the job, they will become the fourth English side to reach consecutive European Cup or Champions League finals.

But Guardiola conceded the experience of competing regularly in the latter stages of the competition does not guarantee lessons have been learned.

"Experience... the question is what to learn from the experience," he said. "You could make the same mistakes. It's completely different, it's difficult to compare to last season. 

"How will the guys wake up tomorrow? The fact we've been there quite often in the last years, we've been here and done well and know how to handle the situation. 

"But it's not a guarantee to play good. They know we have to perform well and our best to reach the final."

Thanks to the FA Cup semi-finals, matchday 33 in the Premier League is a bit more spread out, with just six games taking place at the weekend.

A further six games are scheduled for midweek, so there is a chance to get some of those pulling double duty in your fantasy team.

Whether your interests lie in the title race, the top-four scuffle or the relegation battle, there promises to be entertainment for everyone.

Therefore, it is time for Stats Perform to give you some suggested picks for your team using stats from the wonderful people at Opta.

HUGO LLORIS (Tottenham v Brighton and Hove Albion)

As odd as it sounds after a 4-0 win, had it not been for Lloris' heroics between the sticks last time out, Spurs could very well have lost against Aston Villa.

The Spurs captain made seven saves in the first half at Villa Park to keep Steven Gerrard's team out, with the visitors scoring four from their five on target in an afternoon of ruthless efficiency that had Antonio Conte smiling.

Only Alisson and Ederson (both 17) have kept more clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Lloris (12), while the Frenchman last recorded more shutouts in a single campaign in 2017-18 (15).

JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City v Brighton and Hove Albion)

This feels like we're picking on Brighton, but the fixture computer has not been kind to them, pitting them against two of the league's most in-form teams this week.

Only Gabriel Jesus (seven) has more assists for City in the Premier League this season than Joao Cancelo (six), as many as in his previous three league seasons combined.

As well as that, Cancelo is part of a staunch City defence that has conceded the fewest goals in the league this season (20), and against a Brighton side that has scored fewer goals (28) than all except Burnley (25) and Norwich (20), will be confident of a clean sheet on Wednesday.

JAMES MADDISON (Newcastle United v Leicester City, Everton v Leicester City)

Maddison is somewhat of an enigmatic player and, not that long ago, was struggling to start in Brendan Rodgers' strongest line-up.

However, he has already equalled his goal involvements tally for the entirety of last season in the Premier League (13), with the former Norwich man only bettering that in 2018-19 (14).

Indeed, he has either scored or assisted in each of his last three league appearances (one goal, two assists), last doing so in four such games in January 2021 (three goals, one assist).

CHRIS WOOD (Newcastle United v Leicester City, Newcastle United v Crystal Palace)

It has hardly been an electric start for life on Tyneside for Wood since his January move, though goals drying up for his former club and relegation rivals Burnley has been a positive added factor for the Magpies.

The New Zealander scored a crucial penalty in the 1-0 win against Wolves last time out, though, and he is looking to bag in consecutive league games for the first time since May 2021 (run of three).

Also, only against West Ham (seven) and Wolves (six) does Wood have more Premier League goals than he has previously managed against Leicester (four).

It is set to be the biggest match the Premier League has seen since, well, since the last time these two met during a fierce title race.

In 2019, Manchester City and Liverpool were slugging it out at the top of the table when they met at the Etihad Stadium, with Pep Guardiola's men edging a tight encounter 2-1, ultimately winning the league by a single point, 98 to 97.

That clash came in the January, though. This time, with both teams again separated by just one point, and with only eight games to go, it feels like it could be all or nothing when they meet on Sunday.

Both behemoths have numerous players who could play a crucial role, with match winners all over the pitch in either sky blue or red shirts.

However, two players in particular could arguably be held up as representations of both their teams, their approaches and their identity.

The journeys from transition to world-class of these City and Liverpool teams did not happen overnight, just like it didn't for two players who are now among the best full-backs in the game.

It has been said that Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold are redefining the role in their own unique ways, and in doing so, becoming defining players in their respective teams.

It is strange to think that during his first season at City in 2019-20, there were doubts raised about Cancelo's signing, valued at around £60m as part of a swap deal for the outgoing Danilo, who replaced Cancelo at Juventus.

However, the Portugal international was a key part of his team's recovery from a poor start last season to eventually ease to the Premier League title, before featuring prominently again this time around as Pep Guardiola's men chase a treble.

Cancelo was signed as a right-back but has shown his quality further still by adapting to playing at left-back, which is where he has recently been most effective for City, despite being right-footed.

Alexander-Arnold came through Liverpool's youth ranks, interestingly enough as a central midfielder, only moving to right-back as it seemed the quickest route into the first team.

Some early teething problems due to inexperience and size were understandable, but by the age of 21, he had already won the Champions League and Premier League.

He recently received one of the ultimate compliments, with Barcelona legend Dani Alves listing him as one of his favourite right-backs in the modern game.

The Brazilian – who is back at Barca for a second spell – told FourFourTwo magazine: "I admire Trent Alexander-Arnold very much. He's a fantastic footballer – this guy has got world-class skills."

How do they compare, though?

In an attacking sense, per game this season in all competitions, Cancelo has taken more shots than Alexander-Arnold (1.90 to 1.54) as well as having more touches (106.87 to 98.44), more touches in the opposition box (2.67 to 2.26) and more passes ending in the final third (30.86 to 28.21).

The Liverpool man is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more creative, having twice as many assists (16 to eight), more chances created from open play per game (1.56 to 1.05), more successful long passes (6.37 to 4.05) and almost twice as many passes played into the box (12.07 to 6.82).

No player in the Premier League comes close to Alexander-Arnold when it comes to switching flanks and moving the opposition across the pitch, with the England international doing so 57 times in the league this season, 20 times more than anyone else (Ruben Neves of Wolves is second with 37). Cancelo is third in the league overall for this, having done so 32 times so far.

Going the other way, Alexander-Arnold gets more than his fair share of scrutiny for his defending, but the numbers suggest this is unfair, or at least that there are aspects of his game that are better than Cancelo, who is correctly considered to be a very capable defender.

No City player has made more tackles (63) or interceptions (49) than Cancelo in the Premier League this season.

Cancelo competes in far more duels than his Liverpool rival per game in all competitions (11.54 to 5.42), with a success rate only slightly lower (1.27 to 1.32), while also making more tackles per game (2.05 to 1.23) and interceptions (1.85 to 1.31).

However, Alexander-Arnold has won possession more often (7.32 times per game to 5.7), conceded fewer fouls per game (0.31 to 1.07) and been dribbled past by an opponent fewer times per game (1.06 to 1.2).

The statistic that most people associate with Cancelo is the amount of touches he takes, comfortably the most in the Premier League, currently at 3,070 this season.

Alexander-Arnold has taken the next most with 2,490, ahead of Rodri (2,489), Aymeric Laporte (2,453) and Virgil van Dijk (2,402).

The Liverpool right-back, on the other hand, is more known for his creativity, and like Cancelo, the numbers back him up again this season.

In all competitions and across the top five European leagues, no player has created more than his 23 big chances – which is an opportunity from which a player would be reasonably expected to score – while in Premier League games, no player has created more than his 77 chances.

It is not just these more obvious metrics where the two are influencing things, though.

In terms of open play sequences involved in – defined as passages of open play that belong to one team and are ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play or a shot – they both lead the way in the Premier League this season, with Cancelo on 1,737 (62.3 per 90) and Alexander-Arnold on 1,555 (60.5 per 90), ahead of Rodri in third place on 1,447 (59.4 per 90).

Cancelo has also been involved in more open play shot-ending sequences than any other City player this season (191, or 6.9 per 90), while Alexander-Arnold ranks third among Liverpool players (144, or 5.6 per 90), behind only Mohamed Salah (192, or 7.4 per 90) and Sadio Mane (150, or 6.0 per 90).

With numbers like this, it is tempting to suggest that both could play in midfield, but that would be to do a disservice to the roles they currently fill at full back. They dominate from there with ease, and where is the sense in meddling with that?

They impressed again in midweek as their teams secured leads in the first legs of their Champions League quarter-finals, with Alexander-Arnold playing an incredible long ball to Luis Diaz to set up Liverpool's second goal at Benfica.

Both men are at the top of their games, and will need to be again when they meet in one of the biggest games the Premier League has ever seen on Sunday.

Manchester City failed to restore their six-point lead at the Premier League summit as they were held to a goalless draw at Crystal Palace on Monday.

Palace had been looking to complete a first league double over City since 1987-88 but settled simply for frustrating Pep Guardiola's side, who went the closest to opening the scoring in the first half when Joao Cancelo rattled the woodwork.

Kevin De Bruyne was also denied by the frame of the goal after the interval, with no late winner forthcoming at Selhurst Park.

The stalemate meant City moved just four points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who have a game in hand and are yet to play the champions at the Etihad Stadium.

Michael Olise poked narrowly wide in the opening stages, while Bernardo Silva spurned a glorious chance after Vicente Guaita had spilled a De Bruyne strike at the other end.

De Bruyne then tested Guaita's reactions with an audacious volley, before Cancelo cannoned against the left post with a thunderous long-range effort, with Aymeric Laporte squandering the inviting rebound inside the area.

Riyad Mahrez almost found the top-left corner with a left-footed curler, then De Bruyne struck the right post after the break with his low drive. Guaita tipped over from Mahrez on the follow-up, but a belated offside flag meant a breakthrough goal would not have stood.

Silva wasted another gilt-edged chance to nudge City ahead when he touched wide from Jack Grealish's cross, while Laporte failed to make clean contact with a close-range header late on.

Conor Gallagher could even have stolen victory as his shot from a tight angle rose over Ederson's goal in stoppage time.

Manchester City defender Joao Cancelo described the attack on his home late last year as "horrific". 

Cancelo revealed on social media in December that "four cowards" left him with cuts to his face and tried to hurt his family before making off with some jewellery. 

The Portuguese full-back on Monday discussed the incident publicly for the first time and detailed the impact it had on his family. 

"That's life, it happens," Cancelo said ahead of Tuesday's Champions League last-16 meeting with Sporting CP.

"It was horrific. It terrorised my family. For me, I know how to deal with stuff, but my family didn't deserve to go through that. 

"There have been a lot of obstacles in my life and I have had to get over them. I've become a stronger player mentally and that's how I want to keep going on. 

"I could drop my head but however much people try to make me suffer, they won't achieve it. I always like to think positively, that's how I live my life in the best way possible." 

Despite the incident and its potential mental impact, Cancelo has continued to perform at a high level on the pitch and secured a new contract at the start of February.

That announcement was further evidence of the significant strides Cancelo has made since his arrival at the Etihad Stadium in 2019. 

Pep Guardiola explained at the time that the former Juventus wing-back had initially struggled to adapt, and Cancelo took full responsibility. 

"There were complications with the coach," Cancelo said. 

"I hadn't adapted to the way the team were playing. Coming from Juventus, who had a different way of playing, I wanted to enjoy football and show my quality but it was more my responsibility than the coach's. It was my fault. 

"I had to adapt to the team's style of play. As I managed to recover, like I do in life with my desire to win in life and football, I'm happy. Credit to me, but it was not just credit as it took a lot of desire, that I managed to become the player I am today." 

Joao Cancelo believes Manchester City "deserve to win the Champions League" and says the team need to embrace the pressure of finally landing European football's most coveted prize.

City fell at the last hurdle last season, losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the final, with Kai Havertz's first-half goal proving the difference.

It was the first time under boss Pep Guardiola in which City had progressed beyond the quarter-final stage in the competition, and Cancelo is determined to help his side go all the way this time around.

"This club deserves to win the Champions League," Cancelo said ahead of City's round of 16 first-leg clash at Sporting CP on Tuesday. "It's what this club works towards and it's what we are trying to do this season.

"The team are going through a good phase. We don't concede many and we score a lot. That reflects our daily work. Now, we concentrate on the Champions League. Against Sporting – that's the game we want to win.

"We're a very strong team. The players we have know how to deal with the pressure of getting to the Champions League final - but we are up against the best teams in Europe. We need to embrace pressure."

Guardiola hailed the confidence and harmony within the City camp, suggesting their 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig in their last group-stage game - a dead rubber with top spot tied up - was down to a lack of mental preparation.

"Confidence [has always been] high [within the squad]," Guardiola said. "Not just this season or the previous season. We have been behaving for a long time with the highest standards. We had an incredible run [in the Champions League last season].

"In Leipzig, we weren't ready mentally after already qualifying, the rest was good. I say every day, compete for ourselves. Every three days, we've done that for the last years and will do that again tomorrow.

"The harmony [within the squad] right now is exceptional. Thanks to the captains and many reasons. It is exceptional. We know each other well. It’s been six seasons, we know each other perfectly. We accept the good things, the bad things, to fight and be part of that."

Pep Guardiola admitted it took him a while to work out Joao Cancelo as the Manchester City boss spoke of the "sensitive" full-back who has become a key component of his side.

Cancelo joined from Juventus in 2019, with the Portugal international initially struggling to establish himself in City's side.

Guardiola said there had been "mistakes" on his own part, and a lack of understanding from Cancelo about how City were looking for him to perform.

Both bridges were crossed long ago, and this week saw Cancelo and City agree to extend the player's contract by two years until 2027, with Guardiola saying such deals were "so important" for the team's future.

Cancelo has developed into one of the world's leading full-backs under Guardiola, currently deployed on the left but equally comfortable on the right, yet disagreements between player and coach stymied his start to life at the club.

"Everybody knows how important Joao is with us and what he has done in the last two seasons, especially this season," Guardiola said.

"We have struggled together in the first part when he arrived. We were not agreeing on many things, in part [because] of my mistakes. Now I'm so delighted he's fully happy here and can play in this club for the next years.

"He can play in many positions, and he can play every day. His physicality is impressive and of course the skillset he has, and he's beloved in the locker room because he's so funny.

"The club has to especially work for tomorrow, for the next months and the next years, and the decisions the club has made [regarding contracts] is because the club is working for the future and has to do this."

Where manager Guardiola and Cancelo once struggled to understand each other, now they are singing from the same hymn sheet.

"We know each other much better, and every player must be treated in a different way," said Guardiola, speaking in a news conference ahead of Saturday's FA Cup clash with Fulham.

"I needed more time to know him, how sensitive he is. He's an incredible person, has a big heart, so sensitive.

"Finally, I think now I understand him a little bit more. Especially because he's an important player for us. When he arrived, we have an instructor to understand the way we want to play, and he struggled a little bit to understand what we want to do.

"That was the reason why. There were not arguments. Every player's a world, and you have to understand them as much as possible. Sometimes you need time to understand each other."

Guardiola described Cancelo's enthusiasm as that of "an amateur player", pointing to his desire to play all the time.

 

"Like Phil Foden, it's the most important thing in his life," Guardiola said.

Cancelo directly contributed to eight goals for City last season (five assists, three goals), but he is stepping up his contribution this term.

He already has eight assists and three goals in 2021-22, also helping City keep 12 clean sheets across the 30 matches he has featured in.

Cancelo has created 87 chances in the Premier League since making his debut, which ranks him eighth in terms of defenders, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (211) leading the way.

Midfield prospect James McAtee, 19, was another City player to sign a new contract this week, and Guardiola thinks the youngster could have a role to play in the closing months of the season.

"Maybe we will need him. In the future we will see," Guardiola said. "It is important he's fully committed to the club. He arrived when he was a little, little boy, and he's a Man City supporter, and he loves to be here.

"We're more than delighted with the confidence he and his family have in the club and [that] he could extend his contract to stay here with us."

Joao Cancelo has signed a two-year contract extension to keep him at Manchester City until the end of the 2026-27 season.

Cancelo has been a pivotal figure for Pep Guardiola since the start of last season, after initially struggling to make much of an impact in his first campaign at the club.

The 27-year-old Portugal international joined from Juventus in 2019 and has played at both right-back and left-back for City, developing into one of the best full-backs in world football in the process.

Cancelo has now committed his long-term future to the club.

"Manchester City is a fantastic club, so I am incredibly happy to have signed this new agreement," he told City's official website. 

"City players have everything they need to reach their full potential, with amazing facilities, world-class teammates and an incredible manager who pushes us every single day.

"There is nowhere better to play football and it's a pleasure to work here.

"I have so much I want to achieve before my career ends, and Manchester City offers me the best chance of fulfilling my ambitions.

"This new contract means I now have complete focus on improving my game and winning more trophies with this team."

News of Cancelo's extension comes a day after City confirmed the signing of River Plate forward Julian Alvarez.

The highly rated 22-year-old has joined on a five-and-a-half-year deal but will remain on loan at River until at least the end of the season.

Joao Cancelo is thrilled that he decided to stick it out at Manchester City as he credited the club for elevating his level.

City confirmed on Tuesday that Cancelo had signed a two-year contract extension to keep him on board until the end of the 2026-27 season.

Cancelo joined from Juventus in 2019, though the Portugal international initially struggled to nail down a regular spot in City's side.

Now, however, he is surely one of the first names on the team sheet. He was switched to left-back by Pep Guardiola last season and added an even more dangerous facet to City's attacking play.

While still being able to play at right-back, Cancelo often has the freedom to drift inside from the flank and add more numbers to City's midfield, with his passing range and eye for a blistering long-range shot useful from central positions.

"It makes all the sense to extend my contract with Manchester City," Cancelo told the club's official website.

"I have learned how to become a more versatile player. I feel I can play in different positions now, not only right-back or left-back.

"I feel I can play in several positions on the pitch, and I think [it] is easier in this team because of the quality all the players have. It's easier to play in this team than in any other team."

Cancelo conceded, however, that it was not all plain sailing, with the 27-year-old revealing he initially regretted his decision to leave Juve for City.

"In my first months, I wasn't extremely happy about my decision to join City," he explained.

"I came from a club that I also like a lot, Juventus. I spoke to my girlfriend, and we agreed that I had to make the best out of myself to be able to play.

"As of December [2019], January [2020] onwards, I started playing regularly so that makes a player happier. We players always want to play."

Cancelo made 33 appearances in all competitions in his first season at City, with that figure rising to 43 in 2020-21.

Having created one goal and scored another in 2019-20, Cancelo directly contributed to eight last season (five assists, three goals), while also providing three second assists (which Opta define as a pass or cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity).

He already has eight assists to his name in 2021-22, and has scored three goals, while also helping City keep 12 clean sheets across the 30 matches he has featured in.

Cancelo has created 87 chances in the Premier League since making his debut, which ranks him eighth in terms of defenders, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (211) leading the way.

Among City players, only Kevin De Bruyne (759) has played more passes or crosses into the box than Cancelo (363) in the Premier League since the latter made his debut, while the Belgium playmaker is also the sole City team-mate to register more successful crosses from open play (39 compared to Cancelo's 27).

Cancelo ranks second in City's squad for tackles (151) and tackles won (92) and duels won (384), behind Rodri in every category.

The Premier League is a week away from its winter break, but a feast of football awaits us before then, along with fantasy point-scoring opportunities.

Leaders Manchester City head to Southampton and will look to extend their 12-game winning run in the competition, at the expense of opponents who are unbeaten in their last seven league games at St Mary's.

Manchester United have a tricky assignment against David Moyes' West Ham, and you might consider a Hammers forward to break down Ralf Rangnick's defence at Old Trafford.

If the time is right to back your strong start to the season, there are proven fantasy league performers to choose from here among this week's picks, and a strong case to be made for others you may not have considered.

EDERSON (Southampton v Manchester City)

Pep Guardiola's trusted City goalkeeper has kept more Premier League clean sheets (12) and faced fewer shots on target per 90 minutes (2.2) than any other goalkeeper this season.

City have faced 50 shots on target across 22 games and have conceded only 13 goals, so another shut-out must be a realistic proposition on the south coast.

Ederson has played in all but one of those Premier League assignments for City this term, and although Southampton have won three and drawn four of their last seven 2021-22 home league games – their best record since going nine unbeaten from March to October 2016 – it is the visitors who start this clash as strong favourites.

JOAO CANCELO (Southampton v Manchester City)

City's defence has been close to watertight this season, but Cancelo's role at full-back is more than just about stopping the opposition.

Only the Liverpool duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold (10) and Andrew Robertson (6) have provided more Premier League assists among defenders this season than Cancelo (5).

He has also had 44 goal attempts, with 15 of them finding the target, and his tally of one goal scored will surely grow soon enough.

DAVINSON SANCHEZ (Chelsea v Tottenham)

Can Tottenham be trusted to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea, in Sunday's headline game? This choice would represent a gamble, albeit one that can to an extent be rationalised by data.

Since December 1, Sanchez has been involved in a Tottenham defence that has kept four clean sheets in seven Premier League appearances. Indeed, only Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte (5) has kept more clean sheets during that time among top-flight defenders. New boss Antonio Conte is making a difference at Spurs, no doubt about it.

The counter-argument here comes with the fact Chelsea have won five of their last six league games against Spurs (D1), and beat them in both legs of the EFL Cup semi-finals.

RAPHINHA (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

Leeds United have woken from their slumber in the Premier League, winning twice in a row to climb to 15th place, just three points behind Leicester City in 10th spot.

Last time out it was Jack Harrison who was the hero, with a hat-trick at West Ham, but Raphinha is their Mr Consistency.

The Brazilian set up Harrison's match-winning third goal at the London Stadium, and since the beginning of the 2020-21 Premier League season, Raphinha is one of just five players to have registered 10 or more goals, 10 or more assists and created over 100 chances in the English top division.

JARROD BOWEN (Manchester United v West Ham)

Former Hull City forward Bowen has been involved in 13 goals in the Premier League this season (6 goals, 7 assists) and opponents Manchester United will be wary of his quality.

Indeed, only Mohamed Salah (25) and Bowen's West Ham team-mate Michail Antonio (14) have been involved in more Premier League goals this term.

To strike a slight note of caution, Bowen only has an expected assists (xA) total of 2.94, meaning West Ham have made more of his chances created than they would ordinarily be expected to, while Bowen is slightly lagging behind his expected goals (xG) total of 8.29. That said, the Red Devils will surely not underestimate his threat.

ROBERTO FIRMINO (Crystal Palace v Liverpool)

With Salah and Sadio Mane still away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Brazilian forward Firmino again looks set for a starting role as the Reds travel to Selhurst Park on Sunday.

Firmino has been involved in six Premier League goals against Palace in his last five appearances (4 goals, 2 assists), having been involved in just two across his first seven games against the Eagles in the competition (2 goals).

Starting with a double in a 7-0 win in this exact fixture last season, each of Firmino's last 10 Premier League goals have all come away from home. Liverpool have won their last six Premier League away games against Palace.

ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

Can Newcastle beat the drop? Their best hope before the transfer window opened up a new world of possibilities appeared to lie with the fast feet of Saint-Maximin, and he remains their star attacker for now.

The French winger has scored in each of his last two Premier League appearances, with those goals earning 1-1 draws with Manchester United and Watford.

Now here lies the problem with trusting such form: he has never scored in three successive appearances in the competition. However, Saint-Maximin did score in the reverse fixture against Leeds in September, another 1-1 result for the Magpies.

Reigning champions Manchester City end the year as hot favourites to win the Premier League again, but how many of Pep Guardiola's players should make it into a team of the year?

Do any of the Manchester United players Gary Neville described as "whingebags" deserve a place in an elite XI? And is there a case to be made for any players from beyond the 'big six'?

The answers to those questions are: a) five, by our estimations; b) yes; and c) yes.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform selected a dream team for 2021, packed with standout performers from the calendar year.

Safe hands? It has to be Mendy

Chelsea's Edouard Mendy had a save percentage of 74.36, which put him fourth among goalkeepers with five or more Premier League appearances. Curiously, his Blues club-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga headed that list with an 81.82 per cent record, but he only played five Premier League games: the Spaniard's previous inconsistency and propensity to make expensive errors cost him a regular place.

Mendy has demonstrated reliability and Chelsea's upturn in form under Thomas Tuchel, highlighted by their Champions League triumph, owed a lot to the man at the back. He had 18 clean sheets in 38 Premier League games and in this team of the year he edges out the likes of Arsenal's former Sheffield United shot-stopper Aaron Ramsdale, and Wolves' outstanding Jose Sa (80.28 per cent save percentage in 18 games – a half-season wonder so far).

Risk-takers on the defensive flanks, no-nonsense in the middle

Top of the defenders' league for assists (13) and ball recoveries (308), Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold remains a sensational presence at right-back. He is much closer to the bottom of the league when it comes to duel success (46.77 per cent), and being dribbled past by opposition players (34 incidences), but his strengths are such that Liverpool can put up with those figures. The playmaker at full-back might be prone to an occasional error, but his service from the flanks has often been a match-winning ingredient in the Reds' mix.

Similar can be said for Manchester City's Joao Cancelo, a first-class operator on either defensive flank. He has three goals and six assists in the league over the year and has created 39 chances from open play, putting him in the top five among defenders in the latter metric (Alexander-Arnold's 67 leads the way). Cancelo has a healthy tackle success rate of 66.27 per cent, but he has also been dribbled past 53 times by opponents, more than any other defender and has made three errors leading to shots (Harry Maguire tops this list, with six errors). Cancelo is imperfect, but also often quite brilliant.

In the centre of defence, Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger might be in his last season at Stamford Bridge, amid speculation linking him with Real Madrid and others. He has been largely formidable, developing a strong alliance with Thiago Silva. Only three defenders with more than 20 Premier League appearances across the year managed to top 60 per cent for duel success (Rudiger: 63.75) and 70 per cent for tackle success (Rudiger: 73.08) while being dribbled past no more than 10 times (Rudiger: 10). Surprisingly, one of those was Newcastle's Ciaran Clark. The others were Rudiger and Silva, and you could have either in a team of the year.

Ruben Dias has been the Rolls-Royce engine in Manchester City's defence: powerful and classy, surely built to last. His passing accuracy of 93.28 per cent has been beaten only by one defender in the league – team-mate Aymeric Laporte (93.91) – with Dias also managing three goals and two assists in 2021, his first full year in English football. City are no longer crying out for a Vincent Kompany replacement: Dias, 24, could be the cornerstone of their defence for many seasons to come.

Midfield marvels... from Manchester

Is Bruno Fernandes a maestro or a "whingebag"? Neville used the latter description after Manchester United's draw at Newcastle, but he would doubtless concur on the former too, given it has not been all shoulder shrugs and finger-pointing from the mercurial Portuguese this year. In 2020, Fernandes had 18 goals and 14 assists, alongside 60 open-play chances created. He has played more games this year (39, compared to 29 in 2021) and finished up with 13 goals, eight assists and 79 open-play chances created. His 21 goal involvements lead the way among midfielders, and even if those have dried up in recent weeks – he had just one goal and one assist in his final nine league games of the year – he had already done enough.

Across Manchester, Ilkay Gundogan was a revelation for City, particularly during a purple patch last season. He ends the year with 15 goals, the most of any midfielder, adding five assists from the 44 open-play chances he created, and had a princely passing accuracy in the opposition half of 90.09 per cent. Among Premier League players with more than 30 games, that accuracy was only beaten by Gundogan's City team-mates Bernardo Silva (90.23) and Rodri (90.74).

Of course Bernardo Silva makes the team too, a flagrant example of recency bias after the Portuguese's five goals in five league games from early November to early December. With his nine goals and seven assists across the Premier League year, and his determined dribbling (109 dribbling attempts - second only to Burnley's Dwight McNeil among midfielders), the ever-elegant Bernardo just edges out Manchester City team-mate and previously perennial all-star Kevin De Bruyne.

What a year it has been for Phil Foden, another City star to make this team. Granted, it would have been better had City won the Champions League final on his 21st birthday, but the young man from Stockport has continued his growth at Premier League level, bagging 12 goals and seven assists and another title. Those goals have come at an average of 0.53 per 90 minutes, and the assists at one every 0.31 per 90. He is top five in both per-90 aspects among midfielders, but is Foden still truly a midfielder? The twinkle-toed local lad has been deployed in the frontline frequently, looking at home wherever Pep Guardiola decides he should be slotted.

Standout Salah, remarkable Raphinha

Where would Leeds United be without Raphinha? Rumours of Bayern Munich interest surfaced in December, and his numbers tell us why the German giants might fancy the Brazilian. His 20 goal involvements (12 goals, eight assists) put him joint-fifth among Premier League forwards, with only Mohamed Salah (35), Michail Antonio (24), Harry Kane (23) and Son Heung-min (22) ahead of Raphinha. The former Rennes player attempted 194 dribbles (only Adama Traore, 252, and Allan Saint-Maximin, 238, tried more) and he also played far more passes into the final third than any other forward (198 – Leandro Trossard second on this list with 136). Raphinha got stuck in too, making 50 tackles (only Jordan Ayew, with 60, attempted more among forwards).

Mohamed Salah became the first player to score 20 or more goals in five consecutive seasons for Liverpool in all competitions since Ian Rush from 1981-82 to 1986-87 (six in a row). That is the remarkable level he has reached, and with his own long-term future still somewhat in doubt, Liverpool will be making every effort to retain the Egyptian. In the year when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the Premier League, the Portuguese was resoundingly outshone by Liverpool's star forward. Salah had more touches in the opposition box than any other player in 2021 (383), and he made good use of those. He created 67 chances from open play, and the goals and assists hauls were both league-highs among forwards.

Manchester City full back Joao Cancelo has revealed that he was "assaulted by four cowards", but escaped with only a small cut to his head.

Cancelo took to Instagram on Thursday to announce that the assailants also tried to hurt his family, though only made off with some jewellery in the end.

The 27-year-old posted a picture of his face after the altercation, saying: "Unfortunately, today I was assaulted by four cowards who hurt me and tried to hurt my family.

"When you show resistance, this is what happens. They managed to take all my jewellery and leave me with my face with this state.

"I don't know how there are people with such meanness. The most important thing for me is my family and luckily they are all okay.

"After so many obstacles in my life, this is just one more that I will overcome. Firm and strong, like always."

City, who are due to play Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday, released a statement on Twitter saying that the club is providing support to the player and his family.

"We are shocked and appalled that Joao Cancelo and his family were subjected to a burglary at their home this evening during which Joao was also assaulted.

"Joao and his family are being supported by the Club and he is helping the police with their enquiries as they investigate this very serious matter."

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