John Stones is confident Manchester City will continue to perform at an elite level following a period of change, with the Premier League champions recruiting the likes of Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips amid the departures of several big names.

Meanwhile, Stones' City and England team-mate Phil Foden has hailed Pep Guardiola's style of management as the biggest factor in creating a harmonious atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium.

Having clinched a second consecutive Premier League title – their fourth in six seasons under Guardiola – with an exhilarating comeback victory over Aston Villa in May, City have used the transfer market to kick-start an evolution of their squad.

Haaland and Phillips represent City's two marquee signings during the off-season, while the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fernandinho have all sought pastures new.

While Stones told the club's website he was sorry to see some of their most storied players depart, he is confident City's new arrivals will keep Guardiola's team competitive. 

"I'm always confident we can be successful," Stones said. "Whoever has come in, they have always been great from the start.

"We obviously spend that much time together and get to know people on a personal level first and then we go out on the training pitch and see what they can bring and the quality they have.

"Whoever has come in has stepped up. It's sad to see people go, whether it is retirement or wanting a new challenge and that's hard because we have so many good friends and good memories on the pitch, but we won’t forget those.

"But that’s football, there is always new people coming in and it is credit to the backroom staff and people involved in recruiting that the character fit of players that have come in do so well in the team."

Haaland's arrival should provide City with the focal point they missed at times last term – Kevin De Bruyne top-scored with 15 league goals for a side that shared the attacking burden during 2021-22.

Meanwhile, Phillips appears the ideal Fernandinho replacement in midfield after making more recoveries per 90 minutes (10.16) than any other outfield player to make a minimum of 15 Premier League appearances last season.

The intense competition for places at the Etihad was suggested as the reason for both Jesus and Sterling departing for domestic rivals in Arsenal and Chelsea respectively.

But Guardiola handed at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 different players last campaign, a tally only bettered by four clubs, and Foden has hailed the tactician for his approach to squad management.

"He's really good at it, bringing everyone together," the creative midfielder said. "We have a big squad and everyone has to be ready to play.

"You see that all year round, everyone has to be ready to step up. Everyone sticking together in moments like those is so important and that's why we win a lot of trophies."

John Stones says England's Euro 2020 win over Germany "set the bar" as he challenged the Three Lions to respond in Munich after defeat to Hungary.

England underwhelmed on Saturday at the Puskas Arena as Hungary won the Nations League opener 1-0 to record their first victory over the Three Lions since May 1962.

Meanwhile, Germany were held to a 1-1 draw by Italy in the other League A Group 3 game, with Hansi Flick's side next hosting England at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.

England won the last meeting between the two sides 2-0 at Wembley Stadium last June in the last-16 at Euro 2020, with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane proving the difference.

The Three Lions have not won consecutive games against Germany since a seven-game winning run between 1935 and 1966, the last game of which was the World Cup final.

Stones believes England must use their Euro 2020 triumph over Die Mannschaft as a benchmark for future performances.

"I think everyone felt the same as us, the incredible stage we beat them on, the occasion, it was a big step for us as a team and nation," Stones said at a pre-match news conference on Monday. 

"To progress to the latter stages of that tournament and show ourselves what we are capable of, we have set a marker and we have to be consistent with winning.

"We have set the bar, that’s the challenge for us as players now, the other day was a big learning curve for us as a collective.

"We have had an incredible run and that stopped, now it’s down to us how we bounce back, how we show our character and experience – what a game to do that in tomorrow."

Stones' Manchester City team-mate Kevin De Bruyne was quick to criticise the Nations League for adding further strain to the footballing calendar.

However, Stones disagrees with the Belgium international as he expressed his pride to play for his country on any occasion.

"You need to always be ready and fighting, the feeling in the camp and the players is that we would play all year round if we could," he added.

"We know how important this period is, not many games leading up to the World Cup, everyone is fighting for their place, trying to play well and trying to create partnerships.

"To play for your nation and be called up...when I was out of the team it hurt so when you are here to play in big games like this you can only cherish the moment and maximise the chances in front of you.

"I see this as a massive learning curve and a big step in the right direction to set us up for the World Cup."

Pep Guardiola has no intention of selling Ilkay Gundogan, even if "all the great Twitter accounts" have suggested he could leave Manchester City.

Gundogan has been at the centre of online debate following claims he had held talks with Real Madrid, seemingly focused around a reported image of the midfielder heading to the Spanish capital on a private flight.

Model Sara Benamira revealed on her Instagram she and Gundogan had actually been married in Copenhagen during his time out of the country.

Guardiola was aware of that private ceremony but had no knowledge of any desire on the part of either Gundogan or the club for a transfer.

The former Borussia Dortmund man has a year remaining on his City contract.

"He asked me permission to go to Denmark or I don't know [where] to get married," Guardiola told reporters. "I congratulate him.

"If you ask me personally, the club, I want Ilkay next season here. There is no idea, no intention that next season he cannot be here.

"After, if he wants to leave – because... I don't know, he's getting married, a new experience or whatever – as a club we don't know it.

"All the great Twitter accounts, the guys like you, said he's going to leave, so congratulations, but I didn't know it. Maybe you have more info than me or the club, but this is the situation right now."

In the more immediate future, Guardiola has been boosted by the potential return of defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones for Sunday's Premier League match against Aston Villa, where City will win the title with three points.

The England pair had previously been ruled out for the rest of the season but could now feature after a "partial" training session on Thursday.

"I have incredible doctors," a smiling Guardiola said on Friday.

Pep Guardiola revealed Manchester City will be without three key defenders for the Premier League title run-in and joked Phil Foden might have to step in at the back.

Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias have been ruled out for the rest of the season due to injury, with Dias forced off at half-time against Newcastle United on Sunday with a muscle problem.

City won 5-0 and were dominant against a sluggish Newcastle side, but there are testing away games at Wolves and West Ham to come for Guardiola's team, before they round off their campaign at home to Aston Villa.

A three-point lead over second-placed Liverpool could come under threat if the situation becomes any worse.

Aymeric Laporte was partnered in central defence by veteran Fernandinho for the second half of the one-sided Newcastle clash, after which Guardiola told a media conference the news about Walker, Stones and Dias.

"In this situation it is not a problem. If Rodri has to play in that position it is not a problem, or if it's someone from the academy," Guardiola said.

Guardiola had earlier told Sky Sports: "If Phil Foden has to play as a central defender, he will play as a central defender."

Asked if that could really happen, Guardiola replied: "No."

Foden the attacker would be an obvious misfit in the backline, and City will hope they do not have excessive defending to do over the closing fortnight of the campaign. Wolves away is the next test, at Molineux on Wednesday.

Guardiola said City were "outstanding" and delivered a "perfect" display against Newcastle, four days after their agonising Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid.

"With what this team have done, did you have any doubts?" Guardiola said.

"We've been five years doing this, every three days. If some people doubt us, it's because they still don't know this team and what it is able to do.

"I'm not talking about winning or losing. It's not about one afternoon or one night. How many years, being there every three days, every time."

City have scored five or more goals in a Premier League game 30 times in the Guardiola era now.

Newcastle, meanwhile, are winless in 32 away games in the competition against teams starting the day inside the top two places in the table (D4 L28) since beating second-placed Arsenal at Highbury in December 2001.

City chief Guardiola was unsure why critics, including former players, might question the character in his ranks.

"It's one of the best groups I've ever trained in my life," Guardiola said.

"We passed through two tough days, but today we spoke for the first time [since Madrid] and I said, 'You have a perfect life, in the perfect club'.

"We are three points up front, nine points to play for, goal difference four goals ahead. Another final on Wednesday."

John Stones praised Manchester City's resolve, following a testy 0-0 draw that saw them advance past Atletico Madrid to the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday.

Following City's 1-0 win in the first leg, it was a characteristically intense atmosphere both on and off the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano, even boiling over at the end with Felipe's late red card.

City were fortunate not to concede in the second half once Atleti coach Diego Simeone brought the likes of Angel Correa and Rodrigo de Paul on from the substitutes bench, with Ederson called into action several times.

England international Stones commended his side's ability to keep Atleti at bay on the pitch, as well as not get baited into immature responses following duels.

"We know that they sometimes try and make things happen like that and we dealt with it really well," Stones told BT Sport. "It is not nice to talk about and I don't want to dwell on it because over the two legs we played incredible against such an experienced side in what they do, we kept our tempers and it is easy to get drawn into stuff like that.

"We knew it was not an easy place to come, it is a hostile environment, it was a difficult night all round and how we defended and controlled ourselves over the two legs was incredible."

Even when there was relative parity in the first, there was a sense Atleti had another gear, with Pep Guardiola opting for Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne with Rodri in midfield.

As the changes came and De Bruyne came off injured, Simeone's side largely controlled the second half, and put up 13 shots to City's two.  

Guardiola praised his side's resilience, despite admitting they had lost control as the game progressed.

"They are the champions of Spain and they played with energy in the second half . They were better than us and we were lucky we didn't concede," Guardiola told BT Sport. "In the first half we had chances, overall we are in the semi-finals – it is well deserved.

"The opponent is so tough, all the teams in Champions League come here and suffer so it is important we go through."

Pep Guardiola insists he has to treat all of Manchester City's players as equals after Raheem Sterling suggested he is open to leaving the Premier League champions.

In an interview released on Thursday, England forward Sterling told the Financial Times that he is contemplating a move away from City in order to secure regular game time.

Sterling has been a consistent figure in Guardiola's all-conquering City team since 2016, though his form tailed off last season and he was used sparingly in the latter half of the last term.

The 26-year-old still started the Champions League final before heading off to star at Euro 2020 with England, but has played only 274 minutes of Premier League football so far with just two starts.

 

Guardiola was unaware of Sterling's thoughts on potentially leaving City, though insists he cannot treat any of his players differently or assure them of regular minutes.

"Raheem is our player, we are happy with an incredibly important player for us," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Saturday's match with Burnley.

"Some players want to play all the time but I cannot assure them, they know it. I cannot assure how many minutes everyone is going to play. Always they have to speak on the pitch, that is the best moment.

"Not only Raheem, all of them. What I want is for everyone to be happy, satisfied to be here, delighted to be at this club. If this is not the case they are free to take the decision that is best for him.

"They have to be happy. More game time, I understand completely. I was a football player and all the time I wanted to play."

Asked how difficult leaving high-calibre players out of his starting XI is, Guardiola said: "Of course it's not easy. Raheem played in the final of the Champions League. He's an important player.

"But I have to treat Cole Palmer the same as Kevin De Bruyne. Why should I treat De Bruyne differently to Palmer? Both have parents, a girlfriend, a wife, friends. There's no reason why. I have to treat players the same.

"In my career, important players have not played in important games. I take decisions that are best for the team, not for the players and not for me."

Another player who has found his game time limited in 2021-22 is John Stones. The centre-back is yet to feature at all for City this term, despite enjoying a brilliant 2020-21 in which he made 35 appearances, helping City to 30 victories and keeping 19 clean sheets.

 

Yet Guardiola seemed to suggest Stones' attitude and desire to improve set him in good stead in comparison to how other players treat being out of the team.

"John was such an important player for us last season because he played incredibly well alongside Ruben [Dias]. This season, Aymeric [Laporte] played incredibly well alongside Ruben and it's fair to let him play," Guardiola said.

"John is an exceptional guy, knows the situation and always is fighting. Some players play more than the other ones, but it is normal. I would love to give them all minutes, but I cannot assure them. Not John, not Ruben, not Kevin, not Phil Foden. Everyone has to try to do it on the pitch.

"Raheem is so important for us, but he competes with Jack Grealish, Phil, Ferran [Torres], Gabriel [Jesus], Bernardo [Silva]. This is the reality at the top clubs. Sometimes it's difficult. Train harder, and in the moment you play, show you are right.

"Some players accept more, like John for example. There are players, they suffer more. It happens in all the clubs around the world. You have to fight and at the end there is a transfer window and you have to decide what you want to do.

"I don't want to see the players unhappy or upset or whatever. It is not the end of the world. There are many clubs, you can do whatever you want, we don't push barriers. Make a phone call to the club and sort the situation.

"I am not talking about Raheem. I am talking in general.  The transfer window is the moment to decide. When it's finished, you have to respect my decisions, I'm the manager. I don't take the decision to benefit the players."

England captain Harry Kane is hopeful UEFA will take stern action against Hungary should allegations of racist behaviour from some of their supporters be proven.

The Three Lions shrugged off any hangover from the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy with an emphatic 4-0 win in Budapest on Thursday.

Kane, Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice got on the scoresheet as Gareth Southgate's side kept themselves on track to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

However, in a hostile atmosphere at the Puskas Arena, the win could have been marred by reported racist chants that were said to have been directed at some England players. The visiting team were booed when they took the knee prior to kick-off.

Asked by ITV if he had heard any chants, Kane said: "I didn't hear that. Obviously that's something I'll talk to the boys [about] and see if any of them heard any of it.

"We'll have to report it to UEFA as the rules permit and if it is the case hopefully UEFA can come down strong."

Maguire too claimed he had not heard any chants first hand.

"It was disappointing to hear the boos but it has happened in previous games, we knew what to expect but I am happy all the boys stood by it," the centre-back told BBC Radio 5Live.

"I have spoken to a couple of lads, I did not hear them myself and if it did happen then I am disappointed.

"Three, four of us did not hear them but you guys can hear them more clearly on TV."

Maguire's defensive partner John Stones told BBC Sport: "Personally I didn't hear it, but was told about it after.

"It's so sad to think about that this happens at our games. I hope UEFA or whoever needs to take care of it does. We stand together as a team and did do before the game and we will continue fighting for what we believe in as a team and what we think is right."

In 2019, Bulgaria were handed a punishment of playing two games behind closed doors – with one suspended for two years – after a section of fans racially abused England players during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

England won the game 6-0, with play having to be stopped twice due to the chanting. UEFA also fined Bulgaria's football association €75,000.

John Stones has backed "fearless" Jack Grealish to make an immediate impact at Manchester City following his arrival from Aston Villa for a British-record £100million fee.

England international Grealish was confirmed as a City player last week and made his debut as a second-half substitute in Sunday's 1-0 Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

The 25-year-old played 25 minutes in that annual curtain-raising fixture, managing 25 touches of the ball and completing 15 of his 16 passes during his time on the pitch.

He is in contention to start City's opening Premier League fixture against Tottenham next Sunday and Stones is excited by what his international team-mate will bring to the side.

"Jack's an incredible footballer. A raw talent. I think you can see he is a bit fearless in how he plays and very direct," Stones told City's official website.

"We only saw a little bit of him in the Euros, but when he came on everyone was excited to see him and he came on and gave some vital assists at key moments.

"He is a big game player. An incredible person as well. He is coming into one of the best dressing rooms in the world non-football wise, with the characters we have here and he will fit in straight away.

"I am sure he will be looking forward to more success here and hopefully winning some silverware."

Stones was speaking after signing a new long-term contract at the Etihad Stadium that keeps him tied down to City until June 2026.

Former Everton defender Stones has spent the past five seasons with City and played an integral part in last term's Premier League and EFL Cup double.

City kept 19 clean sheets across the centre-back's 35 appearances in 2020-21 and conceded only 16 times with him on the field.

The 27-year-old's 24 blocks in 2020-21 were his most in a single season at City, while 32 tackles and 146 recoveries were above his average numbers over the past five seasons.

It marked quite the turnaround for Stones, who struggled for form and fitness during 2019-20 and came close to leaving the club.

And the Barnsley academy product has thanked Pep Guardiola and City's coaching staff for the faith shown in him.

"I think everyone, coaching staff, all the other staff that are here, from day one made me feel so welcome," Stones said.

"Everyone plays a major part in our success as players. I appreciate what everyone does for me here as a person.

"It is hard to say, but they have had a big impact on me and it was an easy decision for me to put pen to paper again. I feel like this is home and I absolutely love the place."

England defender John Stones has signed a new five-year contract at Manchester City, committing him to the Premier League champions until June 2026.

Stones joined City from Everton in 2016 for £47.5million, becoming one of Pep Guardiola's first major signings at the Etihad Stadium.

It has not always been plain sailing for the 27-year-old, however, and struggles for form and fitness during 2019-20 saw him fall out of the reckoning at international level, while Guardiola conceded he could leave the club.

Had Eric Garcia not opted to run his contract down in order to join Barcelona on a free transfer, that might well have been the case, but Stones stayed to forge an impressive partnership with new arrival Ruben Dias in central defence as City claimed their third Premier League title in four seasons.

Guardiola's men also lifted a fourth consecutive EFL Cup – the Wembley winner against Tottenham scored by Aymeric Laporte, who was dislodged as a first-choice selection by Stones during the 2020-21 campaign – and the Barnsley-born centre-back has won eight major honours overall during his five seasons in Manchester.

Stones' form earned a recall from England boss Gareth Southgate and he was an ever-present as the Three Lions plotted a path to the final of Euro 2020.

"I couldn't be happier. I love being part of this squad. There are so many quality players here and I know we can continue winning trophies, which is my main focus," Stones said, before hailing Guardiola's influence upon his development.

"Working with the manager is a dream. He has taught me so much about the game and I feel like I learn something new every single day.

"The success we've had in the last four years has been incredible. To be a part of it has been a dream come true and I just want to continue winning.

"This is the best place for me to play my football and fulfil my ambitions."

City's director of football Txiki Begiristain paid tribute to "an exceptional footballer and a fantastic defender".

"We knew when we signed him that we were getting a talented centre-back, but he has really matured in his five years here and, as we saw last season, is at the top of his game right now," he said.

"John has been an important part of our recent success and we believe he can continue to help us achieve our goals, so for him to commit his best years to us is a major boost for the club."

England defender John Stones has signed a new five-year contract at Manchester City, committing him to the Premier League champions until June 2026.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy ended their 53-year wait for a second European Championship crown with victory over England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Leonardo Bonucci cancelled out an early Luke Shaw goal to take the game to extra time and then penalties, which the Azzurri edged 3-2 to inflict heartbreak on hosts England.

Italy's triumph was deserved on the basis of the qualifying campaign and the tournament itself; Roberto Mancini's side have now gone 34 games unbeaten in all competitions.

England can also be proud of their run, and it is perhaps no surprise that the two finalists dominate Stats Perform's best XI of the tournament.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo is also included in our Opta data-driven side, along with players from Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

 

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Switzerland)

Gianluigi Donnarumma may have been named UEFA's Player of the Tournament for his penalty shoot-out heroics against Spain and Italy, but Sommer gets the nod after enjoying an incredible tournament.

The Swiss goalkeeper saved a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16 and made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

 

Right-back: Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)

Dumfries' reputation was certainly enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Juventus defender Bonucci was a rock at the heart of Italy's defence, particularly in the quarter-finals when frustrating Belgium's plethora of attackers.

No defender made more interceptions than the 34-year-old (12, level with Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko), and it was his bundled finish that drew his country level against England in the final.

Centre-back: John Stones (England)

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who carried his club form with Manchester City onto the international stage.

Stones won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Harry Maguire – and his 447 successful passes placed him behind only Jordi Alba (458) and club-mate Aymeric Laporte (644).

Left-back: Luke Shaw (England)

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Patrik Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

 

Central midfield: Marco Verratti (Italy)

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but boy did he make an impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

Central midfield: Pedri (Spain)

A number of young players enjoyed a breakthrough tournament at this edition of the Euros, arguably none more so than Barcelona superstar in the making Pedri, who made more passes in the opposing half (348) than any other player at the Euros.

He became the second European player to start as many as five games at the age of 18 or below in major tournament history, after Northern Ireland's Norman Whiteside. Proving age is just a number, Pedri completed all 55 of his passes in regular time in the semi-final loss to Italy.

Right wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy)

Versatile wide player Chiesa was always going to be one to watch at the Euros, having stepped up on the big occasions for Juventus last season with goals in key matches, including their Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

He scored Italy's extra-time opener in their last-16 win against Austria and put his side ahead against Spain in the semi-finals. He was not afraid to shoot – only three others did so on more occasions – and was arguably Italy's most dangerous player in the final.

Attacking midfield: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic)

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, his five strikes putting him level with Ronaldo, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

 

Left wing: Raheem Sterling (England)

England's run to the final would not have been possible if not for the fine form of Sterling, the Manchester City winger responsible for his side's first three goals in the competition.

That includes winning strikes against Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage, followed by the opener against Germany in the last 16, before assisting Kane's early goal against Ukraine. Even when not scoring he was a real threat, leading the way with 20 dribbles completed – four more than next player on the list in Frenkie de Jong.

Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

John Stones lauded Gareth Southgate's "unique" management as the Manchester City defender prepares for England's Euro 2020 final showdown with Italy.

Stones has started every game for the Three Lions at the tournament, with only goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (570) playing more minutes than the centre-back (559), who has also attempted more passes (424) than any other England player.

The 27-year-old has helped keep five clean sheets, with England having set a new national record for not conceding a goal before Mikkel Damsgaard's free-kick found the net in Wednesday's semi-final win over Denmark.

Southgate has made some brave, and at times unpopular, decisions throughout the tournament, though the vast majority have so far come off, with England having progressed to the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966, and just the second time in history.

While England approached group-stage games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic with caution, the attack clicked into gear in a 4-0 quarter-final hammering of Ukraine, following a 2-0 win over Germany in the last 16.

England then had 20 shots to Denmark's six in the semi-final clash at Wembley, with the squad's strength in depth and spirit once more on show.

"Every manager I've had is definitely unique and has their own philosophy," Stones told a news conference when asked about Southgate's impact.

"I think Gareth's created an unbelievable culture within our squad and calmness, it's his unique quality as a person and a manager. He's got great staff around him and an incredible squad with great characters in that, one of his best characteristics is his calmness under pressure.

"His willingness to win – I think that shines through, when you've got a manager with that quality, it passes through the team, you soon jump on board.

"He's got a unique quality of staying calm and it passes through the team. [Against Denmark] it was the first time we had been to extra time [at Euro 2020], we stayed calm, stuck to the game plan and it worked.

"We don't need to change anything, we cover every aspect in our preparation."

 

England were among the pre-tournament favourites, though their run to the final has been impressive, if the performances have not quite matched some of those by Sunday's opponents Italy.

Stones, alongside first Tyrone Mings and then Harry Maguire, has been particularly sharp, continuing his form after a season in which he defied the odds at City.

Indeed, at this time in 2020, Stones was being linked with a move away from City, yet the former Everton and Barnsley defender fought back to become a key figure for Pep Guardiola and now Southgate.

"It's something we've only dreamed of at the start of the tournament, but we've got this far, we're here now and we've just grown and grown throughout the tournament, not put too much pressure on ourselves," Stones said of England's run.

"We've overcome some tough tests over the past few years, learned a lot of things, gained a lot of experience and all the learning curves. A massive occasion.

"We're approaching this game how we would any other at club level or whatever competition we're in. The England team, whoever has contributed, everyone is giving everything for that shirt and the nation. We all loved the England team growing up, being able to play now, we cherish it, it's a special moment for us to do that." 

Asked if his struggles at City had helped shape him, Stones – who did not feature for England last year – replied: "Yes, a little bit, all those times have made me who I am.

"I'd have liked an easier route but that's football. You have setbacks. I've tried to learn from them, stay positive and true to myself.

"It's a massive moment for me and my family, going through tough times and the hard work and dedication. It's a proud moment and hopefully I get to be in the starting XI."

Is Aymeric Laporte's future away from Manchester City?

Laporte hit the ground running in Manchester, but Pep Guardiola has since preferred John Stones and Ruben Dias.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are reportedly willing to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – LAPORTE HEADED FOR SPAIN RETURN?

LaLiga pair Real Madrid and Barcelona are tracking Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte , according to Caught Offside.

Laporte left Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao for City in 2018 but the newly capped Spain international slipped down the pecking order during the 2020-21 campaign.

As City reportedly prepare a new long-term contract for John Stones , who has been preferred alongside Ruben Dias, Madrid and Barca are waiting in the wings.

 

ROUND-UP

-  Tottenham have abandoned their plans to appoint former Inter boss Antonio Conte , reports Sky Italy. Spurs and Conte were in negotiations and while ex-Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici is poised to join the Premier League side, Conte will not reunite with his Italian compatriot. Tottenham were initially linked with former manager Mauricio Pochettino , who is currently in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Amid ongoing speculation, Le10 Sport claims a sensational deal to bring Pochettino back to London could go ahead.

- PSG  are trying to hijack Barcelona 's move for Georginio Wijnaldum , says ESPN. Wijnaldum is available on a free transfer following the expiration of his Liverpool contract and he has been tipped to make the switch to Camp Nou.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya is the on the radar for Barca , who are eyeing a new left-back.

- Gazzetto dello Sport reports  Juventus  are interested in Fiorentina defender  Nikola Milenkovic . Fiorentina could be willing to sell the Serbia international, who is out of contract in 2022. Milenkovic has previously been linked with  Tottenham Manchester United  and  West Ham Milan  could also make a move if they fail to tie up a permanent deal for Chelsea's  Fikayo Tomori .

Dusan Vlahovic  of Fiorentina, Marseille's  Arkadiusz Milik and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca  are among the possible new forward signings for  Milan , says Gazzetta dello Sport. Chelsea veteran Olivier Giroud has been strongly linked with Milan.

- Marca claims  Gareth Bale  is leaning towards retirement after Euro 2020. Bale is set to return to Real Madrid following his loan spell at Tottenham.

- New Inter boss  Simone Inzaghi  wants to keep  Alexis Sanchez , per Calciomercato. As Inter look to cut costs, Sanchez has been linked with  Roma Romelu Lukaku Lautaro Martinez  and  Alessandro Bastoni  and their futures have also been questioned due to the club's financial issues.

Manchester City have won their third Premier League title in the past four seasons, also making it a hat-trick of triumphs in England's top flight for manager Pep Guardiola.

Even more so than when City racked up remarkable 100 and 98-point totals in their back-to-back 2017-18 and 2018-19 successes, this has been a tale of collective endeavour.

After a November defeat at Tottenham left Guardiola's men languishing in 11th, with 12 points from eight games, a steady turnaround occurred, with City establishing irresistible momentum by the early weeks of 2021.

This version of City might not be as freewheeling and freescoring as in previous years – they are set to fall well short of the 102 goals they managed despite coming a distant second to Liverpool last term – but they have proved no less effective.

Here, we look at some of the key figures in their revival.

Ruben Dias

There were a number of factors that helped Guardiola to put the pieces back together after a crushing 5-2 defeat in City's first Premier League home game of the season versus Leicester City, but the fact they secured Dias as a club-record signing from Benfica two days later feels heavily symbolic.

The Portugal centre-back instantly provided the defensive leadership City have lacked since Vincent Kompany's departure in 2019 and shoring things up at the back took the pressure off an attack struggling to adjust to Sergio Aguero's more marginal role.

In Dias' 30 Premier League appearances, City have conceded 18 goals, four of which were penalties, set against an expected goals against (xGA) figure of 21.3. In the 30 games prior to his debut, Guardiola's men conceded 32 goals, including six penalties, from 29.5 xGA against.

The 23-year-old has unquestionably added a layer of steel that City previously lacked - something that was emphatically demonstrated by his heroic midweek showing against Paris Saint-Germain - although he is not the only player responsible for this development.

John Stones

Forlorn battles with form and fitness in 2019-20 left Stones at a career crossroads. Had Eric Garcia signed a new contract instead of running his deal down in order to join Barcelona on a free, his race might have been run at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite a lengthy chase for a senior centre-back – Dias having not been City's first choice – and Nathan Ake's arrival from Bournemouth, Stones chose to buckle down to rich rewards.

He impressed in City's opening 3-1 win over Wolves but then had to bide his time as a rotation option. Those midweek performances persuaded Guardiola to install him at Dias' first-choice partner after some unsteady outings from pervious mainstay Aymeric Laporte.

A goal-costing error on his return to England duty in March and a recent red card at Aston Villa showed some of the old frailties remain, but bravura showings in the Champions League wins at Borussia Dortmund and PSG demonstrated how far the 26-year-old has come.

With Stones on the pitch this season, City have conceded one goal every 195 minutes. Among defenders to have played at least 1,000 minutes in 2020-21, only Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger (219) has a better rate.

Joao Cancelo

Dias' compatriot Cancelo has typified two familiar elements when it comes to Guardiola teams – players often fare far better after a mixed initial season getting used to the Catalan tactician's demands, while innovation and excellence in the full-back areas is usually a sign of things being in very good working order

"He arrived last season, he was confused in the beginning, he expected something we could not offer him but he is a nice guy with a great heart," Guardiola said in January, by which time it had become apparent how effective the former Juventus man was in his hybrid full-back/midfield role.

When City motored clear of the pack during 21-match winning run in all competitions that spanned December to March, Cancelo was key in helping to provide the numerical superiority in midfield Guardiola desires, while also proving versatile enough to operate both inside and outside from right-back or left-back.

Cancelo is the first Premier League player to average more than two tackles (2.7), 1.5 chances created (1.7) and 50 successful passes (61.5) per 90 minutes since Cesc Fabregas in 2017-18. To perhaps underline his unique interpretation of the full-back position, Cancelo is the only defender among the previous 10 players to hit these combined marks, going back to Aaron Ramsey in 2013-14.

Ilkay Gundogan

Particularly this season, everything in a Guardiola team is noticeably connected. The Dias-Stones axis has shored things up to the extent Cancelo can provide both extra midfield protection and an additional creative outlet.

A knock-on from this is Gundogan being able to make hay further up the field. When City last won the league in 2018-19, he performed with distinction in a holding midfield role during the run-in.

This term, the Germany playmaker has been unleashed to devastating effect, hitting a particular purple patch in front of goal as City swept all before them in January and February – netting braces to sink Liverpool and Spurs in the latter month.

In 26 appearances, Gundogan has scored 12 times. His 11 non-penalty goals are three better than any other midfielder in the division.

Gundogan's contributions have been particularly valuable give City's lack of a reliable goalscoring attacker, while also helping Guardiola's now go-to striker-less formation to flourish.

He could still finish the campaign as the lowest scoring top-scorer from a Premier League champion, a distinction presently held by Frank Lampard, who scored 13 times when Chelsea claimed glory in 2004-05.

Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne was named PFA Footballers' Footballer of the Year last season and has not stolen the limelight in quite the same way this time around. However, that is perhaps down to his team-mates not leaving him to fight a lone hand as he did for much of the previous campaign.

The Belgium maestro's contribution has still been very impressive. He has five goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, while he has now scored in City's past five Champions League knockout ties.

He has created 74 chances in 24 appearances, averaging 3.44 per 90 minutes – the best rate of any player in the Premier League, albeit down on his remarkable average of 4.37 last season.

Phil Foden

For club and country, Foden has enjoyed the kind of breakout season that seems to have been craved for some time, despite the fact he is still a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

A central midfielder as he came through the ranks at City, Foden has largely been deployed as a wide attacker and to devastating effect.

His 12 goal involvements (seven goals, five assists) are more than any under-21 player in the Premier League, while his performance and stunning solo goal in a 4-1 win at Anfield showed his taste for the big occasion – a priceless facet again demonstrated as the England international scored the winner in each leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Dortmund.

Having faced frequent calls to give Foden more game-time, Guardiola now counts the youngster as a practically locked-in selection for big games. As in each of his four seasons in senior football, Foden has featured more regularly, with 26 Premier League appearances and 15 starts to his name.

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