Kevin De Bruyne came back to haunt his old club as his fine strike handed Premier League leaders Manchester City a 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday.

Against no side has De Bruyne scored more Premier League goals than he has against the Blues (five), with this total the most against Chelsea by any player who has previously played for them in the competition.

Elsewhere, Manchester United threw away a two-goal lead at Aston Villa to draw 2-2, with Philippe Coutinho sealing a point on his debut following his loan move from Barcelona.

Wolves beat Southampton 3-1 and Norwich City piled the pressure on Rafael Benitez with a 2-1 win over Everton, while strugglers Newcastle United and Watford played out a 1-1 draw.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data from another eventful day in the Premier League.

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: De Bruyne edges Guardiola's men closer to the title

City's seemingly unstoppable march towards the Premier League title continued with a 12th straight top-flight win.

It marked the ninth run of 12 or more victories in the competition's history, with Pep Guardiola's side now responsible for four of those.

The decisive goal came from Kevin De Bruyne, the Belgium international superbly whipping into the bottom-right corner from distance with 20 minutes remaining.

De Bruyne has scored 21 Premier League goals from outside the penalty area – the most of any player since his first season with City (2015-16), and the joint-most of any Citizens player in the competition's history (level with Sergio Aguero).

Chelsea scarcely landed a blow on their hosts, failing to register a single shot in the first half. Indeed, they had just seven touches in City's penalty area – their fewest in a single Premier League match since January 2015 (also seven vs Man City).

Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United: Red Devils squander two-goal lead

A stirring late fight back from Villa meant United failed to win a Premier League away game in which they led by 2+ goals for the first time since January 2016 against Newcastle (3-3).

Bruno Fernandes' opener was the first Premier League goal United have scored from a set piece situation this season (excluding penalties), before the Portugal international doubled their advantage in the second period.  

Since making his United debut in February 2020, only Mohamed Salah (45) and Harry Kane (34) have scored more Premier League goals than Fernandes (33), while only James Ward-Prowse (seven) has scored more goals from outside the box in the competition during this period than the Portuguese (six).

Jacob Ramsey inspired a memorable comeback, though, the 20-year-old becoming the first Villa player to both score and assist against United in a single Premier League game since John Carew in April 2009, and the third-youngest player to do it against the Red Devils in the Premier League overall after Kelechi Iheanacho in September 2016 and Harry Kewell in November 1998.

Coutinho ensured the points were shared in what was his first Premier League appearance in 1477 days (for Liverpool vs Leicester City in December 2017).

Norwich City 2-1 Everton: Idah gets off the mark to put Benitez on the brink

The Canaries kick-started their bid for survival with a second win in six Premier League home games under Dean Smith – as many as they managed in their final 21 home games in the competition under previous manager Daniel Farke.

There were just 92 seconds between Michael Keane's own goal and Adam Idah's first Premier League strike, the hosts scoring as many times inside the opening 18 minutes as they had in their previous eight top-flight matches combined (one).

Idah's goal was his first in 27 Premier League appearances, while it was his first league goal since May 2021, when he scored in Norwich's final game of the Championship season.

The result meant Everton, who pulled one back through Richarlison, have won just 19 points from their 19 league games this season. Only twice previously have they had fewer at this stage of a Premier League campaign (17 in 1997-98 and 2005-06) and it looks as though Benitez's time may be up.

Wolves 3-1 Southampton: Traore off the mark as hosts' fine season continues

Wolves completed a top-flight double over Southampton for the first time since 1971-72, as well as winning three in a row against Saints in the top tier for the first time since October 1970.

Raul Jimenez and Conor Coady put them 2-0 up before the hour mark, with the latter's three Premier League goals coming from just four shots on target in 134 appearances.

Saints captain James Ward-Prowse scored his 12th direct free-kick goal in the Premier League to reduce the deficit – a haul bettered only by David Beckham (18).

However, Adama Traore's first goal in 22 top-flight appearances ensured Wolves picked up 31 points from their first 20 games of the season – their best return at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1979-80 (also 31 points) when they finished in sixth place.

Thomas Tuchel was unimpressed by the performance of Romelu Lukaku after Chelsea lost 1-0 to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

A stunning goal from Kevin De Bruyne sent Pep Guardiola's City 13 points clear of Chelsea in the Premier League table, with the Blues having won just four of their last 12 league games.

Lukaku cut a lone figure for much of Saturday's game, having just 21 touches – the fewest of any starting player for either team – while completing just seven out of 12 passes, and he did not win any of his seven aerial duels.

He also saw a shot saved by City goalkeeper Ederson when through one-on-one at the start of the second half, a chance that Opta measured with an xG (expected goals) score of 0.365, meaning that he would be expected to score at least one in three times from that position.

The £97million signing from Inter recently apologised to the club and the fans after giving an interview in Italy where he appeared to criticise Blues boss Tuchel for not playing to his strengths.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Tuchel explained his frustration with the Belgian striker's display, saying: "He had many ball losses without any pressure, many ball losses in very promising circumstances. He had a huge chance.

"We want to serve him, but he is part of the team, and the performance up front, particularly in the first half, we can do much, much better."

Apart from Lukaku, Tuchel was reluctant to fault his team at the post-match news conference despite the defeat, and praised their attitude and commitment in the game, saying to reporters: "I think we lost on individual performance and on one situation today. In terms of attitude, commitment, defensive-wise, I am happy.

"We did not allow too many big chances, kept them to a minimum, and we were aware and active with our defending.

"We had big counter chances, big offensive transition chances we wasted. With the same performance we have won games against Man City, and we could draw this game, and, of course, lose this."

Chelsea managed just four shots and one on target, all of which came in the second half, and Tuchel acknowledged that the European champions did not create enough, only having seven touches in the City box compared to the hosts who had 31 in the Chelsea penalty area.

"We did not have enough chances for the ball wins and the movements we could have had," Tuchel added. "We could have had more chances if we played with better timing, better precision. It's simply like this.

"We had eight or nine transition chances and out of them we did not have a touch in the box. This is what I am critical about. If we miss chances, I am not critical. Everyone wants to score big chances, and we do not get a lot of them in big games.

"We could have had many more chances, that is what I am critical about. The decision-making and timing wasn't at the level we need."

Tuchel was also asked for his reaction to the Premier League's decision to postpone Sunday's north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham after the Gunners made a request on Friday, due to having a number of players out through injury, suspension, COVID-19 or at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager has recently expressed frustration with the league for postponing some games and not others, including rejecting Chelsea's request to cancel their visit to Wolves in December.

"It's much better for me not to answer the question. Much, much better," the German said.

Pep Guardiola was overjoyed with the match-winning performance of Kevin De Bruyne in Manchester City's 1-0 defeat of Chelsea but is convinced the Belgian has even more to offer.

De Bruyne got City's decisive goal in the second half on Saturday, curling a sumptuous effort past Kepa Arrizabalaga from 25 yards out.

It was his fifth Premier League goal against his former club, a record bettered by no other former Chelsea player, making them his favourite opponent.

Victory put City 13 points clear of Chelsea, and that could yet remain their lead at the summit if Liverpool cannot beat Brentford on Sunday.

De Bruyne now has six league goals this season, as many as he managed in 2020-21, though Guardiola's post-match praise also suggested the City boss does not think his talisman has been playing at his highest level.

"We spoke together and said since we were together, from day one, all we have won and what we have done, we have done it together," Guardiola told BT Sport.

"I want to push him to do it more, he's a world-class player. He has the humility to do everything for the team, and it's not easy to find that.

"He won three Premier League titles and lots of prizes but I still want more of him because I know he can do it. Today the action he has done, I haven't seen it in a long time.

"He has everything. He missed a bit of confidence this season and struggled. He knows what he can do, he's incredibly beloved from all of us.

"He's completely different. His mum and dad can be so proud."

Despite the victory increasing City's lead, Guardiola is not getting sucked into the trap of declaring the title race over.

"That would be a problem now, to [take the gap] for granted," he said. "If Liverpool win the games in hand, it's eight points, not like Chelsea's position.

"Now my job is take from the brains of my players, to not believe what the people say. An example is recently we were winning against Leicester 4-0 after 45 minutes then in 20 minutes it was 4-3.

"We are more than pleased with our position but we've a lot of work to do. My job is to tell them."

Chelsea already knew the odds were slim. No team that has been clear by at least 10 points at the top of the Premier League after 21 matches has ever failed to lift the trophy.

The Blues travelled to leaders Manchester City on Saturday exactly 10 adrift and desperate to improve on their showing against Pep Guardiola's men from earlier in the season.

But a familiar foe once again brought their downfall as City sealed a 1-0 win that further increases their lead at the summit and probably has them over the horizon in the title race – at least as far as Chelsea are concerned.

Thomas Tuchel spoke with great clarity and assuredness as he addressed the media on Friday, accepting Chelsea were far too negative in their 1-0 defeat to City at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

We say "defeat", but in reality it was as close to a 1-0 battering as they come. City tallied three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), and it was a similar story in terms of touches in the opposition's box (34 to 11).

But there was little sign of a major improvement here. Tuchel flailed and flapped like a headless chicken on the touchline, his instructions ultimately powerless against a City side that smothered Chelsea with a high press that just seemed to suffocate them more as the game went on.

Initially, as much as anything, Chelsea just looked confused. Their bravery in playing out from the back was to be commended in some instances, but that mentality seemed to be completely at odds with almost everything else they did.

They would get into the midfield but then launch long balls out wide or to Christian Pulisic in the hole rather than for Romelu Lukaku to run onto. The moves would go nowhere.

 

There was no period of sustained pressure from Chelsea at all in the first half – in fact, they got to the interval without registering a single shot, the first time that's happened in a league game under Tuchel.

Lukaku, bar one early instance where he rolled John Stones before mucking up the final pass, cut a frustrated figure up top. While Chelsea's play in the build-up largely seemed unlikely to get the best out of him, his team-mates might have expected more attempts to run in behind the City defence.

The second half was just a few minutes old when such a situation did present itself, with Lukaku able to do what he's best at: running on to throughballs rather than acting as a target man.

Ederson produced a fine save to block Lukaku's effort, but it was the clearest evidence yet of how Chelsea were likely to hurt City – not that it was necessarily a sign of things to come for the visitors.

 

If anything, it served as a jolt for City, a reminder that, as good as they are, they weren't going to be able to sleepwalk to a win here.

City allowed Chelsea more of the ball, but Guardiola's men upped the intensity significantly with their pressing – the Blues started to find passing through the midfield rather trickier.

Eight of the nine times City won possession in the final third (Chelsea only did so once in the whole game) came in the second half, which was not only evidence of how they were able to impressively dig deep physically, but also highlighted how a team can take the game to an opponent even without the ball.

Of course, City relied on a moment of pure inspiration, which was somewhat predictably delivered by Kevin De Bruyne, who strode away from N'Golo Kante and saw his gorgeous curling effort find the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

 

It was his fifth Premier League goal against Chelsea, making his old club his favourite opposition in that regard, and a figure bettered by no other former Blue in the competition.

In the context of the match, it also highlighted the differing fortunes of players with comparable pasts: both De Bruyne and Lukaku joined Chelsea as youngsters and ultimately failed to make an impression.

The midfielder now regularly lights up the Premier League, but his international colleague is back at Stamford Bridge and struggling again, albeit for different reasons.

But the fact of the matter is, Lukaku was brought back to turn Chelsea into title contenders – that now looks impossible thanks to another familiar face.

Kevin De Bruyne hit a scorching winner as Manchester City extended their Premier League lead to 13 points with a 1-0 victory against second-placed Chelsea.

A tightly contested game at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday came to life 20 minutes from time as De Bruyne intervened decisively.

Chelsea did not see much of the ball but had their chances to get on the scoresheet too, with Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech particularly wasteful on the counter-attack.

Pep Guardiola's City have now won 12 league games on the bounce, and it is difficult to see how they can be denied making it back-to-back titles in May.

City dominated much of the first half but were grateful for poor decision-making and execution from Lukaku and Ziyech on two occasions as Chelsea looked to counter early on.

The best chance for the hosts in the opening 45 minutes came when an effective high press set Jack Grealish through on goal, but Kepa Arrizabalaga deflected the £100million man's shot behind with his left leg.

The visitors should have taken the lead two minutes into the second half when Lukaku was sent clear by Mateo Kovacic, but Ederson palmed his shot away before Ziyech lifted the rebound over the bar.

The league leaders finally broke the deadlock in the 70th minute when former Chelsea man De Bruyne cut in from the left side before expertly firing past the despairing dive of Arrizabalaga from 22 yards.

The Blues tried to find an equaliser, but City showed their solid side to clinch the three points, moving a significant step closer to lifting the Premier League trophy once more.

Pep Guardiola insisted consistency is the only reason for Manchester City's sizeable lead at the Premier League summit, as he hailed the "exceptional" nature of his side and their long-time rivals Liverpool.

City host Chelsea on Saturday as first take on second, though Guardiola's side currently hold a 10-point advantage, with Liverpool 11 behind in third place.

Following their 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, City are looking to secure the Premier League double over Chelsea for the fourth time, previously doing so in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2017-18.

They have won their last 11 Premier League games, their fifth such run of 11 or more consecutive victories in the competition.

However, despite his team's healthy lead, Guardiola does not believe Chelsea or Liverpool have dropped off. Instead, he credits City with finding another level of consistency.

"The Premier League is the strongest," he told reporters. 

"We are here now because we were consistent, especially in the toughest month in December, when there were many games and how we overcame the tough situations we had in the squad, problems with injuries and COVID.

"We got results playing really good, but also not good, like against Arsenal how we were able to win. We were consistent. This is the reason why, no secrets.

"My opinion about Liverpool and Chelsea does not change one bit. They are more than excellent teams. One is the champion of Europe, the other is the biggest rival in the last two, three, four seasons.

"Football changes quickly. What you have to do is rise and increase a bit our football compared to the last two teams we've played. We'll have to do it tomorrow to compete."

Guardiola then enthused about the continued level of performance of both City and Liverpool, who have had a thrilling rivalry in recent seasons, adding: "I have to say it was because Liverpool and City were exceptional, not because the others were wrong.

"[Manchester] United were close I remember one year with [Jose] Mourinho, and last season, but we were exceptional. What Liverpool and City have done in the last four years has never been seen before in this country.

"Antonio Conte with Chelsea started a little bit in my first season here but after that Liverpool and City made a step, and I think the other opponents did well, Chelsea, United, Tottenham, but Liverpool and City were out of this world.

"I'm proud, after six years together, five years of success, that in January we are competing in every single game. That is an incredible credit to these exceptional players. My job is to put my words behind them, tell them the truth, that's what I need to continue."

Guardiola did, however, hit out at the suggestion City had been fortunate with COVID-19, something which Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel both claimed.

"It's a situation that's all around the world. We've had injuries, COVID," said Guardiola, who was one of 21 members of City's squad to miss last week's FA Cup win over Swindon Town after testing positive.

"We had a lot of people with COVID. At the beginning of the season we've had a lot of incredibly tough injuries for our players. They believe we were lucky - okay, we were lucky. The thing is the pandemic is all around the world, we are exposed to the virus, we are not the exception.

"If they believe this is the reason why... maybe. Sometimes it's the money we have, sometimes it's COVID."

Saturday's game is just the second between City and Chelsea in the Premier League in which they are the top two teams. The other such match finished 1-1 in 2015.

After beating Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020, and Chelsea 1-0 earlier this season, City are looking to become the fourth English club to win three consecutive meetings with reigning European champions in all competitions, after Notts County (1982), Tottenham Hotspur (1983-84) and Everton (1984-85).

Pep Guardiola's considers Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel as "one of the few" managers he still learns from.

Guardiola's Manchester City play host to Tuchel and the Blues on Saturday in the standout match of the weekend's Premier League schedule.

City head into the game with a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea – only four times before have the Premier League leaders had a bigger lead over their nearest challengers after 21 matches.

On each of those occasions, the team with the lead has gone on to win the title, and victory over Chelsea could see City end the weekend with a 13-point advantage as long as Liverpool do not beat Brentford.

City will certainly be considered favourites given the impressive job they did on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September, only winning 1-0 but outplaying Tuchel's side practically throughout.

Despite that wobble from Chelsea and the fact City have a healthy lead at the summit, Guardiola still counts Tuchel among the few rivals he looks to for inspiration.

"He's so creative, one of the few managers I learn constantly from, to become a better manager myself," Guardiola told reporters.

"Excellent in all departments. I enjoy since he was in Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, always I enjoy watching his teams and the way he's playing, the approach.

"I think he's dignified and he makes world of football better. When you find a manager who always wants to be positive in the way they play, it's good."

Earlier in the day, Tuchel revealed his regret at Chelsea going too defensive in their clash with City at Stamford Bridge.

City were the far greater threat, attempting three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), who did not test Ederson once.

Chelsea accumulated just 11 touches in the opposition's box compared to City's 34, while the visitors' 1.47 expected goals (xG) suggested Tuchel's side were somewhat fortunate to concede just once.

Tuchel's comments would hint at Chelsea turning up in Manchester with a more positive approach, and that appears to be what Guardiola is preparing for.

"I can't imagine what is going to happen. If he didn't like how they played at home, they play different away," he said.

"Seeing the Liverpool game and both Tottenham games, I saw Chelsea as completely different at Tottenham than they played at Stamford Bridge.

"I don't know if the plan was like this, or they couldn't do it. With this quote, I presume the approach that Chelsea will have tomorrow.

"Every game is completely different, [our] performance was really good, minimising the Champions of Europe when all players were fit and there.

"It was really exceptional. In that moment we were below them, knowing the difficulties if we didn't get the points. Our commitment with and without the ball was exceptional.

"We won unfortunately with a small margin, we couldn't score much more. We had three one-on-one situations, but the victory was nice.

"[Saturday] will be completely different. We learned from that, like how we can be better especially in attack, [so] they will change, like their manager said, their approach. They know they need points to be still there [in the title race]."

The debate around coronavirus-enforced postponements reared its head again after Burnley had their game with Leicester City called off, but Guardiola – who confirmed his side have had more positive COVID-19 cases – did not want to get into it.

"It's a Premier League decision," he said. "I don't get involved. COVID is all around the world. The situation is there, in the next two or three months it will still be there, hopefully it will decrease step by step."

On City's cases, he added: "Some people are coming, some are positive again. When you test once, twice negative, then you come back, otherwise you stay at home.

"It happened in the last two-three months affecting all the clubs. We have some new cases, they want privacy so I can't say who."

Thomas Tuchel believes Chelsea cannot hope to compete in a title battle with Manchester City when they are deprived of key players.

The Blues boss said Chelsea would have to "over-perform" to be in the Premier League trophy hunt, although he claims Pep Guardiola's City side are beatable in any one-off game.

Chelsea travel to face City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, and defeat would see the European champions fall 13 points behind the leaders with 16 games remaining.

Tuchel has seen centre-back Andreas Christensen ruled out of the game after testing positive for COVID-19, and such cases, along with a string of recent injuries, have significantly weakened Chelsea.

Pointing to City's strong record of keeping players available, Tuchel said that "maybe it's luck or they do it better".

Chelsea have elected to recall Kenedy from a loan spell at Flamengo to bolster their resources, and Tuchel said he could offer a solution at left wing-back, with Ben Chilwell sidelined.

City simply have strong options in every department, and Tuchel said: "They are the benchmark, they are the best team in England right now. This is something we have to admit realistically.

"We don't think a lot in the scenarios of 'what happens if?'. Let's play the game. I'm always in for a good fight, but I'm also very realistic. We are always up for a good fight with Man City and always there to push them to the limit and ask them questions they maybe don't like to answer.

"But they're very strong, very consistent, and perform on the absolute highest level.

"They opened the gap not over the last month, but they opened the gap over the last years. We will come up with a plan and push and help and support in the best way with genuine belief, but a team is a different team if everybody is available."

Reece James, Chelsea's attacking right wing-back, is, like Chilwell, out for the long term, and the England duo have been sorely missed.

To lose Christensen is another major blow, and Tuchel said it made Chelsea's task "even tougher".

"But does that make it impossible? No," he added. "For 90 minutes you can do anything, you can be brave, play with courage. You need a bit of luck."

Tuchel said Chelsea took the "wrong approach" in their previous game with City this season, saying they were "too passive and too defensive" when losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in September, declaring it was a "lesson learned".

"We have a good squad with a fantastic mentality," Tuchel said. "We need a bit more of a fight to bring out the extra edges.

"It's not enough to find even 100 per cent; we need to over-perform to catch City to be on top of the Premier League. To over-perform, you need simply everybody."

Manchester City and Chelsea were both in the market for a striker ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Although Chelsea sealed Romelu Lukaku's return – for a club-record fee reported to be £97.5million – City were unable to break Tottenham's resolve and sign Harry Kane.

For a brief time towards the end of August, it seemed Cristiano Ronaldo would be heading to the Etihad Stadium. Yet City again came away empty-handed – Ronaldo, like Lukaku, returning to a former club as he joined rivals Manchester United.

Indeed, City were once linked with Lukaku, with the forward himself claiming he had turned down an approach in 2020. But Pep Guardiola's team have, so far, cast aside any doubts that a lack of an out-and-out striker would cost them dearly.

City looked set to be in a three-way title race earlier in the season, alongside Chelsea and Liverpool. Heading into their second top-flight match of 2022, they are 10 points clear of the Blues and 11 clear of the Reds.

City turned in a statement performance in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September and, while rumours swirl of impending approaches for Erling Haaland or Dusan Vlahovic, two of Europe's brightest striking prospects, it will be Guardiola's 4-3-3, false nine system that Thomas Tuchel must look to counter on Saturday.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses how the respective attacks have stacked up this season.

Rom's return

It would be fair to say Lukaku's return to Stamford Bridge has not yet matched what was expected. Having led Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years, Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea to much fanfare and, undoubtedly, as one of the most fearsome finishers in European football.

Lukaku's second Chelsea debut could hardly have gone better as he opened the scoring against Arsenal after just 15 minutes, putting his strength, pace and positioning prowess on full display.

Yet he has so far failed to hit his stride. His five league goals from 13 appearances ranks him behind Mason Mount and Jorginho (both six) in Chelsea's squad, albeit the latter has netted all of his from the penalty spot.

Lukaku's goal return has come from a total of 22 shots, the fifth-most in Chelsea's squad, at an average of 2.3 per 90 minutes played. However, his rate of scoring every 166 minutes in the league puts him top of Chelsea's squad in that metric.

But that has been another issue with his comeback. Lukaku has featured for just 828 minutes in the league, starting only eight times, with 12 team-mates accumulating more game time.

An injury sustained in a Champions League win over Malmo in October kept him out of action for several weeks and he subsequently contracted COVID-19.

Then, late in December after he scored in successive matches against Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion, Sky Italia released an interview, conducted several weeks previously, in which Lukaku questioned Tuchel's tactics and suggested he could leave Chelsea.

Tuchel reacted strongly, dropping the forward for a pivotal clash with Liverpool on January 2, which finished 2-2. Lukaku apologised and returned to Chelsea's side for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

One of Lukaku's complaints was about how Tuchel has used him so far. 

Last season, playing typically in a 3-5-2 system at Inter, Lukaku averaged three shots, 1.5 attempts on target, 7.3 touches in the opposition box and 1.6 chances created per 90 minutes, across 36 Serie A appearances. But those figures have so far dropped to 2.4 shots, 0.9 attempts on target, 6.4 touches in the opponent's box and 1.5 chances created this term, with the forward deployed as a target man to combine with Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and the rest of Chelsea's attack.

It is a role that does not seem to suit Lukaku best, though Tuchel has made it clear who the boss is.

False nines and a flying full-back

Chelsea and City have played 21 league games this season, but Guardiola's team have netted six goals more. They average one every 36 minutes, compared to Chelsea's 43, and have out-shot the Blues 391 to 320.

This is all without a recognised number nine but, as proved by their charge to a third league title in four seasons in 2020-21, City have cracked the code of having any player but a centre-forward lead their line.

Whether it is Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan, the magnificent Bernardo Silva or, occasionally, the man who wears nine, Gabriel Jesus, City have a wealth of stellar options to slot into that role.

Sterling and Silva, who has been in sensational form all season, lead the way with seven goals each. It is a testament to Guardiola's man management that the duo, who might have left the club in 2021, are in such rich form.

Riyad Mahrez – the only City attacker with a consistent position – has netted six. De Bruyne and Foden have added five apiece.

City share their goals around for fun, while three players (Sterling, Silva and Jesus) have had over 100 touches in the opposition box, with Grealish on 99. No Chelsea player has managed more than 76 (Mount). 

De Bruyne's 36 chances created is more than any other player in City or Chelsea's squads, while the Belgian is level with Foden and Gundogan for big chances created (six), with Mount the only Blues player able to match them.

Allowing whichever front five plays for City to flourish is Rodri, who has taken the mantle from Fernandinho at the base of midfield, and creative support comes from the superb Joao Cancelo.

He has provided four league assists from 22 chances created, which ranks him sixth in the competition for defenders, with his four big chances tied for fourth, behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (11), Andrew Robertson and Reece James (five), who is a big injury miss for Chelsea.

It is not just Cancelo's passing and crossing that supports City's attack, however, with the full-back registering fourth in the league, behind three club-mates, for total carries (380) and sixth for carry distance (3,867 metres). Thiago Silva is the sole Chelsea player to have a place in the top 10 for either statistic.

Finely balanced

While City seemingly have the edge heading into Saturday's contest, Tuchel found a way to thwart Guardiola's system last season.

City countered this with their aggressive approach at Stamford Bridge but only four months previously, Guardiola's men fell short in their first Champions League final – Havertz scoring the winner in a match that perhaps forced City to make their move for Kane.

Tuchel won all three of his encounters with City in 2020-21, though those matches are the only times he has beaten Guardiola, who won three of their five Bundesliga meetings.

Chelsea went toe-to-toe with Liverpool and came out with a point earlier this month, though if Chelsea are to rope City back in, they need their investment in Lukaku to pay off.

Should City's death by a thousand cuts prevail, Chelsea's title challenge might well and truly have bitten the dust.

Erling Haaland is the hottest property in football right now.

It is expected that Haaland will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of this season although that is not confirmed.

The 21-year-old Norwegian forward is being chased by several big clubs.

TOP STORY – HAALAND SET TO DECIDE ON CLUB FUTURE

AS claims that Haaland is set to make a definitive call on his future as several top clubs circle for his signature.

Borussia Dortmund are set to meet with Haaland's representatives next week to discuss his plans according to Marca.

Haaland is being pursued by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.

ROUND-UP

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has reached out to Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele about a potential switch to Italy, claims Telefoot. Mourinho worked with Ndombele during his time at Spurs.

- Football Insider reports PSG midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has no interest in a move to cashed-up Newcastle United having been linked with his former club.

- The Telegraph reports that Burnley's New Zealand international forward Chris Wood will undergo a medical with Newcastle on Wednesday ahead of a move to the Magpies.

- Tottenham have contacted Jesse Lingard's representatives to discuss a free agency move in the off-season from Manchester United, claims Football London.

- Sevilla's interest in signing Manchester United's Anthony Martial is fading given the Red Devils' demands for the French forward, reports Marca.

- The Mail claims that Marcus Rashford and Manchester United are set to open talks before the end of the season on a new contract.

Arsenal have fallen out of the Premier League's top tier in recent years.

But the Gunners are determined to re-emerge under manager Mikel Arteta.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set to leave, Arsenal are ready to spend.

TOP STORY – ARSENAL DETERMINED TO LAND VLAHOVIC

Arsenal are determined to land Dusan Vlahovic despite the Serbian wanting £300,000 (€360,000) a week in wages, says the Daily Mail.

The Fiorentina forward is being chased by a host of clubs but the Gunners are ready to sign him despite a transfer bill around £150 million (€180m), with La Viola asking for a £58m (€70m) fee.

Juventus, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United have all been linked with the 21-year-old.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City could make a move for Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric claims El Nacional. The Croatian is not happy with the terms offered by Madrid on a new deal with his current contract set to expire at the end of this season.

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger prefers a move to Real Madrid over Paris Saint-Germain when his current contract expires according to Football London. Both clubs have offered deals to the Germany international.

- The Mirror reports that Edinson Cavani has committed to Manchester United for the remainder of the season after discussions with interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

- Barcelona have approached former Chelsea midfielder Oscar about joining the Catalans, claims TNT Sports Brasil. Oscar is currently contracted with Chinese club Shanghai Port.

- Tottenham are ready to sell record signing Tanguy Ndombele during the January transfer window, reports the Daily Mail. PSG, Milan, Roma, Lyon, Barcelona and Newcastle United are among the clubs interested in Ndombele according to the Star.

West Ham were handed a tasty trip to sixth-tier Kidderminster Harriers as the FA Cup served up a David and Goliath tie in the fourth-round draw.

David Moyes' Hammers beat top-flight rivals Leeds United 2-0 on Sunday to pass their first test in this season's competition, and now face a game they dare not lose.

Kidderminster and West Ham are five divisions apart in the English football system and both sit fifth in their respective leagues – the National League North and Premier League.

A stunning 2-1 third-round win over Championship outfit Reading carried Russell Penn's Kidderminster through to the last-32 stage, and now the West Midlands side can prepare for the visit of top-flight high-flyers to Aggborough.

Cup holders Leicester City, who saw off Watford on Saturday, were drawn to travel to either Nottingham Forest or Arsenal, who went into battle at the City Ground on Sunday evening.

Among the Premier League elite, Chelsea were handed a home draw against League One side Plymouth Argyle, Manchester City will host Fulham, Liverpool will tackle Cardiff City at Anfield, and Tottenham will welcome Brighton and Hove Albion.

Manchester United, who face Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday, will face Middlesbrough if they come through the tussle with Steven Gerrard's side.

There was perhaps a tinge of disappointment for League One side Cambridge United, who were not rewarded for upsetting Newcastle United with another glamorous tie against Premier League opposition. Instead, they will entertain Luton Town of the Championship, while National League side Boreham Wood, who knocked out AFC Wimbledon, were handed a trip to Bournemouth.

FA Cup fourth-round draw in full:

Crystal Palace v Hartlepool United, Bournemouth v Boreham Wood, Huddersfield Town v Barnsley, Peterborough United v QPR, Cambridge United v Luton Town, Southampton v Coventry City, Chelsea v Plymouth, Everton v Brentford, Kidderminster v West Ham, Manchester United or Aston Villa v Middlesbrough, Tottenham v Brighton and Hove Albion, Liverpool v Cardiff City, Stoke City v Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest or Arsenal v Leicester City, Manchester City v Fulham, Wolves v Norwich City.

Ties to be played on the weekend of February 4-7.

Kylian Mbappe is widely expected to join Real Madrid at the end of this season.

The 23-year-old attacker has stalled on a new contract offer at Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid have been circling for Mbappe's signature for a long time and had multiple bids rejected in 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE COULD STILL RE-SIGN WITH PSG

Mbappe could spring a surprise and renew his current PSG deal prior to the end of this season, claims Le Parisien.

The 2018 World Cup winner had been expected to become a free agent when his contract expires on June 30 and join Madrid .

Le Parisien claims that PSG have hope that Mbappe may pen an extension to force a transfer fee from Los Blancos, should they pursue a move. Mbappe is still undecided on his future, according to the report.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United 's superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo has held crisis talks with his agent Jorge Mendes as he considers his future with the Red Devils, according to The Sun. Ronaldo reportedly may leave United depending on their choice of a new permanent manager.

- El Nacional claims that Liverpool are ready to offer Barcelona teenager Gavi a deal worth £80,000 (€96k) per week to secure his signature, while Manchester City are also interested. Barca have a £42m (€50m) release cause in the 17-year-old's contract.

- Arsenal want to sign a new midfielder in January with Lyon's Bruno Guimaraes on their radar while a loan deal for Arthur Melo was discussed but has not advanced to talks with Juventus yet, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Argentinean forward Dario Benedetto is set to return to his homeland to join Boca Juniors from Marseille although the deal may take several days to complete, reports Cesar Luis Merlo.

- Nicolo Schira claims that Newcastle United have opened discussions with Sevilla on a four-year deal to sign Brazilian defender Diego Carlos .

- West Ham United and Newcastle may be priced out of their pursuit for Marseille's Boubacar Kamara,  who wants a £150,000-per-week (€180k) deal according to The Sun.

Manchester City youngster Cole Palmer could have a similar trajectory to that of Phil Foden, according to Pep Guardiola's assistant Rodolfo Borrell.

Palmer played a crucial role in City's 4-1 FA Cup third-round win over Swindon Town on Friday, setting up the opener for Bernardo Silva before netting his maiden goal in the competition late on with a gorgeous strike.

It was an all-round positive display from the right-winger, whose close ball control and technical ability made him a constant nuisance to the fourth-tier opposition, while he also proved a reliable creative outlet.

No player on the pitch could match his four chances created, and his overall positivity on and off the ball led to him registering four more touches (14) in the penalty area than anyone else.

That led to a game-high total of five shots, four of which were from inside the box, including his well-taken goal.

 

The 19-year-old was making his 10th competitive appearance of the season across all competitions and looked at home alongside seasoned superstars like Kevin De Bruyne and Silva.

Borrell, who was in charge due to Guardiola testing positive for coronavirus, suggested they are looking at Palmer's development in a similar light to that of Foden.

With it put to Borrell that Palmer looked "special", the coach told ITV Sport: "Yes, it's true, we have him training with us [the first team] on a regular basis.

"He has great quality, everyone has been able to see this. He's a great player, still needs developing quite a lot but there is obviously a lot of talent there.

"Hopefully very soon he can play more minutes with us like Phil Foden a couple of years ago."

Borrell attempted to temper any comparisons between the two City youth products, but he did not hide his excitement about Palmer.

He continued: "They're completely different players and obviously Phil has shown… I'm not going say [Foden's shown] more than him, but obviously he's older than [Palmer] and has had more opportunities.

 

"At the end of the day, they're two great players. Right now, Phil is already established in our first team and in the national team.

"With Cole, he obviously has the talent and the ingredients to become [something similar] but let's see.

"It's in his hands, he has to keep working hard and performing consistently at a good level."

Ultimately there was little for City to worry about at the County Ground, with Guardiola's absence no more than a footnote.

As it turned out, he had little to do with the game once it started, such is his belief in his coaches.

Borrell added: "We were in touch at half-time. There was not a massive change because everything was as planned as before.

"He has great confidence in all of us. Not just me but all the backroom staff, we have been with him a long time.

 

"We planned all of this together but to be honest with you, after the start of the game he said, 'listen, do as if I wasn't there and obviously if you need anything, keep in touch, and we'll chat at half-time'.

"He has huge confidence in us and I'm grateful, we are grateful. Everything was as planned and it has been a great experience for me and for all of us."

Manchester City ran out comfortable 4-1 winners over hosts Swindon Town in Friday's FA Cup third-round clash.

City, under the guidance of assistant coach Rodolfo Borrell after Pep Guardiola contracted COVID-19, never looked in danger of suffering a first FA Cup defeat to a side from the fourth tier or lower since 1984.

The visitors were cruising by the half-hour mark, with Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus getting the goals.

Ilkay Gundogan buried a fine free-kick with just under an hour played to put the game beyond doubt, before Harry McKirdy got a consolation.

Cole Palmer's gorgeous late strike finished the League Two side off and capped a great performance late on.

Swindon were lucky to hold out for 14 minutes, but Silva – who had previously wasted two great chances – was never going to miss when the excellent Palmer presented him with a tap-in.

City then pounced on Louis Reed's questionable flick just outside his own area as Swindon attempted to play out from the back, with Kevin De Bruyne feeding Jesus into the box for a simple finish.

The contest was over – if it wasn't already – in the 59th minute as Gundogan cleverly curled his free-kick around the wall and into the bottom-right corner.

The Swindon goalkeeper's wall positioning may have played a part, though Lewis Ward went some way to making amends when saving Jesus' penalty after Jordan Lyden fouled the Brazilian.

City could not keep a clean sheet, with Jonny Williams capitalising on Rodri's error and playing McKirdy into the area to finish past the suspect Zack Steffen.

But the away side had the last laugh, Palmer planting an exceptional finish into the top-left corner.

 

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