Kevin De Bruyne now considers Phil Foden simply "one of the guys" at Manchester City and hopes the 21-year-old can play a decisive role against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Foden was long seen as the most promising young prospect at City but had to wait for his opportunity to feature regularly in Pep Guardiola's first team.

Although the midfielder made his senior debut in the 2017-18 season, he was kept on the fringes for his first two years.

Even in 2019-20, when making 38 appearances, scoring eight goals and assisting nine, Foden was restricted to just 18 starts.

Since then, though, the England international has gone from strength to strength, following up 26 goal involvements last term (16 goals, 10 assists) with another 24 this time out (13 goals, 11 assists).

Foden netted against Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in a 4-3 first-leg win in City's Champions League semi-final, and De Bruyne believes his team-mate can make another important contribution in the return leg.

"He's been amazing," De Bruyne said. "I've seen him from a little boy who had massive potential.

"Whenever you come up to a first team, you are a little bit shy, and it takes time and more playing time to get comfortable in that situation.

"But the last two years he has been in a very comfortable situation, and you see the difference in the way that he plays. He's not a young talent any more, he's one of the guys.

"It's a big step to make, but now everybody looks at him to make a difference because he can. He's proven that lots of times, and he probably will do much, much more for this club in the future.

"I'm hoping he does the same that he's been doing. If you're playing constantly very well, that is all you can do. He doesn't play with ups and downs, he just does what he needs to do for the team."

De Bruyne has had to rediscover that consistency himself after enduring a tough start to the season following an ankle injury that he initially tried to play through.

The Belgium midfielder did not look his usual self as he scored only three goals and provided a single assist in his first 17 club matches of the campaign.

However, since then, De Bruyne has 12 goals and 11 assists in 23 outings, including the opening goal in the first leg against Madrid.

"The first months [of the season] were really hard," he added. "I've never experienced the pain I had.

"I was trying to come back, but it wasn't something I enjoyed. Mentally, it was hard to overcome.

"Once the pain was gone, I started to feel more confident in myself, in my body, to get back to where I belong. Now, playing all these games, I feel back to the level I was before.

"I try to be as consistent as I can, and this year I've done that."

Manchester City kept the outcome of the Premier League title race in their hands with a 4-0 win over Leeds United.

After Liverpool claimed a 1-0 victory at Newcastle United earlier on Saturday, City needed a win to regain a one-point advantage in their hard-fought battle with the Reds.

City faced few problems in grinding out the result they needed, with Rodri and Nathan Ake converting from set-pieces in either half before Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho wrapped up the points late on.

Pep Guardiola's men simply need to win each of their four remaining games to wrap up the Premier League title, while Leeds remain in danger of relegation after slipping to 17th.

The visitors rested several players, including Kevin De Bruyne, ahead of Wednesday's trip to Real Madrid, and could have fallen behind early on when Rodrigo Moreno delayed his pass after capitalising on Joao Cancelo's slip.

But City took the lead after 13 minutes when Rodri met Phil Foden's left-wing free-kick with a glancing header, diverting the ball into the top-right corner.

Junior Firpo fired over when presented with the hosts' best opening in a quiet first half, and Jesse Marsch's men lost Stuart Dallas to a serious-looking injury shortly before the break.

Jack Grealish bent a shot narrowly wide of the top-right corner after Raheem Sterling danced through the home defence after 52 minutes, but Ake doubled their lead soon after, prodding home after Ruben Dias met a right-wing corner. 

City made the points safe when Jesus latched onto Foden's pass to fire past Illan Meslier after 78 minutes, before Fernandinho drilled a 25-yard strike into the bottom-left corner as the visitors cruised.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has Benfica striker Darwin Nunez at the top of his shopping list in the upcoming transfer window.

The Uruguayan striker is in the midst of a breakout season in both Portugal and Europe, scoring 25 goals in 24 Primeira Liga fixtures, and a Benfica-record six Champions League goals in 10 appearances.

Darwin finished his Champions League campaign by scoring a goal in three consecutive games, including in back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS MAKE DARWIN NUMBER-ONE TARGET

Fichajes and Calcio In Pillole reporter Ekrem Konur claims United have made Darwin their priority target, stating he is "at the top of Erik ten Hag's short transfer list" and they are "considering paying" his release clause.

ESPN has also said United are "leading the chase" for the striker though they face competition from Arsenal, and reported along with The Sun that the 22-year-old's release clause is in the region of €150million.

As well as Darwin, Napoli's Victor Osimhen and Juventus' Paulo Dybala, who will be a free agent, are also serious targets management would like to bring to Old Trafford.

ROUND-UP

– Marca is reporting that Barcelona will turn to Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku as their "plan C" after failing to land Erling Haaland or Robert Lewandowski.

– According to The Express, Arsenal are willing to listen to offers of £25m for Nicolas Pepe after signing him for a club-record £72m in 2019. West Ham are said to be one of the Premier League teams interested.

– Fabrizio Romano reports that Manchester City are focused on extending Phil Foden's contract until 2027.

– Leeds United midfielder and England international Kalvin Phillips will change his agent as he looks to secure a move away from the club, with the Manchester Evening News reporting that United will be in the box seat.

– Todofichajes is claiming that Arsenal have agreed a £50m deal for City striker Gabriel Jesus.

Phil Foden has warned Manchester City they must "take more chances" following their epic Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.

The England international was on target during a thrilling showdown at the Etihad Stadium, in which Pep Guardiola's side established a narrow 4-3 advantage.

City travel to Madrid for next week's second leg knowing they will progress to a second successive final if they maintain that slight edge, having lost 1-0 to Chelsea in last year's showpiece.

The margin of victory could have been greater but for wasteful finishing. Indeed, the hosts registered 16 shots on goal, with only six hitting the target.

And Foden knows he and his team-mates must demonstrate more of a clinical edge on the big occasions.

"For the fans watching, it was obviously a great game of football," he told BT Sport.

"We are playing a side that have won the Champions League many times and if we give the ball away, they are going to punish us. 

"It is something we need to work on in the second leg. The tie is still on.

"It was a great game; end to end. We started really well and could have killed them off. In these games, we need to take more chances."

Despite only holding a single-goal advantage, Guardiola was delighted with the performance of his side and is confident they can finish the job at Santiago Bernabeu.

"We played a fantastic game against an incredible team," the head coach added.

"All around the world and for Manchester City, we are so proud. But it is about reaching the final and sometimes, football happens. 

"We go to Madrid to try to win the game. Both teams want to attack and have the quality to play. 

"Congratulations to Carlo and his team as they are so good. At the same time, we saw ourselves that we can be there."

Second-half goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva put Manchester City back on top of the Premier League as Brighton and Hove Albion were consigned to a 3-0 defeat.

Liverpool had moved to the summit with a 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola's side responded 24 hours later to keep their fate in their own hands in the title race.

Deflected strikes from Mahrez and Foden put the champions in command at the Etihad Stadium and Silva added a third as they moved a point ahead of the Reds with six games to play after losing to Jurgen Klopp's men in an FA Cup semi-final last Saturday.

City had been without a win in three matches, but normal service was resumed in their quest for a Premier League and Champions League double.

Moises Caicedo spared Robert Sanchez's blushes when he produced a brilliant challenge on Mahrez after the Seagulls goalkeeper gifted the City winger a chance to open the scoring early on with a terrible pass.

The hosts were not at their devastating best in the first half, but Brighton had another let-off when they made a mess of trying to play out from the back again and this time Lewis Dunk came to the rescue by blocking Ilkay Gundogan's strike.

The fit-again Ruben Dias replaced Nathan Ake at the break to make his first appearance since March 1 and the City defender was fortunate to get away with late challenge on Alexis Mac Allister soon after his introduction.

Kevin De Bruyne was the architect for the opening goal eight minutes into the second half, bursting forward from inside his own half before picking out Mahrez, who benefited from a couple of fortunate deflections before his finish struck Dunk and beat Sanchez.

Foden doubled City's lead 12 minutes later, this time Enock Mwepu sticking out a leg in an attempt to keep out the midfielder's drive from outside the box but seeing the ball flash past a helpless Sanchez.

There was concern for City when John Stones was withdrawn late on after sustaining an injury, but Silva put the icing on the cake with a clinical left-foot finish in the 82nd minute as Brighton shot themselves in the foot again trying to play out from the back.

Phil Foden hailed Pep Guardiola as a "genius" ahead of Manchester City's decisive Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid, having helped inspire his team to a 1-0 first-leg win last week.

The 21-year-old provided the assist for Kevin De Bruyne's 70th-minute winner just 79 seconds after being introduced as a substitute at the Etihad, allowing City to take a slender advantage into their second leg at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Foden's delightful ball to De Bruyne represented his seventh Champions League assist, with only Cesc Fabregas (10) ever assisting more goals for English clubs in the competition aged 21 or younger.

Looking back on a first leg in which City had to be patient after racking up 15 shots to Atletico's zero, Foden labelled his manager a "genius" for deploying him in a more central role when he entered the fray.

"It was very frustrating [watching from the bench]," Foden told the club's official media channels. "It looked like there was no space and we were struggling to create clear-cut chances like we usually do.

"It's hard coming off the bench trying to make an impact because you're coming into such an intense game. 

"He [Guardiola] kind of changed the shape a little bit, and played me more inside.

"He's a genius isn't he?

"I knew when I got the ball it was very tight. As I turned, I saw Kev run off his man and it was just instinct that I managed to play the ball through.

"When I made an impact I was obviously very happy, and was just delighted we had broken them down to take a good result back to their place."

City's trip to Madrid will represent their 100th Champions League match, and the 55 wins they have managed from their first 99 outings in the competition is already the most managed by an English side throughout their first century of Champions League games. Only Real Madrid, with 57, have managed more.

Meanwhile, since Opta data began, the fewest attempts on goal ever managed by a team across two legs of a Champions League knockout tie is the four attempted by Shakhtar Donestk against Bayern Munich in 2014-15, a record which Atletico could threaten after not recording a single attempt at the Etihad.

Foden, however, believes Diego Simeone's side will eventually have to leave their defensive shape to attack the Premier League leaders, and backed his side to exploit the spaces they may leave.

"I think it’s going to be a similar game," Foden added. "Maybe, if the result stays the same, they are going to have to come a bit more aggressively out of the space and try and attack the channels a little bit more.

"If they come at us, we know we have got that footballing side that we can show as well."

City have won just three of their previous 11 away games against Spanish opponents, drawing one and losing seven, although the second-leg trip will represent the club's first European trip to Atletico.

Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden were recalled to Manchester City's starting line-up for Sunday's Premier League clash against Liverpool, with the Reds making three changes.

Brazil international Jesus made his first league start since City's New Year's Day win against Arsenal in place of the benched Riyad Mahrez.

Foden made an instant impact from the substitutes' bench by assisting Kevin De Bruyne's winner against Atletico Madrid in midweek and was rewarded with a place in the XI.

He had scored in each of his past three top-flight games against Liverpool, including a goal in October's 2-2 draw at Anfield in the reverse fixture.

Kyle Walker was also included from the beginning, with Ilkay Gundogan and Nathan Ake the other two players to make way from City's European win against Atletico.

Ruben Dias missed out through injury as expected, meaning John Stones again partnered Aymeric Laporte in the heart of defence at the Etihad Stadium.

Liverpool also brought in three new faces from their 3-1 Champions League win against Benfica in midweek for what was billed as a likely Premier League title decider.

Diogo Jota replaced Luis Diaz alongside Sadio Mane and the out-of-form Mohamed Salah up top, while skipper Jordan Henderson took over from Naby Keita in midfield.

Salah had scored in four of his last five Premier League games against Man City, including each of his last three in a row.

The Reds' other change saw Joel Matip recalled alongside Virgil van Dijk in place of Ibrahima Konate.

Liverpool entered the contest on a 10-game winning run in the Premier League, which had seen them close the gap on the leaders to just a point ahead of Sunday's huge clash.

City had lost just one of their past 12 home league games against Liverpool ahead of their latest showdown, going down 4-1 at the Etihad in November 2015.

The Reds were also without a clean sheet in any of their past 11 Premier League away meetings with City since a goalless draw in February 2010.

Man City XI: Ederson; Walker, Cancelo, Stones, Laporte; De Bruyne, Rodri, Silva; Sterling, Foden, Jesus.

Subs: Steffen, Mahrez, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, McAtee, Lavia, Grealish, Gundogan, Ake.

Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Jota.

Subs: Kelleher, Jones, Tsimikas, Konate, Gomez, Milner, Keita, Firmino, Diaz.

Pep Guardiola proudly declared Manchester City and Liverpool have "raised the bar" in the Premier League, and on Sunday the north-west giants collide in a game that could have a telling impact on the destiny of the trophy.

It falls inconveniently between high-stakes Champions League quarter-final games, although the fact both City and Liverpool are ahead after the first legs of their ties somewhat mitigates that pressure.

Given City hold just a one-point lead over Liverpool with eight rounds of games remaining, a win for either at the Etihad Stadium would be a huge leap nearer to the title.

The prospect of Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp directing in their animated manner from the touchline, as their star-packed teams pull no punches on the pitch, makes this an unmissable game.

Ahead of kick-off in the biggest club game in Europe this weekend, Stats Perform has taken a look at some key pointers.

City start as favourites for a reason

English bookmakers have City as the team most likely to come away from this one with three points, and there is good reason for Guardiola's men to go in with confidence.

City have lost just one of their last 12 Premier League home games against Liverpool (W7 D4), going down 4-1 in Jurgen Klopp’s first visit in the competition in November 2015.

Liverpool had a 2-1 Champions League win at City in April 2018, but their recent successes in the league in this rivalry have been largely limited to games at Anfield. Indeed, Liverpool are winless in their last four Premier League games against City (D2 L2), regardless of the venue.

Only once in the competition have Liverpool had a longer run without a win against City, going five games without getting the better of the boys in blue between November 2011 and December 2013.

Keep it clean, lads

Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 11 Premier League away games against City, since a 0-0 draw in February 2010, and with Guardiola's formidable attacking resources it would surely be a surprise if this becomes the game where the Reds halt that sequence.

So goes one theory. Another way of looking at the game is to consider that Liverpool are in a stunning vein of form, and if they are ever going to halt the leakage of goals to City, it will be this weekend.

Liverpool have won each of their last 10 Premier League games, keeping eight clean sheets in doing so. It is their fifth run of 10 or more consecutive Premier League wins, Opta said.

Both Liverpool and City have achieved 18 clean sheets in 30 games this season, so could they even blunt out each other's threat?

When first and second collide

This is the 30th season of the Premier League, and Sunday's game marks the 50th time the top two sides in the division will have met.

Of the previous 49 such league clashes, the leaders have won on 20 occasions but lost 18 times, with 11 games drawn. City and Liverpool have met as the top two twice before, with a goalless draw at Anfield in October 2018 coming when City were at the summit, before Guardiola's men scored a 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool in July 2020.

The latter game came a week after Liverpool wrapped up the Premier League title, and was an ominous sign of a pendulum swing for the following season.

Liverpool can jump to first place for the first time since October 1, and they might bear in mind that battles between first and second towards the end of the season have tended to go the way of the chaser in recent times.

In fact, of the last eight Premier League clashes between the top two during the final 10 games of the season, the team in second have won seven times (L1), including each of the last five in a row.

There is just a sliver between these sides, reflected in the fact City have taken a league-high 516 points since Guardiola's arrival for the start of the 2016-17 season, and Liverpool are close behind with 488 points. Chelsea are a distant third on that list with 427 points.

The players who could make the difference

Phil Foden came off the bench to slide the pass that allowed Kevin De Bruyne to smash past Jan Oblak on Tuesday and give City a 1-0 first-leg lead over Atletico Madrid. Foden looks a sure-fire starter this weekend and has flourished in the Liverpool fixture, having scored in all three of his Premier League outings against Klopp's team, while also claiming two assists.

The 21-year-old could become just the second player to score in four successive Premier League appearances against the Reds, after Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, who found the back of the net in five straight games between 2016 and 2017.

Liverpool will know the threat could come from all angles, with Foden, ex-Liverpool man Raheem Sterling, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus all likely menaces.

Perhaps the danger coming from Liverpool themselves is more obvious, but that does not necessarily make it easier to deflect.

Mohamed Salah has scored in four of his last five Premier League games against City, including each of his last three. The last player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances against City was Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who netted in five successive meetings between December 2000 and October 2003.

Salah is the Premier League's top scorer and might be the chief threat, but Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz will have to be guarded carefully, should they feature.

It is a guessing game as to which three Klopp will perm from his five-man pool of star forwards. The occasion itself is a guessing game too, as Klopp and Guardiola attempt to outwit one another once again.

Xavi's rebuild at Barcelona has had to take place with tighter purse strings than you might usually expect.

The club that reportedly spent a combined €275million on Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho in the same season are now on the hunt for a new winger, and Raphinha seemingly fits the criteria.

Whether they can convince Leeds to sell for a price that suits all parties will apparently be made clear in the next few weeks.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYE RAPHINHA

Talks have commenced for Raphinha's potential move from Leeds United to Barcelona, per Nicolo Schira.

Raphinha's agent, former Barcelona and Chelsea star Deco, has been in contact with the Catalan giants since early March, but the Brazilian winger's €70m release clause has been a roadblock for the cash-strapped club.

The Blaugrana remain the preferred destination for the 25-year-old, who has tallied nine goals and three assists in 28 appearances for embattled Leeds.

It is reported Barcelona will try to come up with an acceptable package for the Premier League club in the coming weeks.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Manchester Evening News is reporting Paris Saint-Germain have made an offer to Manchester United's Paul Pogba, as he enters the final months of his contract.

– Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane would consider an offer from Manchester United before weighing up his long-term future, according to The Athletic.

Manchester City are hopeful of agreeing a new contract with 21-year-old England midfielder Phil Foden, per 90min.

– Despite interest from Liverpool and Manchester United, Ronald Araujo's agent has disclosed to ESPN that a new long-term deal with Barcelona is imminent.

Pep Guardiola spoke of the "massive influence" that Kevin De Bruyne brings to Manchester City after the Belgian's winner on his 50th Champions League appearance for the club.

City snatched a 1-0 lead to take into the second leg of the quarter-final against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano, with De Bruyne rifling in from substitute Phil Foden's pass in the 70th minute.

The 30-year-old playmaker was heavily involved throughout, but it had looked like being a frustrating night for him before he finished off the excellent throughball from Foden.

Moments before the goal arrived, as Guardiola made a triple change that saw Foden, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus enter the action, the manager called De Bruyne over to the touchline.

He passed on a word of wisdom or two, and almost in a flash City hit the front in the tie, finally breaching an Atletico defence that had manfully held out against heavy pressure from the hosts in rainy Manchester.

City had 70.5 per cent of possession and Atletico were credited with no shots at the home side's goal. Still, the tie could yet change in Madrid, and City will be thankful talisman De Bruyne, one yellow card short of suspension, was not booked for hacking down Joao Felix in the first half.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone described City as "possibly the best team in the world", but the respect between the superstar coaches is mutual.

"It was a difficult game against a tough opponent," Guardiola said.

He said City were lacking "the right rhythm" at times in the second half, which spurred him to make the changes.

Guardiola said: "It's a good result fortunately. At the end we had one or two more chances with Kevin to score more goals, but even 1-0 or 2-0 to go to Madrid it is always difficult. But good result, we won the game."

Turning his thoughts to De Bruyne, the midfielder who had to hustle as a false nine for a large chunk of the game, Guardiola said: "I think he's in the best moment of the season right now.

"He's sharp, he's quick, he's positive, his influence on our game is massive. He made an exceptional goal in the combination with Phil."

De Bruyne had a game-high five shots, forcing Jan Oblak into a fine save from one free-kick before the goal arrived.

Foden's vision and slick pass to find De Bruyne's run was admirable, almost lifted from the De Bruyne playbook.

"He has a special quality. His first steps are massive," Guardiola told a news conference. "He had the composure to make an incredible assist to Kevin.

"We knew it in the beginning with Gabriel and him, when our game was a little bit flat they could change it when [Atletico] were a bit more tired. With Jack, we could continue to control the game. We did it and they were brilliant."

Guardiola said City needed a presence in attack, with Atletico defending in two lines of five, effectively giving up the idea of scoring themselves.

They had a couple of breaks towards goal, but Ederson was largely a spectator.

"They defend so well, so compact, and so deep," Guardiola said.

"We need the talent like Phil has shown. We were patient because you have to be against these type of teams. They want to be getting you anxious and nervous. You get disorganised a bit and they punish you up front because they have top, top players. They have incredible quality up front.

"They are so good and if you are not attacking in the right way they punish you."

Looking to the second leg next week, Guardiola added: "We will go there not to defend the result, but to try to win the game.

"We have to control our emotions and do what we have to do. They have faced this kind of knockout stages many times... more than us. It will be a good test for us and our maturity in this game."

Rival boss Simeone said he had planned for City to have Foden on the pitch from the first whistle.

The Atletico head coach, who has led his side to two Champions League final defeats, said: "We expected him to play as a starter because he is a very dynamic player.

"He came on in the second half, and any of the three who came on have different characteristics. In the same way that they talked about being patient at half-time, waiting for their moment, we also waited for it. With different weapons, we were both looking for the same thing."

Simeone will now plot for Atletico's home leg, when they will have to show more attacking verve, which could open gaps for City to exploit. City have a tough Premier League assignment to come first when they face title rivals Liverpool on Sunday, and that may help Atletico.

"You always have to come up with something better," Simeone said. "It's a long match, divided into two parts, here and at home. They don't care, they'll play the same way. They're possibly the best team in the world. But with humility we'll compete."

Phil Foden was inspired by Lionel Messi in his assist for Jack Grealish at Peterborough United, according to the Manchester City goalscorer.

Foden assisted both goals in City's 2-0 FA Cup win on Tuesday as they reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the fifth time in six seasons under Pep Guardiola.

A pass under pressure to Riyad Mahrez led to the breakthrough on the hour mark, but Foden's ball for Grealish really caught the eye.

His pinpoint delivery was controlled expertly by Grealish, who finished calmly before revealing time spent watching clips of Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi had helped the pair.

"[The pass was] unbelievable," Grealish told ITV.

"It's funny – before the game, on the coach on the way here, I sit next to Phil, and I was scrolling through Twitter and a video of Messi came up, and it was Messi's passing. Me and Phil were just watching it.

"As soon as he passed that ball, obviously I scored and he came running over to me and said, 'It was just like what we were watching before the game'. Just like Messi, wasn't it?

"Obviously I have that kind of link-up with Phil. It's been a long time coming, because I don't think he's assisted me yet, but it was a good moment for myself."

The goal was Grealish's first in the FA Cup and only his fourth in a City shirt, although Guardiola had spoken before the match of disregarding "the statistics" when it came to his £100million man.

That theme has clearly been consistent in conversations between player and coach, although Grealish finished with a game-high five chances created.

"I expect more," he said. "I want to get a lot more, but I've been speaking with the manager a lot recently and he's been helping me.

"I want to get goals and assists, but he has said to me it's not all about goals and assists. I've played in a lot of big games this season that the manager's trusted me in that I haven't scored or assisted in, but I feel like I've done alright.

"For me personally, obviously I do want to get more goals and assists, but hopefully that will come now for the big part of the season."

Manchester City made hard work of a 2-0 win at Peterborough United to advance to the FA Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Premier League leaders City named a strong side – captained by Oleksandr Zinchenko in a show of solidarity with Ukraine – but toiled against the Championship strugglers.

The Posh had the game's clearest opportunities up until the hour mark when Phil Foden took control of proceedings, teeing up both Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish to take the tie away from the home team.

It was reward for City's perseverance, having piled on the pressure from the outset on a patchy Peterborough pitch.

The best chance of the first half came at the other end when Jeando Fuchs got in behind Nathan Ake and saw a low, deflected effort touched around the post by Ederson.

And Sammie Szmodics really should have fired Peterborough in front early in the second period but scuffed horribly wide when the ball fell his way from a long throw.

City were far more clinical when they finally crafted an opening, as Mahrez spotted a gap between the legs of defender Hayden Coulson and squeezed his shot into the bottom-left corner.

Mahrez might have added a swift second when Josh Knight blocked bravely, yet it was only a temporary reprieve for the Posh, who had no answer for Foden.

The England midfielder's sharp pass under pressure found Mahrez for the opener, but he had time and space to lift his head and seek out Grealish for the second – sublime control followed by a cool finish.

Still Peterborough did not give in, and Ederson had to save well from Jack Marriott, although City were comfortable at 2-0 and could have had more – Foden and Grealish each denied before Aymeric Laporte missed an open goal – as they advanced to the last eight for the fifth time under Pep Guardiola.

Bernardo Silva scored twice as Manchester City made Champions League history with an emphatic 5-0 away win over Sporting CP in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Riyad Mahrez got them on their way with a simple finish early on before Silva added a second with a thunderous strike before the midway point of the first half.

Phil Foden scored a third shortly after the half-hour mark and Silva got his second before half-time as Pep Guardiola's side became the first team in Champions League history to lead an away knockout match by four goals at the break.

Raheem Sterling added a superb fifth in the second half, with City's progress to the quarter-finals all but secured ahead of the return fixture in Manchester next month. 

City started at a blistering pace and went ahead in the seventh minute, Mahrez slotting in Kevin De Bruyne's pull-back after Antonio Adan had parried Foden's effort.

John Stones headed wide soon after, yet City doubled their advantage after 17 minutes when Silva crashed a sumptuous half-volley in off the crossbar from 10 yards.

City's dominance heralded a third goal in the 32nd minute, Foden stroking in from close range after Mahrez's low cross had squeezed past two Sporting defenders.

They made it 4-0 before the break when Silva’s strike from Sterling's pull-back was diverted past Adan by the unfortunate Goncalo Bernardo Inacio.

Silva saw a header ruled out for offside shortly after the interval, yet they added a fifth in the 58th minute courtesy of Sterling's wonderful curled strike from 20 yards.
 

What does it mean? City blow hosts away

City were utterly electric in the opening 45 minutes, effectively ending the tie with a game and a half remaining thanks to some ruthless finishing.

They cooled off somewhat in the second period, although Sterling's glorious strike meant they became the 14th team to score 200 goals in the Champions League. It took them 97 games to reach that milestone – fewer than any of the other 13 teams to do it in the competition.

Sterling's landmark goal

Sterling brought up his 150th club goal with a wonderful strike after the break, while the England international also left Portugal with an assist after teeing up Silva's second goal.

Poor Porro

Pedro Porro did not enjoy the most fruitful of outings against his parent club, the Spaniard losing possession a joint game-high 19 times, while he failed to have a shot or play a single key pass.

What's next?

Both sides are back in domestic action at the weekend, with City hosting Tottenham on Saturday and Sporting at home to Estoril a day later.

Manchester City stretched their lead at the Premier League summit to 12 points, as Raheem Sterling's perfect hat-trick helped them to a comfortable win over struggling Norwich City.

Pep Guardiola shuffled his pack ahead of the resumption of Champions League football, resting the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and Joao Cancelo, but the champions produced an assured performance as their England stars fired them to a ninth win in their past 13 league games against the Canaries.

After Sterling struck a stunning opener, Phil Foden tapped home a second and Sterling doubled his own tally with a close-range header, before the winger tapped home a rebound after missing a late penalty.

Guardiola's men now have a 12-point lead over second-placed Liverpool, albeit having played two games more than Jurgen Klopp's men, while Norwich's mini-revival was halted by their dominant visitors.

City almost took the lead five minutes in, when Bernardo Silva danced through the home backline before hitting the post, before Grant Hanley headed against the woodwork at the opposite end during a frantic start to the contest. 

Angus Gunn produced a strong save to deny Sterling on 25 minutes, but the England man was not to be denied five minutes later, as he beautifully curled home his first goal of 2022 from the edge of the area.

Norwich were reduced to chasing the ball for the remainder of the first half, with Ikay Gundogan spurning a good opportunity as the champions monopolised possession and avoided conceding in the opening half for the 22nd time in their 25 league games this term.

City needed fewer than three minutes to strike after the break, as Foden tapped across the line at the second attempt after a bizarre goalmouth scramble.

The visitors further extended their lead when the fantastic Sterling nodded Ruben Dias' cross home, recording his ninth league goal of the season on 70 minutes.

City's man of the match crowned his terrific performance by tapping home for a hat-trick after Gunn spilled his late penalty, awarded for Hanley's foul on young substitute Liam Delap.

What does it mean? Away form carrying City towards title

Guardiola's quest to bring a fourth title in six years to the Etihad Stadium remains firmly on course, with the help of a fantastic away record.

After losing at Tottenham on the opening day of the season, City are now unbeaten in their past 12 on the road, winning on 10 of those trips.

Sterling torments Canaries again

Norwich's supporters must be sick of the sight of Sterling, whose treble took his tally to 10 goal involvements in his past eight Premier League matches against the Canaries (eight goals, two assists).

Sterling has now netted 10 Premier League goals this season, more than any other City player.

Foden remains an eager traveller

Foden's scrappy finish gave his side a deserved two-goal cushion within moments of the restart and maintained his great goalscoring record in away matches. Only Mohamed Salah, with 10, can beat Foden's tally of five away Premier League goals this season, while no Englishman has scored more on their travels in the Premier League this term.

Meanwhile, Harry Kane (68) is the only English player to rack up more goal involvements than Foden since the start of last season, with the City man recording 40 in all competitions (24 goals, 16 assists).

What's next?

City now face an important week in their quest for silverware: they will follow up Tuesday's Champions League trip to Sporting CP by hosting Tottenham in a weeks' time. Earlier that day, Norwich face another tough assignment when they travel to Anfield to face Liverpool.

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

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

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

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

Safe hands? It has to be Mendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midfield marvels... from Manchester

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

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

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

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

Standout Salah, remarkable Raphinha

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

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

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