Pep Guardiola has braced Manchester City for an assault by Liverpool on their Premier League supremacy.

City's lead stands at nine points after 24 matches, although second-placed Liverpool have a game in hand, and the manner of the Reds' 2-0 win over Leicester City on Thursday spoke of their continuing belief.

A dip over the Christmas and New Year period cost Liverpool substantial ground in the title race, but they are looking sharp again for Jurgen Klopp, setting up the prospect of a tantalising final few months of the season.

City and Liverpool are due to meet on April 9 at the Etihad Stadium, and that could yet be a pivotal moment in the title race.

"If we want to fight to win the Premier League, we will have to win an incredible amount of points against these opponents that we've faced in the last seasons many, many times," City manager Guardiola told a news conference on Friday.

"The margin against Liverpool is nothing. We have to win a lot, a lot, a lot of games. We have to get more than 90 [points] - 95, 96 to be champions.

"I'm pretty sure of that right now."

Reigning champions City have reached 60 points through 24 games, and if they carry on at that rate they are on course to hit 95 points for the season, while winning every game would take them to 102 for the campaign.

Liverpool can post a maximum of 96 points if they win their 15 remaining fixtures, and Guardiola does not expect the Reds to drop many.

Guardiola, whose team face Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday, spoke about Liverpool's threat amid a broader point on how he expects his City players to perform week-in, week-out.

He says he was raised in a culture at Barcelona, since he was a youth player, to take nothing for granted, no matter how sunny the outlook might seem. 

"I was born in Barcelona and I grew up in the academy. They taught me everything and the best way, even there, is [to think] that everything can go wrong," Guardiola said.

"We've made an incredible run so far in the Premier League, and now Liverpool is there behind the corner. That shows how difficult our opponent is, how good it is.

"It's not about the mentality, because these players have showed in the last years they're not scared. [The aim is] to face every single game with optimism and being positive, but knowing that of course we can lose by being bad and drop points.

"This is not the issue, it is how you behave in the moment when you are losing games."

He recalled a moment in City's midweek win over Brentford when Kevin De Bruyne rushed back to help out John Stones in defence, pointing to that as an example of how to give everything.

"You can lose. Of course you're going to lose, nobody wins always," Guardiola said.

"But it's the way you lose. You can lose in different ways. Many times when we lose, we lose as a great team, and you become a great team with the way you lose, not the way you win, and we have to continue this way."

Guardiola spoke once more about Riyad Mahrez, who has scored in each of his last seven appearances for City across all competitions. The last player to score in more consecutively for the club was Sergio Aguero in the 2013-14 season (eight games).

Asked whether Mahrez was in the prime of his City career, Guardiola said: "No, last season was his best moment. He can still do better this season to reach the level he reached in the last four, five, six months of last season. Last season was outstanding, the way he played and produced."

 

Guardiola has a win rate of 88 per cent against English managers in the Premier League (P66 W58), the highest of any manager to take charge of five or more such games.

His four games against Englishman Dean Smith, Norwich's former Aston Villa boss, have all been won by an aggregate score of 13-2.

However, Norwich have won seven points from their most recent three Premier League games this season, just one fewer than they had taken from their previous 12 fixtures (W2 D2 L8).

Smith is looking to become the first Norwich manager to go unbeaten for four Premier League matches since Chris Hughton in February 2013.

The visitors have other ideas, with Guardiola's City having won nine and drawn two of their 11 away games in the league since an opening defeat to Tottenham.

It is close to perfection, but Guardiola pointed out that is an unattainable goal in football.

"A team will never be perfect," said the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona head coach.

"As a human being, we are imperfect. Perfection doesn't exist in sports, especially in football."

Premier League leaders Manchester City collected a routine victory over Brentford to further their advantage at the top.

That victory saw Pep Guardiola's side extend their lead at the summit to 12 points, with second-placed Liverpool due to host Leicester City on Thursday.

Tottenham fell to a late defeat against Southampton as Antonio Conte suffered his first home league loss as Spurs boss, while Aston Villa shared the spoils in a six-goal thriller with Leeds United.

And strugglers Norwich City picked up a valuable draw at home to Crystal Palace, with Dean Smith's side now a point behind 17th-placed Newcastle United as the relegation battle continues.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data from the day's top-flight action.

Manchester City 2-0 Brentford: Citizens cruise to league double over Bees

Strikes either side of the interval from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez helped City to a 2-0 win over Brentford as the Citizens completed the league double over the Bees for the first time since 1936-37.

Mahrez opened the scoring as he netted in his seventh consecutive game across all competitions for City – only Lionel Messi (twice) and Sergio Aguero have previously achieved that feat under Pep Guardiola.

De Bruyne doubled the hosts' lead in the second half, the midfielder recording his 85th goal involvement (35G 50A) in his 96th top-flight appearance at the Etihad Stadium, where he has found the net five times in his last four games.

Brentford rarely troubled Ederson's goal and were caught offside 10 times in the match, the most by a Premier League team since January 2018 as City recorded their 100th clean sheet under Guardiola in the competition.

The Bees have now lost five consecutive league matches for the first time since December 2007, under Terry Butcher in League Two, and for the first time in the top flight since April 1947 (seven in a row).

Tottenham 2-3 Southampton: No home comforts for Conte

Southampton twice rallied from behind to earn a late 3-2 victory at Tottenham to end Conte's unbeaten start at home in the league as Spurs boss.

Jan Bednarek poked into his own net to give Spurs the lead, the centre-back now on a Premier League-high three own goals since the start of 2019-20. Similarly, Tottenham have benefited from the most own goals in the competition this season (three).

But Armando Broja soon levelled up. That was the Albania striker's sixth top-flight goal this term – only Kevin Davies (nine in 1997-98) managed more in the Premier League for Southampton while aged 20 or under.

Son Heung-min restored his side's advantage with his 12th strike against Southampton across all competitions, five more than he has registered against any other team for Spurs.

Saints fought back again, Mohamed Elyounoussi equalising before Che Adams sealed victory. Both finishes were set up by James Ward-Prowse, who assisted two goals in a single Premier League match for only the second time in 290 appearances.

Having equalised in the 79th minute, Southampton's victory was the latest they had been behind in a Premier League match that they would go on to win since March 2016 against Liverpool (equalised in 83rd minute).

Aston Villa 3-3 Leeds United: Whites continue away scoring run in Villa Park classic

Aston Villa, who had Ezri Konsa dismissed late on, shared the points with Leeds in a 3-3 thriller as Dan James, Jacob Ramsey and Philippe Coutinho dominated proceedings.

James scored his third and fourth Premier League goals this term, his best-ever tally in a season, though Marcelo Bielsa found his side 3-2 down at half-time.

Coutinho initially cancelled out James' opener as he became the sixth Villa player to score in each of his first two Premier League appearances at Villa Park, and the first since Carlton Cole in August 2004.

The Brazil international then teed up a Ramsey double as the midfielder became the youngest player to score more than one goal in a Premier League game for Villa (20y 257d) since Luka Moore got a hat-trick in February 2006 (19y 356d).

Diego Llorente restored parity in the second half as Leeds recorded three goals in consecutive Premier League away games for just the second time, and for the first time since March 1995, to earn a valuable point.

Norwich City 1-1 Crystal Palace: Zaha's penalty falter costs poor travelling Eagles

Norwich City raced out the blocks at Carrow Road but ultimately had to settle for a point after a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

Teemu Pukki – who has scored 43 per cent of Norwich's top-flight this season (6/14), the highest such share of any player in the competition – netted the fastest goal in the Premier League this season as he finished after just 38 seconds. 

Wilfried Zaha pegged Smith's team back with his 80th goal involvement in England's top division (53G 27A), 79 of which have been for the Eagles.

Michael Olise teed up the Ivory Coast international's second-half equaliser, his seventh goal involvement (3G 4A) across all competitions in 2022 – the most by any Premier League player.

Palace should have secured all three points but Zaha failed from the penalty spot for the first time, on his fifth attempt, meaning the Eagles have won just one of their last 13 away games in the league.

Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne made Brentford pay for individual errors as Manchester City secured a 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. 

After an uneventful opening 30 minutes, City began to bare their teeth and the deadlock was broken when Mahrez curled home a spot-kick after Mads Roerslev clumsily sent Raheem Sterling to ground. 

The reigning champions never really got out of second gear but were gifted another goal when David Raya's misplaced pass was quickly followed by De Bruyne slotting home. 

City consequently increased their advantage over Liverpool to 12 points, though Jurgen Klopp's side are in action against Leicester City on Thursday. 

Brentford were tough to break down, but City gradually began to create more openings, with Sterling volleying over and Aymeric Laporte shading the outside of the post after the half-hour mark. 

The visitors' resistance was finally broken when Roerslev felled Sterling and Mahrez dispatched the resulting penalty into the top-left corner. 

Brentford tried to threaten on the break but never looked like troubling Ederson with Ivan Toney absent due to a calf injury. 

Their hopes of salvaging a draw were effectively extinguished when Raya gave the ball straight to Sterling on the edge of the box. 

Although the Brentford keeper managed to block Sterling's shot, the rebound fell to De Bruyne, who passed the follow-up into the bottom-right corner.

City came under minimal pressure and comfortably saw out the closing stages to get back to winning ways after dropping points at Southampton in their previous Premier League outing.

What does it mean? Further contrasting fortunes 

City completed a league double over Brentford for the first time since 1936-37, the season in which they won their maiden top-flight crown. 

Pep Guardiola's side are now unbeaten in 14 Premier League matches, while the Bees have lost five in a row. The last time they endured a winless streak of that length was in 2007, when they were in League Two. 

A Sterling display 

Although he may not have taken the chances that came his way, Sterling won the penalty and played a pivotal role in the second goal with his high pressing. He also supplied two key passes and drew five fouls – at least three more than anyone else on the pitch. 

No Raya light 

He may have made more saves (five) than he has done before in a single Premier League match, but Raya's woeful distribution ultimately ended Brentford's chances of snatching what would still have been an unlikely point. 

What's next? 

City take on Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday, when Brentford entertain Crystal Palace. 

Pep Guardiola is unconcerned about Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker and Riyad Mahrez being spotted on a night out in Manchester, joking he was "upset" they did not invite him.

The City trio were filmed outside a bar in Manchester on Sunday night, with claims on social media suggesting Grealish was turned away for being inebriated.

City believe this to be false, according to the Manchester Evening News, with the club apparently indicating the players left the bar in question after a misunderstanding with staff.

Last month, Grealish and Phil Foden were warned about their conduct and dropped after a night out, The Times said at the time.

But Guardiola seemingly has no issue with Grealish, Walker and Mahrez this time, adamant all were "perfect" and none of them were drunk.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Premier League meeting with Brentford, Guardiola told reporters: "I'm so upset because they didn't invite me, and I don't like it.

"Next time, I hope they can invite me and have dinner correctly at eight o'clock.

"The video didn't show what did or didn't happen. Dinner together, sober, enjoying with mates and some of the backroom staff. So, the players know, they risk when they go out because of social media.

"All of them, they were perfect [not drunk], but they will be fined because they didn't invite me," he said with a grin.

Then asked if they had been unfairly treated, Guardiola replied: "In this case, yes."

Attention soon turned to talk of Guardiola's future, with the City boss into the final 18 months of his contract.

He appeared completely at peace with the situation, convinced that him staying longer is simply down to the results he gets.

"I'm here six years because we won a lot," he said. "I came because many people convinced me.

"It [staying beyond next year] depends on the results, nothing more than that.

"I have one and a half years left on my contract, which is a long time when you look around at world football."

Riyad Mahrez must have had mixed feelings about his starring role for Manchester City against Fulham in the FA Cup, but Pep Guardiola was eager to shower him with praise.

On Sunday, the Africa Cup of Nations final sees Egypt and Senegal go head to head, vying to succeed Algeria as champions.

This time around, Algeria put up a dismal defence of their title, with captain Mahrez unable to prevent them tumbling out after the group stage with just one point from three games.

It has meant he has been available to City perhaps sooner than anticipated, and his two goals in the 4-1 win over Fulham on Saturday showed what he brings to Guardiola's team.

Mahrez fired in a second-half penalty to move City 3-1 in front, before adding the security of the hosts' fourth goal, a shot with his weaker right foot trickling in via a touch off Fulham defender Tim Ream.

Mahrez called it a "great performance", and he has now scored in his last six appearances across all competitions for City, taking his tally for the team to 15 goals this season, his best tally for the club in a single campaign.

Guardiola was particularly pleased to see Mahrez tuck away another spot-kick, convinced now he has a player who is deadly from 12 yards.

Mahrez has converted his last seven penalties for City, and that means he is the first-choice taker, ahead of Kevin De Bruyne.

"Of course, he is a guy with a mentality to score a goal," Guardiola said in his post-match news conference.

"As a player, he has a special quality. He understands how he attracts opponents to make one against two, or one against three, and afterwards pass the ball for the free men.

"Close to the box, always you have a feeling that he has to score a goal. We have struggled a lot in the last year to take and score penalties, and now he is a guarantee.

"He is scoring every penalty he is going to take and that is important for us as well, and especially under pressure.

"You take a penalty at 4-0, and it is easy, but last season in Dortmund we were 1-0 down and he scored a penalty, and this season 1-0 [behind] against Arsenal he scored - he had the personality to say, 'Give me the ball, I'm going to score', and he did it."

 

Guardiola insisted he had been impressed by Championship leaders Fulham, who took a surprise early lead through Fabio Carvalho but were soon themselves trailing, as City hit the front in the 13th minute after goals from Ilkay Gundogan, who was teed up by Mahrez, and John Stones.

"Very pleased to be in the next round," said Guardiola. "This round showed us there can be many surprises, and we won against a very top team."

Manchester United lost on penalties to Middlesbrough on Friday, but City were far more clinical against second-tier opposition than their Mancunian rivals.

Since Guardiola took charge in 2016, City have won 42 domestic cup matches across the EFL Cup (20) and FA Cup (22), which is four more than the next side – Chelsea (38).

They are now on a 12-match winning run against Fulham, so as much as Guardiola made a point of saying he rated the "positional game" of Marco Silva's team, backing them for promotion, these teams remain poles apart in terms of quality.

Riyad Mahrez scored twice as Manchester City thrashed Fulham 4-1 in the FA Cup, showing neighbours United how it should be done.

This meeting of the Premier League leaders and Championship pace-setters followed on from Manchester United's shock Old Trafford defeat to second-tier Middlesbrough on Friday night.

United spurned a host of chances in that game, but City here were ruthless, with goals from Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Mahrez putting paid to Fulham's hopes of an upset.

City march through to the fifth round, chasing a first appearance in the final since 2019, the year they scored a crushing 6-0 Wembley win against Watford to seal a domestic treble.

Fabio Carvalho, who nearly signed for Liverpool last week, gave Fulham a shock fourth-minute lead at the Etihad Stadium, turning in Harry Wilson's right-wing cross.

But City were level two minutes later, Gundogan finding the bottom left corner from 10 yards after the ball pinged around the Fulham penalty area.

Stones headed in a corner from Kevin De Bruyne to nudge City in front and they remained ahead at the break, with Aleksandar Mitrovic firing just wide for the lively visitors.

Jack Grealish went dancing through the Fulham defence early in the second half and was rewarded with a penalty as Joe Bryan scythed him down. Mahrez, back from a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria, smashed the spot-kick into the right corner.

Mahrez's second arrived in the 57th minute, after De Bruyne seized on a stray pass from Fulham's Harrison Reed and sprinted down the left before sliding a pass across goal. The winger's shot took a touch off Tim Ream before nestling in the back of the net.

Little went right for Fulham, who might count this as a reality check.

Pep Guardiola reiterated his admiration for the free-kicks of James Ward-Prowse, insisting the Southampton midfielder is the world's best over dead balls.

The Manchester City manager described Ward-Prowse as the best free-kick-taker he had ever seen in December 2020 after his side won 1-0 at St Mary's Stadium.

The England international scored a spectacular long-range goal in the 3-1 loss to Wolves last week that took him to 12 goals from direct free-kicks in the Premier League, a tally bettered only by David Beckham (18) in the history of the competition.

Since the start of 2012-13, Ward-Prowse's first in England's top flight, only Hakan Calhanoglu (14), Miralem Pjanic (15) and Lionel Messi (33) have scored more often directly from set-pieces. His 12 goals have come from just 90 attempts, though, giving him a 13.3 per cent conversion rate, a figure only bettered by Paulo Dybala (13.5 per cent) among players to score at least 10 such goals in that time.

Ward-Prowse's repertoire goes beyond spectacular goals, though: he has created 224 chances from set-pieces over the past 10 seasons, providing 19 assists, numbers only beaten by Calhanoglu and Dani Parejo in Europe's top leagues.

Ahead of Saturday's match on England's south coast, Guardiola again drew attention to the threat the 27-year-old poses.

"He is the best taker I have ever seen, right now in the world," he said. "No player is a better taker than Ward-Prowse.

"He is so good, maybe we miss a little bit this quality of a football player: a guy who adapts in the same position, a team player, great quality without the ball, with the ball, understanding the game.

"Set-pieces and corners are exceptional. We need to pay more attention."

Beating Southampton away on the final day of the 2017-18 season saw City win their first Premier League title under Guardiola and become the first side in England's top tier to score 100 points in a single season.

Their latest visit offers the chance of another moment of history, as a draw will see Guardiola reach 500 points since he took charge in 2016. City have already accrued at least 38 more than any other team in the competition in that time, and 108 more than Manchester United.

However, when asked about the milestone, Guardiola said: "I'm not thinking of this when it hasn't happened. It will happen sooner or later. Southampton.

"We struggled in the first game last season when we played there. When we played home, we won, but we struggle in the actions. Southampton are a tough team. A real tough team."

Guardiola, who confirmed Riyad Mahrez has been given a week off after Algeria exited the Africa Cup of Nations, has seen his side build up an 11-point lead at the top of the table with one game to go until the Premier League takes a two-week break.

He said there will be no warm-weather training camp in Abu Dhabi during that interval due to concerns around coronavirus.

"We spoke with the club and it’s not safe to go all together with the virus," he said. "Instead, we decided everyone to go for themselves with family and friends."

Riyad Mahrez and co. failed to spark as reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria were held to a 0-0 draw by Sierra Leone in their opening Group E fixture.

Heading into the delayed 2021 edition of the tournament aiming to become the first team to win consecutive AFCON titles since Egypt won three in a row between 2006 and 2010, Algeria dominated on Tuesday but could not find a way through Sierra Leone's stubborn rearguard.

Appearing at only their third AFCON finals and their first since 1996, Sierra Leone went close themselves midway through the first half through Alhaji Kamara and Umaru Bangura, though they only managed one attempt on target throughout.

The second half was all Algeria, yet Mohamed Kamara pulled off some excellent saves to deny Yacine Brahimi and Mahrez, while one-time England international Steven Caulker made a superb block from Sofiane Bendebka.

Algeria were able to call on the likes of Baghdad Bounedjah – who netted the winner against Senegal in the 2019 final – and Said Benrahma from the bench, but the West Ham attacker spurned a glorious opportunity late on as the holders' profligacy proved costly in an underwhelming start to their title defence in a group that also includes the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea.

Premier League managers are already feeling the strain amid cascading numbers of COVID-19 cases and mid-season injuries. Now many top bosses stand to lose stars to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Africa's greatest football show – now commonly known as AFCON – gets under way on Sunday in Cameroon.

Although the 2019 edition was held in June and July, it has historically been a January-into-February tournament and has returned to that place on the calendar.

A host of Premier League big names are hoping to make an impact during the four-week tournament, which falls slap-bang in the middle of European club campaigns, causing a major clash of competitions.

Premier League clubs certainly cannot complain of a lack of fair warning. It was June 2020 when African football chiefs decided the 2021 edition of the tournament would have to be pushed back by 12 months to a January 2022 start, in the hope the coronavirus crisis would have eased.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at which teams from the English top flight might feel its impact the most.

Can Reds cling on in title battle?

If Liverpool lose no further ground on leaders Manchester City by the time their stars return from AFCON, then Jurgen Klopp would surely settle for that.

The 2019-20 Premier League champions have taken two points from a possible nine to leave the title as effectively City's to lose, and now Klopp is going to have to get by without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.

Egyptian striker Salah is the Premier League's leader in goals (16) and assists (9, level with Trent Alexander Arnold) so far this season. He has taken 80 shots in 20 games (38 of these have hit the target), played 12 throughballs and created 40 chances from open play: in each of those categories he is at the top of the Premier League charts for players defined by Opta as forwards.

How do you cope without such a contribution? Having Mane on hand would help, but Mane will be turning out for Senegal, a team who, like Salah's Egypt, are firmly in the mix as serious trophy contenders. Don't expect either back at the end of the group stage.

Mane has eight Premier League goals this term, including the opener at Chelsea recently. That goal return puts Mane joint-second among African scorers in the Premier League this season, level with Watford's Emmanuel Dennis, who is not in Nigeria's squad.

Mane has played 19 throughballs and has made 23 tackles to boot, which is the seventh highest number of tackles by a forward in the league this season, a rarely mentioned attribute of his game. He does not always tackle with his elbow, either.

Keita will presumably be less of a miss, with the Guinean's Anfield contribution remaining underwhelming, but Liverpool have been so hard hit by absentees recently that to lose anybody for up to five weeks is an inconvenience.

They are at least assured of Joel Matip's presence this month. The centre-back last played for Cameroon in 2015 and has retired from international duty. That is bad news for the AFCON hosts but helps Liverpool, given Matip remains a sturdy presence, with a duel success of 69.47 per cent this season ranking him third among Premier League defenders with 10 or more appearances, and a passing accuracy of 88.89 per cent putting him eighth in that metric.

Liverpool only have two league games inked in between now and the end of AFCON, against Brentford and Crystal Palace, but the Reds also have two postponed fixtures to be slipped in somewhere along the line.

Wintertime Blues?

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City hold a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea, with Liverpool a point further back but possessing a game in hand on the top two. Reigning champions City have won 11 straight Premier League games and the Citizens have the resources to be able to cope with the short-term loss of Riyad Mahrez, who will captain Algeria.

Mahrez's six goals and four assists this season have come at a startling rate. Given the depth in City's squad, he does not always start, so to appreciate his contribution it is worth looking at his numbers per 90 minutes on the pitch.

The former Leicester City forward is averaging 0.64 goals and 0.43 assists per 90 minutes – impressively close to Salah's return of 0.81 and 0.45 in those categories – and is one of only four Premier League players with 10 or more appearances to average at least 1.00 goal involvements per 90 (Michael Olise 1.43, Salah 1.26, Roberto Firmino 1.24, Mahrez 1.07).

The Blues of Chelsea may have concerns over the absence of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, given the Senegalese's stabilising influence at the back. His save percentage of 77.14 has only been beaten this season in the league by Wolves' Jose Sa (80.82) and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (77.46).

Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga struggled in the early stages of his Chelsea career and is now the undoubted understudy.

Yet Kepa's form when given an opportunity this season has not given such cause for concern. The former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper has been chiefly used in cup action, and he has achieved a remarkable save percentage of 81.48, suggesting that for a short run of games, he could be a perfectly able deputy.

Can an exodus to Africa affect the race for Europe?

Will fourth-placed Arsenal miss Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It seems unlikely now, given he was dropped and stripped of the captaincy after a disciplinary breach before heading off to join Gabon. He has not played for a month. The Gunners won five games in a row without him, including four in the league, before being unlucky to lose to Manchester City.

Cold facts tell us Arsenal have a points average of 1.9 per Premier League game when Aubameyang has started games this season, and 1.5 when he has been either a substitute or out of the team, but those figures may not be significant given the momentum Mikel Arteta's players have built in the recent absence of the 32-year-old. His continuing exile from the first team seems unlikely to cause much consternation.

For manager Arteta to lose Thomas Partey (Ghana) at this point is a blow though, with the former Atletico Madrid player having been excellent in the 2-1 defeat to City, having been slowly building up to such a performance. He had more touches, won more duels, made more tackles and played more successful passes than any other Arsenal player.

Arsenal have a big derby at Tottenham coming up on January 16, and they might feel Partey's absence that day, particularly given Spurs, who currently sit sixth, are sending no current first-teamers away to AFCON.

Splitting the north London rivals for now are West Ham, in fifth, and it will surely have hurt David Moyes to wave off Said Benrahma for a month of Algeria duty. The playmaker has five goals and four assists in the league this season, as well as making 83 ball recoveries and creating 21 chances in open play. That makes him one of only 13 players in the competition to top both 80 recoveries and 20 open-play chances created, and one of only five Premier League stars to tick both boxes and score at least five times. Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, away with Ivory Coast, is another member of that small group.

Seventh-placed Manchester United will lose Eric Bailly to Ivory Coast too. But with Phil Jones back in the first team, will Bailly be missed? The former Villarreal centre-back has played just 217 minutes in the Premier League this season. United youth prospect Hannibal Mejbri is also away, in his case with Tunisia.

Further into mid-table, Wolves must find an alternative to the excellent Romain Saiss (tackle success rate 72.73 per cent) on the left side of their defence, after he joined up with Morocco. Brighton and Hove Albion powerhouse Yves Bissouma has the highest tackle success rate among midfielders to have made more than 40 such challenges in the Premier League this season (50 attempted, 35 won: 70 per cent hit rate) and he will line up for Mali after ending an international exile.

Leicester City sent away striker Kelechi Iheanacho (2 goals, 4 assists this season) for Nigeria service at a bad time for the Foxes, given injured Jamie Vardy faces several weeks out of action.

Palace are firmly in favour of players heading away to represent their countries, but the Eagles never particularly like to be without Zaha (5 goals, 1 assist, 86 dribbles). Since his return from Manchester United in August 2014, Palace have averaged 1.2 points and a 32.9 per cent win percentage with Zaha in their starting line-up, and 0.9 points and a 24.5 win percentage when he has not been in that matchday XI. The loss of Cheikhou Kouyate (80.56 per cent success rate from 36 tackles) to Senegal duty may also diminish the sturdiness of Patrick Vieira's Eagles spine.

Can Clarets cope without Cornet?

The relegation scrap seems more likely to be affected by transfer market activity than departures to AFCON.

Newcastle United and Norwich City, the league's bottom two, are sending nobody away, while fourth-bottom Watford have kept Dennis (8 goals, 5 assists) and it remains to be seen what happens to Ismaila Sarr (5 goals), who has been absent with injury of late but has headed for checks with Senegal doctors.

Burnley, who sit 18th, are seemingly the team to watch carefully here. Maxwel Cornet, now away with Ivory Coast, has scored six Premier League goals from just 10 shots on target, and Sean Dyche must find a way to make the Clarets impactful without the former Lyon man.

Manchester City picked up from where they left off in 2021 by battling to a late 2-1 win over Arsenal, extending their lead at the Premier League summit.

A Riyad Mahrez penalty and a last-gasp strike from Rodri cancelled out Bukayo Saka's first-half opener after Gabriel Magalhaes received a needless red card for the Gunners in an action-packed game – the first top-flight match of 2022.

City's 11th league win in a row means they end New Year's Day with an 11-point advantage at the top, a tally bettered by only two clubs in the competition's history on January 1 – Manchester United in 1993-94 and City themselves in 2017-18 (both 12 points).

There were also victories for Tottenham and West Ham, the London pair seeing off Watford and Crystal Palace respectively to remain in firm contention for a top-four finish.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from Saturday's action. 

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City: Leaders recover to stretch winning run against Gunners

Saka's opening goal against City was only the second the Citizens have conceded in the first half of a Premier League game this season, and the first such goal they have shipped on their travels since May.

That was the England international's sixth league goal of the season and was the 36th goal scored by a player aged 21 or under for Arsenal in the English top flight since Mikel Arteta's first game on Boxing Day 2019 – eight more than any other team.

Mahrez converted a contentiously awarded penalty shortly before the hour mark at Emirates Stadium, the Algeria international scoring for a fifth game running in all competitions, and Gabriel's second yellow card – 78 seconds after his first – swung the game in City's favour.

That was Arsenal's 100th red card in the Premier League era, making them the first side to reach that milestone, with Everton (99), Newcastle United (90) and Chelsea (82) next on the list.

Rodri completed the turnaround with City's latest winning goal in a league game since May 2018 (92:28) as the Citizens made it 10 successive top-flight victories over the Gunners, an opponent Pep Guardiola has yet to lose against in the league in 12 encounters.

Watford 0-1 Tottenham: Sanchez stings Hornets in late Spurs win

Tottenham also left it late to overcome Watford and make it eight Premier League games without defeat under Antonio Conte, extending the longest unbeaten start by a Spurs boss in league competition.

Davinson Sanchez made the breakthrough with 95 minutes and 45 seconds played, with that the latest winning goal Spurs have scored in the top flight since Opta started recording such data from 2006-07.

Watford dug deep but could not quite hold on for a valuable point, meaning they have now lost more Premier League matches (nine) since Claudio Ranieri took charge in October than any other side in the division.

Sanchez's goal was his second in five Premier League matches for Spurs, which is more than he had netted in his first 108 in the competition (one), with the defender heading in from a Son Heung-min free-kick.

Watford boss Ranieri has now lost each of his last five Premier League games against Italian managers, whereas compatriot Conte has never lost against a fellow Italian in the competition in six meetings, winning all but one of those.

Crystal Palace 2-3 West Ham: Hammers survive Olise-inspired scare

Palace fell just short of pulling off a remarkable comeback as they lost a home league match on New Year's Day for the first time in their history, with this their 14th such match.

Michail Antonio's close-range finish and a Manuel Lanzini double gave West Ham a commanding three-goal lead, the latter having now scored 52 per cent of his 25 Premier League goals in London derbies (13) – the highest percentage of any player to have scored at least 20 times in the competition.

Michael Olise made a huge difference from the bench by setting up Odsonne Edouard and then scoring a second for Palace late on, making him the first Eagles player to score and assist as a substitute in the Premier League.

But the visitors held on to ensure boss David Moyes made it six straight away league wins against Palace as a manager, defeating a different coach on each occasion during that perfect run (Alan Smith, Iain Dowie, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson and now Patrick Vieira).

Manchester City survived a spirited Leicester City fightback to prevail 6-3 winners in a thrilling Boxing Day encounter at the Etihad Stadium.

Though pegged back to 4-3 from 4-0 up, Pep Guardiola's men moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League table following a ninth successive victory.

Kevin De Bruyne scored the first of four goals for the hosts inside the opening 25 minutes, while a pair of penalties from Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling sandwiched Ilkay Gundogan's strike.

The Foxes came roaring back after the break as James Maddison, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho threatened the most unlikely comeback, but Aymeric Laporte and Sterling got the Citizens back on track and secured the points.

Man City took the lead in the fifth minute following neat interplay as De Bruyne controlled Fernandinho’s lofted pass into the box before sweeping past Kasper Schmeichel.

The hosts doubled the advantage with Mahrez, who had lost in all five of his previous Premier League appearances on Boxing Day, firing home from 12 yards after Youri Tielemans bundled over Laporte.

Gundogan made it 3-0 after another lovely exchange of passes culminated in Schmeichel parrying Joao Cancelo's low cross straight to the Germany international, who made no mistake from close range.

Three became four soon after, with Tielemans the offender again as he brought down Sterling, who picked himself up and emphatically swept his penalty into the top corner.

Nevertheless, Leicester responded brilliantly after the break. The visitors halved the deficit by the hour mark with a couple of quickfire counters resulting in Iheanacho well-timed throughballs for Maddison and Lookman to finish.

Former Man City forward Iheanacho then got in on the act to reduce the arrears to a single goal, but the hosts pulled clear from two Mahrez corners, with Laporte and Sterling profiting. 

Joao Cancelo scored and set up another as Manchester City dispatched Newcastle United 4-0 at St James' Park to extend their Premier League winning run to eight games.

Cancelo plundered his first league goal of the season in fantastic style, dribbling towards the box with purpose before smashing into the left side of the net from the edge of the area.

His compatriot Ruben Dias had previously put City ahead early on, with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling adding further gloss to the scoreline after the interval.

The victory ensured City will be top at Christmas, with the side topping the tree at this stage of the season having gone on to win the title in nine of the last 12 seasons.

Cancelo played a key role in City’s fifth-minute opener, stretching to connect with a ball over the top and cushion a volleyed cross onto Dias, who capitalised on a mix-up between Ciaran Clark and Martin Dubravka to head in unmarked.

The full-back doubled City’s advantage in stunning fashion 12 minutes later, jinking past two players before lashing a ferocious shot into the top-left corner that left Dubravka with no chance.

City got lucky as Ederson brought down Ryan Fraser in the box, but no penalty was awarded even after a VAR check.

Dubravka kept his side from going 3-0 down with a tremendous reflex save from Gabriel Jesus' close-range header.

The Newcastle goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Mahrez firing in on the volley, however, after the winger timed his run to perfection to meet Oleksandr Zinchenko's cross, with his 50th goal for City awarded after the VAR overturned the linesman's initial offside call.

Jesus turned provider for Sterling to tuck in late on, with City providing Pep Guardiola with an ideal early Christmas gift.

Though several matches have been postponed due to COVID-19, there is still plenty of Premier League action to look forward to this weekend.

Circumstances permitting, there will be lots of points for fantasy football managers to play for during the festive period.

The in-form Manchester City and Liverpool are well-represented among our picks for this weekend, along with a resurgent Aston Villa under Steven Gerrard.

Here, we take an in-depth look into why these players should be on your priority list for inclusion.

JOSE SA (Wolves v Chelsea)

Wolves may be underdogs when they welcome Chelsea to Molineux, but they have looked solid defensively in recent weeks; keeping four clean sheets in their last six matches.

It would have been five but for Liverpool's stoppage-time winner a fortnight ago, while they were only breached once by reigning champions Manchester City last weekend.

Much of the credit goes to Sa. The Portugal international has prevented more goals (4.2) than any other player in his position this season, while only four keepers have let in fewer goals so far (14).

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Tottenham v Liverpool)

Liverpool head to north London full of momentum, having won each of their last eight matches in all competitions.

The Reds have also prevailed in the seven most recent encounters between the sides.

Alexander-Arnold grabbed a goal and assist in the 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in January and, averaging a higher expected goal involvement per 90 minutes played than any other Premier League defender this season, the England international will be confident of making another positive contribution here.

ASHLEY YOUNG (Aston Villa v Burnley)

Villa have enjoyed a resurgence under Gerrard; winning four of his six matches in charge, with the two defeats coming against Manchester City and Liverpool.

Indeed, the midweek win at Norwich City moved them into the top half of the Premier League table.

Young has certainly been one of the players rejuvenated under his former England team-mate. The ex-Manchester United skipper has registered two assists since, with only four players managing more during that period.

RIYAD MAHREZ (Newcastle United v Manchester City)

Leaders Manchester City will hope to remain at the summit when they travel to 19th-placed Newcastle United.

Pep Guardiola's City have won their last seven Premier League matches – as well as each of their four most recent meetings with the Magpies.

Riyad Mahrez was on target in the 7-0 rout of helpless Leeds United in midweek. That was the Algerian's 49th Premier League goal for City, with only Raheem Sterling (76), Gabriel Jesus (63) and Sergio Aguero (61) netting more since August 2018.

BERNARDO SILVA (Newcastle United v Manchester City)

Indeed, City's envious list of attacking options have all been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks.

Kevin De Bruyne scored twice in midweek and Sterling is back among the goals, but Bernardo Silva has been their star performer on the road.

Indeed, the Portugal international has been on target in each of his side's last three away games, including a brace in the 3-1 win at Watford.

MOHAMED SALAH (Tottenham v Liverpool)

Along with Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool's impressive recent form and record against Tottenham also bodes well for Salah.

The Premier League's top scorer, Egypt international Salah has netted 15 times already this season; six more than his nearest challenger Jamie Vardy.

He has scored four goals in as many English top-flight matches, and six in Liverpool's nine meetings with Tottenham since he arrived from Roma in 2017.

OLLIE WATKINS (Aston Villa v Burnley)

The departure of talisman Jack Grealish undoubtedly proved a major factor behind Villa's tricky start to the season.

Nevertheless, Ollie Watkins is one of their more influential performers who can potentially fill the void.

After a goal and assist during the 2-0 win at Norwich, the England international has been directly involved in 25 goals (16 goals, nine assists) since arriving from Brentford – almost twice as many as any other player currently at the club.

He will be confident of adding to that tally against a Burnley side without a win in five.

Denis Zakaria looms as an attractive signing, with his contract due to expire.

The Borussia Monchengladbach star is not short of admirers.

Liverpool and Barcelona are reportedly vying for his signature.

 

TOP STORY – ZAKARIA TO LIVERPOOL OR BARCA?

Liverpool lead Barcelona in the pursuit to sign Borussia Monchengladbach star Denis Zakaria, according to El Nacional.

Zakaria is available on a free transfer at the end of the season and the Switzerland international has been heavily linked with Jose Mourinho's Roma.

He has also reportedly attracted interest from Manchester United and Manchester City, however, Premier League giants Liverpool and LaLiga powerhouse Barca are believed to be set to battle it out.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Anfield and Fichajes claims Liverpool have joined the race to prise Adama Traore from Wolves. Traore has also been linked with Barca and Juventus.

Paul Pogba is unlikely to sign a pre-contract agreement with a club abroad, says The Athletic. Pogba's United contract expires at the end of the season and Frenchman has been tipped to join either Real Madrid, Juve or Paris Saint-Germain.

- Premier League champions City are working to re-sign Riyad Mahrez, per The Sun. PSG are reportedly eyeing the Algeria international, who is contracted to City until 2023.

Newcastle United are set to make a move for Donny van de Beek, according to El Nacional. Van de Beek has found his chances limited at Manchester United and Newcastle are ready to pounce.

- After appointing Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season, The Times claims United's interim manager is targeting RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara.

Chelsea maintained their position at the Premier League summit as they thumped sorry Norwich City 7-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Manchester City remain two points behind after cruising past Brighton and Hove Albion 4-1 at the Amex Stadium.

Watford produced a stunning comeback to thump Everton at Goodison Park, while Leeds United left it late to snatch a point against Wolves.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of the fixtures from the day.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-4 Manchester City: Foden inspires City's latest win over Seagulls

Phil Foden was at the heart of City's big win at the Amex Stadium as Pep Guardiola's side sealed an eighth win in nine Premier League games against the Seagulls.

Ilkay Gundogan put the visitors ahead before Foden scored just his second brace in the Premier League, previously doing so against Burnley in June 2020.

Alexis Mac Allister pulled one back for Graham Potter's side to became the first player to score a Premier League penalty as a substitute for Brighton.

Riyad Mahrez added gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time, though, after being teed up by Foden. The Algerian has scored more goals in all competitions (16) than any other City player so far in 2021.

The result meant Brighton conceded four goals for the first time in 43 Premier League games, since a 4-2 loss against Everton in October 2020. Indeed, the Seagulls conceded as many goals as they had in their previous seven league games combined.

Chelsea 7-0 Norwich City: Mount puts Blues in seventh heaven

Chelsea made light work of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner's absences, winning a Premier League game by seven or more goals for the fourth time and the first time since an 8-0 win over Aston Villa in December 2012.

Mason Mount was the star man, the England international becoming the 20th different player to score a Premier League hat-trick for Chelsea. Only Arsenal (21) have had more hat-trick scorers in the competition.

Ben Chilwell was on the scoresheet as well, the former Leicester City left-back becoming the first Englishman to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances for Chelsea since Frank Lampard in February 2013.

The defeat was Norwich's joint-heaviest in Premier League history, the Canaries also losing 7-0 to Manchester City in November 2013.

Their haul of just two goals after nine league games this season is the joint-lowest tally ever at this stage of an English league campaign, and just the third time a team has registered such a low return at this stage in the Premier League (Crystal Palace in 2017-18 and Everton in 2005-06).


Everton 2-5 Watford: King comes back to haunt Toffees

Watford scored four times in the final 12 minutes to complete a remarkable fightback at Goodison Park.

They were indebted to a superb hat-trick from former Toffees striker Josh King, who became just the third player to score a Premier League hat-trick against a side he has previously played for in the competition, after Andy Cole (for Manchester United vs Newcastle) and Marcus Bent (for Wigan vs Blackburn). 

It was just the second time Watford had scored five goals in an away Premier League game (also vs Cardiff in February 2019), becoming just the seventh newly promoted side in Premier League history to score five or more goals in an away game.

The result also marked the first time the Hornets had come from behind to win an away Premier League game since January 2019 vs Crystal Palace, having lost each of their previous 21 such matches in the competition.

Leeds United 1-1 Wolves: Rodrigo leaves it late for Bielsa's men

Despite earning a late point thanks to Rodrigo's stoppage-time penalty, seven points from nine games marks Leeds' worst start to a top-flight campaign since 1981-82 (six points), a season in which they were relegated to the second tier.

Wolves had looked destined for all three points thanks to another goal from Hwang Hee-chan. The South Korean has scored four goals from just four shots on target in the Premier League this season, the best such 100 per cent conversion rate in the competition so far this term.

Rodrigo stepped up late on to salvage a point, though. His equaliser from the spot was just Leeds' third penalty goal scored in the final minute of a Premier League match, after Gary McAllister against Coventry City (October 1995) and Ian Harte against Derby County (December 1999).

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