Pep Guardiola says Manchester City must "work harder, play better and pray" to close the gap to Liverpool, but he is confident a fully fit squad could still compete for the Premier League title.

City have won the league in each of the past two seasons, yet they are now 14 points off the rapid pace set by Liverpool, who also have a game in hand heading into 2020.

While an ageing City squad have fallen below the standards set in previous campaigns, Guardiola is keen to emphasise the impact of key injuries on his team - with Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane out for long periods and David Silva and Sergio Aguero also dealing with issues.

Asked what his team must improve on to catch Liverpool, the City manager told reporters: "Work harder, play better and pray.

"With all the squad, yes, [City can compete]. There are some things that we cannot control. We can do what we can do.

"But other issues we cannot control, like what a fantastic team like Liverpool have done so far and other issues. If everybody's fit, we can do it."

Guardiola refused to accept, however, that the failure to bring in signings in the previous transfer window had contributed to their problems.

"No, I think the team is fantastic. I love it," he said. "We have had problems with injuries - these things happen - and then Liverpool are incredible.

"They are the champions of Europe and have dropped two points. After that, we just congratulate them. I know the distance we are [behind] is not what it should be, but it's what it is."

As 2019 drew to an end, Guardiola also wanted to offer a reminder of City's success in 2019 - winning the Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Community Shield before slumping to third in the table.

"How was 2019? Now the people say it was a disaster. We won four titles in 2019," he said. "It was an incredible year for us, which we have enjoyed a lot.

"In some games in this last part of the season, we struggled a little bit. But it was an incredible year for us."

Frank Lampard suggested Chelsea may be asking too much of Callum Hudson-Odoi but vowed to stick with the 19-year-old and protect him against criticism.

The England winger sparkled in his early senior appearances but has struggled to make an impact of late, failing to impress as he started a Premier League match for the first time in over two months in a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to Southampton.

While head coach Lampard acknowledged Hudson-Odoi is yet to find the consistency required to be a Chelsea regular, he is determined to stay patient with the teenager.

"Maybe [it is about consistency], and maybe we're asking too much," Lampard told reporters ahead of the New Year's Day trip to Brighton and Hove Albion.

"Because at 19, there's not many in the Premier League that are playing every week, especially at a club like ourselves.

"He has competition in those areas, so his consistency needs to be in how he works, how he trains every day, how much pressure he puts on me to play him. That is one thing he'll strive for.

"From all the conversations I've had with him, he understands what he needs to do on and off the pitch, and I will certainly stick with him."

Hudson-Odoi was reportedly concerned by social media criticism after the Southampton game, but Lampard is confident Chelsea fans will back their player.

"I've not spoken to him about that, and unfortunately, with social media, that's par for the course," he said.

"It doesn't make it right or wrong. I haven't seen it, but that's something you have to have a very thick skin about.

"But I said it after the Southampton game: he's a young player, he's just 19, he's had a lot of talk about him for different reasons, which is not all of his doing. There's been a big microscope on him.

"I think we have to give him time and have patience with how young he is. I've got no problems with him. I thought he did well when he came on [against Arsenal], and I think that should be a nice little boost for him.

"I think Chelsea fans will be absolutely behind him. They want to see passion, they want to see those things as well as his ability to go by people.

"He needs to understand what's needed, and he's working on that constantly, and I'll back him and work with him on that."

Hudson-Odoi had been widely linked with Bayern Munich in January 2019 before agreeing to a new Chelsea deal, and Lampard is content the academy graduate has proven his commitment to the club.

"I'm not sure [if the Bayern reports are related to the criticism], but if that is the case, I think that will quite quickly go away," Lampard said. "It's up to him to put that to bed.

"He signed a really long contract here, declared he wants to be here. We're happy but now he has to produce."

Chelsea recorded a loss of £96.6million for the 2018-19 season, the club announced on Tuesday.

The Blues had posted profits in the previous two years, but a club statement reported the loss was due to player signings, a lack of Champions League football and the dismissal of Antonio Conte and his coaching staff in July 2018.

Conte led Chelsea to a fifth-placed finish in 2017-18, meaning they missed out on Europe's elite club competition in the following campaign.

However, with the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, along with the signings of Kepa Arrizabalaga, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, Chelsea then finished third and won the Europa League.

Christian Pulisic's arrival was also included in the results.

The club's revenue improved to £446.7m for the year ended June 30, 2019, and, despite the losses, the statement said they "continue to comply with UEFA's break-even criteria under the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations".

Chairman Bruce Buck said: "Consistent revenue growth and careful financial management over recent seasons has allowed the club to make significant levels of investment in the playing staff while maintaining compliance with Financial Fair Play regulations.

"This has contributed to another Europa League victory at the end of the 2018-19 season and a return to the highest level of European competition.

"This solid commercial foundation, allied to a young and exciting team now led by Frank Lampard, means that the club is well-placed to sustain its pursuit of success both on and off the pitch, as well as maintain its financial stability over the coming years."

Chelsea served a transfer ban ahead of the 2019-20 season after FIFA found the club to have breached regulations relating to the international transfer and registration of players aged under 18.

However, the two-window suspension was cut in half in time for Chelsea to make signings in the upcoming January market.

Former Premier League referee Bobby Madley has revealed he was sacked for sending a video in which he mocked a disabled person.

Madley left his role in August 2018 and refereeing body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) said at the time he had "decided to relocate due to a change in his personal circumstances".

However, the 34-year-old explained in a blog post on Tuesday - titled 'Time to move on' - that he had been "dismissed with immediate effect for gross misconduct on grounds of discrimination".

Madley wrote that he sent a video to a friend, which was later passed to his employers, in which he captioned a clip of a person with a walking impairment: "F*** me, I have a chance of winning the parents race this year."

The official said he had been "fat shamed" in the media and described as "Blobby Bobby", so he had intended the message as a private joke.

"Out of context, I accept this reads shamefully. I accept that," Madley wrote. "However, my intention was that the joke was aimed at myself."

He added: "I regret taking the video, I regret sending that video, and while it was a dark humoured joke, it was just that: a joke.

"It was not intended to shame anyone, it was not intended to be seen by anyone other than the person I sent it to privately in a text message on my own personal phone."

Madley, whose late father was disabled, said he was "stunned" over his dismissal by PGMOL for a "badly misjudged joke".

He wrote: "I started refereeing at 16, my career was over at 32. I had my dream job, a well paid and incredibly enjoyable job that I loved every single minute of.

"The footballs and medals are now all I have to remember those years of dedication and hard work."

--

Carrington, December 31, 2009. Alex Ferguson is spending his birthday, again, looking out at the training pitches.

United have just thrashed Wigan Athletic 5-0 to move to within two points of leaders Chelsea. They won't win the league this season. But they did the last. And they will the next.

Ferguson has no idea what will come in the next decade. Failure for United is second place, not three years without a trophy. The idea of three seasons out of the Champions League is preposterous. Finishing seventh is unimaginable. It's Manchester United, for goodness' sake.

There is no way they could get to that point. Someone would notice. Someone would do something.

--

FERGIE TIME RUNS OUT

The years between 2009 and 2020 will forever mark United's crashing fall from their perch, unable to extricate themselves from a cesspool of anti-Glazer protests, mismanaged managers, dividends and transfer misfires.

The signs were there for Ferguson, even as he lifted the Premier League for the 13th time in 2013. Manchester City had been spending hitherto unseen sums to revolutionise what it meant to run a football club, while only four United signings between January 2010 and that day in May - Robin van Persie, David de Gea, Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez - can be considered entirely successful.

United underestimated City, as they underestimated Ferguson's power to turn average teams into winners and the damage of losing CEO David Gill at the same time as the manager. Any fear about David Moyes and the longer-term future was dismissed as idle scaremongering, an inconvenient truth to be squashed under silverware.

The result is there are matchgoing United fans born this decade who have never seen them get close to winning the league. Hearing grown-ups talk of Moscow, Barcelona, trebles, double-doubles and '20 times, Man United' must sound like a Netflix fantasy series. It's not hard to imagine a seven-year-old gazing up at the Alex Ferguson statue, outside the Alex Ferguson stand, and turning to her parents to shake her head in defiant incredulity, much like a future child staring at the world's last surviving polar bear at the zoo might exclaim: "But, mummy, the arctic was never REALLY frozen over, was it?"

--

Carrington, December 31, 2019. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks out at the training pitches.

Marcus Rashford and team-mates have been hard at work, buoyed by a battling win at Burnley but thinking of Arsenal on New Year's Day. The mood is positive, but trepidation lurks in their minds. They are fifth in the Premier League and were never even in the title race. The next setback never feels far away.

Solskjaer sighs, pensively. It wasn't always like this.

--

'WE WILL LOOK BACK ON IT AS A GIGANTIC FALSE ALARM'

Solskjaer the United manager is the product of three failures.

First came The Chosen One in 2013. David Moyes was Ferguson's preference, had worked wonders at Everton and earned a chance on a grander stage.

Moyes later said he was promised Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas for his first season by new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, while Cristiano Ronaldo had also been a target. It was a bold statement from one new man to another, a chest-out assurance United would swat away the competition. What Moyes got was deadline-day Marouane Fellaini, an elbow-flailing augur of doom.

Moyes bemoaned a lack of world-class players as United suffered their worst start to a league season for 24 years. By Christmas, fans were disquieted. By March, home humiliations against Liverpool and City had them angry. After plane banner protests and a 2-0 loss to Everton, Moyes was gone, nine months into a six-year contract.

United's aura had splintered like an ice shelf. They needed a real expert, a man of facts, figures and a matchday folder.

In came Louis van Gaal on a wave of positivity after taking Netherlands to third place at the World Cup. Woodward, having almost failed to sign anybody the year before, tried to sign everybody. In came British record signing Angel Di Maria and pricey loanee Radamel Falcao in a huge squad upheaval. The 'Gaalacticos' had assembled. United fans found their belief. Then, Van Gaal lost his.

A 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, noteworthy for a sublime Di Maria goal and the beginning of the end of Tyler Blackett's Premier League career, seemed to shake the manager's faith in how to play matches. Over the next 18 months, his team would shrink from 'attack, attack, attack' like a melting glacier, the players terrified of trying anything that might prompt one of those telling-off emails from Van Gaal. It seemed amazing Van Gaal's team could be so predictable, so boring when the man himself was a source of constant entertainment, decrying "sex-masochism" on live television, diving on the touchline against Arsenal and presenting the press with mulled wine, mince pies and "Mr Mike Smalling".

A single, short Champions League campaign and an FA Cup triumph were not enough. Leicester (Leicester!) had won the league and Pep Guardiola was going to City. This was a full-blown crisis. United put up the flood defences.

TO THE TIPPING POINT

"I want everything: I want to win matches; I want to play well," Jose Mourinho vowed in 2016. United spent big again on Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the best players in Italy, France and Germany the previous season. In 2016-17, they won the EFL Cup and Europa League but only finished sixth in the league, and Mourinho was not wholly content. United still had obvious concerns; they denied them.

United were second in 2017-18, their highest league position since their last title, as champions City obliterated the record books. Mourinho waspishly claimed it was his greatest achievement. He had begun warring with Woodward over transfers, sniping Pogba and Anthony Martial in training, and sulking through news conferences in which he said as little as possible when he wasn't reminding the room how good he used to be.

Mourinho's verbal microplastics had seeped into Old Trafford and turned it toxic. A 3-1 loss at Anfield was the last straw. Desperate, United put the battle for their very future in the hands of a bright-eyed, baby-faced Scandinavian and an emboldened band of youngsters up for the fight.

"There have been ups and downs," was Solskjaer's assessment last week, with stunning early form and a famous win in Paris undermined by 2019 defeats to Everton, Bournemouth, Watford, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City. But with six wins in eight, victories over City, Chelsea (twice) and Tottenham and the chance of trophies in early 2020, maybe, at last, United have taken decisive action.

"I think we're on the right track," he added. " We will come strong this decade, definitely. That's just in the nature of this club."

Nature can be fickle, though.

--

Carrington, December 31, 2029. The Manchester United manager looks out at the training pitches.

Led by captain Marcus Rashford, player spirits are high. They're the champions of Europe and top of the league. It's been a good 10 years.

The manager sighs. It wasn't always like this. Manchester used to be cold in December.

Buoyed by two wins from two as Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti begins the new decade back in the division where he was the first title-winner of the previous one.

Tactical thought in the 2010s was dominated by the Dutch-Catalan school's influence, as Pep Guardiola refined Johan Cruyff's vision to stunning effect with his dominant Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City sides, throwing in some South American seasoning as a Marcelo Bielsa disciple.

Guardiola, of course, has a more than worthy adversary in Jurgen Klopp, who looks to be at the beginning of his own imperial period at Liverpool. The gegenpressing master has refined his high-octane approach to find something utterly relentless – more motorik krautrock than heavy metal football.

Whenever major clubs make a managerial appointment nowadays, talk of "philosophy" and an overarching vision are rarely far away. This is the age of high-concept football.

Amid all of this, despite Serie A losing some of its lustre and the Azzurri humiliatingly failing to make the 2018 World Cup, Italian coaching remains something of a gold standard.

Ancelotti was the first of four of his compatriots to win the Premier League in the 2010s. Roberto Mancini lifted Manchester City's first English title for 44 years in 2011-12, leaving in place foundations Guardiola has built handsomely upon.

Mancini is now in charge of an Italy side that has not looked in such good health since Antonio Conte's time at the helm. Former Juventus boss Conte left after Euro 2016 and promptly won the Premier League with Chelsea. In doing so, he followed a countryman into the winner's enclosure.

Claudio Ranieri's 2015-16 march to glory with Leicester City stands apart as the outstanding club football achievement of the past 10 years.

A mix of football cultures

Ranieri and ex-Bayern Munich boss Ancelotti have also worked with distinction in Spain and France, while Mancini's route back to home came via stints at Galatasaray and Zenit.

All four men have some similarities in their approaches but do not speak of a uniform style. They are testament to the flexible and shape-shifting qualities of an ingrained Italian tradition.

"We have to make a mix of our football culture with the cultures of other European countries," said Renzo Ulivieri, the director of the Scuola Allenatori – Italy's coaching school.

"I think that our best quality is we are not closed, but we are open to other football cultures. We mix our culture with others."

Omnisport spoke to Ulivieri during a visit to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC)'s Coverciano headquarters, which was bathed in the glow of late autumn sunshine last month.

A picturesque location around five kilometres east of Florence, nestled below Monte Cereci where Leonardo da Vinci tested his flying machine half a century ago, Coverciano is where the latest generation of Italian coaches seek to take their country's proud tradition of tactical excellence to new heights.

Along with being home to all of Italy's national squads and a treasure trove of a museum celebrating each of their four World Cup triumphs, Coverciano is a campus that exists as football's equivalent to Harvard and Oxford.

Ulvieri oversees the UEFA Pro License course, already known as Il Master before it took on the standards of the highest coaching qualification set by European football's governing body.

Back to school with Pirlo and Toni

A Coverciano coaching education still stands apart. Alongside intensive tactical and technical elements, psychology, communication and sports medicine form part of the studies.

Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Thiago Motta and Walter Samuel were among the 2019-20 intake, who found themselves trading free afternoons following training for eight-hour classroom days.

The course concludes with a set of oral exams and the completion of a detailed tactical thesis, which students present in the same oak-panelled room where we sat down with Ulivieri, resplendent in a federation tracksuit and speaking via an interpreter with a twinkle-eyed enthusiasm that belied his 78 years.

"It's a sort of obsessive thing for me," he said, when discussing the adaptability that has helped Italian coaches continue to thrive throughout a fast-changing period.

"A football coach has to arrange things with the players that he has. Being able to arrange is the main topic because, for the names like Marco Rossi, the coach of Hungary, it is more difficult to be a coach in these countries, instead of being a coach in France, in England.

"Italian people are a population who travel so much, so they have to arrange to go in other cultures. I want to explain to [the students] what will be their future life.

"There are some coaches, for example, who make a good season and then the other seasons are not so good. These are coaches who have not adjusted their football and arranged for the players they have.

"The future of football will be with a very big flexibility in tactics, because the tactics of a football team do not only change from match to match but also within the same match. Now we are seeing this. In future, football teams will play in two or three different ways."

A passion for tactics

Ulivieri's longevity is evidence he practiced what he preached.

Starting as an amateur coach in the mid-1960s in his native Tuscany – a region he still proudly proclaims to be a hotbed, with the exploits of Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and others backing up the point – Ulivieri boasts a bulging Serie A CV that features spells in charge of a young Mancini at Sampdoria, Cagliari, Parma, Napoli, Torino and Roberto Baggio's renaissance at Bologna.

His last top division post was with Reggina in 2007-08, although the obsession remains.

Alongside his day job at Coverciano, Ulivieri continues to coach women's Serie C side Pontedera, where he is still keen to throw around the odd bold tactical scheme.

"With the team, we are in a low level but I am still a coach because I have the passion and I want to try something. I want to try some tactical concepts on the field," he explained.

"Recently, I was speaking and I told them we will make a tactical approach that no team is doing."

Asked to elaborate, Ulivieri eagerly took Omnisport's notepad and sketched out a sort of 4-2-4 formation, featuring a rhombus of forwards where width would be provided by the central midfielders overlapping into wide areas.

A discussion of Sheffield United's successful adaptation to the Premier League followed, with Ulivieri fascinated to learn of Chris Wilder's roving wide centre-backs.

"I will study it," he exclaimed, before sounding a note of caution for Wilder and his contemporaries.

"In the past, tactical innovation could last four years, now maybe one year. We have to change always."

Back to the future

Coverciano's latest intake studied England's 1966 World Cup winners towards the end of 2019, with Ulivieri highlighting the movements of Roger Hunt, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton as useful ploys against zonal defences of the modern day.

"Sometimes the past comes back," he said. "When Guardiola says my first forward is the space, before Guardiola was England with Bobby Charlton and the great Hungary team before that.

"Ideas in football come back always. We have to know everything. We have to know the past but we have to guess the future. Guessing the future is our main topic."

So, what will that future look like?

"More flexible," Ulivieri reiterated. "We will work for principles, not for schemes. We see this today in the big teams with big players.

"In the future, we will have players who are able to do many things, not just one. These things [Sheffield United's tactics] would be unthinkable with the players of 20 years ago. These players have to be athletic.

"In the future, we will have players who will be able to play here, there and in all parts of the field."

Thanks to their impeccable education and tradition, if feels safe to assume Coverciano's next alumni will lead these versatile stars with distinction, leaving their marks all over the 2020s as their predecessors did in the decade just passed.

Jose Mourinho has acknowledged Tottenham's repeated defensive errors must be a great source of frustration for the team's forwards.

Spurs twice rallied from a goal down to draw 2-2 at Norwich City on Saturday, with Harry Kane's late penalty cancelling out a Serge Aurier own goal.

Mistakes in defence have punctuated recent matches, with Paulo Gazzaniga at fault in an ill-tempered London derby defeat to Chelsea just before Christmas.

Mourinho is happy with his forwards and with Tottenham's attitude, yet "ridiculous" concessions continue to irritate him and, he suspects, his players.

"Four matches away, we won two, we lost one and we drew one," Mourinho said ahead of the trip to Southampton. "Is that better than before? Yes. Is that perfect? No.

"If you come [to Norwich] and we cannot create, Norwich dominates us. [Then] we have to defend, we defend well, we resist, you draw 0-0, maybe you have to admit [it is] a positive result.

"The problem is the way you concede goals and the way you play. We go to [Manchester] United, the first goal is a bad goal to concede, we react, we equalise, we get to half-time at 1-1, the second half starts and we concede a ridiculous goal, too.

"That is the problem. We play so well, we create so much and [we do not always win].

"We have to improve. We concede too many goals and it's very frustrating. If I was one of my attacking players, I'd be very frustrated that behind we are not able to stop it, so it's frustrating.

"But it's also a great feeling to know the team never gives up, that even in the most difficult circumstances, we go and we go and we go and we go and we go. So I want to praise that fantastic spirit."

Meanwhile, the head coach, who has typically favoured physically imposing squads throughout his managerial career, suggested Spurs were helpless to prevent certain set-piece shortcomings.

"In the beginning, we were conceding lots of goals on corners. We stopped that," Mourinho said. "The other day, we conceded against Brighton on a lateral free-kick. But in football, there are things that are very difficult to control.

"And when I am small and you are taller than me by 15 centimetres, there are things in football that are impossible.

"The only solution is when you select players and you make squads and teams, you select a majority of tall players to cope with the physicality of top football either in the Premier League or European competitions."

A wider defensive fix will come in January, Mourinho hopes, but time on the training ground will be treasured over mid-season signings.

"No, no," he reiterated when asked of transfer business. "In January, we have a little bit more time to work, and we are going to try to improve."

Wolves winger Adama Traore would have no problem forgetting his ties to Barcelona if a move to Real Madrid presented itself, though a return to Camp Nou appeals more.

Traore, 23, spent most of his formative years in Barca's academy and had been considered one of La Masia's crown jewels for a long time.

The rapid forward even made his first-team debut in LaLiga as a 17-year-old in November 2013, playing seven minutes in a 4-0 win over Granada.

Barca allowed him to leave for Aston Villa in 2015, with Traore revealing the following year he had become frustrated with a lack of development at the Catalan club, as they kept him in the second team instead of helping him push on.

Concerns over his footballing mindset and end product became apparent at Villa and persisted after moves to Middlesbrough and Wolves, but this season he has taken on a key role at Molineux, even earning a Spain call-up.

As such, talk of a move to a bigger club has surfaced in recent times, and he would not close the door on a potential switch to Madrid, even though it is not a priority.

"If I do not have the option of Barca and I have to go to Real Madrid, I do not close any doors," he said on La Sexta show Jugones, before hinting at a previous issue with La Blaugrana.

"There was a misunderstanding with Barca. Something happened that I didn't like, but I prefer to keep it for myself."

And while Traore is open to returning to Spain, he has a goal to achieve in the Premier League first.

"Yes, why not [return to Spain]," he said. "But I made a promise to become one of the best in England."

Roy Hodgson is confident nobody at Crystal Palace is looking to sell star winger Wilfried Zaha in January, but he recognises "serious" bids would have to be considered.

Zaha was widely linked with moves to both Everton and Arsenal in the previous transfer window, with Hodgson acknowledging the player was unhappy when no transfer materialised.

Palace reportedly set a £100million asking price, which neither club would go to, with fellow suitors Chelsea serving a transfer ban at the time.

However, Chelsea's suspension has since been reduced, meaning they can make signings next month, and Zaha continues to be mooted as an option.

Earlier in December, agent Federico Pastorello told Sky Sports News the Ivory Coast international "deserves a new challenge and a top club".

Hodgson said ahead of a Premier League trip to Norwich City to start 2020: "Wilfried is not for sale. I don't need assurances.

"We are not trying to sell Wilfried Zaha, we have got to try to keep Wilfried Zaha.

"So, what assurances can people give us? I have the assurance that nobody at the club is trying to sell Wilfried Zaha.

"But, of course, you never know where bids are going to come from, and whenever there is a serious bid for one of your players, the board of directors will take it seriously."

Before any such offer arises, Hodgson's focus is on boosting a squad ravaged by injuries with new signings.

"[Zaha's sale] is certainly not something we are looking for, and by the same token, everyone at the club is aware that we need strengthening," the manager said.

"We need certain players. We need strengthening in certain areas where we do not have the cover or the competition that we need. I believe that we need to try to put that right, too.

"If you're asking me if I get assurances, you can't get assurances unfortunately.

"You only get people saying, 'This is what needs to be done, this is the next step for us going forward', and then hope that leads to players coming through the door who we want, who would make our squad stronger."

Pep Guardiola dismissed the "genius" tag given to him by Carlo Ancelotti and warned that the Italian's Everton side would test Manchester City.

After the new Toffees boss described Guardiola in glowing terms in his own news conference, the City coach reciprocated the praise for one of European football's most decorated coaches.

City bounced back from defeat at Wolves by beating Sheffield United 2-0 at home on Sunday and will hope to end Ancelotti's 100 per cent record in the 60-year-old's third game in charge of Everton at the Etihad Stadium on New Year's Day.

"Everton is Everton, one of the biggest, most traditional, historical teams in England with incredible quality in its players," Guardiola told reporters.

"They struggle a bit this season for points but the quality is there, with a new manager with incredible experience.

"A manager like Carlo with his incredible capacity, he is one of the smartest guys and always he is able - it doesn't matter which team he takes, he makes them work.

"I know him quite well. We played a few times against [each other], not much. His teams always beat our teams. He is an incredible gentleman. He conducted some of the greatest and more experienced teams in Europe, the list is huge. When that happens it's because you're an incredible manager.

"It's incredible news for English football that he's back. He can do an incredible job at Everton."

Guardiola confirmed that defender John Stones and midfield playmaker David Silva were both fit to face Everton after recovering from injuries, but he said his side's packed fixture list is putting players at risk.

City take on Everton, Port Vale and Manchester United in the first seven days of January and Guardiola said short breaks in between games were making recovery difficult.

"We have five games in 12 days," said Guardiola. "It's quite similar for the other teams but in this period one or two more days to recover is a lot.

"We take the risk, it was the same in the last game: 80 minutes with 10 against 11 in a difficult test against Wolves, then we train for two days and come back and play. It's a risk but you have to take it."

Jurgen Klopp says there is an "immense" desire to win trophies in a Liverpool squad boosted by key signings and the experience of having come so close before.

The Reds won the Champions League in June, 12 months on from a final defeat to Real Madrid, and they are on course to claim the Premier League title for the first time, having been edged out by Manchester City in 2018-19.

Klopp's side have also picked up the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup along the way, with Liverpool's seven-year trophy drought at the start of the calendar year now long forgotten.

"Is it greed? I'm not sure. It's like this desire you want to have trophies," Klopp told ESPN, with Liverpool 13 points clear in the Premier League with a game in hand. "I don't think it's real greed.

"We have improved our opportunities obviously with different things, with the players we brought in and [the ability] to work together for a while of course with more experience. Stuff like this.

"Getting used to different situations more and more [is also helpful]. You know a defeat is a defeat, but if you learn, it still makes sense, like the Champions League final the year before, when we lost that.

"It's not that we really learned something from the final, but the way to the final or the way to the next final, the experience for me before helped us a lot.

"I really think our desire is immense. It's big, it's massive to win more trophies. If it's greed, I don't know, but yeah, who cares?"

Klopp is well aware of the magnitude of potentially ending Liverpool's 30-year wait for a top-flight championship - "People tell me that constantly," he says - but he insists the team have never been "dreamers" and will continue to work hard for their success.

"We are not dreamers," Klopp said. "We work for the things we want to have and, if you work for it, it's not guaranteed that you get it.

"It's only chance that you get anything, and that's what we try and that's exactly what we did again [this season]

"The mood was brilliant when we started the season again. We play for everything. The Super Cup is a good example. We didn't know exactly how important it is. When we won it, it felt sensational, but we had no clue before."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects Paul Pogba to be fit to play for Manchester United in their New Year's Day clash with Arsenal as he continues his comeback from a foot injury.

Pogba was a surprise omission from the United squad in Saturday's 2-0 win over Burnley, having previously made substitute cameos against Watford and Newcastle United following almost three months on the sidelines.

The World Cup-winning midfielder has made just seven league appearances for the Red Devils this season after starting all but four of their Premier League games in 2018-19.

Solskjaer said Pogba was not far away from being fit to face Burnley, and indicated the France international will be involved at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday after not being risked at Turf Moor.

Asked whether Pogba is in contention to play, Solskjaer told reporters: "Yeah, I would think so.

"When you've been out for such a while, it's always going to take time to be 100 per cent [fit].

"He just needed another day, probably, of recovery."

Carlo Ancelotti described Pep Guardiola as "a genius" - despite admitting Manchester City's levels have dropped since last season - as he prepares to take his Everton side to the Etihad Stadium.

Former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss Ancelotti has overseen victories in both of his matches in charge of the Toffees since taking over from caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, but he said facing the champions on New Year's Day would be a stern test.

Third-placed City are 14 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool after suffering two defeats in their last five league outings, but Ancelotti said he still regards Guardiola as a master of the game.

"Pep is a fantastic manager," Ancelotti told reporters. "I have a good relationship with him. 

"We met some times, not a lot in games, but at some conferences in Italy. I have a good relationship with him and a lot of respect for his job.

"He is, at a certain point, a genius because he has always tried to do something special on the pitch.

"City are maybe not on the level of last year but they remain a fantastic team with fantastic players and a fantastic manager, so for us it will be really, really tough to compete with them but we need to have the confidence and focus on our football.

"Against City will be a fantastic test for us to see where we are in the sense that it's a really strong team but we have confidence to do our best. It's good to have this kind of test. We have to be happy to compete with the best teams in England and in Europe."

Everton beat Burnley 1-0 at Goodison Park in Ancelotti's first game in charge and then won 2-1 at Newcastle United, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring all three of the Toffees' goals under the Italian.

Asked whether he would seek to improve his squad when the transfer window opens in January, Ancelotti said he would wait until after Everton's FA Cup clash with Liverpool on January 5 before speaking to the club's board.

"The market is not open yet," said the 60-year-old.

"There are a lot of rumours, that is normal. Everywhere in the world is like this, Italy is the same. We are not looking in this moment.

"After the fifth of January I'm going to have a meeting with the club and we can talk about if it's possible to try to improve the squad. In my opinion it's a good squad.

"Some players I didn't know very well but we've started training together and I know them better."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not looking for any quick fixes in the January transfer market and will resist the urge to adopt short-term thinking just to bolster Manchester United's Champions League push.

There have been signs of improvement from United in the month of December, Solskjaer's side winning six matches across all competitions and climbing to fifth in the Premier League ahead of the New Year's Day meeting with Arsenal.

The club's injury list is shortening, too, with Paul Pogba back in the fold, yet it still appears likely there will be at least one new arrival at Old Trafford in the next month.

Although Solskjaer's side have already missed out on one potential "long-term" option after Salzburg teenager Erling Haaland instead joined Borussia Dortmund, they will be looking out for similar players who can offer more than merely a short, sharp impact.

"I'm a striker. By nature, I've always been optimistic. I'm optimistic we can keep players fit," Solskjaer said ahead of facing Arsenal. "And if the right ones become available, we do have the resources, and I do have the backing from the board.

"But it's all about getting the right ones - it has to be. There's no point bringing someone else in now just for the sake of three or four months.

"That could disrupt the chemistry in the group. The chemistry in the group is really good. It has to be the right type, it has to be a good investment for the club for the long term."

The manager believes the easing of an injury crisis has already ably boosted his squad heading into January, though.

"If we can keep this lot fit and if we can keep on improving, one or two additions [could make a difference]," he said. "It's competition for places - that's what you've got to deal with at this club.

"We haven't had enough because we've had so many injuries, but now we're getting more and more players fit, so I've got to leave players out that I maybe should have played."

Even before Haaland's swift ascent this term, United were linked with strikers after Romelu Lukaku left for Inter.

But Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are all now firing in attack, meaning Solskjaer believes the club were right not to invest before the campaign.

He said: "We always believed Anthony and Marcus were going to score goals, but Mason's filled a big void. He's chipped in with goals. I'm not worried about goals from the forwards.

"Romelu's a good striker and he'll always score goals, but it was time for him to move on and we didn't find the right one outside of our club. We had Mason."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes 2020 can be a year of personal success as he attempts to deliver his first trophies as Manchester United manager.

United end 2019 in fifth place in the Premier League table, their 2-0 win at Burnley leaving them four points adrift of the top four.

That relatively comfortable victory at Turf Moor concluded a turbulent decade for the Red Devils, in which they have appointed four permanent managers but failed to win the domestic title since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Solskjaer's side have been frustratingly inconsistent this season, but they have won six of their past eight games in all competitions and head into the new year with a chance of winning the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and the Europa League.

The former United striker thinks his young team are getting closer to the identity he wants to see and is fully confident the coming decade will see the club restored to the top of English football.

"I'm going to make 2020 a good year for myself," he said ahead of United's trip to Arsenal on January 1.

"I think we're on the right track. We are in a transitional period - we've seen other clubs do it and come out stronger after a couple of years. We will come strong this decade, definitely. That's just in the nature of this club.

"We're improving, and I think we can see more and more of what we want to be and our identity, what we're good at. We're making games suit our style more and more. We've played the same way for a little while, and we're getting used to each other.

"We're quite a bit away still from where we want to be, but I think we're the youngest team in the Premier League this week. We'll have ups and downs, but there'll be less and less and less, hopefully, of the downs."

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