Manchester City could be without star striker Sergio Aguero for the first two months of their Premier League campaign.

Aguero missed the conclusion of last season, including City's dispiriting 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon, after suffering meniscus damage during June's 5-0 win over Burnley.

The 32-year-old Argentina international had to undergo surgery and was operated on in Barcelona by Dr Ramon Cugat, City manager Pep Guardiola's preferred surgeon.

Initially there had been hope Aguero could play a part in the latter stages of the 2019-20 Champions League and the player posted footage of himself dribbling a ball at City's Etihad Campus training base to social media this week.

But Guardiola looks set to be without the club's all-time leading scorer for a considerable time beyond Monday's trip to face a Wolves side who beat City twice last season.

"We knew that the injury was difficult," Guardiola said. "He is doing the [recovery], in maybe one month or two months he will be ready.

"Two months, because he has to come back on the pitch and regain the physical condition.

"Sergio was out for a long time and Sergio is not a guy who regains the physical condition quick, so I think in one month or two months he will be ready."

The time-frame outlined by Guardiola could mean Aguero misses City's first three Champions League group games of the season, along with Liverpool's visit to the Etihad Stadium on November 7.

Opta focus - Sterling and Jesus must find clinical edge in Aguero's absence

Earlier in the transfer window, it appeared possible Guardiola would have Aguero's international team-mate Lionel Messi to call upon.

As it is, a considerable weight of the attacking burden at City will now fall upon Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

Sterling and Jesus enjoyed their most prolific seasons individually in 2019-20, scoring 31 and 23 goals respectively across all competitions.

However, both missed glorious chances during the second half of that sapping defeat to Lyon, with Sterling's particularly glaring as he blazed over a gaping goal from five yards.

A look at how the Brazil and England forwards compare to Aguero in terms of their Premier League numbers does suggest City might be found wanting when it comes to having a clinical edge.

Although Sterling outscored Aguero in the English top flight for the first time in his career last term - scoring 20 to his team-mate's 16 - the former Atletico Madrid striker's goals came at a rate of one every 91 minutes, compared to Sterling's average of one every 133 minutes. Jesus' 14 Premier League goals came in at one every 144.8 minutes.

Aguero's conversion rate of 21.05 per cent also stood above his team-mates, although Sterling ran him close on 20.2 per cent. Jesus netted from 13.86 per cent of his 101 shots, which amounted to more attempts than Sterling (99) and Aguero (76).

However, the spectre of the Lyon game looms - as it does over much surrounding Guardiola and his squad for their forthcoming season - when considering Opta's 'big chances' metric.

Despite his well-earned reputation, Aguero was not infallible in such situations, converting 52 per cent of his big chances with 13 scored and 12 missed.

Sterling's big chance conversion rate was 42.2 per cent, with 19 missed and 14 scored, while Jesus scored from only 29.4 per cent of his most gilt-edged opportunities.

The 23-year-old Jesus missed 24 big chances, netting only 10. Those are numbers that will have to improve considerably in Aguero's absence if Guardiola's City are to once again locate the relentless rhythm that brought them back-to-back Premier League titles and make a case for dethroning Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola had no interest in signing Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich because he believes Manchester City are well enough stocked in central midfield.

Thiago broke into Barcelona's first team during Guardiola's time in charge at Camp Nou and the Catalan tactician made him the flagship signing for his first season at Bayern in 2013-14.

Nevertheless, the Spain playmaker is now on the brink of joining Liverpool and bolstering Jurgen Klopp's bid for back-to-back league titles at Anfield.

Speaking ahead of City's season opener at Wolves on Monday, Guardiola told reporters that even the departure of club great David Silva at the end of last season - a man with similar qualities to Thiago when it comes to dictating the tempo of the play and operating shrewdly in tight spaces - did not make him feel the need for reinforcements.

"We have in this position enough players and normally we have to move the players when we need someone in that position," said Guardiola, whose club were linked with a sensational swoop for Lionel Messi before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona. "We have enough players in this position."

The likes of Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan will be among those vying for places alongside Kevin De Bruyne in City's creative department, although Guardiola acknowledges Thiago is likely to thrive for their title rivals.

"I'm happy to see him in England, England is going to enjoy a really good player," he said.

The hope that City youth product Foden can make another significant step forward this season was compromised by the 20-year-old's widely discussed antics on international duty with England earlier this month.

Foden and Manchester United teenager Mason Greenwood were banished from Gareth Southgate's squad, having broken coronavirus protocols by entertaining women at the team hotel in the aftermath of making their international debuts in a 1-0 win over Iceland.

"In the time I saw him, these three or four days we were together, he's well" Guardiola said. "He knows he made a mistake and that's all."

Foden excelled in the wide attacking positions for City after lockdown last season but Guardiola confirmed he will be considered as an option in a central role so familiar to the likes of Silva and Thiago.

"He can play in that midfield position, or striker, or winger," the City boss added. "He can play up front without a problem."

Pep Guardiola insisted it was not right for him to talk on Lionel Messi's behalf after the transfer saga that saw the Barcelona superstar heavily linked with a move to Manchester City.

Messi asked to leave Barca in the tumultuous aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

City were widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature, with a reunion between Messi and Guardiola heavily tipped to happen before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona for the final year of his contract, accusing president Josep Maria Bartomeu of going back on his word and making the financial cost of any deal for a buying club "impossible".

LaLiga backed Barca in confirming the €700million release clause in Messi's contract remained valid.

Speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Wolves, where City will begin their attempt to unseat Liverpool and win a third Premier League title in four seasons, Guardiola was keen not to cause any friction with his former employers.

"I think I don't have to explain anything," he said. "Leo explained quite well his feelings, I don't have anything to add.

"He's a football player for FC Barcelona, the club I love, and there is nothing more to say."

Asked whether City would be interested in signing Messi were he to become available, at the age of 34, when his contract expires in June, Guardiola replied: I don't know. It's a question for Leo Messi. I cannot talk about the intentions of other people."

Guardiola's forward line at Molineux will be entirely without Argentinian talent after he confirmed City's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero is yet to resume full training following meniscus surgery in June.

Riyad Mahrez is set to feature after time in isolation following a positive coronavirus test, although centre-back Aymeric Laporte only returned to training from his own COVID-19 absence on Friday, so is a doubt.

That could mean a debut for Nathan Ake at centre-back, one of two major close-season acquisitions for Guardiola, alongside winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

"So far really good," he said of how Ake and Torres had settled.

"What we have to do with all the players and staff, the people close to them, is to help them to settle as quickly as possible.

"They are two nice people and it's good to have them with us."

City have been extensively linked with a move for Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, with the deal appearing to have stalled over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has no qualms over how his club have backed him in the transfer market.

"Since day one, when I arrived here, I was more than satisfied with what I had in the team," he added.

"The club do absolutely everything to do their best for all of us. I'm a lucky person to have these players and be in this club."

Tottenham could face Chelsea in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, while Liverpool will meet Leicester City or Arsenal if they advance.

With the early rounds of this year's competition packed into the month of September due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fourth-round draw took place on Thursday before next week's third-round fixtures.

The premature process means Spurs and Chelsea each have work to do - against Leyton Orient and Barnsley, respectively - if they are to set up a mouth-watering last-16 meeting.

Former Blues manager Jose Mourinho will hope to guide Tottenham towards their first piece of silverware since 2008, when they won this competition.

With Spurs advancing in the Europa League, they are still on course to play a staggering nine matches before the October international break.

Meanwhile, the pick of the third-round ties takes Arsenal to Leicester, yet the winners are likely to face another difficult fixture as Liverpool will be their opponents if they beat Lincoln City.

Holders Manchester City must beat Bournemouth to reach a trip to either Millwall or Burnley, while Manchester United will go to Preston North End or Brighton and Hove Albion if they get past Luton Town.

 

EFL Cup fourth round draw in full:

Lincoln City or Liverpool v Leicester City or Arsenal
Millwall or Burnley v Manchester City or Bournemouth
West Brom or Brentford v Fulham or Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town or Everton v West Ham or Hull City
Bristol City or Aston Villa v Stoke City or Gillingham
Leyton Orient or Tottenham v Chelsea or Barnsley
Newport County or Watford v Morecambe or Newcastle United
Preston North End or Brighton and Hove Albion v Luton Town or Manchester United

Gareth Bale is returning to Tottenham.

Linked with a move from Real Madrid after being frozen out, the Wales international was reportedly a target for Manchester United.

But it seems Bale is heading back to Spurs.

 

TOP STORY – BALE TO COMPLETE TOTTENHAM RETURN

Bale is completing a return to Tottenham from Madrid, according to The Daily Mail.

The report says Bale has agreed to a season-long loan deal worth more than £13million, part of which will be financed by Madrid.

It comes as ESPN reported Spurs head coach Jose Mourinho sanctioned the move despite being warned Bale would struggle to meet expectations in the Premier League.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Tottenham and Sergio Reguilon will complete a medical at the club on Thursday before sealing a move from Madrid, according to the Evening Standard. The left-back, who was also linked to United, is set to cost around £25m (€27.5m) and the deal will include a buy-back option for LaLiga's champions. Meanwhile, the Mirror reports Danny Rose is set to leave Tottenham and join Genoa.

- Arsenal could be set to make a move for Lyon star Houssem Aouar. Telefoot reports Arsenal are set to make a £36.4m (€40m) offer for Aouar, who is also apparently a target for Manchester City.

- Still linked with a move for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, United are also apparently targeting other attackers. The Manchester Evening News reports the Red Devils are considering a move for Atalanta's 18-year-old attacker Amad Traore.

- Barcelona may be close to strengthening. The Daily Telegraph claims the Catalan giants are set to sign Ajax defender Sergino Dest, who was also linked to City and Bayern Munich.

- Could Inter make a move for United defender Chris Smalling? The centre-back seemed set to join Roma, where he was on loan last season, but no switch has materalised. Now, CalcioMercato reports Inter could step in and offer one of Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic or Joao Mario to the Premier League club.

- Leicester City are set to land Cengiz Under from Roma. Fabrizio Romano says a £2.7m (€3m) loan bid with a £21.8m (€24m) obligation to buy the 23-year-old attacker has been accepted.

Manchester City's latest Premier League title pursuit belatedly gets under way at Wolves on Monday.

Prior Champions League involvement saw Pep Guardiola's men sit out the opening weekend of the new season, while their meeting with Wolves is the final fixture of the second round.

City's rivals will have played twice by the time Kevin De Bruyne and Co take to the field, meaning they will be desperate for a fast start at Molineux.

But Wolves beat City twice last term as their championship defence came off the rails.

Do Guardiola's side have a problem with opponents like the high-flying Wanderers? Opta advanced metrics delve deeper...

ARE THREE-MAN DEFENCES AN ISSUE?

Wolves have regularly lined up with a back three since their promotion to the Premier League two years ago, even if the shape in front of that defence occasionally changes.

The ever-present Conor Coady was flanked by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss in a 3-5-2 at the Etihad last term, while Leander Dendoncker joined Coady and Saiss in the back line for a 3-4-3 for the return fixture.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side came out on top in both matches, yet of the nine occasions City faced a three-man defence between the start of last season and January 26, those were the only two defeats for Guardiola's men. They also drew with Atalanta's 3-4-1-2.

However, in the remainder of the season, that statistic was turned on its head. Other teams followed Wolves' lead and City struggled to break down their opponents.

Manchester United's 3-4-1-2 twice toppled City, while Arsenal's 3-4-3 and Lyon's 3-5-2 also secured victories. City scored only once across those four matches and were regularly caught out on the counter.

A 1-0 win at Leicester City - who played 3-5-2 - on February 22 represents the last time City beat a team using a back three.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO CITY'S PRESS?

Such systems have been particularly prevalent in the Premier League since Antonio Conte's Chelsea won the title in 2016-17, so why are City - champions in 2017-18 and 2018-19 - suddenly struggling?

The season before last, when Guardiola's men held off a challenge from Liverpool, City's pressing clearly led the way.

They ranked top in the division for high turnovers within 40 metres of an opponent's goal (217), high turnovers that led to either shots (43) or goals (nine), pressed sequences where opponents managed three or fewer passes within 40 metres of their own goal (578), the average starting position of their open play attacks (46.1m up the field) and opposition passes allowed per defensive action (10).

Teams like Wolves, who could defend in numbers and aim to counter, would quickly find sky blue shirts in their faces as they tried to launch attacks.

But while City actually improved in some respects in 2019-20, rivals also got to grips with the system. City had 252 high turnovers but were only joint-best in the Premier League. An increase to 587 pressed sequences was merely the third highest tally.

One new area for concern as City pressed their opponents was an inability to capitalise on their high turnovers, meanwhile, scoring only six times despite creating 65 shots.

And now facing an effective press, City increasingly committed costly mistakes at the back. There were 21 defensive errors that led to shots last season, up from 15 the previous campaign, while the number that ended in goals rose from two to a worrying seven.

The defeats to Wolves were littered with loose passes and rash decisions. In the 3-2 at Molineux, Ederson was sent off early and then Raheem Sterling and Benjamin Mendy each lost possession prior to goals.

IS AYMERIC LAPORTE THE KEY?

A calming presence at the back as well as an excellent defender, Aymeric Laporte might prove key to these tricky encounters for City.

The Frenchman was missing for both matches against Wolves, defeats that contribute to a tally of eight in the league when he has been absent since joining the club. By contrast, City have only lost six Premier League matches with Laporte in the side.

His winning percentage is a remarkable 84.7, compared to 61.3 for the team when he is out. City earn 2.6 points per game with Laporte and 2.0 without him.

Laporte scored an equaliser at Wolves in 2018-19, although City could not go on to win on that occasion in the first of a series of well-matched meetings between the sides.

Guardiola has won just 20 per cent - one of five - games against Nuno, his lowest such record against any one coach.

Yet City are not the only elite team to struggle against Wolves, who have taken 28 points over 24 clashes with the 'top six' since returning, a haul only bettered by Liverpool and City themselves. Guardiola's side have been warned.

Borussia Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre is making the same mistakes as Pep Guardiola with his team selection, according to Bayern Munich great Lothar Matthaus.

Dortmund finished 13 points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga last season, with May's 1-0 home loss to Hansi Flick's side proving pivotal in a previously tight title race.

Joshua Kimmich's wonderful chip proved decisive at Signal Iduna Park as Bayern opened up a seven-point lead at the summit that they would only extend.

Favre left attacker Jadon Sancho and Emre Can on the bench until half-time due to fitness concerns, which Matthaus believes proved costly in the grand scheme of things.

And in his latest swipe at Manchester City boss Guardiola, who he described as "egocentric" earlier this month, Matthaus accused Favre of unnecessarily tweaking his side. 

"Not starting Sancho and Emre Can in a top game like against Bayern made the difference in the 1-0 defeat in the second half of the season," he told Sport Bild.

"It reminds me of Pep Guardiola's mistake in the Champions League against Lyon when he put Kevin De Bruyne on the right instead of his regular position."

Dortmund thrashed Duisburg 5-0 in round one of the DFB-Pokal on Monday and take on Borussia Monchengladbach in their opening 2020-21 Bundesliga fixture this weekend.

Despite last term's runners-up keeping hold of most of their key players this window and adding Jude Bellingham, Thomas Meunier and Reinier, Matthaus cannot see past a ninth title in a row for Bayern.

"Dortmund would become champions if Bayern weren't in the Bundesliga," he said.

"Otherwise, BVB need a 100-per-cent season and Bayern to make mistakes at the same time. But it was Favre who made these mistakes last season." 

Could Tottenham and Gareth Bale reunite?

Bale, who left Tottenham for Real Madrid in 2013, is not wanted in the Spanish capital.

While Manchester Untied are reportedly interested, former club Spurs are Bale's preference.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS LEAD BALE RACE

Tottenham are ahead of Premier League rivals Manchester United in the pursuit of Real Madrid outcast Gareth Bale, according to ESPN.

Bale has reportedly been told he can leave Madrid after falling out of favour with head coach Zinedine Zidane.

The Welshman wants to return to former club Tottenham after leaving Spurs for Madrid in 2013 and the Telegraph claims Dele Alli could be included in a deal to bring Bale back to London.

While United's interest is believed to be serious, it all depends on whether they are able to sign number one target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Transfer Podcast reports United believe that if they leave final negotiations for Sancho until the last week of the transfer window, Dortmund will eventually cave in and sell the England international. Dortmund have refused to budge on their €120million (£108m) valuation.

- The Mirror claims Arsenal are close to offloading unwanted trio Sead Kolasinac, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira. Kolasinac has been linked to West Ham, Valencia are considering Guendouzi and Torreira has been tipped to join Torino. The Gunners want to keep full-back Hector Bellerin but he may be sold to Paris Saint-Germain.

Roma are poised to sign Juventus full-back Mattia De Sciglio, reports Fabrizio Romano. It comes as Juve close in on Roma striker Edin Dzeko, while Roma Press says the latter are set to complete the capture of Hellas Verona defender Marash Kumbulla. He had been linked to Inter, Lazio and Juve.

-  Luis Suarez's move to Juve has collapsed, says RAC1. The Barcelona veteran had been tipped to leave Camp Nou for Turin but a delay in an Italian citizenship test has reportedly scuppered the deal. Atletico Madrid are now an option for the Uruguayan.

- The Mail claims Bayern Munich are ready to renew their interest in Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Englishman was linked to Bayern last year before opting to sign a new deal. Now, Hudson-Odoi could swap London for Munich before the October 5 deadline, with Juve also reportedly eyeing the Chelsea star.

- Diario AS reports Turkish giants Fenerbahce are eyeing Atletico's Diego Costa. Fenerbahce just sold striker Vedat Muriqi to Lazio and may use the transfer funds to bring Costa to Istanbul.

United had been favourites to land Sergio Reguilon from Madrid but the Telegraph and widespread reports say Tottenham are poised to sign the Spanish full-back. United have been reluctant to include a buy-back clause in any deal with Madrid.

- According to Sport Bild, Liverpool have contacted Bayern regarding Thiago Alcantara but the asking price is too high. United and Barca are also reportedly interested.

Memphis Depay will reportedly join Barcelona, who are having problems in their pursuit of Lautaro Martinez.

After a trophy-less 2019-20 season, LaLiga giants Barca are rebuilding under Ronald Koeman.

They have been linked with numerous forwards, and one looks set to join as early as this week.

 

TOP STORY – DEPAY TO JOIN BARCELONA

Lyon star Depay will join Barcelona and his €30million move could be announced this week, according to De Telegraaf.

The move would see the forward reunite with his former Netherlands coach Koeman.

Depay scored 15 goals in 22 games for Lyon last season, during which he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona's move for Martinez is more complicated. Sport reports they are waiting for exits before making a move, while Real Madrid and Manchester City are keeping an eye on the forward. Meanwhile, Fabrizio Romano claims Inter will have another meeting with Martinez's agents after the transfer window to extend his contract beyond 2023. It comes as Sport also believes former Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani has offered his services to Barca.

- Staying at Barcelona, Mundo Deportivo reports they will make a second offer for Eric Garcia. It says they are prepared to pay €15m (£13.9m) for the Manchester City defender, but the Premier League club want €18m (£16.7m). Meanwhile, Marca says Atletico Madrid have rejected a £92.5m (€100m) bid from City for defender Jose Gimenez.

- At Madrid, the attention is on a possible move for Kylian Mbappe next year. AS reports Los Blancos have an advantage over other clubs in their pursuit of the France international due to the forward's admiration for French coach Zinedine Zidane.

- Gareth Bale continues to be linked with Manchester United. The Sun reports United are preparing to make a loan move for the Real Madrid forward, whose high wages have seemingly made an exit from the Santiago Bernabeu difficult.

- United are also poised to make other moves. The Premier League giants are considering a move for Valencia midfielder Uros Racic, according to The Sun, which says the Serbian midfielder could be available for £28million (€30.3m). Meanwhile, Fabrizio Romano claims United are in talks with Sergio Reguilon's agents, but club officials are unwilling to accept Real Madrid retaining a buy-back clause for the left-back.

- Lucas Torreira could be set for the Arsenal exit. CalcioMercato reports Torino have agreed to pay €24m (£22.2m) for the 24-year-old midfielder.

Manchester United may have to wait until Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola leave Liverpool and Manchester City respectively before they win another Premier League title, according to Gary Neville.

Not since legendary manager Alex Ferguson's final campaign at Old Trafford in 2012-13 have United lifted the top-flight crown, finishing in the top two just once since then.

Despite an upturn in form in the second half of last season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ended 33 points behind dominant champions Liverpool and 15 points adrift of runners-up City.

Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year wait to finish top of the pile in English football, coming on the back of successive triumphs for City under Guardiola, including a record points haul in 2017-18.

Former United full-back Neville is confident United will add a record-extending 21st title to their list of honours, but only once there has been a changing of the guard at the Etihad Stadium and Anfield.

"The one thing I can guarantee you is that United will win again," he told The Mirror.

"That might not be this year or next year, but it will be amazing when they win again, and the longer it builds up, the greater the actual feeling is when you do it.

"I'm not sitting here, as a United fan, thinking, 'We must win the league this year'. Yes, we'd like to, but you know when it's your time and it's not yet.

"It will be, maybe, when Klopp and Guardiola leave Liverpool and City - hopefully in the next couple of years!

"That will be the chance, as they're two outstanding managers who have built really good teams, but they'll leave in the next one, two or three years.

"That will be the point when United can come back in and capitalise - I'm sure Chelsea are thinking that way as well.”

Neville has been critical of United's transfer business during the close season, having only brought in midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax so far.

United have been strongly linked with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho all window, but Neville suggested four more signings are needed if his old club are to challenge for the title this term.

"That's out of the question for me, if you ask me today, with the squads that they've got," he said.

"If United were to sign two outstanding forwards, an amazing centre-back and a fantastic left-back in the next three weeks, then maybe."

Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso said Kalidou Koulibaly will stay if the Serie A club's asking price is not met as Manchester City reportedly eye the star defender.

Koulibaly has been heavily linked with Premier League giants City, who are believed to be preparing an offer for the Senegal international.

Manchester United and Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain have also emerged as possible destinations.

However, Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia: "Koulibaly has a precise asking price, and if the club doesn't get the money it is asking for, then he won't leave."

Gattuso was speaking after Friday's 4-0 friendly rout of Pescara in the absence of wantaway forward Arkadiusz Milik.

Roma are reportedly the frontrunners to sign Milik, who is out of contract in 2021 as Napoli look to cash in before losing the Poland international on a free transfer.

Serie A champions Juventus and Tottenham have also been linked and Gattuso reiterated that Milik must leave following the arrivals of Victor Osimhen and Andrea Petagna, who scored against Pescara.

"We were very clear with Milik last year, we told him that he had to renew his contract, but he refused to do so and knows our view on this," Gattuso said.

"If Arek doesn't find another club, then it won't be an easy situation for him, because we have already signed another two forwards. There's no room for him."

The ratings for popular video game franchise FIFA are often a bone of contention for its die-hard fanbase.

But for the professionals too they can clearly be a cause for debate and the latest scores for FIFA 21, revealed on Thursday, have proven no different.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi recently went through a real-life transfer saga, yet his on-pitch qualities were reflected by the fact he is the highest-rated player on the game at 93.

Cristiano Ronaldo drops to 92 this year, while Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Oblak all carry a 91 value.

For some, though, the virtual attributes are not entirely appreciated … step up Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.

"Let's be honest FIFA just mess with the ratings so we players start complaining about the game and give them more publicity..." he wrote on Twitter.  

"I ain't with this s***. I know what I do."

It appears Lukaku, rated 85 overall, was particularly unhappy with a pace attribute of 81, adding: "Did EA Sports not see my goal against Shakhtar Donetsk. What is wrong with them?"

Lukaku was not alone, though, with Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte taking exception to his pace rating of 63.

Laporte posted two pictures on Twitter. Above one in which he was smiling, he wrote: "Waiting for my new FIFA rating." Above another with his head in his hand, he added: "Finding out I have 63 pace."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's rating has dropped to 87 overall, including a slight dip to his pace score, with the Arsenal striker responding to a tweet about the news with a series of, we assume sarcastic, laughing face emojis.

Not everyone was despondent, though. Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said of his 90 rating: "What do you guys think, not bad right?"

Team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold said of his 87 to BBC Sport: "Yeah, I'm happy of course. 87, jeez. Wow, that's high."

However, a shooting score of 66 was contested by the England star.

"I think maybe they put that in there because it's my squad number. I'm hoping. Four goals from full-back ... I don't know," he added.

"I'm not going to challenge it too much. I would have liked it to be higher though."

Eduardo Camavinga is highly coveted following his exploits for Ligue 1 outfit Rennes.

The 17-year-old's stock has also risen after making his first France appearance.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly vying for his signature.

 

TOP STORY – GIANTS GO HEAD-TO-HEAD FOR CAMAVINGA

Real Madrid face competition from Paris Saint-Germain to sign Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, according to Marca.

Camavinga, who made his international debut for France on Tuesday, has been heavily linked with a move to LaLiga champions Madrid.

However, Ligue 1 holders PSG are reportedly determined to keep the 17-year-old in France.

The front page of Friday's AS Diario adds Camavinga, PSG star Kylian Mbappe and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano are being targeted by Madrid in 2021.

 

ROUND-UP

- TyC Sports claims Barcelona have made a new offer for Inter forward Lautaro Martinez. Repeatedly tipped to swap Inter for Barca, Martinez's agents are believed to be in Spain to discuss another bid.

Ronald Koeman has handed Barca a four-player shortlist, including Lyon's Memphis Depay, Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, Inter defender Stefan de Vrij and Manchester City defender Eric Garcia, claims Marca.

- FootMercato reports Madrid are considering a move for City attacker Riyad Mahrez.

- Sky Sport says Inter are convinced they will sign Arturo Vidal from Barca. It comes as Cagliari and Rennes try to sign veteran Nerazzurri defender Diego Godin, while Inter reportedly close in on Parma full-back Matteo Darmian.

- Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud has agreed a provisional contract to join Juventus as the Serie A champions wait on Barca veteran Luis Suarez, claims Sky Sports Italia. Juve have also been linked with Roma's Edin Dzeko, Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik and Alvaro Morata of Atletico Madrid. Andrea Pirlo's Juve have also eyed former forward Moise Kean but Everton are unwilling to do a loan deal, reports Gianluca Di Marzio.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Juve striker Gonzalo Higuain, meanwhile, is set to complete his move to David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS.

Leicester City want to sign Saint-Etienne defender Wesley Fofana but former Foxes boss Claude Puel is reluctant to part with the centre-back, according to Le10 Sport.

Despite a clatter of unhelpful developments around Manchester City, it had at least looked like a useful couple of days for Bernardo Silva.

The Portugal international, City's player of the year when they won an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19, suffered a strangely underwhelming season last time around - especially for a player who seems so in tune with Pep Guardiola's vision and demands.

Lionel Messi arriving in Manchester would have probably blocked Bernardo's route back to a place on the right of City's front three. But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona against his will.

Among Silva's other rivals for the spot, two men who appeared to usurp him in the pecking order last season. But Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden returned positive results for coronavirus and sensational idiocy respectfully on Monday.

There we go Bernardo, the shirt is yours.

On Tuesday, he limped out of Portugal's Nations League match in Sweden with an apparent thigh problem.

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES OF FALLING STOCK?

Even if Guardiola is without Mahrez, Foden and Silva for quarantine, disciplinary and fitness reasons when City begin their campaign at Wolves on September 21, he could still field Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, new signing Ferran Torres or even freshly crowned PFA Player of the Year Kevin De Bruyne on the right of his attack.

The depth and variety of those options handily answers the titular question somewhat early. Of course they can win a third title in four seasons and hit back against Liverpool's rampant brilliance, especially given the quick turnaround from 2019-20 is likely to make fatigue and rotation more decisive than usual.

But the drip-drip of sub-optimal developments for Guardiola in the early days of this month chime with a similar steady stream from last season.

Whether that was grumbles about tight VAR calls, Silva's punishment by the FA for posting a racially offensive cartoon on social media or the club's court case with UEFA rumbling away in the background, it demonstrated how everything must run with perfect smoothness to achieve the levels City did in amassing 198 points over their back-to-back title-winning campaigns, along with showing that any slight drop off will be magnified when challenged to meet near perfection.

Liverpool are now the team aiming to string together three gargantuan points totals in succession. For Guardiola, it must feel like a rubber season in his rivalry with Klopp.

For the past three seasons, Liverpool (two Champions League finals, winning one, and ending a three-decade wait for title glory) and City (Back-to-back titles, and a run at one stage of winning six out of the past seven domestic trophies on offer) have operated on elite terms.

Each has a resounding title success apiece and a shared a knife-edge battle - City prevailing by 98 to 97 points in 2018-19, a year on from becoming the first team in Premier League history to hit 100 points.

FIVE STAR PEP?

Guardiola enters a season that will do much to define his time in England in unchartered territory. Never before has he led a club for five seasons, bowling out after four at Barcelona and helming Bayern Munich for the three immediately before his arrival at the Etihad Stadium.

While this speaks of a man at ease with surroundings tailored to his specifications, free of the political ructions of Camp Nou or an ever-meddling coterie of ex-Bayern players, it feels fair to wonder whether the 49-year-old's famously intense style is built to ward off diminishing returns.

Last season, City scored 102 Premier League goals and were breath-taking at their best. 

The interchangeable forward lines Guardiola rolled out for the EFL Cup semi-final win at Manchester United, each leg of the last-16 Champions League encounter with Real Madrid and the 4-0 ruffling Liverpool's freshly placed crown ranked as some of his most impressive tactical innovations in England and yielded handsome results.

Expect him to explore those setups further, especially with old mentor Juanma Lillo now settled on the backroom staff.

Guardiola was driven to such experiments by the absence of key personnel - Aymeric Laporte and the now-departed Leroy Sane missed large chunks of 2019-20 with knee ligament injuries - and the sight of his tried and trusted 4-3-3 looking tired and worked out on occasions.

A Premier League record of 18 consecutive wins provided the backbone for their 2017-18 success, while 14 triumphs from January to the finishing line bested Liverpool the season after. The most victories they managed in succession last time was five, and those were all dead rubbers behind closed doors. The best they managed with the league on the line was three.

Nothing better underlined City's capacity to lurch from the magnificent to the maddening better than their shambling 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon after comprehensively outclassing Madrid.

THE SCARS OF LISBON

Guardiola rolling out a 3-5-2 was swiftly added to his dossier of Champions League "overthink" but matching Lyon's system made sense in theory. Defeats home and away to Wolves - a factor that will loom over their 2020-21 opener - showed City were vulnerable to teams who could break with pace from the solid foundation established by three centre-backs.

However, the players selected to carry out the task left City muddled. Silva and Foden remaining as unused substitutes was perplexing, as was Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko looking on while right-back Joao Cancelo grappled with left wing-back duties.

The result was a team appearing not to entirely trust their manager's plan, with some of Guardiola's more curious selections heavily inferring there are a group of senior professionals who have lost his trust. How else to explain John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi being unable to get into a back three featuring career midfielder Fernandinho and a teenager in Eric Garcia who is unwilling to sign a new contract?

The one quarter-final absentee who appeared to unquestionably retain the full belief of his coach and be destined for great things this season was Foden, who is now likely to need astute support and guidance to negotiate an ordeal of his own making.

Torres and Nathan Ake were swiftly captured as new recruits but City's other business - they have been heavily linked to Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly - has stalled.

They understandably remained at arms' length as the Messi saga played out, the promise of fantasy football receding back to a reality where Guardiola must replenish the ties between himself and his team that appeared frayed by their Lisbon experience.

There is still so much to recommend about a City team that redefined excellence in a Premier League context. But how much road do they and their feted manager have left to run?

Wolves, Leicester City, Leeds United, Arsenal, West Ham, Sheffield United, Liverpool and Tottenham represent a tricky opening stretch that should tell us plenty about whether last season's wounds were superficial or run much deeper.

Liverpool kick off their first title defence in 30 years against Leeds United this weekend after storming to Premier League glory with a stunning 99-point haul last time around. 

Given their absolute dominance during the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season, it is hardly surprising Jurgen Klopp has chosen not to tinker with his squad during the shortened off-season, with only Konstantinos Tsimikas arriving from Olympiacos so far. 

That means the same group of players who amassed 97 points on their way to second place in 2018-19 and won the title last season will be tasked with achieving a hat-trick of monster points totals. 

Only Manchester City have won back-to-back league titles since Manchester United made it three in a row in 2008-09. Klopp will hope his side fares better than some recent attempts from their Premier League rivals.

2013-14 – Manchester United
Position: 7th
Points: 64 (22 behind champions Manchester City)

Not only did United fail to defend their crown but they were nowhere near the title picture, with David Moyes' dream job and a six-year contract brought to a shuddering halt before the season was out. A 2-0 defeat to Everton in April ended any faint hope of United qualifying for the Champions League and the Old Trafford board had seen enough, as Liverpool and eventual winners City took the Premier League race to the wire.

2015-16 – Chelsea
Position: 10th
Points: 50 (31 behind champions Leicester City)

It had long been known that Jose Mourinho sides had a tendency to fall away during his third season in charge but the capitulation of his Chelsea side in 2015-16 raised - or lowered - the bar. The tone was set by his public lambasting of club doctor Eva Carneiro, which was duly followed by a string of abysmal results. He was sacked in December following a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Leicester City, with Guus Hiddink brought in to restore calm.

2016-17 – Leicester City
Position: 12th
Points: 44 (49 behind champions Chelsea)

Few expected Leicester to conjure up a repeat of their incredible title win, but their descent towards the relegation zone and Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal amid accusations of player betrayal came as a shock. Craig Shakespeare took over from the Italian in February, guiding the Foxes away from the drop zone. 

2019-20 – Manchester City
Position: 2nd
Points: 81 (18 behind champions Liverpool)

Most teams would be more than happy with an 81-point haul, but Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are not most teams. After claiming the Premier League title in back-to-back seasons with 100 and 98-point tallies respectively, many expected them to make it three on the spin. A relentless Liverpool outfit had other ideas, though, with Klopp's men never looking back after a 3-1 win over City in November opened up a nine-point lead at the summit that they would go on to double.

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