Manchester City have signed highly rated 20-year-old winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

Stats Perform News understands the Spain Under-21 international will cost City £21.1million (€23m), plus further add-ons.

City were linked to several young wingers after Leroy Sane's move to Bayern Munich was confirmed at the start of July, with Torres ultimately emerging from the pack to pen a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium.

While perhaps not a like-for-like replacement, Pep Guardiola and City will believe they have got themselves a bargain and pulled off a significant coup in landing Torres, who had also attracted interest from Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

"I am so happy to be joining City," Torres said. "Every player wants to be involved in attacking teams and Manchester City are one of the most attacking in world football.

"Pep encourages a really open, aggressive style, which I love, and he is a manager with a proven track record of improving players. To have him overseeing my development is a dream."

Torres is considered one of Spain's most promising young players, having come through Valencia's academy and made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2017.

A talented and direct winger capable of playing on either flank, though preferring to operate from the right, he enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2019-20.

Having made 24 LaLiga appearances in 2018-19, Torres had even greater exposure to first-team football this term due to injuries, taking full advantage of Goncalo Guedes' long-term absence as he featured 34 times domestically.

He scored four goals and set up another five in LaLiga, while his Champions League strike against Lille in November made him the first player born in 2000 to net in the competition for a Spanish club.

Torres' contract with Valencia was said to contain a €100m release clause, but he had stalled on signing fresh terms, meaning Los Che were never likely to hold out for such a fee given his deal was due to expire next year.

With Valencia failing to qualify for European football next season after a disappointing 2019-20, their final bargaining chip was essentially lost and City have moved swiftly to secure the youngster's future.

Manchester City have signed highly rated 20-year-old winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

Stats Perform News understands the Spain Under-21 international will cost City £21.1million (€23m), plus further add-ons.

City were linked to several young wingers after Leroy Sane's move to Bayern Munich was confirmed at the start of July, with Torres ultimately emerging from the pack to pen a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium.

While perhaps not a like-for-like replacement, Pep Guardiola and City will believe they have got themselves a bargain and pulled off a significant coup in landing Torres, who had also attracted interest from Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

"I am so happy to be joining City," Torres said. "Every player wants to be involved in attacking teams and Manchester City are one of the most attacking in world football.

"Pep encourages a really open, aggressive style, which I love, and he is a manager with a proven track record of improving players. To have him overseeing my development is a dream."

Torres is considered one of Spain's most promising young players, having come through Valencia's academy and made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2017.

A talented and direct winger capable of playing on either flank, though preferring to operate from the right, he enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2019-20.

Having made 24 LaLiga appearances in 2018-19, Torres had even greater exposure to first-team football this term due to injuries, taking full advantage of Goncalo Guedes' long-term absence as he featured 34 times domestically.

He scored four goals and set up another five in LaLiga, while his Champions League strike against Lille in November made him the first player born in 2000 to net in the competition for a Spanish club.

Torres' contract with Valencia was said to contain a €100m release clause, but he had stalled on signing fresh terms, meaning Los Che were never likely to hold out for such a fee given his deal was due to expire next year.

With Valencia failing to qualify for European football next season after a disappointing 2019-20, their final bargaining chip was essentially lost and City have moved swiftly to secure the youngster's future.

Five months after the Champions League and Europa League were halted, the continent's creme de la creme are ready to finish what they started.

Atletico Madrid's dramatic extra-time win at Anfield seems an age ago, as does Manchester United's 5-0 thrashing of LASK, with those results two of the final matches to occur before the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season.

Now, with those domestic leagues and cup competitions that did return having finished, the focus is solely on Europe's elite.

The Europa League resumes on Wednesday, with the Champions League coming back on Friday - both competitions reaching a conclusion this month with mini tournaments taking place in different countries.

Here, we detail the who, what, why, where and when.

 

PREVIOUSLY ON... THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND EUROPA LEAGUE

Both the Europa League and the Champions League are at the last-16 stage, but while all 16 teams remain in the Europa League, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Tottenham are all out of Europe's premier club competition.

Their conquerors - Atletico, Paris Saint-Germain, Atalanta and RB Leipzig - all won across two legs prior to pause being pressed on the campaign.

Only six of the eight first legs in the Europa League happened, with four away teams - United, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel claiming advantages, while Istanbul Basaksehir beat Copenhagen 1-0 in Turkey and Wolves drew 1-1 at Olympiacos.

With Spain and Italy being two of the countries initially hardest hit by the pandemic, Sevilla's tie with Roma and Inter's fixture against Getafe could not begin. 

 

SO HOW WILL THIS ROUND CONCLUDE?

Let's deal with the Champions League first.

PSG and Atalanta can put their feet up knowing their quarter-final begins on August 12, the day before Leipzig face Atletico Madrid.

Four last-16 ties remain and the quartet of home teams in the second leg - Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich - will respectively host Real Madrid, Lyon, Napoli and Chelsea in their own stadiums without fans present.

That is also the case in the Europa League, though Sevilla's clash with Roma, and Inter's encounter with Getafe will now be one-off fixtures at neutral venues in Germany.

 

AND FROM THE QUARTER-FINALS ONWARDS?

Due to the need to get this thing wrapped up quickly before the 2020-21 season begins, both the Champions League and Europa League have done away with two-legged affairs for the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Instead every last-eight and last-four match will be decided across 90 minutes - or 120 minutes, or a penalty shoot-out should they be required.

And with the pandemic still a very real threat, the two competitions will be concluded in one city to minimise travel and reduce the risk of spreading COVID within the squads.

Benfica's Estadio da Luz will be the venue for the Champions League quarter-finals, semi-finals and final between August 12 and 23, while those comparative stages in the Europa League, taking place between August 10 and 21, will be staged in Cologne.

 

WILL ALL THE PLAYERS STILL BE INVOLVED?

This stage of the football calendar is typically transfer time and even a global pandemic could not stop that.

So Leipzig's Timo Werner, who scored four times for the Bundesliga club in their run to the last eight, is now on Chelsea's books while winger Leroy Sane has swapped Manchester City for Bayern Munich. Neither man will be able to play for either their new team or their old.

Those like Achraf Hakimi, a recent Inter signing from Dortmund, will also be reduced to a watching brief.

It is a different case for Hakimi's new team-mate Alexis Sanchez, who has been included in Antonio Conte's squad for the latter stages after terms were reached on a loan extension with Manchester United - though a new arrangement will need to be made for him to be available from the quarter-finals onwards.

Sanchez's parent club were not willing to let Roma have loanee Chris Smalling any longer, though, the English centre-back having bade farewell to the Eternal City on Tuesday ahead of his return to United, for whom he cannot feature either given his prior involvement with the Giallorossi.

Things seem to be moving quickly at Manchester United and Jadon Sancho could be on his way to Old Trafford.

Sancho, 20, has been heavily linked with a move to several Premier League giants this close season after starring for Borussia Dortmund.

And a switch to United appears to be close, latest reports indicate.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO PAY €120M FOR SANCHO

Borussia Dortmund expect Manchester United to pay £107.9million (€120m) for Sancho in instalments, according to Sport Bild.

Its report says the Bundesliga club are prepared to accept that as long as the offer is submitted by August 10.

Sancho scored 20 goals in 44 games in all competitions for Dortmund in 2019-20.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Manchester United and Alexis Sanchez is reportedly set for a permanent exit. Gianluca Di Marzio reports Inter and United have reached an agreement over Sanchez, saying he will make his move to the Serie A club permanent on a free, signing a three-year deal worth €7m per year.

- Barcelona are still looking to raise funds. Sport reports the LaLiga club's main transfer targets are Inter star Lautaro Martinez and Manchester City defender Eric Garcia. Meanwhile, Sport also says Barca rejected a £54m (€60m) bid from a Premier League club for 20-year-old forward Francisco Trincao.

- While Manchester City are reportedly set to sign Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake, the Premier League giants are apparently still looking to strengthen elsewhere at the back. ESPN reports City are still interested in Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, as well as Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres.

- There remains uncertainty over Antonio Conte's future at Inter, according to reports. Fabrizio Romano says the head coach held a call with president Steven Zhang with a decision to be made after the Europa League.

- With Willian coming out of contract at Chelsea at the end of the season, the attacker is apparently attracting plenty of interest. France Football reports Arsenal have offered Willian the best deal with their three-year offer.

- Idrissa Gueye could be on his way out of Paris Saint-Germain after just one season. Le 10 Sport reports the Ligue 1 champions want to sell the midfielder, who has been linked to Manchester United and Wolves.

Cristiano Ronaldo would have made Real Madrid favourites to overturn a first-leg deficit in their Champions League tie against Manchester City, according to Emmanuel Adebayor. 

Los Blancos lost 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of the last-16 clash at the back end of February, with the return meeting postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Madrid were outstanding when LaLiga resumed in June, though, winning 10 and drawing their final game en route to beating Barcelona to the title, their first since the 2016-17 season. 

Former City and Madrid striker Adebayor says Zinedine Zidane's side still have the players capable of turning the tie around but the presence of Ronaldo – who won the Champions League four times with the Spanish club before departing for Juventus in 2018 – would have significantly increased their chances. 

"If you had asked me that question two years ago, I would have said yes [Madrid can turn the tie around]," Adebayor told AS.  

"Madrid would have been favourites with Cristiano. Back then, they had Cristiano, who is a goal machine. He can make the difference at any moment and he would give the team 50 goals a season.  

"They lost the first leg at home and it's going to be very difficult without the fans, against Manchester City, the city, the weather but it's not impossible. 

"Madrid have players with a lot of experience like Marcelo, [Karim] Benzema, [Thibaut] Courtois and they are used to playing in big games like this one." 

Adebayor believes Madrid did not fully appreciate how difficult it would be to replace a player such as Ronaldo, who became the club's record goalscorer during nine prolific seasons. 

"Without Cristiano, Madrid know what they have lost, but maybe not what they could have won if he was still there," he added.  

"I think maybe they thought they would get another player like Ronaldo but players like him only come along once every 200 years." 

Karim Benzema has taken on much of the scoring burden and has surpassed 20 LaLiga goals in the past two seasons. 

Adebayor says the French striker is crucial to Madrid, saying: "When Ronaldo left, he had to take up the responsibility and I think he's done really well.  

"He's scored a lot of goals, important goals so he'll be a danger, no doubt about it." 

Adebayor's stint in the Spanish capital was a short one and game time was limited under Jose Mourinho. However, he has nothing but fond memories of the Portuguese coach, describing him as the best ever. 

"I love Mourinho, we had a great relationship and he was the one who brought me to Madrid, although it wasn't easy for him to find a place for me in the side," he said.  

"The only trophy I have ever won was at Madrid with him. Now he's at Tottenham and I wish him the best of luck. He is the best coach in the history of football." 

Sergio Ramos is the best defender in the world and can keep on playing until he is 40, according to former Real Madrid team-mate Rafael van der Vaart. 

Ramos was very influential in helping Madrid end Barcelona's run of success in LaLiga, scoring 11 goals as Zinedine Zidane's squad were crowned champions for the first time since 2017. 

The Spaniard was signed from Sevilla as a teenager in 2005 and was still young when he was joined at the club by Van der Vaart, who stayed at the Santiago Bernabeu for two seasons before joining Tottenham in 2010. 

However, having watched on as his old club secured the title once again, the Dutchman is impressed by how Ramos has matured and, considering his physical condition, sees no reason why the 34-year-old should be thinking of retiring anytime soon. 

"For me, he is the best defender in the world," Van der Vaart told Stats Perform News as part of the UEFA Europa League Trophy Tour. 

"When I was at Real Madrid, he was 21 or 22 and bursting with energy. He wanted to be everywhere. Free kicks, corner kicks, everywhere. 

"Now it is different, he has so much focus now. A focus on winning and he uses all his talents for that purpose. He's aware of his skills, strength and conditioning and that helped him being so important for his team in winning already so many titles. His body is unbelievable, he is a machine. 

"When I was watching a game the other day, I thought, 'how old is he? 34?' I believe he can still be playing for another six years, I've so much respect for him."

With LaLiga won, Madrid will now focus on potential European success as they return to Champions League action. 

They need to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit in their last-16 tie with Manchester City if they are to progress, with the remaining knockout rounds to be staged in Portugal, though Ramos will miss the match against Pep Guardiola's team at the Etihad Stadium due to suspension. 

However, Madrid have been outstanding since the season restarted in Spain midway through June, and Van der Vaart expects a "really interesting" return clash with City, who finished second in the Premier League. 

"Real Madrid have been very, very good after the coronavirus break," he said. "They have all been very focused [on the games]. Including a 10-game winning streak. 

"Karim Benzema and Ramos have been a key part of the team for me, and Zidane for bringing calmness to the team. 

"However, I watched Manchester City against Arsenal playing the semi-final of the FA Cup, as well as other games. They have so much individual talent, so they are always dangerous, for any team, including the magnificent Real Madrid. That's what we've seen in the first leg, so it is going to be a really interesting game." 

Van der Vaart was speaking as part of a Europa League Trophy Tour that has been collecting football boots from fans for Syrian refugees based in Jordan, a cause the former Netherlands international is passionate about. 

"It's great, I remember how incredibly happy I was as a little boy with my football boots. I even put my first pair on to bed and I dreamed of playing football. I hope that all children in the world may experience that kind of childlike joy. I'm so proud that I can help a little bit," Van der Vaart said. 

"We are collecting boots, which hopefully gives a bit more hope and fun for all children. So, I'm proud that I can help a little bit and be a part of it. 

"It's really important [to be able to go out and play]. Now there are so many things, but when I was little you would just go on the street and play. 

"In lockdown it was difficult, of course. You want to meet with friends, you want to go out and play games, but when I started playing it was just me and the ball."

Memphis Depay has links to Manchester United and he might be able to help out his former club.

Depay spent two years at United but struggled before leaving for Ligue 1 outfit Lyon in 2017.

The Netherlands international has since flourished in France, and he could now play a role in United bringing Jadon Sancho to Manchester.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND WANT DEPAY AS SANCHO REPLACEMENT

Manchester United's bid to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho could hinge on Lyon captain Memphis Depay, according to The Sun.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Bundesliga side Dortmund for Premier League giants United in a blockbuster transfer this off-season.

Former United forward Depay has emerged as a possible replacement for Sancho at Dortmund and is reportedly the key to the Red Devils prising the England international to Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Antonio Conte leave Inter after just one season? The Inter head coach took aim at the club after their final game of the Serie A season – a 2-0 win over Atalanta on Saturday to secure second spot behind Juventus. Conte claimed neither he nor his players were protected by the club amid criticism. Now, Sky Sport Italia, SportMediaset, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport claim the damage is irreparable. With Conte facing an uncertain future, former Juve head coach Massimiliano Allegri and ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino have emerged as possible replacements.

- Le10Sport reports Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wants Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele to join the Gunners. Dembele has been linked with a move away from the LaLiga giants, who are reportedly trying to raise transfer funds through sales. Aubameyang himself has been linked to Barca, as well as Paris Saint-Germain and United previously.

Milan are ready to sell Lucas Paqueta, claims Calciomercato. Linked to PSG previously, Serie A rivals Fiorentina are interested in the Brazilian attacker and an exchange involving Viola star defender Nikola Milenkovic could take place.

- According to the Telegraph, Sevilla defender Diego Carlos is at the top of Arsenal's transfer wish list. Premier League rivals Manchester City and Liverpool have also been credited with interest.

- AS Diario says Real Madrid have a clear plan of when they want to pursue their transfer targets amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reluctant to spend after winning LaLiga and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Madrid are focusing on 2021 – PSG's Kylian Mbappe at the top of the list. Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is also wanted next year, while Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is a 2022 target.

Wayne Rooney has suggested Alex Ferguson committed tactical suicide during Manchester United's two Champions League final losses to Barcelona.

Rooney became a European champion under Ferguson when United beat Chelsea on penalties in the 2008 final in Moscow but they fell at the last hurdle in their bid to retain the trophy the following season – running into Pep Guardiola's formidable Barca in Rome.

United had the chance to avenge that 2-0 loss in the Italian capital at Wembley in 2011 but, despite Rooney cancelling out Pedro's first-half opener, superb goals from Lionel Messi and David Villa saw the Blaugrana run out deserved 3-1 winners.

Rooney was discussing how best to approach crunch European nights in his Sunday Times column, previewing the forthcoming Champions League last-16 showdown between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

City hold a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu but Rooney expects the pragmatic approach of three-time winner Zinedine Zidane to pose problems to Guardiola's current side – something that did not always come so easily to Ferguson.

"It's always hard for a club like Real to go into a game saying, 'We'll surrender the ball'," Rooney said

"It is the same for United. But we lost two Champions League finals going toe-to-toe with Guardiola's Barcelona, by trying to press high and get round them, which was suicidal.

"I remember Alex Ferguson saying, 'We're Man United and we're going to attack, it's in the culture of this football club' and thinking,' 'I'm not too sure about this'.

"I think all the players knew, deep down, it was the wrong approach, that we were abandoning the way that had brought us success in that 2008 semi-final — and sure enough both times we got outplayed.

"There is being true to the club, but then there's sitting back afterwards and thinking, 'We lost'.

"For me, it doesn't matter how you do it in these big Champions League games, as long as you win — look at how Liverpool ground it out in last year's final — and I think Zidane has the same mindset."

Rooney feels his old cross-city rivals are well placed to claim an elusive first Champions League crown, although doubts linger over a defence that has appeared suspect against elite opponents this season.

City have lost games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham across all competitions this season.

"Manchester City may never have a better chance to win the Champions League," he added. "Liverpool are out. In my opinion, Bayern Munich are not quite as good as in previous years, and City are 2-1 up against Real Madrid in the round of 16, going into a second leg at home.

"The Champions League is the competition that Pep Guardiola most wants to win and for City to take that next step as a club, this is the trophy they need.

"Friday's second leg at the Etihad is massive. Sergio Ramos is suspended, which is a huge loss to the Real defence, and I think City will score. Whether they are solid enough at the back themselves is my only question about Guardiola's side."

Mikel Arteta thanked Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola after Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final to give the head coach what he described as the best moment of his career.

Arteta left his position as City assistant in December after three years alongside Guardiola to take over from Unai Emery at Emirates Stadium.

The 38-year-old has enjoyed a successful first campaign at Arsenal, culminating in Saturday's win at Wembley to take their record tally of triumphs in the famous competition to 14.

And Arteta, who becomes the first Arsenal boss to win a major trophy in his first season in charge since George Graham in 1986-87, was quick to laud Guardiola.

"He has been a key figure in my development as a coach," he said at his post-match news conference. 

"He has my gratitude. I wouldn't be sitting here today without him. I have to thank him big time."

Arteta also had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to thank after his double turned the all-London final around following Christian Pulisic's early opener for Chelsea.

The Spaniard, who said after the match he is optimistic Aubameyang will sign a contract extension, praised the club captain for another match-winning display.

"Big games require big moments for big players - he did that in the semi-final and now today," he said. 

"People questioning whether he can do it in big games and he's done it today."

Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League - their lowest position since 1994-95 - but have earned a place in next season's Europa League thanks to their win over Chelsea.

Arteta is pleased with the steps his players have taken in his first eight months at the helm and is hopeful that his side can build on their latest domestic cup success.

"I think this is the best moment of my career because I know the difficulties we've been through," he said.

"I had one mission - make the players and staff believe that we could do it. Seeing the change in the dressing room is what makes me more proud.

"I completely understood the needs of this football club. I knew the challenges I was facing when I made a decision to come here and the expectations we will always have. 

"This is the first one. Let's enjoy it today. My players have been fantastic and the staff and everyone upstairs."

Arteta, who only ended his playing career with Arsenal in 2016, added: "I could write a book on my time here. Everyday has presented something different. 

"I'm very lucky the people I have around me for every decision I had to make. Until you are sitting in this seat, you don't know the responsibility you have to make. 

"I'm proud of what we've done."

Ferran Torres believes he is ready for a new challenge, with Manchester City and Valencia this week agreeing a fee for the winger.

Stats Perform News understands City will pay an initial £21.3million (€23m), plus further add-ons, for the Spain Under-21 international.

Talks between the clubs are on-going, but an agreement on the wider terms of the deal is thought to be close as City look to bolster their wing options following the departure of Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich.

Right-winger Ferran, 20, has shown significant promise ever since his senior debut as a 17-year-old and enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2019-20, making the most of Goncalo Guedes' long-term injury absence to become a regular starter.

But with his contract set to expire next year and Valencia effectively losing their final bargaining chip in negotiations when Los Che failed to qualify for European football next term, Ferran has long looked destined for the exit door.

While Ferran remains a work in progress, there is little doubting his ability and potential, and he already feels prepared for the next step.


"As a player, I consider myself to be ambitious, someone that wants to win, win, win," he told BBC Sport.

"As time passes and you feel you are better prepared, then you want to take on greater challenges, experience a change of environment. Yes, I think I am ready to do so.

"Inside I always think that I am the best, and that I want to be the best and I work to try to be the best.

"If you don't believe yourself that you are the best, then no-one is ever going to believe that you are."

Should Ferran – who has also been linked with Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus – eventually join City, the change of language will not be the hurdle it might be to others.

"You have always got to be learning languages because you never know where football will take you tomorrow," he said.

"But above all I am learning English, because English is essential whatever part of the world you are in."

Ferran played 34 LaLiga games for Valencia in 2019-20, scoring four goals and setting up another five.

He will be following in the footsteps of City icon David Silva – who swapped Mestalla for Etihad Stadium 10 years ago – if the deal goes through.

But Ferran will not get to play alongside the 34-year-old playmaker competitively, as he is set to depart when City's season finishes.

Philippe Coutinho has reportedly been offered to two Premier League clubs, while Manchester City are eyeing Sergi Roberto.

Coutinho is expected to leave Barcelona on a permanent deal this close season.

A return to the Premier League has been mooted for the playmaker, and it could be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – COUTINHO OFFERED TO TWO PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS

Coutinho has been offered to both Arsenal and Tottenham, according to The Independent.

The report says Arsenal look the more likely to complete a deal for the Brazil international.

Coutinho has been on loan at Bayern Munich this season, having struggled since arriving at Barcelona from Liverpool in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are linked with a surprise deal. Sport reports the Premier League giants are interested in Barcelona's Sergi Roberto, who wants to remain at Camp Nou.

- Out of contract next year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been linked with a move from Arsenal. The Daily Mail reports Chelsea, who face Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday, were sounded out about a move for the forward in January.

- Inter continue to be linked with a move for Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the Serie A giants are offering star defender Milan Skriniar to Spurs in their bid to land Ndombele.

- After struggling at Manchester City, John Stones is reportedly set for a move. The Sun reports the defender is poised for a £20million move to West Ham, where he would reunite with former Everton manager David Moyes.

- Sami Khedira's time at Juventus could be over. CalcioMercato reports Juve are negotiating to terminate the midfielder's contract.

- Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilon, who has been on loan at Sevilla, is attracting plenty of interest. Sky Sports says Everton lead the race for Reguilon after submitting a bid of £18million (€20m).

Pep Guardiola regards Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side as the biggest challenge he has faced in his managerial career but says going up against Real Madrid made him a better coach.

Manchester City pipped the Reds to the 2018-19 Premier League title in a thrilling race last term but Guardiola's side finished a whopping 18 points adrift of their rivals this time around.

Klopp is a familiar foe on the touchline, with the German having been in charge of Borussia Dortmund during Guardiola's time at Bayern Munich.

Guardiola has faced many rivals as a coach, including legendary Clasico tussles with Jose Mourinho's Madrid during his stint as Barcelona boss.

But the Catalan cannot look beyond this Liverpool class under Klopp as the greatest obstacle he has come up against.

Speaking to DAZN, he said: "The toughest opponent I've faced in my career has been this Liverpool from the last year.

"They've dominated all the records. When you let yourself be dominated and confined in your area, you don't get out.

"When you dominate them, they run into space like nobody else.

"They are very fast going backwards. They are very strong strategically. Their players have great mental strength. [Klopp] is the rival who has made me think about how to beat him the most."

But Guardiola acknowledged the battles he had against Madrid bosses such as Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho improved his skills as a coach.

"I have always said that Real Madrid are a very strong team in my career, they helped me to become a better coach with tough matches and competitions with Jose Mourinho, Pellegrini and all the coaches they had," he added.

"If you ask me which has been the most difficult rival for me to face, it has been Liverpool. The first years when I arrived in England, Liverpool were a bit weaker than now and Real Madrid were stronger.

"Now, this Liverpool are the hardest I have come across in my coaching career."

Guardiola is set to come up against familiar foes Los Blancos next week when City face Madrid in the second leg of their delayed last-16 Champions League tie, which his side lead 2-1 from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid won three straight European titles under Zinedine Zidane before the Frenchman left his position at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.

He returned to the Madrid hot seat in March 2019 and led Los Blancos to the title in LaLiga this term.

Guardiola is a huge admirer of Zidane's, adding: "Although people may not believe me because he is from Real Madrid, I am very happy that things are going well because it is very good for football that things go well for people like him.

"When he has done what he has done, winning three Champions Leagues in a row, taking two LaLiga titles from Barca when they - in this decade - have dominated this competition like no other club, it shows his ability."

Vincent Kompany joined Manchester City in August 2008 – a little more than a week before the club's trajectory was irreversible changed by Sheikh Mansour's takeover.

The centre-back position, where long-serving club captain Kompany excelled and became a club great, has become a focus for the owner's transfer market millions over the intervening years.

However, there have been more expensive misses than hits, with City's struggles after Kompany's departure last year underlining how subsequent centre-back additions have rarely been anywhere near as successful.

Bournemouth's Nathan Ake is set to be the next man into the building, with City reportedly having agreed a £41million fee for the Netherlands international.

Here, we look at the major centre-back signings made by City during the Abu Dhabi era and how they panned out.

KOLO TOURE (ARSENAL £14M, JULY 2009)

A former title winner with Arsenal, Toure was given the captain's armband by Mark Hughes as club stalwart Richard Dunne was ushered out of the door. The Ivory Coast international struggled for consistency, however, and became a back-up option under Roberto Mancini. Arguably his most significant contribution to City's success was his mere presence encouraging brother Yaya to make the move to Manchester.

JOLEON LESCOTT (EVERTON £22M, AUGUST 2009)

Like Ake now and plenty of others in between, the fee City paid Everton for Lescott brought snorts of derision. But the England international established a rock-solid partnership with Kompany that underpinned the 2011-12 Premier League title triumph. City have never appeared quite so settled at centre-back since their alliance broke down the following year.

JEROME BOATENG (HAMBURG £10.5M, JUNE 2010)

Before going on to become one of Europe's elite central defenders at Bayern Munich, Boateng endured an unhappy year in Manchester. Primarily a right-back at that stage of his career, he found his path to the first team blocked by Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta and failed to settle.

STEFAN SAVIC (PARTIZAN £6M, JULY 2011)

Given he was fourth-choice in a season when Kompany and Lescott excelled, it was remarkable how quickly Savic carved out a reputation as an accident-prone liability. A year after signing him, Mancini had lost faith and decided to cut his losses. The steady hand in Atletico Madrid's formidable backline today is a player utterly transformed.

MATIJA NASTASIC (FIORENTINA £12M, AUGUST 2012)

Savic served as a makeweight in the deal to bring Nastasic to the Etihad Stadium. He performed impressively during a largely forgettable 2012-13 campaign, for which Mancini paid with his job. Successor Manuel Pellegrini did not much fancy Nastasic, with injuries further compromising the Serbia international before he moved to current employers Schalke in 2015.

MARTIN DEMICHELIS (ATLETICO MADRID £4.2M, SEPTEMBER 2013)

A loyal lieutenant for Pellegrini, Demichelis left Atletico Madrid without playing a game when the opportunity to reunite with the Chilean coach arose. Long of hair and short of pace, his introduction to the Premier League was fraught and Marcus Rashford skinning him to win a 2016 Manchester derby gave his City career a clanging footnote. However, the Argentina international's experience and steel was vital as the Blues edged out Liverpool in a knife-edge 2013-14 title race.

ELIAQUIM MANGALA (PORTO £42M, AUGUST 2014)

Unperturbed by a massive transfer fee, Mangala was majestic on his debut as 10-man City battled to a 1-1 draw against Chelsea. To be blunt, he never reached those levels again and was rarely close – a slapstick own goal in his next outing at Hull City proving far more representative of what was to come. A popular squad member, Mangala came up short in terms of form, fitness and temperament to unfortunately stand as one of the biggest transfer flops in Premier League history.

NICOLAS OTAMENDI (VALENCIA £32M, AUGUST 2015)

Mangala's struggles sent Pellegrini back into the transfer market for another big-money addition. Otamendi proved scarcely more reliable and the duo generally needed to be watched through one's fingers when paired together. Nevertheless, the Argentina defender's dogged determination saw him become a mainstay during the 100-point season under Pep Guardiola in 2017-18, when he deservedly won a place in the PFA Team of the Year. His error-strewn efforts since have worn increasingly thin.

JOHN STONES (EVERTON £47.5M, AUGUST 2016)

A flagship signing ahead of Guardiola's first season, Stones appears set for the exit door having failed to realise his undoubted potential. He oozed class during the early stages of back-to-back Premier League successes over the previous two seasons, although he tellingly spent large chunks of both run-ins on the sidelines. Injuries have not helped and Guardiola appears to have lost trust in a man who once looked set to be synonymous with his reign.

AYMERIC LAPORTE (ATHLETIC BILBAO £57M, JANUARY 2018)  

For now, Laporte remains City's most expensive central defender and the Frenchman has given considerable bang for their buck after the costly folly listed above. As important to City for his precise and varied range of left-footed playmaking from deep, Laporte is Guardiola's defensive rock. When his cruciate knee ligament injury last August followed a failure to replace Kompany, the writing for 2019-20 was on the wall.

Barcelona are set to re-sign Ansu Fati until 2024, while Real Madrid are eyeing "the new Raphael Varane".

Fati, 17, has been linked with a stunning move to Manchester United after a breakthrough season at Barca.

But the teenage forward seems to be going nowhere.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA TO EXTEND FATI STAY UNTIL 2024

Barcelona are set to renew Fati's contract until 2024, according to the cover of Sport.

Out of contract in 2022, Fati has scored eight goals in 32 games this season, leading to links to Manchester United.

Sport also reports Barcelona are prepared to listen to offers for attacker Ousmane Dembele.

ROUND-UP

- Are Real Madrid looking to sign a new defender? AS reports the LaLiga giants are closely following Monaco defender Benoit Badiashile, who it compares to Madrid star Raphael Varane.

- Raul Jimenez could be set for a Wolves exit. RTP Sport says Jimenez is on his way to Manchester United and Wolves are on the verge of signing Sporting Braga striker Paulinho as his replacement.

- Barcelona may be preparing to strengthen their defence. Mundo Deportivo claims three defenders – Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Paris Saint-Germain's Juan Bernat and Manchester City's Eric Garcia – are within range for the LaLiga giants.

- Tanguy Ndombele continues to be linked with a move away from Tottenham. Sky Sport reports Inter have made contact with Spurs about the midfielder.

- Where to next for Willian? Coming out of contract at Chelsea at season's end, the attacker's future is uncertain. Sky Sports says Chelsea, Barcelona and Inter Miami have made contract offers to the Brazil international.

- A player looking likely to leave Stamford Bridge is Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Sun reports the goalkeeper fears he has played his last game for Chelsea.

- After Dejan Lovren's departure, Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders. COPE reports the Premier League champions have made an offer of £9.1million (€10m) for Real Betis defender Aissa Mandi.

Manchester City are wasting little time in their close-season rebuild after a bid for Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake was reportedly accepted on Thursday.

A deal worth an initial £40million is said to have been agreed with the relegated Cherries as City reinforce options in a defence that drew criticism during Liverpool's march to the 2019-20 Premier League title.

But just what will City be adding to their central defensive options if a deal for Ake goes through?

With some help from Opta, we took a look at the data comparing the Dutch centre-back to Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia, going back to when Ake joined Bournemouth on a permanent deal ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.


CASE FOR THE DEFENCE?

Scoring goals was, unsurprisingly, not a problem for City this season as they racked up a mightily impressive 102 in the Premier League.

Indeed, the 35 they conceded was the second-best record in the division – Ederson claimed the Golden Glove thanks to 16 clean sheets - but represented a dip against the respective 27 and 23 they shipped in the previous two campaigns.

So, will Ake help Pep Guardiola's side improve at the back? There are certainly positive signs.

For instance, Ake has won more tackles (88) and duels (469) than any of Laporte (33 and 226), Stones (32 and 208), Otamendi (71 and 325) or Garcia (1 and 25) in our timeframe.

But, as the more astute among you will recognise, this does not nearly paint a full picture, not least because Ake has comfortably the most appearances with 105, compared to Otamendi (76), Laporte (59), Stones (58) and Garcia (13).

A more useful indicator could be a tackle success rate of 58.67, which ranks third behind Stones (68.09) and Otamendi (64.55). When it comes to duel success percentage, Ake's 58.12 is higher only than Garcia's (42.37).

Indeed, when looking at the data for averages per 90 minutes Ake still performs reasonably well. Only Otamendi (1.08) performs better in terms of tackles won (0.85 for Ake), while the Argentine is the only man to come out on top on average in more duels (4.95 to 4.55).

For aerial balls won, Ake's 2.48 on average per game fairs pretty well compared to Stones (2.92) and Otamendi (2.77) and is better than Laporte's (2.3) and Garcia's (1.25) – albeit the latter has played in far fewer games.

One area on the face of it where Ake excels is blocks and interceptions, where his 88 and 115 are higher than Otamendi's 22 and 99 – the next best of the five for those metrics.

But again there are caveats. When assessing the data on average per 90 minutes, both Otamendi (1.51) and Laporte (1.27) average more than Ake (1.12).

With blocks it appears simply a case of workload. Ake has faced 14.31 shots per 90 minutes. By contrast, Garcia (7.63), Stones (7.03), Otamendi (6.41) and Laporte (6.16) face significantly fewer.


KEEP THE BALL, PASS THE BALL

If you're a defender playing under Guardiola, you need to be as comfortable on the ball as you are off it.

Initial analysis on this department suggests Ake has work to do, although the amount of time City spend in possession certainly should help.

Ake's 3,853 successful passes is lower than Otamendi (5,393) and Laporte (4,580) despite having played the most games, while he ranks second behind the former in terms of successful passes in his own half (2,803) and only ahead of Garcia for successful passes in the opposition half (1,050) – where City defenders spend a lot of their time camped.

His passing accuracy of 85.7 is comfortably the worst, with Stones (94.69) leading the way.

Again, what is important to note here is that it should be expected City's defenders perform better with this measurement, given the amount of time they spend on the ball.

Indeed, City's possession average of 68.89 per cent far outweighs the 45.67 Bournemouth enjoy.

It stands to reason that Ake's numbers could easily improve in this regard when part of a team that, more often than not, will beat their opponents in the possession stats.


FOUL PLAY!

Okay, admittedly this section is a little mischievous…

You see, under Guardiola, City have earned a reputation (rightly or wrongly, we'll let you be the judge) for being somewhat adept at tactical fouls.

Over our time period, Ake has committed 64 fouls, more than Otamendi (57), Laporte (40), Stones (17) and Garcia (9).

When looking at the same factor over 90 minutes per game, Ake's 0.62 is lower than Garcia (1.03), Otamendi (0.87) and Laporte (0.72).

So, maybe there is a little bit of work to be done with that one…

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