Pep Guardiola has seemingly accepted that Eric Garcia will leave Manchester City and return to boyhood club Barcelona.

Garcia left Barca's La Masia academy to join City in 2017 and was handed his senior debut in the following year's EFL Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.

The defender made 20 appearances in all competitions last season but neglected to sign a contract extension, as rumours of Barcelona's interest first surfaced.

Garcia, 20, has had his appearances restricted this time around by injury and a positive coronavirus test, although not before making an international breakthrough with Spain.

Barcelona's ongoing presidential elections have featured a regular focus upon the youngster, with candidates debating whether he should be bought this month or signed for free when his City contract runs down.

Sunday's 3-1 FA Cup win at Cheltenham Town was Garcia's first start since the beginning of December and Guardiola, who previously stated he wanted to "seduce" the player into signing a fresh deal, now believes his City career is ticking down.

"I don't think so," he replied when asked whether a new contract was possible for the centre-back.

"I'm pretty sure he'll leave at the end of the season.

"Now, in this transfer window, will depend on the clubs."

City were behind heading into the closing stages at Whaddon Road, before strikes from Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres spared them an FA Cup humiliation of historic proportions.

A fifth-round trip to Championship side Swansea City awaits for the EFL Cup finalists, who are two points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United with a game in hand and resume their Champions League campaign against Borussia Monchengladbach next month.

Despite being favourably placed on all fronts, Guardiola baulked at talk of a quadruple bid to usurp the unprecedented domestic treble his team won in 2018-19.

"The target is 'Big Sam', West Bromwich. This is our target," he replied, with City's next Premier League game at the Hawthorns against Sam Allardyce's West Brom.

"The [quadruple] is a fairytale and 99.9 per cent has never been accomplished. My advice is don't do these questions to the managers, it's unrealistic."

Pep Guardiola praised the personality Phil Foden gave to Manchester City as they came from behind to beat Cheltenham Town 3-1 in the FA Cup, but insisted he does not have to fill Kevin De Bruyne's shoes.

Foden was instrumental as City avoided a huge shock in the fourth round on Saturday, which looked on the cards when Alfie May prodded fourth-tier Cheltenham ahead.

But the England international equalised by turning home at the far post nine minutes from time before Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres sealed progression to the fifth round.

City could have been out of sight by the time May put Cheltenham in front, with Guardiola's men wasteful in front of goal.

Foden played five key passes, with the fact none resulted in an assist indicative of the poor finishing displayed by City.

With De Bruyne out for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury, Guardiola was asked in his post-match media conference if Foden can help fill the void.

"Phil has to be Phil, Phil does not have to be Kevin De Bruyne," he replied. 

"Phil has to do what he is doing in terms of the bad moments when we were losing, the personality that he gave to the game.

"Phil can play in the middle, can play winger, can play in a false nine position up front. He's playing really well, again in the right moment he scored a goal."

Joao Cancelo played the cross for Foden's equaliser after coming off the bench, while fellow substitute Ilkay Gundogan pulled the ball back for Torres to tap in City's third.

Asked to explain their introductions, Guardiola said: "When you make a change you try to look for something.

"The young two players [Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle] played really well but the quality of Gundogan and Joao in the final third was so important.

"Gundogan has the sense to score and with Phil and Riyad [Mahrez] in the final third we had the quality for the final pass and dribble and that's why they came in."

Manchester City produced a late turnaround to avoid humiliation at the hands of League Two side Cheltenham Town and claim a 3-1 win in the FA Cup fourth round.

Given the crowded fixture list all Premier League clubs are having to cope with amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pep Guardiola understandably shuffled his pack for the trip to Gloucestershire.

A youthful City side looked set to pay the price for profligacy after Alfie May gave the fourth-tier side a 59th-minute lead.

However, Phil Foden levelled matters nine minutes from time before Gabriel Jesus struck with six minutes remaining and Ferran Torres tapped in a last-gasp third as City overcame a tricky hurdle to keep their quadruple hopes alive.

Pep Guardiola did not see the point in sugar coating the news that Manchester City will be without Kevin De Bruyne for between four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

"It is [a huge blow] but we have to move forward," he said after confirming the extent of the setback for the Belgium international.

"He has an important part of the season out and we have to find a solution."

Handily for Guardiola, having the likes of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden to choose from within his creative department means such solutions are - in theory at least - close at hand.

Here, we will examine how well equipped City are to face a run of fixtures including games against Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Borussia Monchengladbach and possibly Manchester United without their star midfielder.

Kevin the kingpin

Even when acknowledging City's enviable squad depth and Guardiola's career-long emphasis on the importance of the collective, De Bruyne's individual contribution throughout the Catalan's Etihad Stadium tenure is a heavy one.

Across 204 appearances since Guardiola took over at the start of the 2016-17 season, De Bruyne has supplied 88 assists - one every 2.3 matches.

Those come from 592 chances created, an average of one per 26.3 minutes.

David Silva is next with 365 opportunities created, with his 47 assists over the period in question second to Raheem Sterling (54).

Basically, daylight is second to De Bruyne in those and a host of other categories.

He has created 138 "big chances", according to Opta, with Sterling (73) and Silva (47) up next.

De Bruyne's 2,015 passes into the penalty area, including crosses, are more than double the amount attempted by any other player during the Guardiola era.

Keeping standards high

Although City finished a distant second to Liverpool in the Premier League last season and bowed out of the Champions League with a dispiriting quarter-final loss to Lyon, De Bruyne was named both PFA Players' Player of the Year and UEFA Midfielder of the Season.

He equalled the Premier League record of 20 assists in a season in 2019-20 and already has 10 this time around, with that figure rising to 15 in all competitions.

Once again, he leads the way for City in terms of chances created (73), big chances created (21) and passes into the penalty area (209).

Sterling (six assists), Riyad Mahrez (45 chances created and 106 passes into the box), are next best in those categories, again demonstrating the how central De Bruyne is to City as an attacking force.

Had De Bruyne been struck down when Guardiola's men were limping through the early weeks of the season, it might have cut off any title bid in its infancy.

However, the manager now has a number of other midfielders stepping up in impressive fashion.

Bernardo is back

Perhaps the most reassuring development for City this week came in the immediate aftermath of his injury.

The game was all square at 0-0 when he departed, Bernardo Silva dropped back to his team-mate's role on the right of the midfield three and promptly thrashed into the top corner to break the deadlock.

"He's back," Guardiola said defiantly of the Portugal playmaker on Friday.

"He struggled last season - maybe for the lack of minutes I gave him or maybe because he was not like him. Always he has been so important for me, for all of us."

Bernardo being "back" is a message understood loud and clear by regular City observers. It means the player who scooped the club's player of the year award when they won an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19; a player who has been difficult to spot for much of the subsequent 18 months.

Arguably the most impressive element of that trophy-laden campaign, when City pipped Liverpool to Premier League glory with 98 points to their rivals' 97, is they were without De Bruyne for large chunks of it.

The former Wolfsburg man twice sustained knee ligament damage before a calf strain kept him out for a key stretch of the run-in.

Bernardo's versatility is what makes him a Guardiola favourite, but playing for much of the season in De Bruyne's midfield berth, he registered 13 goals and as many assists in all competitions - a career best return for the ex-Monaco favourite.

The goal against Aston Villa was the 26-year-old's first in the Premier League this year and another drought would be deeply unhelpful as De Bruyne looks on, even though midfield goals have been flying in from elsewhere.

Gundogan and Foden in the goals

Gundogan rounded off the scoring from the penalty spot in midweek and will probably retain duties from 12 yards with De Bruyne out, having scored four out of five at City.

The Germany international is on a hot streak in front of goal since a torpid 0-0 draw at Manchester United in December persuaded Guardiola to tweak his formation and allow Gundogan more attacking license from central midfield.

Five in his past seven Premier League games is part of an all-competitions tally of seven - already the best single-season return of the 30-year-old's career.

Goalscoring is one area where De Bruyne has been under par this year. Two of his three Premier League goals are penalties, and his solitary strike from open play is the yield from 57 shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 5.1.

Gundogan (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.7) is out-performing his xG almost as impressively as Foden (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.5).

The England playmaker is level on eight with Raheem Sterling as City's top scorer in all competitions this season and has excelled in a left-wing role over recent weeks.

Like Bernardo, Foden's preference would probably be to operate in De Bruyne's favourite position but he has repaid both the faith of Guardiola and the clamour from City fans for him to start Premier League games more regularly.

City's overall statistics in the eight top-flight matches where Foden has made the XI this season are similar to the 10 when he did not, with a 62.5 per cent win ratio set against 60 per cent falling slightly in the hometown hero's favour.

However, they are considerably more active in front of goal when Foden starts, averaging 19.3 shots per game as opposed to 13.7.

The man himself has plenty to do with such an upturn if his five shots and six chances created against Villa are anything to go by - his most shot involvements in a single Premier League game.

Replacing De Bruyne's similarly weighty numbers in other areas is a task almost certainly beyond any individual at City but, with Bernardo, Gundogan and Foden among the collective, Guardiola has ample talent to keep his team's title challenge on track.

Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Pep Guardiola is relishing the prospect of his Manchester City players being forced to get changed in the stadium bar before Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Cheltenham Town, but has no particular thirst for a European 'Super League'.

City's superstar squad will put on kits and lace their boots in one of the hospitality areas at Whaddon Road, as part of the League Two club's adaptation to abide by COVID-19 protocols.

Guardiola just had one stipulation to ensure his men are not tempted by a pre-match tipple.

"Please, only I ask to Cheltenham do not leave beers in the bar before the game," he joked.

"We will be delighted to change in the bar, but no alcohol there because we want to win the game and be in perfect condition."

For the City boss, it will be an experience to recall his first steps in coaching, when he led Barcelona B in the fourth tier of Spanish football.

And he was keen to point out that the pampered millionaire lifestyle is something no one experiences when starting out in the game.

"Of course," he replied when asked if he had ever experienced anything similar.

"Everyone comes from the lower divisions, my friend. Or do you believe when we are under-16 or under-18 we fly in private jets?

"We play in these stadiums all our careers, we don't play in big stadiums all the time. We came from [places like] Cheltenham. People cannot forget that, and it is a pleasure to play there.

"We were lucky to have success in our profession and go up the divisions, but we were there many times and we changed in bars as boys and we played football with incredible joy.

"We love this game and we change in these changing rooms for most of our careers, most of the time."

Nevertheless, Guardiola offered a stark warning to any stakeholders in the game who fail to nurture competitions lower down the pyramid.

"I have the feeling we cannot lose the local leagues," he said. "What we should do is make every single league in Europe stronger than what it is.

"To make a super Premier League, you have to reduce the teams. But we cannot kill the lower divisions or the Premier League itself.

"I want to protect the local leagues. I like to play against Leicester, Brighton, Burnley, Arsenal, West Brom, Liverpool...I love it."

Guardiola's other note of caution related to player burnout, in a week where he lost star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

"I didn't read the paper [about the Super League] that you comment on, but I'm sure there will be more games – they are not going to reduce it," he added.

"All I can say is, let the players breathe a bit more, to recover better and make a better performance to make more spectators come back when they return to the stadiums or in front of the TV.

"More goals and action to make our sport better. This will only happen if players are fitter and feel more comfortable with the amount of games."

Next month's trip to Liverpool is a no-go for Kevin De Bruyne, while March's crunch derby with Manchester United could be a return date for Manchester City's star midfielder.

That is the predicament facing Pep Guardiola after he confirmed the Belgium international will be out for four to six weeks due to a hamstring injury sustained during the 2-0 midweek win over Aston Villa.

De Bruyne, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year, has been in typically sparkling form for City this term, scoring three times and providing 10 assists in the Premier League.

Guardiola's men are two points shy of league leaders United with a game in hand and into the last-16 of the Champions League.

Here, we look at the key games within a battle on all fronts where the EFL Cup finalists will be missing their talisman.

Cheltenham Town (A) - January 23

De Bruyne would probably have been rested for the weekend clash with League Two Cheltenham Town in any case, although the fifth round on February 10 also looks to be out of the question if City progress. In 16 appearances in the FA Cup, he has five goals and as many assists - claiming one of each in the 6-0 demolition of Watford in the 2019 final

West Brom (A) - January 26

City are back in Premier League action against Sam Allardyce's relegation-threatened Baggies next week. De Bruyne has two goals and three assists against the Baggies in the competition but could not manage a goal involvement as Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling failed to convert his late crosses during December's 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium. City have won nine games in a row across all competitions since that setback.

Sheff Utd (H) - January 30

Another relegation candidate follows, with bottom club Sheffield United facing a daunting trip to Manchester. De Bruyne created Sergio Aguero's opener before completing the scoring for a 2-0 win in this fixture last season.

Burnley (A) - February 3

Perhaps surprisingly, giving City's succession of recent 5-0 wins over Burnley, De Bruyne has never scored against Sean Dyche's men in the Premier League. He does have three assists, including the decisive passes for Riyad Mahrez and Benjamin Mendy to net during the most recent mauling last November.

Liverpool (A) - February 7

De Bruyne scored from the penalty spot as City beat the recently crowned champions 4-0 last July, although he missed uncharacteristically from 12 yards in this season's 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium. Even though none of his five Premier League assists against Liverpool have come at Anfield, he will be a huge miss when City chase a first win on the red side of Stanley Park since 2003.

Tottenham (H) - February 13

De Bruyne scored in each of his first three Premier League appearances against Spurs and set up both City goals as the sides shared a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Etihad last season. Jose Mourinho's men were the last team to inflict a defeat upon City, 17 games ago.

Arsenal (A) - February 21

No Premier League team has conceded more goals to De Bruyne than Arsenal's five. City's number 17 scored twice and dazzled throughout in a 3-0 win at Emirates Stadium last term.

Borussia Monchengladbach (A) - February 24

UEFA named De Bruyne their Midfielder of the Season following his performances on City's run to the quarter-finals in 2019-20. Despite his club's patchy record in Europe's top competition, the 29-year-old has seven goals and 15 assists in 37 Champions League appearances for the English side.

West Ham (H) - February 27

Rodri converted De Bruyne's corner before the man himself rounded off a 2-0 win over West Ham when the teams met on February 19 last year. It was the last time fans were allowed into the Etihad Stadium.

Manchester United (H) - March 6

This could be the biggest Manchester derby for almost a decade given the state of play at the top of the table and must surely be the comeback target for De Bruyne. He opened the scoring in a 2-1 Premier League win at Old Trafford in 2016, a strike that remains his only goal involvement in seven league games against United.

Manchester City will be without influential midfielder Kevin De Bruyne for between four to six weeks, manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

De Bruyne, the reigning PFA players' player of the year, has been in magnificent form again for City this season, scoring three goals and supplying 10 assists in the Premier League.

Guardiola's side are on a six-match winning run in the league, a streak that leaves them well placed in the title race - two points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.

But De Bruyne was forced off after an hour of Wednesday's hard-fought 2-0 win over Aston Villa and, speaking ahead of Saturday's FA Cup trip to League Two Cheltenham Town, Guardiola outlined the extent of the Belgium international's hamstring injury.

"Kevin, like the doctor said today after a scan yesterday, will be between four and six weeks out," he said.

There was better news for right-back Kyle Walker, who is expected to return after the weekend having sustained a blow to the hip in the Villa game, but attention understandably fell upon De Bruyne, who will now miss a potentially crunch trip to take on faltering champions Liverpool at Anfield on February 7.

The playmaker faces a race to be fit for the first leg of City's Champions League last-16 match against Borussia Monchengladbach on February 24, and Guardiola rued his injury as a consequence of a congested fixture schedule.

Not for the first time this season, Guardiola took aim at the Premier League vote that elected not to increase the number of substitutions allowed during games from three to five - a move at odds with other major competitions in Europe.

"It is [a huge blow] but we have to move forward," Guardiola said.

"He has an important part of the season out and we have to find a solution. Everyone is struggling in the situation we are living and we have to adapt.

"When you compete in all the competitions it is important to have all the players healthy, but this is impossible.

"There are injuries at all the clubs. We knew it was going to happen, we tried to avoid it, we had more medical treatment than ever, more nutritionists than ever, we try to masseur as much as possible but they are human beings.

"This amount of competitions, at the end the bodies of the players says 'enough'.

"When we demand five subs, it's for this reason. Why can we do it [have five substitutes] in the FA Cup but the Premier League we cannot?

"The Premier League voted, but if they want to protect the players… I'm not saying because it's Kevin, it's many. More than ever.

"It’s too many games, too many competitions and, in the end, the players suffer. You want to play without Kevin De Bruyne for five, six weeks? Okay, the spectators will miss an incredibly top player, like in other teams. But it is what it is."

Manchester City will be without influential midfielder Kevin De Bruyne for between four to six weeks, manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

The Premier League takes a back seat this weekend as the FA Cup returns at the fourth round stage.

While Aston Villa and Newcastle will contest the sole top-flight match, most of the big boys are hoping to continue their respective quests for silverware in the cup.

For the second weekend running, most eyes will likely be on Manchester United and Liverpool – though fans and neutrals alike will surely be hoping for more of a spectacle than their rather anti-climactic Premier League contest last weekend.

Elsewhere, Wolves face non-league opposition, while Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham all take on teams from lower in the football pyramid.

Before the action begins, test your knowledge with our Opta-fuelled quiz! You can check your answers below.

1. Wolves will be big favourites when they play Chorley on Friday, but they did lose their most recent clash with non-league opposition. When was that defeat to Luton Town?

2. Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored in all four of his appearances in the FA Cup, netting six goals in total in the competition. Who was the last Gunners player to score in five consecutive FA Cup appearances between May 1998 and February 1999?

3. Liverpool go to bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday in the pick of the weekend's action. The Reds have only reached the FA Cup fifth round in one of Jurgen Klopp's five previous seasons at the club. When was that and who ended their run?

4. Last season's beaten finalists Chelsea host Championship side Luton this weekend. The Blues have progressed from 51 of their last 53 FA Cup ties against sides from a lower division – who was the last such team to beat them and when?

5. Luton have a history of big upsets in the FA Cup and were the first non-league side to beat a Premier League team back in 2013 when they eliminated Norwich City. Which current Tottenham star was in the Canaries' starting XI that day?

Answers:

1. January 2013
2. Marc Overmars
3. In 2019-20, Chelsea
4. Bradford City in January 2015
5. Harry Kane

Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid is being questioned, while Paul Pogba could be set to stay at Manchester United.

Madrid were stunned by third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, sparking fresh talk about Zidane's position at the helm.

Zidane is under fire, but the Frenchman may get more time.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE BEING QUESTIONED AS REAL MADRID BOSS

Zinedine Zidane is being questioned more than ever as Real Madrid head coach, according to AS.

The report says he will remain at the helm until the Champions League, which will resume in February, and former star forward Raul is the top candidate to replace him.

Madrid are second in LaLiga, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

ROUND-UP

- Pogba may be happier at Manchester United. The Daily Star reports United are increasingly confident the midfielder will see out his contract, which runs until 2022, despite interest from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

- Christian Eriksen looks set to leave Inter, but it remains to be seen where he ends up. The Telegraph claims Leicester City have ruled out a loan move for the midfielder due to his wage demands.

- RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is set to be the subject of speculation for months to come. Goal reports Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have shown interest in the defender, who is also wanted by Bayern Munich.

- Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

- Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

Sergio Aguero has confirmed he is self-isolating after returning a positive test for coronavirus.

The Manchester City striker has missed four straight games after coming into contact with another person who had contracted COVID-19.

Aguero announced his result on Twitter and it is not known when he will be free to return to training.

"After a close contact, I've been self-isolating and the latest test I took was positive for COVID 19," Aguero wrote.

"I had some symptoms and I'm following doctor's orders for recovery. Take care, everyone."

Aguero has played in just five Premier League games and nine matches in all competitions in a stop-start campaign.

Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Ferran Torres have all been utilised as a central attacking option at times this term.

City are unbeaten in their past 16 matches in all competitions and are just two points off leaders Manchester United in the Premier League with a game in a hand.

Pep Guardiola's men face Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup this weekend and also have league matches with West Brom and Sheffield United within the next 10 days.

Inter star Lautaro Martinez's future could be closer to being sorted, while Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure.

After impressing at Inter, Martinez, 23, has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.

The Argentina international is contracted at Inter until 2023, but that could be set to change.

 

TOP STORY – INTER OPTIMISTIC OVER MARTINEZ RENEWAL

Inter are optimistic about reaching an agreement for a new contract with Lautaro Martinez, according to Sky Sport.

The report says Martinez's agents met with Inter on Wednesday.

Martinez has scored nine goals in 18 Serie A games this season, having netted 14 in 35 in the league in 2019-20, leading to interest from Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- As Chelsea's struggles continue, Lampard is under growing pressure as head coach. Sky Sports reports the former England international will lose his job unless results improve immediately. Chelsea have lost five of their past eight Premier League games to slip to eighth in the table. The Independent, meanwhile, reports Chelsea are not interested in an interim replacement. Former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel, RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann, Southampton's Ralph Hasenhuttl and ex-Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri have been linked.

- Previously linked to Arsenal, Houssem Aouar may be looking elsewhere if he leaves Lyon. ESPN claims the midfielder is eager to join Barcelona or Real Madrid.

- Set to stay at Manchester City until the end of the season, Eric Garcia has been linked with a move to Barcelona when his deal expires in June. However, Mundo Deportivo says PSG are planning a move for the defender.

- Arsenal could make moves in January. Sky Sports reports they have approached Real Madrid about a move for Martin Odegaard, while Cuatro claims Sevilla are hoping to loan the midfielder.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith revealed he was sent off during his team's 2-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City for suggesting the officials were clowns.

Villa put bodies on the line to frustrate City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday until Bernardo Silva opened the scoring with a contentious goal 11 minutes from time.

Rodri came back from an offside position behind Tyrone Mings to dispossess the Villa defender and set up Silva, who finished clinically with his left foot from the edge of the penalty area.

Smith was then shown a red card by referee Jon Moss for telling fourth official David Coote he thought the officials must have been given juggling balls for Christmas.

Ilkay Gundogan rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring from the spot after Matty Cash was penalised for handball, and Villa boss Smith made his feelings clear after his team were beaten in what was their first top-flight game for 19 days due to a coronavirus outbreak.

"I still don't understand the rule if I’m honest," said Smith.

"I don't think anyone can tell me why a goal has been given. He [Rodri] has taken advantage of an offside position. He comes back and tackles Tyrone Mings from behind.

"What was Tyrone supposed to do, just let it go through? He was 10 metres offside. Do you just stand there all the time now?

"I thought they'd at least go over to the screen as it looked clear offside. I looked at the screen myself and it looked like a clear offside.

"When I realised they weren't even going to take a look I told the fourth official I thought they had got juggling balls for Christmas.

"If that's the law then definitely [it should be changed]. He's standing offside and taking an unfair advantage from that. Nobody in this stadium thinks that goal should have stood, so you can't tell me it should have stood and that tells you there is a fault with the law."

He added: "I don't think anyone can tell me why it's been given. What is Tyrone meant to do? Can you stand 10 yards offside now?

"Nobody in the stadium feels that should have counted so you can't tell me that should have counted."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes Kevin De Bruyne may have suffered a muscular injury in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa, though he is waiting on further updates.

De Bruyne hobbled off in the second half as City beat Villa on Wednesday to move top of the Premier League table.

City star De Bruyne was replaced approaching the hour mark before Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan scored during the final 11 minutes at home to Villa, the former in controversial circumstances.

Kyle Walker also succumbed to injury after just 28 minutes, and Guardiola was asked about the pair.

"First, I didn't speak to the doctor," he said.

"Kyle asked to be out because something happened – hopefully it was just a kick.

"Kevin put his hand on his leg. Maybe it will be something muscular. But what do you expect? It's normal, sometimes these things happen with these kind of games."

City are now unbeaten in 16 games across all competitions after defeating a Villa side whose previous top-flight outing was a 2-1 loss to Manchester United 19 days earlier, having suffered a coronavirus outbreak.  

Silva broke the deadlock in the 79th minute amid strong claims for offside against Rodri as Villa boss Dean Smith was sent off for his protests, while Gundogan's late penalty sealed the win.

"I didn't watch the image on TV, I know they complained on the touchline," Guardiola said when discussing Silva's contentious goal.

"And VAR is there. So there are many challenges, with long balls when the player is offside, and you go backwards, the central defenders, you clear the ball, central defender for themselves, the counter attack.

"But VAR was there. If it was offside, the goal would have been disallowed, but honestly I didn't watch it, and I understand they complained about this action. In general, the game we played was outstanding."

City have kept 10 clean sheets in their 18 Premier League games this season – only in 1976-77 (17 games) have they reached that figure in fewer fixtures in their league history.

After a difficult start to the season, his side are firmly back in the mix, and Guardiola added: "There are many, many teams, but if you ask me for my opinion, still have one game left to finish the first round, so the rise in the table is good because we are there.

"When we lost against Tottenham, we were 12th in the table, but then we lost just two games and the most important thing, is the fact that we are back since Newcastle game, playing the game we have to play to be contenders. Everyone wants to win, wants to be champions but you have to show why you are champions.

"Today, I had the feeling that we controlled many aspects, we had the right tempo of the game, we concede few, create a lot. We have to be more clinical in the final third, especially in the eight yard box and penalty spot but we'll improve."

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