Pep Guardiola suggested Manchester City got a reality check against Brighton and Hove Albion despite moving third with a fourth consecutive Premier League win.

Phil Foden's goal was enough for a 1-0 victory that took City back to within four points of leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.

It was another win and another clean sheet for City – their eighth shutout, a league high – but Guardiola's men did not quite hit the heights of previous performances.

The manager saw that as a positive, however, believing it was important for his side to come through a tricky test against strugglers Brighton.

"For the next games that we have in January, February, this is the best thing that could happen today," Guardiola told BBC Sport.

"There's some rumours outside the team, in the team after Stamford Bridge, [Manchester] United, and the reality is today, the game that we played today.

"It's nice to play the way we played. For 60, 70 minutes, we were so good.

"The first half was the way we have to play; the second half we struggled more because of the quality of the opponent - not because we were lazy or a lack of concentration, not these kinds of things."

City won despite missing a late penalty through Raheem Sterling, their seventh Premier League spot-kick failure since the start of last season, of which the England forward has accounted for three.

Sterling had replaced Foden, who was enthused by City's performance while acknowledging room for improvement.

"I feel like we're back to our best," Foden said. "We're definitely taking confidence from the last few results.

"Today I still thought we could have done better, but we dug deep to get the win. Overall, I'm really proud of the team and how we kept going to the final whistle. Overall, it's a great result."

It was a seventh win from seven Premier League meetings with Brighton, and City now intend to turn their focus to Crystal Palace next on Sunday.

"We know that we have a game in hand, but we just have to think of the next opponent and not think too far ahead," said Foden, now City's top scorer with eight in all competitions.

"We just want to keep going with this form and push to win the league, hopefully."

Manchester City extended their unbeaten Premier League run after Phil Foden's first-half goal secured a comfortable 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Foden found the back of the net a minute before half-time and that proved to be enough for Pep Guardiola's men to make it eight games without defeat – including four straight wins – in the top flight.

England international Foden took his tally for the season to eight goals in all competitions at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, making him City's highest-scoring player in 2020-21.

Bernardo Silva hit the crossbar and Gabriel Jesus made his return from COVID-19 as a substitute, but City were unable to add to their tally, with Raheem Sterling missing a stoppage-time penalty.

A lovely exchange between Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan led to the first major opening in the 14th minute, but the Belgium international was kept out by Robert Sanchez inside the six-yard box.

Mahrez was unable to supply the finish at the end of an intricate move around the visitors' box, before De Bruyne was again denied by Sanchez following a counter-attack from Brighton's first corner.

City made the breakthrough on the stroke of half-time, with Foden controlling a pass from De Bruyne exquisitely and guiding a fine finish into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box.

Guardiola's men remained comfortably on top in the second half and after Mahrez missed a one-on-one, Sanchez denied Gundogan and saw Silva's follow-up – which came after he sent the ball through Ben White's legs – crash back off the bar.

Substitute Sterling blazed his last-gasp penalty over after De Bruyne pounced on a wayward header from Lewis Dunk and was taken down by Sanchez.

But City had done enough to move up to third and four points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.

 

What does it mean? Defence still rules for City

City have done well to put together a strong run despite the absences of Jesus and Sergio Aguero, but their impressive form has been built on their defence.

They have conceded just two goals during their eight-game unbeaten run, while they have let in just seven in their past 14 outings in the top flight – four fewer than any other side since the start of October.

Brighton looked dangerous on the break at times, but Ruben Dias and John Stones secured a clean sheet for Ederson on his return from coronavirus.

Delightful De Bruyne

De Bruyne was at the heart of everything positive for City in the first half. By setting up Foden he has now assisted 14 goals in all competitions this season, a tally no Premier League player can better.

Jesus use raises questions

City finally have a fit striker in Jesus, but for some reason Guardiola decided to play him from the left after sending him on in the 67th minute. It was not until Sterling entered 15 minutes later that the Brazil international got to play through the middle.

What's next?

City host Crystal Palace on Sunday in the second of three straight Premier League home games, while Brighton are in action at Leeds United a day prior.

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero is reportedly wanted by Barcelona.

Aguero's future at City is uncertain with the 32-year-old coming out of contract at the end of the season.

And the forward is unsurprisingly wanted by Europe's biggest clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA WANT AGUERO

Barcelona are eyeing Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, according to The Sun.

Aguero has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain as City's all-time leading goalscorer entered the final six months of his contract.

The Argentina international has scored two goals in nine games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Barcelona and Eric Garcia looks set to join the club from City. The cover of Mundo Deportivo says Garcia is poised to move to Barca in January in a deal worth €5million (£4.5m) plus variables.

- Also facing an uncertain future is Fernandinho. The Telegraph reports Fernandinho is undecided about his future, with the City man having offers from South America.

- Matteo Guendouzi is set to see out his loan spell at Hertha Berlin. Fabrizio Romano says the midfielder will not return to Arsenal in January, with the Bundesliga club wanting him to stay until season's end.

- Wolves seem unlikely to sign a forward in January. The Mirror claims they have aborted interested in Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- With Frank Lampard under pressure at the helm of Chelsea, help could be incoming. Sky Sports reports Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is considering bringing back former manager Avram Grant to work with Lampard.

Manchester City's 2020-21 Premier League title bid has been one of unlikely storylines and standout players.

Whether it's the resurgence of John Stones, helming the most miserly defence in England's top flight alongside record signing Ruben Dias and leaving the highly touted Aymeric Laporte out in the cold as a result, or a rotating cast of attackers impressing as emergency centre forwards in the absence of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, it pays to expect the unexpected from Pep Guardiola's squad.

Perhaps the most surprising development has been Joao Cancelo's transformation from expensive and unreliable back-up to a key man pushing City's game and maybe even Guardiola's vaunted idea of football to new heights.

"He arrived last season, he was confused in the beginning. He expected something we could not offer him," the City boss said of the Portugal full-back on the eve of Wednesday's Premier League match against Brighton and Hove Albion, where victory would move his side to within a point of champions Liverpool with a game in hand.

Cancelo arrived from Juventus with a £60million price tag – a sizeable chunk of which was remunerated as Danilo moved in the opposite direction – and proceeded to start fewer than half of City's 58 games across all competitions after his move.

What's more, he seemed ill at ease with the tactical demands placed upon him by Guardiola, such as switching and interchanging positions frequently during matches. The battle to be first choice at right-back seemed unfairly skewed in favour of Kyle Walker, one of the most consistent performers of the Catalan's tenure at the Etihad Stadium.

"Last season he struggled a bit with a new club, new ideas, the way we wanted to play," Guardiola confirmed

Alongside Rodri, who arrived from Atletico Madrid for a similar outlay, Cancelo became a poster boy of a failed campaign for many City fans, where a third straight EFL Cup success could not make up for Liverpool romping clear to the Premier League title.

Despite being an ever present in the Premier League this time around, Rodri still seemingly has more to do to convince the masses. However, first when filling in at left-back and more recently at right-back as Walker convalesced following a COVID-19 positive, Cancelo has consistently caught the eye.

"Now he has had more time and helps us to do something we need," Guardiola said. "He was outstanding all the season, playing at a high, high level."

Carrying City forward and backing up De Bruyne

From Dani Alves rampaging down the Barcelona right to Phillip Lahm becoming an auxiliary midfielder late in his career, Guardiola's best teams have usually featured a full-back doing something a little bit special.

During this month's 3-1 and 2-0 wins at Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League and EFL Cup respectively – arguably City's best two performances of 2020-21 – Cancelo excelled, roving forward and often in-field from a nominal right-back position, his combination of technical skills and physicality to the fore.

While at Bayern and blessed with the services of Lahm and David Alaba, Guardiola pioneered a gambit whereby his full-backs could tuck inside to bolster the defensive midfield position.

He still uses this tactic at City, but Cancelo has generally caused damage from more advanced starting points in the midfield.

"Oleks [Zinchenko] can play there too," Guardiola said when discussing Cancelo's role. "Benjamin [Mendy] and Kyle Walker can play in different positions but it depends on the opponent – which opponent we can use [the full-back] inside, outside."

The 26-year-old's ability to drive forward with possession has been to the fore. According to Opta, he has created eight chances from carries, including an assist, while having two shots himself.

This is a string Mendy and Walker do not appear to have to their bows, as they have one shot-creating carry each this season.

Cancelo's frequent presence in opposition territory has contributed to him being ranked second in the City squad in terms of chances created (24), passes ending in the final third (272) and passes played in the box (63) in the Premier League this season, with top spot in all categories belonging to Kevin De Bruyne.

Only De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling have completed more dribbles than Cancelo (16), a player who seems to have given a new dimension to a City team that had come to look stale during the early weeks of the season in the aftermath of David Silva and Leroy Sane's departures.

"It's especially about their quality," Guardiola added. "It's not about 'okay, I want to play this player in this position', I have to know if he can do it for his qualities. That's all.

"[Cancelo] can do it, but he can do it from outside as well. This alternative that he can give us as a team is so important. Honestly, it's so important."

Pep Guardiola believes he should shoulder the blame for Manchester City's struggles earlier this season.

City can move to within a point of Liverpool if they beat Brighton and Hove Albion at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday - the first of two games they have in hand on the reigning champions.

Guardiola's side have been bolstered by a 13-match unbeaten run, spanning four competitions, and the sort of consistency that appeared beyond them as they spluttered through the opening weeks of 2020-21.

Still nursing the hangover from a humbling 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat at the hands of Lyon in August, they won only three of their opening eight Premier League games this term.

Recent victories over Chelsea in the top flight and Manchester United in the EFL Cup semi-finals have seen City look something far more like their old selves.

Manager Guardiola feels this is in part because the team are back in tune with his principles - something that suffered as last season bled into this in the absence of normal preparations.

"From day one [we had these principles]. We lost it a bit this season, that was my fault - the message was not clear but we came back a little bit [to] the principles," he said.

"Especially the reason [for poor form] was because the players need time to get the best condition after no pre-season.

"It’s normal that, after good results and performances, the people visualise again that we can do it again in the way we did it in the past. And that is the way we have to continue."

Guardiola also feels City's improvement is down to them doing their work more smartly during games than they were earlier in the campaign.

"The only difference is that we run less, we were playing running too much," Guardiola said.

"When you play football you have to walk – or run much, much less.

"Without the ball you have to run. But with the ball you stay more in the position and let the ball run, not you. And we improved in these games, in these terms."

Tracking data collected from this season's Premier League games does not exactly bear out Guardiola's point but might align with the greater discipline he alludes to.

In the 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge earlier this month, the 116.7 kilometres City covered collectively was their most in any league match this term, with their 163 sprints second only to 166 in the 1-0 victory at Southampton in mid-December that launched an ongoing winning run of six matches on three fronts.

A feature common to both those games was each of Guardiola's recognised strikers, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, being sidelined.

A rotating cast of attacking midfielders have taken turns to lead the line and City's shots per game (15.4 with Aguero and/or Jesus, 15.8 without) and goals per game (1.6 with Aguero and/or Jesus, 1.7 without) remain consistent.

Guardiola's team were striker-less at the beginning of the humiliating 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City in September, although youth team centre-forward Liam Delap came on when the score was 1-1.

A draw at Leeds United followed and in the four games since when neither Aguero nor Jesus has been available - versus Sheffield United, Southampton, Newcastle United and Chelsea - City have won each time.

"We have to adapt the quality we have, unfortunately it's a long time without Sergio," Guardiola added.

"Gabriel has been good but had COVID. But we have enough players with the quality playing wide and in the middle so we adapt with the players we have right now."

Jesus is in contention to face Brighton but Aguero continues to self-isolate after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Phil Foden still has plenty of room for improvement, says Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Foden's long-range strike against Birmingham City in the third round of the FA Cup was his seventh goal of the season in all competitions - making him City's joint top scorer alongside Raheem Sterling.

The 20-year-old also made his England senior breakthrough this season, netting twice in the 4-0 Nations League thrashing of Iceland in November.

At club level, Foden has amassed his impressive return - he also has five assists - despite not being an automatic choice in Guardiola's first XI.

The circumstances of a coronavirus outbreak at the club is a contributing factor to an unbroken run of three successive first-team starts, although a goal at Chelsea in the Premier League and an assist for John Stones in the EFL Cup semi-final at Manchester United have made a strong case for him to remain.

"He is playing like he played always, high standards in all departments," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Wednesday's match against Brighton and Hove Albion.

"He still has big margins to improve because it would be bad news if he could not improve at the age he is.

"But from day one I have been delighted, especially with his behaviour. The quality will do the rest.

City have three consecutive home games in the space of eight days on their immediate agenda - a chance to bolster their title challenge even before considering Liverpool and Manchester United are set to take points off one another this weekend.

Even though his team appear to be back to their swashbuckling best despite trying circumstances, Guardiola remains wary of the challenges at hand.

"Brighton are a joy to watch, a joy to analyse," he said, before underlining his admiration for Seagulls boss Graham Potter.

"At the same time, when you see them you are concerned about the quality. I said to the players that we will have to be in the highest standards to complete against them. They have better stats [than their league position] in all the departments except the final third.

"I am a big fan of Graham Potter. We faced him for the first time with Swansea. Everyone [in Potter's teams] plays in his position and the ball comes to them.

"They have the courage to play. I like a lot how they play and it will be a good test after this amount of games."

Considering a 13-match unbeaten run on all fronts, Guardiola added: "The momentum can arrive and disappear in one instant.

"We cannot forget the teams we beat recently especially in Premier League and Carabao Cup - two strong teams away and we did well.

"But the momentum can disappear, we have to do it again. Especially for the way we are playing."

City remain without injured defenders Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake, while Sergio Aguero will continue to self-isolate, with youngsters Cole Palmer, Eric Garcia and Adrien Bernabe, and third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson in the same situation.

Ederson, Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle should be available to return following their own COVID-related absences.

Despite the coronavirus situation, Real Madrid are still looking to make a splash in the transfer market.

Madrid have long been linked with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

And if reports are to be believed, the LaLiga champions are planning for the Frenchman.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WORKING ON MBAPPE MOVE

Real Madrid are working on a plan to sign Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, according to Tuesday's frontpage of Diario AS.

Mbappe – also linked to Liverpool – has been tipped to join Madrid, though Ligue 1 holders PSG remain committed to trying to re-sign the Frenchman.

Despite the economic fallout caused by coronavirus, Madrid are still looking to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to player sales and revenue generated by the return of fans.

 

ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich have identified RB Leipzig star and centre-back Dayot Upamecano as the player to replace David Alaba, reports Sport 1. Alaba is out of contract at season's end and the Bayern star has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. With Alaba heading for an exit, in-demand Upamecano is wanted in Munich. It comes as Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Barca vie for his signature.

- According to Esporte Interativo, Neymar wants to stay at PSG as the French giants prepare a new contract. Neymar has been linked with a return to Barca.

- Fabrizio Romano says an agreement has been reached between United and Bayer Leverkusen for Timothy Fosu-Mensah to join the Bundesliga side.

Milan are eyeing a move for Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori, reports Sky Sports. Strasbourg defender Mohamed Simakan remains the primary target for the Rossoneri. It comes as Fiorentina close in on Milan full-back Andrea Conti.

Manchester United will host bitter rivals and Premier League champions Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

United edged past Championship side Watford in the third round as the Reds cruised past a much-changed Aston Villa, who had to field a squad made up entirely of youth players amid a coronavirus outbreak.

While Liverpool have re-established themselves as the standard-bearers in the Premier League in recent years, they are looking to end a lengthy drought in the FA Cup.

The Reds have not won the competition since 2005-06 when they beat West Ham on penalties, with their most-recent final appearance in 2012 a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.

If they are to finally end that wait, they will have to get one over their old nemesis in United, who this season appear to be rising to the challenge set by Liverpool in the Premier League.

United last won the FA Cup in 2015-16 and were beaten by Chelsea in the showpiece two years later – only Arsenal (14) have won the competition more than the Red Devils (12).

Whoever progresses will face either non-league side Stockport County, West Ham or Doncaster Rovers in the fifth round.

Another of the favourites, Manchester City, will expect to cruise through the next couple of rounds given they go to League Two's Cheltenham Town first and then face Swansea City or Nottingham Forest if they avoid a fourth-round shock.

The lowest-ranked side in the draw, sixth-tier Chorley Town, host Wolves, while Tottenham go to Wycombe Wanderers and Chelsea welcome Luton Town to Stamford Bridge.

 

FA Cup fourth-round draw in full:

Cheltenham Town v Manchester City

Bournemouth v Crawley Town

Swansea City v Nottingham Forest

Manchester United v Liverpool

Southampton/Shrewsbury Town v Arsenal

Barnsley v Norwich City

Chorley Town v Wolves

Millwall v Bristol City

Brighton and Hove Albion v Blackpool

Wycombe Wanderers v Tottenham

Fulham v Burnley

Sheffield United v Plymouth Argyle

Chelsea v Luton Town

Stockport County/West Ham v Doncaster Rovers

Brentford v Leicester City

Everton v Sheffield Wednesday

Full FA Cup fifth-round draw:

Fulham/Burnley v Bournemouth/Crawley Town

Manchester United/Liverpool v Stockport County/West Ham or Doncaster

Barnsley/Norwich City v Chelsea/Luton Town

Everton/Sheffield Wednesday v Wycombe Wanderers/Tottenham

Swansea City/Nottingham Forest v Cheltenham Town/Manchester City

Brentford/Leicester City v Brighton and Hove Albion/Blackpool

 

FA Cup fifth-round draw in full:

Fulham/Burnley v Bournemouth/Crawley Town

Manchester United/Liverpool v Stockport County/West Ham or Doncaster

Barnsley/Norwich City v Chelsea/Luton Town

Everton/Sheffield Wednesday v Wycombe Wanderers/Tottenham

Swansea City/Nottingham Forest v Cheltenham Town/Manchester City

Brentford/Leicester City v Brighton and Hove Albion/Blackpool

Sheffield United or Plymouth Argyle v Millwall or Bristol City

Chorley or Wolves v Southampton or Shrewsbury Town or Arsenal
 

Manchester United will host bitter rivals and Premier League champions Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Where will Erling Haaland be playing in 2021-22?

The Borussia Dortmund forward has a long list of admirers, particularly in England.

Both Manchester clubs want Haaland, though City fancy their chances.

 

TOP STORY – CITY BELIEVE THEY HOLD HAALAND EDGE OVER UTD

Manchester City are hoping to use their Jadon Sancho sell-on clause to beat neighbours Manchester United to the signing of Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to The Sun.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked to the likes of City, United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool following his exploits for Dortmund.

City have a 15 per cent sell-on clause following Sancho's move to Dortmund in 2017 and they believe it could help in their Haaland pursuit, with the Premier League giants open to waiving or renegotiating the clause.

Sancho was tipped to join United ahead of the 2020-21 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- French journalist Julien Laurens doubts Paris Saint-Germain will be able to afford Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked to PSG, City and Inter but Laurens feels the Ligue 1 champions will not be able to financially accommodate Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Atletico Madrid are poised to prise Moussa Dembele from Lyon, reports Fabrizio Romano. After Diego Costa's exit, Atletico are set to complete a loan deal with the option to buy.

- Le10Sport claims Manchester United are set to rival PSG for the signing of Brest midfielder Romain Faivre.

- The Telegraph says Napoli are keen on signing Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney. The Serie A side were keen on the Scotland international before he swapped Celtic for Arsenal in 2019.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is in isolation after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Aguero was expected to feature in Sunday's FA Cup clash with Birmingham City at the Etihad Stadium after recovering from knee and hamstring problems.

However, he was not in the matchday squad, with Gabriel Jesus starting the 3-0 victory over the Championship side.

Manager Pep Guardiola later confirmed that 32-year-old Aguero is isolating despite returning a negative test for COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, he was in contact more than usual with one person who is positive," Guardiola said after the match. "He must isolate for a few days.

"I don't know exactly because he has been tested like all of us six times in the last 10-15 days so it is negative. Today I think he was negative too but the protocols says in some cases isolate, and in other cases we still play football.

"He was not able to play today."

Aguero, whose contract expires at the end of the season, has only made three starts for City in all competitions in 2020-21.

In his absence on Sunday, two goals from Bernardo Silva and another from Phil Foden secured City's place in the fourth round of the cup.

Guardiola's men return to Premier League action at home to Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday and host Crystal Palace next Sunday.

Manchester City eased into the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a Bernardo Silva-inspired 3-0 win at home to Birmingham City on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola made the somewhat surprising decision to name what was essentially his strongest possible XI, and their superior quality was telling from the start as they quickly raced into a 2-0 lead.

Silva opened the scoring with a gorgeous volley and swiftly doubled City's advantage to cap off a fine move in the 15th minute, before Phil Foden effectively killed off any hopes of a Birmingham comeback before the interval.

City were less deadly in the second period as they failed to add to their lead, but it mattered little as they had no difficulty seeing out a comfortable victory.

Aitor Karanka and Birmingham will have been braced for a difficult day after seeing the line-up chosen by Guardiola, though nothing could have prepared them for the hosts' start.

Silva displayed remarkable technique to make it 1-0 as he unleashed a stunning volley just inside the box to punish a poor clearance, picking out the top-left corner.

He soon got a second with a simple close-range finish, guiding home Kevin De Bruyne's cutback after the Belgian had been well spotted by Riyad Mahrez.

City found their stride again after something of a lull, and Foden increased the lead just past the half-hour mark, rifling into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards after being picked out by Mahrez.

The hosts withdrew De Bruyne, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias at half-time, with youngsters Felix Nmecha and Taylor Harwood-Bellis entering alongside John Stones.

City remained dominant and thought they had a fourth goal just past the hour, only for VAR to confirm Mahrez had strayed offside when latching on to Foden's pass.

Silva passed up the chance to complete his hat-trick as he dragged wide when the ball fell kindly for him, and that proved to be his final opportunity as City settled for a three-goal victory.

 

What does it mean? City emphatic but Guardiola learns little

It is fair to say, Guardiola may have surprised a few by naming such a strong starting XI and it seemingly yielded the desired result as City went into half-time 3-0 to the good.

Nevertheless, Guardiola will have learnt very little about that first-half performance given his line-up was full of first-team regulars and they were facing a side struggling in a Championship relegation battle.

A few of the kids were sent on in the second half and did their chances of further opportunities no harm, though the game had become little more than a training exercise by that point.

Foden runs Birmingham ragged

There were several City stars who produced classy displays, but Foden was arguably the most enjoyable to watch. His goal was a great strike, while he had already threatened beforehand with his other two shots. The England international also made three key passes – one of those was particularly clever, as he chested down a long ball to tee up Silva for an effort that hit the side-netting.

Gabriel Jesus frustrated

City's Brazilian striker was by no means poor here – with three shots and a couple of key passes, he was actually quite bright. But he will likely be frustrated by the fact he could not get his name on the scoreboard, particularly given one of his first-half opportunities was a one-one-one situation that he spurned.

What's next?

It is back to Premier League action on Wednesday for City, who host Brighton and Hove Albion. Birmingham continue their quest to get clear of the Championship's relegation zone three days later when they go to coach Karanka's former team Middlesbrough.

Pep Guardiola does not view himself as a deal maker with regards to any transfer ambitions Manchester City might have towards Lionel Messi.

Messi sought to end a career-long association with Barca in the aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich, with City then widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature.

However, Barcelona disputed Messi's assertion that a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free at the end of the 2019-20 campaign remained valid, and the Argentina superstar stayed at Camp Nou.

Speaking to La Sexta at the end of last month, Messi pledged not to decide his future until the end of this season, while also outlining his "dream" of living in the United States.

This makes a deal involving a reunion with his old mentor Guardiola, plus an option to switch to City's MLS affiliate New York City, look theoretically attractive.

But speaking ahead of Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash against Birmingham City, the former Barca and Bayern boss refused to fan any flames of a potential transfer inferno.

"He is a player for another club, I'm sorry. Always I try to answer your questions but I'm not… he is a player from Barcelona," Guardiola said.

"About the transfer market, you know my opinion, it's about Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football]. I don't like to talk about players who are not here or players maybe extending their contract.

"Always I believe the best way to talk about this is behind the scenes because my comments will not solve or break some deal, especially the players who are not here.

"I respect a lot all the players who play in other teams."

Guardiola did express a surprise contract wish when it came to the future of another international in his thirties.

Former England goalkeeper Scott Carson has spent the past season and a half on loan at City from Derby County, serving as an experienced third-choice option.

He is yet to play a minute of senior football for Guardiola - something that will not change this weekend after a positive coronavirus test - but the manager insists Carson's influence upon Ederson, Zack Steffen and the squad as a whole has been invaluable.

"One keeper who is so important for us is Scott Carson," he said of the 35-year-old. "He is like our captain behind the scenes.

"He is not noticed because he is the third keeper, but in the locker room he is another captain.

"It is so important and hopefully he can stay longer with us in the next years."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola believes a 24-hour dedication to football that includes early morning gym sessions is behind Ruben Dias' magnificent start to life at the Etihad Stadium.

Dias became City's record signing when he joined for £62million from Benfica in September, arriving in the immediate aftermath of a humbling 5-2 Premier League defeat against Leicester City.

Since then, the Portugal international has done plenty to justify his price tag, establishing a formidable partnership at centre-back alongside a rejuvenated John Stones.

Across 13 Premier League matches with Dias in the side, City have been beaten only once, conceding seven times at an average of 0.5 per game. In the two matches before his signing, City conceded six - largely as a result of the Leicester debacle, in which they gave away three penalties.

Dias leads the way among his team-mates in clearances (55) and headed clearances (27) this season. He is behind only Rodri (31) and Joao Cancelo (25) when it comes to interceptions, having made 20.

Spain holding midfielder Rodri has 50 aerials won to his name, with Dias next up on 37. City's new defensive lynchpin is also yet to make an error leading to a shot in the top flight.

Having burnished his growing reputation with fine displays in the wins at Chelsea and Manchester United over the past week, Dias is expected to sit out Sunday's FA Cup third-round tie against Championship strugglers Birmingham, but Guardiola insists he would have no problem turning out once again.

"Do you know when the player makes a big sign or an influence on the team? When he is able to play every three days. That is the best signing," he said.

"When you buy players, always you think they will help the squad but you never know what is going to happen. He is a guy who can play every three days and recover immediately.

"His ability is incredible. He understands the game, he wants to learn and all of us are impressed by how much he takes care of his body and his mind.

"The day after [the game] at 8:30 or 9:00 he is in the gym, he makes his routine perfectly. He lives 24 hours of his profession at 23 years old.

"I can assure you that we signed an incredible player for the next five, six or seven years and that is not easy to find."

City's improvement at the back has also been a collective endeavour.

Along with Stones putting form and fitness woes behind him, versatile full-back Joao Cancelo has blossomed in his second season under Guardiola, while Oleksandr Zinchenko recently returned to plug a gap at left-back amid a raft of COVID-19 cases among his team-mates.

The manager believes City's collective play was never too far away from the standards set of late, with the drive to cut out individual errors key.

"I have the feeling that always we concede few, few chances in the previous seasons," Guardiola said.

"It was more in actions that we didn't control individually, we made mistakes. For example, the three penalties against Leicester are mistakes we cannot make.

"We improved in those terms. The movements of the collective are the same as the last five years but the mistakes we have done against Leicester, conceding three penalties, we have not done it again."

A handling mistake by Ederson in October's 1-1 draw at Leeds United is the only error City have made leading directly to a goal in the Premier League this season, according to Opta. In 2019-20, they made seven across the course of the campaign and six when amassing 100 points as champions in 2017-18.

"A part of this, of course, is Ruben helps us a lot to lead the line and John doing what he is doing," Guardiola added. "When he has played, Nathan Ake has played good, Ayme [Aymeric Laporte] as well.

 "Joao has made a step forward - we knew his quality with the ball, but especially without.

"We have to continue. The margin between being solid and not being solid is so minimal. We have to be careful and continue to be consistent in the next month."

Pep Guardiola does not view himself as a deal maker with regards to any transfer ambitions Manchester City might have towards Lionel Messi.

Messi sought to end a career-long association with Barca in the aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich, with City then widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature.

However, Barcelona disputed Messi's assertion that a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free at the end of the 2019-20 campaign remained valid, and the Argentina superstar stayed at Camp Nou.

Speaking to La Sexta at the end of last month, Messi pledged not to decide his future until the end of this season, while also outlining his "dream" of living in the United States.

This makes a deal involving a reunion with his old mentor Guardiola, plus an option to switch to City's MLS affiliate New York City, look theoretically attractive.

But speaking ahead of Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash against Birmingham City, the former Barca and Bayern boss refused to fan any flames of a potential transfer inferno.

"He is a player for another club, I'm sorry. Always I try to answer your questions but I'm not… he is a player from Barcelona," Guardiola said.

"About the transfer market, you know my opinion, it's about Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football]. I don't like to talk about players who are not here or players maybe extending their contract.

"Always I believe the best way to talk about this is behind the scenes because my comments will not solve or break some deal, especially the players who are not here.

"I respect a lot all the players who play in other teams."

Guardiola did express a surprise contract wish when it came to the future of another international in his thirties.

Former England goalkeeper Scott Carson has spent the past season and a half on loan at City from Derby County, serving as an experienced third-choice option.

He is yet to play a minute of senior football for Guardiola - something that will not change this weekend after a positive coronavirus test - but the manager insists Carson's influence upon Ederson, Zack Steffen and the squad as a whole has been invaluable.

"One keeper who is so important for us is Scott Carson," he said of the 35-year-old. "He is like our captain behind the scenes.

"He is not noticed because he is the third keeper, but in the locker room he is another captain.

"It is so important and hopefully he can stay longer with us in the next years."

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