Pep Guardiola has been known to readily remind journalists in his news conferences that he understands how to cope with an injury crisis.

The Manchester City manager likes to recall his first Champions League final, when Barcelona faced a rampant Manchester United in Rome with Yaya Toure at centre-back, Carles Puyol shunted out to right-back and veteran Sylvinho in the other wide defensive position.

Barca dazzled during a 2-0 win that sent one of the greatest club teams in history on their way into the stratosphere.

So, when all Guardiola's senior City centre-backs were injured this season, no problem. Defensive midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri could play there - and they did exactly that during back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Atalanta.

It was the same when Benjamin Mendy missed the bulk of the past two seasons, as career midfielders Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko simply became very passable left-backs. Zinchenko still is one.

David Silva's addition to a weighty Etihad Stadium injury list last weekend meant namesake Bernardo starting in a central attacking midfield position alongside Kevin De Bruyne for Wednesday's 1-1 draw against Atalanta at San Siro.

What glorious riches, and they were cashed in as the Portugal playmaker arrowed a pass for a first-time backheel by Gabriel Jesus that fell into Raheem Sterling's stride for a first-time finish. Sterling, one of the outstanding attackers in world football, was darting in off a left flank that Leroy Sane will be unable to occupy until he recovers from cruciate ligament damage.

There are answers to most conundrums Guardiola has to address and the impression is he often revels in doing so. But the scene that unfolded from half-time onwards at San Siro will have done nothing to whet his appetite ahead of City's crunch trip to Liverpool in the Premier League this weekend.

Claudio Bravo was warming up. Fairly extensively. He was coming on.

Ederson made way as a precaution, with a thigh injury to shake off before Sunday. Guardiola will hope the injury is as minor as a miner driving a Morris Minor. And maybe a little more minor than that.

For all the exquisite talents in his outfield array, no Guardiola signing has been more pivotal to his back-to-back Premier League titles in England than his Brazil international between the posts.

It should be added that the first trophy the Spaniard won with his current employers, the 2018 EFL Cup, arrived with Bravo in goal having been a penalty shoot-out hero against Wolves and Leicester City in the earlier rounds. But what came before in his debut campaign marks the former Barcelona man's standing with the City faithful.

If Wednesday at one of European football's most famous arenas represented a fresh page for Bravo, he promptly poured some of that oil Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have been talking about this week and set it on fire.

He could do little about Mario Pasalic powering home a 49th-minute equaliser, but his first act was still to pick the ball out of the net. It recalled that mid-season spell during his nightmare 2016-17 when every shot on target seemed to herald an opposition goal. Willy Caballero was eventually called up to spare him.

There were plenty of other things Bravo might have done in the 81st minute instead of belying the experience of his 36 years and a career that has yielded two Copas America and LaLiga titles, among multiple honours.

His rash challenge on Josip Ilicic was a clear red card. Bravo became the first substitute goalkeeper in Champions League history to be sent off.

When emergency keeper Kyle Walker - apparently an enthusiast in the role during training ground penalty contests - nervously kept out the resulting free-kick from Ruslan Malinovskiy to earn harrumphing chants of "England's number one" from the City faithful, he had made more saves in the game than Bravo. It was not a statistically strong few minutes for the veteran.

The stats that loom largest over this pivotal week are Liverpool's six-point lead over the champions at the Premier League summit and the 16-and-a-half years that have passed since City last won at Anfield.

Guardiola can take heart from the resilience his depleted team showed before a baying crowd as opponents in Atalanta had the bit between their teeth.

However, if he is to be without Ederson, the inimitable thread who brought his whole tapestry together, the chances of overturning those numbers on Merseyside have shifted uncomfortably close to improbable.

Pep Guardiola is uncertain if he will have goalkeeper Ederson available for selection when Manchester City face Liverpool in Sunday's crunch Premier League encounter.

Ederson was taken off at half-time with a "muscular problem" in City's chaotic 1-1 draw with Atalanta in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Having not had to make a save in the first half, Ederson was replaced by Claudio Bravo, whose first act was to pick the ball out of his net after Mario Pasalic's brilliant header cancelled out Raheem Sterling's early opener.

Matters were made worse for City late on as Bravo saw red for a reckless lunge on Josip Ilicic, meaning right-back Kyle Walker was called upon from the bench to play the closing stages in goal.

City's focus now turns to Anfield, where Premier League leaders Liverpool would extend the gap at the top to nine points with a victory, and Guardiola acknowledged Ederson may be unable to feature.

"I don't know right now. It is a muscular problem. It was not big but [we replaced him] to avoid more risk," Guardiola told reporters when asked for an update on Ederson during a news conference.

"He did not feel comfortable in the last minutes of the first half. That's why we decided to make a substitution. But for now we don't know."

Pointing at his thigh, Guardiola added: "It was muscular, in front of here. He is strong. We want to try with him, but we are not going to take a risk."

Bravo never looked settled after coming on for the second period and failed to make a save before he became the first substitute goalkeeper in Champions League history to receive a red card.

However, Guardiola has no concerns over starting Bravo, who protested his red card before the decision was eventually upheld by VAR, at Anfield if Ederson is not fit.

"It's a red card – it was given so it's a red card," Guardiola said. "He's ready. He's an incredible, experienced professional. He's ready.

"It is what it is. If Ederson is ready, he is gong to play. If not we will play Claudio. We trust him. Why should I doubt any players I have in my squad?"

Guardiola also hailed the mentality of Walker, who was immediately called into action to keep out Ruslan Malinovskiy's free-kick.

"Xavi Mancisidor, our goalkeeper coach, suggested him for his courage, because he is quick," Guardiola said of the England defender. 

"We are lucky we only conceded one shot on target when he was in goal but congratulations for the courage and desire to help the team in this position."

Kyle Walker revealed his training-ground mocking of the Manchester City goalkeepers contributed to his unorthodox role at Atalanta, where he found life a little tougher than anticipated.

Right-back Walker ended the match at San Siro in goal after Ederson was injured and substitute Claudio Bravo was sent off in the 1-1 draw.

The England defender was introduced in place of Riyad Mahrez and donned the gloves, remarkably making the only save of all three City keepers from Ruslan Malinovskiy's free-kick following the foul that saw Bravo dismissed.

Walker saw out the remaining nine minutes and stoppage time without conceding, before reflecting on a bizarre outing.

Asked if he had made the decision to go in goal himself or been instructed to do so, Walker told BT Sport: "I think it was a little bit of both.

"I try to sometimes banter the keepers in training, telling them to catch it and stuff. But as I found tonight, sometimes you do have to take two touches.

"All jokes aside, we came here to get a point or a victory. We knew it was going to be difficult because they play man-to-man, they're a good team and they're in the Champions League for a reason.

"To come away from here with how we ended the game with a draw is a good point, and we'll take that on now."

Defensive colleague Benjamin Mendy thanked Walker for seeing City through a tense finale.

"I think tonight was a very tough game. We knew it before the game," he said. "And how we fought until the end to keep [a point], I say thank you to Kyle.

"It's not easy to take this responsibility going to be a goalkeeper and saving the free-kick. It's one game we're going to remember going forward in this cup."

Manager Pep Guardiola added with a smile: "We had a good first half, but in the second half we suffered a lot. In the last 15 minutes we had the situation we had with the new goalkeeper in our squad."

Claudio Bravo claimed an unwanted piece of history as he became the first substitute goalkeeper to be sent off in the Champions League in Manchester City's 1-1 draw at Atalanta.

Defender Kyle Walker ended Wednesday's match at San Siro in goal for City after Bravo was dismissed in a remarkable finish.

Pep Guardiola's men had already been dealt one blow between the posts when star keeper Ederson was substituted at half-time, having reportedly suffered a minor injury ahead of Sunday's huge Premier League clash with Liverpool.

Bravo was introduced and quickly conceded an equaliser to Mario Pasalic, cancelling out Raheem Sterling's first-half opener.

City's hopes of winning and securing their place in the last 16 with two games to spare were then hit nine minutes from time when Bravo caught Josip Ilicic with a rash lunging tackle outside his area and was shown a red card.

It was a unique scenario in the history of the Champions League and saw Walker introduced in place of Riyad Mahrez to take on the gloves, saving the consequent Ruslan Malinovskiy free-kick to protect a point.

Somewhat amusingly, Walker was the only man to make a save for City in the contest, with Pasalic's goal and Malinovskiy's set-piece all Atalanta could muster in terms of efforts on target.

Manchester City finished with Kyle Walker in goal as their progression to the Champions League knockout stages was stalled by Atalanta in a dramatic 1-1 draw.

Raheem Sterling's seventh-minute goal looked set to be paving the way for another dominant display from the Premier League champions, who thrashed Atalanta 5-1 in the reverse fixture and wanted a win to guarantee their place in the last 16.

However, Gabriel Jesus' dreadful penalty miss and the half-time substitution of goalkeeper Ederson – who reportedly had a minor injury – handed Atalanta hope, with Mario Pasalic then heading in their equaliser.

A red card for Ederson's replacement, Claudio Bravo, caused mayhem in the closing stages, with Walker, after a long delay, brought on to take his place in net, and the emergency goalkeeper held his nerve as City held firm to claim a point.

Manchester City suffered an injury scare ahead of Sunday's blockbuster Premier League showdown with Liverpool as goalkeeper Ederson was substituted at half-time in Wednesday's Champions League game against Atalanta.

The Brazil international did not have a shot on target to deal with during an opening period where City took a 1-0 lead through Raheem Sterling before Gabriel Jesus missed a penalty.

Ederson darted out of his area to make a clearance late in the half but did not appear to be in any discomfort, meaning it was a surprise to see Bravo warming up at the interval and come on for the restart.

BT Sport reported Ederson suffered a minor injury and was removed as a precaution with an eye on the trip to Anfield. Omnisport was awaiting clarification from Manchester City regarding the 26-year-old's condition.

Bravo's first act was to pick the ball out of his net after Mario Pasalic powered home a header from Alejandro Gomez's cross.

City are already without defenders Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko (both knee), midfielders Rodri (hamstring) and David Silva (muscular) and winger Leroy Sane (knee). The champions are six points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool in second after 11 matches.

Romelu Lukaku's two-goal showing for Inter at Bologna has earned him a place in the FUT Team of the Week, though Timo Werner's inclusion is arguably the most deserved of this week's selection.

Werner lit up the Bundesliga at the weekend with a hat-trick and a treble of assists in RB Leipzig's 8-0 demolition of Mainz, having a hand in all but two of Leipzig's goals in a remarkable win.

The Germany international became only the second player to be involved in six goals in a single Bundesliga match since detailed Opta data collection began in 2004-05 – the first being Claudio Pizarro with four goals and two assists in May 2013.

He is partnered in attack by Lukaku after his goals secured 2-1 comeback win on the road, while a forward-thinking back three includes Juventus star Matthijs de Ligt and Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker.

Below, we examine the entire squad that is set to be up for grabs online.

FUT Team of the Week

GK: Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) – 86

RB: Kyle Walker (Manchester City) – 86

CB: Matthijs de Ligt (Piemonte Calcio/Juventus) – 86

LB: Alex Grimaldo (Benfica) – 85

LM: Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 84

CAM: Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao) – 84

CM: Luis Alberto (Lazio) – 86

LM: Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund) – 84

CAM: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) – 86

ST: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) – 85

ST: Romelu Lukaku (Inter) – 86

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Walter Benitez (Nice) – 83

CB: Chris Smalling (Roma) – 83

LB: Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors/Buenos Aires) – 82

RM: Fabian Orellana (Eibar) – 82

CAM: Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders) – 82

ST: Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) – 84

ST: Joao Pedro (Cagliari) – 81

RESERVES

CB: Harry Ashcroft (Finn Harps) – 69

ST: Camillo Ciano (Frosinone) – 80

CM: John Lundstram (Sheffield United) – 76

ST: Mohamed Buya Turay (Djurgardens) – 77

ST: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Tranmere Rovers) – 71

In-demand Salzburg striker Erling Haaland has ambitions to play in the Premier League, according to his father.

Former Leeds United and Manchester City defender Alf-Inge Haaland confirmed his teenage son, one of Europe's most sought-after young players, would like to play in England at some point in his career.

Serie A champions Juventus have been linked to the 19-year-old, as have LaLiga rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The younger Haaland has scored seven goals in four Champions League appearances in what is his first full season with Salzburg.

While expecting his Leeds-born son to follow in his Premier League footsteps, Alf-Inge suggested the path he took would have no sway over Erling's potential destination.

"He was a Leeds fan and a [Manchester] City fan and a Nottingham Forest fan. He followed me but that's what you do in your youth," Haaland senior told talkSPORT.

"There's a difference between being a supporter and having it as a job.

"I think at one stage he would like to play in the Premier League. When that's going to happen, I don't know. It's a very tough league.

"Up to now he's ahead of the stage we thought he would be at. He's built for the Premier League at one stage, I think. Whether that happens now or at a later stage, we don't know."

Recent reports have suggested Salzburg could ask for up to €100million for the impressive centre-forward, already a two-cap Norway international

Alf-Inge doubts the club would demand such an exorbitant fee, however.

"There are always stories," he said.

"He's at Salzburg and he's at a fantastic club and playing in the Champions League, so in a way there's no hurry.

"But Salzburg have shown in the past they're sort of a middle-step club and if they're going to recruit players in the future they can't put a stupid price tag on the players, otherwise nobody would like to go there."

Cristiano Ronaldo is chasing another slice of history when Juventus travel to Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Tottenham, meanwhile, will hope Harry Kane can continue his wonderful form in the competition against Red Star Belgrade, while Manchester City take on Atalanta at San Siro.

Elsewhere, Kylian Mbappe will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Club Brugge again after he plundered a hat-trick against them two weeks ago.

Here is the pick of the key Opta facts for Wednesday's eight matches.

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Club Brugge

4 - PSG forward Mbappe scored a hat-trick as a substitute against Brugge on matchday three, becoming only the fourth player to achieve the feat in the Champions League. In three games against Belgian opposition, Mbappe averages a goal or assist every 28 minutes.

2 - Emmanuel Dennis scored both of Brugge's goals in their previous Champions League away game against Real Madrid. No player has ever found the net in consecutive matches on the road for the Belgian side in the competition.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

50 - Karim Benzema is just two Champions League goals short of his 50th for Madrid, with only Lionel Messi (113 for Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (105 for Madrid) and Raul (66 for Madrid) reaching the milestone for a single side. However, Benzema is without a goal in his past four matches in the competition, despite attempting 16 shots across those games.

5 - Galatasaray have failed to score in their past five away Champions League matches, despite attempting 45 shots in that timeframe. The last team to fail to score in six away games in a row were Schalke in November 2010.

Bayern Munich v Olympiacos

13 - Bayern have scored 13 goals after just three Champions League games this season. The only team with more after three games are Arsenal in 2010-11 (14 goals).

10 - Olympiacos have managed just 10 shots on target across their opening three Champions League matches this term – one fewer than Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has attempted.

Red Star Belgrade v Tottenham

6 - Red Star's Marko Marin made six chances in their 5-0 defeat against Spurs on matchday three. No player has created more in the Champions League this season (13, level with Toni Kroos).

18 - Spurs striker Kane has scored 18 goals in just 22 Champions League appearances, including four in three appearances this season. In the history of the competition, the fewest number of matches needed to reach 20 goals is 26, set by Alessandro Del Piero in April 1998.

Atalanta v Manchester City

11 - Atalanta have conceded more Champions League goals than any other team this season (11). Only two teams have conceded more in their first three Champions League games – Slavia Prague (12) and Helsingborgs (13).

5 - Sergio Aguero has found the net in each of his past five away Champions League group stage matches for City (five goals), a run stretching back to September 2017.

Dinamo Zagreb v Shakhtar Donetsk

45 - Dinamo's Mislav Orsic is averaging a goal or assist every 45 minutes in the Champions League this season, scoring four and assisting one in just 227 minutes of action. Should Orsic notch in this game, he would have reached five goals in just four appearances, with only Erling Haaland and Didier Drogba having done so in fewer games (three).

22 - Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov has not kept a clean sheet in any of his past 22 Champions League starts. The last goalkeeper to go on a longer such run in the competition was Igor Akinfeev (43) between November 2006 and October 2017.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid

3 - Leverkusen are one of two clubs to lose their three Champions League games this season, along with Atalanta. They are the first German side to lose their opening three group stage matches since Stuttgart in 2007-08.

3 - Atletico have won three Champions League games against Bayer Leverkusen; they have only won more against PSV (four).

Lokomotiv Moscow v Juventus

9 - Lokomotiv striker Eder has been on the losing side in his each of his past nine Champions League starts, dating back to October 2012 for Braga. The last player to lose on 10 consecutive starts in the competition was Junior Fernandes (11) for Dinamo Zagreb, a run that ended in December 2016.

33 - Ronaldo had eight shots without scoring in Juve's 2-1 win over Lokomotiv on matchday three. Should he score in this match, he would break the record for opponents scored against in the Champions League, with Ronaldo currently level on 33 with Raul and Messi.

Gian Piero Gasperini has vowed to stick to his principles by sending Atalanta out to attack Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Atalanta lead the scoring charts in Serie A with 30 goals in their first 11 matches of the campaign, including seven in one game against Udinese last month.

However, it has been a different story in their maiden Champions League campaign as Gasperini's men are bottom of Group C without a point after losing 5-1 to City at the Etihad Stadium on October 22.

Rather than look to avoid another humiliation at San Siro, though, Gasperini intends for Atalanta to again go on the offensive, having taken the lead in Manchester.

The coach was not impressed by Southampton's defensive tactics against City on Saturday, even as they pushed Pep Guardiola's men all the way before the Premier League champions won 2-1.

"I saw Manchester City's last match against Southampton, which they won late, but we don't want to do that," he said at Tuesday's news conference.

"We will try to stay true to our brand of football. No one wants to concede lots of goals, but we will play attacking football."

City can guarantee a place in the last 16 with victory in Milan, but Guardiola has been tipped to make changes to his side ahead of Sunday's huge domestic showdown with Liverpool.

Regardless of the line-up fielded by the visitors, Gasperini acknowledges his side have their work cut out to get off the mark in Group C in this fixture.

"I don't think [it is a good time to play them] because Manchester City have 23 or 24 good players, so whoever steps out can do a very good job," he said.

"I think they will be at 100 per cent tomorrow night and ultimately they want to qualify for the next round as soon as possible.

"They will want to get points to secure top spot in the group as soon as possible. I expect to see my team produce a good performance against a quality side and I expect to see our best level.

"Tomorrow's game, despite the ability of Manchester City, is an opportunity for us to see where we are in terms of qualification, finishing third for the Europa League. It's a very tough match."

One change Guardiola is expected to make from the reverse meeting between the two sides last month is at centre-back, with John Stones now back in contention after recovering from a muscle injury.

The England international realises there is added responsibility on his shoulders given the prolonged absence of defensive colleague Aymeric Laporte.

"If you want to put it like that, yeah, I think we've all got to step up as players and fight for our positions," he said. "We've also got to play for the lads who are injured like Aymeric and Leroy [Sane].

"We have to keep setting the standard for each other. That's what's brought us the success last season. We've got to take that responsibility as individuals and as a team."

Pep Guardiola insisted he did not mean to suggest Sadio Mane is "this type of player" in relation to the diving row he triggered ahead of Manchester City's crunch trip to Liverpool this weekend.

Guardiola stoked pre-match tensions before Sunday's top-of-the-table clash at Anfield by accusing Liverpool forward Mane of simulation.

Mane was booked for diving during the Reds' dramatic 2-1 win at Aston Villa last Saturday, where he brilliantly headed home a stoppage-time winner.

The Senegal international also won decisive penalties during recent wins over Leicester City and Tottenham that helped to preserve Liverpool's six-point lead over champions City at the summit.

Speaking after his side's own 2-1 comeback win over Southampton on Saturday, Guardiola told BBC Match of the Day: "Sometimes he's diving, sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute."

Klopp bridled at that suggestion on Monday when he spoke before Liverpool's Champions League match against Genk, going to allude to inferences made previously by Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that Guardiola's City commit "tactical fouls".

The former Barcelona boss faced a news conference on the eve of City's Champions League match against Atalanta at San Siro – where a win coupled with a draw between Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk would see them seal top spot in Group C – and Mane, Klopp and Liverpool were predictably on the agenda.

"My son and my daughter, all the times, when Liverpool win in the last minutes, they ask me, 'How lucky, how lucky they are'. I said at the time, 'It's not lucky'," Guardiola explained.

"What Liverpool has done this season and last season many, many times is because they have this incredible quality and incredible talent to fight to the end. That's why I say to my players – not just my son and daughter – that is not lucky.

"If it happens once or twice, yes, but it happened maybe 10 or 12 or 14 times.

"Then in the 94th minute in the game Leicester, it was a penalty – wow, like this, like that [questionable]. That was the intention of my comment but far away from the intention to say Sadio Mane is this type of player because I admire him a lot.

"For Jurgen it is a penalty, for the referee it is a penalty, for the VAR it is a penalty. I was wrong as the guy to maybe think it was [not] a penalty.

"Like Jurgen said, he knows Sadio Mane better than me. Of course, I have an incredible respect. When he says he's not like this, he's not like that."

Guardiola also suggested the edited footage of his post-match interview made his comments appear more inflammatory than they were.

"My comments, the speech is not long on the BBC. It is longer than [what appeared] on all the highlights [saying that] that I am accusing. I know how interesting it is for all of you guys," he said.

"It was praise for Liverpool, to say it was not just one action and they are lucky again. Hopefully I can clarify everything with Jurgen too."

When Klopp's observation that the City manager was overly fixated with Liverpool was mentioned, Guardiola claimed he "didn't listen" to what his opposite number had said – although his next answer to a question about the allegations of tactical fouling bellied this.

"No comment. I don't put oil on the fire," he grinned in a direct quote of one of Klopp's Monday comments.

Sergio Aguero believes the Premier League will again be a two-team title race this season as Manchester City seek to overhaul leaders Liverpool.

City pipped the Reds to top spot last term but now trail Jurgen Klopp's men by six points in their bid to go three in a row.

The deficit will be halved as soon as Sunday if the champions prevail in a top-of-the-table encounter at Anfield.

But defeat could leave them behind Chelsea and Leicester City, who are two points further back, by the end of the weekend.

Despite the form of the teams below, star striker Aguero expects the challenge to come solely from Merseyside.

"Liverpool has always been a tough opponent," Aguero told France Football.

"But when I arrived, the team we were fighting for the title was [Manchester] United. Initially, it was something strange in the city that City competes against United. Then there was Chelsea.

"But these last four seasons, Liverpool have become a very strong team and are now fighting with us to win the Premier League.

"It's the only team in the league that can hurt us. They have been chasing a new league [title] for years. Last season, they didn't go all the way, so they are very motivated. This year, they are in front of us and will try to go to the end."

Argentina international Aguero knows plenty about winning the Premier League, with his name forever etched in City history as the scorer of the dramatic goal that delivered the title in 2011-12.

He claimed another winners' medal in 2013-14 and has been at the forefront of the club's sustained excellence over the previous two title-winning seasons, scoring 42 Premier League goals in that time.

Aguero did not always seem to fit under Pep Guardiola but the 31-year-old insists the pair now share a strong understanding.

"We have come to know each other since his arrival and everything is clear between us," he said.

"I know how he is and vice versa. When he picks me, I try to do the best possible, because I know that behind me I have Gabriel Jesus, an attacker who scores goals whenever he has the opportunity to be on the field."

Raheem Sterling dreams of playing abroad and could be about to get his wish.

Real Madrid reportedly want to sign the Manchester City star after succeeding in their attempts to lure Eden Hazard from Chelsea.

To make the deal happen, the Spanish giants are ready to send Gareth Bale back to the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – SANTIAGO BERNABEU CALLING FOR STERLING

China continues to loom as the likeliest escape route for Gareth Bale, but Real Madrid might just have a different destination in mind.

According to Sky Sports, Madrid are preparing to offer the Wales winger plus £70million in a bid to prise Raheem Sterling from Manchester City.

Whether the Premier League champions have any interest in 30-year-old Bale is another matter, while the long-term contract extension Sterling signed last November gives them a strong bargaining position.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fresh speculation linking Kylian Mbappe to Zinedine Zidane's Madrid will prompt Paris Saint-Germain to offer the France forward an enticing new deal worth around €40million per season, Le Parisien reports. Mbappe has just over two years left on his current contract.

PSG are not just busy attempting to tie down their own players. De Telegraaf claims the Ligue 1 champions are one of three clubs expressing interest in Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana. Tottenham and Manchester United have also reportedly made contact with the 23-year-old's agent.

- Chelsea have identified several big-name January targets if their transfer ban is lifted at an appeal hearing later this month. Borussia Dortmund teenager Jadon Sancho, Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha and Lyon striker Moussa Dembele are the primary targets according to The Telegraph, which also lists Ben Chilwell and Nathan Ake among the names interesting Frank Lampard.

- Rade Krunic, one of AC Milan's better performers in the weekend loss to Lazio, will not be allowed to leave the club on loan, despite Bosnia and Herzegovina boss Robert Prosinecki advising him to seek more playing time. Calciomercato say the recent Rossoneri signing is part of Stefano Pioli's plans and will be staying put at San Siro.

Jurgen Klopp has defended Sadio Mane after Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggested the Liverpool forward is "sometimes" guilty of diving.

Mane scored a late winner for Liverpool in Saturday's 2-1 win at Aston Villa but was earlier shown a yellow card for simulation, having been criticised previously when winning contentious penalties.

Guardiola stoked tensions ahead of next weekend's top-of-the-table showdown with Liverpool by taking a swipe at the Senegal international for going to ground too easily.

"Sometimes he is diving," Guardiola told BBC Sport, speaking after both City and Liverpool pulled off late Premier League comebacks at the weekend.

"Sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute. He's a talent."

However, Klopp responded that contact was made on Mane inside the box and claimed City's players would have likewise gone down, before insisting he did not want to talk about Liverpool's domestic rivals.

"I don't know how [Guardiola] could have known about any incident in our game so quickly after their game," Klopp told a pre-match news conference ahead of Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Genk.

"Sadio is not a diver. There was a situation in the Villa game when he got a contact and went down but there was contact.

"I am 100 per cent sure if something like this happened to Man City, they would want to have a penalty. I am absolutely not in the mood to talk about Man City. I really want to talk about Genk."

Klopp was pressed on the looming clash with City, though, as Liverpool remain six points clear at the top of the league table.

Despite the magnitude of Sunday's match at Anfield, Klopp has no concerns his players will be distracted against Genk.

"You can say the words Man City, you just cannot think about it," he said. "I don't doubt my players at all. I would feel a bit embarrassed if I had to tell them, 'Don't think about Man City already'.

"The story we have written over the last three years is only possible because we always focus on the next game. We have big ambitions in the Champions League and it's an open group. 

"We have to be 100 per cent spot on, make a good atmosphere and get the points. For the people at Anfield, we need to focus on this match, just like the players will be."

Liverpool have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the visit of Genk, who were beaten 4-1 when the sides met in Belgium two weeks ago.

That results contributes to making Liverpool heavy favourites for the return fixture, and Klopp said of the expectation of victory: "It will be a challenge but a nice one to have.

"It means we have a good team. It's not the biggest problem to have. It's 100 per cent clear we have to put in a proper shift to get the win.

"We have to use the spaces. The group is still open and we need everyone. [Genk] can still make Europa League so they still have targets. 

"We need to respect them. The story of the last two years is that we have always been spot on when we needed to be."

Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City's trip to Liverpool next weekend is not make or break for his side's Premier League title hopes.

The reigning champions head to Anfield sitting six points behind the pacesetters following dramatic comeback victories for both sides on Saturday.

City snatched a 2-1 win at home to Southampton thanks to a late Kyle Walker strike, while Liverpool left it even later to see off Aston Villa by the same scoreline.

However, Guardiola will not panic if his side fail to close the gap on Sunday, having made up a seven-point deficit in the second half of 2018-19 to pip Liverpool to top spot.

Asked if his side needed to end a 15-year wait for a league victory at Anfield to keep their title aspirations alive, Guardiola said: "We're going to try, but I don't think so. How many centuries have they not lost at Anfield?

"We know what happened on Saturday beyond the result - they beat Aston Villa in the last minutes. There are a lot of games to play.

"Many things are going to happen and there are a lot of games to play."

City first travel to Italy for a Champions League group-stage meeting with Atalanta on Wednesday, 24 hours after Liverpool host Genk in the same competition.

Guardiola's side are top of Group C with a perfect record after three matches, but the Catalan coach intends to name his strongest starting line-up against Atalanta.

"We're going to play with the best team possible to win at Atalanta and after that we go to Anfield," he said.

"Nobody can assure me that if we don't do what we have to do at Atalanta, then we're going to make a better performance against Liverpool.

"The best way to face Atalanta is the way we played against Southampton, and the best way to go to Anfield is to play a good game against Atalanta, who have been fighting with the top clubs in Italy for the last two or three seasons.

"They can score four, five, six goals every game, so we're going to play with what we believe is the best team and try to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League."

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