Manchester United win and Bruno Fernandes scores a penalty? Sounds familiar enough. But Monday's Europa League quarter-final against Copenhagen, a peculiar one-off meeting in the strangest of seasons, was fittingly weird.

United mostly dominated, had 26 shots, hit the target 14 times, hit the post three times, but needed an extra-time spot-kick to progress 1-0. Copenhagen defended, failed to test Sergio Romero once in 120 minutes, but never looked out of the game - one that finished at close to midnight in Cologne with the temperature still at 28 degrees Celcius.

In United red, there were performances that were brilliant and infuriating in equal measure. Anthony Martial led the Copenhagen defence on a merry dance but finished as though he had two left feet; Brandon Williams controlled the left flank but gave the Danes their best opening; Juan Mata was exceptional off the bench and still made a mess of three chances for a second goal.

United can be certain of one thing, though: this is the sort of game where smashing the British transfer record for Jadon Sancho would come in handy.

Monday marked Borussia Dortmund's deadline for a Sancho deal to go through. The player travelled with the squad for their pre-season training camp and sporting director Michael Zorc declared the matter was at an end, saying: "We plan on having Jadon Sancho in our team this season. The decision is final. I think that answers all our questions."

It doesn't, of course. United never looked likely to strike a deal so early in a transfer window that runs until October and it's largely expected they will continue to seek an agreement that won't threaten the stability of either the club's finances post-pandemic or the dressing room. Their latest performance is unlikely to change that.

Copenhagen had conceded more than one goal just twice in their previous 42 games in Europe. They knew the onus was on United to dictate and, presumably, also knew the difficulty the Red Devils have had in breaking down sides this season. Their approach was not a surprise, and nor was United's inability to unsettle them.

Luck was against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, it's true. Mason Greenwood had a goal disallowed for offside, a penalty was overturned because of Harry Maguire straying beyond the last man, and Greenwood, Fernandes and Victor Lindelof each hit the woodwork.

There was also an inspired Karl-Johan Johnsson in the Copenhagen goal. In a remarkable performance, he made 13 saves, the joint-most of any keeper in a Europa League match since the competition's rebranding from the UEFA Cup in 2009. The best came against Martial, who grew increasingly dangerous as the game wore on and was the only United forward to drive at the Copenhagen defence and destabilise their impressive rearguard.

That's where Sancho would be invaluable. The 20-year-old has plundered the Bundesliga in a Dortmund side where he is encouraged to run straight at a full-back or centre-half at every available opportunity. Against a team like Copenhagen, built around zonal marking and covering the space in front of the box, that kind of approach can shift matters in your favour.

Of course, United should be expected to beat teams like this without an extra-time penalty or the need to spend around £100million on a new winger, and they certainly created enough to have made the scoreline more comfortable. The inescapable truth remains that Solskjaer's side lurch from dazzling to tedious, too often attacking down blind alleys while trying to follow the trumpeted United Way.

Sancho would change that - assuming he would want to go.

Chelsea have reportedly joined two Premier League rivals in a tug-of-war for sought-after centre-back Ben White.

The talented Brighton and Hove Albion defender is wanted back at Elland Road, where he spent last season on loan, but Leeds United have long been tipped to face competition from Liverpool.

Now, an unexpected new contender for his signature has emerged.

 

TOP STORY – BLUES WANT WHITE

Frank Lampard and Chelsea have identified the highly rated White as a solution to their issues at the back, reports the Daily Star.

The Blues are said to be keen on the 22-year-old and will jettison Antonio Rudiger if their plan succeeds.

Rudiger struggled during the recent FA Cup final defeat against Arsenal and was overlooked for Saturday's 4-1 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich, which confirmed a heavy 7-1 aggregate hiding.

Sky Sports claims Brighton have already rejected two Leeds offers for White, who has been linked to Liverpool for several months.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Star also has an update on Alexandre Lacazette, who could join Atletico Madrid in a €31.1million (£30m) move once Arsenal tie Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a new contract.

- Manchester United are looking to sell Phil Jones after deciding against sending the defender for knee surgery, reports the Mirror.

- Ligue 1's Monaco are in talks to sign Weston McKennie from Bundesliga club Schalke, according to L'Equipe, although the United States international is also attracting Premier League interest.

- Niko Kovac's men are not the only French outfit weighing up a midfield addition. Paris Saint-Germain have been linked to Ismael Bennacer and Le 10 Sport suggests Serie A side Milan could be tempted by a big-money offer.

They might have lost LaLiga's title race, but Barcelona at least got one over on Real Madrid by reaching the Champions League last eight.

A day after Madrid fell in Manchester, Quique Setien's Blaugrana, maligned this season for lacking a clear plan and a firm backbone, showed both in overcoming Napoli at Camp Nou.

Juventus were also knocked out on Friday, Cristiano Ronaldo's two goals not enough to spare them from elimination by Lyon or to keep Maurizio Sarri in a job. Not so for Lionel Messi: he scored, had another disallowed and won a penalty converted by Luis Suarez as Barca won 3-1 in the last-16 second leg and 4-2 on aggregate to reach a 13th straight quarter-final.

The suggestion is Sarri was facing the sack regardless of the Lyon result, but it seems unlikely Juve would have pulled the trigger had he got them into a quarter-final tie with Manchester City. The same can likely be said for Setien, who would almost certainly not have been Barca coach much longer had Napoli triumphed, and who may well find his days numbered if they cannot find a way to best red-hot Bayern Munich, who destroyed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, in the last eight.

Messi - and Setien - deserve real credit for Saturday's victory, though. Those nightmarish visits to Roma and Liverpool in the past two seasons will not be forgotten, but this time, as tension tightened in a crowdless Camp Nou, Barca showed they can hold their nerve.

It was mostly an un-Barca, un-Setien-like performance: perfunctory, moderately adventurous, the best work done largely without the ball. Napoli had close to 80 per cent of the possession in the first 10 minutes and then found themselves a goal behind when Clement Lenglet headed in an Ivan Rakitic corner. It was hard to know which of Setien or Gennaro Gattuso seemed more surprised.

It was a simplistic goal befitting a rare uncomplicated approach from Setien. Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann were joined in a three-pronged attack, with licence to roam and a requirement to hustle for the ball high up the pitch. Behind them, with Sergio Busquets suspended, were Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and the excellent Frenkie De Jong, whose primary task was to disrupt as much as dictate.

It was a Barca reminiscent of Luis Enrique's first season in charge, when Messi, Suarez and Neymar wreaked havoc at the head of a solid base. Of course, the blueprint of 2014-15 is not a bad one to follow - it won them their last Champions League trophy.

Messi, it is said, is borderline obsessed with winning the competition again this year. He certainly played like it in the first 45 minutes. His goal was one of those maddening combinations of skill and tenacity that must exasperate defenders, as he bustled into the area, fell to his knees, scrambled back up and found the bottom-left corner while falling again, all before Mario Rui had realised where he was.

Messi scored again, chesting the ball down and smashing it in, only for VAR to penalise the faintest grazing of the ball on his arm. He had the technology to thank before the break, though, when he hustled and harried Kalidou Koulibaly, who swung his foot to clear the ball and seemed surprised when Messi's calf appeared in the way.

The Argentine was hurt badly, and you suspect he might have come off at half-time had Lorenzo Insigne not scored a penalty for Napoli moments before the break to give Barca that all-to-familiar sinking feeling.

So, he stayed out, and he led. He wasn't the inspiration Barca were used to, but he was the one they needed: a hurrying, scurrying, scrapping captain who dragged his team over the line.

Napoli had 18 shots to Barca's seven, 11 crosses to their two, and only 2.2 per cent less of the ball, but Messi and Barca won't care if this result means they have finally learned again how to see out a cup tie. They'll need every ounce of that new-found nous if they are to halt the Bayern juggernaut in Lisbon and keep Setien in the job a little while longer.

Juventus' elimination from the Champions League spelled the end for Maurizio Sarri and the start of a new era under Andrea Pirlo.

Despite leading the Bianconeri to a ninth straight Scudetto in 2019-20, Sarri was fired after Juve crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage to Lyon on Friday.

Pirlo was at the heart of Juve's brilliant midfield during the start of their Serie A dominance, winning four Scudetti, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana twice during a four-year stint that ended when he moved to New York City in 2015.

A week after returning to Juve as their Under-23 boss, Pirlo was handed the reins of the first team ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

He is not the first club legend to go back and manage a team they played for, though, and we have taken a look at the biggest successes and failures.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping away in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Pirlo will have to get the better of his former coach Conte, now at Inter, if he is to maintain the Bianconeri's run of titles.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try and save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

There was a certain inevitability about Maurizio Sarri's fate once Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League last 16 by Lyon.

Sure, the swiftness of Juve's decision caught some off guard but not even winning the Serie A title is enough to assuage the Bianconeri board nowadays.

After nine straight Serie A titles that should not really be a surprise, and most observers would acknowledge Juve's success this season had as much to do with their rivals' failures as it did their own merits.

But how do the numbers back up such an assertion? Well, using Opta data we compared Juve's solitary Serie A season under Sarri to their final campaign under Massimiliano Allegri in 2018-19 to try and shed some light.


IMPROVEMENTS IN ATTACK?

As you would perhaps expect to see, Juve's stats suggest they were a little more inclined to go for the jugular under Sarri.

Indeed, the 76 goals, 501 shots and 243 shots on target are all higher than last season, when they registered 70, 451 and 201 in the respective areas.

But the numbers also hint at Juve not being quite as clinical as they could have been. In 2018-19, Juve converted 43 big chances and missed 42 for a big-chance conversion rate 50.59 per cent.

Looking at the same metrics under Sarri, Juve again scored 43 of their big chances but missed a disappointing 52, bringing their rate down to 45.26 per cent.

Indeed, their shot-conversion rate also dipped, albeit the drop was less noticeable, falling from 15.52 to 15.17 per cent.

One area where Juve did improve is one that would make sense given Sarri's style. The Bianconeri scored six goals from fast breaks and had 31 fast breaks in total, compared to three and 16 the season before.


PASSING THE SARRI TEST?

Sarri was employed in part to bring an attractive style of football to match a winning team at Juve. Of course, a simple eye test may suggest he was not exactly successful at doing so.

But the stats do suggest Sarri was at least making progress with this end game.

Juve created more chances and big chances (503 and 66 compared to 476 and 60), while there were 47 assists in total, slightly up from 44.

Their passing stats improved as well. A passing accuracy of 87.97 is better than the 86.24 of last term, while the same metric in their own and the opposition half was higher (92.04 and 85.13 per cent against 91.44 and 86.24). This was despite attempting more passes this season (21,727 to 20,092).

Overall, Juve also spent more time in possession of the ball, rising from 56.22 to 58.31 per cent.


NOT MUCH CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Unfortunately, while Sarri could feasibly argue Juve had made progress going forward, the case for the defence is not nearly as strong.

Juve conceded 43 goals this term, a pretty big increase from the 30 in the last term under Allegri, while they also kept four fewer clean sheets (12 as opposed to 16).

Duel success was down only a smidgen from 53 to 52.53, while there was a bigger plunge in tackle success – that figure going from 62.11 to 59.

Additionally, there were fewer recoveries (2163 down to 2030), aerial successes (557 down to 448), blocks (128 down to 117) and possession wins (1,945 down to 1,811).

Juventus did not make as many errors leading to shots (14 down from 16) but did make six errors leading to goals, two more than the four in 2018-19.

This defensive dip can be perhaps partly explained by the longer spells of possession but it still does not reflect particularly well for Sarri.


BETTER THAN CHELSEA, WORSE THAN NAPOLI?

Sarri's Napoli side were revered across the continent but the same cannot be truly said of his teams at Chelsea or Juve, albeit the latter two ventures only lasted one season each.

At Napoli, Sarri oversaw 98 wins in 148 games across all competitions, giving him a win percentage of 66.2 with the Partenopei.

With Chelsea, where Sarri won a first major honour in the 2018-19 Europa League, he celebrated 39 wins in 63 games as his win percentage dropped to 61.9.

It climbed back up to 65.4 with Juve, where Sarri was a victor 34 times in 52 matches – but ultimately it was enough to convince the Bianconeri's hierarchy.

Lionel Messi's sublime home record for Barcelona makes worrying reading for Napoli, whose task is not nearly as tricky as the one Chelsea face against a Bayern Munich side spearheaded by the sensational Robert Lewandowski. 

The final two rearranged Champions League last-16 games take place on Saturday before the competition, which was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, heads for Lisbon. 

Barca, who drew 1-1 at the San Paolo in the first leg, host Napoli for the first time in a competitive match, with Gennaro Gattuso's visitors aiming to become the first team to win their first away trip to Camp Nou since Rubin Kazan in October 2009. 

Bayern's squad and coaching team will surely be having their passports stamped for a trip to Portugal having hammered Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard's Blues will have to do something that has never been done if they are to progress.


Barcelona v Napoli

6 - Napoli's Dries Mertens has scored six Champions League goals this season, one shy of the record for goals in a single season in UEFA competition for the club; both Edinson Cavani (2012-13 Europa League) and Gonzalo Higuain (2014-15 Europa League) scored seven each. 

11 - Messi has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last five home Champions League knockout matches at Camp Nou (8 goals, 3 assists), scoring a brace in four of those five games. 

12 - Barcelona have qualified for the Champions League quarter-finals in each of the last 12 campaigns, last failing in 2006-07 under Frank Rijkaard; no other team has qualified for the last-eight of the competition in more than eight consecutive seasons. They have also progressed from each of their last 19 Champions League knockout ties after avoiding defeat in the first leg away from home, only failing to do so once (vs Juventus in the 2002-03 quarter-final). 

2 - Napoli's two previous away Champions League knockout matches have ended in defeat, losing 4-1 to Chelsea in March 2012 and 3-1 to Real Madrid in February 2017. They have failed to progress from nine of their last 10 UEFA European knockout ties when failing to win the first leg. 

1 - This is Quique Setien's first home Champions League match as Barcelona boss – 10 of their previous 11 managers have won their first in charge at Camp Nou, with only Louis van Gaal failing to do so in a 2-2 draw against PSV in October 1997. 


Bayern Munich v Chelsea

6 - All six of Serge Gnabry's Champions League goals for Bayern this season have come against English teams (four vs Spurs, two vs Chelsea). Only two players have scored more goals against teams from a single nation in one season – Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14 vs German teams (7) and Luiz Adriano in 2014-15 vs Belarusian teams (8). 

41 - Lewandowski has scored 11 goals and assisted two more in six Champions League appearances this season, averaging a goal or assist every 41 minutes. The German side have failed to win any of their last five knockout stage games in the Champions League in which Lewandowski has not been on the scoresheet (D3 L2). 

1- Chelsea have only scored three goals in an away Champions League knockout match once previously, winning 3-1 at Liverpool in April 2009; Bayern have only conceded three times in three of their 43 home Champions League knockout games, though did so most recently in a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in March 2019. 

0 - In the entire history of the European Cup and Champions League, no team has ever won by three or more goals in the first leg of a knockout match away from home and failed to progress, going through on all 92 previous occasions. 

3- Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick is looking to become only the third manager in Champions League history to win his first five matches in charge, after Fabio Capello (first six with Milan in 1992-93) and Luis Fernandez (first six with PSG in 1994-95). 

Back when Pep Guardiola was in his playing pomp and Zinedine Zidane was plotting his path towards the summit of the European game, elite clubs loved to look towards Brazilian brilliance to supply a vital measure of Champions League pizzazz.

Guardiola could delight in picking out the lethal Romario from midfield. Where he trod for Barcelona, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho duly followed.

"Pep has a special feeling for Brazilian players," Guardiola's former assistant and newly appointed Flamengo boss Domenec Torrent told Globoesporte earlier this year.

"In fact, he has a preference for Brazilians because they are very versatile and can adapt to any type of football."

It was little surprise to see Brazil internationals at the heart of Guardiola's plans for Friday's Champions League showdown with Real Madrid, with a 2-1 win and 4-2 aggregate victory their reward. But Jogo Bonito, this was not.

FERNANDINHO'S STEADYING HAND

Eric Garcia's decision to reject a new contract at City has the teenage centre-back heading for the exit door – a situation sure to have caused his manager anguish on the eve of Madrid's arrival in Manchester.

Guardiola has placed great faith in a 19-year-old he declares "does not make mistakes". Negotiating your way out of a potentially triumphant Champions League campaign might count as one.

Garcia had established himself as Aymeric Laporte's first-choice partner in central defence over recent weeks. His apparently pending return to boyhood club Barcelona meant a defensive recall for a man 16 years his senior.

In their first season since Vincent Kompany's departure, City have wanted for leadership and presence on the big occasions. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all have victories over them.

The sight of Fernandinho, striding out as captain felt like a grown-up heading into a situation where one was required. Converted from a central midfielder this season, he made a perfectly judged tackle when the in-form Karim Benzema lurked on the edge of the City area in the fifth minute.

TIRELESS JESUS GIVES VARANE NO REST

At the other end of the field, Fernandinho's international team-mate Gabriel Jesus resumed the hard yards he carried out in City's 2-1 first-leg win. Guardiola doesn't often have a need for left-wing donkey work. When he does, Jesus dutifully trots over from centre-forward and gets to work. Romario would never have entertained such a thing.

Jesus lined up in an ever-alert and harassing front three alongside Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling. He seized upon Raphael Varane's first error of a personal ordeal to selflessly give Sterling his 100th goal in City colours.

The Brazilian in the City line-up possessing the most flair was arguably their goalkeeper. Ederson's passing was once again bafflingly good in its range an execution, but he had the basics of his craft in immaculate order as he denied Benzema sharply and snaffled any other shot that came his way.

He had little chance when Madrid's number nine powered in a header to equalise on the night. After that wobble, Jesus bought a free-kick then won a header from a long ball pumped to his flank.

Little flecks of dirty work to draw the sting from a difficult moment. And all while a Yorkshireman at right-back was gallivanting about like gloriously renegade Cafu. Kyle Walker gained possession nine times - more than any other City player - and won all seven of his duels.

MADRID'S AURA EBBS AWAY

As has been the case over the course of City's season, chances were created and spurned by vibrant but profligate attackers. If they lose in Lisbon, it will probably be in circumstances were they feel they shouldn't have.

It felt dicey to have left the door ajar to such greats of the competition. But during an increasingly torrid second period for Madrid – in line with Juventus's woes in Turin – the layers of an aura fell away and time ticked loudly on some great careers.

Kevin De Bruyne was romping around and tearing holes in a manner reminiscent of the man in the away dugout and errors from a ragged Madrid defence were piling up.

Dani Carvajal, who could have done without Sterling's company when Guardiola shuffled his front three at half-time, coughed up possession 15 times. Ferland Mendy and Varane were also into double figures in that regard, with the latter culpable when the tie was put to bed.

Lurking with maximum nuisance value was Jesus, producing a one-touch finish to make Romario and his other great countrymen purr. A moment of triumph etched from a thousand beads of sweat rolling down Guardiola's robust Brazilian spine.

The final elite football game of the 2019-20 season in England will take place on Friday. Not a final, but a last-16 game in the Champions League. In August. Next season will start before the month is out.

In many respects, the new normal has become just that. Only when its component parts are listed does it sound completely bizarre. Manchester City versus Real Madrid will be staged without any of the normal razzamatazz and roars expected on such an occasion.

The big moments are the ones that linger from such defining evenings but, as all match-going fans know, it is – as Pep Guardiola might put it – the "small details" that contribute to the magic. Unchanging routines, familiar faces and a sense of community, within which new features quickly become part of the matchday tapestry.

One of those during the early months of 2020 was a gazebo stationed at the end of Howard Bernstein Way, opposite City's Academy Stadium, which lies adjacent to the Etihad Stadium.

"We started it after the General Election because… you know," said Alex Timperley, one of the founders of MCFC Fans Foodbank Support.

Over the course of six collections, Alex and his team amassed more than a tonne of food for Manchester Central Foodbank. They were not the only group of football supporters stirred into action by fears over that the next term of government might mean for the most vulnerable in the UK.

"It was a numbers game for me. I was thinking we've got 60,000 coming to the London Stadium every game and if we could just get a percentage of those donating, we were on a win-win," John Ratomski of West Ham's Irons Supporting Foodbanks told Stats Perform News.

"Also, you look at the East End community spirit, which has always been a very, very strong community. They've always helped themselves and each other. I felt the West Ham fan base would be very supportive of what we're doing."

Spiralling foodbank usage in the UK is unquestionably a stain upon one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, a desperate situation has brought about countless extraordinary deeds from ordinary people, with football fans increasingly putting themselves at the forefront.

When starting up their own operations, Alex and John each reached out to the Liverpool-based Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF).

HUNGER DOESN'T WEAR CLUB COLOURS

Established by Liverpool fan and now Member of Parliament for Liverpool West Derby Ian Byrne and Everton supporter Dave Kelly in October 2015, FSF – proudly bearing its tagline "Hunger Doesn't Wear Club Colours"  – held 223 consecutive matchday collections at Anfield and Goodison Park, a run necessarily halted by June's behind-closed-doors Merseyside derby.

Far from halting the efforts of a movement primarily based upon receiving donations from face-to-face interactions on a matchday, the post-coronavirus world and its myriad challenges have seen FSF and its affiliated groups, such as those at City and West Ham, step up activities and tailor them to the times.

A joint fundraising effort between City and their United counterparts tipped over £15,000 this week. That follows the two Manchester clubs, cajoled as much as inspired by the efforts of their respective fans, donating a combined £100,000 to the Trussell Trust shortly after lockdown took hold.

The Trussell Trust supports a network of over 1,200 foodbank centres nationwide. In April, it reported an 89 per cent increase in the need for emergency food parcels compared to the same month last year, including a 107 per cent rise in parcels given to children. The number of families with children receiving parcels doubled over the same timeframe.

"The one we work with, Manchester Central, in April gave out four times as many food parcels as they did last April," Alex told Stats Perform News, confirming a similarly grim picture locally.

"The flip side of that is they told us that our donations in cash and what we'd got out of the club had meant that two of the people who used to volunteer there have been able to work their full-time.

"They've got expanded capacity but that's quite a small win when you think that the expanded capacity means they're able to feed people who presumably would have needed feeding anyway but they wouldn't have been able to.

"The longer this goes on, the worse foodbanks are going to get hit so we need to keep going."

WORKING WITH CLUBS FROM THE OUTSIDE

And keep going they will. FSF is clear in the fact it does not wish to be a PR opportunity for individual teams, with working across clubs for the betterment of all a central part of its ethos.

Nevertheless, mutually beneficial relationships have been harnessed impressively, from the City group lobbying their club successfully over season ticket rebates and matchday staff pay for cancelled games, to donations and foodbank support at Liverpool and West Ham.

By mid-may, Liverpool had contributed £90,000 to its own emergency foodbank appeal, with fans more than doubling the £15,000 target of the associated fundraiser. During the spectacular on-field lights show that accompanied Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League trophy, the FSF logo was beamed on to the Anfield pitch before a global audience of millions.

At West Ham, John's fledgling operation also won support from the boardroom.

"We reckon that, on average, we were raising about £700 a game in the value of cash and food donations," he explained.

"The owner, David Sullivan, found out that we were £3,500 short with the five cancelled games and made a direct donation from his own money to Newham Foodbank, covering any losses from those five games.

"He said he'll be more supportive, he admires what we do. That's a terrific gesture."

Sullivan also signed off a £1,500 contribution to cover 1,000 deliveries to London from the Merseyside PPE (personal protective equipment) hub, which has been a huge part of FSF's operations during the pandemic, working tirelessly to meet the shortfall experienced by frontline workers across the country.

EVERYDAY HEROES

Alex recounted the tale of Southport-based City fan Karl Dunkerly, who gave MCFC Fans Foodbank Support 3,000 PPE visors to be distributed through the Manchester care system and other groups who need them.

Even with fans being kept away from the game they love, football has provided a platform for these incredible acts of kindness to be felt more widely.

The philanthropic efforts of players through the Players Together fund, along with Marcus Rashford successfully bringing about a change in government policy as he campaigns against child poverty, were part of what started to look something like a social awakening for football in England during the COVID-19 crisis.

Premier League shirts bearing support for the NHS and Black Lives Matter, along with teams taking a knee before kick-off, underlines the shift of clubs, who are now multinational companies, embracing issues they might once have felt they could leave alone.

The group of fans committed to supporting society's most vulnerable will continue to show this kinder face of the game everywhere they look. As one strange season blurs into the next, it is no time to let up.

"I expect that there will be a large number of the public that equates a football fan to a hooligan," John said.

"It goes back to what happened in the 70s and 80s. This shows another angle to the football fan now, that they can make these contributions to the foodbank."

As the City group continue with plans to support Ronald McDonald House and campaign for more equitable arrangements in Manchester's rental sector, Alex concurs.

"There's nothing else in the country, maybe in the world, which organises people like football," he said "We're using that and we've got lots of plans."

Chelsea must pull off one of the greatest second-leg comebacks if their Champions League hopes are not to be killed off by Bayern Munich on Saturday.

There has been a spate of stunning salvage jobs in recent seasons that may give hope to Frank Lampard's side, who trail 3-0 from the first leg in London.

Nevertheless, Bayern start as firm favourites to clinch a place in the quarter-finals heading into the clash at the Allianz Arena.

Here is a look at games that may give Blues fans some hope as their team head to Germany.

2019: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (4-3 on aggregate)

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool had been well beaten at Camp Nou, with the 3-0 scoreline flattering Barcelona but making the Catalans clear favourites to complete their semi-final task at Anfield.

Liverpool were without injured forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg, yet two goals each from Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum saw the hosts defy the odds in sensational style.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner.

It meant a Barcelona side boasting Lionel Messi and former Liverpool stars Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez were left devastated, while Klopp's men celebrated reaching the Madrid final.

2019: Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax (5-3 on aggregate)

Despite an impressive display in their 2-1 first-leg defeat, few thought Ajax could turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid's Sergio Ramos certainly did not - he earned a first-leg booking to avoid the risk of a quarter-final ban, earning an extra-game suspension from UEFA in the process.

In the absence of their captain, Madrid capitulated against a fearless and thrilling Ajax. Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put the visitors 2-0 up after only 18 minutes and it was 3-0 just after the hour mark thanks to the inspired Dusan Tadic.

Marco Asensio got a goal back, but Lasse Schone's free-kick beat Thibaut Courtois and sent Madrid crashing out. It was the first time Madrid had ever been knocked out after winning the first leg of a Champions League tie, while Ajax would themselves be stung by a comeback in the semi-finals.

2019: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (3-3 agg)

Ajax looked certain finalists when they extended their 1-0 first-leg lead to 3-0 in Amsterdam with first-half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Ziyech.

Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs took inspiration from Liverpool's stunning fightback against Barcelona 24 hours earlier, though, and Lucas Moura stepped up to emerge as their hero.

The Brazilian winger was thrust into a central attacking role and scored an improbable hat-trick in the second half, the vital third goal coming deep into stoppage time, as Spurs won on away goals.

2018: Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg)

Barcelona were stunned in the Italian capital as Roma completed one of the most unlikely quarter-final turnarounds.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side came back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to the last four on away goals after a thrilling 3-0 win in front of their home fans.

Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas secured the 4-4 aggregate draw and sent the Stadio Olimpico into raptures, as Barca fell to pieces.

2017: Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain (6-5 agg)

Before their humblings by Roma and Liverpool, Barcelona pulled off an astonishing Champions League comeback of their own, and the greatest so far in terms of the deficit overhauled.

Trailing 4-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie with PSG, Suarez and Messi scored either side of a Layvin Kurzawa own goal, only for Edinson Cavani to grab what was expected to be the decisive away goal for the visitors.

However, two quickfire Neymar goals against his future club – the second a highly controversial penalty after an apparent Suarez dive – levelled the tie at 5-5.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sergi Roberto struck to create a slice of Champions League history – no side had ever turned around a four-goal first-leg deficit before.

2004: Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 Milan (5-4 agg)

Deportivo were among Spain's major forces just after the turn of the century and one of their finest moments in Europe came in April 2004 when, despite being 4-1 down from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Milan, they stunned the Rossoneri at the Riazor.

Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque had Depor ahead on away goals before half-time, with veteran Fran Gonzalez scoring the fourth to make sure of their passage.

Depor were eliminated by eventual winners Porto in the semi-finals, but this comeback stood as arguably the very best in Champions League history until Barca went one better.

2000: Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea (aet, 6-4 agg)

This is not one Chelsea will remember fondly.

A 3-1 first-leg loss at Stamford Bridge – having trailed 3-0 – had Barca in danger of being on the wrong end of a major Champions League upset prior to Chelsea's Roman Abramovich era, but in the return match the Catalan giants showed their true class.

Tore Andre Flo's 60th-minute goal was sending Chelsea through despite Rivaldo and Luis Figo scoring before the break, but Dani Garcia headed home seven minutes from the end of regulation to force extra time.

Rivaldo atoned for an earlier missed penalty by converting from the spot after Celestine Babayaro was sent off and Patrick Kluivert finished the game off, crushing Chelsea's dreams.

With the announcement that the 2020 Ballon d'Or will not be awarded this year due to the coronavirus-enforced break in play, Robert Lewandowski will feel pretty hard done by.

By the end of June, Lewandowski's goals had propelled Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double. His goals in the league (34 in total) made him the highest single-season foreign goalscorer in history. With another six goals in the Pokal – including two in the final to seal the deal in a 4-2 win against Bayer Leverkusen – and 11 more in the Champions League, Lewandowski has scored more goals in all competitions than any other player across Europe's top five leagues this season. 

For Lewandowski, it has been undoubtedly the best season of his career. Remarkably, the 31-year-old is averaging a goal every 74 minutes and he has already scored 11 more than last year and eight more than in his previous personal best (43 goals in 2016-17).

The consistency of Lewandowski's production is phenomenal. Since 2015-16, he has scored 40 or more goals in every season. The only player who has kept pace with the Pole is a certain Lionel Messi, but the Barcelona star will need to score an unlikely 10 more times to hit the 40-goal milestone in 2019-20.

 

In his 285 competitive games for Bayern, Lewandowski has hit a total of 242 goals, averaging a goal every 99 minutes. This is a goalscoring machine at its best.

Lewandowski has taken his game to another level this season. After being the top scorer in the Bundesliga (34) and in the Pokal (6), the Bayern marksman is also the leading scorer in the Champions League (11). He could become the first player since Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 to take home a hat-trick of golden boots in league, cup and European action. Neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi have ever achieved this.

So, what's his secret?

 

ELITE IN THE BOX

Since joining Bayern back in 2014, Lewandowski has increased his expected goals (xG) total each season. This campaign, he is averaging a staggering 1.1 xG every 90 minutes. Put simply, the chances Lewandowski attempts are worth over one goal every game. This figure is nearly double as many as in his first season at Bayern (0.6). His consistently high xG values show that his impressive goal tally is not just a product of overperforming, but rather the result of generating good goalscoring opportunities.

 

Year after year, Lewandowski gets himself in better goalscoring positions. He has perfected the art of creating space and chances for himself in crucial areas of the pitch. The below graphic illustrates this perfectly: look at the cluster of shots he has taken in this season's Champions League.

 

In the current Champions League campaign, no player has scored as many non-penalty goals (10) or taken shots from higher quality chances (8.6 xG) as Lewandowski. As the size of the dots shows, Lewandowski is mainly taking shots from good-quality locations with a high xG value and avoids shooting from further afield.

THE COMPLETE FORWARD

Lewandowski is the target man in Bayern's attack, but he is far more than a poacher – he is a crucial cog in their build-up play.

In the 2019-20 Bundesliga campaign, Lewandowski was involved in a league-high 43 open-play sequences that ended with a goal. If we remove those sequences in which Lewandowski himself scored (27), he was involved in 16 open-play sequences that ended in a goal scored by one of his team-mates, the highest value among all strikers in the competition.

 

Indeed, while Lewandowski has registered only four assists in the latest Bundesliga season, we can use expected assists (xA) to analyse how many assists Lewandowski should have had based on the quality of his passes. According to this metric, Lewandowski's open-play passes in the recent league season were worth seven assists, so he was unfortunate not to have three more assists to add to his total of four.

 

His total of 7.1 xA this campaign is his highest tally.  The 31-year-old has massively improved his creative abilities over the past two years, nearly increasing his xA value threefold (he registered 2.8 xA in 2017-18).

A complete forward, Lewandowski works for the team, creates chances for his team-mates and is heavily involved in build-up play. Bayern's last Champions League game in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie with Chelsea can be used as an ideal example of Lewandowski's all-around qualities. He was everywhere.

 

Lewandowski's touches at Stamford Bridge on February 25 (from left to right)

In that game, Lewandowski recorded two assists in a single Champions League match for the first time in his career, assisting the first two Bayern goals for Serge Gnabry before scoring the last himself to seal a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. 

Perhaps 2020 would have been Lewandowski's best chance to become just the second player other than Messi and Ronaldo to win the Ballon d'Or since 2008, but the way his game is improving every season – coupled with the inevitable decline of Messi and Ronaldo – means the Poland goalscoring machine will likely have another crack at the accolade in 2021 and beyond.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in fine fettle since football returned from its coronavirus-enforced break. The same cannot be said for Barcelona and Juventus.

Juve won a ninth Serie A title in a row, of course, but a run of two wins in eight games to end the domestic season was not exactly sparkling form. They also lost the Coppa Italia final to Napoli.

As for Barca, a two-point lead when LaLiga restarted became a five-point deficit to Real Madrid by the end, as Zinedine Zidane's side took back the title.

Messi made it perfectly clear in a rather disgruntled outburst that, if they do not improve, they will not progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, having drawn 1-1 at Napoli in the first leg. It's worse for Juve; they must overcome a 1-0 deficit to Lyon if they are to make the last eight.

As the numbers show, Messi and Ronaldo might need to be at their best if we're to see them in the next round in Lisbon...

MAGIC MESSI

Even with Luis Suarez's return, Messi was largely a lone bright spark in the Barca attack post-lockdown.

With six goals and nine assists in 11 league appearances, he took his tally for the season to 40 goal involvements in 42 outings and broke former team-mate Xavi's record for assists in a single LaLiga campaign when he reached 21.

Prior to lockdown, Messi was averaging one big chance created per game in the league, and that actually increased after the restart - he managed 14 in his 11 outings. His passing accuracy, too, was largely stable, dropping by just 0.3 per cent on average.

Interestingly, his shooting became a little more wayward, his shot accuracy dipping to just 45.7 per cent from a seasonal average of 68.5. Likewise, his dribble success rate slipped to 59.3, having been at 66.2 prior to the shutdown.

RELENTLESS RONALDO

Ronaldo scored 21 in 22 Serie A appearances pre-lockdown, with three assists to boot. That form stayed largely consistent after the restart, with 10 goals and two assists in 11 games.

Creating chances has been a limited part of Ronaldo's game in recent years but his numbers in that regard are solid, with three big chances created after lockdown and six before.

His passing accuracy in all competitions went up (87.1 per cent compared to 84.2 pre-lockdown), while his shooting accuracy (53.6 from 54.8) and his dribble success rate (50 from 57.3) went down - just like Messi. Perhaps the long season began to creep up on them.

TWO TEAMS IN TROUBLE

There's no doubt Barca and Juve would find themselves in some difficulty if Messi and Ronaldo become suddenly unavailable. Their form just isn't strong enough.

Pre-lockdown, Barca had played 38 games in all competitions, scoring 82 goals and conceding 41; afterwards, they played 11 league matches, scored 23 and conceded seven. That's consistent enough.

The problem is more in the way they have been playing. Their average possession went up after lockdown to 70.1 from 64.9, but shooting accuracy fell a massive 13.2 per cent to 48.7 and their shot conversion rate dropped from 22.5 to 19.7. Teams were happier to give up the ball and sit back, confident they could keep Barca (largely) at bay.

As for Juve, they scored 71 goals and let in 34 in 37 games before the pause, and while they scored 26 in 14 afterwards, they conceded a truly worrying 19.

Like Barca, their shooting accuracy fell (45.8 from 49.1), as did their shot conversion rate (13.5 from 15.9). They also averaged 2.6 per cent less possession after lockdown - not a great look for Sarri-ball - and won just twice on the road (they won 10 away games before the break).

Juve might have held on in the title race, but they, like Barca, have been getting worse since the season restarted. A strong challenge to win the Champions League will depend on some fairly substantial improvement - or a number of magical moments from their main men.

Manchester City's preparations for their eagerly awaited Champions League showdown against Real Madrid have been thrown into flux by the news teenage centre-back Eric Garcia will not sign a new contract at the club.

Garcia has established himself as Pep Guardiola's first-choice central defensive partner for Aymeric Laporte since the Premier League resumed.

However, the 19-year-old has been heavily linked with a return to boyhood club Barcelona and Camp Nou looks increasingly likely to be his next destination following Guardiola's shock disclosure on Thursday.

Garcia is far from the first bright young thing to look beyond the environs of the Etihad Campus. Here, we look at how those next moves panned out, as Phil Foden's impressive first-team breakthrough increasingly looks like the exception to the rule.

ERIC GARCIA

Garcia's defection feels like it will cut Guardiola deep – the City boss having lavished praise upon "a guy who doesn't make mistakes", making for a pointed contrast with the out-of-favour Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones. Plenty of City youngsters have had a strong argument in terms of having no obvious pathway to the first team but, even allowing for the arrival of Nathan Ake and further reinforcements being sought at centre-back, this in not really a case Garcia can make.

He made seven of his 13 Premier League appearances after lockdown this term. It seems a simple case of Barcelona's allure being too strong to ignore.

BRAHIM DIAZ

Brahim is back in Manchester this week with Real Madrid, meaning his reasons for departing have common ground with the Garcia situation. The forward was similarly offered fresh terms at the Etihad Stadium but, despite 15 appearances and two goals across all competitions, the plethora of attacking options at Guardiola's disposal undoubtedly came into his thinking. Madrid paid €17million for Brahim last January and have not shown a great deal more inclination to give him a run at the highest level.

RABBI MATONDO

Another attacking player who assessed the star-studded cast ahead of him and decided he would be better off elsewhere. The curious thing about Matondo's €9m move to Schalke in the same month Brahim left is he had not troubled Guardiola's first-team squad, even if he had made the breakthrough with Wales at international level. Eighteen months on, he has 27 Bundesliga appearances and two goals to his name. It is nevertheless difficult to imagine Matondo taking the course of action he did without another man blazing a trail...

JADON SANCHO

Sancho was set for a place on City's 2017-18 pre-season tour alongside Foden. But while his fellow England youth international went on to enjoy a sparkling debut against Manchester United in the International Champions Cup, Sancho kicked his heels at home. Contract negotiations and, as a result, relations with City had broken down. In the bigger picture was the club looking to add Alexis Sanchez to their already considerable forward line.

Sancho sensed his career would be allowed to flourish at Borussia Dortmund and, as he reportedly moves towards a return to England at Manchester United having established himself as one of the most lethal attackers in Europe, it is impossible to argue he was proved anything other than emphatically correct. If he steps out at Old Trafford next season, it will sting on the blue side of Manchester.

JASON DENAYER

Denayer's tale is arguably one that came into the thinking of Sancho and others when considering their future prospects at the Etihad Stadium. Having impressed on loan at Celtic in 2014-15, City gave the Belgium defender a five-year contract. They then signed Nicolas Otamendi for £32m and loaned the youngster to Galatasaray, where he returned in 2017-18 after a season with Sunderland. Denayer will also play in the Champions League last-16 this week with Lyon, who he joined in 2018 for €10m having never managed a competitive appearance for City.

MARCOS 'RONY' LOPES

In the same month Denayer received wildly mixed messages about his future, Portuguese winger Lopes moved to Monaco for €12m after spending the previous season in Ligue 1 at Lille. He produced a handful of exciting cameos while on the fringes of Manuel Pellegrini's City squad, having become the club's youngest ever goalscorer at 17 years and eight days in a January 2013 FA Cup win over Watford. Even then, Lopes – who recently joined Nice on loan from Sevilla – saw the writing on the wall.

"I knew it wouldn't change anything because I knew the players at City at the time, I knew the money involved," he told The Athletic earlier this year. "I knew in my head that to play more, I would have to leave."

He might have a winners' medal in his pocket at the end of his first LaLiga season, but Eden Hazard is in no mood to spare himself.

Long touted as a potential marquee signing for Real Madrid, the Belgium star made the move to the Santiago Bernabeu for an initial €100million last June.

However, by the time Zinedine Zidane had masterminded a post-lockdown overhaul of Barcelona to claim the title, the dream had long since turned into something of a nightmare.

"We have won the title collectively this year, considering it has certainly been the worst season of my career individually," Hazard told France Info after injury woes – most notably a broken foot that required surgery – restricted him to 16 top-flight appearances.

He scored once in 1,086 LaLiga minutes and has failed to find the net in five Champions League appearances for the 13-time winners so far.

The peculiarity of this elongated season means a chance to salvage something arrives on Friday in familiar surroundings.

Madrid are 2-1 in arrears ahead of their last-16 second leg against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. If a remontada is to become reality, they will probably need an individual to step up and produce something truly special – particularly considering talismanic captain Sergio Ramos is suspended.

It was another Belgian, Kevin De Bruyne, who stole the show in the Spanish capital back in February as he majestically created Gabriel Jesus' equaliser before dispatching the winner from the penalty spot.

Although firm friends throughout their gilded careers, it is hard to imagine the distinction of being Belgium's outstanding footballer lying elsewhere sitting too well with the lavishly gifted Hazard.

Perhaps an outing in east Manchester can stir a return to his very best.

In December of the 2016-17 season, City and Chelsea were neck and neck at the top of the Premier League when the Londoners travelled north.

De Bruyne hit the crossbar from point-blank range with the hosts 1-0 up and then Hazard took over, the master conductor as Antonio Conte's Blues took apart Pep Guardiola's men on the counter-attack. He scored the game-sealing goal in a 3-1 victory as a disintegrating City finished with Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho sent off.

In the return match at Stamford Bridge, Hazard netted a brace in 2-1 win that put Chelsea on the brink of the Premier League title.

His efforts that year yielded 16 goals and five assists, sitting handsomely alongside the 14 goals and nine assists from 2014-15 when he first inspired the Stamford Bridge outfit to glory. City came second in that earlier campaign and Hazard walked off with the PFA and FWA end-of-season awards.

There is no suggestion that, at 29, Hazard will not be able to scale such heights again. Whether he can this week, however, is another matter.

Zidane seems to be as in the dark as anyone else.

"I think Eden had little [injury] problems recently because, when he finished playing [against Villarreal], he had problems; he didn't end well," he told reporters after Hazard's final appearance of the LaLiga season in Madrid's penultimate match.

In the final six games of the campaign, the after-effects of Hazard's injury woes restricted him to 70 minutes on the field. The outing against Villarreal accounted for 62 of those.

"I hope that, with this break, he recovers completely," Zidane added. "Those that know about this, about looking after players, will try to get Eden well again."

It is probably wise to look towards 2020-21 with a clean slate. But maybe all it will take is one elegant shuffle of the feet, a deft lay-off or one of those beautifully balanced dribbles for the memories to come flooding back – for both Hazard and those in sky blue trying to stop him – in the country where he forged a path to the top of the game.

Joleon Lescott remembers the time he tried to imitate one of David Silva's signature moves on the Manchester City training ground with a rueful chuckle.

Having been on the receiving end as Silva subtly changed direction to engineer space and leave his team-mate behind him, an obvious thought occurred to the former England centre-back.

It can't be that hard, surely?

"He had the ball and I've closed him down and he's kind of dipped his shoulder to go to the right and gone back on the left," Lescott explained to Stats Perform News.

"I've tried to mimic the movement he did and ended up injuring my knee.  

"I've tried to dip down to the right, tried to move as fast as him but I'm obviously a bigger frame and it was just like, 'Ooh, nah. That didn’t feel good. Let me just go and stand on the sidelines for the rest of the session'."

If feels like a handy illustration of how Silva makes the most of the things he does with a ball at his feet seem effortlessly simple, when in reality they are anything but.

THE MISSING PRIZE

Friday's Champions League last-16 match with Real Madrid could be his last for City. If Pep Guardiola's side are able to capitalise upon their 2-1 first-leg advantage, it will be on to Lisbon and the mini-tournament to conclude the closing stages of this season's competition.

Over the course of 10 trophy-laden seasons in Manchester, Silva has played an integral role in each of the club's four Premier League successes. The first of those, secured in unforgettable fashion in 2011-12, was the club's first top-division title in 44 years. The previous season, Silva played a part in Yaya Toure's winning goal against Stoke City in the FA Cup final that ended a 35-year trophy drought.

Such honours, once pipe dreams, are now the norm in east Manchester. Silva opened the scoring in last year's 6-0 final win over Watford for his second FA Cup winners' medal, completing an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19. This term, he lifted a fifth EFL Cup.

Another golden era ran roughly parallel in Spain colours, with Silva a cap centurion as part of arguably the finest international team of all time. A rare header in the final of Euro 2012 against Italy set up a 4-0 win, further evidence of a handy knack on showpiece occasions.

That victory made it three major tournament triumphs in succession for Spain, following Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. Since leaving Valencia for City in the latter year, Silva has won it all apart from the Champions League.

The coming weeks could still amount to a beautifully scripted ending to the story. A 'Last Dance', perhaps. Just don't expect Silva to be the outspoken star of his own Netflix documentary a couple of decades from now.

"As difficult as this time is for everyone, he's probably in the back of his head thinking he's happy he's not receiving the attention when he leaves," Lescott said, with City poised to announce farewell plans after Silva's final game.

"He's so humble and down to earth, it's crazy. It's ridiculous to think that he lives a lifestyle that's so simple considering what he's achieved. He's a credit to everyone who was around him growing up - his parents, his family, who I've been lucky enough to meet on numerous occasions.

"I can't speak highly enough of him. There's never a time when I've asked him something – a favour or text him or contacted him – and he's not got back to me.

"Not that many people have been lucky enough to be in his presence outside of football and I can confirm that he speaks English very well!"

CHANGING THE GAME

Despite that reluctance to speak publicly too often, Silva has received plenty of warm words over recent weeks. Players and pundits alike have queued up to declare him a great of the Premier League era.

It is a situation few envisaged 10 years ago, with Lescott initially among the doubters.

"I remember me and Shaun Wright-Phillips having a discussion about the physical demands of the Premier League and would he be able to cope," he said. "It was due to the fact we were playing 4-4-2 then. We didn't play 4-3-3.

"David was going to have to play as a winger. If you look back then and think of David coming up against someone like a Micah Richards at right-back, it was going to be difficult physically.

"But with his football IQ, he was able to create a role in the team that only he was able to adopt. He'd come off the line – full-backs didn't want to be that high up the pitch and wingers didn't want to drop that deep to pick him up.

"He was able to just be free, but not shirk his defensive responsibilities. In those areas, knowing where to pick up the ball, his intelligence for that is second to none.

"His football IQ is as good as you'll see. If you think, there are not many times David Silva gets tackled."

When he arrived, players of Silva's ilk were cast somewhere between a curiosity and a luxury in the English game. Glance through top-flight squads today and most feature someone trying their hand at the art he mastered.

Elite games in England today are frequently won between the lines and in the half-spaces, as much if not more often than by a ball over the top or via a conventional winger hitting the byline. This shift and expansion in the Premier League's stylistic palate owes much to Silva and feels like his lasting gift, threaded through the division as quietly and subtly as one of his passes.

"He definitely changed the way people view the Premier League and that role," Lescott added.

"I spoke to Steven Gerrard about him and he said to play against David was unreal. So that's the ultimate kind of praise.

"Robert Pires was similar but was more direct than David. In terms of that role, David made it okay for you not to always go on the outside. That's not something he was taught at City, he just understood the game well enough in order to do it.

"He's definitely, definitely one of the all-time greats for Man City and the Premier League."

CITY'S GREATEST?

Having shared an era with Toure, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne and the club's all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero at City, it is Silva who is most often suggested the successor to Colin Bell – the ex-England midfielder widely viewed as the club's finest ever player for the best part of half a century.

While those celebrated team-mates have dealt in huge moments, Silva was there for all of them, astutely pulling the strings and knitting the whole tapestry together. Gerrard is far from alone in his admiration. He is the players' player.

Now 34, Silva's diminished capacity for the physical work he has always relished has given City an insight into a future without him. He is not a guaranteed starter against Madrid, Guardiola having carefully managed his workload in the most demanding games this season.

De Bruyne has proved a statistical marvel this season, Phil Foden is blossoming and Guardiola can also call upon the lavish gifts of Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva in his creative department. And yet, as Silva adopted a bit-part role, a yawning gap to Liverpool has opened up quickly.

Seeing him depart a European champion would be the perfect fuel to begin the task of bridging it. But even in that best-case scenario, City will soon have confirmation Silva is impossible to imitate – just as Lescott learnt all those years ago.

When Ferran Torres scored the fourth and final goal of Valencia's 4-1 Champions League win over Lille in November, he further enhanced his burgeoning reputation and announced himself to another mass of admirers.

While the goal mattered little in the grand scheme of the match, and it was hardly a contest likely to draw in all of the indecisive neutrals, it gave him his own slice of history, becoming the first player born in 2000 to net a Champions League goal for a Spanish club.

His cool, top-corner finish after an incisive run into the box will have been met with nods of approval from those being alerted to Torres' potential.

While the skilful and direct winger wasn't exactly an unknown quantity at that point, it was an early landmark in a career that looks set for many, and now he is headed for the glamour of the Premier League and Manchester City.

CITY'S DECISIVE SWOOP

Torres and his sister Arantxa have a tattoo in common. "An anchor. It was a reminder for us not to let ourselves be sunk by anything or anyone," she told OTRO last year.

Perhaps that should have served as a portentous warning to Valencia during their ultimately unsuccessful contract negotiations, with Torres' future long dominating headlines in the local media – he was due to become a free agent in 2021.

That, in a nutshell, is how City have managed to pull off such a coup with respect to paying a reported initial fee of £21.1million (€23m). Even with variables, the most they'll pay is thought to be in the region of £32.2m (€35m), a massive reduction on his €100m (£92m) release clause.

Local sports paper Super Deporte had remained optimistic for a while, some might say naively so, but with Champions League qualification proving well beyond Valencia, a departure long seemed unavoidable.

Even a club run as poorly as Valencia could not risk losing such an asset for nothing, yet City will certainly consider themselves to have struck a brilliant deal.

With Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus all noted as keen admirers of Torres, City officials will be patting themselves on the back – it did not take them long to fill the space left by Leroy Sane.

THE EXPLOSION

Despite only being 20, 2019-20 was Torres' third season in the Valencia first-team squad and he already has 71 LaLiga appearances to his name – 26 of which were as a starter in the campaign just finished.

He had only played 12 times for Valencia's B team in the third tier before Marcelino Garcia Toral promoted him permanently to the senior side in December 2017, his LaLiga debut as the fifth-youngest player in the club's history a rare ray of sunlight as he came off the bench in the rain during a 2-1 defeat at Eibar.

"All of us within the club were sure that we were looking at a very high-level footballer," Marcelino told Panenka magazine. "It was only a matter of time before he exploded, because it was clear this player had to play. He still has a significant margin for improvement, but along with [Martin] Odegaard, for me, he is one of the revelations of the season."

His form for Spain Under-19s during last year's European Championship further highlighted his potential as he scored both goals in the 2-0 final win over Portugal to earn a spot in the Team of the Tournament.

He then established himself in Valencia's starting XI, taking full advantage of Goncalo Guedes' injury absence. While still somewhat raw, Torres has been a joy to behold with his fast dribbling and direct style.

NOT THE FINISHED ARTICLE

There's no doubting the ability Torres has to excite – after all, only five midfielders in LaLiga attempted more dribbles in 2019-20 than his 112, and when in full-flight, his combination of pace and upper-body strength make the leggy winger a formidable weapon.

Similarly, Torres is nimble and very agile, capable of jinking out of situations that appear one-sided in the defence's favour.

But he certainly hasn't hit his ceiling. Torres has many areas in which he can improve, particularly with respect to increasing his chance creation frequency.

His record of 25 opportunities crafted this term is not particularly great and is way behind Lionel Messi (89), Sergio Canales (80) and Jose Campana (73) out in front in LaLiga.

His dribble map suggests a potential reason for this, highlighting that many of his ball carry attempts are made outside of the pitch's final third.

The greater awareness he requires should come with experience. After all, it would be a bigger problem if he was struggling to ever find dangerous positions, and that simply is not the case.

He has touched the ball more times (64) in the opposing area than any of his midfield team-mates in 2019-20.

And while nine goal involvements (four goals, five assists) may not sound remarkable, that is only one fewer than Martin Odegaard – a standout performer until his injury – and no one with more than nine is younger than Torres.

He may need a little time to settle in the Premier League, but the potential is undoubtedly there and he shouldn't be plagued with suggestions of being too small, like David Silva was when he made the same move 10 years ago.

Whether Torres can have a similar impact to Silva is another matter, but the 34-year-old's success at least sets a strong precedent for talented Valencia-developed technicians leaving their mark at City.

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