Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says people need to "step back" and appreciate the progress Mason Greenwood has made at Manchester United amid ongoing reports about his poor application in training. 

The 19-year-old enjoyed a stunning breakout season for the Red Devils last term, scoring 17 goals across all competitions. 

He has struggled on and off the pitch so far this campaign, though, scoring just twice in eight appearances and suffering the indignity of being sent home from England duty following a 1-0 win over Iceland in September for breaching coronavirus protocols. 

Greenwood was absent for United's 3-1 Premier League win over Everton a fortnight ago, while he was not selected by Gareth Southgate for England's recent internationals.

Reports have surfaced suggesting Red Devils boss Solskjaer has grown frustrated with the teenage academy product and warned the youngster about his punctuality. 

Speaking ahead of United's top-flight clash with West Brom on Saturday, Solskjaer revealed Greenwood has not been feeling well and wants people to recognise the strides he has made over the past 12 months.

"You have to take a step back sometimes," he told a media conference. "The boy's only 19 and he's had a fantastic year. 

"If we go a year back, I left him out of the EFL Cup against Chelsea. Mason stayed back and played against Doncaster Rovers in the Checkatrade Trophy to get game time, that's how far he's come. 

"Now he's got lots of goals, made his England debut, scored in his first Under-21s game and, of course, the headlines are going to be about when he scores and doesn't play.

"Everyone's allowed to not be well. If you're not well you can't train. He's been away eight or nine days from training so we're just building him up again and I have no doubts about him.

"He has a very good head on him and the talent is there for all to see."

Another United player to have struggled this season is Paul Pogba, who has failed to score or create an assist in his seven Premier League appearances. 

He has also created just two chances for his team-mates. By comparison, Bruno Fernandes has laid on 10 times as many, just one shy of Mohamed Salah's league-high 21.

France coach Didier Deschamps recently suggested Pogba is not satisfied with his "situation" at United after struggling to find his best form.

Solskjaer, however, believes Pogba will be rejuvenated after starting all three of Les Bleus' internationals over the past fortnight and expects the 27-year-old to be an integral player for United as the season progresses. 

"Paul had a difficult season last season and had COVID-19 in this one, but those three games he played for France helped," he added.

"I spoke to Paul and he felt towards the end of the Portugal and Sweden games he felt stronger. He played well and I think he's only going to improve.

"Paul is a very important player and very important person for us and to have him in form and happy is going be important."

Jose Mourinho has urged England coach Gareth Southgate to name the Premier League managers who pressurise him to rest their players as he questioned Raheem Sterling’s international absence.

Southgate recently claimed England's players faced significant demands from their clubs because of an intense schedule of domestic and European commitments.

Speaking at a pre-match news conference ahead of Spurs' clash with Manchester City, Mourinho cast suspicion on Sterling's withdrawal from Southgate's squad and said "we all know" the forward will play for City on Saturday.

Sterling pulled out of England's squad with a calf injury, while Tottenham's contingent of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Harry Winks featured in at least two of England's three matches.

Spurs striker Kane even played 76 minutes of their win over Iceland despite the fact England were not able to qualify for the finals of the Nations League.

Mourinho said: "Gareth Southgate, I read, I don't think I'm wrong in what I read, he supposedly said that some football club managers, they put pressure not to play for the national team.

"And because of that he feels sometimes the need to call club managers to try to cool down the emotions and try to control the difficult situation for him.

"I would like him to say who. I would like him to say which are the coaches who put pressure on the players not to go?

"And I would like him to say which are the coaches that he calls and speaks on the phone with them. Apart from that, he has the right, he has the power to call the players he wants.

"He wants to win matches, especially after a defeat, the next match even being a dead rubber is an important match. I sympathise with that."

Mourinho continued: "And of course we all know Sterling will play tomorrow. When Eric Dier left the national team injured in the previous month, he didn't play two matches for Tottenham.

"He didn't play a Premier League match and a Europa League match. He needed a couple of weeks to recover and Raheem is going to play tomorrow.

"These are the little details I think Gareth should explain to us all. Apart from that, I totally support him in the fact that in the national team, in a country like England, the Three Lions on the shirt is always to be respected and he plays with the players he wants to play."

Pep Guardiola reiterated he would "love" Lionel Messi to see out his career at Barcelona amid fresh speculation linking Manchester City with the superstar forward.

Messi was unsuccessful in his attempt to leave Barca on a free transfer at the end of last season but is out of contract next July.

The Argentina international thrived under Guardiola during their four seasons working together at Camp Nou and they have been tipped to reunite at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola agreed a new two-year deal with City on Thursday, intensifying speculation of a move for Messi going through next year, but he again spoke of his belief the six-time Ballon d'Or winner should remain at Barca.

"Messi is a player for Barcelona," he said at a pre-match news conference previewing Saturday's Premier League clash with Tottenham.

"If you ask me my opinion I have a huge gratitude for what Barcelona has done for me - in the academy, as a player and as a manager, they gave me absolutely everything.

“What I want is [for Messi] to finish his career there. I would love it, I would wish it. That is what I said I don't know how many times, maybe a thousand times. 

"Right now he's a Barcelona player and the transfer market will be in June or July. We have incredible games to play and achievements to try and achieve and this is only in our minds."

Guardiola's new deal will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until the end of the 2022-23 campaign and the Catalan coach is keen to add to his collection of trophies.

"All the managers are there to win titles," he said. "We did an incredible job to win eight of them. 

"I say an incredible thank you for the opportunity to continue here. People say thanks to me but I say thanks to the club. They are the reason I am here. 

"They gave me a lot, we continue to do the best for our people to do the best as possible."

The contract extension also ends speculation over a possible return to Barcelona for Guardiola, who was keen to praise City for the way they have handled off-the-field issues this year.

"There are many reasons why I signed," he said. "The club didn't ask the government for furlough, didn't fire one person. They showed me the club how good they are in many things. 

"The decision was not just mine. The squad are all comfortable together and we will now try to continue doing what we have done in these previous seasons."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp claimed Mohamed Salah will have felt "social pressure" to attend his brother's wedding, a decision that sparked controversy after he tested positive for coronavirus.

Salah contracted COVID-19 while away on international duty with Egypt and missed his country's fixtures against Togo.

The 28-year-old was criticised after videos emerged of him dancing in a crowd of people at his brother's wedding a few days before he was due to play for Egypt.

He will miss Liverpool's Premier League clash with leaders Leicester City and his availability for their Champions League meeting with Atalanta on November 28 is also in doubt.

Salah has scored eight goals in eight Premier League appearances for Liverpool this season.

Klopp confirmed he had spoken to Salah about the issue but refused to discuss what internal action Liverpool had taken against the player.

"A brother's wedding is a very special moment," Klopp told a media conference on Friday.

"In other countries, in other situations, there's more social, I'm not sure if it's the word but, pressure, and stuff.

"He's probably back today. We are obviously in close contact with him all the time.

"How it always is in these cases is that when you have a negative test the process really starts. He's in a good place. He feels well. No symptoms.

"There is nothing to say in public about it. I have talked to my players about it. Nothing for the public. We are in the situation we are in.

"The rest is between Mo and me. We did that [talk] already and we are fine.

"What I can say about my players is they are incredibly disciplined. Football players in general are very disciplined."

Salah's absence with the virus added to Liverpool's ever-lengthening list of missing players as Klopp lost more key men to injury during the international break.

The most significant was Joe Gomez, who underwent surgery after he sustained a serious knee injury while on England duty.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, meanwhile, felt "a bit of tightness", according to England coach Gareth Southgate and Klopp said he will not be fit to face the Foxes on Sunday.

Virgil van Dijk is a long-term injury absence with a knee issue, while fellow defender Trent Alexander-Arnold is still nursing a hamstring problem.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still continuing his rehab from a knee injury, but midfielders Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara are edging nearer to a return to fitness.

Klopp added: "They [Thiago and Fabinho] are all closer, but we’ll see if it's close enough for the weekend."

The Reds boss remains hopeful Liverpool's injury problems can help foster a sense of esprit de corps among his players.

He said: "We are a unit. A proper, proper unit. The more problems we have, the closer we stick together. 

"We don't go for excuses, we have the situation we have, we don't like the injuries we have because it is really hard for the boys who have the injuries, but all the rest is working on solutions. That's what we always do.

"We have solutions in our mind. Maybe we think we have the worst situation possible, but the season is long and we have only played eight games, so there will be a lot of problems.

"I have always said, whoever deals best with the problems in front of them has a chance to be really successful. That’s what we try to be."

Pep Guardiola is constantly evolving his methods and plays a style of football that is addictive to watch, according to Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain.

City announced on Thursday that the Catalan coach has agreed a new contract that will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

Guardiola is into his fifth season at City - already his longest reign at any club - and has won two Premier League titles, three EFL Cups and the FA Cup.

The Champions League has so far eluded the 49-year-old but Begiristain, who also worked with Guardiola at Barcelona, insists his compatriot has defied all expectations.

"He has taken the club to the top level, the maximum you can get. We wanted to play this attractive football and of course to win and he has done both," he told CityTV. "We have played unbelievable football and we have won. 

"When you do 100 points in the Premier League - such a difficult league - and then in the next one, you have to do 98 to beat an unbelievable team like Liverpool by one… you want to see every weekend and every year the same.

"That kind of perfection you want to feel it every weekend. We have shown ambition since the first day and we have to show that and I can see how the players are working in the training sessions and the games.

"The future of this club is absolutely guaranteed with him and the players we have. He is always in a constant evolution so he is not the same as at Barcelona, he is not the same as at Bayern and he is not the same as his first season [at City].

"He is always evolving, changing and he shows that work to the players and the players are obeying him."

Guardiola won a plethora of honours during his spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich but Begiristain admits even he has been surprised by his close friend's success at City to date, even accounting for an underwhelming 2019-20 campaign.

"It is unbelievable to do two season 198 points. I could see that he could do it but I didn't expect such a big amount of points," he said.

"I told him once when he was in Germany how difficult the Premier League is and you win with 85, 86, 87 points. With those points (100 and 98) even myself I thought it was impossible but he did it."

City strengthened their squad during the transfer window with the arrivals of Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres, while Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi continues to be linked with a move.

Begiristain feels that City are in safe hands with Guardiola at the helm for a further two years due to his ability to get the most out of every player.

"We already have an unbelievable squad, we are very complete," he said. "We have a lot of top players.

"The life of this club is always changing, there are some players asking to leave, there are players who think they should be playing more than the other ones. 

"This is the natural life of a squad. What is good is having Pep is quite easy to convince the players to come, because we have to recognise as well that Pep makes the players better, so they can see an improvement. That helps to sign the players for us.

"We are showing the same ambition since the first day. We can show that. I can see how the players are running and working on the training sessions and on the games.

"So I'm very happy to see that and the future of the team is quality with him and the squad we have."

Mikel Arteta said there is "no problem" between David Luiz and Dani Ceballos after the Arsenal duo were reportedly involved in a training ground bust-up.

The Athletic alleged a physical altercation between David Luiz and Ceballos took place during the international break, though the Spanish midfielder took to Twitter to call the story "fake".

Arsenal manager Arteta insisted "nothing" happened on the training pitch at the club's London Colney base as he tried to play down the story.

"Training is very competitive and issues happen a lot of time," Arteta told a media conference on Friday.

"And those things get resolved immediately within the team. Not much [more] to say. No problem [between the two]."

When asked if had personally witnessed the incident, Arteta added: "I've got really bad vision from far. That's why we train behind closed doors."

Arteta was faced with another disciplinary issue during the international break when Brazil forward Willian posted a picture of himself in Dubai on his Instagram account.

United Kingdom government guidelines around international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic say it should be restricted "except in limited circumstances".

Willian joined Arsenal from Chelsea on a free transfer in August but has struggled to find his best form for the Gunners with no goals and just two assists in seven Premier League appearances.

Arteta refused to state if Willian's trip had broken club rules, or whether he would be dropped for Sunday's Premier League clash at Leeds United, but he has spoken to the 32-year-old about the matter.

"We had a conversation and I explained what I was expecting," Arteta explained.

"There are a lot of personal factors at the moment as well from our side and we need to be in their shoes.

"Other players are having different issues and sometimes they make decisions based on the needs or the moment or what people are expecting from them.

"Whether they are right or wrong is something we have to discuss but it's been dealt with in the right way and let's move on.

"Whatever happens internally with any issues or things we don't expect, as always we will try to resolve them internally. That's been dealt with and explained."

Arteta claimed it can be difficult for footballers to observe every single detail of coronavirus restrictions all of the time.

He added: "It's impossible because we have so many rules, guidelines that we have to follow that sometimes without even thinking you break them.

"Even in training you give a bib to someone and you think, 'Oh no, I can't do that.' We're all very aware of what we're dealing with and we take it very seriously and everyone can make a mistake.

"It's just where that mistake is coming from is the relevant thing."

Winning the Champions League will be the "focus point" for Pep Guardiola after extending his Manchester City stay, says his former assistant Mikel Arteta.

City announced on Thursday that Guardiola has signed a new two-year contract that will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2023.

The extended terms mean the Catalan is set to be with the Premier League club for seven years, surpassing his four seasons with Barcelona – his longest stint in charge of one club.

Guardiola cited "unfinished business" as a key reason for his decision to prolong his relationship with City and Arteta, who worked under the former Bayern Munich coach for three years before departing for Arsenal last December, believes Champions League success will be his top priority.

"I'm very pleased for him as he's never been so long at a football club, so the fact he's extending his contract means he's extremely happy there, that he's found his place, that he feels valued there and has the chemistry with players, fans and ownership," said Arteta.

"I want the best for him and if he's extended it means he's very happy and he feels that's the best place for him to continue his career, so congratulations.

"Knowing him and his ambitions and how competitive he is, unfinished business means he wants to win every competition every year for sure.

"If he needs to win the four domestic trophies again and he can do it I'm sure he's going to try. Obviously, Europe is a massive thing and he wants to move the club towards the Champions League win and that's his way.

"In the medium to long term that was one of the things he wanted to achieved, so I'm sure it will be a focus point."

Arsenal will look to bounce back from a 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa when they face Leeds United in the Premier League at Elland Road on Sunday.

However, they will be without Mohamed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac after the duo tested positive for coronavirus, while Thomas Partey remains sidelined with a thigh problem.

Asked if he knew when Partey will return, he said: "No. Well he picked up an injury very early in the [Villa] game. He tried to carry on and wanted to continue the second half and we knew it was a significant injury.

"He's working very hard, he wants to be available. Hopefully we can get him back soon but it's an area we have to be careful with and a bit protective of the player."

Jose Mourinho claimed he always knew he was right manager to get the best out of Tottenham striker Harry Kane.

Mourinho previously told Kane he would turn into a global superstar, and the England forward's numbers are starting to back that up.

Kane has been involved in 23 goals in just 14 games in all competitions this season (13 goals, 10 assists), at least eight more than any other Premier League player.

"I was never worried about it," Mourinho told Sky Sports.

"I knew the quality of the player, I knew I had a plan for a certain style of play. We discussed it a lot internally.

"I knew Harry wouldn’t have any problem in a team like ours, so for us it was never a question."

Mourinho is confident Kane will eventually surpass Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham's all-time leading goalscorer - Kane is 65 goals behind Greaves' tally of 266, but aged 27 has time on his side.

"He's a young guy. Of course, he will make it," Mourinho added.

"He has so many years to play so I don't think it's a problem. It’s just a question of time. When, is the only question."

Tottenham are now on the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League (seven – W5 D2) following their opening weekend defeat against Everton.

They are also looking to win four consecutive league games for the first time since February 2019 with Mourinho giving credit to more maturity from his players.

"I like the way my squad is growing up," Mourinho added.

"I like the way they reacted to the defeat against Everton and the 'defeat' against West Ham [where Spurs drew 3-3 having led 3-0].

"The way we are coping with the negative things. But I know it's also very important the way you cope with the big moments. I love the way my team behaved after the 6-1 at Old Trafford.

"I love the way the team behaved after being top of the league, even for a couple of hours. I love my group!"

Spurs host Manchester City on Saturday which pits Mourinho against one of his long-term managerial adversaries in Pep Guardiola.

This will be the 24th meeting in all competitions between the pair – Mourinho’s 10 defeats in these games is more than against any other manager, while Guardiola has only beaten Manuel Pellegrini more often (12).

However, Mourinho claimed there is no bitterness in their rivalry and warned his players to expect a much tougher game than when they beat City 2-0 last time out in February, which ended a run of six league games without a win against them.

"Not at all. I keep saying this, not at all," Mourinho said of claims he has a fractious relationship with Guardiola.

"I just want to get to 20 points after the match. I think they are more difficult now than before.

"When we last played them, Liverpool were champions, so playing for a few months knowing this, I can imagine they were missing that ambitious factor. Now is completely different."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann are "95 per cent the same" but Angelino only felt trusted by one of them.

Angelino joined Leipzig on loan last January, having failed to get regular football under Guardiola after City exercised a buy-back clause in his contract with PSV in July 2019.

At the Red Bull Arena the Spanish left-back has scored four goals and supplied two assists in the Bundesliga, while only four defenders that have played at least 10 times can better his average of 1.8 chances created per 90 minutes.

Angelino was also an important factor in Leipzig's surprise run to the Champions League semi-finals last season and returned to the club on loan for the 2020-21 campaign with an option to buy.

The 23-year-old has scored two goals and set up three more in the Champions League since his initial arrival at Leipzig, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (15) the only defender to have supplied more key passes.

Nagelsmann became the youngest Bundesliga coach when he took over Hoffenheim in 2016 and, still just 33, is tipped to go on and emulate Guardiola as one of the sport's leading figures.

"In certain things they do resemble each other: in the way of preparing for games, training or knowing what they want. I would say they are 95 per cent the same in those aspects," Angelino told AS.

"Julian always looks for the opponent's weakness and always wants to play with the ball, it all depends on that. If we can recover the ball in three seconds, then we can dominate quickly.

"That makes the team play well. We play attractive football. We create many chances, we have possession. Some matches don't turn out like that, but generally we have a lot of chances."

Asked what stopped him achieving the level he has reached under Nagelsmann with Guardiola, Angelino said: "I believe everything returns to the issue of trust.

"Before my time in the Netherlands, I was not ready to play for City. But after my time at PSV I knew I was ready. I also need continuity, not one game every so often.

"I don't know what it was, but it was something I didn't get to have. Then I came to Leipzig and from day one Julian has given me almost everything, and I am very happy."

With five goals already this season it has been suggested that Angelino could soon be in line for a first call-up to Luis Enrique's Spain squad.

Playing for the national team is not a priority for the Galician, though. Instead, it is Deportivo La Coruna – where he played in the youth ranks – who are the primary ambition for his career.

"I have to continue along the same lines, trying to do my best here, and then we'll see [about Spain]," said Angelino. "It's not something I have in mind or that is pushing me. It's a bonus.

"I'm happy that there are so many people supporting me and recognising my work. I hope to continue like this.

"The level is high in the left-back position, but as long as everything goes well with my club I will be happy. I am not going to worry if I'm not selected. What I want is for the team to do well and for me to continue playing.

"Many people ask if the national team is my dream. Well, look, my dream is to play for Depor. I have more in mind to go to A Coruna to play with Depor than to play with the national team.

"In a few years I hope to play for Depor. It's something I've dreamed of since I was a kid."

Whoever is left to line up for Liverpool on Sunday, they will have the chance to set a new club record against Leicester City.

The Reds have not lost at home in the Premier League since April 23, 2017. Back then, Donald Trump was settling into life as the 45th president of the United States, Brexit negotiations were still weeks away from formally opening and Antonio Conte's Chelsea were running away in the title race.

While much has changed since then, Liverpool being unbeaten at home in top-flight action has remained a constant. The current stretch of 63 games without defeat matches a club record, set between February 1978 and December 1980. Now they want to take the record outright.

A Crystal Palace team inspired by ex-Reds striker Christian Benteke were the last visitors to prevail at Anfield in the league. Joel Matip played that day, while Trent Alexander-Arnold came on as a late substitute and Joe Gomez was unused off the bench.

This weekend, though, Matip is set to be the only one of that defensive trio in action; Alexander-Arnold was injured in the 1-1 draw at Manchester City, while Gomez has joined fellow centre-back Virgil van Dijk as a long-term absentee.

With Mohamed Salah testing positive for COVID-19 while on duty with Egypt, the depleted champions appear more vulnerable than ever. Leicester – the club who ended Liverpool's long unbeaten run 40 years ago – have every reason to fancy their chances.

 

A familiar face returns to Anfield

To add a little extra narrative, Brendan Rodgers has the chance to scupper his former club's quest to set a record.

Leicester spent the November international break sitting pretty at the Premier League summit, their total of 18 points after eight games three more than they managed at the same stage of a 2015-16 campaign that ended with Claudio Ranieri's squad defying pre-season odds of 5,000-1 to be crowned champions. Could history be repeated in this craziest of crazy seasons?

Rodgers has admittedly struggled against the 'big six' since taking charge, winning just five of 17 games. However, two of those successes have come on the road in recent months, as his Foxes spectacularly dismantled Manchester City 5-2 before sucker-punching Arsenal in a 1-0 triumph in north London.

The scorelines were vastly different, yet the Leicester blueprint was similar – defend deep, press at the appropriate moments and, when a turnover comes, capitalise on the open spaces to strike. Playing possum is paying off spectacularly.

Against City, they had just 28.3 per cent possession but scored five goals from seven attempts, allowing Pep Guardiola's side to keep the ball yet still posing the greater threat as they waited to counter. The same happened at Leeds United too, Marcelo Bielsa's side dominating the ball but falling into well-set pressing traps, like bugs simply unable to resist the oncoming car lights.

"It's the evolution. You need to have more than one way to play in the modern game," Rodgers told Sky Sports after the 4-1 triumph at Elland Road. "My teams will always look to dominate and control where we can, but you can also control the game without the ball, especially against teams who have big, big quality."

Rodgers now has the chance to steer Leicester to victory in their first five away fixtures in a league season for the first time. All he has to do is plot the downfall of Liverpool, where he came so close to winning the league in 2014.

To borrow a phrase from opposite number Jurgen Klopp, a few more should turn from doubters to believers if the early pacesetters prevail on Merseyside.

 

Vardy to have a party against depleted defence?

With Jamie Vardy in your side, there is always a chance of grabbing a goal - no matter how little possession you have.

The striker – a pivotal part of Ranieri's title-winning group – keeps on churning out the goals. He has eight already this term, including five successful penalties. He has won four of those spot-kicks while Leicester have had nine overall, the highest number in the top five leagues in Europe.

Stretching back into the previous campaign, nine of Vardy's previous 10 league goals have come in away outings. He seemingly relishes upsetting the perceived hierarchy; since his debut top-flight season in 2014-15, the 33-year-old has scored more goals (38) against the 'big six' sides than any other player in the division.

Liverpool have suffered against him previously – only Andy Cole (11) and Thierry Henry (8) have managed more than Vardy's total seven against the Reds in the competition - while Vardy should be well-rested now his England career is in the rearview mirror.

Leicester's threat will be a constant throughout proceedings, no matter how much control Liverpool exert. Vardy has a 50 per cent conversion rate through eight games and averages a goal every 70 minutes.

His total for the campaign could easily be higher too, had he not been substituted by the time his team were awarded late penalties against City and Leeds. They have developed a nice habit of scoring late, leading the way in the Premier League with seven goals between 76-90 minutes.

 

High lines and taking chances

It is quite possible that Rhys Williams, on loan at National League North side Kidderminster Harriers this time last year, or Nathaniel Phillips, seemingly heading for the Anfield exit not too long ago, could be tasked with playing alongside Matip and making sure Vardy does not add to his tally.

The cracks in the Liverpool back-line that anchored the championship-winning campaign had appeared before the spate of injuries, most notably in a 7-2 loss away to Aston Villa, but Liverpool have not started a Premier League game without one of Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk or Gomez since May 21, 2017.

Worryingly for Klopp, they have kept just one clean sheet in their previous 13 Premier League games, with the propensity to play a high line picked out as a potential reason for the sudden issues.

That tactic was utilised in home wins over Leeds and Arsenal, as well as a 2-0 triumph at Chelsea, according to the Opta numbers for average starting distance from goal. However, they have dropped deeper in more recent outings, including home fixtures against Sheffield United (41.7 metres) and West Ham (43.9m).

Whether this is through necessity or choice is unknown. Still, Liverpool's average starting position for this season sits at 45.7m, a number only topped by Guardiola's City.

Leicester do not rely heavily on high turnovers, as demonstrated by their total of 28 so far, which positions them well inside the bottom half of the table in the statistic. However, they have been clinical when chances do come along. In their four away fixtures, they have hit the target with 24 of 36 attempted shots, boasting a conversion rate of 36 per cent.

On the brink of club history, Liverpool must avoid becoming the latest opponent to be caught out by Rodgers' road warriors if they are to keep the impressive home streak alive.

International football is largely over for 2020 and the Premier League is returning for the run-up to Christmas.

The next five weeks are jam-packed with action both domestically and in Europe, and hitting the ground running this weekend could give plenty of sides a timely boost.

If you're getting that fantasy team primed once more, cast your eye over our Opta-powered top tips...

 

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy finally conceded a goal in the Premier League in his last appearance, although the Blues still recovered to beat Sheffield United 4-1.

There's no reason to lose faith in the Senegal international ahead of the visit to Newcastle United this weekend.

In fact, Mendy has saved six of the seven shots on target he has faced in England's top flight, giving him a save percentage of 85.7. No keeper in the division can boast such a figure this season.

 

BEN CHILWELL

Chelsea's new-found stability means filling the backline with Blues defenders is no longer a risk to your fantasy success.

Of course, Ben Chilwell is someone who can provide plenty of points regardless of doing any actual defending.

He has been directly involved in four goals (two scored, two assisted) in five league games this season, more than any other defender.

AARON CRESSWELL

However, the prize for 2020-21's most creative defender goes to West Ham's Aaron Cresswell.

His three assists and 17 chances created are the top figures in the competition among defenders and he has been a part of three clean sheets to boot.

With the Hammers facing struggling Sheffield United this weekend, Cresswell is well worth considering.

 

JACK GREALISH

Now that doubts about his place in the England team appear well and truly dismissed, Jack Grealish can focus on the more improbable task of keeping Aston Villa in the race for Europe.

Only Harry Kane (eight) has more assists this term than Grealish (five), and only Mohamed Salah (20) has created more chances from open play (17). The Liverpool star is also the only player with more touches in the opposition box (85) than the Villa captain (70).

What's more, Grealish has scored in each of his past four appearances in all competitions against Brighton and Hove Albion, including in all three meetings last season. They are his favourite opposition.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Crystal Palace's four wins from their first eight games owes much to the form of Wilfried Zaha.

With five goals and two assists, he has already equalled the number of goal involvements that he managed in 38 league games in 2019-20.

Palace face winless Burnley on Monday.

 

GABRIEL JESUS

No Sergio Aguero? No problem. Gabriel Jesus has been involved in 11 goals in his past 11 matches in all competitions (eight scored, three assisted).

The Brazil striker has also scored in each of his previous three games and will look to stretch that run to four for the first time since April 2018 when Manchester City face Tottenham.

 

PATRICK BAMFORD

Only four players have scored more goals in the Premier League this season than Patrick Bamford - and they are only one ahead of the Leeds United striker.

Bamford has hit seven in his eight league games in 2020-21, a scoring run not seen at the club since the days that Mark Viduka graced Elland Road (he managed nine in his first eight appearances).

Given Arsenal's inconsistencies, there is every chance Bamford will pick up where he left off prior to the international break.

Jose Mourinho is celebrating a year in charge of Tottenham as he prepares for a return to Premier League action. 

The former Chelsea and Manchester United boss was appointed Spurs head coach after Mauricio Pochettino's previously successful stint came to a disappointing end. 

Tottenham were 14th when Mourinho arrived but could now go top of the table this weekend as they host Manchester City. 

Victory against Pep Guardiola's side would cap a fine 12 months for Jose, as demonstrated with the use of Opta data. 


IMPROVING ON POCH

Tottenham finished sixth last season, leaving Mourinho to celebrate a place in Europa League qualifying on the final day. 

Spurs had reached the Champions League final the previous season, but securing European football of any sort was a success for Mourinho given their perilous position when he arrived.

Indeed, since his appointment, Tottenham rank third in the Premier League - behind only Liverpool and Manchester City. 

Spurs have taken 62 points from 34 games over this span, with their league win rate of 53 per cent marginally above Mourinho's overall mark. 

The Portuguese has won 52 per cent of his 50 Tottenham games in all competitions (26 victories), showing improvement from Pochettino's final half-century of matches. 

Pochettino triumphed in 22 of the 50 fixtures prior to his sacking but lost a hugely concerning 19. Mourinho's side have also scored slightly more (94 versus 89) and conceded one fewer (61 versus 62).
 

PROGRESS THIS TERM

If Mourinho's overall record shows only marginal gains so far, there is at least cause for encouragement for Spurs fans early this season. 

Tottenham began the new Premier League campaign by losing at home to Everton and subsequently dropped points in stoppage time against Newcastle United and West Ham. 

But Mourinho's squad are second, a point behind leaders Leicester City, and the style and effectiveness of their play has altered for the better.

In eight league games this term, Spurs are averaging 55.4 per cent of possession, an increase from 50 per cent in Mourinho's 24 matches in 2019-20. 

Crucially, they are also using the ball more effectively and creating more chances. Tottenham have had 13.9 shots per game in the new campaign, with 9.6 from inside the box - compared to 11.3 and 7.2 last season. 

The quality of these opportunities has improved too, with Spurs expected to score 1.95 goals per game - up from 1.33 - and converting 17.1 per cent of their attempts. 

Mourinho has, of course, benefited from the outstanding form of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Kane has been involved in 38 goals (27 scored, 11 assisted) and Son in 33 (20 scored, 13 assisted) during his reign. 
 

NO SPURS STANDOUT

For all the talk of a title tilt this season, Mourinho is not yet comparing favourably to his predecessors. 

His record might represent an improvement on the end of Pochettino's tenure, but the former Southampton boss finished his Tottenham career averaging 1.89 points per game across 202 Premier League matches.

Mourinho's rate of 1.82 points per game also trails Andre-Villas Boas (1.83) and Tim Sherwood, who finished with an outstanding mark of 1.91 from his 22 games. 

The last Spurs manager to oversee 20 or more Premier League matches and average fewer points than Mourinho was Harry Redknapp. 

He guided Tottenham away from relegation trouble and into the Champions League, picking up 1.74 points per game.

Will Lionel Messi be a Barcelona player for much longer?

Messi, who has called Camp Nou home for his entire senior career, is reportedly eyeing a sensational exit.

And Manchester City are continuing to pursue the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI, CITY RUMOURS GROW

Lionel Messi's links with Manchester City are tightening following Pep Guardiola's renewal, according to Diario AS.

Messi was tipped to join City after handing in a transfer request at the start of the season, but the Barca captain opted to remain at Camp Nou.

However, with manager Guardiola extending his City contract, rumours are intensifying.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Premier League's 'big six' are interested in signing Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. 90min claims Liverpool, City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are eyeing the veteran defender, who is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

Milan could be set for a busy January. Tuttomercato reports Milan want Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic on loan with an option to buy for €30million. Inter and Juventus have also been linked with the Serbia international. It comes as Rossoneri duo Andrea Conti and Leo Duarte face uncertain futures, while Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai continues to be linked to Milan.

- Kicker says Paris Saint-Germain are favourites to sign Bayern Munich's soon-to-be free agent David Alaba, who has also been linked to Madrid and City.

- Chelsea full-back Emerson Palmieri could join Juve in January, though Alaba and Atalanta star Robin Goosens are also options for the Serie A champions, according to Calciomercato.

RB Leipzig's Angelino labelled team-mate Dayot Upamecano a "beast" as he hailed the in-demand centre-back.

Upamecano has been heavily linked to Premier League champions Liverpool and Manchester United following his exploits for Bundesliga side Leipzig.

German champions Bayern Munich have also been credited with an interest in the France international, whose Leipzig contract reportedly includes a release clause of around £38million (€42m) at the end of the season.

Amid the transfer speculation, Leipzig full-back Angelino lauded Upamecano.

"He is a beast," Spaniard Angelino told Diario AS. "The physique he has is brutal.

"He takes the ball well from behind, takes risks and does it well. He is a beast and is also fast. He is a very complete centre-back. 

"Right now there are not many who play at a spectacular level. He can play well in both three and four defence."

Upamecano joined Leipzig from Austrian giants Salzburg in 2017, and he helped Julian Nageslmann's men reach last season's Champions League semi-final.

The 22-year-old has one goal in six Bundesliga appearances this season, while he has featured 10 times across all competitions in 2020-21.

In the Bundesliga this term, Upamecano has helped keep one clean sheet, won 22 duels, 11 aerial duels and recorded five interceptions.

Upamecano also has a 100 per cent tackle success rate, four headed clearances, 11 clearances in total, a passing accuracy of 89.9 per cent, while he has only been dribbled past by an opponent once.

For now, at least, the future of Pep Guardiola is secure.

The Manchester City manager has signed a new two-year contract that will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2023.

There is no denying Guardiola has brought spectacular success to City, but few would deny there have been some concerning signs in the early stages of the 2020-21 season.

So, is his new deal the right decision?

GUARDIOLA HAS MADE CITY HISTORY – THEY CAN'T RISK HIM GOING ELSEWHERE
By John Skilbeck

If City ever seriously considered a future without Guardiola, then a glance across town should have given them pause for thought: if you've got a proven winner, cling to him for dear life.

Alex Ferguson's long-dreaded retirement in 2013 gave Manchester United a headache for which they are still seeking a cure. Pfizer and Moderna would have struggled to find a remedy for the Red Devils, and City desperately did not want to find themselves in a similar spiral to that which has essentially neutralised the threat of their neighbours.

Which leads us to Thursday's declaration that Guardiola is staying sky blue for another two seasons, despite last term's failure to win either the Premier League or Champions League.
That failure is a loose definition of what many would consider immense success: second in the Premier League, quarter-finals in Europe and an EFL Cup win would not amount to anything approaching disappointment for most teams, but the standards at City have been set sky high.

Long gone are the days of praying for a miracle under Frank Clark and Joe Royle, of the club falling for the diminishing charms of King Kev and Sven. It is A-list that City want and A-list they have throughout their ranks: in Guardiola they have a coach – a talisman – they dare not lose.

Who would they target if Guardiola left? Mauricio Pochettino, who improved Tottenham without taking them to a trophy before losing all momentum? That sounds like an Old Trafford appointment.

Julian Nagelsmann? Nuno Espirito Santo? Brendan Rodgers? Bookmakers have Patrick Vieira high on their list. Send a doctor; I'm convulsing here.

City remain set up to conquer England and Europe under Guardiola, alongside wingmen Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, and now the team have to go out and achieve that, this season and in the next two.

Is Guardiola untouchable? No, but City are in the midst of the most successful era in their 140-year history. Why risk losing the man still held up by some as the world's best coach? Why risk somebody else having him?

CITY ARE DECLINING AND GUARDIOLA ISN'T STOPPING IT
By Joe Wright

"I have everything I could possibly want," said Guardiola of his new two-year deal. If only City could say the same.

Before anyone keels over from righteous anger, no, I do not think Guardiola has done a bad job at City. Nobody who started watching football before 2019 could make that argument; even then, they came second and won the EFL Cup.

It needed an unprecedented level of transfer spending, but under Guardiola, City have smashed English football records, won a historic domestic treble and played with a style unlike any other seen on those shores.

But he has not delivered the Champions League. He has not even made a semi-final. And his team – slightly, gradually, but irrefutably – are declining.

The proof was there in last term's title-surrender to Liverpool and it's there in this season's numbers. They lost 5-2 at home to Leicester City, the first time in 686 matches that a Guardiola team had conceded five in a single game. They won only three of their seven league matches.

Their expected goals (xG) rating, compared to last season, has almost halved; their shooting has dropped by an average of five attempts per match. This is their worst start to a league season since 2008-09, and Guardiola's lowest points (12) return after seven games in his 12 years as a manager.

City spent around £51million on centre-back Ruben Dias but still do not look impregnable – they also bolstered their defence by bringing in Nathan Ake from relegated Bournemouth. David Silva has not been replaced, Sergio Aguero has been fit for just three games, and their win rate drops to just 40 per cent when Rodri partners Ilkay Gundogan in midfield.

Those are more than minor concerns about the spine of Guardiola's team and, while they have the financial clout to fix them, there must come a time when City bosses wonder whether the treasure chest should be left in another manager's hands.

If they don't wrestle back their Premier League crown, if they falter again in Europe, questions will be asked whether Guardiola is the right man to motivate these players or oversee another expensive squad overhaul made far tougher post-pandemic. Allowing his deal to run out in June 2021 would have given all parties the option of a peaceful (and cheap) parting of the ways; now, they must back him or sack him if things turn sour.

Perhaps Guardiola will win the Champions League. Perhaps he'll even sign Lionel Messi – a move which may well have come to fruition before the start of the season had the Argentine not agreed to see out his contract at Barcelona. Or perhaps, for the first time at a club in his managerial career, he will outstay his welcome.

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