Pep Guardiola has ruled out Manchester City delving into the transfer market with Sergio Aguero to again be absent when they host Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Aguero has made just five Premier League appearances this season and has missed City's past three games in all competitions while in self-isolation despite testing negative for COVID-19.

Guardiola has used Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Ferran Torres in the central attacking role during the Argentina international's absence but is not interested in bringing in further options.

The City boss simply replied "no" when asked if the club could look to bolster their options in January after he confirmed Aguero would not return to face Villa.

"He is not ready for tomorrow. He is still isolating," Guardiola said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"We need Aguero, we miss him. The numbers speak for themselves. He's the best striker in our history.

"He can win games by himself and for a long time he has not been with us, but we have not sat here complaining. We moved forward with the players that we have and found alternatives."

Aymeric Laporte has not been part of a matchday squad for City since December 26 but Guardiola confirmed he is nearing a return from a thigh injury.

However, with Ruben Dias and John Stones having developed an incredible centre-back partnership, the City boss warned Laporte it will not be easy for him to regain his spot.

"He is at the last step. He is not ready for tomorrow, but he is training with us. Yesterday was the first one, today was the second," said Guardiola.

"Hopefully [back to face Cheltenham Town on Saturday]. That would be good news. We need him. We cannot play with just Stones and Ruben. We need Nathan [Ake], we need Eric [Garcia], we need Laporte.

"It depends on him [whether he can get into the starting line-up]. The quality is there so if he is in top form and his mind is open he is the best left-sided centre-back.

"He has special qualities on the ball. He has to be focused to come back as best as possible and he will have the minutes. Being in the team or not depends on the performance of everyone."

In the eight Premier League games Stones and Dias have started together, City have dropped just two points and conceded a single goal.

In the nine matches where either one of them has not started, they have conceded 12 at an average of 1.3 per game.

No Premier League defender has been involved in more clean sheets (eight) or has a superior passing accuracy (93.4 per cent) than Dias, whose 78.3 successful passes per 90 minutes are only bettered by Thiago Silva (83.8).

On Dias, Guardiola said: "We knew his quality on the pitch, we knew a bit his personality but we have been impressed at the consistency, being ready mentally and physically to play every three days.

"You always expect the best but we are more than delighted with what he has given to the team.

"[His impact] has been massive, not just with John. He has the ability to live every single action, always concentrated on what he has to do and helping his team-mates. It is not easy to find that in someone who is 23 years old."

Pep Guardiola has praised John Stones for his impressive recent form and made it clear all members of his Manchester City squad must be ready to play when required.

Stones has started three Premier League games in a row alongside Ruben Dias in the heart of the City defence, all of which have resulted in clean sheets.

The England international has seized his chance since earning a recall - he played in the 3-1 win over Wolves to open the league campaign, but had not featured in the competition prior to starting the 5-0 victory over Burnley on November 28.

His form has seen him keep Aymeric Laporte out of the line-up, though Guardiola is not interested in any complaints about a lack of minutes from within his squad, considering the crowded schedule City face in the coming weeks during the festive period.

"It depends on the performance," the City boss said when asked about Stones' selection ahead of Laporte during his media conference on Monday.

"John is performing well, so that's why he's playing. But there are a lot of games and anything can happen.

"Everyone has to be ready, I've told them that many times. Don't complain much, because around the corner you have the chance. Maybe not, but you have to be ready."

City drew 0-0 at Manchester United on Saturday in an uneventful derby, making it the third successive game against their neighbours in which they have failed to score.

It was just the fifth goalless draw between the sides in 47 Premier League meetings, albeit three of those stalemates have come in the last 11 clashes.

Guardiola was unable to call upon Sergio Aguero at Old Trafford due to illness, but the striker has returned to training and could be involved against West Brom on Tuesday.

"Today he has trained, the last two or three days he did not. After today's training, we will decide on Tuesday," Guardiola said.

"Eric Garcia is still not fit, Oleksandr Zinchenko neither. The rest are okay."

Aguero has been hampered by injuries this season, restricting the club's all-time leading scorer to just five appearances in all competitions.

City will be expected to return to winning ways when they host West Brom regardless of Aguero's availability, having won 13 on the spin against their next opponents in the league.

Indeed, the visitors have never recorded a victory at the Etihad Stadium, their last away success over City coming at Maine Road back in February 2003.

Kevin De Bruyne claimed he is baffled by the current interpretation of the handball rule after Manchester City once again fell foul of VAR against Tottenham.

Spurs dug in for a 2-0 win thanks to goals in each half from Son Heung-min and substitute Giovani Lo Celso, moving them to the top of the Premier League table after a performance which delighted boss Jose Mourinho.

By contrast, Mourinho's old rival Pep Guardiola finds his side languishing in 10th with 12 points from eight matches, although they were entitled to be frustrated when a marginal handball call went against Gabriel Jesus when he set up Aymeric Laporte for what briefly looked to be a first-half equaliser.

Referee Mike Dean consulted the pitchside monitor, with the replay showing the ball brushed Jesus' bicep on the hem of his shirt sleeve.

The latest guidance on handball from the International Football Association Board (IFAB) stipulates the "T-shirt line" should be used to differentiate between where the shoulder ends and the arm begins in terms of legal and illegal playing of the ball.

"I don't know the rules anymore honestly," De Bruyne told Sky Sports, with the same combination of Laporte and Jesus denied by VAR when the sides drew 2-2 at the Etihad Stadium last season – a match that followed the remarkable drama of the sides' 2019 Champions League quarter-final.

"I thought if it's above the arm here [above the bottom of the sleeve] that it’s not handball anymore.

"Everybody knows that it hits him here. I don’t know the rules.

"If you will listen tomorrow or the day after they will come on whatever channel and the referee will say it's a good decision, so it really doesn't matter.

"I've been playing professional football for 12 years and in the first nine years there were no rule changes. Now there are a lot of rule changes.

"I don't know why. Football is a nice game. The people making the rule changes need to be in the game."

Another familiar aspect of City's performance was combining a dominance of possession with a lack of cutting edge in attack and defensive fragility.

The visitors had 22 shots, with half of those blocked, to Tottenham's four. Son's goal was Spurs' only attempt of the first half and City had accounted for 66.4 per cent of possession by full-time.

Guardiola highlighted Laporte's decision to charge out of the defensive line to challenge Harry Kane in the build-up to an opening goal when Rodri and Joao Cancelo also appeared culpable, but De Bruyne believes he and his attacking colleagues must take a significant share of the blame.

"I think we played well but we missed that cutting edge," he said.

"To keep Tottenham to about three or four chances, that's quite good. But if you're not sharp enough in front of goal, which is happening lately, it's not enough."

Jesus and fellow striker Sergio Aguero have spent time on the sidelines this season, with the latter on the bench in north London alongside Raheem Sterling, who suffered an injury while on England duty.

"Obviously it's been up and down with the players going in and out," De Bruyne added. "It's very difficult for players to come back from injury and be sharp. It's difficult to find consistency.

"I think the first two thirds of the pitch we played well, but the end needs to be sharper. That will come, hopefully sooner than later."

Jurgen Klopp's bold team selection for Liverpool's 1-1 draw at Manchester City heightened the feeling of a changed dynamic within the rivalry that has come to define the present era in English football and its two main tactical protagonists.

Pep Guardiola has run through a range of configurations during his City tenure when confronted by the man with whom he began a compelling duel in their Bundesliga days.

Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund first placed the high priests of juego de posicion and gegenpressing in direct competition, the two strategic approaches that still dominate elite European football.

According to positional data collected by Opta, in each of his previous 11 encounters with Guardiola in England, Klopp wheeled out his trusty 4-3-3 - high intensity, high pressing and highly successful.

But prolific Anfield newboy Diogo Jota presented a conundrum. A midweek hat-trick against Atalanta made the Portugal forward hard to leave out, even if it meant breaking up the esteemed from three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Easy. Just play all four of them.

Salah reaps rewards for flying start

Klopp's call soon appeared as calculated on the sodden Manchester turf as it had cavalier on paper.

The equation weighed up by the Liverpool boss was a City defence buoyed by three consecutive clean sheets but unproven under prolonged scrutiny was worth the risk of a thorough examination.

City are not the free-scoring machine of their 100-point season in 2017-18 or the titanic tussle with Liverpool over the subsequent 12 months. In the first seven games of this Premier League season, City have scored only 10 times - 17 fewer than at the same stage last season. Before Sunday's match, their xG per game figure of 1.3 was their lowest in the competition since Opta began putting together such data in 2013-14.

The Reds were relentless early on, skidding balls in behind City's defensive line. The presence of a front four did not dissuade full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson from their usual raids.

While 51.8 per cent of City's first-half attacks came down the left flank where Raheem Sterling roved with intent against his former employers, Liverpool's assaults were split more or less evenly across the right, left and central channels.

Kyle Walker's clumsy foul on Mane for Salah's opening penalty was the culmination of an opening 13 minutes under siege.

Roads to Rodri closed off

The escape route Guardiola mapped out for his men was blocked off, with Salah and Firmino allowing central defenders Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias to have possession, while blocking off passes to holding midfielder Rodri.

The Spain international was named man of the match for a robust showing against Sheffield United last weekend but he toiled badly here. He won one of seven duels and a pass completion rate of 83.6 per cent dropped to 72 per cent in the opposition half, meaning he fulfilled neither of his briefs to provide protection and control.

Even for the most part of his eight career losses to Klopp - more than he has suffered to any other coach - the sense has been of Guardiola setting the terms of engagement. That was not the case here, but a City side in transition have shown they can operate in a more circumspect manner in recent weeks.

The space Klopp afforded to Kevin De Bruyne allowed the master playmaker to arrow a pass into the feet of Gabriel Jesus, whose Dennis Bergkamp impression illuminated a dank evening and lifted City.

De Bruyne's searching cross met Joe Gomez's elbow to earn a penalty that was nowhere near as accurate.

It was a glaring miss Guardiola would be left to rue after a Jesus header was the closest either side came in a second half of few chances.

A 1-1 draw where adrenaline gave way to attrition leaves City 11th after seven matches, but with a game in hand on Liverpool, five points better off in third.

Laporte and Dias taking City back to basics

Sections of the City fanbase have complained over Guardiola's failure to unleash a talent-stacked team as he once did. But without David Silva's quicksilver creativity and Leroy Sane's explosive wing-play - two world-class talents who loved these games - they are a different beast. Seven shots was their lowest in a Premier League fixture at the Etihad Stadium since February 2010, also against Liverpool

The teeth may not be so sharp, but there is added streetwise bulk. A combined outlay in the region of £120million means Laporte and Dias should provide reassurance, but plenty of City's other high-profile buys at centre-back confirm price tags are not guarantees.

After that rocky opening, they shut Liverpool down impressively. Laporte's four clearances were more than any other player on display, he and Dias won all of their aerial duels and the Portugal defender completed 93.7 per cent of his passes.

While Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan could not provide the requisite control in front of them, losing possession 25 times between them, Laporte and Dias brought the steel.

If Klopp's team selection on Sunday suggested a return to the heavy metal football on which he turned down the volume on to achieve greater clarity, Guardiola showed further evidence of a growing pragmatic streak. Following the 5-2 loss to Leicester City, his team have scored once in each of their subsequent Premier League games.

As the quality and entertainment waned after the break, it occurred that grinding rather than flying to wins might have be the way to go as a compelling rivalry shifts its shape again in this strangest of seasons.

Ruben Dias is the latest player Pep Guardiola is turning to in a bid to address Manchester City's defensive concerns.

Such worries were laid bare in a 5-2 demolition at home to Leicester City in the Premier League on Sunday, marking the first time a Guardiola team had conceded five times in a single game.

Nathan Ake was already brought in from Bournemouth earlier in the window but another centre-back, probably to partner Aymeric Laporte long term, was always likely to be a priority.

Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Jules Kounde of Sevilla emerged as targets but it was Benfica's Dias who Guardiola eventually plumped for, with City agreeing an initial fee of £62million and sending Nicolas Otamendi in the opposite direction.

But is Dias the right answer for Guardiola? Using Opta's league data going back to August 2019, we compare the Portugal international against Laporte, Otamendi, John Stones and Eric Garcia, as well as Koulibaly and Kounde to try to answer that question.


The case for the defence…

In terms of the basics expected for a defender, Dias – who has the most appearances in our timespan with 35 – compares pretty favourably against our selected players.

His 45 tackles is only beaten by Koulibaly's 55, and the 1.3 tackles made per 90 minutes is better than Garcia (0.8), Kounde (0.9), Laporte (1.1) and the same as Stones. Both Otamendi (1.5) and Koulibaly (2.2) score better.

When it comes to interceptions, it is again Koulibaly who registers highest in direct numbers with 33, three more than Dias on 30.

Assessing the same area over 90 minutes sees Garcia (2.1), Laporte (1.6), Koulibaly (1.3) and Otamendi (1.2) all make more than Dias (0.9), while Kounde has the same and Stones is at 0.7.

Koulibaly is also the leader in blocks made (19) and blocks made per 90 (0.7) but Dias is second with 17 and 0.5 – Otamendi also scoring 0.5 in the latter measurement.

Dias has made the most clearances at 102 but when measured over the course of a game, Otamendi (3.8), Kounde (3.4) and Garcia (3.3) all rank higher than his 2.9.


More physicality needed?

There is a long-standing stereotype that the Premier League is more physical than its European counterparts.

If such an admittedly cliched notion is indeed true then Dias may have to get used to more physicality. His 88 aerial balls won is fewer only than Kounde's, but a 60 per cent aerial success rate is better only than Koulibaly (55) and Garcia (32).

Indeed, per 90 minutes, Kounde (3.7), Otamendi and Stones (both 3.3) each won more aerial balls than Dias (2.5).

For duel success, Dias is bang in the middle, with his 60 per cent lower than Stones (70), Kounde and Laporte (both 63) but higher than Koulibaly, Otamendi (both 57) and Garcia (42).

Encouragingly, Dias made no errors leading to goals in this period (and only one leading to a shot). The only players making a mistake that did result in a goal were Koulibaly and Otamendi (both one).

Kounde, Otamendi and Stones all made two errors that led to the opposition having a shot on goal.

Dias conceded one penalty in our time frame, as did Kounde, Koulibaly and Garcia. He gave away on average 1.1 fouls per game, with only Koulibaly (1.5) averaging more.


Capable of building from the back

Of course, to succeed as a defender under Guardiola, you must be as adept on the ball as you are off it and Dias has plenty to provide encouragement here.

In the 2019-20 season, Dias was involved in 104 open play sequences that led to a shot on goal and started 23 such passages. Only Koulibaly (120 and 30) was involved in more.

Dias is comfortably the best scorer in terms of involvements in open play sequences that led to a goal with 20. Otamendi scored next highest with 12 in this metric. The Portuguese was also responsible for starting three open play sequences that led to a goal – with Stones and Garcia beginning two.

Since August 2019, Dias has a pass success rate of 89 per cent, with only Kounde's 86 coming in lower. But it is not unreasonable to expect this to improve under Guardiola with Stones, Garcia (both 94), Laporte (93) and Otamendi (92) all scoring well.

Dias will quickly learn he is in a team that will spend plenty of time in possession and his 66.3 passes per 90 minutes are likely to go up when you look at the numbers for Laporte (93.6), Garcia (84.3), Stones (82.6) and Otamendi (80.6) in this regard.


Verdict: So, we asked is Dias the solution for Guardiola's defensive concerns? Well, and excuse the unashamed fence-sitting, the numbers suggest the jury is out. Let's not forget the 23-year-old is moving to a new league, which brings its own unique challenges. But that is not to say there are not causes for optimism for City fans. His numbers for involvements in open play sequences leading to shots and goals are impressive, while his defensive stats stack up well against the others. There may need to be improvement physically but, given time, Dias can be a great addition to City's backline.

Pep Guardiola seems desperate to reinforce his centre-back options before the transfer deadline early next month, and it appears his primary targets are Ruben Dias of Benfica and Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

Media reports on Friday suggested that City have offered approximately €55million, plus Nicolas Otamendi, for Dias having apparently had a similar offer turned down for Kounde last week.

Sevilla sporting director Monchi confirmed the club had received an offer for the talented Frenchman, though he did not reveal the club that bid – which was rejected – came from.

City had previously seemed focused on Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, while Kounde's partner at Sevilla, Diego Carlos, was also said to have been considered.

But with no progress on those deals, City have identified younger options, with Dias 23 years old and Kounde not due to turn 22 for another two months.

With Dias and Kounde looking the likeliest to bolster Guardiola's defensive ranks, we used Opta data to compare the two players.

Adapting to City's style

Given he is a year-and-a-half older than Kounde, it's fair to suggest Dias is slightly further ahead in his development than Kounde, while he is also playing for one of the top teams in a less competitive league than LaLiga.

But there is a lot to like about the Portugal international's game and he does look well-suited to City's possession-based style of play.

He completed 1,934 of his 2,184 passes last term, and though that statistic in isolation doesn't prove a huge amount – many will have been simple and under no pressure – it does show he is used to seeing a lot of the ball.

Of those, 927 were in the opposing half and 81 per cent found a team-mate, whereas Kounde attempted 491 in the attacking half and completed 76.6 per cent.

It's a similar story with regards to passes ending in the final third, where play is likely to be more congested. Dias made 364 passes into such an area and was accurate 68.4 per cent of the time, while Kounde found a team-mate in the attacking third with 66.3 per cent accuracy from 160 passes.

As a base for comparison, City's current centre-backs are reflected much better by the data in this area – Otamendi's passing accuracy in the opposing half is 87.9 per cent, Aymeric Laporte's is 90 per cent, while in the final third their respective figures are 76.8 per cent and 84.6 per cent.

With respect to Kounde, it is worth bearing in mind that Sevilla play far more direct than either of the other two teams in question. They played 2,594 long balls in the league last term, while City registered 1,978 and Benfica attempted 1,581.

Where Kounde does come out on top, however, thus proving his ability on the ball and ease at bringing it out from the back, is the fact he attempted 22 dribbles and completed 81.2 per cent of them – of the defenders (that's centre-backs and full-backs) in LaLiga to try 20 or more dribbles, only one had a better success rate.

Dependable defenders?

As possession-oriented as City are, even a team like that has to do a bit of defending now and again – and although they only conceded two more goals than Liverpool in 2019-20, it was widely felt the centre of defence was their biggest issue.

Otamendi proved unreliable, Fernandinho isn't a natural centre-back, John Stones was unconvincing when fit and Laporte – undoubtedly their best option – missed a chunk of the season with an ACL injury.

The hole left by Laporte and Vincent Kompany's departure to Anderlecht was gaping and resulted in City looking flimsy, particularly when put under pressure – seven of their nine defeats were away from home.

Dependable, hard-working centre-backs capable of playing with the ball at their feet are seemingly what Guardiola is after, and both Dias and Kounde proved to be just that for their respective teams.

Kounde was a standout performer as recently as Thursday for Sevilla, impressing in spite of a 2-1 UEFA Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich. He made three tackles and nine clearances, also winning each of his six aerial duels.

In a straight comparison between Dias and Kounde with regards to standard defensive metrics, the former does generally come out on top, as he won possession back more times (175 to 108) than the Frenchman, and bested him in terms of interceptions (30 to 23), overall clearances (101 to 88), tackles (44 to 23) and duels (254 to 229).

But Kounde, though less of a domineering physical specimen than Dias in appearance, does tend to be more effective aerially, suggesting his stats against Bayern were no fluke.

Despite playing four fewer matches than Dias, he made more headed clearances (56 to 50), engaged in a greater number of aerial duels (149 to 141) and won more as well (94 to 86).

The verdict

Both players fit the general mould of centre-backs that Guardiola likes, but to suggest either is the finished article or a world-class player yet would be premature.

Kounde did very well in his first season in LaLiga, but he only truly found consistency in his performances at the start of 2020 – a talent, certainly, with his ceiling seemingly very high, but prising him away could cost City well over £60m.

Dias appears the easier to sign given he will likely be slightly cheaper than Kounde, while in most cases in this statistical comparison, he has the edge.

But, with Victor Lindelof impressing for Benfica but struggling to convince with Manchester United, City may want to take note of a warning from across town.

Pep Guardiola insisted it was not right for him to talk on Lionel Messi's behalf after the transfer saga that saw the Barcelona superstar heavily linked with a move to Manchester City.

Messi asked to leave Barca in the tumultuous aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

City were widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature, with a reunion between Messi and Guardiola heavily tipped to happen before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona for the final year of his contract, accusing president Josep Maria Bartomeu of going back on his word and making the financial cost of any deal for a buying club "impossible".

LaLiga backed Barca in confirming the €700million release clause in Messi's contract remained valid.

Speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Wolves, where City will begin their attempt to unseat Liverpool and win a third Premier League title in four seasons, Guardiola was keen not to cause any friction with his former employers.

"I think I don't have to explain anything," he said. "Leo explained quite well his feelings, I don't have anything to add.

"He's a football player for FC Barcelona, the club I love, and there is nothing more to say."

Asked whether City would be interested in signing Messi were he to become available, at the age of 34, when his contract expires in June, Guardiola replied: I don't know. It's a question for Leo Messi. I cannot talk about the intentions of other people."

Guardiola's forward line at Molineux will be entirely without Argentinian talent after he confirmed City's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero is yet to resume full training following meniscus surgery in June.

Riyad Mahrez is set to feature after time in isolation following a positive coronavirus test, although centre-back Aymeric Laporte only returned to training from his own COVID-19 absence on Friday, so is a doubt.

That could mean a debut for Nathan Ake at centre-back, one of two major close-season acquisitions for Guardiola, alongside winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

"So far really good," he said of how Ake and Torres had settled.

"What we have to do with all the players and staff, the people close to them, is to help them to settle as quickly as possible.

"They are two nice people and it's good to have them with us."

City have been extensively linked with a move for Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, with the deal appearing to have stalled over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has no qualms over how his club have backed him in the transfer market.

"Since day one, when I arrived here, I was more than satisfied with what I had in the team," he added.

"The club do absolutely everything to do their best for all of us. I'm a lucky person to have these players and be in this club."

Manchester City's latest Premier League title pursuit belatedly gets under way at Wolves on Monday.

Prior Champions League involvement saw Pep Guardiola's men sit out the opening weekend of the new season, while their meeting with Wolves is the final fixture of the second round.

City's rivals will have played twice by the time Kevin De Bruyne and Co take to the field, meaning they will be desperate for a fast start at Molineux.

But Wolves beat City twice last term as their championship defence came off the rails.

Do Guardiola's side have a problem with opponents like the high-flying Wanderers? Opta advanced metrics delve deeper...

ARE THREE-MAN DEFENCES AN ISSUE?

Wolves have regularly lined up with a back three since their promotion to the Premier League two years ago, even if the shape in front of that defence occasionally changes.

The ever-present Conor Coady was flanked by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss in a 3-5-2 at the Etihad last term, while Leander Dendoncker joined Coady and Saiss in the back line for a 3-4-3 for the return fixture.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side came out on top in both matches, yet of the nine occasions City faced a three-man defence between the start of last season and January 26, those were the only two defeats for Guardiola's men. They also drew with Atalanta's 3-4-1-2.

However, in the remainder of the season, that statistic was turned on its head. Other teams followed Wolves' lead and City struggled to break down their opponents.

Manchester United's 3-4-1-2 twice toppled City, while Arsenal's 3-4-3 and Lyon's 3-5-2 also secured victories. City scored only once across those four matches and were regularly caught out on the counter.

A 1-0 win at Leicester City - who played 3-5-2 - on February 22 represents the last time City beat a team using a back three.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO CITY'S PRESS?

Such systems have been particularly prevalent in the Premier League since Antonio Conte's Chelsea won the title in 2016-17, so why are City - champions in 2017-18 and 2018-19 - suddenly struggling?

The season before last, when Guardiola's men held off a challenge from Liverpool, City's pressing clearly led the way.

They ranked top in the division for high turnovers within 40 metres of an opponent's goal (217), high turnovers that led to either shots (43) or goals (nine), pressed sequences where opponents managed three or fewer passes within 40 metres of their own goal (578), the average starting position of their open play attacks (46.1m up the field) and opposition passes allowed per defensive action (10).

Teams like Wolves, who could defend in numbers and aim to counter, would quickly find sky blue shirts in their faces as they tried to launch attacks.

But while City actually improved in some respects in 2019-20, rivals also got to grips with the system. City had 252 high turnovers but were only joint-best in the Premier League. An increase to 587 pressed sequences was merely the third highest tally.

One new area for concern as City pressed their opponents was an inability to capitalise on their high turnovers, meanwhile, scoring only six times despite creating 65 shots.

And now facing an effective press, City increasingly committed costly mistakes at the back. There were 21 defensive errors that led to shots last season, up from 15 the previous campaign, while the number that ended in goals rose from two to a worrying seven.

The defeats to Wolves were littered with loose passes and rash decisions. In the 3-2 at Molineux, Ederson was sent off early and then Raheem Sterling and Benjamin Mendy each lost possession prior to goals.

IS AYMERIC LAPORTE THE KEY?

A calming presence at the back as well as an excellent defender, Aymeric Laporte might prove key to these tricky encounters for City.

The Frenchman was missing for both matches against Wolves, defeats that contribute to a tally of eight in the league when he has been absent since joining the club. By contrast, City have only lost six Premier League matches with Laporte in the side.

His winning percentage is a remarkable 84.7, compared to 61.3 for the team when he is out. City earn 2.6 points per game with Laporte and 2.0 without him.

Laporte scored an equaliser at Wolves in 2018-19, although City could not go on to win on that occasion in the first of a series of well-matched meetings between the sides.

Guardiola has won just 20 per cent - one of five - games against Nuno, his lowest such record against any one coach.

Yet City are not the only elite team to struggle against Wolves, who have taken 28 points over 24 clashes with the 'top six' since returning, a haul only bettered by Liverpool and City themselves. Guardiola's side have been warned.

The ratings for popular video game franchise FIFA are often a bone of contention for its die-hard fanbase.

But for the professionals too they can clearly be a cause for debate and the latest scores for FIFA 21, revealed on Thursday, have proven no different.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi recently went through a real-life transfer saga, yet his on-pitch qualities were reflected by the fact he is the highest-rated player on the game at 93.

Cristiano Ronaldo drops to 92 this year, while Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Oblak all carry a 91 value.

For some, though, the virtual attributes are not entirely appreciated … step up Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.

"Let's be honest FIFA just mess with the ratings so we players start complaining about the game and give them more publicity..." he wrote on Twitter.  

"I ain't with this s***. I know what I do."

It appears Lukaku, rated 85 overall, was particularly unhappy with a pace attribute of 81, adding: "Did EA Sports not see my goal against Shakhtar Donetsk. What is wrong with them?"

Lukaku was not alone, though, with Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte taking exception to his pace rating of 63.

Laporte posted two pictures on Twitter. Above one in which he was smiling, he wrote: "Waiting for my new FIFA rating." Above another with his head in his hand, he added: "Finding out I have 63 pace."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's rating has dropped to 87 overall, including a slight dip to his pace score, with the Arsenal striker responding to a tweet about the news with a series of, we assume sarcastic, laughing face emojis.

Not everyone was despondent, though. Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said of his 90 rating: "What do you guys think, not bad right?"

Team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold said of his 87 to BBC Sport: "Yeah, I'm happy of course. 87, jeez. Wow, that's high."

However, a shooting score of 66 was contested by the England star.

"I think maybe they put that in there because it's my squad number. I'm hoping. Four goals from full-back ... I don't know," he added.

"I'm not going to challenge it too much. I would have liked it to be higher though."

Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte have both tested positive for coronavirus, Manchester City have confirmed.

The Premier League side revealed the duo had contracted COVID-19, though they were displaying no symptoms, and were currently self-isolating.

The 2020-21 Premier League season begins on Saturday, September 12, though City's first fixture in the competition is against Wolves on September 21, in 14 days' time.

Vincent Kompany joined Manchester City in August 2008 – a little more than a week before the club's trajectory was irreversible changed by Sheikh Mansour's takeover.

The centre-back position, where long-serving club captain Kompany excelled and became a club great, has become a focus for the owner's transfer market millions over the intervening years.

However, there have been more expensive misses than hits, with City's struggles after Kompany's departure last year underlining how subsequent centre-back additions have rarely been anywhere near as successful.

Bournemouth's Nathan Ake is set to be the next man into the building, with City reportedly having agreed a £41million fee for the Netherlands international.

Here, we look at the major centre-back signings made by City during the Abu Dhabi era and how they panned out.

KOLO TOURE (ARSENAL £14M, JULY 2009)

A former title winner with Arsenal, Toure was given the captain's armband by Mark Hughes as club stalwart Richard Dunne was ushered out of the door. The Ivory Coast international struggled for consistency, however, and became a back-up option under Roberto Mancini. Arguably his most significant contribution to City's success was his mere presence encouraging brother Yaya to make the move to Manchester.

JOLEON LESCOTT (EVERTON £22M, AUGUST 2009)

Like Ake now and plenty of others in between, the fee City paid Everton for Lescott brought snorts of derision. But the England international established a rock-solid partnership with Kompany that underpinned the 2011-12 Premier League title triumph. City have never appeared quite so settled at centre-back since their alliance broke down the following year.

JEROME BOATENG (HAMBURG £10.5M, JUNE 2010)

Before going on to become one of Europe's elite central defenders at Bayern Munich, Boateng endured an unhappy year in Manchester. Primarily a right-back at that stage of his career, he found his path to the first team blocked by Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta and failed to settle.

STEFAN SAVIC (PARTIZAN £6M, JULY 2011)

Given he was fourth-choice in a season when Kompany and Lescott excelled, it was remarkable how quickly Savic carved out a reputation as an accident-prone liability. A year after signing him, Mancini had lost faith and decided to cut his losses. The steady hand in Atletico Madrid's formidable backline today is a player utterly transformed.

MATIJA NASTASIC (FIORENTINA £12M, AUGUST 2012)

Savic served as a makeweight in the deal to bring Nastasic to the Etihad Stadium. He performed impressively during a largely forgettable 2012-13 campaign, for which Mancini paid with his job. Successor Manuel Pellegrini did not much fancy Nastasic, with injuries further compromising the Serbia international before he moved to current employers Schalke in 2015.

MARTIN DEMICHELIS (ATLETICO MADRID £4.2M, SEPTEMBER 2013)

A loyal lieutenant for Pellegrini, Demichelis left Atletico Madrid without playing a game when the opportunity to reunite with the Chilean coach arose. Long of hair and short of pace, his introduction to the Premier League was fraught and Marcus Rashford skinning him to win a 2016 Manchester derby gave his City career a clanging footnote. However, the Argentina international's experience and steel was vital as the Blues edged out Liverpool in a knife-edge 2013-14 title race.

ELIAQUIM MANGALA (PORTO £42M, AUGUST 2014)

Unperturbed by a massive transfer fee, Mangala was majestic on his debut as 10-man City battled to a 1-1 draw against Chelsea. To be blunt, he never reached those levels again and was rarely close – a slapstick own goal in his next outing at Hull City proving far more representative of what was to come. A popular squad member, Mangala came up short in terms of form, fitness and temperament to unfortunately stand as one of the biggest transfer flops in Premier League history.

NICOLAS OTAMENDI (VALENCIA £32M, AUGUST 2015)

Mangala's struggles sent Pellegrini back into the transfer market for another big-money addition. Otamendi proved scarcely more reliable and the duo generally needed to be watched through one's fingers when paired together. Nevertheless, the Argentina defender's dogged determination saw him become a mainstay during the 100-point season under Pep Guardiola in 2017-18, when he deservedly won a place in the PFA Team of the Year. His error-strewn efforts since have worn increasingly thin.

JOHN STONES (EVERTON £47.5M, AUGUST 2016)

A flagship signing ahead of Guardiola's first season, Stones appears set for the exit door having failed to realise his undoubted potential. He oozed class during the early stages of back-to-back Premier League successes over the previous two seasons, although he tellingly spent large chunks of both run-ins on the sidelines. Injuries have not helped and Guardiola appears to have lost trust in a man who once looked set to be synonymous with his reign.

AYMERIC LAPORTE (ATHLETIC BILBAO £57M, JANUARY 2018)  

For now, Laporte remains City's most expensive central defender and the Frenchman has given considerable bang for their buck after the costly folly listed above. As important to City for his precise and varied range of left-footed playmaking from deep, Laporte is Guardiola's defensive rock. When his cruciate knee ligament injury last August followed a failure to replace Kompany, the writing for 2019-20 was on the wall.

Pep Guardiola conceded persistent injuries have hit John Stones' confidence as the centre-back enters a potentially crucial few weeks in his Manchester City career.

Stones joined City from Everton for £47.5million in 2016, with the ball-playing centre-back seen then as pivotal in terms of Guardiola implementing his trademark playing style at the Etihad Stadium.

However, the 26-year-old has been confined to the margins this season by frequent injury niggles, registering only 10 Premier League starts and making his sole Champions League appearance from the bench.

When he has appeared, Stones has struggled for his best form, something he will hope to remedy against Newcastle Untied on Wednesday after Guardiola confirmed he will start - a first outing since an ankle problem sidelined the England international before the Premier League restart.

"The quality of John is there, I never doubted for one second," Guardiola said. "It's just when you don’t play, injured again, rotated, injured again - of course that [a lack of confidence] happens.

"The players are good when they are in a routine, they’re confident. Even the top players need minutes, playing being fit or being injured. This is what happened with John in this period.

"Now it’s the moment to play for himself, focus on what he has to do. What John is, we know it. We know the quality and the perspective and everything is there."

Guardiola's latest restatement of his belief in Stones' abilities comes amid City being linked to centre-back reinforcements, with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly thought to be a prime target.

The City boss once said that Stones would remain at the club as long as he did, but that picture seems nowhere near as clear as it once did.

Even when he was available earlier in the season, while Aymeric Laporte was rehabilitating from a cruciate knee ligament injury, Guardiola frequently overlooked Stones in favour of redeployed midfield veteran Fernandinho and the accident-prone Nicolas Otamendi.

Reports of a move to Arsenal or a return to Everton have surfaced in recent weeks, with the appeal of a fresh start for Stones not hard to identify.

"I said many times, I'm more than delighted with John Stones. As a person, as a professional, everything," Guardiola restated, before sounding a more pragmatic tone.

"What I want is the best for him. At the end of the season we are going to speak about what is going to happen, because sometimes my wishes are not the wishes of the player.

"I am honest with them and at the moment that we feel we have to change, we are going to tell them. John is a young player, always we want the consistency to train regularly.

"Some players can play every three days for 11 days. Other players struggle more to be fit. What we have to do is find the key to be able to train and play every three days. This is what we want."

The latest obstacle to any potential Stones resurgence is the form of teenage defender Eric Garcia, who started alongside Laporte for clean-sheet victories against Arsenal and Liverpool and the 1-0 loss at Southampton last time out.

"They are two guys, especially Eric, who do not make mistakes," Guardiola added, in a claim not easily applied to Stones, for all his talents.

"Again, against Southampton he doesn't make one mistake defensively. This is what we want.

"I saw Eric and Ayme incredibly well together against Arsenal and in the other games. I want to give more minutes to them to play together."

Laporte's knee injury, suffered during a 4-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion last August, has been cited as a major factor in City's title defence falling apart.

The man himself, however, is not so sure.

"They have to say that if they think that, but I don't think that," Laporte said.

"When I am on the pitch I try to do my best. If I can give us more chances to be on top of the league then that is better for me and the team too."

In a sentiment Stones would surely echo, Laporte added: "Hopefully in the next year I will be there all season and enjoy playing many games."

Aymeric Laporte says it is "always difficult" without football with the coronavirus pandemic coming during an injury-hit campaign for the Manchester City defender.

France centre-back Laporte has made just eight appearances in all competitions for City this season thanks largely to a serious knee injury sustained in August.

Laporte made his comeback in January but suffered a hamstring strain at the end of February, while the suspension of football across most of Europe due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has been a further frustration.

In an interview with City's website, Laporte said: "I am okay. I am at home, safe. Doing nothing but training a little bit, staying at home and doing some streaming online. 

"I am in Manchester. For me, it was a long time without football on the pitch and it was so difficult. The second time without football and it is always difficult; don't touch the ball, don't be on the pitch in the stadium playing in front of the fans and everything. 

"We have to keep it how it is and waiting for what is the best for our health which is the most important right now."

On his fitness, he added: "I feel fit, no problems. At home I have many things to do, to train, to run. I have a bike, I have weights, I have many things. I cannot do everything, because it is not like being on the pitch. 

"The club gave us a training programme to do at home. Sometimes train together with all of the team. They have given us many things to practice and to do at home."

Laporte said he has now started to join in online gaming with his City team-mates, though was reluctant to offer an opinion as to who is the best in the squad at FIFA. 

"I started yesterday. I will play more games on the internet with many players," he said. 

"Yesterday I was playing with Kyle Walker for example and Raheem [Sterling] today. We will see, maybe I will invite someone to play with me.

 "It depends which games [as to who is the best]. Don't ask me about FIFA because I don't know!

"Everyone says they are the best so I can't pick just one of them. I am not the best for sure! I don't look to improve; I just want to have fun."

Harry Kane's future continues to make headlines.

Since saying he would not stay at Tottenham "for the sake of it" in his pursuit of silverware, Kane has been linked to Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Now, Spurs have reportedly named their fee for the England international.

 

TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM SET KANE PRICE

Tottenham will allow star striker Harry Kane to leave for £200million, according to the Daily Mail.

Kane has been heavily linked to Premier League rivals Manchester United and LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

Spurs are reportedly keen on some extra funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ROUND-UP

Lautaro Martinez to Barcelona? Not necessarily. The Sun claims Manchester City are favourites to sign the Inter forward, despite the Argentina international being tipped to move to Camp Nou.

- Fabrizio Romano says Juventus will consider moving for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic if they are unsuccessful in their pursuit of United star Paul Pogba. Brescia's Sandro Tonali and Gaetano Castrovilli of Fiorentina are also on the list.

Barca are desperate to strengthen their squad. Martinez is the priority up front for the LaLiga champions, but Mundo Deportivo says they want more. Barca are eyeing a midfielder, with Napoli star Fabian Ruiz and Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele being considered. The Catalan giants are also looking for a central defender and have been linked to City centre-back Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano of Leipzig and Sevilla's Diego Carlos.

Inter are interested in Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, reports Calciomercato. The Frenchman is also being followed by United and Arsenal.

- Signing Mauro Icardi remains the main objective for Juve, according to Calciomercato. The Serie A champions are keen to sign a striker amid links to Inter's Icardi, who is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, Timo Werner of RB Leipzig, City forward Gabriel Jesus, Arkadiusz Milik of Napoli, Lyon's Moussa Dembele and Kane are also on Juve's radar.

Pep Guardiola downplayed the significance of his tactical tweaks and bemoaned Manchester City's injury problems, stating: "No managers can do it without the players".

Guardiola oversaw a 2-1 win away at Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 first leg on Wednesday.

The City boss received widespread praise for his approach at the Santiago Bernabeu, lining up with Gabriel Jesus on the left wing and two midfielders - Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva - up front.

Yet Guardiola, preparing for the EFL Cup final against Aston Villa, suggested on Friday too much credence is given to systems and how a team sets up.

Asked if it would be difficult for City to change their tactics at Wembley on Sunday, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach fired back.

"First, I want to say I think you are wrong. You didn't learn," he told reporters. "The line to win and lose is so, so tight. Forget about [the tactical changes].

"I did it many times and it didn't work - it was a 'disaster' in today's words because for many, many other reasons - but that doesn't count.

"Still, people don't learn that the manager of the team who wins is perfect, a genius, and the manager who loses is a disaster. Still, people don't understand that it doesn't work in that way.

"During the same game, Sergio Ramos kicks the ball, Fernandinho touches here [points to the shoulder] and it goes out.

"[If not] they score two goals and, after that, the decisions of the manager of Manchester City would have been a disaster and the decisions from Zidane were perfect. And it was a little, little, little detail that can make a difference.

"What happened to us in the past? A thousand examples I could explain in the last three or four years about these knockout stages: we're out for these details, we're in for these details."

Along with the "little, little, little" details, Guardiola attributes his team's results down to the players.

He was therefore frustrated to again lose star defender Aymeric Laporte to a hamstring injury in Madrid and suggested City might have been closer to runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool but for such setbacks.

"A manager needs the players," Guardiola said. "All the players are fantastic but, the more you have, you have alternatives, for rotations, to be fresh.

"To be in one competition a season, you can handle it with 12, 13 good players. To be in involved in all the competitions, you need 16, 17 top, top players.

"There are 11 [in a team], so that means six, seven top, top players who are not playing. Managers depend absolutely 100 per cent on the quality of the players. As a human being, first of all, and you have - in most of the cases we have - incredible, good, talented players.

"We don't have success, the managers. No managers can do it without the players."

Page 1 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.