Aymeric Laporte has insisted he is paying little attention to the "political agenda" driving criticism of his surprise selection in the Spain squad for Euro 2020.

Born in Agen in the south of France, the defender represented Les Bleus' youth teams from U17s level all the way through to the U21s.

He was also twice called up by the senior national side but injury and a failure to convince manager Didier Deschamps of his worth meant he had not made an appearance by the age of 27.

However, an eight-year stint with Athletic Bilbao meant Laporte, whose great grandparents hailed from the Basque region, remained eligible for Spain, and Luis Enrique took advantage by including him in the squad for this summer's European Championship.

The Manchester City man performed impressively in his first competitive appearance for his new nation - a 0-0 draw with Sweden - winning all three of his aerial duels and completing more passes (115) than any other player on the pitch.

But the move continues to prove controversial in some quarters, with one Spanish journalist recently asking Laporte if he "[felt] Spanish enough to be able to defend the badge, the flag, the nation, the anthem".

Still, the player remains unperturbed by the debate surrounding his involvement and told AFP: "There is a bit of everything, like anywhere, there are a lot of people who are in favour but there are many who are also against.

"There is a political agenda behind all that and I can see that it's not easy for everyone to accept. I also understand those people. Everything is fine, for now.

"There will be worse times to come and also the opposite. I just try to make the most of the good moments and push the bad ones aside because otherwise I know it'll be a rollercoaster."

Laporte's inclusion was considered even more contentious given it came off the back of Spain and Real Madrid icon Sergio Ramos being excluded from the squad.

But he insisted the two decisions were not directly linked, and lavished praise upon his fellow centre-back.

"This is what the press wanted to blame me for a bit," he added. "The manager said he was injured so it has nothing to do with me. I'm also not the only centre-back in the squad so I don't think it's my fault.

"There's no extra pressure. I'm here to do my job, to fight for Spain in my own way.

"He is an icon in the world of football. I have watched him a lot since I was young. He is the benchmark.

"I love his character, not his aggressive side, the red cards and all that, but his resilience to make a mistake and still come back stronger, not to hide behind his reputation. He is always ready to stand up and be counted."

Spain have failed to score in two of their last three outings, having taken 51 international fixtures to produce two goalless games prior to that.

But Laporte is calm about a disappointing start to this summer's tournament, which he hopes to put right against Poland on Saturday.

"The results will say everything," he continued. "A lot of people think they know football but then the complete opposite to what they predict happens.

"We just try to do our job and I would even say so much the better if they think that we're not ready because it takes the pressure off. It motivates us even more."

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips this off-season.

Haaland enjoyed a stunning campaign for Borussia Dortmund, earning admirers from Europe's elite.

As speculation mounts over his future, Dortmund are determined to keep the Norwegian.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND NAME HAALAND PRICE

Borussia Dortmund are demanding €200million (£172m) for star striker Erling Haaland, according to AS.

Haaland has been linked with Real MadridManchester CityBarcelona, Paris Saint-GermainManchester UnitedJuventusLiverpoolChelsea and Bayern Munich.

Dortmund previously quoted €180m (£154m) but BVB have reportedly increased their demands as they try to retain the Norway forward for at least another season.

 

ROUND-UP

- LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid are targeting Inter star Lautaro Martinez, according to AS. With Diego Simeone poised to extend his contract, the head coach is eyeing a move for Martinez, who has previously been linked with Barca.

Barca could sell Samuel UmtitiSergi Roberto and Junior Firpo to reduce their wage bill, says Mundo Deportivo. Jordi Alba could also depart for the right price as Ronald Koeman's men look to sign Lyon captain Memphis Depay.

- Fabrizio Romano reports PSG have agreed a deal to sign Georginio Wijnaldum, who had been tipped to join Barca with his Liverpool contract set to expire. As Wijnaldum looks destined for Paris, Marca claims Barca are now interested in City veteran FernandinhoPSG are also in talks with Inter to sign Achraf Hakimi.

- Staying at Camp Nou, Sport claims Barca are looking to sign City trio Aymeric LaporteGabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan, having already brought Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia in on free transfers from the Premier League champions.

- Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma will decide his future in the coming days, according to Romano. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with JuventusBarca and PSG.

Atletico are hoping to lure Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin to Madrid, according to Marca. It comes as United reportedly try to prise Kieran Trippier from Los Colchoneros.

Is Aymeric Laporte's future away from Manchester City?

Laporte hit the ground running in Manchester, but Pep Guardiola has since preferred John Stones and Ruben Dias.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are reportedly willing to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – LAPORTE HEADED FOR SPAIN RETURN?

LaLiga pair Real Madrid and Barcelona are tracking Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte , according to Caught Offside.

Laporte left Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao for City in 2018 but the newly capped Spain international slipped down the pecking order during the 2020-21 campaign.

As City reportedly prepare a new long-term contract for John Stones , who has been preferred alongside Ruben Dias, Madrid and Barca are waiting in the wings.

 

ROUND-UP

-  Tottenham have abandoned their plans to appoint former Inter boss Antonio Conte , reports Sky Italy. Spurs and Conte were in negotiations and while ex-Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici is poised to join the Premier League side, Conte will not reunite with his Italian compatriot. Tottenham were initially linked with former manager Mauricio Pochettino , who is currently in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Amid ongoing speculation, Le10 Sport claims a sensational deal to bring Pochettino back to London could go ahead.

- PSG  are trying to hijack Barcelona 's move for Georginio Wijnaldum , says ESPN. Wijnaldum is available on a free transfer following the expiration of his Liverpool contract and he has been tipped to make the switch to Camp Nou.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya is the on the radar for Barca , who are eyeing a new left-back.

- Gazzetto dello Sport reports  Juventus  are interested in Fiorentina defender  Nikola Milenkovic . Fiorentina could be willing to sell the Serbia international, who is out of contract in 2022. Milenkovic has previously been linked with  Tottenham Manchester United  and  West Ham Milan  could also make a move if they fail to tie up a permanent deal for Chelsea's  Fikayo Tomori .

Dusan Vlahovic  of Fiorentina, Marseille's  Arkadiusz Milik and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca  are among the possible new forward signings for  Milan , says Gazzetta dello Sport. Chelsea veteran Olivier Giroud has been strongly linked with Milan.

- Marca claims  Gareth Bale  is leaning towards retirement after Euro 2020. Bale is set to return to Real Madrid following his loan spell at Tottenham.

- New Inter boss  Simone Inzaghi  wants to keep  Alexis Sanchez , per Calciomercato. As Inter look to cut costs, Sanchez has been linked with  Roma Romelu Lukaku Lautaro Martinez  and  Alessandro Bastoni  and their futures have also been questioned due to the club's financial issues.

Luis Enrique issued a strong defence of Alvaro Morata after a 0-0 draw with Portugal that saw debutant Aymeric Laporte impress the Spain boss ahead of Euro 2020.

The 2012 winners were unable to find a way through against the reigning champions as the two neighbouring nations met in a friendly fixture as part of their preparations for this year's tournament.

However, Spain saw Morata fail to convert a glorious late chance at the Wanda Metropolitano, his attempt when clean through hitting the crossbar.

It was one of four shots by the striker during proceedings, of which only one ended up on target. Still, he did make two key passes and, despite the crowd getting on his case following the miss, his head coach was more than happy with what he saw.

"I am not worried about it," Luis Enrique said when asked about the 28-year-old.

"The last play saw Morata kill himself to pressure. He has been a constant nuisance for the Portuguese, doing an incredible job, and in the 90th minute he is able to make a 40-metre action, fool the goalkeeper and then has bad luck when hitting the crossbar. 

"I think that's something to be applauded. I have seen him very well in terms of his morale, he is already used to it [the criticism]."

There were also whistles at full-time after the hosts failed to capitalise on their dominance. Spain had 65.7 per cent of possession which led to 10 attempts, albeit Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio only had to make two saves.

"I haven't seen anyone whistle at me. I do not care. Yes, it bothers me that it is done to the players," a defiant Luis Enrique said.

"Everyone can do what they want, but I just found out now. I understand my role, I know what it means to be a public figure.

"But people praise me and even blow me kisses, so I feel loved and in Madrid I am delighted."

Laporte was clearly one of the positives to come out of the fixture for Spain, the Manchester City defender combining with fellow centre-back Pau Torres to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet.

After Portugal had just one on-target attempt during the contest, Luis Enrique said: "I have seen it as expected, very good. It is not common and normal to have two left-sided central defenders, but I have played many years with right central defenders and it does not surprise anyone.

"It is difficult to find two left-sided central defenders of this quality. They have been exceptional, dominating in the air, in passing the ball, putting pressure on the Portuguese forwards. They were outstanding."

Didier Deschamps has said Aymeric Laporte was incorrect to say the France coach ignored a message from the defender prior to him switching his international allegiance to Spain.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte declared for La Roja last month after being granted Spanish citizenship, leading to him being included in their 24-man Euro 2020 squad.

Laporte represented France at youth level, including the Under-21s, but was never handed a senior cap despite being called up by Deschamps.

It has previously been suggested that Laporte reached out to Deschamps to ask why he was continually overlooked, but the France head coach has strongly refuted that claim.

"He has the freedom to do what he likes," Deschamps said in an interview distributed to regional media in France.

"Ten seconds with the senior side would have been enough. But I don't select a player with the purpose of blocking him from having another choice. I was not going to do that.

"He was always included on the shortlists, but there is competition as well. What annoys me is what has been said, which is a lie.

"The only message I have received from him was in October, and that was regarding a specific situation after sustaining an injury.

"We considered him in November and March, and this time around. Leaving him out is not a mistake, it is just my decision. I wish him the best and he's free to make that choice."

Laporte spent nearly a decade in the Basque region while with Athletic Bilbao, initially as part of the youth squad before then graduating into the first team.

The centre-back's most recent call-up to the France squad was in August 2019 during qualifying for Euro 2020, which was pushed back by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He scored City's winner in April's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collected a third Premier League title in four seasons, but 2020-21 was still a mixed campaign for Laporte.

John Stones and Ruben Dias were Pep Guardiola's preferred pairing at the back, though Laporte still made 27 appearances in all competitions during a gruelling campaign.

That total includes 16 outings in the Premier League, with the 27-year-old averaging 0.87 tackles per 90 minutes, as well as 0.47 blocks.

To put that into context, Raphael Varane – who looks certain to be a regular for France at Euro 2020 – averaged 0.73 tackles for Real Madrid in LaLiga this term, though did manage 0.6 blocks and won 2.42 aerial balls.

Presnel Kimpembe, meanwhile, impressed for Paris Saint-Germain with 1.09 tackles per 90 minutes, 0.43 blocks and 1.44 aerials won across his 28 Ligue 1 appearances.

Deschamps also has Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Digne, Lucas Hernandez, Clement Lenglet, Kurt Zouma and Leo Dubois to call upon in terms of defensive options.

France face Wales and Bulgaria in friendlies over the next week before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Germany in Munich on June 16.

Luis Enrique believes his decision to omit Sergio Ramos from Spain's Euro 2020 squad is in the best interest of the national team.

Real Madrid captain Ramos, the all-time record international appearance holder with 180, was the standout absentee when Luis Enrique named a 24-man party for the tournament, which begins next month.

The 35-year-old struggled with injury problems throughout 2020-21 and was restricted to 21 appearances for Madrid across all competitions.

However, Luis Enrique's decision not to select Ramos caused surprise on Monday – especially as he did not fill the 26 places allowed in expanded Euro 2020 squads, nor find a spot for any Real Madrid players.

"I'd like to send message to Sergio Ramos, our captain, who is not on the list as he has not been able to compete since January in the right condition, or even train with the group," Luis Enrique told reporters.

"I told him by phone last night, it was difficult and tough, but it's best for the team.

"My conversation with Sergio yesterday remains private, I won't tell anyone. It was not easy to tell him something which was not positive for him, but I have to make decisions which I and my staff consider is best for the team.

"Any decision I made about Sergio Ramos would have been controversial. I know where I am and accept there will be media noise."

Aymeric Laporte is now expected to play a key role in the heart of Spain's defence, even though he only changed international affiliation from France earlier this month.

Luis Enrique was reported to have lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to allow for Laporte's inclusion and insists the Manchester City centre-back's availability and Ramos being cast aside were not related.

"The Aymeric Laporte decision is nothing to do with the Ramos situation," he said.

"He is a top player, can help our national team a lot and plays at one of the best clubs in history.

"Please don't mix Ramos not being in the squad with call ups for others. I'd have liked him to be here, to have recovered."

Like his call not to pick Ramos, Luis Enrique neglecting to select 26 players was also one he attributed to nurturing squad unity.

"We are taking 24 players. Most have picked 26, but we just added another striker [to the original limit of 23] as we value a lot the feeling that each player can participate in any moment," he explained.

"Also, it is better to train with this number of players."

The former Barcelona boss failing to pick a single Madrid representative in his party will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, with fitness woes having also compromised Dani Carvajal's prospects.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente is likely to be an option at right-back in Carvajal's absence.

"I cannot pick the squad based on whether some people will be happy or not," Luis Enrique responded when the lack of a Madrid contingent was raised.

"Llorente can play at full-back but we won't forget what he can do in other positions, breaking forward from midfield. I like to have versatile players who can fill different roles."

Spain have been drawn alongside Sweden, Poland and Slovakia in Group E and are aiming to improve upon last-16 exits at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique sees no reason why the glory days of three consecutive major tournament successes between 2008 and 2012 – successes to which Ramos was so pivotal – cannot return.

"Previous Spain teams have won trophies," he added. "I believe we are among the six or eight favourites this year, we will have to show on the pitch what we are capable of.

"Why not aim to win it all?"

Spain captain Sergio Ramos has not been included in Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad after an injury-troubled 2020-21 season.

Aymeric Laporte, who only this month switched his allegiance from France to Spain, is among the centre-back options to have been preferred to the veteran.

Ramos was part of the national team that won three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012 and has remained a key man for club and country ever since, breaking Italy great Gianluigi Buffon's all-time international appearances mark of 176 earlier this season.

The 35-year-old has had the armband for Spain under Luis Enrique but played only 50 minutes of the March World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Kosovo before returning to Madrid injured.

Ramos was limited to 21 appearances in all competitions for Madrid this term, missing 31 matches. Zinedine Zidane's side actually conceded more often (1.0 per game vs 0.8) with Ramos in the team.

Remarkably, former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique did not name a single Madrid player in his finals squad.

Right-back Dani Carvajal is injured, leaving Spain light in that area of the pitch where Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente may deputise, while Los Blancos team-mates Marco Asensio and Isco have fallen out of favour.

Madrid's Nacho is another centre-back ignored, with Manchester City pair Laporte and Eric Garcia preferred to he and Ramos despite spending much of the season behind Ruben Dias and John Stones in the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium.

French-born Laporte, City's premier defensive option prior to this season, has made 27 appearances in all competitions for the Premier League champions but is in line for an international debut after this weekend's Champions League final.

Garcia – widely expected to join Barca when his contract expires next month – was limited to just 12 outings and nine starts, with a solitary clean sheet.

Spain squad for Euro 2020:

Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbo), David De Gea (Manchester United), Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion); Jose Gaya (Valencia), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea); Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Pedri (Barcelona), Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Fabian Ruiz (Napoli); Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Adama Traore (Wolves), Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain)

Spain captain Sergio Ramos has not been included in Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad after an injury-troubled 2020-21 season.

Aymeric Laporte is set to represent Spain at Euro 2020 after switching his allegiance from France.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte has represented Les Bleus 51 times in total across the under-17 and under-21 age groups.

However, the 26-year-old was never handed his senior debut, despite being called up three times by Didier Deschamps.

Laporte came through the youth ranks at Athletic Bilbao and made 222 appearances for the Basque club until joining City in January 2018.

He was granted Spanish citizenship earlier this week and FIFA has confirmed he can play for Spain with "immediate effect".

A report by Marca earlier this week claimed Spain boss Luis Enrique lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to look into the possibility of Laporte changing allegiance, so it feels safe to assume he will be a key part of the former Barcelona head coach's plans for Euro 2020.

But how does Laporte compare to Spain's other options at centre-back?

Regular game time

Despite scoring the winner in last month's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collecting a third Premier League title in four seasons at City, it has been a mixed campaign for Laporte on a personal level.

He went into 2020-21 as Pep Guardiola's go-to centre-back but the arrival of Ruben Dias and John Stones' resurgence means he is no longer first choice at the Etihad Stadium.

Nevertheless, the packed schedule undertaken across all competitions by the Champions League finalists means he has still played 27 games, starting 24 and completing 2,250 minutes.

Of centre-backs used by Luis Enrique this season, that places Laporte third behind Villarreal's Pau Torres (41 games, 3,675 minutes) and Athletic's Inigo Martinez (32 games, 2,914).

Sergio Ramos, who is now widely expected to have a new centre-back partner for La Roja, has been restricted to 21 games and 1,790 minutes by injuries this season, while Diego Llorente (14 games, 1,160) was compromised by a serious groin injury after joining Leeds United.

One would-be international colleague Laporte knows very well is club team-mate Eric Garcia. The 20-year-old is set to leave City after declining to sign a new contract last term.

While running down the clock to his anticipated move to Barcelona, Garcia has become a marginal figure in Manchester, despite Guardiola continuing to profess his admiration of his talents.

His 10 appearances and eight starts amount to 693 minutes, not significantly more than 514 minutes across seven caps for Spain this season.

Indeed, Luis Enrique started Garcia in all three of the March internationals, suggesting his lack of club action is not overly hindering his case.

Keeping it tight in Manchester

City's defensive improvements have been central to their success this season and, although no longer an automatic selection, Laporte has more than played his part.

The 14 goals conceded with him on the field are just four more than Guardiola's side have let in amid Garcia's sporadic outings. Only Torres (13) has amassed more than his 12 clean sheets.

Laporte ranks well across all of the key defensive metrics this season, with 18 tackles placing him level with Ramos and Torres.

Martinez has made 24, while Marcelo Bielsa's famously intense style of play might be largely responsible for Llorente going into 31 tackles during his relatively smaller workload.

Laporte's duel success rate of 63.7 per cent is the best of the bunch, with Martinez contesting and winning the most overall (263 and 149), while Torres is out in front in terms of recoveries (232).

In the air and on the ground

Standing at 6ft 3ins, Laporte will provide the kind of imposing presence Spain have perhaps lacked.

He has contested 100 and won 69 aerials, similar numbers to the 103 and 62 returned by Torres, who is of similar stature. Martinez's 136 contested and 82 won again show the Athletic man getting through plenty of work.

Perhaps Laporte's most celebrated quality is his capacity to start moves from the back via his superb left foot.

Centre-backs completing a high proportion of their passes is not unusual, given the generally simple nature of them, but Laporte generally plays in a notably progressive manner.

He has made 244 passes into the final third this season, more than any of the Spain centre-backs mentioned (Torres 240, Martinez 235), a trait that is sure to be welcomed by the attacking talents in Luis Enrique's squad.

Aymeric Laporte felt Sunday's EFL Cup triumph gave Manchester City a timely confidence boost as they enter a decisive period of their season.

Centre-back Laporte was the unlikely matchwinner against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday, heading home the only goal from Kevin De Bruyne's 82nd-minute free-kick.

City were back at England's national stadium eight days on from a sapping 1-0 reverse against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Now they will turn their attentions towards a Champions League last-four clash against Paris Saint-Germain, with Manchester United's 0-0 draw at Leeds United earlier on Sunday also meaning Pep Guardiola's men are just two wins away from claiming Premier League glory.

"We are so happy to win this title again," Laporte told Sky Sports after City lifted the trophy for a record-equalling fourth season in a row.

"It's very special because we lost in the FA Cup so it is something good for us to get confidence and keep playing like we have done the past few months.

"We have done so, so good and we have to keep this rhythm this way to win more titles."

Laporte's moment to savour came against an opponent who he has often struggled to find his best form against.

A pair of mistakes leading to Son Heung-min strikes led to City going out of the 2018-19 Champions League on away goals, while a shaky display at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier this term preceded John Stones replacing him as Guardiola's first-choice partner for Ruben Dias.

The trend threatened to continue when Laporte was booked for a cynical first-half foul on Lucas Moura, having been incredibly fortunate to escape punishment for an earlier challenge on the same player.

"It's hard. I was thinking a lot about that. We know that a little mistake can cost you a lot," Laporte said.

"I've been careful in the second half and tried not to commit fouls."

Laporte was not penalised for another foul after the Lucas booking and made no tackles or interceptions during the game – statistics that speak of both City's dominance and his necessarily more reserved approach in the second half.

Long-serving City midfielder Fernandinho claimed a sixth winners' medal in the EFL Cup, having also won two under Manuel Pellegrini.

It was the first time the veteran Brazilian lifted the trophy as captain, however, and it was unquestionably a proud moment.

"My first time lifting a trophy at City as captain is an amazing sensation," he told Sky Sports.

"I think we deserved to win that game because we went from the first minute trying to score goals and created chances.

"At the end the game has been decided by a set piece.

"I am happy for myself, my team-mates, the staff, all the group. We have to enjoy this."

Fernandinho added: "I'm really proud. To win six trophies in this competition is an amazing feeling. I'm grateful for this club and the fans – I was so happy to see them back in the stadium. Congratulations to everyone."

Aymeric Laporte headed Manchester City to a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the EFL Cup final as Pep Guardiola's men landed their first trophy of what could be a treble-winning season.

City's attacking players rained attempts on the Tottenham goal in a one-sided Wembley clash, but it was defender Laporte who came up with the clinical finish in the 82nd minute, nodding Kevin De Bruyne's free-kick past Hugo Lloris.

The Spurs goalkeeper had been magnificent until then, but the quality of the delivery and the precision of Laporte's header gave the French goalkeeper little chance.

Top of the Premier League and chasing Champions League glory, a fourth consecutive triumph in the EFL Cup seems unlikely to be the pinnacle of City's achievements this term.

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."

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