Pep Guardiola insists it makes "no sense" for players who will have to quarantine upon their return to the UK to go on international duty later this month – stating Manchester City will not release such players.

In light of on-going coronavirus travel restrictions, FIFA has made the unprecedented move of giving clubs the right to prevent players from joining up with their national teams if the fixtures in question mean a quarantine period of five days or more upon their return.

In the UK, anyone travelling to 'red list' countries must isolate for 10 days when they come back, with no exemptions granted for elite sportspeople.

The list features all of South America and parts of Africa. Portugal, the only European country on the list, have sought to mitigate the impact by moving their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on March 24 to Turin.

Although that seemingly frees up City trio Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias, Guardiola will be able to put his foot down when it comes to Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and Brazil contingent Ederson, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus.

"We didn't speak. We will wait until after this game against United and I am pretty sure that next week we'll talk about that," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby.

"But I think it makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back. It makes no sense.

"We've worked incredibly hard for seven, eight or nine months and after the international break comes the real part of the season, and important players cannot play for 10 days? It makes no sense.

"They are not going to fly. That’s for sure. If they can fly, play with the national team and come straight back to training, they’ll fly.

"We invest a lot of time and money for the important part of the season and if six, seven, eight players cannot play with us, it makes no sense, honestly. No sense."

Guardiola's stance means the runaway Premier League leaders are aligned with the reigning champions after Jurgen Klopp also said Liverpool players from affected countries would not be released.

The City boss, who famously went against Barcelona's stance during his time as head coach and allowed Lionel Messi to win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, insists he is not acting to devalue international football – just merely reacting to the realities of these times.

"We want to let them go to the national team. I know how important it is for them. I'd never say don't go to represent your country and to prepare for the European Cup or American Cup," he added.

"But it's no sense to do it and not play for 10 days, no training session, be at home, when we are playing for the league.

"If we go through, we will still be in the Champions League and we don't play with these players.

"They are not going to fly. I don't know what is going to happen but they are not going to fly, for sure.

"We've followed the protocols for eight, nine months. No restaurants, closed. The people are here - home, home, here, in the bubble, don't do it [break protocols], protect them, test them every two days.

"And after, in an important part of the season in the league, we don't have the players because the government has decided it is in a red zone and they cannot play when we are playing every three or four days?

"They are not going to fly, sure. I'm pretty sure that UEFA or FIFA will understand this argument."

Manchester City will be looking to stretch their record winning run to 20 matches when they welcome fellow in-form side West Ham to the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this weekend.

Pep Guardiola's men are 10 points clear at the summit and two of their players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with a couple of Everton men on the back of last week's long-awaited derby win at Liverpool.

Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester City players are also selected ahead of games against Chelsea, Burnley and Arsenal respectively.

 

EDERSON

There are many factors behind the leaders' winning run - not least an incredible defensive record, with goalkeeper Ederson more than playing his part.

The Brazil international has kept 15 clean sheets from 24 Premier League games this term, averaging one every 1.6 matches.

Only two keepers to have played at least 10 times have averaged fewer games per clean sheet across an entire season - Chelsea's Petr Cech (24 in 35 apps in 2004-05) and former Manchester United stopper Edwin van der Sar (21 in 33 apps in 2008-09).

JOAO CANCELO

Simply keeping out the opposition is not enough in the life of a modern day full-back, best epitomised by Cancelo at Man City.

On top of helping City to that formidable defensive record, he has also created the most chances (34) from open play among fellow Premier League defenders this season.

Cancelo may only have set up two goals in the top flight this season, but he has the highest number of expected assists (4.28) among defenders, just ahead of Manchester United's Luke Shaw (4.04).

 

LUCAS DIGNE

Carlo Ancelotti was delighted with the news Digne had signed a new long-term deal with Everton this week and little wonder given the full-back's impact on the side.

No Premier League defender has more assists than the 27-year-old's six this season - level with West Ham's Aaron Cresswell and one more than Andy Robertson and Shaw.

Since Digne's debut for Everton in August 2018, only Liverpool pair Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have assisted more goals than the Frenchman (17).

GYLFI SIGURDSSON

There was a point when Sigurdsson's time at Everton appeared to be up not so long ago, but the creative midfielder has more than proved his worth to the side of late.

He was been involved in six Premier League goals in 23 appearances this term - four goals and two assists - which is one more than he managed in 35 games last season.

That is a tally he will be confident of building on this gameweek, as the Iceland international has only scored more Premier League goals against Chelsea (six) than he has versus opponents Southampton (five).

 

MARCUS RASHFORD

In the week he celebrates the five-year anniversary since scoring twice on his United debut, Rashford takes on his favourite opponents in Chelsea.

The United academy product has scored five times against the Blues in all competitions and registered a couple of assists.

Only against Leicester City has he found the net as many times, while only against Newcastle United and West Ham (both seven) has he been directly involved in more goals.

HARRY KANE

If Rashford enjoys playing against Chelsea, the same is true of Kane against Tottenham's next opponents Burnley.

The England skipper has been directly involved in 10 goals in nine Premier League appearances against the Clarets, finding the net seven times and laying on three assists.

Burnley's defenders will not look forward to coming up against Kane, with Riyad Mahrez the only player to score against them more often (eight times) in their Premier League history.

 

JAMIE VARDY

Vardy's scoring record against the division's traditional top four is well known by now, particularly when it comes to facing Arsenal.

The Leicester striker has scored 11 goals in 12 previous Premier League appearances against the Gunners, including a late winner in the reverse fixture.

Those 11 strikes place Vardy behind only Wayne Rooney for goals scored against Arsenal in the competition, the United legend netting 12 times against the London club in his career.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola labelled Ederson's passing the best he has seen from a goalkeeper.

A long pass from Ederson set up Ilkay Gundogan's sealer in City's 3-0 Premier League win over Tottenham on Saturday.

Guardiola has previously suggested the goalkeeper could become City's penalty taker, such is his ability with his feet.

Having worked with Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich and Victor Valdes at Barcelona, Guardiola said Ederson was the best passer.

"With his feet, he is the best. The quality of the pass, I would say, is the best," he said.

"Manuel and Victor were incredible too but the quality of the pass is the best. I would not say who is the best [overall] because I had success in the past with incredible keepers in Victor, Manuel and Eddie.

"He has credit from the manager, backroom staff and players. He's outstanding and he knows it.

"But the players know – if you want credit and to be recognised, win games, win titles and you will get it.

"If you don't win games and titles, you will not get it. It's not more difficult than this."

City are seven points clear atop the Premier League table ahead of visiting Everton on Wednesday.

Pep Guardiola still harbours concerns over the quality of Manchester City's penalty takers after Rodri scored from the spot against Tottenham.

Rodri opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on Saturday, though his finish only just escaped the grasp of Hugo Lloris, who should have done better.

Ilkay Gundogan – who missed a penalty in the 4-1 win over Liverpool last week – won the spot-kick and then scored twice to take his tally of league goals in 2021 to nine and seal a 3-0 win.

Though City are now seven points clear at the top, and 13 ahead of reigning champions Liverpool, who went down 3-1 at Leicester City earlier on Saturday, Guardiola was not best pleased when asked about Rodri taking the spot-kick.

The former Atletico Madrid midfielder had never scored a penalty in his senior career, and Guardiola told BBC Sport: "The penalty is clear and then the first time we attack in the second half we score, that can happen.

"Is Rodri the taker now? No. I would say I admire the courage to take the penalty but it was not a good penalty.

"I am not laughing, I am concerned about this. We will have a real specialist to take them with quality. We have to practice."

Ederson provided a sensational assist for Gundogan's second goal – the third time the goalkeeper has set up a goal during his time at City – and Guardiola seems to be seriously considering the Brazil international as a potential penalty taker.

Guardiola added: "When I talk about Ederson and penalties, you see his assist, 60-70 yards, well then he will score from 12 yards!"

However, Guardiola's decision may come as news to Rodri, who also revealed he ignored the advice of Ederson, who appeared to pass on some information via Bernard Silva in the build-up to the spot-kick.

"I was a bit angry in the last weeks because we missed many penalties, much more than we expect, and in big games you have to score penalties because the margins are so small," Rodri told Sky Sports.

"I told my team-mates that for the next penalty I would shoot. I got the ball, nobody took the ball off me. Fortunately, I scored.

"Goalkeepers know each other, [Ederson] told Bernardo some tips about Lloris, where I should shoot the penalty – I didn't listen! Sometimes it's better to focus on what you're confident doing.

"We were laughing in the locker room, next penalty for sure I am going to take."

Despite City's penalty problems, Guardiola's team are ploughing on in their bid to recover the title they lost last season.

City remain unbeaten in their past 23 matches in all competitions (W20 D3), conceding just six goals during this period, and have won 11 Premier League games in a row.

They have not trailed for a single minute in any of their past 15 Premier League matches since a 2-0 loss to Spurs in the reverse fixture in November; in the competition's history, only Arsenal have embarked on a longer run of successive games without going behind (a run of 19 matches between December 1998 and May 1999).

One other issue for Guardiola, however, could be Gundogan's fitness.

The Germany international has scored more goals since the turn of the year than any other player in Europe's 'top five' leagues but succumbed to a groin problem midway through the second half.

Guardiola confirmed the 30-year-old will undergo further checks in the coming days.

Zack Steffen will make his Premier League debut for depleted Manchester City as their clash with Chelsea goes ahead despite a coronavirus outbreak.

Pep Guardiola is without six players for Sunday's trip to Stamford Bridge, with the club's squad badly affected by COVID-19.

Eric Garcia was the latest to test positive on the day of the game, though the Spaniard was due to miss out through injury anyway.

Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus were confirmed to have the virus on Christmas Day, though Guardiola did not reveal the identities of the others to have returned positive tests.

But goalkeeper Ederson did confirm he is self-isolating, meaning 25-year-old United States international Steffen was picked to start between the posts, wirth Scott Carson as back-up.

Steffen signed for City in 2019 but spent last season on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf, meaning the game at Stamford Bridge is to be his Premier League bow, his four previous appearances this term coming in the EFL Cup and Champions League.

Benjamin Mendy has been picked among the substitutes despite being found in breach of social distancing rules on New Year's Eve, while Ferran Torres is absent from the visitors' travelling party.

Although Frank Lampard revealed on Friday that two Chelsea staff members had contracted coronavirus, their squad remains unaffected.

Lampard also played down the idea of Hakim Ziyech starting against City after an injury absence, however, the Morocco star was named in Chelsea's line-up.

Timo Werner also returns to the starting XI after being dropped for the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

Kai Havertz remains among the substitutes.

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson has backed calls for concussion substitutions in football following the injuries to Wolves striker Raul Jimenez and Arsenal's David Luiz.

Jimenez suffered a fractured skull after a clash of heads with David Luiz in the first half of his side's 2-1 Premier League win at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

The Mexico international required lengthy medical attention and oxygen before being carried off on a stretcher and taken to hospital, where he is recovering.

David Luiz continued playing after having his head bandaged, but the defender was substituted at half-time after his cut began to bleed again.

The incident has amplified focus on the risk of lasting head trauma to footballers amid a campaign in England for the game's authorities to take greater steps to reduce the danger of later-life health problems such as dementia.

While Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insisted David Luiz was cleared to continue after adhering to concussion protocols, Alan Shearer, the Premier League's record goalscorer, insisted more must be done to safeguard players from serious head injury.

"Football needs to get real, it needs to wake up, it needs to get serious. Not next year, next month, now. It is not acceptable, it has been going too far too long," Shearer, who has previously presented a documentary on dementia, said on BBC's Match of the Day.

Ederson, a former team-mate of Jimenez at Benfica, told reporters on Monday: "I was very worried. I was watching the game. It was an accidental clash, head to head but very difficult.

"All the concern and all the care at the moment is very important. It is a part of the body that is very fragile and needs special attention, I agree when there is a blow to the head there should be a substitution whether the player can continue or not because you might be feeling okay because you're warmed up, but after the game you could feel the consequences.

"It is something we cannot change, it is accidental. It wasn't an intentional blow they just went to compete for the ball, but we know the risks of a head injury. I hope he recovers quickly and will be back as soon as possible."

City face Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Ederson will start Brazil's World Cup qualifier against Venezuela, while Gabriel Menino has been cut from the squad after testing positive for COVID-19.

Tite picked Weverton as his goalkeeper for the opening two qualifiers against Bolivia and Peru, with Ederson an unused substitute as Alisson missed out due to a shoulder injury.

Alisson returned to the squad for Friday's meeting with Venezuela and Tuesday's clash with Uruguay, but it is the Manchester City keeper who has got the nod from Tite.

"We have three great goalkeepers. Weverton played last time and comes in after a good sequence at Palmeiras. He played two very good games," said Tite.

"I spoke with the three of them personally, together with [goalkeeper coach Claudio] Taffarel. Alisson is an excellent goalkeeper. We have Ederson, who is experiencing a great technical and physical moment."

Tite also confirmed there will be starts for Allan, Everton Ribeiro and Gabriel Jesus, with Casemiro and Philippe Coutinho not in the squad due to coronavirus and injury respectively. Neymar, meanwhile, is being rested in the hope he can recover from a left leg issue to feature in Uruguay.

The Brazil boss is set to have one fewer option at right-back, however, after Menino was found to have contracted COVID-19, despite testing negative upon his arrival at the Granja Comary base on Monday.

"In the tests carried out yesterday, Gabriel Menino tested positive for COVID-19. All other players in the group tested negative," Brazil doctor Rodrigo Lasmar explained.

"It is important to note that, on Monday, when the players arrived, all members of the delegation were tested and the results were negative.

"We have already informed the medical department of Palmeiras. The player is asymptomatic, is already isolated and has been cut from the squad.

"All protective measures are being taken. We will perform a new round of tests before our trip to Uruguay, after the game [against Venezuela]."

Menino has played the bulk of the 2020 Campeonato Brasileiro season as a central midfielder and leads Palmeiras in terms of assists (three), duels won (91) and touches (920).

The 20-year-old has made 286 successful passes in the opposition half – the second most among his team-mates – and ranks third at Palmeiras in terms of dribbles completed (22) and tackles (34) this term.

Head coach Tite insisted there is no barrier to Brazil taking the field to face Venezuela and he is unsure whether a replacement for Menino will be drafted in.

Tite said: "The doctor will speed up the other tests. In the meantime there is no problem for us to play. Roughly speaking, the information given to us – for all players and coaching staff – was that.

"These are challenges that all national teams have faced. The selection had a greater number than are actually here, either due to injury to the COVID-19 problem.

"But opportunities arise. Pedro was called up … but there are also other opportunities for high-level players to come and show themselves.

"The first reaction was to say: 'Man, what a pity for Gabriel Menino, and we are all at risk.' The pandemic is not over. That is not an opinion, it is fact. We have to be very careful."

Ederson has rejected the criticism aimed at Jordan Pickford after the Everton goalkeeper's rash challenge on Virgil van Dijk left the Liverpool defender with a serious knee injury. 

England's number one clattered into the Dutchman in the early stages of last month's Merseyside derby, with Van Dijk subsequently undergoing surgery as he faces up to a prolonged spell on the sidelines. 

Pickford – who was left out by Carlo Ancelotti for the Toffees' loss to Newcastle United last time out – has come under fire from many quarters, but Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson has sympathy for the 26-year-old. 

Speaking ahead of City's crunch clash with Premier League champions Liverpool on Sunday, Ederson said: "First and foremost, I don't think any player steps on the pitch looking to injure an opponent. Sometimes you have a fraction of a second to make a decision.

"Unfortunately, Jordan Pickford had that clash with Van Dijk and it ended up resulting in a serious injury. That's part of football; sometimes it happens.  

"It could happen to any of us. I don't think it was Pickford's intention to injure Van Dijk and in the same way I don't think it was [Sadio] Mane's intention to do that when he clashed with me in our game a few years ago. 

"You have such a short time to make a decision and it could happen to any of us." 

Van Dijk's absence is undoubtedly a boost for City's prospects at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, with Fabinho also set to miss out for the visitors. 

But Brazil international Ederson knows Jurgen Klopp's side will still carry a threat as City seek a fourth consecutive home league win over the Reds for the first time since 1937. 

"Their best centre-back, Van Dijk, is out," he said. "Fabinho has been playing really well this season and he's out too. But we mustn't forget that Liverpool still have great players. 

"Their absences aren't going to be a big disadvantage for them or a big advantage for us. We don't focus on the players that aren't going to play, or a specific absence, we focus on Liverpool as a whole team."

The match will see Ederson come up against a familiar face, with compatriot Alisson in between the posts at the other end. Despite competing for a starting spot for their country, the two are friends. 

“I have a good friendship with Alisson. He is an incredible guy," he said. "Our rivalry is only on the pitch, off the pitch that doesn't exist. We are good friends. 

"I hope we both can have a good game on Sunday. Our style is very similar. Perhaps I play more with my feet, but so does he. 

"Liverpool have more or less the same style of play and he is an incredible goalkeeper." 

Alisson faces a tough task, with Liverpool having failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 10 away league games against City, conceding 26 goals in that run. 

City, who are looking to win back-to-back top-flight games for the first time this season, have been victorious in nine of the their past 10 Premier League games against the team who were reigning champions.

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

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

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

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

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

FERNANDINHO'S STEADYING HAND

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

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

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

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

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

TIRELESS JESUS GIVES VARANE NO REST

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

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

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

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

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

MADRID'S AURA EBBS AWAY

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

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

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

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

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

Pep Guardiola is encouraged to see Manchester City's assist king Kevin De Bruyne scoring more goals himself.

The Belgium midfielder set up Raheem Sterling in Sunday's 5-0 win over relegated Norwich City, claiming his 20th assist of the campaign to match Thierry Henry's single-season record in the Premier League.

De Bruyne also netted twice himself – particularly sumptuously before half-time – as City broke through the 100-goal barrier.

It meant he finished with 13 Premier League goals, his most prolific return in England's top flight.

"We know the assists and the quality he has for this but we need his goals," Guardiola told a post-match news conference.

"Today he scored two brilliant goals. Of course, the first one is special."

Guardiola had no concerns over De Bruyne's pursuit of an individual record harming his overall performance.

"We tell them, play simple, play as you know. Don't be focused too much on achieving it because it will come along," he said.

"He made one assist but could have easily broken the record. Now he is going to share it with Titi Henry. He played really good.

"The individual target, the focus to achieve something. It's good. Athletes always want to overcome and be better and benefit for the team."

De Bruyne was not the only City player to chalk up leading individual numbers this season, with Ederson's 16th clean sheet winning him the Premier League Golden Glove.

It is an honour Guardiola felt the Brazil international earned in a sharp outing at the Etihad Stadium – his save in a one-on-one from Teemu Pukki particularly impressive.

"It's so nice, but I think today he deserves it because he made two incredible saves. Without him it would not be possible," Guardiola added.

"He made a really good season and he deserves what he has done. We are so happy for this award."

David Silva was granted a warm ovation from his team-mates and City's backroom staff when he made way on his final Premier League performance.

The former Spain playmaker still has a shot at Champions League glory next month as he brings down the curtain on a glorious decade in Manchester and, when fans are allowed back into stadiums, Guardiola is sure Silva will be granted a more fitting farewell.

"It was the smallest standing ovation of all time," he chuckled. "He will come back to receive the standing ovation he deserves from our fans.

"I have the feeling that they want to do it. I think what the players and staff have done shows the gratitude and honour that he has to have for these incredible 10 years he has done at this club.

"We wanted to say thank you for what he has done for this club."

The Premier League season concludes on Sunday, with Liverpool completing their victory lap at Newcastle United.

A dominant campaign from Jurgen Klopp's men means the destination of the big prize has long been decided, although there are still the matters of Champions League qualification and relegation to address.

The remaining top-four berths will go to two of Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United – with the latter two playing each other at the King Power Stadium in Sunday's standout clash.

At the other end of the table, two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth will be joining Norwich City in the Championship next season.

However, as we examine below, there are individual awards and achievements still up for grabs.

 

Vardy leads the way in Golden Boot race

A goal from Jamie Vardy against United could represent a huge step towards Europe's elite competition for Leicester City, while it will almost certainly mean the Golden Boot for the former England striker.

Vardy is on 23 goals, in a landmark campaign that saw him being up 100 in the Premier League. Of the 29 players to have reached a century in the competition, only Ian Wright (28 years, 286 days) made his debut at an older age than Vardy (27 years, 232).

The main competition comes from Danny Ings, whose 21 goal makes him the third Southampton player to score 20 or more in a Premier League season, following Matt Le Tissier (25) in 1993-94 and James Beattie (23) in 2002-03.

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is next in line on 20. The Gabon international has also enjoyed a landmark campaign, becoming the sixth fastest player to 50 Premier League goals in history as he did so on his 79th top-flight outing for Arsenal.

Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling are the outsiders on 19 apiece. If Sterling nets against Norwich, he will become the first Englishman to score 20 times in a top-division season for Manchester City since Brian Kidd – now a member of Pep Guardiola's backroom staff – did so in 1976-77.

 

De Bryune hunting Henry's assist record

One man in particular will be keen on Sterling adding to his haul – provided it comes from one of his passes!

Kevin De Bruyne has 19 assists in the Premier League this season, placing him one shy of Thierry Henry's competition record.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil also assisted 19 times during 2015-16.

De Bruyne has been directly involved in 30 league goals this term, scoring 11 alongside his creative exploits. This is the most for a central midfield since Frank Lampard scored 22 and supplied 14 assists for Chelsea in 2009-10.

The efforts of Sterling and De Bruyne have gone a long way to placing City close to an impressive collective feat. If Guardiola's side score three times against Norwich, they will reach 100 goals for a third consecutive Premier League season.

 

Ederson and Pope battle it out for Golden Glove

Another City player looking after number one on Sunday is their number one. Ederson is on 15 clean sheets, putting him level in the Golden Glove standings with Burnley's Nick Pope.

The Clarets end another excellent season at home to Brighton and Hove Albion and if Ederson and Pope cannot be separated at full-time the award will be shared.

Both men have a similar save percentage, with Pope stopping 70.7 per cent of efforts sent his way compared to Ederson's 69.6, but the Englishman has been far busier.

Pope has made 118 saves from 164 shots faced, compared to Ederson's 64 from 92.

Although impressive, neither man has been flawless, with Ederson committing three errors leading to goals and Pope culpable for two.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will start together in attack for Arsenal in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, although Bukayo Saka must be content with a place on the bench.

Record signing Nicolas Pepe has been preferred to teenager Saka by head coach Mikel Arteta.

Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka will look to build on their promising alliance in central midfield, while David Luiz must try to put a nightmare outing from his last encounter with City behind him.

The experienced centre-back was at fault for Raheem Sterling's opening goal in a 3-0 win for City at the Etihad Stadium last month, where he also gave away a penalty and was sent off.

As revealed by Pep Guardiola on Friday, regular number one Ederson starts in goal for the holders.

Claudio Bravo has featured in the domestic cups for City this season, including in their EFL Cup final win over Aston Villa in March, but the veteran Chile international is sidelined with a muscular complaint.

Teenage centre-back Eric Garcia partners Aymeric Laporte in the heart of defence, with Ilkay Gundogan anchoring the City midfield behind dual playmakers David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.

Riyad Mahrez gets the nod to start on the right of a front three completed by Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, with Phil Foden having to be satisfied with a place on the bench alongside Bernardo Silva.

Arsenal beat City 2-1 after extra time at the same stage of this competition three years ago, although Guardiola's side have won each of the subsequent seven meetings between the teams.

Pep Guardiola confirmed Ederson will start Manchester City's FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal as Claudio Bravo struggles with a muscle problem.

Ederson, number one for the Premier League and Champions League, has taken a backseat to Bravo for the FA Cup and EFL Cup this season.

However, the Chile international has not been fit enough to be named among the substitutes for City's previous two Premier League games.

Guardiola revealed Bravo will not be involved at Wembley on Saturday.

"He is going to play, Eddie, because Claudio is a little bit injured," Guardiola said at a media conference.

"In the last games he was not on the bench because he has a little bit of a muscular problem. Not a big one, but he is not able to play tomorrow."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola does not believe Sunday's surprise Premier League loss to Southampton highlights the need for the club to sign new players.

Guardiola's City suffered their third consecutive away defeat in the Premier League after going down 1-0 to Southampton at St Mary's on Sunday.

After routing newly crowned champions Liverpool 4-0 last time out, City – who rested Kevin De Bruyne and others – succumbed to Che Adams' first Premier League goal as they fell 23 points adrift in second position.

Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly and Bayern Munich's David Alaba have been among the players linked with moves to City at the end of the season.

But when asked if City's defeat was a question of needing new players, Guardiola told reporters: "No, I don't think so.

"I think we play good, honestly. We play with the character and desire to drive until the end. We played against Southampton who had 10 players in the penalty area. We did it really well.

"We will review the game, and with the chances that we had, we can do more. It's difficult to create more chances than we created and the way we did it.

"I'm so proud, so I liked the way we played but it's not enough. There's no complaint about the players. We played really well, I like it but it's not enough to win the games."

Guardiola, meanwhile, does not feel City goalkeeper Ederson is to blame for the loss to Southampton.

Adams scored the only goal of the game in the 16th minute, catching the Brazilian keeper off his line after Oleksandr Zinchenko had been dispossessed of the ball.

"We use our keeper to build up our play. We use our keeper to play better," Guardiola said. "It gives us a lot. The mistake is part of the game but we didn't lose for that reason.

"It happens many times this season this situation. The amount of chances we have but it's football. The amount of chances we have but not able to score goals."

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Ahead of Liverpool's trip to City on Thursday, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

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