John Stones "deserves the best", according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Stones scored twice – his first Premier League goals for City – and put in an accomplished display at the back in a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Alongside Ruben Dias, Stones has been in imperious form, and from the 10 games the pair have started together in all competitions, City have claimed nine wins and one draw, conceding just one goal.

Indeed, with Stones and Dias proving their worth, Aymeric Laporte, a star performer in recent seasons, has been limited to four league appearances this term.

Injuries and losses of form have marred Stones' time at City, and the former Everton centre-back had lost his place in the England squad after making just 16 top-flight appearances last season.

However, despite talk of a move away, Stones stayed put to turn his form around, much to the delight of Guardiola, whose side are up to second, two points behind Manchester United.

"If it's one guy who deserves the best, it's John. He struggled a lot but he is a fantastic human being, his parents must be so proud," Guardiola told a news conference.

"He had personal problems and injuries in the past but at the moment he is settled well. Confidence is everything and he is confident for himself.

"Managers cannot give confidence but he started playing alongside Ruben and they play really well."

STONES' GAME – BY THE NUMBERS

Stones scored from both of his attempts. While his opener was a fine header from Kevin De Bruyne's exquisite cross, his second – which came after Ilkay Gundogan had doubled City's lead in delightful fashion – was a predatory finish after Dias' header was saved.

The former Barnsley defender also topped City's distribution metrics, completing 112 out of 117 attempted passes (a success rate of 95.7 per cent) – 54 of these came in Palace's half.

With 120 touches, Stones tallied up more than any other player, four ahead of Fernandinho, while he won one of his two aerial duels. In this regard, his partnership with Dias proved particularly fruitful, with the Portugal international winning three of four aerial battles.

Stones did not have to make a single tackle, with Dias again doing the dirty work in that respect, though he did gain possession six times, behind only Fernandinho (seven) and Palace's Andros Townsend (12).

DE BRUYNE AND GUNDOGAN LIGHT UP

Sharing the limelight with Stones were midfielders De Bruyne and Gundogan, who flanked Fernandinho in a 4-3-3.

De Bruyne created a game-high three chances, including the assist for Stones' opener – the Belgium playmaker's 100th in all competitions for City, with the 29-year-old creating 32 more goals than any other Premier League player since making his debut for the club in 2015.

"What can I say? The managers can help many things but one thing is the talent up front," Guardiola said of De Bruyne.

"Managers are incredibly fortunate or lucky to be in charge with this kind of player because it makes your life easier."

Not to be outdone, Gundogan was equally as sharp. The Germany international boasted the highest pass completion rate in Palace's half (96.6 per cent) of any City player with at least 10 such passes, and scored a sensational goal to put the hosts 2-0 up, with Raheem Sterling's first career goal directly from a free-kick rounding things off late on after Stones had doubled his tally.

Asked if Gundogan was playing the best football of his City career, Guardiola said: "Ilkay, the year when we won the second title when we won 14 games in a row [2018-19], he played as a holding midfielder because Fernandinho was injured and he was incredible.

"I thought it would not be possible without his cleverness and vision. I knew him when he played at Borussia Dortmund with [Jurgen] Klopp that when he plays close to the box he has a sense of goal.

"It is not easy to find a player that can play as a holding midfielder and as a number 10."

Gundogan has scored four goals in his past six league matches – as many as he had netted in his previous 55 games in the competition.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PEP

Guardiola turns 50 on Monday and, though he thanked his players for an early birthday present, he will now be focused on Wednesday's scheduled match against Aston Villa, who have not played in the Premier League since January 1 due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

"Thank you for the players, it was a nice present. It's good," Guardiola said of being second in the standings.

"We fought a lot to be up there like many clubs and we will have to fight a lot to still be there. It is a weird season, everyone can beat everyone, it is difficult every game but I am happy for the players for another good performance and for the three points."

John Stones has explained his decision to go "back to basics" in a bid to rediscover his form for Manchester City.

Stones scored twice – his third brace for club and country – in City's 4-0 Premier League victory over Crystal Palace on Sunday.

The win, City's fifth in succession in the top flight, sent Pep Guardiola's team into second place above defending champions Liverpool, who could only draw with leaders Manchester United at Anfield.

Though Palace, shorn of the injured Wilfried Zaha, were hardly a threat, Stones and his centre-back partner Ruben Dias were rock solid as City gave boss Guardiola an early birthday present the day before he turns 50.

City are the first team to record five consecutive victories in the Premier League this season, while in the 10 games Stones and Dias have started together in all competitions, Guardiola's side have claimed nine wins, one draw and conceded just once.

Stones, a big-money signing from Everton in 2016, appeared to be surplus to requirements after an injury-hit 2019-20 campaign, with the 26-year-old handed just 12 league starts.

However, his first Premier League goals for City – and his first in the top flight since he netted for Everton against United in April 2015 – have capped off a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

"We knew it was a tough game today. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get goals. I need to contribute by getting those goals," Stones told Sky Sports.

"I'm just trying to keep improving, building day by day on the training pitch, give a platform for the lads to express themselves up the pitch and get some goals.

"We're taking great pride in it, keeping clean sheets, it's what we're there to do. Hopefully we can keep the run going, keep as many clean sheets as we can because we know how vital they are in big games and in games like today.

"We know what'll happen if we keep getting them. We don't have to go out and score four or five goals every week. We've done it when it's 1-0 and we've fought right until the 90th minute. We kind of take the credit at the back but we've got to give credit to the whole team."

Asked how tough it had got when he was out of the side, Stones replied: "Very. It's always tough when you're not playing and you don't get a run of games, and when you do you don't perform to what you can do because maybe you've put too much pressure on yourself.

"I've gone back to basics, looked at myself first, looked at what I can improve on in every aspect. 

"You need to look yourself in the mirror and ask if I'm doing everything for myself and for the team and I did that, kept working hard, kept the faith and grinding away, keep trying to improve and I still am now. I don't think you ever stop improving yourself."

Stones' first goal was a glancing header from Kevin De Bruyne's sensational outside-of-the-boot cross – the Belgium midfielder's 100th assist for City.

"Kevin's done it over the seasons that I've been here," Stones said.

"I remember a few, off the top of my head, to Leroy [Sane] when he was here, some outrageous passes that you just don't know how he's done it.

"As he's put the ball in I knew it was coming straight to me. It's something we can only dream of and Kev can just do it when he wants."

John Stones scored twice as Manchester City moved into second place in the Premier League by sweeping aside Crystal Palace 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

With league leaders Manchester United and defending champions Liverpool sharing the spoils in a goalless stalemate at Anfield, City took full advantage to move within two points of first place.

On top of another top-class defensive display alongside Ruben Dias, Stones broke the deadlock 26 minutes in with his first league goal for City – Kevin De Bruyne the creator with a sensational cross to bring up his 100th assist for the club.

Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead early in the second half prior to Stones celebrating an unlikely second, and a classy finish from Raheem Sterling wrapped up a fifth successive league win for Pep Guardiola's ever-improving City.

In search of his milestone moment, De Bruyne attempted to tee up Sterling with a quick exchange of passes in the 26th minute, when the Belgian might have been better served to shoot.

Yet his 100th assist did not take long to arrive. His initial poor corner was cleared, but De Bruyne was found by Sterling and, with the outside of his right foot, placed a wonderful cross onto the head of Stones, who turned in his first league goal since he scored for Everton in April 2015.

Gabriel Jesus was unable to beat Vicente Guaita after latching onto Gundogan's flick-on, but the Germany midfielder took matters into his own hands 11 minutes after the restart, robbing Andros Townsend on the edge of Palace's box and dispatching a fantastic finish into the top-right corner.

Jordan Ayew mustered Palace's second shot soon after, though it was blocked by Dias, who then played a key part in City's third.

Dias' header was parried out by Guaita, but the Portuguese's defensive partner Stones was on hand to drill in his second.

Sterling had the final say, the England forward – who missed a late penalty against Brighton and Hove Albion – curling a sublime free-kick into the top corner to add further gloss to a resounding triumph.

The Premier League's relentless schedule continues with matchday 19 this weekend.

Keeping on top of your fantasy teams has been tough with the intense fixture list and increasingly regular postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To make things a little bit easier, we have used Opta data to highlight a few candidates for selection in your side.
 

NICK POPE

Burnley may only be four points clear of the drop zone, but when Pope is in the team they are difficult to beat.

Since the start of November, no goalkeeper to have featured at least four times has conceded fewer than Pope (four).

He has kept five clean sheets during that run and has the best save percentage in the Premier League at 90 per cent.


JOHN STONES

Manchester City are starting to look like Premier League title contenders once again, and a resurgent Stones has played a key role in that.

He has helped his side keep six clean sheets in his eight Premier League appearances this season, the highest percentage among defenders to play more than four games in 2020-21.
 

MARCUS RASHFORD

A mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash between Liverpool and Manchester United is scheduled to take place on Sunday and Rashford will again hope to prove influential in this fixture.

He has scored three goals in his past four Premier League appearances against Liverpool, earning his team four points in the process.

Only Wayne Rooney (six), Andy Cole (four) and Ryan Giggs (four) have found the back of the net against Liverpool more times for United in the Premier League than Rashford.


PEDRO NETO

Wolves host second-bottom West Brom in a West Midlands derby on Saturday.

With Raul Jimenez out due to a fractured skull, Neto has done his best to keep Nuno Espirito Santo's side pushing for a place in the top six.

He has the most Premier League goal involvements (four scored, three assisted) this season of any player aged 21 or younger, while his 32 chances created are twice as many as Bukayo Saka in second.

TOMAS SOUCEK

There is no doubting that Soucek has made himself an important part of David Moyes' West Ham side.

The Czech Republic international is the Hammers' highest-scoring player with five goals. He has also been involved in the most goal-ending open play sequences (seven) for the team this season.

CHRIS WOOD

Burnley may not be the most prolific team in the Premier League but Wood does not find it hard to score against West Ham.

The New Zealand striker has scored six goals in as many top-flight appearances against the Hammers, averaging a goal every 58 minutes.

He has not scored more than four against any other Premier League opponent.

Pep Guardiola said John Stones had proven he belongs at Manchester City after a derby win over United in the EFL Cup semi-finals.

Stones scored his first City goal since November 2017 and Fernandinho sealed a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on Wednesday as the three-time defending champions booked a spot in the final against Tottenham.

The City defender, who was relieved to see the flag raised after the ball bounced off him and into his own net during the semi-final, has been in good form this season, and his six possessions gained against United were the equal best for his side.

City manager Guardiola was full of praise for Stones, who had appeared on the outer at the club before beginning to impress.

"He came back and he made another outstanding performance – but the most important thing is he can do something he hasn't been able to do – play four, five, six games in a row. This is important," he told a news conference.

"He had to handle [Marcus] Rashford, who is dangerous and clever, and the quality of his passes to Joao [Cancelo] were outstanding. All the team, Fernandinho, our captain, what a performance again. He read the game incredibly well, he moved the team. Outstanding.

"All the players – [Ilkay] Gundogan, Raheem [Sterling], Phil [Foden] ... all the team."

Guardiola added: "All credit [to Stones]. Football is a long career – it is up and down, sometimes bad moments. He was out longer than we expected but he came back and he absolutely belongs here.

"We can help him but when someone plays like this, it's credit to him. Hopefully he can continue in this way."

Pep Guardiola dedicated Manchester City's 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win over Manchester United to club great Colin Bell.

Former City and England midfielder Bell died on Tuesday after a short illness, aged 74.

City's players wore retro shirts bearing Bell's number eight before kick-off at Old Trafford, where a minute's silence was observed.

When the action got underway, an absorbing contest at odds with a dour 0-0 draw between the sides in the Premier League last month ensued, with City prevailing thanks to second-half goals from John Stones and Fernandinho.

"It's for him and, of course, for his family," Guardiola told Sky Sports in a post-match interview which he conducted wearing a t-shirt featuring Bell's likeness.

"This person helped to build something special for this club that doesn't have many, many trophies in the cabinet. But that is not important.

"What is important is the legacy that players provide from the past and some of these players in the future. That is the club we have now.

"It is an incredible victory for us to beat United away and be in another final.

"But especially today, it is for him. Absolutely."

City might be considered to have "many, many" EFL Cups if they are able to claim a fourth in a row against Tottenham in April's final.

Guardiola praised his players for a notable upturn in form of late after they followed up Sunday's swashbuckling 3-1 win over Chelsea in impressive fashion, despite Scott Carson and Cole Palmer taking the number of positive COVID-19 tests among his squad to eight since Christmas Day.

"You are frustrated when you play bad. When the team don't run, don't help, don't celebrate every defensive action," he said, rejecting the suggestion he was unhappy after a goalless first half.

"The team is ready. That is why we came here with an outstanding performance.

"We suffered a little bit in the second half because we were tired after the game at Stamford Bridge. They had two more days off to rest but when a team has the mentality to do it we achieve something incredible.

"I know the Carabao Cup is not the Champions League but four times in a row reaching the final is incredible. I am so impressed by the quality of this team."

As Manchester City's players huddled around the centre circle in number eight shirts to pay a poignant pre-match tribute to Colin Bell, it occurred a Pep Guardiola team might never have been so fittingly dressed.

England international Bell, widely revered as the finest player in City's history, passed away after a short illness on the eve Wednesday's 2-0 Manchester derby win the semi-final of the EFL Cup.

Bell, according to the loud and often repeated refrain of the Kippax Stand at City's old Maine Road home, was the greatest inside forward that the world had ever seen.

A technically gifted all-round midfielder, somehow simultaneously graceful and powerful, Bell thrived in those dangerous pockets between winger and centre-forward to cause maximum damage in Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's celebrated City teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The inside forward had long gone out of fashion before Pep Guardiola ushered in his era of "free eights". From Xavi and Iniesta, through Thiago Alcantara and Toni Kroos to David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, City's former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss delights in filling his side with such players.

During Sunday's swaggering 3-1 win over Chelsea, De Bruyne was joined in the line-up by Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. That quartet of playmakers probably would have resumed duties together at Old Trafford had Silva not been suspended.

After paying tribute to City's eternal eight, Guardiola's team of number eights got to work. Where the league fixture on this ground a month ago was as stodgy as the pitches Bell graced in his heyday, the pop and fizz to the early passing was much more in "Nijinsky's" image.

John Stones ended his long goal drought as holders Manchester City secured a 2-0 derby win over Manchester United to set up an EFL Cup final showdown with Tottenham.

Stones has been outstanding at the heart of the City defence since forcing his way back into the side this season and he scored his first City goal in 1,162 days at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

The in-form centre-back had earlier put the ball in his own net early on but Marcus Rashford was offside, summing up how his fortunes have changed.

United were unable to respond following Stones' goal early in the second half and Fernandinho doubled City's lead seven minutes from time with an excellent finish.

Pep Guardiola's side were worthy winners, dumping their neighbours out at the same stage they did 12 months ago as they aim to win the competition for a fourth consecutive season.

 

 

There is no let-up in the Premier League's hectic schedule this weekend as leaders Liverpool look to hold off the threat of Manchester United, who are lurking with intent in second place.

Jurgen Klopp's side face a tough test away at Southampton, who will be led by former Reds striker Danny Ings.

The Saints' main man is joined by Wilfried Zaha and Harvey Barnes in our Opta-powered Premier League fantasy picks for what promises to be another enthralling matchweek.


NICK POPE

Burnley have won three of their previous five Premier League games, with goalkeeper Pope central to their success.

Since the beginning of November, the England international has the competition's highest save percentage at 91 per cent.

No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets than his five in that period, either. Good luck finding a way past him, Fulham.

JOHN STONES

Stones' Manchester City career looked to be over ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but the England man has enjoyed a renaissance of late.

The 26-year-old has started six games for the club in the Premier League this season – four of which came in December – with City keeping clean sheets in five of those appearances and conceding just one goal in the other.

That compares to just two clean sheets and 11 goals conceded when he has not played. Up next for City and Stones? A visit to Chelsea.

BEN CHILWELL

Trying to get the better of Stones will be Chelsea left-back Chilwell, who has arguably been the most successful of Frank Lamaprd's signings ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

No defender has been involved in more goals (two scored, four assisted) than the former Leicester City left-back, with only Liverpool's Andy Robertson registering more assists (five).

Only two defenders have scored more goals: Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard and Chilwell's Chelsea team-mate Kurt Zouma.

GYLFI SIGURDSSON 

Like Stones, Sigurdsson has been brought in from the cold in recent weeks by Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti.

He is up against one of his favourite opponents next so expect the Iceland international to get some points on the board.

Sigurdsson has been involved in more Premier League goals against West Ham for Everton than any other opponent (two goals, two assists), scoring or assisting in each of his four appearances for the Toffees against the Hammers.

WILFRIED ZAHA

It has not been a stellar start to the season for Crystal Palace, who face rock-bottom Sheffield United on Saturday, but their talismanic forward has been in fine form.

Zaha has scored eight goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season, twice as many as in the 2019-20 campaign (four in 38 appearances).

Indeed, Zaha is looking to reach double figures in a top-flight campaign for only the second time in his career, also doing so in 2018-19 (10 goals in 34 games).

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes has been attracting admiring glances from some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs this season and it is not hard to see why.

The 23-year-old, who takes on Newcastle United next, has scored eight goals in 21 appearances in all competitions in 2020-21, one more than he did in 42 games last term.

Only in 2018-19 (10) has the midfielder netted more goals in all competitions across a single campaign.

DANNY INGS

Ings faces off against former club Liverpool on Monday looking to continue his superb form over the past two years.

Since Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of Southampton in December 2018, Ings has been directly involved in 38 goals in the Premier League (31 scored, seven assisted).

That is 16 more than James Ward-Prowse, who has the next most at the club with 22 goal involvements in the same period.

Real Madrid are still eyeing Kylian Mbappe next year.

Mbappe, 22, has been heavily linked with the LaLiga giants with his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in 2022.

Madrid may be looking to make a move in 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONFIDENT OVER MBAPPE IN 2021

Real Madrid are very confident of completing a deal for PSG star Mbappe next year, according to 90min.

Mbappe has developed into one of the world's best forwards at PSG, where he has scored 13 goals in 17 games this season.

The France international is admired by Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona may be active in January. Sport reports Ronald Koeman is insisting on signings to begin 2021, with Lyon star Memphis Depay said to be available for just €5million. It also says Barca will negotiate with Manchester City for Eric Garcia.

- Staying at Manchester City and the Premier League giants have been boosted by John Stones' form. The Telegraph reports the defender is poised for a contract extension, with his current deal running until 2022.

- Yves Bissouma is seemingly attracting plenty of interest after his form for Brighton and Hove Albion. The Daily Express reports Manchester United have joined the race for the midfielder, who has also been linked to Liverpool and Arsenal.

- Yet to play for Napoli this season, Arkadiusz Milik is set for an exit. CalcioMercato reports Tottenham have given up on trying to sign the striker, who is also apparently a target for Juventus, Inter and Roma.

Pep Guardiola said he is delighted Manchester City are seeing the best of John Stones again but wants it to be a sustained re-emergence from the England defender.

Since the weekend before Christmas last season, Stones has started just eight Premier League games and there have been just three substitute appearances dotted around those.

But Stones played from the off in the three recent consecutive league matches against Burnley, Fulham and Manchester United, before Guardiola shuffled his pack and selected Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias for the midweek Premier League draw with lowly West Brom.

Stones has looked newly assured and ready to play a big part for City, after injuries and off-field issues had appeared to affect his career, with Guardiola pointing to both factors on Friday.

There is considerable competition for the centre-back roles at the club, with Aymeric Laporte also pushing for selection, yet Guardiola sees a fit and focused Stones as a major asset.

"But it's just two or three games," Guardiola pointed out. "So a defender has to be consistent all season so he gives a good, good feeling."

The former Barcelona boss added: "Of course we see him happier and stronger because he's fit, he's not injured two or three weeks and has to stop for one month. That happened a lot.

"He's played really well and that's helping his confidence to do it. Of course his personal life now it's settled, it's a lot better, he's a guy who's so sensible and that helps now to be focused."

Guardiola said the 26-year-old Stones must look after his body and his mind for the rest of his career.

In the Manchester derby against United last weekend, Stones recovered the ball 10 times, just one short of his highest Premier League match tally in a City shirt.

Stones only lost possession three times and had a passing accuracy of 96.51 per cent, a healthy number for the ball-playing former Everton man.

City look well set defensively, but goals have been hard to come by this season, unusually. They will look to show some attacking fluency at high-flying Southampton on Saturday.

Sergio Aguero has missed much of the campaign through injury and neither Gabriel Jesus nor Raheem Sterling has hit a significant scoring streak.

Guardiola wants City's players to be seen as a collective, through their successes and failures, and said: "It's a big mistake believing there is one single player, two single players, as the reason we are not able to score goals, or saying one player or two player why we concede few.

"I see the football as a club and as a total and everyone is important for what you have to do. The numbers speak for themselves, we don't score goals."

Guardiola said the answer is simply to "play better to create chances" and contended that City "can still have an incredible season ahead of us".

He added that "many players here for a long time know exactly what we have to do", and said that was to win and keep winning.

City headed into the weekend eight points behind leaders Liverpool, albeit with one game in hand.

"But you have to win it," Guardiola said of that extra game. "We have to start to win games and games in a row to be there at the end. If we don't it will not be possible."

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.

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are creating enough chances despite the startling drop-off in their goalscoring prowess.

City drew a blank for a second consecutive Premier League away game as Saturday's derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford ended in a forgettable 0-0 draw.

Their 17 goals from the first 11 top-flight games of the campaign is the club's worst return at this stage since 2010-11, when they had 15 under Roberto Mancini.

In terms of goals per game, City tally 1.5 at present. During the Guardiola era - dating back to 2016-17 - they have never averaged below 2.1 over the course of a Premier League season.

Nevertheless, Guardiola was keen to point to good openings at the weekend where Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez had shots blocked, with Gabriel Jesus also hooking over on the half-volley before half-time.

Asked if there was a way to fix City's problems, he replied: "Yeah, put the ball to the goal. This is the solution.

"We create a lot so far. We know we have to improve."

In terms of shots per game (15.3), shots on target per game (5.1) and shot conversion rate (10.1 per cent), City are returning lower numbers than in any other season of Guardiola's tenure.

Yet, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss rejected the suggestion that deploying Rodri and Fernandinho as a defensive midfield pairing was an unnecessarily cautious approach against a United side who have not scored from open play in their past five home league matches.

"We were more adventurous than them. We created more chances," he said.

"I'm the manager, I see the team, I see the opponents and see what happened in the past.

"I know what happened when we were up front. There are many reasons I decide.

"When you create the Raheem Sterling chances and after Gabriel and Riyad in the first half, considering the moment that we are, it's good enough."

From Guardiola's point of view, six successive clean sheets in all competitions is another more pleasing side effect of this alleged caution.

Club-record signing Ruben Dias has added steel at centre-back since joining from Benfica and the Portugal international is enjoying a burgeoning partnership with John Stones.

Having fallen down the pecking order due to form and fitness issues last season, Stones has re-established himself as first-choice for Guardiola.

The 26-year-old has featured prominently in the recent run of shutouts and City have not conceded with Stones on the field since their opening 3-1 Premier League win at Wolves.

The Dias-Stones partnership has been unbroken in top-flight games since a 2-0 defeat at Spurs, where Aymeric Laporte - who was widely viewed as City's defensive lynchpin - was at fault for Son Heung-min's opener.

"He deserves to be in the team but John Stones and Ruben also deserve to be in the team," Guardiola said. "They played incredibly well in the last games, they did not make one single mistake.

"Ayme played so good against Marseille [in the Champions League]. Nathan Ake [who did not make the bench at United] played extraordinarily well against Marseille but I have to make a selection. That's all. Ayme will be back."

He added: "In the first goal against Tottenham, yeah [he made a mistake], but it's happened. After we make another decision with the players and the players are properly correct.

"The season is long. What they have to do is work harder, better. The moment will come for them to make a good performance.

"Right now, John and Ruben are brilliant. That's why they play."

Guardiola will hope to say the same for a greater number of his first-team stars when West Brom visit the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, before City travel to face high-flying Southampton.

John Stones believes the fight to earn a place in Pep Guardiola's starting line-up will ensure there is no let-up from Manchester City's players this season.

City eased to a comfortable 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday to give Guardiola victory in his 250th game in charge of the club and his 700th in management.

Raheem Sterling's goal and a Kevin De Bruyne penalty secured the points as City recorded back-to-back victories in the Premier League for the first time this season.

After a slow start to the campaign City have looked more like their old selves of late and have scored as many goals in their last two league games (seven) as they had in the previous seven.

Stones said the improvement can be credited in part to the standards required to be in a team selected by Guardiola, who did not make a substitution in a league game for the first time in 416 games as a manager during stints with City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

He told BT Sport: "The manager demands a lot from us and expects a lot from us. We're all fighting for our places. When we get our chance, you have to take it. It gives us healthy competition.

"We know what's expected of us. We know if we don't deliver, there's always somebody fighting for that spot. It's what's done us so well in the last five years. Everybody has high standards and we try to keep them there.

"I said before the game it was another step forward and a chance to put a mark on the season.

"We're solely focused on each game and this one we did, came through with three points and everybody's words transpired onto the pitch. We have to keep this winning mentality going.

"We said after the Champions League game that we wanted another clean sheet and to keep that run going."

Belgium midfielder De Bruyne was particularly influential for City in the victory over the Cottagers with a goal and an assist.

Bruyne has 14 assists in the Premier League in 2020 which is the most of any player in the competition, and more than twice as many as any other City player.

The match was also the 16th time De Bruyne has both scored and assisted in a Premier League game and no player has done so more often in that time (level with Mohammed Salah).

"We know the quality from Kevin with goals and assists," Guardiola said.

"He's so important for us. Just look at how he runs and fights as a modern footballer today. He is an example of this. He puts all this together and every season it's massive.

"It's important that we won and that defenders don't make mistakes and we don't gift goals."

Pep Guardiola praised "special guy" John Stones and said the defender was set for further opportunities with Manchester City.

Stones started alongside Ruben Dias in the centre of defence as City booked their place in the Champions League last 16 with a 1-0 win over Olympiacos on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old won all five of his duels and his three clearances were a team-high.

While the defender has made four appearances in European competition, he has been limited to just one in the Premier League – against Wolves in September.

But Guardiola expects Stones to get more chances for City after finding some form.

"At the end I judge the players on what they do right now, in the present. John played with Ruben, they played well," the City manager told reporters.

"I'm happy, especially, especially, especially, happy with John because he's a special guy for me. We arrived together here, we spend all the time together.

"He was injured, had personal issues and now he's settled again, with his confidence and performance like last time he will have chances to show his quality in this team."

Dias, meanwhile, has settled quickly at City after arriving from Benfica in September, making nine starts in all competitions.

As City prepare to host Burnley on Saturday, Guardiola praised the defender's form.

"Ruben is playing every week and every game because he doesn't make mistakes. He leads the line and does absolutely everything almost perfectly. That's why he plays," he said.

"It doesn't depend on what he has done in the past and who you are in the past. We have to win in our position every three days. As a manager, when a guy plays good you have more chance [to play] of course.

"There will be some players who are playing well but I will rotate the team so they don't get injured, they will be rotated. But with other issues when they are playing well they have more chance to continue on the pitch."

Page 1 of 4
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.