Diogo Jota gets a first Premier League start in 2021 as one of seven changes made by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for the home game against Fulham on Sunday. 

Having suffered a knee injury in December, Jota made a return to first-team action on Thursday, though his appearance off the bench could not help the Reds avoid going down 1-0 to top-four rivals Chelsea at Anfield. 

The Portuguese forward is named in the starting XI to take on relegation-threatened Fulham, with Roberto Firmino ruled out due to what Liverpool announced to be a "minor knock". 

Klopp named Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Sadio Mane on a strong bench, with the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against RB Leipzig to come on Wednesday. 

The decision to leave Fabinho out means Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams start together at the heart of the defence. Neco Williams, meanwhile, takes over from Alexander-Arnold at right-back. 

James Milner and Naby Keita come into the Liverpool midfield, while Mohamed Salah – who did not hide his disappointment at being substituted against Chelsea in midweek – starts too, along with Xherdan Shaqiri. 

Bruno Fernandes is convinced the signing of Alex Telles is the key component behind Luke Shaw's dramatic improvement at Manchester United after the left-back won the club's Player of the Month award.

It was not so long ago that Shaw's United career appeared to be petering out to an underwhelming conclusion, particularly during Jose Mourinho's ill-fated reign.

In two-and-a-half years playing for the Portuguese coach, Shaw only made 33 Premier League appearances. While he did have injury and fitness problems, the manager's attitude seemingly did little to endear himself to the player.

Mourinho criticised Shaw publicly on several occasions, yet the left-back kept his head down and – to the surprise of very few – ultimately outlasted the 'Special One', kicking on brilliantly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

His five assists this season is already a personal high for a Premier League season, having only managed seven in total in previous campaigns, but that's just the tip of the iceberg – Shaw's chance creation frequency of 2.44 per game is almost double his previous best of 1.3 in 2016-17, and that was from just 11 appearances.

The only defender to lay on goalscoring chances at a better rate than Shaw is Ryan Fredericks (2.45), though his marginally improved record comes from 13 fewer games than Shaw's 23.

Liverpool's Andrew Robertson has previously been held up as something of a standard-bearer for full-backs in the Premier League, yet Shaw's 31 key passes from open play is just one less than his 32 from four fewer outings. Joao Cancelo leads the way (36), though he does count set-piece deliveries as among his strong points – the United man does.

Statistically, this season is an outlier for Shaw in almost every regard and highlights just how much of a step forward he has taken, but Fernandes is convinced there has been one major catalyst for this resurgence.

Speaking to the United website ahead of Sunday's derby clash with Manchester City, Fernandes said: "[Shaw]'s been playing really, really well in the last few months. I think he started a little bit slow like everyone did because at the beginning of the season we didn't start good.

"I think the competition between Alex and Luke has given both of them the chances to be better and to improve. This is really important because you know if you are not performing well you will be out of the team.

"I think Luke started to perform well when he had that pressure from Alex. At the same time, Alex when he plays has played really well because he knows that Luke is on the bench.

"So, the pressure between them is good but the relationship between them is better, I have seen that in the stands. Alex is always pushing to help everyone and I remember when I came off against Real Sociedad it was Luke in the stands and I saw a lot of times Luke pushing to help Alex.

"This is what we're about. You can be fighting for the same place, but you are fighting for the same achievements, you know.

"This has to be like that in every position in the team, we have to understand that whoever is playing it's because the manager thinks he's better for the team in that moment and the most important thing is the team.

"I think everyone is happy for Luke to win this Player of the Month award and I'm happy too because he deserves it, and I hope he can continue this form until the end of the season because he knows Alex is there to take his position."

Sunday's trip to City will see Fernandes go up against some familiar faces in Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Cancelo, all of whom are colleagues of his at international level with Portugal.

All three have enjoyed fine campaigns individually and, as a collective, have helped City embark on a club-record winning streak of 21 games across all competitions.

Avoiding defeat again on Sunday will mean City are unbeaten in 29 matches, another new club record, and Fernandes made no secret of wishing his compatriots were not doing so well as a team.

"I speak with them regularly, we have a good relationship, but the relationships stay out of the game. They know me and they know that on the pitch we are not friends anymore," he said with a grin.

"At the same time I enjoy seeing them play and every one of them is doing well individually and I'm happy for them. As a team I was hoping to see them do a little bit worse than they are doing, but individually I am happy for them because they are good people and they deserve to be in the positions they are and playing in the way they are playing."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident Manchester United can halt Manchester City's astonishing 21-game winning run if they are at their very best at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

City look certain to regain the title and remain in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple following a run of 28 matches without defeat.

Third-placed United trail their neighbours by 14 points ahead of the derby and really need a repeat of their victories at the home of their rivals in the two previous visits if they are to have any chance of being crowned champions.

United boss Solskjaer has full faith that this side can stop City's record-breaking streak.

He told the club's official website: "We have to be the best possible Man United, no matter who plays on the other side.

"When we're the best possible Man United, I back my team in any game against any team. That's the key. Of course, they'll cause us problems, but we have to find the solution and try to give them other problems to worry about."

Solskjaer says the Red Devils can have no complaints about such a demanding schedule this season.

The former Norway striker added: "It's a challenge for the team. The most successful Man United teams over the years always used to have this.

"Maybe once in a while we'd get a midweek off, but we haven't and we haven't had any easy cup draws either to rest players. The only way to improve, get better and get used to this is to go through it.

"The players are getting more and more robust, physically and mentally, and I've been impressed by them and they recover [from games] really well.

"Of course, once in a while you don't really hit your best form, that's natural and we understand that.

"Everyone goes onto the pitch to do their best and now it's a derby and of course everyone is going to be fired up and any mental or physical fatigue is not going to come into play, that's for sure."

French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain are plotting an ambitious move for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.

PSG, headed up by ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, are keen to replace 34-year-old Keylor Navas.

De Gea has been with United since 2011 and has two years remaining on his contract.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO TEMPT UNITED

Mega-rich PSG would be able to offer United a significant fee for the 30-year-old De Gea and match his £375,000-a-week wages, according to The Sun.

United have been linked with a move for Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is coming off contract, while Dean Henderson has pushed De Gea this season to be number one.

PSG have also been linked with Tottenham custodian Hugo Lloris given his connection with Pochettino from their time together at Spurs.

ROUND-UP

- AS reports that Liverpool could enter the race for Kylian Mbappe, due to the alleged rift between forward Mohamed Salah and manager Jurgen Klopp.

- West Ham have turned to Stuttgart's Sasa Kalajdzic in their search for a striker, according to the Daily Mail. In the queue already are RB Leipzig and Roma.

- Limited funds means Barcelona are out of the race for Wolves' Adama Traore, according to Mundo Deportivo. The Spain international has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City.

- UOL Esporte reports that Manchester United have registered an interest in Leeds United winger Raphinha.

Arsenal were dealt a blow by Granit Xhaka's dreadful mistake against Burnley, while Southampton ended a nine-match Premier League winless streak on Saturday.

Xhaka hit an attempted clearance straight at Chris Wood in the early kick-off at Turf Moor, ultimately costing Mikel Arteta's side a point.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team then dispatched lowly Sheffield United 2-0 to finally rediscover some form, with Aston Villa and Wolves later playing out a goalless draw.

Leicester City beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 in the late kick-off, and we took a look at the best Opta facts from Saturday's action.
 

Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: X-rated error costs Arteta

Arsenal could have closed the gap between themselves and Tottenham to just two points ahead of next week's north London derby, yet had to settle for a point against Burnley, who have now won just one game in 10 in all competitions.

The Gunners took the lead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the sixth minute. Arsenal's captain has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley (eight) than against any other club, while he only has a better record against Hamburg (nine) in Europe's 'top five' leagues.

However, they were hindered by Xhaka's error. The midfielder attempted to play his way out of a tight spot in Arsenal's area, only for his clearance to strike Chris Wood and bobble in.

Since the start of 2016-17, Xhaka has made eight errors leading to goals in the top flight, which is more than any other outfield Premier League player.

Arsenal have now kept only one clean sheet in their past 11 games in all competitions (0-0 v Manchester United in January), after keeping five in a row directly before that.

Burnley, on the other hand, have drawn five consecutive home league games for the third time in their history, after a run of six games ending in April 1936 and a run of five ending in October 1997.

Sheffield United 0-2 Southampton: Adams blunts his former club as Saints buck the trend

Che Adams scored a stunning goal to condemn his former team Sheffield United to another defeat, while simultaneously helping Southampton end their dismal run of form.

Southampton had lost eight of their past nine league matches heading into Saturday's meeting at Bramall Lane, having not won since beating Liverpool on January 4.

Captain James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring from the penalty spot; he has been directly involved in 26 Premier League goals under Hasenhuttl (18 goals, eight assists), twice as many as under any other Southampton manager.

It also moved Ward-Prowse onto seven goals in all competitions, his joint-best return in a single campaign. Six of these seven goals have come from dead ball situations (five direct free-kicks, one penalty).

Southampton had been hit by an early injury to Danny Ings, yet his replacement Adams stepped up, slamming in a spectacular half-volley to make it 2-0 shortly after half-time.

Adams has scored four goals in his four Premier League appearances against the Blades, accounting for 44 per cent of his total goals in the competition, while Chris Wilder's men have become only the second English top-flight team to lose 22 of their first 28 games in a season after Sunderland in 2005-06.

Aston Villa 0-0 Wolves: Grealish absence continues to hit home

There was no winner in Saturday's local derby as Wolves extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League at Villa Park to five matches (W2 D3).

Villa have failed to score in each of their past four home Premier League games against Wolves – only against Chelsea (a run of five between October 1995 and January 2000) and Manchester United (a run of five between March 2003 and December 2006) have they had a longer run of games without scoring against a specific opponent at Villa Park in the competition.

Jack Grealish was again absent through injury and, under Dean Smith, Villa have won just two of their 12 home league games without the playmaker (D5 L5).

On the plus side for Villa, they have kept 14 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, their highest tally in a single top-flight campaign since 2009-10 (15), with only Manchester City (15) having kept more this term.

Wolves, meanwhile, have won just one of their past 10 away Premier League games (D4 L5), with that victory coming at Southampton in February.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-2 Leicester City: Amartey late show gets Foxes back on track

Daniel Amartey proved the unlikely hero for Leicester as they got back on track in their bid to consolidate their place in the top four with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Brighton.

Graham Potter's side took the lead through Adam Lallana's maiden Brighton goal, and his first in 503 days and 32 appearances in the competition since netting for Liverpool against Manchester United in October 2019.

However, Brighton have now dropped 17 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, their most in a single campaign in the competition. Only Southampton (18) have dropped more than the Seagulls in 2020-21.

Kelechi Iheanacho restored parity and has scored in each of his past two Premier League appearances, having netted in just one of his previous 17 in the competition.

Brighton thought they might come away with a point when Jamie Vardy had a penalty appeal turned down, but Amartey popped up with the winner from the following corner.

It was just his second Premier League goal, and his first since he scored against Stoke City in December 2016.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not concerned by Bruno Fernandes' waning impact in Manchester United's attack, believing his team-mates can profit from the midfielder's mere presence.

Fernandes has not provided a goal or an assist in his past three appearances in all competitions, each of which have seen United held to goalless draws.

Prior to his mini barren run, the Portugal international had averaged 3.8 shots and 2.9 chances created per 90 minutes, enjoying 83.4 touches, including 3.6 in the opposition box.

Over the three games since scoring and assisting against Newcastle United, he has averaged two shots and 2.8 chances per 90, touching the ball in the area at the same rate but seeing his overall involvement drop to 72.4 touches.

It is only a slight drop-off from Fernandes' lofty standards, but combined with United's underwhelming run – they have not had a single 'big chance' since their two against Newcastle – it has prompted discussion.

Solskjaer is not worried, however, calling on his other United stars to step up, starting against rivals Manchester City on Sunday.

"We expect everyone to be a leader, everyone to take that responsibility," Solskjaer said.

"Of course it might be Bruno, but I know that teams are trying to man-mark him at times and that's not a dig at anyone.

"That's just that sometimes in football they try to stop your best player. And someone else will have to step forward.

"Bruno might find a position, make space for others, create. He has created chances for others even when he has not touched the ball. And you see others have created chances for Bruno when they've not touched the ball.

"It's about the movement and creating space for your team-mate and taking that responsibility.

"We have had big moments in big games recently. Chances that we would normally put away and then everyone is rosy, everyone says we are the best thing since sliced bread.

"The away game against Chelsea wasn't far away from being almost a perfect away game. We should have had a penalty, we should have got the last counter-attack, one last pass away from winning the game.

"It is about taking the big moments and having some luck in the big moments."

Since Fernandes made his United debut in February 2020, he has been involved in 54 goals in all competitions, ranking third across Europe's 'top five' leagues behind only Robert Lewandowski (74) and Lionel Messi (60).

Only that superstar duo and former United sensation Cristiano Ronaldo have attempted more shots than Fernandes' 202.

Meanwhile, he tops the charts for chances created (158) over that span, just ahead of City's Kevin De Bruyne (156).

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are primed to continue their success after he leaves the Etihad Stadium.

City host United in the Manchester derby on Sunday, aiming to extend both a 14-point lead over their rivals at the top of the table and a record-breaking run of 21 consecutive wins in all competitions.

Should the runaway leaders win their third Premier League crown in four seasons, Guardiola will become the first manager in England's top flight to regain the title during the same tenure since Alex Ferguson and only the third to do so in the competition's history.

Both United since Ferguson and Arsenal in the aftermath of Arsene Wenger's two-decade reign have struggled to keep pace with the standards of old.

Guardiola renewed his City contract until 2023 earlier this season, which will take him to seven years in charge in east Manchester if he sees out those terms – at which point his club might face a similarly testing new era.

"The club must not start saying 'Pep is not here anymore'. There is no time to wait… a new one has to do it. It's the same for the players," he said, even though City's outstanding run has come during a season many earmarked as one of transition.

Ruben Dias, Rodri and Joao Cancelo are on course to win their first Premier League titles having established themselves as key pillars of Guardiola's side, while John Stones and Ilkay Gundogan have assumed new levels of prominence within the City squad.

As Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho approach the end of their contracts in June, the last remaining trace of pre-Guardiola City could be no more when the senior squad reconvenes for next season.

Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva bade emotional farewells over the past four years and Guardiola believes there is a pattern of smooth succession already established at City.

"We've replaced David, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, even Joe Hart. I know their influence in the locker room and the spirit for Manchester City," he said, before suggesting the step change from mid-table club to Abu Dhabi-financed heavyweight a decade ago was more challenging than anything yet to come.

"These players are special, they started to create the club that we are," Guardiola continued.

"To be a team from the middle of the table [who then] fight for the titles, you need some special players. Incredible respect, I admire them, all of them. They create this situation that we have right now.

"For people who came later, it's time to follow the legacy that they started. We would love to have Vincent Kompany eternally, but the age is the age. Unfortunately, you have to replace them."

Champions League success remains the final frontier for Guardiola, with City poised to address the quarter-final hurdle that has felled them in the past three seasons as they hold a 2-0 advantage over Borussia Monchengladbach midway through their last-16 tie.

But Guardiola feels consistently reaching Europe's top competition, even in fallow years in terms of trophies, is a key marker of City's progress when set against the struggles experienced by Leicester City, Chelsea and now Liverpool in the immediate aftermath of lifting the Premier League.

"The nicest thing of this club in the last decade is every year we won the title, the next season we were there. The lowest position after winning was second," he said.

"The last years it was always champion, champion, second, fighting after winning, every year in the Champions League. That is when you become a club that is respected.

"You see other champions, how they fight to qualify for the top four.

"People say it just about the reason everybody knows [money], but it's okay. There is a lot of work behind it."

That work has changed for Guardiola this season, with the particular demands of a life in lockdown persuading him to temper his famously intense approach – perhaps a template to apply when a measure of normality returns to what is already his longest stint at a single club.

"We have fewer meetings [with the players]. Maybe this is the reason why we are winning, because I don’t bother them much," he added

"[I demand] not much and then the energy the moment of the game. I cannot demand, with this situation around the world, energy for 10 hours.

"The players are like you and me. It is weird the world we are living. You cannot go out, you cannot see other people.

"That is why – energy, the moment of the game. We did it and we are going to continue doing it this way."

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has defended his record against 'top six' clubs ahead of the derby against Manchester City on Sunday.

Fernandes has been a revelation at Old Trafford since his big-money move from Sporting CP in January 2020.

The 26-year-old has scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists in 27 Premier League games this season, but Tottenham are the only club among the established 'top six' he has found the back of the net against - a penalty in October's 6-1 defeat.

United will need Fernandes to fire when they face runaway leaders City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Portugal international says it is unfair to suggest he has failed to rise to the occasion against stronger opponents.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't know what people mean by 'top six', because the teams are in top six in the table. I score and assist against some of them.

"I score this season against Tottenham. But some people say penalties don't count!

"I know people expect Bruno to score or assist in every game because when I arrived, I was playing really well. If you see my stats, everyone is thinking that Bruno has to score in every game, Bruno has to assist in every game.

"And I want to do that - it's the most important thing. But as a player, I don't look for the big six or the rest of the league. I look for every game in the same way.

"And I think the league is not a sprint, it's a marathon. So you don't have to score or win against the big six - you have to score and win against everyone.

"I see people talking about Bruno not doing so well against the 'big six'. People have said Bruno gives the ball away too many times when we lose a game.

"Also, in the game against Basaksehir, I scored two goals and I lost more balls than their team, but people said I was the best player in the game. So, what is the point?"

United take on a seemingly unstoppable City side having been held to three consecutive goalless draws in all competitions and Fernandes is aware he has not been at his best of late.

"I agree the last two games, I didn't play very well. And I don't need to see the stats to see if I play well or not. I know when I play well or not." he said.

"I saw an interview from Luke (Shaw) saying, 'people now care more about stats than the performance'. And this is the truth. Because now they're expecting from me just goals and assists, and not performances.

"They don't care about the performance of Bruno, they don't care about ball recovery or how many chances I create, because I can create 10 chances but if I don't score, people will say Bruno didn't play very well.

"But this is football. Football is in the moment. Some people have said I'm playing bad, and that I have to do better. And I agree, because we always can do better. But for me, it's okay. I can have that pressure on my back.

"I'm sure in some moments, I will score, I will assist, and I will perform. And that will help my team-mates to win the game."

Granit Xhaka apologised to Arsenal fans after his mistake gifted Burnley their equaliser in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.

The Gunners had led through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's strike and saw a good Bukayo Saka chance go begging before the hosts drew level in fortuitous circumstances.

Xhaka received a short pass from goalkeeper Bernd Leno and, when trying to find David Luiz, succeeded only in sending the ball into his own net via the hip of Clarets striker Chris Wood.

The incident ended up costing Arsenal three points after a frenetic end to the game, in which Erik Pieters had a penalty and red card for handball correctly overturned after a VAR review and Dani Ceballos smashed a shot off the post.

Xhaka later took to his official Instagram page to say sorry to supporters, admitting he shared in their frustration.

"I hold my hands up for their goal and I'm sorry for the mistake," he wrote.

"That's football and right now I feel just as frustrated as all of you."

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta refused to criticise Xhaka after the match, insisting he wants his players to be bold enough to play out from the back.

"We are talking about [cheap goals] all the time and just trying to nullify anything that we give to the opponent," he said.

"In the last few weeks, we have done that. We have to improve that individually, as in the end we have to make decisions on the pitch and it looks easy from the outside.

"It's not that easy away from home, but if someone makes a mistake because they're playing the way we want to play, I will always support them. If someone is hiding and doesn't want to play and then makes a mistake, I'm not going to have that."

The draw means Arsenal stay 10th in the Premier League, nine points adrift of the top four.

Mikel Arteta bemoaned a controversial penalty call that went against Arsenal in Saturday's action-packed 1-1 draw with Burnley.

The Gunners – who led through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but were pegged back after Granit Xhaka's woeful attempted pass hit Chris Wood and flew in – were denied two spot-kicks late on at Turf Moor, but it was the first incident which irked Arteta.

Clarets substitute Erik Pieters appeared to handle the ball but referee Andre Marriner was unmoved by the visitors' appeals and was given no signal to award a spot-kick by VAR.

Marriner did point to the spot for a different incident in which the industrious Pieters deflected Nicolas Pepe's effort over the crossbar, but the Dutchman – who had been shown a red card – was reprieved after a VAR review.

Reflecting on what he will surely feel were two points dropped, Arteta was somewhat bemused by the decisions that did not go his way.

"It's a really tough place to come on a difficult pitch, but I have to say we should have scored the big chances we had," he said, having seen Dani Ceballos strike the post deep into stoppage time amid a host of missed opportunities. 

"When you miss the chances we had, and you do not get decisions, it is complicated to win football games. If that is not a penalty, then someone needs to explain what one is.

"From what we produced, you have to come here and win. When you do not, you have to look at yourself. We completely dominated the first half but they make it difficult with a lot of long balls.

"We generated chances and we should have won by two or three goals. if you give any hope to any team in the Premier League, they are going to take it."

VAR has been the subject of much controversy, but in Burnley boss Sean Dyche the technology has an ardent supporter.

"I'm a fan of VAR, we know it has to be streamlined but that is where it's worth it's weight in gold," he said, expressing his gratitude that it overturned Pieters' punishment.

"The referee couldn't wait to get his red card out today, although he is a very fine referee. That is what VAR is for."

Arsenal will head into a crunch spell in their season on the back of a chaotic 1-1 Premier League draw at Burnley after Granit Xhaka's blunder on Saturday.

Mikel Arteta's side, who had an 85th-minute penalty taken away after a VAR review, face a two-legged Europa League last-16 showdown with Olympiacos either side of next Sunday's north London derby.

And they will tackle that run of games knowing their top-four hopes are all but gone, with silverware and local bragging rights providing their primary motivation.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose own goal handed Burnley a 1-0 win over 10-man Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in December, capitalised on some slack defending to put the visitors ahead after just six minutes at Turf Moor.

Burnley drew level in fortuitous circumstances before half-time, Xhaka – the man sent off in the reverse fixture – attempting a pass inside his own area that hit Chris Wood's hip and flew in.

It was punishment for the Gunners' profligacy, with Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka having missed chances to increase their lead. Arteta was left to reflect on two points dropped after referee Andre Marriner had to reverse the decision to award a late penalty when Erik Pieters brilliantly kept out Nicolas Pepe's volley, with time still left for Dani Ceballos to hit the post.

Arsenal were quick out of the blocks and Aubameyang took full advantage of Burnley's meek resistance inside the box before his low effort beat Nick Pope at his near post despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to it.

Burnley, seeking a first league double over Arsenal since 1962-63, should have fallen two behind midway through the half but Saka, on his 50th Premier League appearance, prodded wide after the ball fell kindly for him six yards out.

Instead, Sean Dyche's side were level at the break as Arsenal's attempts to play out from the back went calamitously wrong when Xhaka tried to pick out David Luiz and instead hit the ball straight into Wood's midriff.

Ben Mee and James Tarkowski each made excellent blocks to thwart Saka in the early stages of the second half as Arsenal continued to enjoy the majority of the chances.

Seeking inspiration from his bench, Arteta brought on Alexandre Lacazette inside the final half an hour, but Burnley then went close to a winner when Pieters – who had already survived one penalty shout after an apparent handball – had a dipping volley tipped over by Bernd Leno, who then denied Wood one-on-one.

There was late drama when Pepe's strike was deflected over by the industrious Pieters, with Marriner pointing to the spot and sending off the Dutchman before a VAR review showed the defender had somehow kept the ball out with his shoulder, while Ceballos cracked a shot against the upright as the spoils were shared.

What does it mean? Gunners' top-four hopes fading

Inconsistency has plagued Arsenal this season, with 11 wins and 11 losses underlining that fact. This draw – their fifth of the top-flight campaign – leaves them nine points shy of fourth-placed Chelsea.

Arteta's men surely have little chance of overhauling that deficit, meaning the Europa League offers their best chance to earn a spot at European football's top table.

Clarets nemesis Aubameyang strikes again

This was Aubameyang's eighth goal against the Clarets, making them his favourite victims in the Premier League. Only against Hamburg (9) has he netted more league goals in the top five European leagues.

The Gabon striker also became the fifth Arsenal player to score an own goal and a regular goal against a specific team in a Premier League campaign.

Granit crumbles under pressure

It is the modern way to work the ball out diligently from the back, but it requires cool heads and smart execution, of which Xhaka showed neither when he was at fault for Burnley's farcical leveller.

Perhaps Leno should have cleared the ball in the first instance, but when Xhaka received the pass from his goalkeeper he had options besides booting the ball at Wood. Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, no outfield player has made more errors leading to goals in the Premier League than Xhaka's tally of eight.

As for Burnley, they need 10 more points to hit the 40 mark that relegation battlers tend to target.

What's next?

Arsenal have a huge week ahead, with a trip to Olympiacos in the Europa League on Thursday before the north London derby with Spurs. Burnley, meanwhile, head to Everton next Saturday.

Mikel Arteta has declared his Arsenal team remain nowhere near his vision for what they can become.

A hint of improvement in the Gunners ranks has seen them lose just once of their past five games, a 1-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Manchester City.

They scraped past Benfica in the Europa League thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's late winner in the second leg and followed that up with an eye-catching 3-1 victory at Leicester City.

But Arteta has not been blinded to his team's weaknesses by those results, and he feels they remain a long way from his idea of how they could shape up.

"Very far – very, very far," he said.

"There's still a lot to improve, a lot of quality to add. [We need to be] much more efficient in decision-making; much quicker to open situations up when advantages are there; many situations to feel when advantages [can be] obtained.

"More control of games; more defensive actions in the opponent's half; fewer giveaways in our own half; more clean sheets. More goals to score, more creativity. A lot to do."

Arteta left his role on Pep Guardiola's Manchester City staff in December 2019 to take the Arsenal top job.

While City look to be hurtling to another Premier League title, Arsenal headed into Saturday's game against Burnley sitting 10th in the table – 10 points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

"When you look at the league table it is not acceptable," Arteta said. "We are Arsenal Football Club and we should be nowhere near here. If somebody is happy with that, he is in the wrong place."

At various points during the early stages of this Premier League season, Manchester City and Manchester United had their defensive capabilities called into question by television pundits.

As soon as the opening weekend 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, in fact, Gary Neville emptied a bucket of cold water upon transfer speculation surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad.

Speaking on Sky Sports, the former England and United defender gave a damning assessment of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof's centre-back capabilities

"You can talk about Jadon Sancho all you like, but until they get a centre-back in that can run and defend one on one, you're never going to win the league," he said.

A weekend later, City were hammered 5-2 at home to Leicester City – a result that immediately preceded the club-record arrival of Ruben Dias from Benfica.

The Portugal international's debut came in a harum-scarum 1-1 draw at Leeds United, after which beIN Sports' anchor Richard Keys offered a more radical solution to Pep Guardiola.

"It can't be that hard, he could go and watch Roy Hodgson work. Or he could bring Sam Allardyce in on a temporary basis."

Things have changed a little since then. City head into Sunday's top-of-the-table clash 14 points clear of United in second and aiming to extend a 21-match winning run across all competitions.

Central to that, and untouched by the hand of Allardyce, is a water-tight defence and the supreme alliance formed by Dias and a rejuvenated John Stones.

Silk and steel

In the 14 Premier League games Dias and Stones have started in tandem, City boast 13 wins and a draw, keeping 11 clean sheets

Goals for each man in last weekend's 2-1 win over West Ham mean they are responsible for four goals at the other end during these matches – one more than the three they have conceded overall.

In his debut Premier League season, Dias boasts a win percentage of 75 per cent thanks to 18 victories from 24 matches.

Stones' own win rate leaps to a frankly absurd 94 per cent, finishing on the winning side in 15 of his 16 Premier League outings in 2020-21. Guardiola's men have only conceded four times with him on the pitch.

Though Keys opined that Guardiola might have been sacked for his "reckless" spending before settling upon Dias, acclaim for the Catalan tactician and his first-choice central defenders has otherwise been close to universal.

Over on the red side of Manchester, however, Neville still isn't happy.

Drawing blanks and protecting keepers

Despite being the centre-back pairing in each of United's five 0-0 Premier League draws in "big six" encounters this season, last month Neville described Lindelof and Maguire as a "problem" to one another on account of their individual attributes.

Demanding defensive changes for a team who have just run up three consecutive goalless draws in all competitions might, on the face of it, look like a fairly off-target conclusion.

However, outside of those matches that were as high on anticipation as they proved low on goals, another picture emerges.

In 20 Premier League games together, Lindelof and Maguire have seven clean sheets this term – only two outside of big-six encounters. United have won half of those games, drawing eight and losing two, leaving them way down on City's 92.9 per cent success rate when Dias and Stones start together.

Overall, United have conceded nearly double the amount City have let in across the Premier League season, with 32 set against 17.

Expected goals on target (xGOT) numbers collected by Opta – figures that illustrate the overall quality of chances faced  - show City's first-choice goalkeeper Ederson is better protected by his defence than United number one David de Gea.

Ederson has conceded 15 times and has an xGOT of 18.61, meaning he has conceded fewer goals than expected, something that cannot be said for De Gea, who will sit out the weekend game after returning home for the birth of his child.

An xGOT figure of 25.9 is outstripped by the 27 the Spain international has let in. Although his negative goals prevented score of 1.1 does Maguire, Lindelof and those others in front of him a slight disservice, he is being given more taxing work to get through than Ederson.

Building from the back

It is not the case that Stones and Dias are flying into numerous last-ditch challenges to spare their goalkeeper, much as they appear to relish that work when it arrives.

A chunk of their value to Guardiola stems from how they are each able to get City swiftly back on the front foot.

Every 90 minutes, Dias averages 16.3 progressive carries, with Stones on 14.7. On this metric, despite his noted ability with the ball at his feet, Maguire tallies 11.8, with Lindelof down on 9.8.

Building play from the back is another non-negotiable for Guardiola's defensive players and City's 161 build-up attacks – open play sequences featuring 10 or more passes that end in a shot or a touch in the opposition penalty area - are the most in the Premier League this season.

Despite the apparent risk they run of playing themselves into trouble, 120 high turnovers against and 14 shot-ending high turnovers are once again the best results in the division.

By contrast, United have conceded 35 shots from high turnovers – the second-worst in the league – from 205 such instances. Solskjaer's men have attempted 91 build-up attacks, suggesting his team create too many problems for themselves.

Stones and Dias have managed their shutouts compilation despite City having the highest defensive line in the Premier League, starting attacks an average of 45.2 metres from their own goal. United's 42.9m is third behind Liverpool, although the lack of pace Neville has highlighted in Solskjaer's first-choice pairing might be encouraging a measure of caution.

Even if Maguire and Lindelof are able to wheel out their effective spoiling act to thwart the City juggernaut this weekend, Neville is right that the bigger picture needs better solutions at his old club. Although, probably nothing as outlandish as suggesting Sam Allardyce as a specialist defensive coach.

Will Kalidou Koulibaly leave Serie A's Napoli?

Koulibaly is one of Europe's finest defenders and the 29-year-old has attracted interest from across Europe.

Bayern Munich are reportedly eyeing the Senegal international.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN FRONTRUNNERS FOR NAPOLI STAR

Bayern Munich are leading the race to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Il Mattino.

Koulibaly has long been linked with a move away from Napoli, though the club's valuation has deterred suitors.

But Koulibaly's asking price has reportedly dropped to €45million (£39m), alerting Bayern, as well as Manchester United and Liverpool.

Bild, however, claims Bundesliga champions Bayern have not made an offer for the Napoli star.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild reports Manchester City are favourites to sign Erling Haaland if Borussia Dortmund sanction an off-season exit. Haaland has been linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Liverpool, ChelseaUnited and Bayern.

- As City target Haaland, Sport Mediaset says Serie A champions Juve are considering a move for veteran forward Sergio Aguero. The Argentina international is out of contract at season's end.

Barca have been offered Bayer Leverkusen star Edmond Tapsoba, claims Sport. Tapsoba is valued at around €40m.

- Wolves are open to selling Adama Traore at a reduced price, according to the Daily Mail. Barca, Liverpool and City have been linked with Traore previously.

- The Sun reports United are considering the sale of star goalkeeper David de Gea. It comes as Dean Henderson expects to become number one next season. The Transfer Window podcast, meanwhile, says United are seeking a new number one amid links to Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Chelsea remain interested in RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, according to Bild. Konate is not short of admirers, linked to the likes of United and Arsenal.

United have not contacted Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva as an alternative to Haaland, claims Bild.

Manchester City will be aiming to open up a surely unassailable 17-point gap over Manchester United with a win in Sunday's derby, yet former Red Devils winger Nani insists the Premier League leaders are not stronger than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side. 

United have received plenty of negative press lately for their poor recent record when facing other members of the so-called 'big six', with last weekend's 0-0 draw at Chelsea the sixth successive game against such calibre of opponent in which they have failed to score. 

Five of those six matches ended 0-0, while the last time United managed to get a goal against the league's biggest clubs was the 6-1 humiliation by Tottenham in early October. 

Such omens do not offer a particularly bright outlook ahead of their trip to the runaway leaders, with City heading into the weekend just one match away from setting a new club record, having now gone 28 games unbeaten across all competitions.

But ex-United star Nani, who lost four of his eight games against City for the club, insists sheer ability alone is not the reason for the gap in the table. 

Speaking to Stats Perform News, Nani said: "What I have seen of this team and what I saw from last season, United are building a strong team. They are building a young, strong team, so that's very good. 

"Man United have a great coach now and it's a matter of time [before they challenge for honours]. I think some of the players need to get more experience, learning fast how they win certain games in certain moments, because I see moments where there is no chance of losing any points and yet they lost. 

"That's why now, if you see the top of the table, it makes a little bit of difference because otherwise they would be sharing the position in the table with Man City. 

"I don't see Man City stronger than Man United, I see they look more experienced, and they are in a good form. I think the next game will be important for the end of the season if they beat Man City, we have all the chance and I think we're going to win it because that is a different game. But they have to go with everything." 

Despite his confidence in United, Nani appreciates the job Guardiola has done in 2020-21 – after all, City took just 12 points from their first eight matches amid a sluggish start to the season. 

Yet, Guardiola turned things around and City have not dropped a single point since being held to a 1-1 draw by West Brom on December 15, Nani singling out the manager's influence in restoring the confidence of certain key performers.

"I think Guardiola has been doing a great job this season, to get the team together," Nani added. "They seem a very confident team when they play.

"He brought back some players whose confidence was down, like Bernardo Silva. He put Joao Cancelo [in] - Cancelo is doing fantastic for the team, and all the players at the front, they are not scoring so many goals as before, but they have been important.

"There are players who last season did not appear so much, like [Ilkay] Gundogan, who this season has been amazing. He scored so many goals and is giving so many assists. So, it's important when you don't have important players available, like Kevin De Bruyne, you can bring another player who can appear and help the team."

While Nani alluded to Silva's increased importance, it's another Portugal international who is seen as arguably the catalyst to City's improvement this season: Ruben Dias.

The centre-back fits in perfectly with Guardiola's philosophy of building from the back and has formed an outstanding partnership with John Stones – when playing together they have won 13 of 14 Premier League matches this term, keeping 11 clean sheets, and Nani believes Dias has proven himself one of the best around.

"Yes, he's proved already that he's one of the best in the world," Nani continued. "I think if people don't think that, then very soon they will change their mind because the way he's been performing for the team, the way he has been helping in a defensive way, that is one of the reasons in the second half of the season City is performing and conceding less goals.

"It's also partly [down to] John Stones. I think it's important when the defence of the team is solid, it's much easier for the ones who play at the front to perform and to be more relaxed to create the chances to score."

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