Kevin De Bruyne's gesture during the closing stages of Manchester City's Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion was one of selflessness towards a team-mate and friend, but also one that backfired.

De Bruyne ceded his penalty-taking duties after drawing a foul from Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez in stoppage time at a sodden Etihad Stadium, giving Raheem Sterling the chance to step up.

Unfortunately, the England international ballooned his attempt into the deserted North Stand, leaving Pep Guardiola's side with a few more needlessly nervy minutes to see out a 1-0 win.

A key contributor as City racked up six major trophies in the three previous campaigns under Guardiola, Sterling is yet to fully hit his stride this time around, even as his colleagues in sky blue have moved their collective level through the gears over recent weeks to sit menacingly poised in the Premier League title race.

The Brighton miss means he has scored only three goals in his past 18 appearances in all competitions, a run of four in three either side of the October international break proving to be something of a false dawn.

"He’s an incredibly important player for us," Guardiola said of Sterling ahead of Sunday's meeting with Crystal Palace, which will come as the immediate dust settles on the top-two clash between Manchester United and Liverpool at Anfield.

"Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible."

True as that might be, Sterling relocating his past form would certainly benefit City in an unpredictable season of ample possibilities.

In 2019-20, Sterling enjoyed the most prolific season of his career, scoring 20 goals in the Premier League and 31 overall.

His Premier League haul outperformed an xG of 17.3, coming from 97 shots, although he was even more clinical in those terms the last time City won the Premier League in 2018-19.

In that year of a domestic treble, within 25 in all competitions, Sterling's 17 top-flight goals from 77 attempts had an xG value of 13.7.

This season, he has four Premier League goals and an xG of 3.6. His 29 shots include five unsuccessful efforts from inside the six-yard box.

Close-range misses have become an unwelcome feature in Sterling's game, most gallingly when he blazed over with the goal at his mercy during City's chastening Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon in August.

Before last season, the 26-year-old had never dipped below a 50 per cent conversion rate on what Opta rank as "big chances".  He was most efficient in this regard when he scored 18 of 31 (58 per cent) in 2018-19.

That percentage dropped to 39.6 in 2019-20, as he scored 23 big chances and spurned 35. This term, five scored and 13 missed means a further drop to 27.8 per cent within this smaller sample size.

Sterling's overall shot conversion of 14.3 per cent is its lowest since 11.7 per cent in Guardiola's first trophy-less season at City in 2016-17.

So, in a talent stacked squad, should he be fearing for his place? In short, no.

"He will score goals, he will make assists and he wants to help in all departments," Guardiola insisted.

"Normally wingers are not able do that but he can help us. I'm more than happy to have him here with us."

A player holding himself to the high standards Sterling does is unlikely to take any comfort in the old head-tousling adage of "he was there to miss 'em", but there is something to be said for his relentless desire to contribute to the cause, irrespective of where his individual form resides.

Guardiola certainly views him as indispensable. Sterling has played 24 games and completed 1,864 minutes this season, second only to Premier League ever-present Rodri in the City squad.

He has had more shots on target (27) and attempted (88) and completed (41) more dribbles than any other City player. In terms of overall shots (38) and assists (six) he is only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne.

Sterling has created 30 chances for others and, despite his struggles in front of goal, remains joint-second in the squad's goalscoring charts on seven alongside Ferran Torres, one shy of midweek matchwinner Phil Foden.

The former Liverpool youngster's previous goal, when he scored decisively at Southampton in December, made him the first player to reach 150 goal involvements for Guardiola's City.

And, although the Brighton game ended in personal disappointment, his introduction from the bench was his 220th appearance under Guardiola. No player has been selected more frequently by the Catalan tactician in his celebrated career, with a certain Lionel Messi second on that list.

It is that overall big picture of absolute trust and an unquenchable thirst to contribute to the wider cause that means Sterling will remain one of Guardiola's most trusted performers, even if his dry spell goes on a little longer.

We need to talk about Kevin. Because if you noticed something was different about Kevin De Bruyne this season, you were on the money.

The PFA players' player of the year, the FIFPro World XI star and the reigning Champions League midfielder of the season has been performing a modified role for Manchester City since David Silva departed.

And is it pure coincidence that in this phase of semi-transition, a goal-shy City have scored 3-0, 3-1 and 4-1 wins when starting without their Belgian playmaker, the man who supposedly makes them tick?

De Bruyne is a wonderful footballer, and laying on seven goals in 13 Premier League games this season attests to that, a strong follow-up already to last term's record-equalling 20 assists.

Supremely skilled with both feet, you feel he could play anywhere and be hugely influential.

But the right flank has been his established station, and this term there has been no such instinctive attraction to that side of the pitch.

De Bruyne is roaming, occupying positions to the left, right and centre as a number 10 in all but number (he remains in the 17 shirt). Opposition right-backs who were rarely closer than waving distance to the City maestro are seeing him encroach on their territory, an unwelcome pest few can handle.

Chelsea, his former club, will not be relishing the task of stopping De Bruyne when City visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

But does the 2020-21 deployment truly suit De Bruyne, and more pertinently does it suit City?

TOUCHED BY HIS PRESENCE

Touch maps from Opta show how evenly distributed De Bruyne's involvement has been in this Premier League campaign.

He's here, there and in fact he's everywhere across the attacking midfield zones, and it is hard not to think that is to cover for the loss of the creativity previously provided by close-season departee David Silva, a player whose much-missed promptings were helping to thrust Real Sociedad towards the front of the LaLiga leading pack until injury struck in November.

In 14 Premier League games this season, City have created 166 chances, an average of almost 11.9 per game, but last term they ran up 583 across 38 games, marginally above 15.3 each match.

De Bruyne's chance creation rate has hardly nosedived, but it has slipped from one every 20.6 minutes in 2019-20 to one every 26.2 minutes this season.

His total of 42 chances created in the Premier League so far (31 open play, 11 set-play) far outstrips team-mates, with Riyad Mahrez next on the list with 23 carved out, followed by full-back Joao Cancelo who has teed up 22 opportunities.

Bernardo Silva was creating chances at a rate of one every 39.8 minutes last term but that has crashed to one every 138.5 minutes in 2020-21, while Raheem Sterling has gone the same way, a slight fall from one every 55.4 minutes to one each 64.1 minutes.

Mahrez is making chances at one every 33.4 minutes this season compared to 32.3 last term, while Phil Foden, long touted as the natural successor to David Silva, has a rate of a one every 84.2 minutes, down from per 49.6 minutes.

Could De Bruyne be inadvertently cramping the style of his team-mates as he spreads his wings across the pitch, inevitably a magnet for the ball?

A VIRTUOSO IN NEED OF A BACKING BAND

De Bruyne has missed just one Premier League game this season, the home clash with Arsenal back in October that City won 1-0 thanks to a Sterling strike.

There was little to catch the eye in the chances created (11) or shots (13) columns that day, but City's attacking midfielders and forwards were noticeably less bunched over the 90 minutes that day than was the case in their Etihad Stadium clash with Newcastle last time out.

For that December 26 fixture, in which De Bruyne played, his average position was tucked in just behind Sterling, with Ferran Torres and Bernardo Silva close at hand.

City won 2-0, but the average position map points to limited midfield width. A little social distancing to ease congestion between the front quartet, as was the case in the Arsenal game, could be in order.

Despite having De Bruyne on board, City created just a modest 10 chances and had 11 shots against Newcastle. Seven of those opportunities were defined as 'big chances', though, a season-high for City, so perhaps they are belatedly creating the right quality of opening with their new shape, if not the quantity. Or perhaps Newcastle are ripe for that sort of thing.

While De Bruyne continues in his virtuoso way and can clearly be devastating anywhere across the midfield, the likes of Bernardo Silva and Foden must prompt more frequently. They might be encouraged to do so if City's strikers were putting away chances with a higher degree of efficacy. It is a two-way road.

WHAT ABOUT THE THUMPINGS WITHOUT DE BRUYNE?

It might be doing De Bruyne a disservice to read too much into City piling on the goals without him, looking at the 3-1 home win over Porto, which he missed with a muscle injury, and the 3-0 box-ticking exercise that was Marseille in Manchester for City's final Champions League group game.

Arsenal were then under-strength and hopelessly out of form before the 4-1 EFL Cup trouncing they suffered at City's hands, on December 22.

What the data tells us from City's season is that De Bruyne's levels remain extraordinary, but he is now a roving beacon of midfield genius rather than a master of one position.

With this tactical switch clearly coming at the behest of Pep Guardiola, it falls to the City manager to examine the evidence of its impact and make the strategy and selection tweaks that could still make it effective.

Failing that, Guardiola could revert to Plan A.

Many a wide player has coveted a role further infield, and it has not always come for the betterment of the team. Giving De Bruyne his old job back may be City's easiest get-out.

Ilkay Gundogan claimed Manchester City's rock-solid defending will ensure they remain a force to be reckoned with even when they are without key attacking players.

City clinched a comfortable 2-0 win over Newcastle United on Saturday thanks to goals from Gundogan and Ferran Torres to move within five points of leaders Liverpool.

It was their 13th clean sheet of the campaign across all competitions, more than any other team in the top five European leagues this season.

"We have been solid in our defending," Germany midfielder Gundogan told BT Sport.

"If we can keep it solid at the back then we always give ourselves a chance because we know we're going to score goals.

"In the first half especially, I felt like we moved the ball well. The weather conditions were not the best here today, but I think it was a solid performance."

City were missing Gabriel Jesus, laid low with COVID-19, while Sergio Aguero was again used as a substitute as Pep Guardiola eases his workload on return from an injury layoff.

Gundogan said the rest of the players will continue to step up and shoulder some of the goalscoring burden whenever they are without the team's recognised strikers.

"I think we should always share the responsibility of scoring on the pitch," he added

"Obviously we're missing some great players but we have the quality in the team to cope, such as Ferran, to be ruthless and get this done."

City have won their last 12 Premier League home games against Newcastle, scoring 41 goals and conceding just seven.

Guardiola urged his players to continue to keep their composure during a "weird" season of results in the Premier League.

The disciplined and clinical manner of City's display was more akin to what Guardiola's side have produced in recent seasons, albeit without an emphatic scoreline.

"Last week we were 10th in the table, all the season is up and down," Guardiola said.

"There are weird results for everyone, this season you have to be calm in the good and the bad moments.

"We cannot think much, the schedule is a game every three days. The players are committed and focused."

Guardiola was also happy with the intensity and awareness shown by his side against Newcastle as they moved up to fifth in the table.

"We played really well, the tempo we have to play football is this tempo," he told BBC Sport.

"A lot of passes and the ball goes to where you are. Imagine the ball will come. Today was the best game of the season for players being in the position they have to be in.

"The way you play shows the results you will get in our team. Today was the day that we have done it best. Build from here, in 45 hours we have another game at Goodison Park.

"Tomorrow the players have to regenerate and prepare in one day. This pandemic puts us in an extreme situation, but that's how England likes it so we accept it."

Manchester City eased to a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United thanks to goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres to move within five points of Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Gundogan gave City the lead in a low-key game on Saturday with a close-range finish following a well-worked move from Pep Guardiola's side.

Torres netted his seventh goal of the season 10 minutes after half-time after some error-strewn defensive play by Newcastle.

Newcastle's chances at the other end were fleeting as they succumbed to their 12th consecutive Etihad defeat.

City quickly found their rhythm and a slick move saw Joao Cancelo find Raheem Sterling with a superb pass, and he skilfully cut the ball back for Gundogan to fire home.

The goal was Gundogan's second in Premier League this season, which is as many as he got in 31 games last season.

Kevin De Bruyne had Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow scrambling back to palm the ball away moments later when a mis-hit cross into the box looked to be dipping under the crossbar.

De Bruyne broke clear of the Newcastle defence just after the half hour but the alert Darlow rushed off his line to narrow the angle and saved well.

Newcastle rarely threatened at the other end and, despite finishing the first half positively, they still failed to register a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

A Jacob Murphy angled shot just after the break forced Ederson to make his first meaningful save before City added a second.

Newcastle twice failed to clear their lines, with Miguel Almiron and Federico Fernandez both guilty of sloppy play, and the ball dropped for Torres to confidently strike it past Darlow.

The brilliant Darlow denied substitute Sergio Aguero the chance to put the gloss on the result with a fine save from close range late on after another sweeping City attacking move.

Raheem Sterling reached a landmark on Saturday when he became the first Manchester City player to reach 150 goal involvements during the Pep Guardiola era.

The England forward came into the Premier League home game against Newcastle United with 96 goals and 53 assists across all competitions since Guardiola took the helm at City ahead of the 2016-17 season.

He brought up the combined 150 involvements with a 54th assist.

Sterling's short, smart pass to Ilkay Gundogan gave the Germany international a chance that he rifled into the bottom right corner to give City a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

Acquired from Liverpool in 2015, Sterling has proven a key figure in Guardiola's tenure at the Etihad Stadium.

With Sergio Aguero missing much of this season so far, Sterling has reached the 150 involvements mark quicker than the Argentinian, whose total under Guardiola heading into the Newcastle game stood at 146, made up of 120 goals and 26 assists.

Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne sat next on the list, Opta said, with the Belgian's 43 goals complemented by a staggering 84 assists for an overall haul of 127 involvements during Guardiola's reign.

Gabriel Jesus, currently self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, is on 99 after scoring 72 times and laying on 27 goals for team-mates.

Liverpool registered a historic win in their seven-goal blitz of Crystal Palace and the records of an unwanted kind kept coming for Arsenal in their defeat to Everton.

The reigning Premier League champions opened up a five-point lead at the top, with Merseyside rivals Everton their closest challengers after beating an Arsenal side slipping further into the abyss with each passing game.

Manchester City also got back to winning ways thanks to a Raheem Sterling-inspired success at Southampton, while Newcastle United and Fulham played out a draw at St James' Park in the late kick-off.

Here is the pick of the Opta facts from Saturday's action in the Premier League.

Crystal Palace 0-7 Liverpool: Reds run riot as Klopp overtakes Rafa

Jurgen Klopp registered a landmark victory in a historic win for Liverpool at Selhurst Park as the Reds won an away top-flight match by a margin of seven goals for the first time in their history.

German coach Klopp overtook Rafael Benitez (126) for the most triumphs as a Liverpool boss in the Premier League with his 127th success.

It was the first time the Merseyside outfit scored seven goals in a league game - each assisted by a different player - since a 9-0 triumph over Palace in September 1989, with the Eagles conceding seven in a home match for the first time.

Substitute Mohamed Salah netted a brace and laid on an assist for fellow two-goal forward Roberto Firmino - the 17th time the pair have combined for a Premier League goal for Liverpool, placing them behind only Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman (24).

Takumi Minamino, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane were also on the scoresheet, the latter becoming only the fourth player in Premier League history to score in seven successive appearances against an opponent.

Southampton 0-1 Manchester City: Sterling sinks Saints again

Sterling's sweeping finish proved enough for City to return to winning ways at St Mary's Stadium as they became the first team to stop Southampton from scoring in the Premier League since the opening weekend of the season.

Match-winner Sterling has been directly involved in 11 goals in 16 Premier League meetings with Southampton – only against West Ham (14) has he had a hand in more.

Kevin De Bruyne set up that goal and now has 15 Premier League assists in 2020, which is three more than anyone else. The only time the Belgium playmaker set up more goals in a single calendar year in the competition was in 2017 (18).

City kept their opponents at bay from that point on and now boast the best defensive record in the division, conceding the fewest goals (12) and keeping more clean sheets (six) than any other team.

Everton 2-1 Arsenal: Arteta Holding on after latest defeat

Two days ahead of the one-year anniversary of his Everton appointment, Carlo Ancelotti celebrated victory over Arsenal to guarantee the Toffees a place in the top four at Christmas for the first time since 2004-05.

Rob Holding's own goal - the third by an Arsenal player in the Premier League this season - gave Everton the lead before Nicolas Pepe converted from the penalty spot for a team-high eighth goal involvement this term.

But Yerry Mina scored what proved to be the winning goal just before half-time to inflict an eighth defeat of the campaign on Arsenal, whose return of 14 points from 14 games is their fewest since 1974-75 (12 points when converted to three for a win).

Each of Mina's past four goals have come in the 45th minute - only Chris Eagles has scored as many consecutive goals in the same minute before, notching four times in the 90th between 2007 and 2011.

Goals are something Arsenal are still struggling for, meanwhile, having now failed to score from open play in their past five Premier League away matches, their only two goals in that run coming from the penalty spot.

Newcastle United 1-1 Fulham: Visitors pay the penalty in St James' stalemate

Newcastle benefited from another penalty - their third in six Premier League home games - as they recovered to earn a point against an improving Fulham side at St James' Park.

Callum Wilson made no mistake from 12 yards as he took his tally for the campaign to eight in 12 top-flight appearances, matching his return from 35 games with Bournemouth last term.

Fulham have conceded a league-high five penalties this season, including three in their past four outings, and had Joachim Andersen dismissed for the incident leading to the spot-kick - the third Danish player to see red for Fulham in the competition after Leon Andreasen and Claus Jensen.

However, Scott Parker's men - who led through Matt Ritchie's first-half own goal - held on to pick up at least a point when finishing a Premier League game with 10 men for the first time since they beat QPR 3-2 in April 2013, having lost on each of the five subsequent occasions.

Newcastle have failed to keep a clean sheet in their 11 most recent Premier League games on home soil, their longest run since February 2005 (also 11 games), but they still climbed two places into 12th.

Raheem Sterling revealed Manchester City "had a word" among themselves before getting back to winning ways at Southampton.

The England forward got the only goal at St Mary's as City's 1-0 win over the early-season high-flyers gave Pep Guardiola's team a foothold in the title race.

On a day when Liverpool scored seven at Crystal Palace, the narrow win for City was encouraging for the visitors after back-to-back draws against Manchester United and West Brom.

And for Sterling, who admitted his own form has dipped beneath the levels he would expect, it was particularly satisfying.

He told Amazon Prime Sport: "To win games and score goals has been really, really difficult for us, but we knew how important today was and we're just happy to get the three points.

"I just feel we had a word with ourselves. We've got to dig deep and find something within, because this is not the football club that we're at. We're a top team and we need to be competing every game.

"One of the things that's let us down in the past couple of weeks has been our aggressiveness.

"Normally we're a team that's really aggressive on the front foot, no matter whether that's on the press or with the ball. I think we play at our best when we’re on the front foot."

It was not vintage City but they edged most areas, and will hope future games see them hit fluent scoring form.

Sterling has played exactly 1,000 minutes this season in the Premier League but has only scored four times.

His shot conversion rate is just 16 per cent, which looks distinctly average when compared to some of the early-season leading scorers. Tottenham's Son Heung-min has put away 47.83 per cent of his chances.

However, Sterling can look at Son's club-mate Harry Kane if he wants encouragement that his own record is not as mediocre as it may appear. Nine-goal Kane's conversion rate is surprisingly only 18 per cent.

Sterling is level with Riyad Mahrez at the top of City's league scoring chart this season and will hope there are many more goals to come.

"It's a team sport," Sterling said. "Of course, you have to look at yourself as an individual and I'm constantly doing that.

"I know I haven't been at the level I should be, but it's a work in progress and the team has taken a step in the right way.

"At the end of the day, it's unpredictable and not every year you're going to be at your best. Sometimes, you need to dig deep and that's what makes you a player."

Sterling insisted City were not looking at chasing the title but at building up momentum, echoing recent messages from Guardiola.

"We don't look towards no title," he said. "We just look to win our next games."

Manchester City returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory away to Southampton on Saturday.

After back-to-back draws with Manchester United and West Brom, and with neither Sergio Aguero nor Gabriel Jesus starting at St Mary's Stadium, there was pressure on Pep Guardiola's men to find a way past a Southampton side who have looked one of the most impressive in the league this season.

A goal from Raheem Sterling proved decisive, the England international producing a composed finish in the first half to secure maximum points on the south coast.

Saints pushed hard in the second half but could not break through a resilient City defence as they suffered just a fourth league loss of 2020-21.

City weathered some early Southampton pressure and forced Alex McCarthy into a smart save to keep out a powerful shot from Joao Cancelo.

The breakthrough came in the 16th minute, Kevin De Bruyne given space to cross for Sterling to sweep home first time from near the penalty spot.

Saints responded well, threatening through Danny Ings – who wanted a penalty from a high boot by Ruben Dias – and a header from Jannik Vestergaard that Ederson held.

De Bruyne missed a good chance on the break as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side stepped up the pressure after the interval, enjoying close to 53 per cent of the possession in the second half having had less than half the ball in the first.

Che Adams was just unable to turn a header on target after a defensive mix-up but that was a rare moment of uncertainty at the back from City, who have now kept four clean sheets in five league matches.

McCarthy saved superbly from an Ilkay Gundogan strike but the home side could not find a way to place Ederson under similar pressure.

 

What does it mean? City stay resolute in title hunt

Liverpool's earlier 7-0 demolition of Crystal Palace delivered an ominous warning to the rest of the title hopefuls.

City's victory was less emphatic but required a huge amount of the defensive strength they have shown in recent weeks.

They are now a point behind fourth-place Southampton and eight adrift of leaders Liverpool, but they do have a game in hand.

Sterling is Guardiola's go-to goal-getter

Sterling has been involved in 149 goals under Guardiola, more than any other player, and his ruthlessness was crucial here as he converted one of City's four shots on target.

With Sergio Aguero struggling with a knee problem and Gabriel Jesus missing here, keeping Sterling fit and firing could be hugely important for Guardiola's plans this term.

Ings blow to frustrated Saints

Losing Ings to injury in the first half left Southampton looking blunt in the final third, despite some excellent play in creating openings.

Any long-term problem to the striker would be a huge setback to their European aspirations.

What's next?

City face Arsenal on Tuesday in the EFL Cup quarter-final before next Saturday's league visit of Newcastle United. Southampton have a week to prepare for a trip to Fulham.

Liverpool claimed a big win in the Premier League title race on Wednesday, as the champions saw off Tottenham to take a three-point lead at the top.

The Reds will look to extend their unbeaten run in the top flight to 10 matches when they face Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Mohamed Salah is likely to play a key role for Liverpool, while Raheem Sterling is aiming to set a record at Manchester City and the duo headline our Opta-powered Premier League fantasy picks for matchweek 14.

 

MOHAMED SALAH

Salah has scored in all three of Liverpool's games in December so far, and is averaging a goal or assist every 66 minutes in the month across his Premier League career.

It is the best ratio in any month in which he has played more than one match.

Salah already has 11 league goals to his name this term, sitting top of the charts along with Son Heung-min and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

RAHEEM STERLING

Sterling created City's goal on Tuesday, with a neat cross for Ilkay Gundogan to sweep home his first Premier League goal in nearly a year, but Pep Guardiola's team could only draw 1-1.

It left them eight points adrift of pace-setters Liverpool, though Sterling is well in the hunt for a club record.

The England forward has been directly involved in 148 goals under Guardiola in all competitions, and is looking to become the first player to reach 150 during the Spaniard's time at City.

 

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG

Arsenal are in dismal form heading into Saturday's contest with Everton, who have won their last two outings – against Chelsea and Leicester City respectively.

Mikel Arteta's team ended a three-game losing streak when they drew at home to Southampton, though it is now six matches without a top-flight win for the Gunners.

One positive is that Aubameyang netted the equaliser against the Saints – just his third league goal of the season. He has scored four times in as many starts against Everton – he only has more goals against Burnley (seven) and Watford (six) in the Premier League than the Toffees.

 

CALLUM WILSON

An alternative to Aubameyang could be Wilson, who has been directly involved in 10 Premier League goals in 11 appearances for Newcastle United.

His seven goals and three assists mean he has contributed to seven more goals than any other Magpies player so far.

Newcastle take on Fulham on Saturday, with Scott Parker's team having drawn their last two games - versus Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion.

 

HARRY KANE

Before bursting onto the Premier League scene with Tottenham, Kane spent time on loan with Leicester, and against no club has he scored more in all competitions.

Kane has netted 16 times against the Foxes – five more than against any other team.

With Spurs having failed to win their last two games, their talisman will be determined to continue that form and get Mourinho's men back on track, though Leicester will be no pushovers.

PATRICK BAMFORD

Leeds United forward Bamford moved onto nine league goals for the season when he drew Marcelo Bielsa's team level with Newcastle on Wednesday.

The Whites went onto win 5-2 and, since Bielsa took charge of Leeds in 2018, no player has scored more goals for the club than Bamford.

In 85 appearances across all competitions, the former Chelsea forward has 35 goals.

 

PEDRO NETO

Diogo Jota's departure to Liverpool and Raul Jimenez's head injury means there is extra onus on Wolves' remaining attackers, and Neto delivered the goods with a last-gasp winner against Chelsea last time out.

Neto has been directly involved in as many goals in 13 Premier League appearances this season – three goals, three assists– as he was in 29 games last season, when he scored four times and set up another two goals.

Sergio Aguero returned to action with a goal as Manchester City closed out their triumphant Champions League group campaign with a routine 3-0 win over Marseille.

Ferran Torres brought the game to life after a goalless first half, continuing an impressive vein of form in Europe's top competition with a smart 48th-minute finish.

Aguero, who has struggled with the after-effects of meniscus surgery over the early months of the season, came off the bench to seal the points 13 minutes from time, offering Pep Guardiola a timely reminder of his qualities ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby at Old Trafford.

Another substitute, Raheem Sterling, completed the scoring for City, who were already through as group winners and can now boast their best-ever Champions League haul of 16 points.

Marseille bow out of continental competition in 2020-21 after five defeats from six outings.

Ilkay Gundogan delivered a wonderful out-swinging free-kick from the right in the 13th minute and Aymeric Laporte should probably have done better than heading over under pressure from Alvaro.

Marseille grew into the contest and, shortly after Eric Garcia's knee injury forced City into a defensive change, Dimitri Payet had a deft finish with the outside of his right foot ruled out for a clear offside.

Garcia's replacement, John Stones, made a vital sliding challenge to deny Valere Germain after Florian Thauvin skipped past Nathan Ake with ease.

Guardiola's attacking half-time change, which saw Sterling replace Gundogan and Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden drop into central attacking midfield positions, paid swift dividends.

Silva drove forward after picking up Stones' pass to play in Mahrez, who laid on Torres for a composed close-range conversion.

Foden twice went close before the hour - scuffing wide on the end of a move he started before shooting too close to Steve Mandanda, who kept out a stinging 65th-minute drive from Kyle Walker.

Torres was unable to convert the rebound on that occasion but Mandanda must have know what was to follow when he parried Ake's firm header from Foden's corner and saw the arch poacher Aguero lurking.

It was Sterling's turn to smuggle the ball home in the final minute when the unfortunate Mandanda could only push Torres' cross onto Alvaro.

What does it mean? Guardiola to go back to the future in Manchester derby

During a forgettable first half, City lined up in a now-familiar 4-2-3-1 and, not for the first-time this season, provided limited goalscoring threat. The half-time rejig, stationing Fernandinho as a lone holder behind energetic and creative runners from midfield, gave the hosts far more teeth. Plenty has changed since Guardiola's tried and trusted 4-3-3 helped City to accrue 198 points across two title-winning seasons and the manager's concerns over vulnerabilities to the counter-attack are valid, especially when considering the threat United will pose.

But when he took the handbreak off - albeit in an admittedly meaningless match - it was easy to wonder whether attack remains the best form of defence for a team now on a run of five consecutive clean sheets.

Torres continues to grow in stature

A close-season signing from Valencia, Torres can reflect on a fine adaptation to his new surroundings. He has only started five of City's 10 Premier League games to date but made it four goals in five Champions League appearances. A winger by trade, the 20-year-old again impressed in a central attacking role. Throw in his Nations League hat-trick in Spain's 6-0 rout of Germany last month and you have an impressive body of work.

Foden fails to make derby case

There is surely no player in Guardiola's squad who would revel more in a winning goal in front of the Stretford End than boyhood City fan Foden. The England playmaker did okay here, attempting five shots and creating two chances, but probably did not do enough to force his manager's hand for the weekend.

What's next?

City make the short trip to face Manchester United on Sunday, needing a win to leapfrog their neighbours in the Premier League table, while Marseille will target a sixth consecutive Ligue 1 victory when they host Monaco.

It was a Premier League weekend when fans returned to grounds and witnessed victories full of swagger for potential title contenders.

Table-topping Tottenham are starting to look like they might go the distance under Jose Mourinho after the prolific partnership between Harry Kane and Son Heung-min made Arsenal's forward line look second rate.

Liverpool returned to winning ways with a confident victory over Wolves at Anfield, this time video technology working in their favour when a penalty given against Sadio Mane was overturned at a key moment.

Manchester City strung together back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time this season, against Fulham, in Pep Guardiola's 250th match in charge of the club while Chelsea briefly went top of the table as Frank Lampard got the better of Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United.

Manchester United once again showed their ability to come from behind, as yet again they claimed an away-day victory after trailing. Even Paul Pogba managed to get on the scoresheet.

Away from the major topics of discussion to emerge over the past few days, we use Opta stats to pinpoint some of the quirkier talking points.

 

Jose's big-game counter-attack plan

Mikel Arteta blamed the lack of cutting edge from his Arsenal players up front as they suffered a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby where Mourinho's side counter-attacked to great effect.

The Gunners certainly saw plenty of the ball during the match (69.8 per cent to Spurs' 30.2), however, this was the 11th time a Mourinho-led side has had 35 per cent possession or lower in a Premier League match.

Mourinho has won nine of those 11 games, although interestingly the two matches he has not claimed have also come in particularly high-profile encounters when he also tried to sit back and hit on the break.

As United manager in 2017, the Red Devils drew 0-0 with Guardiola's City and in 2020 as Spurs head coach he suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool.

Gini enjoys home comforts

Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum's contract situation might be uppermost in the thoughts of many Anfield regulars, given his love of a goal on home turf.

Wijnaldum has scored 26 Premier League goals, and 23 have come at home (88.5 per cent), the highest ratio scored on home soil of any player with 20-plus goals in the competition's history.

Another midfielder, retired former United star Michael Carrick, is next on that list behind the Dutchman with 20 of his 24 goals scored at home at the rate of 83.3 per cent.

But which player is better on the road? Well, former Sunderland and Leeds United forward Michael Bridges tops that list with 15 of his 22 Premier League goals (68.2 per cent) scored away from home.

Sterling pound for pound the best penalty winner

Kevin De Bruyne confidently converted Manchester City's second goal from the penalty spot in a 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday, but he possibly only gave a brief thought for the player who won it.

When Raheem Sterling was upended by Fulham's Joachim Andersen, he became the first player to win 20 penalties in the Premier League.

The next player behind Sterling is Leicester City's Jamie Vardy – who has won 19 penalties. But with Vardy aged 33 and Sterling eight years' younger at 25 it looks like the Manchester City man be good to win a few more spot-kicks in years to come.

Manchester City are currently ranked seventh in the Premier League for penalties won having been awarded 124 spot-kicks.

Solskjaer's super subs love a fightback

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was synonymous with inspiring United fightbacks as a player, often coming from the bench to do so, so it should be no surprise he gets calls right with substitutes as a manager.

All three of United's substitutes (Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata) were directly involved in a goal in their 3-1 win over West Ham.

This is just the second time this has happened for the Red Devils in a Premier League game – previously in August 2017 versus Leicester (Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini).

The Red Devils have also now won more points from losing positions than any other team in Premier League history (385), ahead of Tottenham (383), Arsenal (356), Liverpool (336) and Chelsea (335).

Pep Guardiola said victory over Fulham was the perfect way to celebrate 250 games in charge of Manchester City and 700 overall in management.

The Spaniard's glittering career in has seen him ply his coaching trade in three countries, winning top-flight titles in Spain, Germany and England.

His pursuit of a third Premier League continued with a 2-0 win over Fulham, thanks to a goal from Raheem Sterling and a Kevin De Bruyne penalty.

In his 700 matches to date, Guardiola has tasted victory 507 times and lost just 82 of those, leaving him with a superb win percentage of 72.4.

"Well, important first, of course, is being in the present – the present is the victory, of course," he told City's website.

"You know, my 250 games here at the same time with 700 games I share it with Barcelona people who were there, with Bayern Munich.

"There's a lot of games, a lot of victories, a lot of titles, just, 82 defeats with 700 games when I realised it – wow, how good it was this period together with these three amazing clubs?

"Happy to do this 250 with this club and more to come. So hopefully we can have success in the next period.

"Of course, the rates are good, so a lot of games 700, to have rated more than 70 per pecent victories. So it's really good."

Guardiola praised midfielder Ilkay Gundogan for the way in which he asserted his influence over the game, but warned him not to lose focus with his passing.

Gundogan made 116 passes – more than any other City player – with 89.7 per cent successfully completed.

"Ilkay is incredibly important for us. He has personality," Guardiola added

"Defensively he was good. He lost simple balls and he has to avoid that. But Ilkay is an exceptional player in all situations. He can play more upfront and as a defensive midfielder.

"Overall our finishing was wasteful. We know we have to improve this, but it's important to keep creating the chances.

"In the last 20 minutes we lost too many simple balls, which is a problem. We have to do the simple things better. That is the next step."

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 celebrated victory in his 250th game in charge of Manchester City as goals from Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne gave them a 2-0 win over Fulham in the Premier League.

Sterling opened the scoring for City on Saturday with a clinical finish as he ended a run of six games in all competitions without a goal.

De Bruyne added a second from the penalty spot after Sterling had been clumsily brought down by Fulham's Joachim Andersen.

The Cottagers failed to really test Ederson in the City goal as they managed just a solitary attempt on target in a one-sided contest.

City imposed themselves from the kick-off and Sterling drew a fine near-post save from Fulham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola in the third minute.

Guardiola's side were ahead shortly after when Sterling latched on to a slick pass from De Bruyne before he calmly slotted the ball past Areola.

Fulham tried to soak up City's pressure but Scott Parker's tactical plan was in tatters when Andersen upended Sterling in the box as the forward won the 20th Premier League penalty of his career – more than any other player.

De Bruyne, who missed his last penalty against Liverpool, stepped up and sent Areola the wrong way with a confident spot-kick.

A brief mix-up between Ederson and John Stones on the half-hour saw both players breathe a sigh of relief after the latter's backpass rolled wide of the goal with the City keeper off his line.

It was a brief moment of respite for Fulham and Areola was soon called upon again at the other end of the pitch to keep out a Sterling volley.

De Bruyne continued to provide the impetus for City's attacks after the interval and struck the crossbar after he combined well with Gabriel Jesus.

City went into cruise control for the remainder of the game, although Ivan Cavaleiro briefly flickered into life for Fulham when he cut inside and saw a speculative effort saved by Ederson.

Ruben Dias had the best of City's late chances when he met De Bruyne's deep cross at the back post but could not direct his effort on target.

Raheem Sterling made Premier League history during the first half of Manchester City's game against Fulham on Saturday.

After opening the scoring in the fifth minute, Sterling drew a foul from Fulham captain Joachim Andersen to win a penalty that Kevin De Bruyne converted.

In doing so, the England winger became the first Premier League player to win 20 Premier League penalties.

Jon Moss' decision to point to the spot edges Sterling one ahead of Jamie Vardy, who has earned 19 for Leicester City.

Wilfried Zaha is another player with a chance to reach Sterling's mark, having won 16 - one more than the league's all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer.

Most Premier League penalties won

20 - Raheem Sterling
19 - Jamie Vardy
16 - Wilfried Zaha
15 - Alan Shearer
14 - Andrew Johnson
13 - Luis Suarez , Gabriel Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey
12 - Freddie Ljungberg, Nick Barmby, Ashley Young

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