Manchester City's ambitions are showing no end after missing out on the Champions League title.

City have been linked with star England pair Harry Kane and Jack Grealish to further bolster the Premier League champions.

But the price tags on the duo from Tottenham and Aston Villa may be their stumbling blocks.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SALE TO FUND KANE AND GREALISH MOVES

Manchester City will offload several fringe players to raise £70million in order to fund their moves for Tottenham star Harry Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims the Daily Mail.

With Sergio Aguero departed, City manager Pep Guardiola wants a frontline striker and those surplus to requirements will reportedly be let go.

First-team players Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez all have admirers and could move on.

But also fringe talent like Yangel Herrera, Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Pedro Porro and Lukas Nmecha, who have had loan spells elsewhere, could be cashed in.

Bernardo Silva has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul Niguez, while Juventus are reportedly eyeing Gundogan.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are both keen on Inter's Achraf Hakimi and have lodged €60m (£52m) offers, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter's asking price may be higher, while Chelsea may utilise Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a swap deal.

- Bild says Borussia Dortmund will sell Jadon Sancho to United if they receive a suitable offer by the end of July. Sancho has long been tipped to swap Dortmund for United.

- Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin is being linked with LaLiga champions Atletico and Real Betis by CBS Sport, while Sport have also claimed Juve are interested in the Spaniard, utilising Aaron Ramsey in a swap deal.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, lining up Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are ready this month to step up their bid to sign Jesse Lingard permanently from Manchester United after his excellent loan spell.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Arsenal are set to finalise the details on a new contract for young talent Emile Smith Rowe.

Crystal Palace are closed to appointing former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager to replace Roy Hodgson, claims The Telegraph.

Stade Michel d'Ornano in Caen is a long way from Porto's Estadio do Dragao. To be precise, it's 1,573 kilometers in the unlikely event you ever have the urge to drive across Portugal and Spain, then all the way up to Normandy in northern France.

In terms of staging posts within a career, second tier French football in 2013-14 and the 2021 Champions League final are a million miles apart. But this is the journey Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante have taken, almost stride for stride, as they wait to contest the European club game's greatest prize.

A look at Ligue 2's YouTube highlights from the first time the Manchester City winger and Chelsea midfielder faced one another on September 27, 2013, when Caen hosted Le Havre, reveals a few very familiar traits.

Kante can be seen bustling around with intent from the right of Caen's midfield three, although three-minute condensed match clips are obviously not the best medium for showcasing his qualities.

Mahrez created Le Havre's best first-half chance with a cute throughball, almost snuck in a cheeky free-kick at the near post and then did that first touch. You know the one – kills a cross-field ball stone dead with the outside of his left boot, twists the defender inside out and gets a shot off.

That attempt was saved, however, and a Faycal Fajr penalty after Le Havre's Zargo Toure was sent off gave Caen a 1-0 win. They would go on to secure promotion, beginning a remarkable mid-decade run of success for Kante, irrespective of which team he happened to be representing.

But Mahrez was the first to escape Ligue 2, joining Leicester City midway through the campaign and similarly earning promotion from the Championship.

After an improbable escape from relegation in 2014-15, Leicester parted company with manager Nigel Pearson and appointed Claudio Ranieri. Kante was one of his close-season signings, with Caen pocketing £5.6m, and the rest is gloriously improbable history.

That was a hefty outlay compared to the £400,000 Leicester sent Le Havre's way for Mahrez, who finished the Foxes' Premier League-winning campaign in 2015-16 with 17 goals, 11 assists and the PFA Players' Player of the Year award.

 

While the Algeria winger won the approval of his fellow professionals and Jamie Vardy's astonishing rise from non-league to the top of the English game earned him the FWA Footballer of the Year prize, the biggest revelation was arguably Kante.

"This player Kante, he was running so hard that I thought he must have a pack of batteries hidden in his shorts," Ranieri told the Players' Tribune.

"I tell him, 'One day, I'm going to see you cross the ball and then finish the cross with a header yourself!'."

A run to the final of Euro 2016 followed with France, and Kante was the one jewel of the Leicester triumph to depart in its immediate afterglow. He joined Chelsea for £32m, helped to drive Antonio Conte's men to the Premier League title and cleaned up at the end of season awards.

Twelve months later, he was a world champion as France romped to glory at Russia 2018. Kante was football's sure thing, at club or international level. And yet, in hindsight, the full palate of his qualities were perhaps a touch under-appreciated.

All eulogies came back to that insatiable work-rate, that battery pack in the shorts. Maurizio Sarri's installation as Antonio Conte's successor at Stamford Bridge, bringing with him his cerebral deep-lying playmaker Jorginho, would mean a change of pace.

In his two seasons under Conte, Kante made 127 and 113 tackles. This was down from terrifyingly relentless 175 (winning 71.4 per cent – his best success rate in the Premier League) in that season at Leicester, which does much to explain how his reputation was established and remained in the popular imagination.

 

In 2018-19, his tackles number fell to 74 and it has never returned to previous levels under Frank Lampard or Thomas Tuchel. But as a shuttling midfield presence under Sarri, his 73 touches in the opposition box that season were more than in his entire Premier League career up until that point, with four goals and four assists his reward.

Where some feared Jorginho's arrival would shove Kante out of his preferred position, they now operate very effectively in tandem and will probably do so against City. For all that the former Napoli man is charged with setting the tempo, Kante remains tidily efficient in possession. His pass completion in every season at the Bridge tracks between 85 and 89 per cent.

The 30-year-old stamped his presence all over the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid and was named man of the match for both legs in a 3-1 aggregate triumph. During the second encounter in London, Kante made five interceptions – only bettered by six from Jorginho – but also made more passes in the opposition half (25) and created more chances (three) than any other Chelsea player.

This week in Porto, UEFA is displaying the Champions League trophy in a public square opposite Jardim de Joao Chagas. The shimmering prize is flanked by a City shirt bearing Kevin De Bruyne's name and number. The Chelsea jersey has Kante on the back. He is unquestionably one of the main attractions and keys to victory this weekend.

The same can be said for Mahrez, although his adjustment to life in Manchester was not as seamless as Kante's in England's capital.

As his old team-mate adapted to Sarri, Mahrez struggled to take on board Guardiola's demands having got the £60m move he had long craved. However, his 2019-20 returns showed improvements, with 11 Premier League goals and nine assists – up from seven and four a year earlier. Waiting patiently on the right-wing for his team-mates to disrupt opponents and leave him with one-on-one duels was different to the freedom he enjoyed at Leicester but starting to pay dividends.

He is now one of Guardiola's go-to men, came second behind Ruben Dias in City's player of the year poll and is a scorer of heavy goals.

When the Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund was on the line, 2-2 on aggregate with his team heading out on away goals at Signal Iduna Park, Mahrez slammed home a high-pressure penalty after an interminable VAR delay. He went on to score a goal in each leg as Paris Saint-Germain were swept aside 4-1 on aggregate, including the winner through a disintegrating defensive wall at the Parc des Princes.

"Riyad always was at a good level," Guardiola said earlier this month. "Maybe at the beginning he didn’t play much in the first season because we already had a structure with Leroy [Sane] and the other ones, but step by step he regained his position.

"Lately he has been playing really good and hopefully he can maintain this level."

At the other end of the square where Kante's shirt stands alongside the trophy he hopes to lift this weekend, UEFA have installed a merchandise stall where a shirt to commemorate the all-English final will set you back €60.

That amounts to fleecing that could not be further away from the value for money Leicester enjoyed when they plucked Mahrez and Kante from France and set them on the path to Porto.

Pep Guardiola lauded Riyad Mahrez's appetite for the big occasion after the Manchester City winger's brace secured a 2-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain and a place in the Champions League final.

Mahrez's free-kick sealed a 2-1 win at Parc des Princes in last week's first leg and he netted a goal in each half on Tuesday to close out a 4-1 aggregate triumph.

The former Leicester City favourite has found the going tough at times since joining City in 2018 but he is now a go-to pick for Guardiola, his four goals and two assists in this season's competition putting the club one game away from elusive Champions League glory.

"Riyad is an extraordinary player – big talent, huge quality, especially in the big games he is always ready," City manager Guardiola told a post-match news conference.

"We know his quality quite well. He is a fantastic player.

"The players in these stages are judged how they behave in the biggest scenarios, the big tests.

"He loves it and enjoys it. He made a good goal, the first one with right foot and the finish for the second. Three goals over the tie, he deserves big compliments.

Fernandinho was a surprise selection on his 36th birthday, but Guardiola felt the club captain excelled.

"Especially in the second half he was incredible," said Guardiola. "We adjusted a little bit [at half-time] to support John [Stones] and Ruben [Dias].

"He was so good, really, really good. It was his birthday, a big present. He has been an extraordinary captain this season, leading us in bad moments and he played really well."

Guardiola conceded it was strange to play such a key game behind closed doors, even if that has now been a reality of the coronavirus pandemic for almost a year.

Before the match, a group of City fans – some with flares – gathered to welcome the team bus to the ground.

"I have to say it was socially distanced but we loved it," Guardiola said. "It's nice to be in a final but we missed them."

"Of course, it was so weird playing the semi-final of the Champions League in empty stadium.

"The club belongs to the people, that's for sure. We are here for a period but the fans always stay. I am pretty sure they are so proud."

Riyad Mahrez was delighted with the way Manchester City effectively countered against Paris Saint-Germain, although he suggested this was not their aim in their Champions League semi-final victory.

City reached the final of Europe's elite club competition for the first time with a 2-0 second-leg win that clinched a 4-1 aggregate triumph.

Mahrez had hit the winner in Paris and added both goals at the Etihad Stadium, where the pitch was covered in hail following a pre-match shower.

His first came following a long pass from Ederson – "It's something we work at all the time," Mahrez said – before Phil Foden led a stunning break for the second.

City were sloppy in possession in the opening stages but defended doggedly and soon found space in attack as PSG pressed forward.

"I don't think it was the game plan, but obviously they had to come at us," Mahrez told BT Sport.

"Sometimes, we were a bit deeper, they lose the ball and we are good at the counter as well. That's how the two goals were. We are happy."

As well as his two goals, Mahrez weighed in with a tackle, two clearances and a block. All 10 outfield starters contributed at least one clearance for City.

"When you play the semi-final of the Champions League, you have to be solid, everybody has to defend, everyone has to contribute defensively," Mahrez added.

"That's what we did. We were very solid today, didn't concede much, and that is why we're in the final."

PSG ended with 10 men after Angel Di Maria was dismissed for stamping on Fernandinho, one of many late incidents as the visitors lost their discipline.

The Ligue 1 giants only conceded 12 fouls but earned five cards and might have got off lightly.

Reflecting on the match, Mahrez said: "It was a very good game. We didn't start good again. I don't think we had a very good first half, but we scored the goal and it was more comfortable after the goal.

"Second half I think we played very good; we had a lot of chances, we could score more.

"Then they lost their nerves and started kicking us. It was good. They had a red card and after it was more comfortable for us."

For much of his pre-match news conference, Pep Guardiola stuck to a familiar mantra of recent weeks.

Manchester City were 2-1 to the good against Paris Saint-Germain, with two away goals in the bank and a first Champions League final within touching distance.

All they had to do was "be who we are" and "be more calm". A two-time winner burnt five times at this stage of the competition with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola exuded an authoritative air.

However, when the rampaging nature of some of City's European exits were put to him – most notably Mauricio Pochettino's previous visit to the Etihad Stadium with Tottenham – he conceded there was only so much he could do.

"Nobody can control the chaos," Guardiola said. Perhaps he'd checked the weather forecast.

Enjoying loosened COVID-19 restrictions, Manchester's beer gardens thronged with punters last weekend. A couple of hours before kick-off, a weather front blew in from somewhere near Old Testament Egypt.

Snow and hail flecked the first-half playing surface, but there was little cool about City's opening to proceedings.

Within 30 seconds, Phil Foden charged into Alessandro Florenzi. A minute later Fernandinho – Guardiola's customary flirtation with a surprise selection on these occasions – offered a similarly agricultural "Good evening!" to Angel Di Maria that apparently lingered.

Kyle Walker blocked from Neymar, Bernardo Silva blocked from Di Maria and then Walker erred to be outfoxed by Marco Verratti.

Of all the masterful playmakers on display, Verratti was the one who best retained his balletic poise despite the conditions. After half an hour, the Italy playmaker had completed 28 of his 29 passes, 18 of those probing menacingly inside the City half.

The hosts were creaking when referee Bjorn Kuipers awarded an absurd seventh-minute penalty. The ball struck Oleksandr Zinchenko's shoulder. Kuipers checked the monitor sheepishly and overturned his call while Zinchenko unloaded barrels of frustration and emotional energy in the direction of his assistant.

"Nobody can control the chaos."

Well, maybe Ederson can, high-risk/low-pulse goalkeeping replicant that he is. City finally enjoyed a period of smooth possession, moving the ball back to their Brazilian gloveman.

It might not be exactly "who we are" in Guardiola terms, but Ederson's booming 90-yard pass down the left was immaculate. Zinchenko, propelled by a mixture of shrewd positional play and righteous indignation, charged onto the pass.

Kevin De Bruyne was unable to convert, his shot blocked, but Riyad Mahrez was alert to the loose ball, becoming the second player from an English club to score in both legs of a Champions League semi-final after Sadio Mane in 2017-18.

Still, City did not completely settle. One ludicrously dicey roll out from Ederson to Silva saw Di Maria steal in and fire just wide from outside the box.

However, with Kylian Mbappe convalescing on the bench, PSG began to look a touch one-dimensional. The threat of the France star's electric pace in behind was replaced by Mauro Icardi's cloak of invisibility. By the time the former Inter striker was substituted in the 62nd minute, none of his 16 touches remained in the memory.

Mbappe's absence meant everything was happening in front of City and, although their defence had plenty of work to do, Walker, the irrepressible Zinchenko and John Stones all enjoyed stellar nights.

One exceptional Zinchenko challenge to deny Neymar early in the second half saw Stones envelope his diminutive colleague in a bear hug. At that stage in the contest, it was as valuable as any goal.

Then there was Ruben Dias. Perhaps nobody can control the chaos, but the hulking Portugal centre-back could probably block it.

No City player made more than Dias' three blocks. One of those appeared to be with his nose when Ander Herrera blasted goalwards. The former Benfica skipper bounced back up, looking convinced that there is no more fun to be had in the world than stopping a shot in a Champions League semi-final with your face.

Mahrez might beg to differ. Life in Manchester has not always been easy for the ex-Leicester City favourite, but he is now one of Guardiola's go-to men and a supplier of cutting edge within a team of whirring creators.

Two of those – De Bruyne and the now habitually brilliant Phil Foden – combined to create a wonderful second for Mahrez.

Chaos then consumed PSG, their race run. Di Maria kicked out at Fernandinho – Brazil getting one over on Argentina in that eternal battle of perpetual antagonism – and there was plenty more erratic nonsense to follow. Zinchenko was still adorably furious, but elsewhere there was a steely calm and abundant class in sky blue.

Mahrez rounded out his night of nights by doing a Dias, haring back into his own area to make a block. It nearly summarised a tale of mission almost accomplished, of chaos controlled.

Five years have passed since Leicester City stunned the football world and sealed their astonishing first Premier League triumph.

The Foxes had faced relegation the previous season before rallying late in the year but then stormed clear at the summit in 2015-16.

Leicester are now regular Champions League challengers, yet the story of that campaign remains remarkable.

With Opta data, we tell the tale of their title success through their three key performers.
 

VARDY'S GOALS

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches football fairytale story is well documented, but by this point in his career it is fair to say he had not yet made the grade in the Premier League. 

Having scored 16 times in their 2013-14 promotion campaign, Vardy scored one, created two more and won a pair of penalties for the further goals in a delirious 5-3 defeat of Manchester United in September 2014, then did not net again until March 2015.

Team-mate David Nugent provided an obvious, easy comparison, the player too good for the second tier but not good enough for the top flight.

Nugent's 20 goals in 46 games in 2013-14 improved his Championship tally to 90 in 254. He had found the net only nine times across 64 Premier League appearances, though, and would add just five more from 29 matches for Leicester.

But where Nugent's 2014-15 season followed a familiar, underwhelming theme, Vardy improved drastically over the course of a relentless run-in.

Playing a vital role as seven wins from nine games lifted Leicester from the foot of the table, Vardy ended the season with five goals and eight assists. Three of his five strikes came from fast breaks, having been involved in 11 counter-attacks – the fifth-most of any Premier League player – as the Foxes found an effective way of playing.

Leicester had fewer fast breaks in 2015-16 (21) than the previous year (34) but still led the league in this regard and scored from six such counters. Four of those goals came from Vardy among a breakout 24 for the season.

Freed by a quick, direct set-up, Vardy ranked fourth in the league for shots (115), second for shots on target (53) and third for touches in the opposition box (221). The ultimate confidence player, Vardy scored in a record-breaking 11 consecutive matches.

The tireless forward maintained his nuisance factor, too, winning possession in the final third 33 times and earning seven penalties – both league highs.

The Leicester number nine took 20.87 per cent of his chances but only marginally outperformed his expected goals (xG) total, his 19 non-penalty goals coming from shots worth a top-ranked 18.34 xG.

Vardy has since become more clinical – peaking with 28.17 per cent shot conversion in 2017-18 – but has never again been so busy in the area.

MAHREZ'S GUILE

Anthony Knockaert also fell into that Nugent group, lasting a mere nine games at Leicester in the top flight having created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes in the first of his three Championship promotion campaigns.

Riyad Mahrez, signed in January 2014, was the Foxes' other star winger and also struggled in his debut Premier League season. Having been involved in seven goals in 19 Championship outings, he could only match that tally again across an entire year in the top division.

As with Vardy, though, Leicester's late-season resurgence allowed the Algeria international to carry momentum into the new campaign; he started the final four matches of 2014-15 and netted both goals in a win over Southampton.

And the improvement in Mahrez's play was even more pronounced.

There were two more goals against Sunderland on the opening day, among 13 by Christmas alongside seven assists. That pace slowed – he finished with 17 goals and 11 assists – but Mahrez trailed only Vardy for goal involvements.

Despite this, Mahrez was far from the most prolific creator. His 68 key passes ranked eighth but made up less than half of leader Mesut Ozil's output (146). Mahrez crafted high-quality openings, however, second only to Ozil (28) in creating 20 'big chances' – situations where Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

This was all the more impressive as Mahrez was also required to provide an outlet for a side with the third-lowest average possession (42.4 per cent) in the division. Only Wilfried Zaha (274 to 255) attempted more dribbles, while nobody completed more (131).

Mahrez has never once attempted 100 dribbles in a season since joining Manchester City, but the close control and spellbinding skill that is merely another option at the Etihad Stadium then attracted defenders and opened space for sprinters Vardy, Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp.

KANTE'S GRAFT

Gokhan Inler was presumed to be the replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had led Leicester's rescue act from midfield with five goals – as many as Vardy – at the age of 34.

Inler started only three games but for good reason. Fellow new signing N'Golo Kante was perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Foxes. Opponents might have dominated possession but they could never rest.

Kante, at Caen, had led Ligue 1 midfielders in tackles (178), tackles won (146) and interceptions (110) and ranked second for recoveries (369) in 2014-15.

The transition to the Premier League was seamless. He was first again for tackles (175), tackles won (125) and interceptions (156), although he fell to third in terms of recoveries (326). The man in second was Leicester team-mate Danny Drinkwater.

What the Foxes lacked without the experience of Cambiasso, Kante's bite more than made up for.

The midfielder became more careful in possession following his move, too, losing the ball with just 18.1 per cent of his touches, the lowest rate of any Leicester player with 1,000 touches or more and an improvement on his 23.4 per cent with Caen.

Even then, it was not as straightforward as a single signing fixing every issue. Idrissa Gueye, another Ligue 1 recruit, ranked second in tackles, tackles won and interceptions and first in recoveries yet was relegated with Aston Villa.

But Kante's infectious tenacity set the standard at the King Power Stadium and only Tottenham blocked a greater share of their opponents' shots (32.7 per cent) than Leicester (30.6), contributing to a conversion rate of just 6.9 per cent.

When Kante then left for Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, struggling Leicester waited only until January before signing another tough tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, one of just two players – the other being Gueye – to have since registered 130 or more tackles in a single Premier League season (each doing so twice).

In that time, nobody has been able to match Kante's title-winning mark.

Manchester City produced a sensational second-half turnaround to seize control of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez getting the goals in a 2-1 first-leg triumph.

A pulsating contest at the Parc des Princes saw PSG take a 15th minute lead when captain Marquinhos – returning to action from a groin injury – headed in at a corner.

However, having been second best during the first half, City were vastly improved after the break, an equaliser arriving when De Bruyne's curling delivery into the penalty area drifted beyond everybody to find the net.

An 18th straight away triumph for Pep Guardiola's side was secured courtesy of a Mahrez free-kick that found a gap in the wall and, having lost control of the game, PSG then lost their cool in the closing stages, Idrissa Gueye shown a straight red for a dangerous challenge on Ilkay Gundogan.

There had been little sign of the drama to come at half-time. The hosts were deservedly ahead after Marquinhos – who had not played since scoring in a 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the quarter-final first leg – had flicked in a deliciously whipped-in delivery from Angel Di Maria.

City's best chance to equalise before the break came when the hosts gifted them possession, but Phil Foden was only able to shoot straight at Keylor Navas when afforded a clear sight of the target.

Yet Pep Guardiola's side penned PSG in to change the complexion of the tie completely. They had a 65.1 per cent share of possession after the interval, leading to them getting two crucial away goals ahead of the return fixture next week.

De Bruyne appeared to be aiming for a team-mate but ended up scoring himself, though there was no doubt Mahrez meant his strike, PSG crumbling under pressure.

While there is still work to do back in Manchester, a first-ever Champions League final appearance for the club is within City's grasp thanks to an unforgettable night in Paris.

Pep Guardiola refused to recognise the Champions League as a greater priority for his Manchester City side as they also close on the Premier League title.

City have never won Europe's premier club competition and are playing in the semi-finals for just the second time.

They face Paris Saint-Germain in France on Wednesday and then host the Ligue 1 giants, last year's beaten finalists, next Tuesday.

Between those two matches, City could win the Premier League. If they defeat Crystal Palace and defending champions Liverpool win at Manchester United, Guardiola's men will reclaim that crown.

While acknowledging his club have been building towards a Champions League challenge over the past decade, Guardiola was keen to talk up City's continued domestic success.

They claimed silverware in the EFL Cup final on Sunday, a competition they have won in four consecutive campaigns.

"It's the second time we are there [in the Champions League semis]; of course we are not the elite in this competition, that's for sure, but we want to be there," said Guardiola, reaching this stage for a record-equalling eighth time.

"When the owners took over a decade ago they took steps to improve in England first of all, in the Premier League, in the cups, then this.

"The owners and managers and staff got this position right now. Every time we play this competition and we are lucky to live right now where we are.

"Right now I'm incredibly happy to travel with this club to Paris to be ourselves and play this semi-final with the target to win the game.

"And after, go to Crystal Palace to win one of the two games to win the Premier League, the most important competition. The Champions League is the nicest one but the most important is the Premier League.

"After, next Tuesday in Manchester, we play Paris to try to reach the final."

City are looking for a 10th Champions League win of the season, a mark never previously reached by an English club in the competition's current format.

Only Real Madrid in 2011-12 have previously had 10 victories in a campaign without lifting the title.

Guardiola will not get complacent and expects a tough test against PSG, who are bidding to become the ninth European Cup/Champions League team to reach back-to-back finals, but he is also determined City will enjoy the experience.

"We know we will suffer. I know the weapons they have up front," he said. "Everyone who loves football knows the quality they have.

"But we're in the Champions League semi-finals, what can you expect? PSG is not just two players, they are many situations. We have to know them and try to attack them.

"I will not play 90 minutes thinking how good this player is, just how to beat them. I learned from Johan Cruyff: you have to enjoy the game, enjoy the responsibility.

"Top players enjoy situations because they enjoy responsibility - that's why the greatest players win this competition, because they play it like a friendly game.

"The mythical sentence [from Cruyff] before the final in 1992 in Wembley was to go out and enjoy.

"I will not tell the players that - I'm no Cruyff - but enjoy the travel, the coffee in their airport, the hotel, watching the other game tonight, the walk, the training.

"We're privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season. It's what I want to see in my players. That's why Cruyff had this idea.

"Once we arrive in the final, it's not to be worried or concerned in case we lose. If we lose, we try again next season.

"Once you arrive in these stages, you're nervous because you think of the consequences, not the pleasure of trying to beat them.

"This is the mindset of the greatest players in all the sports: we did it already, we try to do it the next one."

Winger Riyad Mahrez was speaking alongside Guardiola and described last season's quarter-final defeat to Lyon as "the biggest disappointment in my career".

But he and his City team-mates are not content simply making the last four.

Paris-born Mahrez said: "You have to show that you deserve to be here and deserve to be in the final. That's what we have to try to do tomorrow."

He added: "The Champions League is the thing we're missing. I don't think anyone in our team has won it before. In Europe, it's the best thing you can play for and win.

"If we can try to first go in the final, then we will see. The most important thing is tomorrow. Tomorrow we have to make a good game and try to go through."

Riyad Mahrez admitted he was "scared" Manchester City would be hit by a Tottenham sucker-punch before Aymeric Laporte's header secured EFL Cup final glory at Wembley.

A dynamic City performance lacked just one thing as the trophy match entered its last 10 minutes: a goal.

Then Laporte leapt to head Kevin De Bruyne's free-kick past the busy Hugo Lloris and all was well in City's world, a fourth successive EFL Cup triumph and the first part of a possible treble secured.

City had 21 goal attempts to earn a 1-0 win while Tottenham had only two, both from outside the penalty area. The return of Harry Kane meant Spurs could cling to the presence of their talisman, but they could not provide him with service in the penalty area.

With 62.2 per cent of possession, it felt inevitable City's pressure would pay off, and eventually that proved to be the case.

Mahrez told Sky Sports: "It was a tough game. We knew it was going to be tough. We stayed focused, we kept dominating, we kept passing the ball and then we scored and I think we deserved to win."

The prospect of Tottenham making City pay for their wasted chances was in the back of the mind though, as Mahrez admitted.

"Obviously you're always scared because it's a good team, but we were very confident again," he said. "It's a very good win. We get the trophy again and we're very happy.

"Just like the manager said, we focus on every competition we play. It was the final and in a final you have to win, whether you play good or not. I think we played good and we won."

City are now level with Liverpool as the most successful team in this competition's history, with eight triumphs.

They look bankers for the Premier League title and have the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Wednesday. That is the title City want most of all.

Mahrez said having supporters at Wembley made a "massive difference" to Sunday's occasion. Only 8,000 were allowed into the stadium that can seat 90,000, as English football begins its slow crawl back to normality, with the COVID-19 pandemic having led to empty stands.

"It was so good to have the fans back," Mahrez said. "The atmosphere, even with 8,000, was amazing and we're looking forward to having more fans there."

Pep Guardiola has suggested Raheem Sterling needs to rediscover his confidence if he is to usurp Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City's starting XI.

Sterling has been an important performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but has started just two of City's past eight games across all competitions.

He was in the XI for all three of England's World Cup qualifiers during the recent international break, scoring in a 5-0 win against San Marino.

Sterling started City's surprise Premier League defeat to Leeds United yet was back on the bench for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Borussia Dortmund, during which both Mahrez and Foden scored to seal a place in the last four.

"He's maybe the second or third player with the most minutes this season," the City boss told a media conference.

"The trust with Raheem is intact. He's only played less because Phil and Riyad are at the top level, scoring goals and being so decisive in the final third.

"The confidence, he has to have it. He has it from all of us, he has to have it because the quality is there. I cannot give the players confidence, he can have it for himself.

"Having confidence from me, for being selected, is completely the opposite. What we have done in these incredible years, with this amount of titles and records that went on, Raheem has been key.

"He was a key player and is a key player. But at this moment Phil is playing really good and Riyad is playing really good. That's the only reason. They know it. They know it and everybody plays a lot of minutes this season.

"Every day, people want to take what happened in the past and future. I could not care less. I don't care. I care about the training sessions, how you were, how you behave, about the body language, your mood, and then tomorrow, semi-final day, that's when you have to talk.

"We have excellent human beings, the relationship in the locker room in bad moments this season was fantastic and in good moments it's fantastic."

Meanwhile, Guardiola confirmed Zack Steffen will start against Chelsea ahead of first-choice goalkeeper Ederson.

The United States international has started all four of City's games in the FA Cup this season and Guardiola acknowledged it would not be fair on the 26-year-old to drop him for the clash with Thomas Tuchel's side.

"He's played really well in the FA Cup," Guardiola explained. "He's an international goalkeeper and when he has played he has played at a good level. He's training well, he deserves it. I am more than delighted to give him this opportunity."

Pep Guardiola insists Raheem Sterling is only out of the Manchester City side due to the "incredible, incredible, incredible top form" of Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

Sterling has been a key performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but a scoreless outing in last month's 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton stands as his only start in City's past six matches across all competitions.

He was in the first XI for all three of England's World Cup qualifiers during the recent international break, scoring against San Marino.

The 26-year-old was back to a substitute's role when the Premier League leaders took on Leicester City last weekend before failing to feature in the 2-1 Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

Sterling might have the chance to press his claims once again when City host Leeds United on Saturday, with Guardiola expected to ring the changes.

Both men denied a reported bust-up in the aftermath of last month's Manchester derby defeat and the City manager insists the form of midweek matchwinner Foden and Mahrez – who was named PFA Premier League Player of the Month for March on Friday – is what has forced his hand.

"Raheem has been so important in our period here since we arrived, nothing would have been possible without him," he said.

"Right now, I decided because I see Riyad and Phil in incredible, incredible, incredible top form. This is the only reason why, there is not another one.

"Phil, you see the last 30 minutes he played against Dortmund, he created all the chances that we had [after] 1-0, he scored the last goal with an incredible control and assist from Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan].

"And Riyad, the last month always has been so decisive, so this is the only reason why.

"He's important for the team and the club, there's no doubt about that. That was the reason for the selection."

Mahrez and Foden more creative

Since the turn of the year, during which time City have won 24 of 25 games across all competitions, Sterling has started 15 matches compared to 16 apiece for Mahrez and Foden.

Foden leads the way with 1,480 minutes, to 1,312 for his England counterpart and 1,462 for the Algeria international.

Despite missing a couple of gilt-edged chances before his winner, Foden's eye for goal has been a notable feature of City's campaign, and his seven goals for 2021 is more than Mahrez (five), who is outscored by Sterling (six) over the period in question.

However, operating nominally as wide forwards, Foden (38) and Mahrez (34) have created considerably more chances than Sterling (19) this calendar year and are second only to Kevin De Bruyne (44) in the City squad. That output has yielded six assists for Mahrez, five for Foden – level with De Bruyne - and three for Sterling.

Mahrez's 47 crosses from open play are more than any other City player in 2021, with Foden's 28 coming in behind De Bruyne (34) and Joao Cancelo (33). Sterling is back on 13, with one completed.

The former Liverpool man's dribbling prowess remains to the fore, with the most attempted (79) and completed (38) among his team-mates during this period. Mahrez boasts an impressive dribble success rate of 55 per cent thanks to 33 out of 60, while Foden has completed 26 of 53 after tormenting Dortmund at times.

Looking after the ball

This season, Guardiola's City have often seemed to play in a more controlled fashion and the manager underlined the importance of retaining possession in all areas of the field.

"There are players who are incredible to make movements in behind, runs in behind and there are others who have the quality to not lose the ball in any circumstances," he said.

"They are good at keeping the ball and sometimes, in some games, we need this more than the other situations.

"Some players suit better the way we have to play than the other ones, just for the skills, not being on bad form or whatever."

While acknowledging Sterling, Foden and Mahrez are each very well-rounded attackers, Sterling's forte lies more with the piercing runs in behind that Guardiola identifies.

Mahrez and Foden – as you might expect for a player who came through City's ranks as a central midfielder – tend to be a little more reliable in possession and this could further explain Guardiola's recent thinking.

Creative attacking players generally rack up more instances of possession lost due to the kind of passes and dribbles they attempt, so a good measure of how well they use the ball is to calculate their giveaways as a percentage of their overall touches.

In 2021, 1,067 touches and 202 instances of giving away possession amounts to 18.9 per cent for Mahrez, making him the most judicious of the trio.

Foden has lost possession 221 times from 1,008 touches (21.9 per cent) but Sterling's percentage is a little higher at 22.3 despite only 883 touches (possession lost 197 times).

This aspect might not be to the fore if Saturday's showdown with Leeds is similarly chaotic to October's 1-1 draw at Elland Road, but it is perhaps the desire for elusive Champions League glory that has persuaded Guardiola to seek greater control, leaving Foden and Mahrez as his go-to men and Sterling with unfamiliar work to do.

Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez netted doubles as Manchester City returned to winning ways with a raucous 5-2 victory over Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola's men saw a 21-match winning run in all competitions ended by Manchester United at the weekend, and some of the defensive problems from that 2-0 defeat remained as James Ward-Prowse scored a first-half equaliser from the penalty spot and Che Adams was on target before the hour.

However, an unexpectedly open contest worked in De Bruyne and Mahrez's favour, while Ilkay Gundogan chipped in with his 14th goal of the season in first-half stoppage time.

City are 14 points clear of United at the Premier League summit having played a game more, with their rivals in Europa League action this midweek.

The leaders started poorly but scored from their first attack of note in the 15th minute– De Bruyne making sure on the goal-line after clattering the crossbar when Alex McCarthy parried Phil Foden's shot into his path.

Southampton were undeterred, with Ederson tipping Nathan Redmond's low strike behind and denying Jannik Vestergaard from the resulting corner.

Unfortunately for the City goalkeeper, Aymeric Laporte pulled back Vestergaard when trying to deal with the loose ball the latter save and Ward-Prowse made no mistake from the spot.

City felt they should have had a penalty of their own when McCarthy was played into trouble by Mohammed Salisu's backpass and hurtled into Foden.

A quickfire double from Guardiola's side undid all of Saints' good work – Mahrez snaffling a shocking pass from Adams to curl in a wonderful finish before Gundogan poached their third after the Algeria winger's shot hit the post.

McCarthy saw enough of a Foden drive through a throng of bodies to save five minutes into the second half but he had no chance when Mahrez shimmied to engineer room and thump home with his trusty left foot.

A pattern of ricochets falling pleasingly for attackers continued as Adams reduced the arrears but, following another McCarthy stop to frustrate Foden, the England midfielder laid off for De Bruyne to storm into the Saints box and rifle into the bottom corner.

In the final half hour, the unlucky Foden and substitute Ferran Torres came closest to adding further gloss to the scoreline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester City moved 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday. 

With in-form goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan missing through injury, it was fellow midfielders Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva who stretched City's winning run to 17 games in all competitions. 

Mahrez struck a sublime second for City in the second half, his fourth league goal on this ground, after a fortuitous Richarlison effort had cancelled out Foden's deflected opener. 

Silva's third 13 minutes from time – shortly before Kevin De Bruyne made a return from injury off the bench – ensured Carlo Ancelotti's side have only won twice in eight league games in 2021, and their season is in danger of unravelling. 

City controlled the first half-hour but Everton limited them to few chances, with Michael Keane covering well to deny Gabriel Jesus the clearest opening. 

The Toffees went behind in unfortunate fashion 32 minutes in, Foden's right-foot shot flying past Jordan Pickford via a big deflection off Seamus Coleman.

The lead last only six minutes, though. Coleman's cross from the right was smashed goalwards by Lucas Digne – Everton's first shot of the match – and the ball came back off the post and bounced in off Richarlison's knee. 

The second half followed a similar pattern, Jesus and Rodri each missing the target from presentable chances, although Gylfi Sigurdsson led two promising breaks for Everton that should perhaps have yielded more. 

City's pressure told 63 minutes in, Mahrez cutting in from the right and curling a superb strike in off the left-hand post after Silva had created some space. 

Silva capped a fine performance with the decisive third, collecting Jesus' lay-off, working space on the edge of the box and firing in a shot that Pickford could only parry into the net.


What does it mean? Record-breaking City continue title charge 

City's lead at the top over Manchester United now stands at 10 points after 24 games and, on current form, it is a gap that looks unlikely to be bridged. 

This was their sixth league win in a row over Everton and made it 10 consecutive top-flight victories to start the calendar year, surpassing the record of nine first set by Bolton Wanderers in 1906 and then United in 2009. 

Everton, who have lost three league games at home in a row for the first time in five years, stay seventh. 

Silva service 

Everton were just beginning to look comfortable in defence when Silva produced the telling impact, pulling apart the backline to set up Mahrez and then rifling home a goal of his own. 

The Portugal midfielder misplaced just two of his 62 passes, 43 of which were in the Everton half. 

Mina injury adds to mounting Everton worries 

Yerry Mina went off injured in the first half to leave Everton's task even more daunting, as well as give Ancelotti a selection headache ahead of the weekend trip to Liverpool. 

The Italian last lost three league games at home in a row back when he was in charge of Milan in 2006 and, with Southampton and Chelsea to play after the champions, this could be a tough few weeks for him. 

What's next? 

City head to Arsenal on Sunday, with Everton next up at the home of the champions for Saturday's Merseyside derby. 

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