Pep Guardiola applauded Manchester City's victory over Newcastle United, describing the 2-0 triumph as their "performance of the season".

City eased past Newcastle thanks to goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres to move within five points of Premier League leaders Liverpool on Saturday.

Guardiola's City have kept 13 clean sheets in all competitions this season – more than any other team in the top five European leagues in 2020-21.

Speaking afterwards, a happy Guardiola told reporters: "It was the best performance of the season. Our football has to be played in one rhythm so we cannot play in a rhythm that has ups and downs so quickly.

"You have to make a tempo that makes a lot, a thousand-million, passes in the right moment to attack. To do this everyone has to be in his position and everyone has to do his job. Today was a big example, unfortunately, playing a team always with 10 players behind is not easy to attack but the guys were really good.

"I'm so glad about the way we played. That's always a consequence for the points we get. We have another victory, we climb some positions, and now we can't stop in the good or bad moments, we need to be calm because in less than 44 hours we'll have another game and we're going to Goodison Park to try to play well first of all.

"The result is always the consequences of the way you played. This was our success in the past and we're going to continue in the next years."

Gundogan opened the scoring in the 14th minute before Torres doubled the lead 10 minutes into the second half at home to visiting Newcastle.

Raheem Sterling's assist for Gundogan was his 150th goal involvement in all competitions since Guardiola joined City in 2016 (96 goals and 54 assists) – more than any other player at the club in that time, per Opta.

City have won all seven games in all competitions in which Torres has scored for the team, with five of his seven strikes coming at the Etihad Stadium.

Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker, meanwhile, missed the clash due to coronavirus, after the star City pair and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Asked about Jesus and Walker, City manager Guardiola said: "Listen the last thing I think right now is without Gabriel and Kyle is a problem for the team. What we want, what I want is Gabriel and Kyle being [tested] positive but not getting worse and being asymptomatic and pass these 10 days without any symptoms.

"COVID is here, it's not here in Manchester, it's in many cities all around the world. That's why we have to be careful and what we want is for them to recover in the next days. And we are going to wait for them. We are looking forward to seeing them again. Without them, we're going to move forward. The team, the guys who want to join us and commit to the team, what we want to do all together, they will more be than welcome.

"So the guys who think about what is best for the team, the guys who think I have to give something for the team, even it's worse for me those guys will be part of the team forever. If the guy doesn't want it, they will be the problem."

Andrea Pirlo should have kept quiet rather than wade in on Napoli's successful appeal against their 3-0 forfeit defeat to Juventus and one-point penalty, according to Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli did not turn up for their game in Turin in October and were also docked a point by Serie A after arguing they were banned from travelling by local health authorities as Piotr Zielinski, Eljif Elmas and a member of staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

Juventus also reported two positive cases among staff a day before the game but made clear they intended to play the match at the Allianz Stadium.

Pirlo named a starting XI but the game did not go ahead due to Napoli's absence and was officially abandoned, but the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) ruled the Partenopei had ignored the coronavirus protocols in place, which state a team must fulfil an fixture if they have 13 available players, including a goalkeeper.

Napoli refused to drop the matter and took the case to the Italian National Olympic Committee's (CONI) Collegio di Garanzia dello Sport – the highest sports authority in the country – and it ruled in the club's favour on Tuesday, with the rescheduled game set to take place in 2021.

Pirlo appeared to take a swipe at the ruling this week, saying: "I'm sorry for the other teams who have travelled and lost points without saying anything, leaving and playing without those who had COVID-19. I'm more sorry for them than for us."

Napoli president De Laurentiis was not impressed with Pirlo's remarks and said he should stick to coaching instead of commenting on matters of law.

"Pirlo is not a lawyer by trade, he does not know certain procedures and does not know what has happened in terms of protocols," De Laurentiis told Radio Capital.

"Pirlo should be a coach and that's it, leave certain answers to his club representatives."

Houston Rockets star James Harden was fined $50,000 but avoided suspension for violating the NBA's health and safety protocols.

The Rockets' clash against the Oklahoma City Thunder, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed after three Houston players returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive for coronavirus.

Harden, who has reportedly requested a trade, was also unavailable after attending a private indoor party on Monday, a violation of the NBA protocols.

The NBA confirmed on Wednesday that the eight-time All-Star had been fined, but avoided a suspension.

"Houston Rockets guard James Harden has been fined $50,000 for violating the league's health and safety protocols, which among other things prohibit attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, president, league operations," a statement read.

"Harden violated these rules when he attended a private indoor party on Monday, December 21."

Napoli have successfully appealed against the 3-0 forfeit defeat to Juventus and subsequent one-point penalty, with the game to be rescheduled in 2021.

Gennaro Gattuso's men did not turn up for their game in Turin in October and were also docked a point by Serie A for failing to fulfil their fixture obligations.

Napoli argued they were banned from travelling by local health authorities as Piotr Zielinski, Eljif Elmas and a member of staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

Juventus also reported two positive cases among staff a day before the game but made clear they intended to play the match at the Allianz Stadium.

Andrea Pirlo named a starting XI but the game did not go ahead due to Napoli's absence and was officially abandoned, but the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) ruled the Partenopei had ignored the coronavirus protocols in place, which states a team must fulfil an fixture if they have 13 available players, including a goalkeeper.

Napoli refused to drop the matter and took the case to the Italian National Olympic Committee's (CONI) Collegio di Garanzia dello Sport – the highest sports authority in the country – and it ruled in the club's favour on Tuesday.

A statement on behalf of the Collegio di Garanzia confirmed the punishment had been "cancelled without postponement".

Lionel Messi is looking forward to football getting back to normal after admitting it is "horrible" to play games without fans present inside stadiums. 

Due to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leagues across Europe continue to carry out fixtures behind closed doors in the 2020-21 season. 

This was also the case to finish the previous campaign, meaning Messi has not played in front of supporters at Camp Nou since LaLiga was paused in March. 

The Argentine superstar feels the impact of empty venues has been felt on the pitch too, as it negates any home advantage for teams and leads to more even contests. 

"It's horrible to play without fans. It's not a nice feeling," Messi told Marca after picking up the Pichichi award for finishing as LaLiga's top scorer in 2019-20. 

"Not seeing anyone in the stadium makes it like training, and it takes a lot to get into the game at the beginning.  

"That's why we see such even games. It's very hard to win whoever you are playing against. 

"The pandemic has caused football to change a lot, and for the worse. We are seeing it in games. Hopefully after all this is over, we can get people back into the stadiums and get back to normal."

Barca have certainly found it tough going in the league so far this campaign.

While Ronald Koeman's side have lost just once – against reigning champions Real Madrid – at home, they will go into the mid-season break off the pace in the title race. 

Messi acknowledges a slow start has left them with work to do in LaLiga, though he believes the situation could have been different had they been more ruthless in front of goal. 

"We are going to try and win everything, as is always the case with this club. We are improving little by little," he said.

"It's true to say that it took us a little while to get going in LaLiga. We shouldn't have dropped so many points.

"I think we deserved more in the games against Deportivo Alaves and Gefate, and also against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.

"In those three games we created a lot of goalscoring chances, and if we had converted them, the situation in those games would have been different."

While committed to helping Barca succeed on all fronts this season, Messi's long-term future at the club remains unclear having pushed to leave in the previous transfer window. 

The 33-year-old is in the final year of his contract and has been heavily linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has revealed the league has examined previous analysis into expansion, but adding any new teams is still not "on the front burner" just yet. 

The Charlotte Bobcats – now known as the Hornets – were the most recent franchise to join, taking the total to 30 in 2004. 

Toronto and Vancouver were new in 1995 as the NBA moved into Canada, though the latter relocated to Memphis after the 2000-01 season. 

Speaking to the media ahead on the eve of a new season, Silver confirmed that - following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic - the NBA opted to "dust off" the data looking at the impact of expanding in the future. 

"I think I've always said that it's sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point," Silver told reporters on Monday.  

"I'd say it's caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion.  

"We've been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner." 

Competitive balance remains key for Silver, who acknowledged those who have made clear their enthusiasm to host a team.

"You know, we're very appreciative of the markets that have indicated an interest in having an NBA team," Silver said.  

"One of the issues for the league office, and this comes up all the time in terms of competitiveness, it's not a secret that we don't have 30 competitive teams at any given time right now when you go into the season, measured by the likelihood of ability to win a championship."

Silver also addressed the possibility of the NBA returning to a bubble for the playoffs next year, having finished the 2019-20 season in Orlando due to COVID-19.

"It's our hope that given the planned rollout of the vaccine that we'll be going in the other direction, that it'll become increasingly more likely that there will be a return to a home-court advantage," he said.

"That come May, June, July, which right now our season is targeted to end mid-July, that by that point there really will be a meaningful opportunity to have fans in our building."

The new season begins on Tuesday, as the Golden State Warriors take on the Brooklyn Nets before the Lakers and Clippers meet in Los Angeles.

Cricket Australia (CA) remains committed to playing the third Test of the series against India in Sydney despite a coronavirus outbreak.

New South Wales reported 30 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, leading to other Australian states closing their borders to Sydney and other parts of the state.

Australia won the first Test against India by eight wickets on Saturday, and the third game of the series is not due to begin at the SCG until January 7.

CA is still planning for the Test to go ahead as scheduled in Sydney, but it is assessing the situation.

"The third Vodafone Test is more than two and a half weeks away, which provides us with time to assess the evolving public health situation on the northern beaches of Sydney," CA interim chief executive Nick Hockley said in a statement.

"We have made no changes to our schedule and our preference remains to play the match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

"Cricket Australia has developed a solid track record of delivery throughout this most challenging of summers and will continue to make appropriate and proportionate decisions in consultation with our biosecurity team, governments, state and territory associations, the Australian Cricketers' Association, our partners and venues.

"CA has prepared for the possibility of COVID-19 hotspots and state border closures over the course of the summer and the protocols that we have put in place have been effective in ensuring the safety and success of the men's and women's domestic and international programs to date.

"It was less than a month ago that South Australians were contending with an outbreak of the virus in Adelaide and we have just completed a brilliant first Vodafone Test at the Adelaide Oval. We faced similar issues in relation to the Melbourne Cricket Ground playing host to the Boxing Day Test and we are now less than a week away from welcoming back Victorian crowds after a difficult year for the state.

"We will continue to work closely with all relevant parties to make the right decisions in the appropriate timeframes."

The second Test of the series between Australia and India is due to begin at the MCG on Boxing Day.

Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Ivo Grbic has tested positive for coronavirus two days after making his debut in the Copa del Rey win over Cardassar.

Grbic, signed from Lokomotiva ahead of the 2020-21 season, played the full 90 minutes on Wednesday.

He was largely untroubled, only having one shot to save as Atletico won the away tie 3-0 to reach the second round.

However, PCR tests on the Atletico squad ahead of hosting Elche in LaLiga on Saturday have flagged up a positive result for the 24-year-old.

Atletico confirmed on Friday that Grbic is asymptomatic, isolating at home and "following the protocols of the health authorities".

Miguel San Roman is Atletico's third goalkeeper and he has been an unused substitute on seven occasions in all competitions this season.

The Australian Open will start on February 8 after the ATP Tour confirmed its updated schedule for the first seven weeks of the 2021 season.

Uncertainty has surrounded next year's Australian Open due to the coronavirus pandemic – the grand slam typically starts on January 18 in Melbourne.

The Australian Open will now go ahead from February 8-21, three weeks later than usual, following the ATP Tour's announcement for men's tennis on Wednesday.

There will be three ATP warm-up events in Melbourne, including the ATP Cup from February 1-5.

The Adelaide International has been relocated to Melbourne and will run alongside an additional ATP 250 tournament in the city from January 31 to February 6.

Qualifying for the Australian Open will also be held outside of the country, with Doha, Qatar playing host from January 10-13.

Novak Djokovic is the reigning men's Australian Open champion, while Sofia Kenin claimed the 2020 women's crown at Melbourne Park.

Andrea Pirlo acknowledges Juventus are facing a "strange" season in Serie A but believes the impact of coronavirus on the schedule has restored balance across European football.

Italian champions Juve are fourth in the table after 11 matches, four points off leaders Milan, but they are not the only top side struggling to match the high standards of previous campaigns.

Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – all reigning champions – are being kept off the top of their respective divisions.

Indeed, each of the leaders in Europe's top five leagues – Tottenham, Real Sociedad, Bayer Leverkusen, Milan and Lille – are playing in the Europa League in 2020-21, rather than joining Juve in the Champions League.

"It's a strange championship but it's like all the other European championships," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"With COVID and the matches close together, everything has balanced out a bit and therefore you have to face every game with the right mentality.

"There are no more 'materasso' teams; there are strong teams who think about playing and not just defending themselves.

"You have to face them all with a certain mentality otherwise you risk facing nasty surprises."

Juve's fortunes have improved in recent weeks, however, winning their past four matches in all competitions.

They face Atalanta on Wednesday and could win five consecutive games for the first time since January.

"More than results, it is the attitude and concentration in facing all matches in the same way, both in the Champions League and in the league," Pirlo said.

"When you have the right attitude and the spirit of wanting to play the game, the results are on your side."

Juve are unbeaten in 23 home Serie A games against Atalanta, a run stretching back to 1989, while they are the only side Gian Piero Gasperini has faced more than once in the league without defeating since taking charge in Bergamo.

But Pirlo is wary of the threat of the eighth-place team, who have had 11 different scorers in Serie A this term – more than any other side.

"I expect a difficult match against a very strong team," the Bianconeri coach said. "They have been a reality for several years now. We have seen that not only in the Italian league but also at European level.

"It will be a tough game to play given their attitude. We will have to face it as a top team."

The chair of Cricket South Africa's (CSA) interim board says there was no justification for England to cut short their tour without facing the Proteas in an ODI series.

World champions England flew home on Thursday despite two 'unconfirmed positive' coronavirus cases in the touring party being confirmed as false positives.

The one-day series was initially delayed and then cancelled due to positive tests within the bio-secure bubble.

A South Africa player and two hotel staff members were discovered to have COVID-19, forcing games scheduled for last Friday and Sunday to be postponed before the 'unconfirmed positive' tests in the England party were reported.

Judge Zak Yacoob will not accept that the hosts should take any blame for the ODI series not going ahead on a day it was confirmed Sri Lanka will arrive for two Tests in South Africa - the first of which starts on Boxing Day.

"What I want to negate is an idea that our provision of services was substandard and that there is any justification for the English saying they did not want to participate and go home," the chair of CSA's interim board said in a virtual news conference. 

"The facts are that ultimately, they were negative [test results]. We have gone into our protocols and we think that our protocols have been very good.

"There may have been an issue of psychological troubles. People may have felt nervous about false positives. Our position is that we do not wish to blame the English, but we wish to say absolutely and completely that any notion that they went away because it was in any way our fault, is completely wrong.

"There is an awkward narrative coming out that third world countries can't manage these things properly. I can say we have been managing the virus much better than England."

He added: "Many aspects of the operational side are not working and I don't want to go into details of that because then those in charge of the operational side will start running to the newspapers to say how bad the board is.

Judge Yacoob, however, acknowledges CSA should possibly have imposed stricter rules on the England party.

"The only criticism I can make, and I am not even authorised to make it, is that we were too lax with the English and their desire to do things which in our strict view they shouldn't be doing," he said.

"We were stronger on preventing our players from doing things and we allowed the visitors a little more laxity. There's a courtesy thing, because they are visitors and so on."

England will play a day-night Test at the redeveloped Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad as part of their tour to India in early 2021.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced the schedule for the trip in February and March of next year, with games to be staged at three bio-secure venues amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of returning home after completing the two-Test tour of Sri Lanka in January, England's squad will travel straight to Chennai from Colombo.

There they will play two Tests at the MA Chidambaram Stadium as part of a four-match series in the longest format.

The teams then move on to Ahmedabad, with the Sardar Patel Stadium - a 110,000-capacity venue opened earlier this year - hosting the first day-night Test between the countries. That February 24-28 contest will be the first of two Tests between the teams at the ground.

After the Test action, England will be involved in a five-match Twenty20 series with India in March, followed by a trio of ODI fixtures - all to be staged in Pune - at the end of the same month.

"International cricket between India and England is a highlight of the cricketing calendar and always attracts significant levels of interest from fans around the world," ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said in a statement confirming the fixtures.

"We have been delighted with the planning that has been undertaken by the BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] to ensure the three venues in Chennai, Ahmedabad and Pune will be ready to host international cricket in a bio-secure environment and look forward to working closely with them over the coming weeks to finalise those plans.

"The prospect of becoming the first international side to play at the magnificent Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad adds an extra dimension to the tour and I know will be something that is a highlight for both the players and management."

Jay Shah, honorary secretary for the BCCI, made clear player safety is paramount as India deals with the effects of the COVID-19 health crisis.

India is only behind the United States in terms of total number of coronavirus cases, with the country seeing over 141,000 deaths so far.

"The BCCI prioritises health and safety of both teams and will leave no stone unturned to make sure that the tour is held adhering to all safety protocols agreed by the BCCI and ECB medical teams," Shah said.

"Both boards have worked closely to put together an exciting series that promises to provide high octane action between two powerhouses of world cricket.

"This will be India's first bilateral series at home since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the home season will bring back joy to cricket fans."

Daniel Ricciardo has revealed he was left "scared" after a coronavirus test he took following the Tuscan Grand Prix came back as inconclusive.

Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton missed the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend after testing positive for COVID-19.

Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll are the other F1 drivers to have contracted coronavirus this season and Ricciardo revealed he had a fright in Italy back in September.

The Renault driver said ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend: "I did wake up one morning with a false-positive, so I had a scare at 6am one morning.

"It wasn't a false positive, [it was] inconclusive. Still scared me though!"

The Australian added: "Then trying to figure out, okay we've got to get tested again, and there was a bit of panic and that wasn't fun.

"Obviously, I was fine in the end but that obviously was something I hadn't gone through before and then you start playing games in your head like 'do I feel a little..' and 'maybe I do have it and just', but that was a bit of panic one morning.

"As the season went on I became more and more disciplined with isolating or just taking care of myself, especially after Checo [Perez] got it and I was like 'Okay so this isn't a joke'.

"I was being very careful so I was quite surprised [by the test result]. Obviously, in the end I didn't have it but I was scratching my head."

England's two-Test tour of Sri Lanka in January will go ahead as planned, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has confirmed.

The news comes after the abandonment of England's ODI schedule in South Africa when two "unconfirmed positives" in the touring party followed a positive test in the Proteas ranks.

However, the ECB has reached an agreement with Sri Lanka Cricket on the logistics of playing two Tests behind closed doors in Galle.

The first match will take place on January 14-18, with the second set for January 22-26.

A statement read: "The schedule for England Men's Test tour of Sri Lanka has been confirmed with two matches being played behind closed doors in Galle next month.

"The England and Wales Cricket Board and Sri Lanka Cricket have agreed to biosecurity and travel plans for what is a rearranged tour following the postponement in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The touring party will depart on a chartered flight on January 2 and will be subject to quarantine in Hambantota. During this period, the team will be able to train and prepare for five days from 5-9 January at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium.

"The two-match Test series forms part of the ICC World Test Championship. This will be England's penultimate series in the inaugural tournament, and they hope to conclude their campaign against India in February, subject to confirmation of the India tour schedule."

After the decision to cancel the 50-over matches against South Africa was taken, ECB chief medical officer Nick Peirce announced the two individuals that returned inconclusive results were not infected and had been permitted to re-join the group ahead of their return to the United Kingdom on Thursday.

England will fly back from South Africa on Thursday after the two unconfirmed positive COVID-19 cases within the white-ball squad were cleared.

The one-day series against the Proteas was initially delayed and then cancelled due to positive tests within the bio-secure bubble.

A South African player and two hotel staff members were discovered to have coronavirus, forcing games scheduled for last Friday and Sunday to be postponed respectively, while there were also a pair of "unconfirmed positives" among the touring party.

However, following further testing and analysis, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has confirmed the individuals are not infected and no longer need to self-isolate.

"Following the independent ratification of the two unconfirmed positive COVID-19 tests from the England camp in South Africa, the England and Wales Cricket Board can confirm that, following further testing and analysis, in the opinion of the independent virologists based in Cape Town and London, the two individuals are not infected, and do not pose any risk of passing on the infection to the rest of the party," ECB Chief Medical Officer Professor Nick Peirce said in a statement.

"As such, the advice is they are now free to join the rest of the group and are no longer self-isolating. The England party, returning to the UK, will depart Cape Town on Thursday morning."

England and South Africa did play in three Twenty20 matches prior to the scheduled 50-over games, the tourists sweeping the series 3-0.

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