Manchester City have four players in the running for the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Men's Footballer of the Year award.

City cruised to Premier League success this term, with Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne all key to their triumph.

All four have been named on the PFA's six-man shortlist for the prize, which is voted for by the players.

Portugal centre-back Dias – winner of the Football Writers' Association gong – is seen as arguably the favourite after a stellar first campaign at City following his move from Benfica last year.

While City only conceded three goals fewer (32) than in 2019-20 (35) when they finished second to Liverpool, many have compared his quick adaptation and influence to that of Virgil van Dijk after he joined the Reds from Southampton.

Admirers have also credited Dias' steadying of the City backline with playing a major role in the improvement of John Stones alongside him, the England international finally reaching a level many suspected he may never find despite his potential.

For a while earlier in the season Gundogan looked as though he would probably be the frontrunner for end-of-season prizes, as he embarked on a remarkable scoring run that ultimately helped him finish with 13 in 28 Premier League appearances – more than double his previous best for a domestic season.

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) can better that among midfielders, though nine of his were penalties – none of Gundogan's were, with the German deployed in a more advanced role as City largely played without an out-and-out striker.

De Bruyne's nomination did not come as a surprise either, the Belgian having laid on 12 assists this term, a haul bettered by only Harry Kane (14).

Foden is the youngest of the six nominees and it is likely to be the first of many for him, with the 21-year-old having a hand in 14 goals (nine scored, five assisted) in what was a breakthrough season – his 1,611 minutes played not far off double the 892 he managed in 2019-20.

Fernandes and Kane are the two non-City representatives up for the award – they are also the two players with the most goal involvements in the 2020-21 season.

Tottenham star Kane took home the Golden Boot thanks to his tally of 23, while he also topped the assist charts.

Fernandes netted 18 times for Manchester United and equalled De Bruyne's assists haul of 12.

They are two of just nine players across the top five European leagues to reach double figures for assists and goals in 2020-21.

Foden is also up for the Young Player of the Year award with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Greenwood, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka – an all-English shortlist.

Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw are adamant Manchester United do not need any form of motivation or inspiration from the club's iconic former manager Alex Ferguson ahead of Wednesday's Europa League final.

United face Villarreal in Gdansk as they look to win their first piece of silverware since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in December 2018.

Solskjaer's former boss Ferguson is staying in the same hotel as the United squad and has been particularly prominent in the media of late, granting numerous interviews after largely avoiding the press in his eight years since retirement.

Ferguson led United to two Champions League successes – among many other titles – during his storied reign at the club, therefore knows plenty about the pressures and emotions that come with such occasions.

But Shaw and Fernandes stressed they are in no need of any extra motivation or pep talks from Ferguson as they look to sink the Yellow Submarine.

Speaking to the media, Shaw said: "I wouldn't expect him to speak to us. I am sure we don't need people to inspire us for the game tomorrow, as much of a legend as he [Ferguson] is.

"Inside our group we need to do that ourselves. Of course, I'm sat next to the manager now and I am sure he'll be doing that tomorrow, so I'm not sure we'll be seeing too much of Sir Alex tomorrow."

Fernandes continued: "I think we have a coach who passed a lot of time with Alex Ferguson so everything he could say to us, he [Solskjaer] already knows. We trust our coach.

"The team is confident. We trust ourselves, we know what we have to do. This is our moment to do our best.

"We trained well the days before, we have another day to train. Make the job tomorrow, enjoy the moment – being in the final is not for everyone."

It will be United's first European final since the 2016-17 edition of this competition, when they defeated Ajax 2-0 under Mourinho – before that they had gone nine years without a trophy in Europe.

Even reaching the final this time around is something of a milestone, particularly for Solskjaer, as United's record in semi-finals prior to their two-legged tie with Roma was poor under the Norwegian.

The 8-5 aggregate win over Roma ended a run of four successive semi-final eliminations for United under Solskjaer, whose only other final as a manager was in the 2013 Norwegian Cup, and the club's players will relish the chance to end their trophy drought.

"We come to this club because we want to win. It doesn't matter if the club doesn't win for many years, the hope is still there," Fernandes said.

"Trophies are part of this club. Every player knows he will come to United to fight for trophies, to be a better player.

"If you look to history, you have to look to the history, pressure is part of your life. I like the pressure, that's good for me.

"The most important for us is to try to win the game. Everything can happen, but we can control some stuff. Most importantly, the team is growing up and tomorrow will be a sign of that."

Bruno Fernandes says comparisons with Manchester United icon Eric Cantona motivate him to become even better. 

The Portugal international has enjoyed a sensational season for the Red Devils, scoring 28 goals and making 18 assists across all competitions. 

Eighteen of his goals and 12 of the assists came in 37 Premier League appearances as United secured second place and consecutive top-four finishes for the first time since 2013. 

Fernandes' form helped him win United's Player of the Year award for a second straight season, the midfielder receiving an overwhelming 63 per cent of the votes cast by supporters.

Fernandes followed in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and David de Gea to become only the fifth player in United history to win the club's annual award in consecutive campaigns.

It is another United great Fernandes has been compared to, though.

Cantona lit up the Premier League between 1992 and 1997 and former Sporting CP man Fernandes says he is "honoured" to be spoken about in the same breath as the Frenchman.

"It is an honour to be compared with him because the impact he had was really high and he won many major trophies with the club," Fernandes told BBC Sport.

"But when you are compared with this kind of big player, it means you need to be better every day. It makes me work harder to keep in the mind of the people, being compared with him. That, for me, is a good pressure."

Fernandes is out on his own as United's top scorer this season, with Marcus Rashford seven goals adrift of the 26-year-old. 

His most recent strike, a deflected effort in the 4-2 defeat to Liverpool on May 13, saw him overtake Frank Lampard as the highest scoring midfielder for a Premier League club across all competitions in a single campaign. Lampard scored 27 times for Chelsea in 2009-10.

Yet Fernandes rejects suggestions he has done much of the heavy lifting for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side this season, insisting the club would not have enjoyed as successful a campaign without the support of his team-mates.

"It is such a big club. It would be heavy to lift it myself," he added. "Of course, I did really well. I know that, from my numbers, my performance, everything.

"But this comes from the help and trust of my team-mates. They have helped me to be better every day. And if they help me, I know I can help them."

United are aiming to claim their first piece of silverware since 2017 when they face Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday. 

While a major trophy and a second-placed finish in the Premier League would be considered a success by many, Fernandes is targeting more next term. 

"This team is improving," he said. "Everyone can see it. We are growing up and understand together we can reach better things.

"The most important thing for me about next season is being all together; the club, players and fans pushing to the same side. 

"If we all do that, we could do many good things next season, which, I am pretty sure, will be much better than this one."

For the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United are preparing for a final.

The Europa League might not be top of the agenda for Solskjaer's United ambitions but, after four semi-final defeats as manager in three different competitions, he will be delighted to have a shot at what could be the Red Devils' first trophy since they won this competition in 2017.

Of course, this is also a momentous occasion for Villarreal: a first European final of any kind against a team who have been in these matches seven times previously. However, the Spaniards boast experience in coach Unai Emery, who won this trophy on three occasions while in charge of Sevilla.

Ahead of the first major final in European competition this week, Stats Perform examines the key Opta data...

The Coaches

When it comes to experience at this stage, Emery certainly has the edge.

The former Arsenal boss lifted this trophy three years in a row from 2014 to 2016 and could become the first coach to win either the UEFA Cup or Europa League four times.

Solskjaer, however, has contested only one final in his managerial career: he won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde. Indeed, no Norwegian coach has ever won a major European trophy.

Emery and Solskjaer have faced off twice before in the Premier League, when the Spaniard was at Arsenal. The Gunners won 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in March 2019, ending Solskjaer's unbeaten league start at United, before a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in September of that year.

However, it was Solskjaer who came out on top when they met in a knockout fixture, United triumphing 3-1 in north London in an FA Cup tie in January 2019. Their goals in that tie came from Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial - none of whom will be involved in Gdansk.

The Records

While Emery is chasing history of his own, Villarreal are hoping to become the 10th Spanish team in a row to defeat an English side in a European final - a run that includes United losing twice to Barcelona in the Champions League.

United have found it tough going against the Yellow Submarine in the past. In fact, the Red Devils have faced Villarreal more often without scoring than any other side in their history, with each of their previous four meetings ending 0-0.

However, United have won five of the seven major European finals they have contested (only Liverpool, with 14, have been in more among English sides). A win would secure the 67th trophy in their history, extending their lead over Liverpool (65) when it comes to England's most successful clubs.

The Star Names

All eyes will be on Bruno Fernandes in his first final for United.

The Portugal star has played 57 times this season, more than anyone else in Europe's top-five leagues, providing 28 goals and 18 assists. Only four players across those top leagues have been directly involved in more goals. His 137 chances created surpasses anyone else.

Wednesday could also see Mason Greenwood make his first career appearance in a final. Should he score, he would become only the second English teenager to do so in a major European final, the first being Brian Kidd, who netted on his 19th birthday when United beat Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final.

At the other end of the career spectrum sits Edinson Cavani, who has averaged a goal or assist every 35 minutes in this season's Europa League, the best return of anyone to play at least 200 minutes in the competition.

Cavani, who has 10 league goals in just 13 starts in his first season with the club, is bidding to become the third player aged 34 or over to score in a major European final for an English side, after Gary McAllister in the 2001 UEFA Cup final and Didier Drogba in the 2012 Champions League final.

Carlos Bacca has history in this fixture, having scored twice in the final six years ago for Sevilla. The Colombian could become the first player to score in a major European final for two teams from the same nation since Hernan Crespo, who was on target for Parma in 1999 and then Milan in 2005.

Villarreal's main threat will likely come through Gerard Moreno. With 29 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, he has been the most dangerous Spanish forward in Europe this term. Indeed, Lionel Messi (50) is the only player from LaLiga with more direct goal involvements.

Harry Kane has won the Premier League Golden Boot award for the third time in his career after edging out Mohamed Salah.

The Tottenham forward netted in the dramatic 4-2 win over Leicester City on Sunday, while Salah did not find the scoresheet as Liverpool defeated Crystal Palace 2-0.

That meant Kane emerged triumphant from a season-long battle, both players having gone into the final weekend locked on 22 goals.

Kane, who finishes the season with 23 goals from 35 games, also won the Golden boot in 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns.

Salah had won the award in 2017-18 and shared it the following season with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane.

But he falls just short of another triumph after netting 22 times from 36 top-flight matches this season.

Jamie Vardy was last season's winner but it was Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes who finished third with 18 goals.

Another Tottenham star, Son Heung-min, shares fourth place with Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford on 17.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin (16), Vardy (15), Ollie Watkins (14), Ilkay Gundogan and Alexandre Lacazette (both 13) round out the top 10.

Kane's accomplishment comes amid huge speculation over his future after he reportedly asked to leave Spurs at the end of the season.

The England captain is now one away from the record of four Golden Boots held by Arsenal great Thierry Henry, with Alan Shearer the only other player to have won it three times in the Premier League era.

Kane also had 14 assists in a fine individual season, giving him 37 total goal involvements, his best-ever return.

Bruno Fernandes is targeting more individual honours after being named Manchester United's Player of the Year for a second straight season but wants to supplement such accolades with team trophies.

Fernandes followed in the footsteps of United greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Portugal international became only the fifth player in United history to win the club's annual award in consecutive campaigns.

Roy Keane and David de Gea have also received the distinction in back-to-back years.

Fernandes claimed the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year gong on Tuesday after receiving an overwhelming 63 per cent of the votes cast by supporters; Luke Shaw came in second place on 21 per cent.

He edged out Anthony Martial to last year's award despite only signing for United in January 2020, having made a huge immediate impact.

Fernandes came out on top in another category, Goal of the Season, for his sublime chip against Everton in February, but it was the main prize that was the focus of an interview with the club's in-house TV station in the wake Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Fulham.

Asked when it meant to win the Player of the Year, he said: "A lot. I always said that individual trophies are really good for players. It lifts you up, I would never say I don't want individual trophies, but it's not more important than a team trophy for me. But it's always important.

"[It means] you're doing something well, you're doing something good, doing the right things means you can do a little bit more, improve a little bit more.

"But, at the same time it means that the people are liking you, like the way you play, the way you trying to help the team, the way you do things, so that's very important for me.

"But more important than that is winning a trophy at the end of the season and this is what it's about because football is a team sport and for me it's about winning trophies."

His double award win this season, added to his prize from 2019-20, mean Fernandes is creating a reasonable collection, not that he is concerned about running out of space.

"Don't worry, I'll get a bigger [trophy cabinet] if needed," he joked.

After all, Fernandes could yet add further honours as the season approaches its conclusion, though his compatriot Ruben Dias of Manchester City appears to be the favourite for many of the Premier League's end-of-campaign individual prizes.

Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful season for Fernandes, the aforementioned strike against Everton being one of 28 goals he has scored in all competitions this term, while he has also added 18 assists in a fine individual campaign.

Eighteen of his goals and 12 of the assists have come in 37 Premier League appearances, having featured in every top-flight game for United – though the assist credited to him against Fulham was questionable with replays unable to conclusively show that he did actually flick the ball on for Edinson Cavani's remarkable effort.

Fernandes' influence runs deeper than often being on hand to tuck home or play the final pass: he is a key cog in United's overall build-up play, as highlighted by sequence data.

He has been involved in more open-play passing sequences that end in a shot (239) than any other Premier League player in 2020-21, while only Harry Kane (34) has had a hand in more moves that have ended in a goal (33 for Fernandes).

But the metrics that best underline Fernandes' importance are 'multi involvements', which relate to a player featuring in the build-up to a shot-ending sequence as well as either creating the chance at the end of the move or taking the eventual shot.

On 21 occasions he has been the one taking the shot having previously played a part in the move, while his chances created at the end of such sequences stand at 25 – both are highs for the Premier League this season.

It means Fernandes holds incredible influence over how United attack, but also how they craft opportunities.

While they will finish second in the Premier League this term, fans will dread to think where they would be without him.

Bruno Fernandes has followed in the footsteps of Manchester United greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy after being voted Player of the Year for a second straight season.

The Portugal international became only the fifth player in United history to win the club's annual award in consecutive campaigns.

Fernandes claimed the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year after receiving an overwhelming 63 per cent of the votes cast by supporters.

Luke Shaw came in second place on 21 per cent with Edinson Cavani third on six per cent.

Fernandes edged out Anthony Martial to last year's award despite only signing for United in January 2020, having made a huge immediate impact.

The 26-year-old is only the fifth player in club history to win the accolade in back-to-back years after Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, David de Gea and Roy Keane.

Fernandes and Van Nistelrooy are the only players to do it in their first two seasons with the club.

There was recognition for Shaw, though, as he was voted Players' Player of the Year, an award which went to Martial last time around.

Fernandes came out on top in another award, Goal of the Season, for his sublime chip against Everton in February.

That was one of 28 goals he has scored in all competitions this season, while he has also added 17 assists in a fine individual campaign.

Eighteen of his goals and 11 of the assists have come in 36 Premier League appearances, having featured in every top-flight game for United.

There was also recognition for two former United stars on Tuesday as Eric Cantona and Keane were named to the Premier League Hall of Fame.

They join Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry in what has been labelled the most prestigious honour awarded by the competition.

"I feel very lucky to be inducted but I've only been inducted because of the players I've played with," said ex-United captain Keane.

Cantona, meanwhile, felt his inclusion was warranted.

"I am very happy and very proud but, at the same time, I am not surprised," said the former United talisman. "I would've been surprised not to be elected! 

"I played football, I loved football, I dreamed about football as a kid. Of course to play in England was a dream, it was a dream for everybody, playing for the Premier League.

"I have been lucky to play in this team, with wonderful players, a wonderful manager and wonderful fans. 

"We won and we really enjoyed [it], and it was the football I dreamed about because Manchester United, it's a club where they want to win things but in a good way.

"It was like this in the time of Matt Busby, it's the identity of this club and the philosophy of this club."

In this world, nothing is certain except death, taxes, Manchester United coming from behind and West Brom getting relegated from the Premier League.

It was not remotely surprising to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United bounce back from an early setback at Aston Villa, while West Brom's relegation confirmation was similarly expected.

On a day without a single draw, there were also wins for Wolves and Everton, who got one over former manager – and rival for European football – David Moyes.

Take a look at the key stats from Sunday's action.
 

Wolves 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Seagulls rue reds as Traore ends drought

It was a day to forget for Brighton, who became the latest club to fall victim to Wolves' impressive bounce-back powers.

Nuno Espirito Santo's squad have now claimed 51 points from losing positions since their return to the Premier League in 2018, a figure bettered by only Manchester United (57).

They were certainly given a helping hand, however, as Lewis Dunk – the scorer of Brighton's opener – was dismissed for pulling back Fabio Silva as the last man, making him the third player to net and be dismissed in the same game this season.

Neal Maupay was then sent off as well after the full-time whistle, meaning Brighton are now level with Arsenal as the team with the most red cards this term, while Dunk is the only player in the division to receive two reds in 2020-21.

Adama Traore cancelled out Dunk's opener as he ended a 25-game home league drought that stretched back to December 2019 against Manchester City.

Meanwhile Wolves' match-winner, Morgan Gibbs-White (21 years, 102 days), became the youngest English player to score a 90th-minute winner in the Premier League since Marcus Rashford in November 2018 (21 years, 3 days).

Aston Villa 1-3 Manchester United: Red Devils enjoy customary comeback

When Aston Villa went into half-time 1-0 up on Sunday, there almost seemed to be an acceptance that their opponents were going to turn things around.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men certainly delivered in the second half, going on to win despite conceding first for the 10th time, a Premier League record.

They are now just three points behind the all-time record number of points recovered from losing positions, with Newcastle United having rescued 34 in 2001-02.

The victory also took Bruno Fernandes close to a Premier League record. He has not lost any of his first 25 away games in the division, one adrift of Gabriel Jesus' benchmark of 26.

Fernandes played his part in the turnaround by scoring a penalty, which took him to 27 goals across all competitions this term, the most by a midfielder for a Premier League club in a single season since Frank Lampard (27) for Chelsea in 2009-10.

That penalty came as a result of Douglas Luiz fouling Paul Pogba, the exact same scenario that led to a spot-kick when the two teams played earlier this season. It is the first time since 2001-02 (Olof Mellberg on Jermain Defoe) that an individual has conceded a penalty against the same opposing player in one campaign.

West Ham 0-1 Everton: Toffees at home on the road

A top-four finish for West Ham and David Moyes now looks desperately unlikely after defeat at home to Everton leaves them five points adrift of fourth-placed Leicester City with three games to go.

The fact that this was West Ham's first home league match without a shot on target since Moyes' first spell in December 2017 highlighted their issues.

As for Everton, Carlo Ancelotti's side have been impressive on the road and made it 14 away wins from 15 in which they have open the scoring under the Italian.

On top of that, this was Everton's 11th away win in the league this term, a haul bettered only by Manchester City (13) and the Toffees' best such record in a top-flight season since 1984-85 (12), when they won the title.

The winning goal came via Dominic Calvert-Lewin's 16th league strike of 2020-21, making it the joint-most by an English player for Everton in a single Premier League season.

Romelu Lukaku is the only Everton striker to score more across one season than Calvert-Lewin. The Belgian plundered 18 in 2015-16 and then 25 the following campaign.

Arsenal 3-1 West Brom: Big Sam's Baggies equal relegation record

It had been a long time coming. West Brom have looked doomed for most of the season, and their relegation was finally confirmed with defeat to Arsenal on Sunday.

In a way, this match was a microcosm of their issues as they actually finished with an xG (expected goals) value nearly double that of Arsenal, yet the Gunners scored triple the amount of goals.

While it suggests Arsenal perhaps got a little lucky, it also highlights West Brom's problem with scoring – pundits have claimed they would have had a better shot of survival with a more effective central striker, and this backs that up.

It's their fifth relegation from the Premier League, equalling a record set by Norwich City last year, but the first from the competition for Sam Allardyce in his managerial career.

West Brom have only once had their relegation confirmed with more games remaining than this term (three), having had four fixtures to play in 2002-03 when their fate was sealed.

The focus for Arsenal, however, was on their young guns.

Bukayo Saka's assist for Emile Smith Rowe's opener was his 19th for Arsenal since his November 2018 debut, more than anyone else for the club in that time.

Similarly, Smith Rowe became the fourth player aged 21 or under to score for the Gunners in the Premier League this season (along with Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah), a record no team can better.

Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes both scored twice as Manchester United thrashed Roma 6-2 in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.

Fernandes opened the scoring in a thriller at Old Trafford on Thursday, but Roma led 2-1 at half-time despite losing three players due to injury – including goalkeeper Pau Lopez.

Lorenzo Pellegrini equalised with a controversial penalty and Edin Dzeko put the Serie A side in front, but the Red Devils stormed back in stunning fashion in the second half.

The magnificent Cavani struck twice and Fernandes sealed a brace of his own with another questionable spot-kick before Paul Pogba – who gave away that harsh first-half penalty – added a fifth.

Mason Greenwood had the final say to put United firmly on course for the final ahead of the second leg at Stadio Olimpico in seven days' time.

The Giallorossi lost Jordan Veretout to a hamstring injury early on, Gonzalo Villar replacing him in midfield, and they suffered another blow when Fernandes opening the scoring with a superbly worked goal in the ninth minute.

Pogba turned sharply and burst forward before finding Cavani, whose clever first-time pass sent Fernandes through and the Portugal midfielder calmly lifted the ball over goalkeeper Lopez and into the net.

Roma were level six minutes later, with Pogba seemingly harshly penalised for handling when he slid in trying to block a cross and Pellegrini made no mistake from the spot.

Antonio Mirante took over in goal after Lopez injured himself saving a shot from Pogba with less than half an hour gone, but the Eternal City club were in front 33 minutes in.

Former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan picked out Pellegrini with a brilliant reverse pass and the captain set Dzeko up for a tap-in.

Leonardo Spinazzola became the third Roma player to make an early exit due to injury and Mirante denied Cavani when he was gifted a great opportunity by some poor defending just before the break.

Cavani showed his class to equalise a couple of minutes into the second half, though, finding the top corner with a clinical first-time finish after Fernandes played him in.

The Uruguay striker then showed his predatory instincts to put the Red Devils back in front after 64 minutes, tucking in from close range after Mirante could only palm Aaron Wan-Bissaka's shot into his path.

Fernandes gave United breathing space when he expertly converted from the penalty spot after ex-United defender Chris Smalling was contentiously adjudged to have fouled Cavani as he tried to complete a hat-trick.

The inspirational Fernandes turned provider once again for United's fifth goal, delivering a pinpoint cross for Pogba to head home and Greenwood slid in a sixth following another sublime assist from Cavani four minutes from time.

Paul Pogba says it is "a joy" to play with Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United.

The World Cup winner has made an impressive return from injury in the past five weeks, scoring in the win over Milan and registering assists against Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham and Granada.

Playing alongside Fernandes for United has been a particular thrill for Pogba since the Portugal international joined him at Old Trafford last year.

Pogba says Fernandes can do everything and is delighted with how their understanding has developed on the pitch.

"I enjoy playing with Bruno," Pogba said to MUTV. "He is someone who understands the game and understands the movement that can give you a beautiful pass.

"He can finish too. He is all over the place, he can do everything really... except defending!

"But really, it is always a joy to play him, to understand him. 

"He understands me as well, he can take my position, I can take his position as well. I think he suits the team, he is a very dominant influence in our team."

No United midfielder has played more times in all competitions than Fernandes since the former Sporting CP playmaker made his debut, with the 26-year-old making 71 appearances. 

Pogba (48) ranks fourth on that list, behind Fred and Scott McTominay (both 58), while he has only started 34 times, mainly due to injuries.

While he may no longer be the main man at United, Pogba was asked about his role in keeping up the dressing room morale and his dancing skills.

Ahead of the Premier League match at home to Burnley on Sunday, Pogba said: "I'm just myself with the guys and if it can help them to be relaxed and be happy and have a good performance, then I will keep doing it obviously.

"It is important to have a group that gel well together because football is teamwork and you have to be with everyone, you have to be connected, that is how you win.

"When you are connected like this, it is easier to win."

Asked if he or defender Eric Bailly had the best dance moves, Pogba replied: "It depends - Eric is the best African dancer, I'm more e-pop and American dance and stuff like this. 

"We complete each other I will say!"

Pogba and Fernandes are both expected to start against Burnley, against whom the France star scored the winner in a 1-0 victory at Turf Moor the last time the two teams met in January.

United are therefore looking to complete their first league double over Burnley since the 1975-76 campaign.

They are also bidding to win five consecutive Premier League games for the first time since they won their first six under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in January 2019.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was proud of the battling qualities displayed by Marcus Rashford as he played through the pain to help Manchester United beat Granada.

Troubled by a niggling ankle problem, Rashford opened the scoring at the Nuevo Los Carmenes on Thursday, latching onto Victor Lindelof's long pass before finishing with composure.

The goal took Rashford to 20 for the season in all competitions, making him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

The England forward, who was taken off 10 minutes after scoring in last weekend's 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton and Hove Albion, battled on against Granada before being substituted with a little over 25 minutes left.

Solskjaer, who hopes Rashford will be fit to face Tottenham on Sunday, was delighted with Rashford's impact against stubborn opposition.

"Marcus, fantastic goal," he said. "Great pass by Victor, great run and the skill to bring the ball down like this, we've seen it a few times before, and it's a top, top quality goal.

"It's the same thing as before, he's not recovered from it. Hopefully, it's not got any worse from this. He lasted 60 or 70 against Brighton, 65 now, so hopefully he's ready. I think he should be ready for Sunday."

When asked if he ever told former manager Alex Ferguson he was fully fit to play when struggling with injury, Solskjaer replied: "Yeah, I probably did! I did a few times. It's not like I couldn't perform, but I probably knew I wasn't at 100 per cent. But when are you at 100 per cent as a footballer? I think that's very rare.

"We know he's someone we have to protect, and he was ready, and he was vital for us today."

While comfortable in defence, United offered little threat of a second goal until Bruno Fernandes scored his 19th penalty for the club after being pushed in the face by Yan Eteki.

The Portugal star, who was struggling with his vision in one eye after the foul, squeezed a shot beneath goalkeeper Rui Silva in the 90th minute.

With Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay suspended for the second leg after receiving yellow cards, Solskjaer was relieved to be heading back to Old Trafford with a more commanding advantage.

"It was an important goal, the second one. A 1-0 lead, losing three players, is not a good position to be in," he said.

"I don't think we deserved those five yellow cards, but that's happened. I'm delighted with the result, of course.

"[The second goal] is so vital away from home and we've created a good starting point for ourselves next week.

"Scoring with one eye is a skill! He drives the team and drives himself. He's got such enthusiasm and hunger to win and to do well. I've played in teams with a lot stronger personalities than that, to be honest.

"That's the way for us to improve and reach the next level: always demand more, and more, and more."

Shaw was taken off at half-time, but Solskjaer added of the left-back: "I had to protect Luke, but I think and hope he should be okay for the weekend."

Marcus Rashford's 20th goal of the season helped Manchester United to a 2-0 win over Granada in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie.

The forward's finish from a fine Victor Lindelof pass in the first half and a late penalty from Bruno Fernandes secured a commanding first-leg advantage in Thursday's clash at the Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were not particularly inspired in attack but rarely looked troubled by a team who have already eliminated Napoli in an impressive first European campaign.

Chelsea loanee Kenedy was a threat with shots from distance, but Diego Martinez's men were unable to create clear openings against a diligent Red Devils rearguard, particularly with only 33 per cent of the ball.

Rashford, who sustained an ankle problem in the win over Brighton and Hove Albion last Sunday, appeared to be struggling in the early exchanges as United made hard work of breaking down Granada.

The England forward looked fit and sharp 31 minutes in, though, latching onto Lindelof's long ball over the top before prodding a composed finish beyond goalkeeper Rui Silva.

The goal sparked a little life into Granada's attack, Kenedy's ambitious volley from the edge of the area giving the returning David de Gea something to do.

Kenedy twice tested De Gea again from outside the box after the restart but they were comfortable saves for the United keeper, who was otherwise mostly untroubled.

Fernandes had had a quiet game but he squeezed a mishit penalty under Silva's grasp to score a potentially decisive second away goal in the 90th minute after Yan Eteki was penalised for pushing a hand into the Portugal star's face.

What does it mean? Advantage United after timid encounter

It was not a thrill-a-minute contest but it puts United in a good position to progress to the semi-finals for the second season in a row, and there was little offered by Granada to worry them unduly.

However, Solskjaer will want a more committed and creative performance when they travel to Tottenham this weekend if they are to preserve their long unbeaten away run.

United must preserve Rashford for run-in

Rashford's goal made him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

He came off with a little under half an hour remaining, and Solskjaer will need to manage his ankle concern carefully: their league position, and their chances of winning this competition, could depend on it.

Greenwood goes missing

The matchwinner against Brighton last Sunday, Mason Greenwood offered little attacking threat in Spain and struggled to hold up the ball or link the play.

One such poor use of the ball gave Granada a rare chance to break at speed in the United half, although they could not make use of the opportunity.

What's next?

Before next Thursday's second leg, each side return to domestic action on Sunday. United face Tottenham away in the Premier League, with Granada travelling to Real Valladolid in LaLiga.

It's entirely possible the staging of the 2021 European Under-21 Championship will have passed many people by, given the fact it's taken on a somewhat peculiar format of a mid-season group stage with the knockout phase following two months later.

Originally due to take place solely in June, organisers were forced into a re-think following last year's postponement of the senior competition. It was decided to split the Under-21s' event in two, therefore avoiding a clash.

Despite the rather unconventional format, the competition will see many of the continent's most-promising prodigies on display.

The tournament, based in Hungary and Slovenia, begins on Wednesday with the Magyars hosting Germany, and we have identified some high-potential talents to keep an eye on.

Alban Lafont, France – Goalkeeper

Lafont has been a regular at this age-group level with France for many years, but a brief stint at Fiorentina in 2018-19 did not go to plan, with the Toulouse youth product freely admitting his performances "were not the best" as he secured to a loan move to Nantes ahead of last season.

Only Andrea Consigli (six) made more than Lafont's four errors leading to shots in Serie A two seasons ago, but his dependability appears to have improved considerably since returning to France, with no shots occurring because of errors by him in 57 Ligue 1 matches.

He also produced a particularly strong performance in the shock 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, making four saves including a couple of eye-catching stops to thwart Angel Di Maria.

 

A closer at Lafont’s performances for a struggling Nantes side in 2020-21 reveals he has not had the greatest campaign. When discounting own goals and penalties by the opposition, Lafont has allowed 3.5 goals more than the ‘average’ goalkeeper would have been expected to concede in Ligue 1 this season (37 conceded, 33.5 xG on target).

The metric ‘Goals Prevented Rate’ can account for different goalkeepers facing a different volume of shots through a period of time. An example of this is that PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas has a goals prevented rate of 1.37 this season, meaning for every non-penalty goal that Navas has conceded (excluding own goals), the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede 1.37. Lafont’s rate of 0.91 this season is 10th out of 17 goalkeepers to have played 1800 minutes of French top-flight football in 2020-21.

 

Additionally, France's regular at this level knows he has a very capable understudy in Illan Meslier breathing down his neck.

Prior to his 21st birthday earlier in the month, Meslier broke the record for the most clean sheets by an under-21 goalkeeper in a single Premier League season (eight) and has since added another to that figure.

That means he has three times as many shutouts as Lafont, which is intriguing because it raises the question of why then has Meslier not conceded fewer goals?

For starters, it suggests Lafont is more consistent but also highlights that when Leeds concede, the floodgates can really burst open. With those 46 goals spread across 19 matches, it means Meslier is conceding on average 2.5 goals per game when he doesn't get a clean sheet – this drops to 1.7 for Lafont.

 

On top of that, Meslier's seven errors leading to shots is more than any other player in the Premier League this term, perhaps showing he's still in the inexperienced, nervous phase that Lafont has seemingly left behind.

Meslier's superior save percentage of 71.1 compared to 65.7 speaks to the former Lorient youngster's shot-stopping abilities, though for the time being Lafont's greater consistency looks set to keep him first-choice.

Sven Botman, Netherlands – Central Defender

A promising loan spell with Heerenveen last season alerted Lille to the talents of Ajax-owned Botman and he has been a real hit for Les Dogues since a reported €8m move, helping them to mount a serious Ligue 1 title challenge.

Lille's 19 goals conceded is the fewest in France's top tier and, while not necessarily entirely down to Botman, there's no doubt he's made his presence known as a reliable powerhouse at the back.

 

Of the 856 players across Europe's top five leagues to have engaged in at least 150 duels, Botman's 71.4 per cent success rate is the best, and that competitiveness is also reflected in his aerial prowess.

Only four of the 157 players in the continent's elite divisions to have been involved in 100+ aerial duels have a better success rate than the Dutch youngster (72.5 per cent).

While his impressive physical attributes might lead to certain assumptions about his style of play, Botman is more than a brutish centre-back, as proven by the fact his 452 ball carries – defined as a player moving five metres or more with the ball – is the fourth highest among Ligue 1 central defenders.

 

Of course, there is likely to be a glaring absence from the senior Dutch side at Euro 2020. with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp not expecting Virgil van Dijk to be ready for the tournament.

That means there is potentially a spot up for grabs in the centre of the Netherlands defence, and Botman's combination of power and elegance suggests he could be a good fit as Van Dijk's deputy.

Granted, the young defender – who hasn't been capped at senior level yet – still has a way to go to match up to the Reds star, but in the context of young defenders of a similar ilk, Botman certainly compares well and his strengths are similar to those of Van Dijk.

His aerial stats prove he's an excellent physical specimen, and his effectiveness in duels reflects the fact he's a difficult defender to beat. A strong showing here might just help convince Frank de Boer that Botman's ready to step up later this year.

Jules Kounde, France – Central Defender

Les Bleus are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in most areas, but the fact Kounde is turning out for the Under-21s in this tournament instead of the senior side exemplifies their depth in quality at the heart of the defence.

In his second full season with Sevilla, Kounde has kicked on following a hugely encouraging second half to 2019-20, so much so that he's arguably the first name on the team sheet for Julen Lopetegui.

 

His forward-thinking nature has made him key to the coach's 'Lavolpiana build-up' defensive structure, a setup attributed to Argentinian coach Ricardo La Volpe that essentially demands centre-backs carry the ball forward from a three-man backline.

Only two central defenders in La Liga have bettered Kounde's rate of 19.2 carries per 90, while there are just three who have covered more distance carrying the ball further up field than the Frenchman this term (2,774 metres).

This positivity is generally offset by Fernando dropping in to form a faux back three, while Kounde's movement up the right can often create overloads as he teams up with Jesus Navas, Sevilla's biggest chance creator (44).

 

But evidence of his progressive mentality doesn't stop there. While possessional stats can often be skewed for centre-backs, given the sheer number of simple short balls played between defensive colleagues, Kounde is clearly looking ahead, and often.

No defender has been successful with more forward passes in open play than Kounde this season in LaLiga (507), with the 22-year-old completing an impressive 79 per cent of these. Therefore, perhaps it's not surprising to learn no Sevilla player has been involved in more shot-ending build-up sequences than he has (53), demonstrating his value to their forays forward, despite not attempting the shots or making the final pass in that move.

Kounde is a prime example of how centre-backs can be just as satisfying to see in possession as your classic playmakers – in fact, that is essentially what he is developing into, a defensive playmaker of the ilk who would have looked at home in the great Barcelona teams of the past 14 years.

Pedro Goncalves, Portugal – Attacking Midfielder

It's fair to say that, when Sporting CP set out to replace Bruno Fernandes, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected what they got. Pedro Goncalves had been a key figure for Famalicao in 2019-20, but to say he's surpassed expectations in Lisbon would be an understatement.

Goncalves operates in similar spaces to Fernandes, albeit drifting towards the right a little more, and his hot streak in front of goal has helped put Sporting on course for a first league title since 2001-02.

 

In 22 Primeira Liga matches, the attacking midfielder has scored 15 goals – none of which were penalties. The 22-year-old's xG total is just 6.9, meaning his over-performance of 8.1 is the biggest across Europe's top six leagues, aside from the phenomenal Robert Lewandowski (9.3).

Of course, the chances of him being able to sustain such a run in the long-term are low, but it still highlights what a danger the former Wolves youngster poses in his current form.

 

Comparisons with Fernandes have been rife, for obvious reasons, but they show many different traits to their game.

In Fernandes' final 50 league games for Sporting, he averaged 3.4 shots per 90 minutes and 2.3 of those non-penalty shots came from outside the box – Goncalves attempts 2.6 on average each game, with only 1.1 coming from beyond the penalty area.

As such, the average quality of Fernandes' shots in his final 50 games for Sporting weren't outstanding, with his xG per non-penalty shot equating to 0.07. Goncalves' is almost double that at 0.13, suggesting he picks his moments more selectively while also taking fewer attempts.

Nevertheless, despite Fernandes' penchant for a long-range effort, he only scored four times from outside the box in his final 50 league matches for Sporting – Goncalves already has three this term from 28 fewer games.

 

The biggest difference between the pair is assists. Fernandes' 20 in his final 50 outings for Sporting dwarfs Goncalves' three in 2020-21, but interestingly their expected assists per 90 minutes isn't hugely dissimilar. Fernandes is ahead 0.29 to 0.20 in this area, but a potential explanation for this potentially lies in the respective teams they've played in.

 

The next highest-scorer for Sporting this season after Goncalves himself is Nuno Santos with six – they don't have a prolific centre-forward, whereas Fernandes was supplying Bas Dost, who netted 76 times in 84 league games for the club between 2016 and 2019.

As we all know now, Fernandes was on the trajectory of an elite-level player. He's proven this at Manchester United, though there were certainly those who were sceptical about him prior to his move.

It'll be a tough ask, but why can't Goncalves continue to defy expectations?

Fedor Chalov, Russia - Forward

Russian striker Fedor Chalov is undoubtedly one of the most experienced players involved at the tournament, with the 22-year-old having already played 115 Russian Premier League matches in addition to his 11 UEFA Champions League appearances.

Chalov burst on to the scene in Russia with CSKA Moscow at 18 years old back in November 2016 and scored in just his fifth top-flight appearance for the club versus Ural a month later.

After scoring six goals in each of his opening two league seasons at CSKA, 2018-19 was when he really began to make a name for himself in Russia - winning the league's top scorer award with 15 goals, while also posting his best-ever season tally for assists (7).

But Chalov's career hasn't kicked on as expected since then, scoring just 13 goals in 50 top-flight appearances over the past two seasons, but his performances have been stirring enough to attract the attentions of multiple Premier League clubs during the January transfer window.

 

Despite this, Chalov's numbers domestically at top-tier level are mightily impressive for a player so early in his career. Despite only being 22, Chalov's tally of 60 goal involvements since his Russian Premier League debut are the third most by a player in the competition.

Russia are certainly one of the underdogs for the 2021 Under-21 European Championship and are unlikely to top their group, having been drawn alongside favourites France. However, if Chalov can find form in the first stage of the tournament then he could be the linchpin to Russian hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages in May.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted he had no regrets over his team selection after Manchester United lost 3-1 at Leicester City in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Former Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho scored twice either side of Youri Tielemans' solo strike as Brendan Rodgers' men booked a Wembley semi-final against Southampton.

Mason Greenwood equalised shortly before half-time in a rare moment of inspiration for United, as Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek combined to fine effect.

But the midfield duo were only fit to play for an hour, having recently returned to action, and Bruno Fernandes was unable to have a decisive impact from the bench.

Solskjaer felt such juggling was a necessity after a packed schedule in which his side overcame Milan in the Europa League on Thursday.

"I would have started the same team again. We felt [Pogba and Van de Beek] had more than 45 minutes in them," he said.

"They're important players for us, that's why we started them.

"We picked a team that we felt was going to win the game or give us a foundation to win the game.

"We knew players like Donny and Paul wouldn't last more than an hour."

Fernandes' 23 goals and 13 assists mean he leads the way in both categories for United this season.

However, among outfield players, only captain Harry Maguire (3,945) and fellow defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka (3,651) have played more minutes than the Portugal playmaker's 3,488 for the Red Devils across all competitions.

"Every team selection has reasons behind it. Bruno has played very, very much football," Solskjaer said.

"The boy is a human being. He has played a game every three or four days.

"It was a chance to start both Donny and Paul. The accumulation of games maybe caught up with us.

"With Bruno, I know he wants to play but sometimes you make decisions for the benefit of both the team and him."

While plenty of managers will be apprehensive about the forthcoming international break and what it might mean for their players at the business end of the season, Solskjaer believes it comes at a good time for certain members of his squad.

"I think the international break will give Paul and Donny chances to play, it'll give Anthony [Martial] a chance to go away," he said.

"They will get a change of scenery. You get energy from that. The boys have been at Carrington training ground now every day for a long, long time.

"The break comes at a good time and we'll be ready at Easter, don't worry about that."

Solskjaer added: "If and when we're successful, we have to handle [fixture congestion] and hit a higher level than we did today.

"That's what we're striving towards and, under these circumstances, which are unprecedented, I've been impressed by my boys.

"They've been excellent. The run we've been on has been excellent. Unfortunately we couldn't find our normal selves tonight and sometimes that happens."

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