Jadon Sancho was flooded with support from team-mates and Premier League rivals after declaring he was "so happy" to be back in action for Manchester United.

The former Borussia Dortmund winger had been absent due to what manager Erik ten Hag described as "circumstances with fitness and mood".

He played his first game since October 22 when he came off the bench in Wednesday's EFL Cup win against Nottingham Forest.

Ten Hag said Sancho's issues had been physical and mental, and the club have been careful not to rush him back. After three months out of action, however, Sancho will be hoping to repay United's patience on the pitch.

He wrote on Instagram: "Wow! Just want to say a massive thank you to everyone for the support I've received over the past few weeks especially to the fans. My focus is to give my all to my team and the club, I'm so happy to be back out on the pitch, see you soon."

Sancho played the last 27 minutes against Forest, receiving a huge ovation from the Old Trafford crowd, and Ten Hag spoke afterwards of the England international's "really high standards" and "great capabilities".

United team-mates Lisandro Martinez, Diogo Dalot and Christian Eriksen sent messages of approval in emoji form, the modern footballer's conversational currency.

There was also backing from Sancho from rivals Manchester City, with Premier League top scorer Erling Haaland sending emojis signalling thankfulness and congratulations as he welcomed his former Dortmund team-mate back to the field.

City's Jack Grealish also sent emojis of applause and love to Sancho, while Aymeric Laporte posted a similar message, and Riyad Mahrez sent a heart and the message: "Welcome back bro."

Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior noted his approval with applauding hands and a white heart.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, Forest's former United man Jesse Lingard and Roma striker Tammy Abraham added to the groundswell of goodwill, while Sancho's good friend, Newcastle United's Joe Willock, wrote: "Love you bro."

Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes scored in quick succession as Manchester United came from behind to beat Manchester City 2-1 in a dramatic derby at Old Trafford.

Just four minutes separated the two efforts from Erik ten Hag's side as first Fernandes levelled the scores with a controversial goal to cancel out Jack Grealish's opener.

There were no arguments about United's winner, however, with Rashford prodding home at close range after Alejandro Garnacho's pass across goal.

The win puts United just a point behind their arch-rivals, while handing Arsenal the opportunity to move eight clear with a victory over Tottenham on Sunday. 

In-form United had the first opportunity after capitalising on a loose Bernardo Silva pass, Christian Eriksen feeding a pass through to Fernandes who dragged an effort wide of the target.

City started poorly with sloppy passes throughout the opening half hour, providing encouragement to the home fans, though United could not profit.

Rashford came closest as he was first denied by Manuel Akanji after rounding Ederson, with the Brazilian goalkeeper then diving at the England star's feet after Eriksen had sent him through on goal.

Pep Guardiola shuffled his deck 11 minutes into the second half, replacing Phil Foden with Grealish, who took just three minutes to make an impact, heading home Kevin de Bruyne's chipped cross at the far post.

United equalised in contentious fashion, Fernandes curling home past Ederson as Rashford, who was in an offside position, ran onto the pass but did not touch the ball, with the initial offside decision being overruled by VAR. 

And there was more drama soon after when Rashford diverted Garnacho's low cross in to put United within touching distance of City in the Premier League standings after a ninth consecutive win in all competitions. 

Jack Grealish admits adapting to Manchester City's style of play has been "much more difficult" than he imagined it would be.

Having joined City for a Premier League record £100million fee in 2021, Grealish has largely struggled to replicate the displays he produced for Aston Villa, though he made a decisive impact in Thursday's 1-0 win at Chelsea.

Grealish's fine ball across the six-yard box teed up Riyad Mahrez for City's winner just three minutes and 43 seconds after the pair were introduced as second-half substitutes.

That represented Grealish's third assist in his last three Premier League games – the same amount as he managed in his first 34 league appearances for City, and the England international acknowledges he struggled on his arrival at the Etihad Stadium.

"When I came here, I'll be honest with you, it was so much more difficult than I thought," Grealish told Sky Sports.

"In my head I thought I was going to the team sitting top of the league and I was going to get so many goals and assists and obviously it isn't the case. 

"A lot of teams tend to sit in against us and that wasn't the case at Villa.

"[Former Villa boss] Dean Smith would tell me to go and find the weak link in the defence, whether that was on the right, the middle or whether I wanted to hug the touchline, and at Villa, I always had an overlapping full-back.

"I came to City, having been at Villa my whole life, and I've never had to change [before]. I've always been used to that. I didn't realise how hard it is to adapt to a different team and manager."

City's victory at Stamford Bridge was their fourth in a row against Chelsea in all competitions, and Grealish believes the Blues' willingness to attack the champions played into their hands.

"We've had games this season – against Everton and Brentford recently for example – where they've had a back five and they've sat in against us," Grealish said.

"Against a back four today it just felt so much more open, and we were desperate to come on."

Pep Guardiola has frequently been accused of overthinking during his time as Manchester City manager, with some even putting their continued failure to win the Champions League down to this reason.

As a case in point, City lost to Chelsea in the 2021 final of that competition when Guardiola decided against fielding a naturally defensive midfielder.

Perhaps it has been a fair criticism at times, but by extension it highlights the self-belief that he can outmanoeuvre opponents before they've even set foot on the pitch.

He might even be accused of having overcomplicated plans for Thursday's trip to Stamford Bridge.

Yet Guardiola also inspired the 1-0 win over Chelsea with his own apparent recognition that he got his initial line-up wrong, his second-half changes proving key as City returned to winning ways after that disappointing 1-1 draw with Everton on New Year's Eve.

It took a while for victory to look likely, though, even with a patched-up Chelsea enduring an injury nightmare.

There was unmistakably a sense of bewilderment around the stadium as Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic sustained knocks that forced their withdrawal.

Only 22 minutes had been played. The double blow continued Chelsea's remarkably bad luck on the fitness front of late, with those two taking their injury list to 10 players having also lost Mason Mount in the previous 24 hours.

And if there's any team primed to capitalise on such misfortune, it's City.

Or, it usually is.

Despite Chelsea's predicament, they were the better team in the first half – quite comfortably so, some fans might even suggest.

Pulisic looked destined to score when John Stones produced the forceful – but clean – last-ditch tackle that ultimately forced the American's substitution.

Bernardo Silva made a similarly important intervention to block an attempt from Pulisic's replacement, Carney Chukwuemeka, who looked lively off the bench.

While it may not have been a case of City struggling to stay afloat, their lack of invention and control was curious, even against a team like Chelsea.

It was nothing like the City we've come to expect.

Still, though, Chelsea deserved credit. For all their problems and poor recent form, they looked sharp, up for a fight, and went agonisingly close just before the break as Chukwuemeka hit the post at the end of a rapid breakaway.

It was in moments like that, when the game was stretched, that Chelsea looked their most threatening – perhaps, then, it was no surprise to see Guardiola make changes at the interval.

City reverted to a back four. Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo were withdrawn; Manuel Akanji went to centre-back; Rodri moved back into midfield, and Rico Lewis came on as a right-back-cum-central-midfielder.

Almost instantly City had the greater control they'd desired. Suddenly Chelsea were struggling to keep their heads above water as the visitors relentlessly poured men forward and snuffed out any counter attempts.

Chelsea survived in the 52nd minute when Nathan Ake's header hit the post and Phil Foden saw a follow-up blocked; Kevin De Bruyne then drilled wide from inside the box a few minutes later.

But while Guardiola's half-time adjustments undoubtedly played a role in altering the course of the match, it was his additional tinkering on the hour that was truly decisive.

Foden's restoration to the starting XI would have been popular among the army of supporters calling for his return, but he was largely anonymous here – the impact of his replacement will have surely drawn a smug grin from Guardiola.

Jack Grealish, with his first major involvement three minutes after coming on, played the ball across the face of goal to put it on a plate for Riyad Mahrez.

He was left with a simple tap-in, opening the scoring with what was also Mahrez's first proper involvement as he got in behind Marc Cucurella.

It had been that area of the pitch where most of City's joy had previously come from, with Bernardo's substitution for Mahrez almost surprising at the time given the Portugal midfielder had been giving Cucurella the run-around in the first 14 minutes of the second period.

Yet Guardiola's decisiveness was crucial. He went back to the wide pairing that had become his favoured option lately, and they showed why that'd been the case in one simple move – and just a few moments after being introduced.

Chelsea's attempts to claw back the slender deficit were valiant, spirited, their young substitutes battling away encouragingly. It was ultimately beyond them, but there is only so much you can expect given the Blues' list of absentees.

No, this was all down to City and Guardiola.

Maybe Guardiola did overcomplicate things for himself, but if you don't have anyone good enough to play chess against, sometimes you've just got to play yourself.

Manchester City are reportedly prepared to offer Jack Grealish as well as a hefty transfer fee to Milan for in-demand forward Rafael Leao.

Leao, 23, has scored six goals with five assists in his 14 Serie A fixtures this campaign, following a 2021-22 season where he contributed 11 goals and 10 assists in 34 league appearances.

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Grealish has been trending in the opposite direction, with the most expensive Englishman in football history only playing a complete 90 minutes in two of his 10 Premier League outings this season.

Chelsea have reportedly already seen a £62million (€70m) bid for Leao brushed off by Milan, who have apparently said they will wait for someone to meet his £133m (€150m) release clause, though a new report suggests City could be ready to make their move for the Portugal international.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PREPARED TO OFFER GREALISH IN BID FOR LEAO

While it remains to be seen exactly what price Milan would be happy to part ways with for their young star, City reportedly feel they have an ace up their sleeve in negotiations due to their willingness to send over a replacement player as part of their offer.

According to Calciomercato, City are willing to offer a package of Grealish plus cash to Milan for Leao, and the same outlet reported on December 6 that Milan had interest in Grealish in the event of Leao's departure.

Further reporting from Football Insider has stated City are looking to recoup £60m of their £100m initially spent on Grealish for a potential pursuit of Jude Bellingham.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to L'Equipe, Napoli are the leading candidates to land 22-year-old Angers midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, while the Express adds Leicester City will also mount a charge for the Morocco standout if Youri Tielemans leaves in January.

– Media Foot is reporting Everton are in discussions with Montpellier about a potential £22m (€25m) move for 20-year-old striker Elye Wahi, who has represented France at the under-19 level.

Manchester United are one of the clubs keeping a close eye on 25-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram after reports the French international will be available for just £10.6m (€12m) in January as he enters the final six months of his contract, per the Daily Mail. 

– Sport Arena is reporting Arsenal have agreed to a five-year contract with 21-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk

– According to Fichajes, Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong has had a change of heart and would now like to join Man Utd at the end of the season.

Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez playing together could help Manchester City to break down teams who sit back against them, according to Pep Guardiola.

City lost ground in the title race on Saturday after drawing 1-1 at home to struggling Everton, with leaders Arsenal then extending their advantage at the Premier League summit to seven points with a 4-2 victory at Brighton and Hove Albion.

Haaland had given City the lead against the Toffees, but Demarai Gray scored a superb strike to peg the champions back and hold them to just a point, putting another dent in their title hopes after losing at home to Brentford in the final game before the World Cup break.

In his attempts to win the game, Guardiola brought on World Cup winner Alvarez up top with Haaland in the 87th minute, and though it did not reward him with three points on this occasion, he says he may have to start the pair if they are to improve their results at home.

"You have two strikers who are going to score goals," City boss Guardiola said after the game.

"To create the chances you have to make the process and for the process sometimes you need other types of players to create these chances.

"But of course they can play together - especially in defence against five at the back they can play together.

"In the last minutes when it is 1-1, we needed people in a central role, in and around the box, and that's why he [Alvarez] played."

Phil Foden has come off the bench in all three of City's games since returning from the World Cup, with England team-mate Jack Grealish preferred to start over him in the last two league matches.

Asked whether Foden needs to adapt to be included in his starting line-up, Guardiola replied: "No, Phil can play in a thousand, million positions.

"When I am in the pitch and in the training sessions, I see something with my intuition and I decided to play with Jack for these games because Jack give us extra, extra, extra passes.

"When it is more vertical, Phil is better, so both can combine, both can play together but this time I decided on this line-up."

Erling Haaland haunted his hometown club with a second-half brace as Manchester City beat Leeds United 3-1 on their return to Premier League action on Wednesday.

Haaland – who was born in Leeds when his father Alf-Inge represented the Whites – missed two good chances as the champions dominated the first half, but Rodri poked them ahead on the stroke of half-time.

The Norwegian striker was not to be denied after the break, tapping home following an error from home captain Liam Cooper before doubling up with a right-footed finish.

That meant Haaland reached 20 Premier League goals in record time on his 14th appearance, helping City move back into second place despite Pascal Struijk's consolation.

City almost went ahead inside 36 seconds, but Illan Meslier got a hand to Haaland's chipped effort after the striker was released Nathan Ake.

The Leeds goalkeeper made another one-on-one save from Haaland on the half-hour mark, before Jack Grealish missed two glaring opportunities to break the deadlock – the second a dire mishit from Rico Lewis' cut-back.

However, the hosts' resistance was finally broken in first-half stoppage time, with Rodri pouncing to bundle home when Meslier denied Riyad Mahrez following a flowing City move.

Leeds were masters of their own downfall five minutes after the restart, as Cooper's sloppy pass allowed Grealish to steal possession and tee up Haaland for a simple finish.

Haaland had his second of the game just past the hour, Meslier failing to keep his powerful right-footed shot out.

Leeds cut the deficit 17 minutes from time when Struijk headed Sam Greenwood's corner beyond Ederson, though City managed to see out the win despite Joe Gelhardt threatening.

Miguel Almiron holds no grudges towards Jack Grealish and "would shake his hand" despite the Manchester City man's disparaging jibe.

Grealish suggested team-mate Riyad Mahrez had "played like Almiron" after being substituted in City's victory over Aston Villa to secure the Premier League title on the final day of last season.

The England international has since acknowledged he regrets the comments in a clip that went viral on social media – referencing Almiron's previously underwhelming performances for Newcastle United.

Almiron's form has since upturned, with the Paraguay international scoring seven goals in eight games for Newcastle before the World Cup break, and he insists he has no issues with Grealish.

"I didn't pay a lot of attention, I was on holiday with my family," Almiron told The Daily Mail. "And I didn't have a mobile phone signal! So no, I didn't watch the video. I wasn't bothered.

"I'm not interested in that. Jack's a great player and I will always wish him all the best. He's at Manchester City for good reason. I just avoid making any comparisons.

"It's about me focusing on what I do. It's no big deal."

Almiron believes Grealish's apology highlights the character of the 27-year-old.

He added: "I saw the interview and heard that he spoke positively about me. I've never had anything against Jack and have maintained all along that I think he's a great player and a good guy.

"There's never been any issue for me. It was a nice interview and the fact he spoke the way he did reinforces the type of person he is. I would shake his hand, no problem."

Almiron returns to Premier League action with Newcastle at Leicester City on Monday.

Jack Grealish tipped England to "make history" at future tournaments after their World Cup exit against France, as Marcus Rashford joined him in pledging the Three Lions would respond.

England suffered their seventh World Cup quarter-final elimination – a tournament record – on Saturday, as goals from Aurelien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud maintained France's bid to retain the trophy.

Harry Kane scored one penalty and missed another as England experienced a familiar sinking feeling at Al Bayt Stadium, but Grealish believes Gareth Southgate's men will atone in the future.

The Manchester City playmaker was sorry it did not work out this time, having been convinced England were on course for trophy glory.

"Absolutely devastated to go out, words can't describe it as I really thought this was our year," Grealish wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"I'm so proud to be part of this team and it's been a privilege to be with this group of players and staff for the past four weeks.

"We all have an unbelievable bond and we look forward to the future because we want to make history for all of you at home.

"Thank you to every England fan for your support during the past four weeks."

Rashford, who alongside Bukayo Saka was England's joint-highest scorer in Qatar with three goals, struck a similar tone to Grealish.

"The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions, each and every one of our team gave everything we had to be ready for what was thrown at us," Rashford said in a Tweet.

"We got close, but not close enough. I'll make a promise that we will come again! Thank you for the unconditional support."

Manager Southgate believes the identity of England's quarter-final opponents makes it difficult to say whether his team's campaign should be considered a success.

"Before any tournament, people are always asking what round you need to get to for it to be a success," Southgate said in a video on England's media channels.

"I've always said that's hard to define, because you can play a France and have the type of game we've had, and have a different reaction to getting to a final or a semi-final, as we've experienced.

"It's a difficult time for everybody in our country, and I think the players have represented them in the right way, we've played in the right way. I hope everybody's enjoyed the journey."

Jack Grealish's future at Manchester City has been the subject of speculation lately despite being only 18 months into a six-year contract.

The 27-year-old England attacking midfielder has not quite met expectations since his big-money switch from Aston Villa.

Grealish has scored one goal in 16 appearances this season, after netting five times in 33 games in his maiden season at City.

 

TOP STORY - MILAN PLOT SHOCK MOVE FOR GREALISH

Serie A champions Milan are set to launch a shock transfer bid for Grealish, according to Calciomercato.

City are open to selling the playmaker, who they signed from Villa last year for £100 million, the most expensive transfer of an English player.

The Premier League champions are willing to let Grealish go to fund their bid for Borussia Dortmund's England international Jude Bellingham. Milan would likely make a move for Grealish at the end of the season.

ROUND-UP

Bellingham's management have informed Real Madrid that Liverpool are ahead in the race for the Dortmund midfielder's signature, according to Bild.

Liverpool have joined the pursuit of Valencia's United States international Yunus Musah, competing with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, reports Calciomercato.

– 90min claims both Tottenham and Liverpool are considering a move for Fiorentina's Morocco international midfielder Sofyan Amrabat in January.

Milan may be interested in Barcelona target Gabriel Martinelli, should the Italian giants sell Rafael Leao in January, claims Calciomercato. Martinelli is contracted with Arsenal until 2024.

Marseille are interested in a move for Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha when his contract is up at the end of the season, reports 90min.

– Bild reports that Bayern Munich are close to agreeing a new deal for 19-year-old whizzkid Jamal Musiala.

Jude Bellingham is expected to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of this season, with numerous clubs lining up to sign him.

The England international, who has impressed during the World Cup, is contracted with Dortmund until 2025.

It has been speculated that Bellingham will cost English clubs more than £100million to fund the deal.

TOP STORY – CITY TO USE GREALISH IN DEAL FOR BELLINGHAM

Manchester City will dangle Jack Grealish to Borussia Dortmund as part of a deal to land Bellingham, claims Football Insider.

Grealish, who City signed for £100m from Aston Villa 18 months ago, has not fully convinced since his switch to the English champions.

According to the report, City are intensifying their interest in Bellingham and are willing to use Grealish.

Le10Sport have also reported French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain are also interested in 19-year-old Bellingham.

 

ROUND-UP

Liverpool are plotting a surprise move for Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic, reports Calciomercato. The Serbian striker has scored six Serie A goals this term.

– Mundo Deportivo reports Borussia Dortmund's Thomas Meunier is willing to listen to offers from Milan, Juventus, Manchester United and two other Premier League clubs if Barcelona do not bid for him.

– Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix is open to a Premier League switch amid interest from Chelsea, claims GiveMeSport transfer expert Dean Jones.

– Calciomercato reports that Arsenal are interested in a January move for Real Madrid's Marco Asensio.

Leeds United are interested in a January move for Newcastle forward Chris Wood, claims Football Insider. Wood left Leeds for Burnley in 2017.

Jack Grealish expressed remorse for his disparaging comments about Miguel Almiron, admitting "that was one thing I regret".

The Manchester City winger aimed a harsh jibe at his Newcastle United counterpart in the aftermath of the Citizens' Premier League triumph earlier this year.

In a clip that went viral, Grealish said he had welcomed the substitution of Riyad Mahrez against Aston Villa on the final day as his team-mate "played like Almiron" – in reference to the Paraguay international's ineffective performances for the Magpies.

However, Almiron has enjoyed an upturn in form this season and won the Premier League's Player of the Month and Goal of the Month awards for October after scoring six times in six games.

As he revisited the infamous incident, Grealish revealed his respect for the former Atlanta United player, who he is thrilled to see thriving in the English top flight.

"I haven't actually been asked about that and let me just address it," the England international told The Independent. "It was the day after the season finished, and obviously I'd had a few drinks.

"Straight after that, because I didn't realise, we were out celebrating, and I wasn't on my phone on social media. I remember I was in Ibiza, and it had obviously come out. That was one thing I regret.

"I'm actually buzzing the way he's reacted. He said something about me in the interview the other day, he wished me the best. I thought 'what a guy'.

"Because if that was me, and somebody had said that about me, I'd have probably been the other way and been like 'f**k it'.

"I messaged [Newcastle defender] Matt Targett because I'm close with him from Villa and I said to him 'can you message him for me and say to him that I apologise? I obviously didn't mean it'.

"When I look back on that, that was just one thing that was stupid of me to say. I shouldn't have said it. I didn't realise it was a video to go out, I thought it was just private. But even in private, I shouldn't have said it because he's a fellow professional.

"I'm actually buzzing for him, I've had a lot of stick off the Newcastle fans and rightly so. At the end of the day, they are backing their player, which I fully understand. He seems like the most harmless, nice guy, so fair play."

Grealish is on duty with the Three Lions at the World Cup in Qatar, appearing as a substitute in all three of their matches so far, while scoring the final goal of the commanding 6-2 win over Iran.

The winger will hope to feature again on Sunday, when Gareth Southgate's side lock horns with Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium for a place in the quarter-finals.

Jack Grealish insists Gareth Southgate does not have a problem with any member of the England squad as he responded to claims made by former defender Gary Neville.

England manager Southgate was criticised by many, including Neville, for not bringing on midfielder Phil Foden during Friday's goalless World Cup draw with the United States.

Speaking in his role as a pundit for ITV, Neville – capped 85 times by England – said: "Phil Foden is a generational talent that I feel as though he has to play.

"He has to be played into form, and it has to work with England. I went through my career with England where there were times Paul Scholes was mishandled.

"I even woke up this morning thinking, 'has something happened in training? Has something happened off the pitch which has meant Gareth hasn't seen what he wants to see?'."

However, Grealish denies Southgate has any issues with individuals, having himself been in a similar position to Foden at Euro 2020 when struggling for minutes.

"If he did have a problem they'd know about it," he told BBC Sport. "I saw something, it might have been Gary Neville saying there's something going on behind the scenes.

"People always used to say 'he's got a problem with Jack' last year or two years ago and then I come on and it's like, 'he likes Jack now, who's it next?'.

"Then it's that he doesn't like Madders [James Maddison] and now he's in. Phil didn't play so he might have a problem with him. He doesn't have a problem with anyone.

"He speaks to all of us the same. Phil didn't play the other night but he's still the same with Phil as he is with me or Harry Kane – he's not got a problem with anyone."

England beat Iran 6-2 to make their best start to a World Cup campaign before underwhelming in their stalemate with the USA.

With four points from two matches, Southgate's side will advance to the last 16 if they avoid a four-goal defeat to Wales at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on Tuesday.

That has not stopped Southgate being criticised for his team selection, but Grealish added: "Sometimes I just think whatever happens with England there's always something. 

"We scored six and we were the best thing since sliced bread and then we didn't score for 90 minutes and it's the end of the world. We're top of the group, it's in our hands."

Jack Grealish dedicated his goal celebration in England's rampant 6-2 thrashing of Iran in their World Cup opener to a young fan.

Grealish came off the bench to score the Three Lions' sixth in the 90th minute as Gareth Southgate's side got off to a great start in Qatar.

The Manchester City man's dance after scoring caught the attention of fans and he explained after the match it was for 11-year-old City supporter Finlay, who has cerebral palsy, the same condition as Grealish's sister.

In a letter to Grealish earlier this year, Finlay said it would be a "dream" to meet him, and when the two did meet, the 27-year-old promised to dedicate his next goal to Finlay.

Grealish told BBC after his strike and celebration against Iran: "I met young Finlay before, about a month ago, and got on really well with him obviously having cerebral palsy like my little sister.

"He asked me to do a celebration for him and luckily for him, it came at the World Cup. That's what it's all about.

"For me, it's just doing a celebration but for him, that'll mean the world to him I'm sure, especially at the World Cup. Finlay, that one is for you."

Southgate praised Grealish after the game, telling reporters: "He's a lovely human being. He obviously has a situation with his own sister and that would mean that he's very aware of the power he can have.

"He's a kind person, so we're very fortunate. We work with a group of players who have a hunger to play, they're a pleasure to work with."

Bukayo Saka scored twice as England made a flying start to their World Cup campaign by thrashing Iran 6-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday.

Saka – whose penalty miss proved decisive in the Euro 2020 final last year – netted a stunning volley to help Gareth Southgate's side take a 3-0 lead into half-time, before he doubled up after the break.

With Iran crumbling after goalkeeper Alireza Beyranvand suffered a nasty head injury early on, Jude Bellingham set the tone by scoring his first international goal, while Raheem Sterling prodded home England's third.

Mehdi Taremi denied England a clean sheet with a powerful finish, but substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish responded as the Three Lions sent out a message to their Group B rivals despite Taremi scoring a very late second from the penalty spot.

Harry Maguire was a nuisance in the opposition box and saw an early penalty appeal waved away before powering a header against the crossbar in the 32nd minute.

Three minutes later, Bellingham diverted Luke Shaw's hanging cross into the top-right corner with a fine looping header.

With Iran struggling to contain the Three Lions, Maguire nodded a corner into the path of Saka to unleash a fierce volley into the top-right corner and double England's lead.

Southgate's rampant side then made it 3-0 in first-half stoppage time when Sterling cutely diverted home Harry Kane's right-wing cross.

There was no sign of England slowing down after the break, as Saka clinched his brace by cutting inside to drill a low finish beyond Iran substitute Hossein Hosseini.

Taremi denied England a clean sheet by firing in off the crossbar, but substitutes Rashford and Grealish produced composed finishes as the Three Lions extended their lead to 6-1.

There was one last piece of action when Taremi converted from the spot at the end of stoppage time after a VAR check contentiously ruled he was fouled by John Stones.

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