Jan Vertonghen appeared to take a swipe at team-mates Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard following Belgium's shock World Cup defeat by Morocco.

With this tournament regarded as the last shot at glory for the Red Devils' golden generation, Roberto Martinez's side were well short of their best as late goals by Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal snatched a 2-0 victory for the Atlas Lions.

Prior to the Group F showdown, De Bruyne and Hazard claimed an ageing Belgium were better equipped to win the World Cup four years ago, when they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by France in the semi-finals.

"We are too old. I think our chance [to win] was in 2018," the Manchester City midfielder said. "We have a good team, but it is getting older.

"We lost key players. We have good new players coming in, but they are not at the level of other players in 2018. I see us more as underdogs."

Skipper Hazard, who feels his side had "greater chances" of glory in Russia, added: "We don't have the three fastest centre-backs in the world, but they know that."

After drawing a blank against Morocco following a 1-0 win over Canada, Belgium have scored the least amount of goals after their opening two matches at a World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930 (none).

Vertonghen appeared to take a dig at his team-mates when addressing the media in the mixed zone following the loss. "I guess we attack badly because we are also too old up front," he said.

Defeat to 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match on Thursday would result in an early exit from the competition, and Thibaut Courtois insists the Red Devils must raise their game.

"We know that Croatia are an excellent team, they have talent and are well-organised," he said. "They are good at counter-attacks, one-on-one and have no flaws.

"It will be like a final - after all, they are the finalists of the last World Cup. So far, we haven't played adequately in this tournament, if we want to win we have to level up."

Roberto Martinez will expect a vast improvement from his Belgium side when they go in search of a record-breaking World Cup win over Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils were fortunate to beat Canada 1-0 in their first match of the tournament on Wednesday courtesy of a clinical finish from Michy Batshuayi.

Canada were the better side and Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois before Batshuayi secured all three points.

Belgium looked shaky at the back and got away with a lacklustre performance, Canada failing to find the back of the net with 22 attempts in the opening match of only their second World Cup.

But if Belgium beat Morocco, they will become the first team in World Cup history to win nine consecutive group games.

Morocco held Croatia to a goalless draw in their first Group F match and are plotting to spring a surprise at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend.

The Atlas Lions have injury concerns over Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui for the encounter in Doha.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been back in training as he works his way back from a thigh injury, with head coach Martinez having stated no timeframe has been set on when he might return

Kevin De Bruyne says even if the Red Devils' all-time record goalscorer is only able to take his place on the bench, that would give the squad a lift.

The inspirational midfielder said: "I don’t know how he is, he has been training with us and also apart these days.

"I must admit that he is a player who helps the team a lot, you can feel his presence on the pitch. 

"I don't even know if he will be there against Morocco, but if he were to start from the bench he would be an extra weapon in the game."

Belgium are unbeaten in their four World Cup meetings with African teams and came out on top when the two nations met at the 1994 showpiece, Marc Degryse scoring the only goal of the game.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Michy Batshuayi

In the absence of Lukaku, Batshuayi stepped up to get Belgium off to a winning start as they rode their luck in midweek.

He had five of Belgium’s nine shots and was the only player to register an attempt on goal for the Red Devils before being replaced in the 78th minute.

If Belgium can exert more control on the game, Batshuayi is capable of rewarding them as he should be full of confidence after his decisive strike.

Morocco - Hakim Ziyech

A lack of goals has been a big issue for Morocco in World Cup matches, with the stalemate versus Croatia being the ninth time in 17 games they have failed to find the back of the net.

Hakim Ziyech is one of the players who is capable of getting them firing in Qatar, where he had two shots and created as many chances against Croatia.

The Chelsea winger has shown he can has the quality to produce moments of magic with his wand of a left foot, which Belgium will be wary of.

PREDICTION

Belgium will be expected to make it two wins out of two despite an uninspiring start.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Martinez's men have a 48.7 per cent chance of securing a record-breaking victory.

Morocco will have seen weaknesses to exploit in that Belgium display against the Canadians and they are rated as having a 26 per cent chance of pulling off a shock victory, with the draw at 25.3 per cent.

Kevin De Bruyne is delighted with Pep Guardiola's new Manchester City contract, but is frustrated Belgium cannot replicate the Premier League champions.

The playmaker has been a crucial figure for Guardiola during his time at the Etihad Stadium, with the pair establishing a bond that has led them to silverware across multiple competitions.

Yet despite his successes there, De Bruyne has sometimes found it difficult to dictate matches under national team boss Roberto Martinez the way he does for City.

With the recent news that Guardiola has signed a two-year extension, De Bruyne professed his happiness but stressed he cannot expect his country to perform like his club.

"It makes my life a lot easier," he stated. "The way he leads the team is very clear and I feel very comfortable with him. Both our contracts run to 2025, so that makes it easier. I could not be happier."

"[But Belgium] can't play in the same way as Manchester City. As a national team, you have to adapt to the players you have around you.

"Does it frustrate me sometimes? Yes, but I should show that less, although that is the perfection I strive for."

De Bruyne was named player of the match as Belgium began their World Cup campaign with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Canada in Group F on Wednesday.

The midfielder cut a frustrated figure throughout and did not partake in celebrations for Michy Batshuayi's eventual winner, though he is aware he needs to keep his visible annoyance on a leash.

"I do know that my reactions are not always good," he added. "I look for moments afterwards, to find that peace, but people know that it's my way to help the team play better and get more out of the game.

"But of course, I also have to learn to react in a better way. Every now and then the emotions spill over, but that's also part of the game."

Belgium next play Morocco on Sunday, before their final Group F match with Croatia next Thursday.

Kevin De Bruyne was named player of the match in Belgium's 1-0 win against Canada in their World Cup opener on Wednesday, but he was unsure why.

Belgium were second-best for large parts of the Group F contest at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, with Thibaut Courtois having to save a penalty from Alphonso Davies before Michy Batshuayi scored what proved to be the winner.

De Bruyne cut a frustrated figure as little came off for him on the night, and he was as confused as anyone as to why he had been awarded player of the match.

"I don't think I played a great game, I don't know why I got the trophy - maybe because of my name," he said at a post-match press conference.

"We just didn't play well as a team, especially in the first half.

"We started really badly, the momentum was with Canada and we couldn't break through the press. I think there was more space than we thought.

"I don't think we played a good game, me included, but we found a way to win."

De Bruyne completed just 23 of his 33 passes (70 per cent), though did still create four chances, three more than any of his team-mates.

"When I saw the way we played I thought we were playing long too much, there was more space," he added when asked about a confrontation with Toby Alderweireld immediately after the goal in the first half.

"You have to attract the pressing, play short and cross that line, but I don't think we were brave enough to find that position.

"At half-time we cleared it up and things are OK, no hard feelings with Toby."

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez also acknowledged his team had not played well, but praised them for getting the three points.

He suggested it was not a coincidence they were able to win a game in which they were far from their best, having just nine shots to Canada's 22.

When asked at his post-game press conference whether it was his team's worst game at a major tournament, he said: "It depends what you measure to say 'worst'.

"Was it technically the worst? Yes. Was it the worst game? No, because it is a win in a World Cup.

"Winning when you don't play well doesn't happen by accident. We had to show a different side to our play; we defended really well.

"You saw frustration because the players care.

"Huge respect to Canada's performance. We knew they were direct and aggressive… but I don't think it meant we didn't deserve to win.

"We gave Canada the game they wanted, we made the pitch too big… all in all Canada were better, but I think we found a way to deserve the win."

Pep Guardiola's new contract with Manchester City will see him remain at the Etihad Stadium until 2025, when he will mark nine years at the club.

The Catalan coach has already remained in the Premier League for longer than he has at his previous roles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, finding a home within English football and establishing a dominant force with his City side.

Throughout his six and a half years in charge so far, Guardiola has been in charge of numerous superstars and club legends, with an all-time squad that would be of envy for any manager in world football.

But how exactly do you break that down into a full XI? Stats Perform has taken on the task and done exactly that.

Ederson

Guardiola made a bold choice upon his arrival in Manchester, swiftly making it clear England international Joe Hart, a two-time Premier League winner, would not fit into his plans moving forward. After a disappointing season with Claudio Bravo, Ederson arrived in 2017 and has been number one ever since.

All of Ederson's 260 appearances across all competitions have come as a starter, higher than any other player under Guardiola, while he sits fifth in the list for total appearances under the Catalan boss.

Kyle Walker

Signed from Tottenham Hotspur in 2017, Kyle Walker has been a mainstay in the City side that has dominated domestic football over the course of the past five years, ranking fifth for the most starts under Guardiola in all competitions (207).

Walker's versatility has been a key benefit for Guardiola and England, with his attacking play also fitting into City's style of play well. Since arriving at City, Walker has contributed 17 assists across all competitions, behind only Joao Cancelo (20) among defenders.

Aymeric Laporte

Among defenders during Guardiola's spell in charge, only John Stones and Walker have started more games than Laporte (155), with both players having joined the club in the seasons before Laporte's arrival from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018.

A total of 163 appearances across all competitions puts him narrowly ahead of Nicolas Otamendi (161) for most games under Guardiola.

John Stones

Snapped up in 2016 as one of Guardiola's first signings, Stones has had to contend with incredible competition for his spot at the heart of the defence, with the likes of Laporte, Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake all drafted in.

Despite that, Stones continues to be an important player for City and has made 175 starts under Guardiola and 206 appearances overall, ranking second in both among defenders behind only Walker.

Joao Cancelo

The versatile Portuguese full-back moved to City in 2019 from Juventus and has excelled for City, tallying 149 total appearances and 135 starts in all competitions since joining the club, and provides a huge boost in the attacking third.

A total of 20 assists puts him above any defender during Guardiola's spell in charge, even those who have been at the club far longer.

Kevin de Bruyne

Few players fit the Guardiola philosophy more than De Bruyne, who has hit new heights under the former Barcelona boss to stand among the finest players in world football – with a record in front of goal that many would envy.

De Bruyne has registered 117 assists under Guardiola, way ahead of second-place Raheem Sterling (66), while he has scored 73 goals – only behind Gabriel Jesus, Sterling and Sergio Aguero.

Ilkay Gundogan

With 205 starts under Guardiola, the midfielder has been an integral part of the City side since following the Catalan from Germany to Manchester, ranking only behind Walker, David Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne and Ederson in that regard.

Only six players have scored more goals under Guardiola than Gundogan (51), who ranks ninth for the most assists (33).

Fernandinho

The rock of City's midfield for years, Fernandinho started 200 games under Guardiola and made a total of 244 appearances, the latter seeing him rank behind only Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Gundogan, De Bruyne and Sterling.

A total of 12 goals and 16 assists in those matches represents a decent return for a player renowned more for his defensive strength.

Bernardo Silva

Slotting into the attack ahead of Phil Foden and David Silva, both of whom have a stellar record under Guardiola, Bernardo Silva narrowly gets the nod due to his own impressive numbers in the final third.

Silva has 104 direct goal contributions (50 goals, 54 assists) in 273 appearances, starting in 208 of those matches. Only Sterling and De Bruyne have more assists under Guardiola, while Silva is one of eight players to hit the half-century mark for goals.

Sergio Aguero

In the future, Aguero's spot in the team is likely to be under significant threat from Erling Haaland following his blistering start to life at City, but the Argentine superstar retains the edge for the time being.

Aguero scored 124 goals under Guardiola, more than any other player, with Sterling the only other to have broken the century mark. Those goals came in just 183 appearances with Guardiola in charge, displaying his deadly ability in front of the net.

Raheem Sterling

An unsung hero of the Guardiola era, Sterling played 292 times under the Catalan boss, more than anyone else, while only Aguero scored more goals than Sterling (120).

Sterling also contributed 66 assists under Guardiola, sitting behind only De Bruyne, and is the only player to have scored over 100 goals and added over 50 assists under the Catalan boss.

Canada will go into their World Cup opener against Belgium with "belief, not hope", according to midfielder Jonathan Osorio.

The North Americans defied expectations to top the final group of CONCACAF qualifying - ahead of the United States and Mexico - and earn an automatic qualifying place at Qatar 2022, and Osorio is confident of creating more surprises.

A clash with a Belgium side featuring the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois is a baptism of fire in their first World Cup appearance in 36 years but Osorio is ready to defy expectations in the Group F fixture at Al Rayyan Stadium.

He told the Vancouver Sun: "We don't hope any more, we believe. We're very confident in ourselves. We want to show that we are a football nation, that we can compete with the best in the world.

"We want to surprise people, because I think people still see us as underdogs; Canada and the World Cup, they should just be happy to be here.

"But that's not our mentality. We're here to compete, to compete at a high level. We believe within our group, with the quality that we have and our brotherhood we can go as far as we want to go."

Canada's England-born coach John Herdman, who could be without star full-back Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich due to a hamstring strain, was also in bullish mood, adding: "I think, internally, Canada is starting to expect things from us.

"If you go to France, Germany, Italy, England, Brazil, Argentina they'll ask 'who's Canada?' But I think internally, as a country, we've started to believe things are possible, and it's just the same mentality - one game at a time."

Much of Belgium's build-up has surrounded the fitness of striker Romelu Lukaku who is set to miss the first two games in Qatar after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring strain.

Former Belgium captain Vincent Kompany, now boss of Burnley in the English Championship, understands why Roberto Martinez opted to take a gamble on the fitness of the Inter man.

Kompany missed the entire group stage at the 2018 World Cup and only returned for the knockout phase as the Red Devils finished third.

He told Het Nieuwsblad: "I didn't play in the group stage because I had injured my hamstrings in a friendly match in preparation for the World Cup.

"Going along injured looks strange during the group stage, but once you're further into the tournament, you need players who make the difference and can help win matches.

"Even if Lukaku can only play in one game against those bigger teams, his presence makes sense. I understand the decision. Match winners are everything in this competition."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Kevin De Bruyne

The Manchester City midfield maestro is the man Canada must try to keep quiet.

He has 155 goal involvements in just 224 Premier League appearances and a range of passing that can torment any defence. He will miss Lukaku's physical presence - as both a target and a creator of space - but De Bruyne still possesses the weapons to make a difference.

Canada - Jonathan David

David may play a little further forward than De Bruyne but his statistics are similar. In 15 games in Ligue 1 for Lille this season, the 22-year-old has contributed nine goals and three assists. Destined to join one of Europe's big guns at the end of the season, David will hope to use the World Cup as a springboard.

PREDICTION

It impossible to look past Belgium, despite the obvious confidence Canada gleaned from their impressive qualifying campaign. Stats Perform's AI model gives Belgium a 62.2 per cent chance of opening with a win, with Canada's hopes rated at just 17.4 per cent.

If De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Co. find their range it could be a very long night for Canada.

Romelu Lukaku has been included in Belgium's 26-man squad for the Qatar World Cup, despite injury concerns.

Head coach Roberto Martinez warned that Lukaku had to prove his fitness for the group stage if he was to be named in the squad, which the striker appears to have done.

Belgium's record goalscorer Lukaku, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, made his comeback from a hamstring injury, coming off the bench to score against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on October 26.

However, that is one of just two appearances the 29-year-old has managed since August, with his last game coming on October 29 against Sampdoria.

There is no place for another forward plying his trade in Serie A, with Milan's Divock Origi left out, though his club team-mate Charles De Ketelaere does make it.

The Premier League has plenty of representation, with three players from Leicester City, including Youri Tielemans, along with Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne, Brighton and Hove Albion's in-form winger Leandro Trossard and midfielders from Everton and Aston Villa in the form of Amadou Onana and Leander Dendoncker.

Eden Hazard has started just two games for Real Madrid this season, but makes the cut among Martinez's forwards, while club-mate Thibaut Courtois will be hoping for another fine tournament on an individual level, after he won the Golden Glove at Russia 2018.

This could be what has been dubbed the "golden generation" of Belgian football's last chance to win a major tournament, with several of their star players now over or approaching the age of 30. They finished third in 2018, beating England in a play-off match after losing to eventual champions France in the semi-finals.

Belgium kick their tournament off against Canada on November 23, before playing Morocco and Croatia in their other Group F matches.

Belgium squad: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Royal Antwerp), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Amadou Onana (Everton), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund); Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Charles De Ketelaere (Milan), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Lois Openda (Lens), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion)

Do you want to head into the World Cup break top of your fantasy league? Well, you're running out of time!

This weekend will be the penultimate round of games before a Premier League hiatus for Qatar 2022, with real-life teams aiming to get themselves in as strong a position as possible ahead of the Boxing Day resumption.

On the fantasy football front, given how tricky and unpredictable everything is likely to be after the World Cup, this is arguably a vital couple of weeks.

That's where Stats Perform hopes to help. They have delved into the Opta numbers to identify four players who appear smart choices beyond your obvious picks such as Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.

Danny Ward (Everton v Leicester City)

This might sound like a rogue choice given he conceded 22 goals in Leicester's first seven league games this term, but the Foxes have improved defensively of late.

That's highlighted by the fact Ward has kept clean sheets in four of his past six appearances in the Premier League, with no one matching that figure since the start of October.

In his first seven games, Ward let in 4.7 goals more than he should have according to Opta, but his goals prevented since stands at 1.0 – he's certainly turned his form around.

Kieran Trippier (Southampton v Newcastle United)

Obviously, the trick to picking defenders in fantasy football is choosing those who are likely to keep clean sheets and also able to offer a threat going forward – Trippier is marking himself out as the ideal candidate.

Since his first Newcastle game in the Premier League, he is one of just five defenders to reach five goal involvements and contribute to at least seven clean sheets. Trippier's also played the fewest minutes of those players.

Six of those clean sheets have been kept this season, with Newcastle's defensive solidity impressing pundits, while his 31 chances created is a Premier League-high for defenders, highlighting his attacking threat.

Leandro Trossard (Wolves v Brighton and Hove Albion)

It's been a peculiar season in general for Brighton, though Trossard's form has been one of few constants.

The Seagulls will hope that last weekend's battering of their former manager Graham Potter's Chelsea side will bring momentum, and that could see Trossard – arguably in the former of his Premier League career – become even livelier.

After all, only four players have more goals (seven) than the Belgian this term, with his record of a goal involvement every 126 minutes roughly twice as good as his previous best over a full campaign (one every 255 minutes).

Callum Wilson (Southampton v Newcastle United)

Eddie Howe has attracted a lot of praise for making Newcastle sound defensively, but they also continue to possess a potent attacking unit and Wilson is central to that.

Not only does he have eight goal involvements to his name this term (six scored, one assisted), Wilson's record of one goal every 117 minutes in the Premier League in 2022 (936 minutes) is his second-best return over a calendar year in the top flight after 2015, when he only played 543 minutes.

He travels to Southampton with huge confidence, having had a hand in three goals against Aston Villa last time out, the first time he's managed that in over two years.

Pep Guardiola insists Kevin De Bruyne "is back" after his stunning free-kick beat Leicester City, while the Manchester City head coach confirmed Erling Haaland missed out through ligament damage.

City moved to the Premier League summit on Saturday as De Bruyne's wonderful 25-yard effort sealed a narrow 1-0 victory at the King Power Stadium, where the visitors were without top scorer Haaland.

Guardiola admitted he had expected more from the Belgium international in recent weeks, while the City boss is hopeful his number nine will be fit again for next weekend's clash with Fulham.

"Kevin De Bruyne is back," Guardiola told BT Sport.

"He was not playing good the last few games, but today he was amazing. He knows it.

"There was no space and we had to be patient. [Leicester] changed it, and it was a difficult game, because they had 10 players so deep and it's so difficult.

"After we scored the goal, they changed their rhythm and in the Premier League, the last few minutes are always difficult, so it's a massive victory for us."

Asked when he thought Haaland would return, Guardiola told BBC Sport: "I don't know. He has ligament damage.

"He feels better and we have one more week as he won't play against Sevilla [on Wednesday] because we have already qualified [in the Champions League].

"And then hopefully against Fulham, he can help us. If not, he might play against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup [on November 9]."

De Bruyne believes City demonstrated their ability to cope without Haaland, while the midfield maestro also paid tribute to goalkeeper Ederson, who showed marvellous reflexes to deny Youri Tielemans' thumping 20-yard volley.

"We have proved we can win with or without Erling Haaland," De Bruyne said. "Ederson has been great. Sometimes, we only talk about his distribution, but he's a great keeper, and he proves it every week.

"We made it difficult for ourselves, we were a bit tired. They were very negative for 70 minutes, but then their changes made it a different game.

"We didn't keep the ball in their half, but we still could have scored a second."

Kevin De Bruyne's stunning free-kick sent Manchester City top of the Premier League after a 1-0 win over Leicester City.

Despite the absence of top scorer Erling Haaland after a fever and foot injury, Pep Guardiola's side jumped ahead of Arsenal at the summit after dominating for large periods at the King Power Stadium.

De Bruyne sealed City’s fourth successive away win at Leicester early in the second half with a magnificent 25-yard strike into the top-left corner.

This result ended a three-match unbeaten run for the Foxes, who missed the chance to move clear of the relegation zone.

The visitors quickly established control, aiming to end their three-game scoreless streak on the road, but found Danny Ward in solid form.

Leicester's goalkeeper repelled headers from Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, before blocking Bernardo Silva's vicious drive.

The Foxes had to wait until the 23rd minute for their first attack, with Harvey Barnes calling Ederson into action from a tight angle.

De Bruyne then stung Ward's palms with a powerful 25-yard attempt at the other end, but Guardiola's men were unable to convert their first-half dominance into an opening goal.

Rodri drilled narrowly wide within 40 seconds of the restart before De Bruyne broke the deadlock in the 49th minute; sending a pinpoint free-kick past Ward.

Youri Tielemans almost equalised in spectacular fashion four minutes later; Ederson tipping the midfielder's thumping 20-yard volley onto the crossbar after he sweetly connected with James Maddison’s corner.

Despite Patson Daka and former Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho going close for Leicester late on, and Ruben Dias and John Stones almost contriving a freak own goal, the visitors saw out the victory.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola wants more from Kevin De Bruyne who he says is not playing at his top level despite a stunning goal in Saturday's 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

The two-time Premier League Player of the Season fired in City's third goal with a curling right-foot shot from just beyond the box to seal the points in the 75th minute.

Since De Bruyne's Premier League debut for City in September 2015, he has scored more goals from outside the box than any other player in the competition in this period (24).

The goal was the 31-year-old Belgian's second of the Premier League season while he has also contributed nine assists, yet Guardiola is expecting more.

"He can be better. He's not playing at his top level, not yet," Guardiola told reporters.

"He made a fantastic goal but he's not playing his best. He knows. I don’t have to tell him. His dynamic still is not perfect, he knows that. I spoke with him. The goal is outstanding.

"Thanks to him we didn’t suffer in the last 15, 20 minutes when the game was more open… Kevin made a masterclass action so we win the game."

Erling Haaland continued his remarkable form with a first-half double, meaning he became the first City player to score in seven consecutive home games in all competitions since Sergio Aguero in February 2018.

The Norwegian showcased his pace and physicality to open the scoring in the 22nd minute, before emphatically converting a 43rd-minute penalty with a powerful strike.

"I would say that [Haaland]] has the quality in bigger spaces, he can do it and in smaller spaces he can do it," Guardiola said. "This is the reality.

"He is fantastic. The numbers and everything, the way he kicked the penalty, the quality, he did it."

Haaland's goal which made it 2-0 was City's 600th in the Premier League under Guardiola, making him the third manager to achieve that feat behind Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Kevin De Bruyne warned Erling Haaland's spectacular form is "just the start" after the striker's brace helped Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Haaland was shut out as City fell to their first defeat of the season at Liverpool last week, leaving them four points adrift of Premier League leaders Arsenal.

But normal service was resumed as City downed Brighton at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, the Norway international latching onto Ederson's long pass to open the scoring before lashing home from the penalty spot.

The 22-year-old became the first City player to score in seven consecutive home games since Sergio Aguero in the 2017-18 season.

Haaland has now scored 17 goals in 11 Premier League appearances and team-mate De Bruyne says there is more to come.

"He is there to score the goals. He is having a really good season and helping us win games," De Bruyne told Sky Sports.

"It's just the start, he is doing what he needs to do. The team is playing well for the moment so that's all we can do."

Brighton came back into the contest through Leandro Trossard's goal before De Bruyne found the top-left corner from long range to seal the points late on.

De Bruyne has now been directly involved in 153 Premier League goals for City (59 goals, 94 assists), moving level with David Silva's tally for the club (60 goals, 93 assists) and behind only Aguero (231 – 184 goals, 47 assists).

"The first half, we had full control, we didn't let them play. We should've scored to make it 3-0 and they scored for 2-1," the midfielder added. 

"It was a bit tight in the game but obviously scoring the third finished the game. I got the ball from Bernardo [Silva], looked through the options, I was in space there, shot and it went in perfectly."

City boss Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, praised his team's resilience after they overcame a stern test from Roberto De Zerbi's men.

"We struggled a bit, it's one of the toughest games you could face at the moment, but we needed the three points after the defeat at Anfield," Guardiola said.

"With the ball they have incredible quality and the two guys in the middle – they are a really good team.

"In those moments we have to be resilient and knew the game would be tough until the end. Kevin scored a goal that was magnificent, but we would fight to the end to avoid the draw or defeat.

"Sometimes it is important to understand the game we have to play."

Erling Haaland got back on the goal trail as his first-half double helped Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The Norwegian was kept quiet as City fell to their first defeat of the Premier League season at Liverpool last Sunday, but he bounced back in convincing fashion by putting the Seagulls to the sword.

Haaland was the beneficiary of an Ederson assist when he tapped into an empty net for his first, then rifled home a penalty to double up shortly before half-time.

Leandro Trossard dragged Brighton back into contention after the break, but Pep Guardiola's champions weathered the storm before Kevin De Bruyne made the points safe with a trademark long-range strike.

City toiled as Brighton kept things tight in the opening 20 minutes, but the hosts benefitted from a more direct approach when Haaland latched onto Ederson's lofted ball before shrugging off Aaron Webster to score the opener.

Lewis Dunk denied De Bruyne with a last-ditch block following a give-and-go with Jack Grealish 10 minutes later, but the Brighton defender was at fault when Haaland extended City's lead.

After a lengthy VAR review ruled Dunk had tripped Bernardo Silva in a crowded penalty area, Haaland blasted the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner, giving Robert Sanchez no chance.

However, Brighton needed just eight minutes to half the arrears after the break, as Trossard cut inside from the left before beating Ederson at his near post from 18 yards out, Solly March with the assist.

Trossard then forced Ederson into a reflex save as Brighton continued to push, but their efforts were undone when De Bruyne picked out the top-left corner with 15 minutes remaining, having been teed up by Silva. 

Kevin De Bruyne believes Erling Haaland made a "very good" decision when he opted to join Manchester City, saying he does not understand anyone who doubted the Norwegian.  

Although Haaland endured a quiet outing as City fell to a 1-0 loss at Liverpool on Sunday – their first defeat of the Premier League season – he has made a brilliant start to life in England.

Haaland has scored 15 goals in 10 Premier League games since joining City, and became the first player in the competition's history to hit hat-tricks in three successive home games earlier this month.

De Bruyne has already struck up a strong understanding with Haaland, and believes City's depth of attacking quality has made the striker's adaptation easier. 

"I don't understand why people would say it would be difficult to score goals here," De Bruyne told City's website.

"I think we have an amazing team, we create a lot of opportunities for our strikers so if he's there, he will score goals.

"I think he made a very good decision to come."

Haaland scored nine goals in his first five Premier League games – the best return in the competition's history, and De Bruyne thinks it was crucial for the 22-year-old to hit the ground running.

"He did it before. He's a very good striker," De Bruyne added. "I am very happy for him that he started the way that he started with us, because obviously there was a lot of pressure coming here.

"But he's fine, he's very relaxed and he's started well. He scores a lot of goals, so he's helping us to win games."

Karim Benzema said he had realised a childhood dream by winning the Ballon d'Or for the first time on Monday.

The Real Madrid captain was rewarded for an outstanding 2021-22 campaign when he was named the best player in the world at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Benzema scored an astonishing 44 goals in 46 games as Madrid accomplished a LaLiga and Champions League double under Carlo Ancelotti last season.

The France striker, who turns 35 in December, became the oldest Ballon d'Or winner since the great Stanley Matthews way back in 1956.

Benzema was presented with the award by his former Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane, who had been the last French player to win in 1998, on a special evening in his homeland.

He said: "Seeing this award in front of me makes me really proud of the work I have done. It was childhood dream, to have the motivation... I had two role models, Zidane and Ronaldo [the Brazil legend], and always I had this dream in my mind that anything is possible.

"There was a difficult period where I wasn't in the French team, but I never stopped working hard or gave up.

"Really proud of my journey here. It wasn't easy, it was difficult. To be here today for the first time, I am happy, pleased for my work and want to keep going.

"I want to thank all my team-mates at Real Madrid and France and my coach and the Real Madrid president, who is here this evening, and also the support of Jean-Michel Aulas [Lyon president].

"There are a lot of people to thank. It is an individual prize but still a collective one because of everyone who played a role in it."

Bayern Munich's former Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was the runner-up, with Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne third and Robert Lewandowski fourth after an outstanding final season for Bayern Munich before joining Barcelona.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was ranked fifth and Paris Saint-Germain's prolific France international Kylian Mbappe only sixth.

Benzema added: "Age is just a number for me. People play until their later years now, and I still have this burning desire.

"It is this drive that has kept me going and never allowed me to let up. It kept this dream alive and was the fire behind me. I just want to make the most if it."

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