Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola asserted that his side's Premier League title destiny is in their hands, and they will need to remain consistent to ward off Liverpool.

City remain a point clear of Liverpool after both sides won their respective games against Leeds and Newcastle.

Guardiola's side took the lead via Rodri in the 13th minute at Elland Road before going on to win 4-0, moving to 83 points with four games remaining.

While the 51-year-old respects the gravity of the situation, he believes the equation is ultimately simple for City – keep winning, because Liverpool will push them.

"It's in our hands," Guardiola said post-match. “Wolves, Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa. We win (them all), we will be champions. We drop points, Liverpool will be champions.

“We know exactly what we need to do - win our games.

“Still it is a privilege and an honour to try win back-to-back titles and four Premier Leagues in five years.

“Right now it's not too much complicated, they are going to win their games.”

Despite the scoreline, City's win was not necessarily routine, eventually doubling the margin through Nathan Ake from a set piece.

Asked whether the characteristically boisterous atmosphere at Elland Road compared to those they face in Europe, Guardiola added he was impressed by how the relegation-threatened Leeds were supported.

It meant his side had to display character to eventually see the game out.

“I don’t want to compare or I’ll be in trouble," Guardiola joked. “Since I arrived in England, I heard about Elland Road - last year it was behind closed doors, today i experienced it and why it’s so special.

“Fighting to stay in the Premier League – singing, chanting and how the people get behind them. Leeds is one of greatest teams in England, and I have sympathy for the fans. I said today it would be hard.

“We stuck together and in the end it’s important to close that (goal difference) gap a little more.”

Despite the change and uncertainty at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, the one constant on the pitch has been a dysfunctional midfield.

The Red Devils appear intent on changing that, amid the backdrop of Paul Pogba's contract expiring at the end of the season, while a season remains on Nemanja Matic's deal after the end of this term.

Their idea of a solution will reportedly come from within the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED TARGET WARD-PROWSE

Incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag wants James Ward-Prowse to spearhead a transformation of his new side's midfield, The Sun is reporting.

Ten Hag faces a substantial rebuild at Old Trafford and with the club set to miss out on Champions League qualification, a £150million asking price from West Ham for Declan Rice reportedly appears too steep.

Ward-Prowse appears to be the alternative, with Ten Hag reportedly an admirer and reportedly costing half the price of Rice. 

The 27-year-old's contract with Southampton runs until 2026, but the lure of a club of United's stature would be hard to resist.

ROUND-UP

- Ousmane Dembele has a more lucrative offer from  Paris Saint-Germain but the 24-year-old is intent on staying at Barcelona, Sport is reporting.

- Manchester City are confident Pep Guardiola will sign a new deal at the end of the season, with the Sunday Mirror reporting talks have taken place to extend his tenure to 2025.

- The Sunday Mirror is also reporting that Manchester United are interested in signing Feyenoord's 22-year-old left-back, Tyrell Malacia.

- Milan have agreed terms with Lille to sign  Renato Sanches, per Calciomercato, with the midfielder set to join for €20million plus add-ons.

The Premier League witnessed drama at both ends of the table on an absorbing Saturday, as Manchester City and Liverpool continued to trade blows in the title race.

Jurgen Klopp's men downed in-form Newcastle United thanks to Naby Keita's first-half strike, before City responded by cruising to a 4-0 thrashing of Leeds United at Elland Road.

At the other end of the table, Norwich City were condemned to a record sixth Premier League relegation at Aston Villa, and Watford look destined to join them after Burnley continued their incredible upturn in form at Vicarage Road.

After another frantic day of action, Stats Perform looks at some of the key Opta facts from Saturday's contests.

Newcastle United 0-1 Liverpool: Keita continues Reds' run

Liverpool's bid for a remarkable quadruple faced a tough test when they travelled to Eddie Howe's in-form Newcastle in the first clash of the day.

However, Naby Keita's 19th-minute goal proved the difference in a competitive encounter, and was Liverpool's earliest winning goal in a 1-0 Premier League victory since December 2016, when Georginio Wijnaldum netted after eight minutes against Manchester City.

Klopp's side had chances to extend their lead, with home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka making nine saves, his highest tally in a single Premier League match. Since 2003-04, when Opta data began, the only Newcastle goalkeepers to make more saves in a Premier League game are Tim Krul (14 against Tottenham in November 2013) and Karl Darlow (11 against Tottenham in September 2020).

However, a 21st clean sheet of Liverpool's league campaign was enough to move them to the top of the table - only in 2005-06 (22) have the Reds kept more shutouts in a single Premier League campaign.

Liverpool have now picked up 40 points from the last 42 on offer in the competition, and the win turned up the pressure on City ahead of their trip to Leeds later on Saturday.

Leeds United 0-4 Manchester City: Visitors draw on set-peice prowess to reclaim top spot

The Reds were not top of the table for long, however, as City claimed a 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Leeds at Elland Road. Goals from Rodri and Nathan Ake both came from set pieces, meaning City have now scored 18 set-piece goals (excluding penalties) this season, their most in a Premier League campaign since 2013-14 (22).

Pep Guardiola's men have also kept five consecutive away league clean sheets, the best such sequence in the club's history.

After Gabriel Jesus had made the points safe, Fernandinho stuck a superb fourth goal late on, becoming the club's oldest ever Premier League goalscorer at 36 years and 361 days old, overtaking Frank Lampard in 2015 (36 years and 338 days old).

Leeds, meanwhile, are looking over their shoulders after another heavy defeat. They have conceded a remarkable 20 league goals against the two Manchester clubs this season (11 against City, nine against Manchester United) – a new top-flight record for goals conceded against the duo in a single season.

Watford 1-2 Burnley: Clarets' revival continues after Cork ends barren run

Elsewhere, Burnley continued their incredible revival by coming from behind to defeat Watford, making Mike Jackson the first Clarets boss to win three of his first four league games in charge since Jimmy Mullen won his first four in 1991.

After James Tarkowski's own-goal put Watford ahead, Jack Cork ended his run of 84 Premier League games without a goal with his first strike since December 2018 (against Liverpool), before Josh Brownhill scored a late winner.

The Clarets are now five points above the bottom three after winning three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since April 2019, having won just three of their previous 21 games.

Roy Hodgson's Watford, meanwhile, look destined for relegation after becoming the first side in English top-flight history to lose 11 consecutive home league matches.

Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City: Canaries suffer another relegation at Villa Park

Burnley's win had other ramifications, contributing to Norwich suffering their sixth relegation from the Premier League – the most of any club in the competition's history – after the Canaries were beaten at Villa Park.

Remarkably, Norwich have been relegated in each of their last four Premier League seasons (2013-14, 2015-16, 2019-20 and 2021-22). They are only the second side in English league history to suffer relegation in four consecutive campaigns in the top-flight, after Crystal Palace (1992-93, 1994-95, 1997-98 and 2004-05).

 

Dean Smith's men saw their fate sealed after becoming the first team to concede 70 Premier League goals this season after just 34 games, representing the earliest point in any league campaign they have reached 70 concessions since 1956-57 (in their 34th game in the old Third Division South).

Ollie Watkins set the tone for Villa's win with his first-half strike, and he has now scored at least 11 more goals than any other Villa player since his September 2020 debut (25 goals in all competitions).

Pep Guardiola insisted he is enjoying the pressure that comes with Manchester City's bid for the Premier League and Champions League titles after his team thrashed Leeds United 4-0.

Rodri and Nathan Ake converted from set pieces to put City in control of their Premier League clash at Elland Road, as the visitors reached 18 set-piece goals in the league this season (excluding penalties) – the highest tally in the competition.

Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho added some gloss to the scoreline late on as City returned to the Premier League summit, having been overtaken by Liverpool after the Reds' 1-0 win over Newcastle United earlier on Saturday. 

City are now unbeaten in eight league games, while title rivals Liverpool have dropped just two points in their last 14 games in the competition, but Guardiola insisted he was relishing the pressure of the title race after securing an "incredible" victory.

"I prefer to feel the pressure than to not feel it! It means we have a chance to do it," he told Sky Sports. 

"It's a long season but now it's the last effort, we have a final in Madrid in four days and after, the last four games of the Premier League.

"Today was so important, you know, to make our chances to be champions alive again.

"We suffered a lot in the first half, but after the second goal we had control and we could have scored more goals. It's an incredible result for us, so important. 

"We defended well, sometimes set pieces are so important, with Nathan Ake on the pitch we are really strong. What a game [Aymeric] Laporte played. He played an incredible game. We have five games, potentially six [if City make the Champions League final], to end the season."

In completing their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82 – a season that saw the Yorkshire club relegated from the top flight – City recorded their fifth successive away clean sheet in the Premier League.

That sequence represents the longest such run in City's history, and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan said the team overcame a "huge test" in their quest for consecutive Premier League titles.

"Leeds started with a lot of intensity and made our lives difficult," Gundogan added. "Obviously the first goal helped us a lot, but still in the first half they were more than in the game.

"After the second we were able to move the ball better, quicker, and create more chances. At the end of the day, it was a very good result for us."

City and Liverpool have set a relentless pace in another absorbing race between the duo, and Gundogan echoed his manager's sentiments in claiming the players were enjoying the pressure that competition brings.

"It's only as tough as you make it, we are all competitors, and we need to be able to manage these kinds of situations," he said. "It's normal that sometimes they will play first and sometimes we're going to play first.

"But the pressure is always on, and the responsibility is always there to win all the games. It looks like both teams might not struggle until the end, that's what we want obviously, and every game is a final."

Manchester City kept the outcome of the Premier League title race in their hands with a 4-0 win over Leeds United.

After Liverpool claimed a 1-0 victory at Newcastle United earlier on Saturday, City needed a win to regain a one-point advantage in their hard-fought battle with the Reds.

City faced few problems in grinding out the result they needed, with Rodri and Nathan Ake converting from set-pieces in either half before Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho wrapped up the points late on.

Pep Guardiola's men simply need to win each of their four remaining games to wrap up the Premier League title, while Leeds remain in danger of relegation after slipping to 17th.

The visitors rested several players, including Kevin De Bruyne, ahead of Wednesday's trip to Real Madrid, and could have fallen behind early on when Rodrigo Moreno delayed his pass after capitalising on Joao Cancelo's slip.

But City took the lead after 13 minutes when Rodri met Phil Foden's left-wing free-kick with a glancing header, diverting the ball into the top-right corner.

Junior Firpo fired over when presented with the hosts' best opening in a quiet first half, and Jesse Marsch's men lost Stuart Dallas to a serious-looking injury shortly before the break.

Jack Grealish bent a shot narrowly wide of the top-right corner after Raheem Sterling danced through the home defence after 52 minutes, but Ake doubled their lead soon after, prodding home after Ruben Dias met a right-wing corner. 

City made the points safe when Jesus latched onto Foden's pass to fire past Illan Meslier after 78 minutes, before Fernandinho drilled a 25-yard strike into the bottom-left corner as the visitors cruised.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has Benfica striker Darwin Nunez at the top of his shopping list in the upcoming transfer window.

The Uruguayan striker is in the midst of a breakout season in both Portugal and Europe, scoring 25 goals in 24 Primeira Liga fixtures, and a Benfica-record six Champions League goals in 10 appearances.

Darwin finished his Champions League campaign by scoring a goal in three consecutive games, including in back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS MAKE DARWIN NUMBER-ONE TARGET

Fichajes and Calcio In Pillole reporter Ekrem Konur claims United have made Darwin their priority target, stating he is "at the top of Erik ten Hag's short transfer list" and they are "considering paying" his release clause.

ESPN has also said United are "leading the chase" for the striker though they face competition from Arsenal, and reported along with The Sun that the 22-year-old's release clause is in the region of €150million.

As well as Darwin, Napoli's Victor Osimhen and Juventus' Paulo Dybala, who will be a free agent, are also serious targets management would like to bring to Old Trafford.

ROUND-UP

– Marca is reporting that Barcelona will turn to Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku as their "plan C" after failing to land Erling Haaland or Robert Lewandowski.

– According to The Express, Arsenal are willing to listen to offers of £25m for Nicolas Pepe after signing him for a club-record £72m in 2019. West Ham are said to be one of the Premier League teams interested.

– Fabrizio Romano reports that Manchester City are focused on extending Phil Foden's contract until 2027.

– Leeds United midfielder and England international Kalvin Phillips will change his agent as he looks to secure a move away from the club, with the Manchester Evening News reporting that United will be in the box seat.

– Todofichajes is claiming that Arsenal have agreed a £50m deal for City striker Gabriel Jesus.

As the 2021-22 Premier League season enters its final weeks, plenty remains for the taking – not least the thrilling title race between Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City.

Both teams are in imperious form and, while City lead the way by a single point heading into the weekend, one slip might be all it takes.

Chelsea seem relatively secure in third place, but behind them the battle for the final Champions League spot is raging on. Just two points separate north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, who meet in a potentially decisive derby in mid-May. 

Manchester United have played two games more than those two sides and look like they will have to settle for sixth, assuming they can fend off West Ham.

At the bottom, Everton are in real danger of losing their Premier League status for the first time but will hold out hope in their dogfight against Burnley and Leeds United, though Watford and Norwich City appear destined for the drop.

But just how will it all unfold? Well, using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try and forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The rest of the matches are then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

PEP PIPS KLOPP TO THE POST... AGAIN

City won the Premier League title by a margin of just one point in the 2018-19 campaign. The gap has been much wider over the past two seasons, with Liverpool triumphing in 2020 and City winning last year.

But just like in 2019, the model suggests Liverpool will fall just short once again, with City predicted to stay on top. It gives Pep Guardiola's team a 66 per cent chance of winning their fourth title in five seasons, with the Reds given a 34 per cent chance.

Neither side are predicted to drop out of the top two – that seems a safe bet. Liverpool have a tough trip to in-form Newcastle United on Saturday, while City face Leeds United.

Newcastle will then have the chance to have another say in the title race when they visit City on May 8, with trips to Wolves and West Ham coming for the leaders before they round off their domestic season against Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa. 

Liverpool, who also face Villa along with Spurs, Southampton and Wolves, will be wanting a favour from their club great on the last day of the season if they are to prove the model wrong.

GUNNERS CLINCH CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLACE

Chelsea, according to the model, have a 98.7 chance of staying in third place, and are certain to be playing in UEFA's elite competition next season.

Below them, it is predicted that Arsenal will just nip into the top four rather than Spurs. Mikel Arteta's team have a 75.2 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and just 24.8 of finishing in a Europa League place.

While Stats Perform AI only gives Arsenal a minuscule opportunity of taking third off Chelsea, they have a 73.9 per cent chance of securing fourth place and featuring in the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.

It seems likely that much will be decided on May 12, when Spurs welcome Arsenal to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Antonio Conte's team are predicted to finish fifth (72.4 per cent), and only have a 24.7 per cent likelihood of clinching fourth.

United are forecast to finish sixth (65 per cent), albeit there is the possibility they could even end 2021-22 in seventh. That position, however, seems set to be filled by West Ham, who have to win against Eintracht Frankfurt next week to keep their hopes of a Europa League triumph alive – success in that competition would take them into the Champions League, regardless of where they finish domestically.

TOFFEES CHAMPIONSHIP-BOUND

It has been a dismal season for Everton, who head into Sunday's clash with Frank Lampard's former club Chelsea sitting in the bottom three for the first time since 2019 (when, ironically, they beat a Chelsea side managed by Lampard).

Lampard has taken 10 points from his 12 games in charge, and they are now predicted to finish in 18th place. The model gives them a 29.8 per cent chance of escaping the drop and finishing 17th and just a 17.4 per cent likelihood of coming 16th. Their run-in includes three away games, and Everton have the worst away record in the competition – 12 of their 19 defeats coming on the road and they have taken just six points on their travels all season.

Burnley sit two points clear of Everton in 17th after two successive victories and are given a 39.4 per cent chance of staying put, although the likelihood of the Clarets' finishing 18th is not dissimilar (36.5 per cent).

Leeds have tough fixtures against City, Arsenal and Chelsea coming up before they host Brighton and Hove Albion and visit Brentford, though Stats Perform AI gives them only a 12.9 per cent chance of relegation.

Watford are heavily predicted to stay put in 19th too, with Norwich given a 67.4 per cent probability of finishing bottom – the model reckons they have a 0.1 per cent chance of avoiding the drop.

Pep Guardiola offered a solution as Jurgen Klopp bemoaned Liverpool's hectic schedule, suggesting that issue would disappear if he took up a job in the Maldives.

Manchester City are in action against Leeds United on Sunday after Liverpool have visited Newcastle United in Saturday's early kick-off.

The timing of that fixture has been the source of some frustration to Klopp, whose Reds side played in the Champions League against Villarreal on Wednesday.

But City manager Guardiola insisted it is a problem top coaches simply have to come to terms with, accepting they have little say in how the calendar is set.

The alternative, Guardiola suggested, would be leaving the Premier League for a quieter life beneath the coconut trees in "the Maldives league".

"Always I sympathise about the concerns of Liverpool," Guardiola said with a smile of Klopp's complaint.

"How many times have we discussed about what's happened to us and I've said I don't want to talk about that? Nothing is going to change.

"It's not going to change because the broadcasters are thinking about what they have to do to get more viewers. It's not about what the players need or what the teams need.

"Of course I understand it, but what can I say? We are not going to solve the problem, I've said many times. Sir Alex Ferguson was the most important icon in the history of English football and he was complaining when he was a teenager.

"Nothing is going to change, so don't ask me. With these questions, stop asking the managers. Go to the Premier League, the broadcasters, and ask the reason why. As a manager, we want the best for our players.

"We are focused on the players, concerned about the players and their recovery to make three or four competitions. Don't ask me again these questions because it wastes time. Nothing is going to change.

"We played in Madrid against Atletico, and three days later we played at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

"Chelsea played Tuesday and could have played on Saturday but played on Sunday. Do you think they think about that? No, because the next Tuesday, Liverpool play against United.

"Everyone has their own business to defend. We adapt. If they say play Saturday, we play Saturday. If they say play Tuesday, we play Tuesday. Thursday? We are going to play Thursday. Whatever they want, no problem.

"If I'm not satisfied, I go home and don't be manager of Man City. I go to another league in the Maldives, the Maldives league, and play one game a week and I'm so comfortable under the coconuts and it would be so perfect.

"But it's not the case. You are playing at 12.30pm, I'm sorry, Liverpool, but I'm not involved with that."

Jack Grealish has been left out of Manchester City's biggest matches in recent weeks purely due to tactical reasons, Pep Guardiola has explained.

Grealish, signed for a record-breaking £100million last off-season, has started just three of City's eight games so far in April.

The Premier League leaders bookend what has been a hectic month with a trip to Leeds United on Saturday, and may well start the match at Elland Road in second place, should Liverpool get a result against in-form Newcastle United.

Grealish featured from the off in last week's 5-1 rout of Watford, but did not play against Real Madrid in Tuesday's thrilling Champions League encounter as City won the first leg of their semi-final 4-3.

The 26-year-old also started against Burnley at the start of April and in the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool, scoring City's first goal in a 3-2 defeat at Wembley. However, he was a substitute against the Reds in the 2-2 league draw on April 10, and only featured from the bench in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid. He also did not appear against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Only Bruno Fernandes (77) created more chances from open play in the Premier League than Grealish (70) last season, with the England international managing to craft 42 goalscoring chances from open play for City across 22 top-flight appearances this term. 

That is still the third-best figure in City's squad, behind Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva (both 52), and Guardiola has insisted the playmaker's recent omissions were purely tactical and not down to a disappointment in Grealish's level of performance.

"He can play," Guardiola replied when asked in a news conference why Grealish had been left out of the biggest matches.

"Nothing changes. In that position, in important games Riyad [Mahrez] gives something unique, special and Phil [Foden] is so determined, his will and his impact on the game is huge as well. Just for that reason.

"Raheem [Sterling], everybody knows how important he is for me. Always have the feeling with Phil and Riyad that the goal is there, they have the sense to score the goal. 

"Sometimes you need more control, maybe Jack. Most of the time it is a tactical decision, not because I'm unsatisfied or that they're not playing good."

While Grealish could be in line to play against Leeds, Kyle Walker remains sidelined through injury, with Guardiola unsure if the full-back will return before the end of the season. John Stones will also be absent in West Yorkshire.

City did not beat Leeds in either match last season, drawing at Elland Road before losing to 10 men at the Etihad Stadium. Indeed, the Whites have lost just two of their last nine home league games against City (W6 D1), doing so in consecutive meetings in December 1995 (0-1) and September 2000 (1-2).

But City did win the reverse fixture 7-0 this season and are looking to complete their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82. Guardiola, though, knows Jesse Marsch's team, who are five points clear of the relegation zone after a five-game unbeaten run that has included three victories, stand in the way of what could be a crucial win.

"Last season we dropped five points against Marcelo [Bielsa]," he said. "Jesse Marsch did an incredible job in Salzburg, [RB] Leipzig wasn't the perfect place maybe, but many teams in England play that way, I have a lot of respect.

"This is the most important game that we have for the position we will be in between the Champions League games, after Madrid we have just four games all in the league. We accept the challenge, know exactly what we have to do and we will try to do it."

Pep Guardiola sees no reason why Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool contract extension should play a factor in whether to prolong his own stay at rivals Manchester City.

Klopp confirmed on Thursday he had signed fresh terms with the Reds to keep him at Anfield until at least 2026, with his previous deal set to have expired in 2024.

Guardiola will soon enter the final 12 months of his own contract, though most neutrals will hope he stays on to continue a fascinating rivalry that has been established between City and Liverpool over the past few seasons.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, though, said his immediate focus is on Saturday's Premier League clash with Leeds United, a match in which they could find themselves starting two points behind title rivals Liverpool, who play Newcastle United in the early kick-off.

"I don't know, Leeds is the focus. I congratulate Jurgen and Liverpool, I think it's really good for the Premier League, and I wish him all the best in the future," Guardiola said.

"My future is Leeds, our future is Leeds and the end of the season. Why should it make an impact [on my future]? 

"Everyone has their situation. If we decide to stay longer it won't be because Jurgen extended his contract or not, I don't see this relation, honestly.

"All my career as a manager always I've had rivals. I think it's really good for the Premier League that he decided to extend the contract, because he and the club decided to stick together, there's nothing to add."

Guardiola added no further talks are in the pipeline with City, though he acknowledged the club is the ideal place for him to work at this stage of his career.

He added: "No, no. I'm so concerned about the last three weeks, one month of the season. One year is a long time, six seasons together, many years. I am enjoying this part of the season, after we have time. 

"I have an incredible relationship with the club. You know my opinion, I'm incredibly happy, I could not be in a better place in my life right now to work than here, I could not visualise a better place, but it's not just about me. We are going to take the decision."

While Guardiola was complimentary of Klopp's work at Liverpool, he appeared a little more terse when asked about the fact Mohamed Salah had won the Football Writers' Association Men's Footballer of the Year for 2021-2022, an award his own star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne would have held legitimate claims to win.

"Congratulations to Salah," he said, before adding: "I was not in contention, I played good! 

"[De Bruyne] won already. Congratulations to Salah. Jurgen said that they have the best goalkeeper, the best second keeper, in the world, the best central defender, the best holding midfielder, the best striker. 

"So, it's normal they [Liverpool] win all the awards."

Few would be surprised if Manchester City and Liverpool, the Premier League's two dominant teams, each won their five remaining matches this season.

Liverpool have 12 victories in 13 games, with their sole aberration a 2-2 draw against City.

Yet that run will not be enough to take the title should City themselves continue to win, maintaining a tiny one-point gap that represents a chasm in this rivalry.

Perhaps the distraction of huge Champions League tasks could instead encourage one side or the other to take their eyes off the prize – or maybe a Premier League rival can provide an upset.

Liverpool must still tackle two of the other three opponents to have taken points off City this term (Tottenham and Southampton) but first face a team transformed since they were swatted aside by both the Reds and the champions back in December.

As back then, Newcastle United take on Liverpool and City in consecutive matches. The top two also each have Wolves and Aston Villa to play, yet it is Eddie Howe's men who look primed to be kingmakers.

After all, in this calendar year, Newcastle represent the best of the rest. Only Liverpool (2.7) and City (2.3) have earned more points per game than Newcastle (2.1), who are actually ahead of City (30) in terms of a 2022 total (32).

So, heading into a daunting double-header comfortably in midtable after 150 days in the relegation zone this season, could Newcastle shake things up?

Fortress St James'

The last time Newcastle beat Liverpool, Georginio Wijnaldum scored one goal and created the other. He has since been relegated with Newcastle, joined Liverpool, won the Champions League and the Premier League and moved on again.

The Reds are 10 without defeat against Newcastle, including a four-match unbeaten run on Tyneside – albeit two of those clashes were behind closed doors. Newcastle have failed to win in five successive home league games against Liverpool only once previously, back in the 1960s.

Liverpool did come out on top the last time they played in front of fans at St James' Park in 2019 but only courtesy of a controversial late winner. The hosts were clear of relegation trouble with little to play for after a strong second half to the season, while the visitors briefly set aside a Champions League semi-final in their pursuit of City.

That sounds familiar, and the home crowd are likely to be up for it again, with Jurgen Klopp remarking last time: "Is there any history between Newcastle and Liverpool that I don't know about? The atmosphere was like something happened in the past."

Howe's side have their own streak to extend this weekend, meanwhile, having won six Premier League games in a row at home for the first time in 18 years.

In fact, only three times previously in the competition have Newcastle enjoyed a longer such stretch at home, even if their 1995-96 record run of 14 wins remains a long way out of reach.

City at least have the benefit of playing Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium, although the Magpies' four away wins this season have all come since the turn of the year.

For the first time since 1996-97, Newcastle have won three games in a row on three separate occasions, including an ongoing run of four straight victories in which they have conceded only once...

Built from the back

Newcastle's development into a solid defensive outfit was far from expected. They ended 2021 having conceded a record 80 Premier League goals for the calendar year, while Howe's Bournemouth team shipped at least 61 in each of their five seasons in the competition.

A 3-3 draw at home to Brentford in his first match in charge hinted at the continuation of a campaign of chaos, and Newcastle were still conceding 2.3 goals per game – on course for more than 86 for the season – when City won 4-0 at St James' Park in December.

However, Howe – widely considered an attacking coach – spent time at Atletico Madrid in his spell out of the game, and Newcastle have since represented something akin to Diego Simeone's side.

They have conceded more than once in only a single game since the City defeat, an uncharacteristic 5-1 collapse at Tottenham that included four home goals in just over 20 minutes either side of half-time.

Again, only Liverpool's Alisson (10) and City's Ederson (seven) can top Martin Dubravka's six league clean sheets for Newcastle in 2022, when he has let in 13 goals in 15 games – or a hugely impressive eight in 14 outside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dubravka has played a key role in keeping Newcastle up in previous seasons, but this time the players in front of him are doing the bulk of the work.

Newcastle have allowed their 2022 opponents chances worth 1.0 expected goals per game, third behind City (0.6) and Liverpool (0.9). Their defence is sixth in terms of shots faced over this period (10.8 per game) and fourth for shots on target faced (3.1 per game).

The Magpies will back themselves to frustrate either Liverpool or City, yet the top two have won 10 of the 17 games this season in which they have scored no more than a single goal, so Howe's men will have to threaten at the other end, too.

Brilliant Bruno Guimaraes

Outsiders have attributed much of Newcastle's upturn to their January investment in new players, yet that ignores the improvement of previously failing individuals like Joelinton and Emil Krafth – key men in a side missing England internationals Callum Wilson since December and Kieran Trippier since February.

Howe is therefore yet to come close to naming his strongest Newcastle team, but that XI will undoubtedly have his most expensive signing, Bruno Guimaraes, at the heart of it.

With Trippier likely still out, Guimaraes is perhaps the one Newcastle player who would not look out of place in either the Liverpool or City line-ups.

The Brazil midfielder has been as outstanding as expected both in and out of possession, showing the quality that helped Lyon to knock City out of the 2019-20 Champions League.

Guimaraes has completed 85.8 per cent of his passes in the Premier League, the highest rate of any Newcastle player to play 500 or more minutes since their promotion in 2017, while also averaging a tackle every 24 minutes – third behind Arthur Masuaku and Liverpool's Naby Keita this season.

What was not anticipated was the goal threat Guimaraes has also brought. After scoring three times in 56 Ligue 1 games with Lyon, the 24-year-old has four in 13 – including just seven starts – at Newcastle.

Since first breaking into the Newcastle XI, only Cristiano Ronaldo (eight), Son Heung-min (six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) have found the net on as many occasions in the Premier League.

"Goals aren't the strongest part of my game," Guimaraes insisted when he arrived in England, but he poses as big a danger to Liverpool and City as anyone, looking to extend his streak of goal involvements in three straight matches.

Guimaraes spoke in that same interview of winning the Champions League during his time at Newcastle, while his agent this week suggested the club would be targeting qualification as soon as next season.

These next two fixtures present Guimaraes and Newcastle with the opportunity to test themselves against the best Europe can offer – and potentially decide the Premier League title race in the process.

The Premier League has rearranged games involving Manchester City and Liverpool to set the final schedule for what promises to be an exciting title race.

Pep Guardiola's side are one point ahead of Jurgen Klopp's Reds at the top of the table with five league games remaining for both.

City's trip to face Wolves at Molineux, which was originally supposed to be played on the weekend of their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool, will take place on Wednesday, May 11.

Meanwhile, with Liverpool's involvement in the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday, May 14, their away game at Southampton has now been set for Tuesday, May 17.

That means Jurgen Klopp's men will have to play two games in the final week of the campaign, with the last matchday scheduled for Sunday, May 22.

Reigning champions City still have to play Leeds United (a), Newcastle United (h), Wolves (a), West Ham (a) and Aston Villa (h).

Meanwhile, Liverpool's remaining games are against Newcastle (a), Tottenham (h), Aston Villa (a), Southampton (a) and Wolves (h).

WIth both teams also involved in the Champions League semi-finals, it promises to be an intense end to the season, especially for Liverpool, who can still win what would be an unprecedented quadruple.

Vinicius Junior says "there are no words" to describe Karim Benzema's form as he backed his Real Madrid team-mate to win this year's Ballon d'Or.

Benzema, on his 600th appearance for Madrid, scored twice in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Manchester City in their Champions League semi-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

The France international's first was a difficult twisting finish to drag Madrid back in the game at 2-0 down and the second a calm Panenka penalty late on to leave the tie well poised.

He now has 41 goals in as many games for Los Blancos this season, a tally bettered only by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (48 in 43) across Europe's top five leagues.

The 34-year-old is the fifth Madrid player to score over 40 goals in a single season, after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez.

Benzema also leads the scoring charts in the Champions League this term with 14, one more than Lewandowski, whose Bayern side were eliminated by Villarreal at the quarter-final stage.

Having finished behind Lionel Messi, Lewandowski and Jorginho in last year's Ballon d'Or, Vinicius insists Benzema should land the 2022 award.

"There are no words that can describe how Benzema is playing," Vinicius said. "He deserves the Ballon d'Or.

"I hope my brother Benzema ends up winning LaLiga, the Champions League and Ballon d'Or."

Benzema scored a hat-trick in the second leg of the last-16 win over Paris Saint-Germain and another treble in the first leg of the quarter-final victory against Chelsea.

His nine goals in the knockout stages has been bettered only once in a single Champions League campaign – Ronaldo scoring 10 in the 2016-17 edition.

Vinicius is not alone in backing Benzema to win the Ballon d'Or, with former team-mate Mesut Ozil tweeting on Tuesday: "Give my boy Benzi the Ballon D'Or."

Ex-Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand agreed with that assessment, quoting the tweet and adding the word "Facts".

That post by Ferdinand was liked by Benzema, whose prospects of being crowned the world's best player could be bolstered by helping France to World Cup glory in December.

Rather than bask in his glorious form, however, the prolific striker accepts his side have a lot of work to do if they are to advance any further in this season's competition.

"A defeat is never good, but we are excited about this Champions League and the important thing is we never give up," he told Movistar+. 

"Now we have to go to the Bernabeu and we need the fans like never before to do something magical, which is to win.

"We entered the game without confidence, and that's what happens with an opponent like Manchester City. In this game a little bit of everything was missing."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says anything less than a focused 90 minutes from his side will not see them through to the Champions League final following their 4-3 win over Real Madrid.

City got off to a fast start in Tuesday's semi-final first leg, with goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus putting them 2-0 up within 11 minutes.

There was a sense it could have been more but whenever Guardiola's side threatened to break the tie open, Madrid pulled a goal back.

With Casemiro likely to return for Madrid, Guardiola asserted City will have to be at their best to progress to May's final in Paris.

"Regardless of the result, if it was 2-0 or 3-0 we would still have to go to the Bernabeu and play well. If we play like we did in the second half, we won't be able to win," Guardiola said.

"If we play like we did at other periods, we will. We want to be there to put on a good show, this is what I want to tell my players to do – don't think of anything else.

"When I became a footballer and a manager, when you go to the Bernabeu you have to perform as yourself or there is no option to win. You have to come through these situations to win the Champions League."

City were similarly vulnerable in the quarter-final second leg, holding onto a one-goal lead in the tie against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

They still could have put the game and arguably the tie against Los Blancos to bed. One instance where an enraged Guardiola berated Riyad Mahrez for not squaring to Phil Foden in the first half highlighted what was at stake and the fine margins at play.

The 51-year-old took some solace in the fact City managed to get into those positions, but conceded they need to realise those kinds of opportunities at the Bernabeu.

"We miss them but we create them," he said. "We were there all the time. No complaints about the result, the performance, anything. I am so proud of the way we perform in front of the world.

"We did everything to win and with courage – with the ball, without the ball.

"Football is football, the result is the result, but how we perform is exceptional. Nobody can say the performance was not good. We know we have to maybe raise the level to reach the final but this competition demands that. At the end maybe the chances we create we have to convert."

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti all but confirmed Casemiro will play in his side's Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

The 30-year-old was sorely missed at the base of midfield for Los Blancos as they lost Tuesday's first leg 4-3, lacking both defensive solidity and flexible positioning off the ball in possession with Toni Kroos in his place.

The Brazilian was an unused substitute after missing their 3-1 win over Osasuna last Thursday, due to muscular problems. Meanwhile, David Alaba was also forced off at half-time, making way for Nacho in the centre of defence.

Ancelotti believes the midfield lynchpin will play in the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, though he is less certain on Alaba.

"Casemiro [will play], for sure," he said. "We will have to evaluate Alaba. He felt the discomfort of recent times and to avoid problems I have stopped him. I think they will both be ready for the second leg."

City were largely the better team on Tuesday and got off to a flying start with two goals within the opening 11 minutes.

Through a Karim Benzema brace and a particularly timely solo goal from Vinicius to make it 3-2, Real Madrid managed to stay in the tie and limit the damage.

According to Ancelotti, a place in May's final is still there for the taking but only if they do not throw it away first.

"It is difficult for us to see a game like today's in the second leg again," he said. "City have an advantage, we have to take it into account but knowing that it is not a great advantage. We are going to fight for another magical night.

"We started very badly, too soft. We have conceded two goals and from then on, we have shown in recent times, a great capacity for reaction.

"We were in the game until the end, we competed. We have to defend better and with the ball we did well, with many opportunities. For the second leg, we have to defend better it is too important."

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