Phil Foden is enjoying playing as the focal point in Manchester City's star-studded attack and earned special praise from boss Pep Guardiola after inspiring his side to victory at Brighton and Hove Albion.

The City academy product started through the middle once again in Saturday's meeting at the Amex Stadium and scored just his second ever double in the Premier League in a 4-1 win.

Foden had eight shots, four of those on target, but he could not find a way past Robert Sanchez in the second half for a hat-trick.

The England international did set up substitute Riyad Mahrez late on for City's fourth, however, and he is thriving off the freedom of being used right across City's frontline this season.

"I'm enjoying it. I can drop deep and get the ball and pick the passes off. It's a new role for me and I can say I'm really enjoying it," he told Sky Sports. 

"It changes game to game. Sometimes I stay higher than normal, but this game they went man-to-man so I dropped a bit deeper and I thought we used the extra man well.

"On another day I could have scored three, but the main thing is the result and I'm just happy we got it today."

Foden has featured nine times for City this season, starting six of those games and playing a direct part in eight goals – only Mahrez (nine) has scored and assisted more for the club this term.

Guardiola agrees with Foden that he should have further added to his goals tally against Brighton, but the Catalan coach is pleased with the strides being taken by the 21-year-old.

"There are players that play in one position and there are players who play football. When you play football it means you can play any position, you understand the game," Guardiola said at his post-match news conference.

"In the final third he can play up front, has the quality to move and be aggressive one on one and arrive in the box. He can play as a false nine, a winger, wide right or wide left.

"He is a guy who is a midfield player with a big sense of the goal. He scored two and could have had more, but he is still young and still has a margin to improve."

Foden's double came after Ilkay Gundogan had opened the scoring as City raced three goals ahead inside 31 minutes.

Alexis Mac Allister pulled one back from the penalty spot nine minutes from time after Ederson took out Enock Mwepu, but Mahrez thumped home a fourth for the visitors late on.

The reigning champions are back to within two points of leaders Chelsea, who thumped Norwich City 7-0 earlier on Saturday.

Fourth-place Brighton had lost just one of their opening eight league games and Guardiola was full of praise for Graham Potter and his side.

"It was a really good result for us because I knew which team we face today," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"It was a good lesson as for 30 minutes they were better than us. This game must be played with the ball. We suffered and we'll be better for that in the future.

"This is a huge victory for us. To win here is a big compliment for the team.

"They are aggressive and when they have the ball they know what they have to do. They have all the mechanisms of a big team.

"They have courage. I admire them for that. They play like a top four or five team."

Pep Guardiola came to the defence of 'exceptional gentleman' Steve Bruce following his recent departure from Newcastle United earlier this week.

A decision that looked on the cards following the completion of the club's Saudi Arabian-backed takeover, Bruce left the Magpies by mutual consent on Wednesday after a difficult start to the Premier League season.

Newcastle are yet to win in the league this season, having collected just three points from 24 on offer.

The 60-year-old subsequently suggested it could be his final managerial role due to the abuse he received during his two-year tenure.

"I think this might be my last job. It's not just about me, it's taken its toll on my whole family because they are all Geordies and I can't ignore that," Bruce told The Telegraph.

"By the time I got to Newcastle, I thought I could handle everything thrown at me but it has been very, very tough.

"To never really be wanted, to feel that people wanted me to fail, to read people constantly saying I would fail, that I was useless, a fat waste of space, a stupid, tactically inept cabbage head or whatever. And it was from day one."

Newcastle's Allan Saint-Maximin paid tribute to the 'gentle' and 'caring' Bruce, and Manchester City boss Guardiola believes that the winger's social media post epitomised the respect warranted by the ex-Manchester United defender, who took charge of his 1,000th game as a manager in Sunday's defeat by Tottenham.

Addressing the media ahead of City's trip to Brighton and Hove Albion, Guardiola said: "I read the post on Twitter and Instagram from Saint-Maximin.

"This is, for me, what Steve Bruce is – [he is] an exceptional gentleman. He always took care of me so nicely when I came here from Catalonia. I wish him all the best. 

"I'll tell him 'don't pay much attention to the comments because it is bull****.'

"Steve Bruce and all other managers want to do the best; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. He does not have to worry. I'm pretty sure all the people in Newcastle – the board and especially the players – know exactly what Steve is."

It was a sentiment echoed by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who told a news conference: "Is it social media? Don't read it, don't watch it, especially not in average or bad periods. That's the best advice you can give to every manager in the world.

"I'm really sorry for Steve Bruce if that happened. I think the most important skill in modern football for a manager is to not let criticism get too close to you or just ignore it. That's what I do."

Rafael Benitez preceded Bruce at St James' Park, and was a popular figure with the club's fanbase. The current Everton boss has ruled himself out of contention to take over at Newcastle, however.

Asked if such harsh criticism could possibly lead potential managers to stay away from coaching, Benitez said: "Not for me at Newcastle or here at Everton. You have to accept that in football if you win, everything is fine, if you lose, you can lose your job.

"This is the situation for many years, in a lot of countries.

"My relationship with the Newcastle fans is fantastic, my relationship with the people in the city was very good so I have good memories. At the same time, I do not want to see any manager lose his job, that is the only thing I can say."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has hailed his side's 5-1 win over Club Brugge as "one of the best performances" they have produced in Europe.

Riyad Mahrez scored twice, with Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker and Cole Palmer all getting on the scoresheet too, while Hans Vanaken netted for the hosts in Belgium.

It was a scintillating showing from last season's losing Champions League finalists and Guardiola believes they could have won by an even greater margin.

"[It was] one of the best performances we have done in Europe, definitely," Guardiola said after the match. "I looked over Brugge in the international break. I looked at many games. I know how good they did against PSG.

"We found a lot of passes with Phil [Foden]. We had runners in behind. We could have scored more goals, we had many chances. All of us are delighted with the performance we have done."

Palmer scored his first Champions  League goal for the club, becoming only the third teenager to do so for City after Foden and Kelechi Iheanacho, and Guardiola is prepared to be patient with the gifted 19-year-old.

"Cole has a special quality in front of the box, a talent that is difficult to find," Guardiola continued. "When he has the ball there, most of the time it ends up in the net. It’s difficult to find that.

"I know how it works with young players. We have to be calm and patient. His position is the second team but at the same time he trains with us and works with our principles.

"I am happy with the goal. He could have done a few actions a little bit better, but that is normal. It is experience."

Palmer will hope to eventually tread the same path as Foden, who performed admirably as a false nine, setting Cancelo up for the opener with a delightful lofted ball into the box. 

Foden has six goals and six assists in the Champions League for City - the only player to provide more under Guardiola in the competition before turning 22 is Lionel Messi (14 - nine goals and five assists) - and the 50-year-old tactician made special mention of the 21-year old's versatility and quality in the final third.

"Yeah, definitely [Foden can play anywhere]," Guardiola added. "He can play as a striker. He can go in behind. He is not in a static position.

"Phil is a special talent. We don't have a striker who scores 25 goals, I have to put players near the box to score goals. He is one of the guys, Sterling is one of the guys, Riyad is and Gundogan. Phil is someone who you feel can create."

The Champions League group stage reaches the halfway point this week and Tuesday provides another set of tasty fixtures.

Liverpool travel to Atletico Madrid seeking revenge two seasons on from their last-16 exit to Diego Simeone's side in the pick of the games.

Real Madrid and Manchester City are each looking to respond to defeats last time out when they take on Shakhtar Donetsk and Club Brugge respectively.

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain host RB Leipzig and two of Europe's great entertainers in Ajax and Borussia Dortmund face off in Amsterdam.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data ahead of some key contests.

 

Atletico Madrid v Liverpool: Reds face bogey side

Following their last-16 exit to Atletico two seasons ago, Liverpool are winless in four Champions League meetings with the LaLiga champions – only Basel have they faced as many times without winning in Europe's top competition.

The Reds have also lost six of their past seven games on Spanish soil in the tournament since beating Real Madrid in the 2008-09 last 16, though they were victorious at the Wanda Metropolitano against Tottenham in the 2018-19 final.

Mohamed Salah opened the scoring in that meeting with Spurs and he has more recently scored in each of his past five away games for Liverpool in the Champions League – the longest-such streak by a Reds player in the competition.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Real Madrid: Will Ancelotti be Los Blancos' lucky omen?

Shakhtar beat Madrid home and away in the group stage last season and could become just the third side to win three in a row against Los Blancos in the competition after Bayern Munich and Juventus.

While Madrid's recent record against the Ukrainian outfit is poor, head coach Carlo Ancelotti has won all four of his previous Champions League games against Shakhtar – only against Bayern (six) and Liverpool (five) has he won more often.

Prior to their shock defeat at the hands of Sheriff last time out, Madrid beat Inter 1-0 at San Siro in their opening Group D contest. However, not since 2014-15 have they won their opening two Champions League away games.

 

Paris Saint-Germain v RB Leipzig: History not on Germans' side

After netting in PSG's win against Manchester City three weeks ago, Messi is looking to join Neymar (2017), Alex (2012) and George Weah (1994) in scoring in his first two home games for the club in the competition.

PSG have a great record against German opponents, having won seven of their eight meetings with Bundesliga clubs on home soil, though the exception in that run was in April this year when Bayern won 1-0 at the Parc des Princes.

The Ligue 1 side do not tend to slip up at home in the group stage, losing just one of their past 28 such games – against Manchester United in October 2020 – and netting 2.7 goals per game on average.

Club Brugge v Manchester City: Pep seeking response to Paris pain

Ahead of this first ever meeting with City, Brugge are winless in 12 matches against English opponents in all European competitions since beating Chelsea in the Cup Winners' Cup 26 years ago.

The Belgian champions are unbeaten in their past four home group matches in the Champions League, though, picking up eight points across that run – only once have they gone five in a row without defeat (a run of six that ended in October 2019).

But Pep Guardiola will be confident of City getting their campaign back on track following defeat in Paris, the Catalan coach having lost successive away games in the competition once previously when in charge of Bayern in 2014-15 (against Porto and Barcelona).

 

Other fixtures:

Ajax v Borussia Dortmund

2 - Dortmund have won their previous two major European matches in the Netherlands, both in the Champions League. Their last defeat on Dutch soil was in the 2002 UEFA Cup final against Feyenoord.

3 - Ajax are aiming to win their opening three games to a Champions League campaign for the first time since 1995-96 under Louis van Gaal, the season in which they last made it all the way to the final.


Besiktas v Sporting CP

4 - Sporting have failed to win a European match on Turkish soil, drawing three times and losing once, with that loss coming against Istanbul Basaksehir in February 2020 in the Europa League. Besiktas, though, have won just once in 11 home Champions League games, beating RB Leipzig 2-0 in September 2017.

3 - Sporting lost their opening two group matches, against Dortmund and Ajax, and are at risk of losing three in a row for the first time in the current group-stage format.


Porto v Milan

6 - Porto have kept a clean sheet in six of their past seven games in the group stage of the Champions League, though they did concede five times in their last outing in the competition against Liverpool.

7 - Including qualifying matches, seven of Milan's eight away matches in UEFA competitions in Portugal have ended as a draw, with their only win coming against Porto in March 1993 courtesy of a Jean-Pierre Papin goal.


Inter v Sheriff

- Inter have failed to score in their previous three home Champions League games (the last two group games in 2020-21 and against Madrid this term). They have never previously gone four major UEFA European home games without scoring.

- Sheriff are looking to become just the third team this century to win their first three games in the Champions League, after Leicester City in 2016-17 and Malaga in 2012-13.

Pep Guardiola has explained why Manchester City signed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa despite already possessing a wealth of attacking talent.

The England international became the Premier League's most expensive player in August, arriving in Manchester for a fee of £100million, as City smashed their transfer record despite boasting the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden in the wide and attacking midfield roles.

Guardiola, who led City to their third Premier League title in four years last season, insisted that signing top-quality players is necessary to keep things fresh for a successful side.

"[We signed Grealish because of his] quality in the final third," Guardiola said ahead of City's Champions League clash with Club Brugge on October 19. "He is able to attract opponents and find his [team-mates].

"We have many players but we added another one because we have a lot of games in many competitions. He is at a perfect age and when you are on top in those competitions, the squad must be removed a little bit otherwise it is difficult.

"Everyone has to feel the pressure from the new ones, and the new ones have to understand what the club has done. All the big clubs do it."

Guardiola feels Grealish has performed well since his arrival, adapting to the new challenge of playing regular European football alongside domestic competitions.

Since his arrival at City, the 26-year-old has managed two goals and two assists from 10 appearances across all competitions.

Additionally, the playmaker leads his team for chances created (22) and has the second-highest dribble success rate of any player to have attempted at least 20 (53.13 per cent).

"We spoke about [playing in Europe] and how he has to live when he is not here, in terms of eating, resting and sleeping," Guardiola continued.

"What he has done so far is excellent. Apart from [against] Burnley, he has played every game at a good level and I'm sure he will improve. As a manager, you have to know the best position, but he has played very well.

"He is focused on and off the pitch and he is strong, his weight and body fat is perfect and he is mentally is in the right position. It is the first time he plays every three days. We play every three days for 11 months and it's difficult but it is a good challenge for him."

Guardiola praised City's upcoming opponents for their quality in attack and revealed that Brazilian pair Ederson and Gabriel Jesus are both in contention to feature after flying straight to Belgium after the international break.

"We see the protocols, [Ederson and Jesus] couldn't land [in England] unless they isolate [for] 10 days," Guardiola added. "We will join them in the hotel and [on Tuesday] they will do preparation, maybe play, maybe not.

"I'm sure they will feel good because they recovered really well, they will train there, and we will see tonight how they feel.

"What we have seen [from Club Brugge] is physicality and they know what they have to do. They have a lot of quality up front. We go there, we have four games left and 12 points to fight for to qualify for the last 16.

"This is the target, and our mentality will be the same. We want to make them adjust and control the game with how we play."

Bernardo Silva is glad to have rediscovered his best form for Manchester City after being hailed as an "extraordinary" player by Pep Guardiola following Saturday's win against Burnley.

The Portugal international opened the scoring for City in their 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium and had other opportunities to double his tally before Kevin De Bruyne sealed the three points.

He played a game-high three key passes against Burnley from a central position that he has become familiar with this campaign, standing out for the reigning champions in an otherwise disjointed display.

Silva asked to leave City during the close season due to what he perceived to be an unfair lack of playing time last season, but the 27-year-old is pulling the strings once again this term and is eager to maintain his form.

"It's tough when you don't play the minutes that you want to," he said. "It happened with me, it's happened with most of the players here. It's how it works. You have to go and fight for your place.

"I'm happy that I am helping the team and I am happy with the momentum but it's just the beginning."

Silva has two goals from 10 appearances in all competitions this season and, alongside fellow midfielder Rodri, Guardiola believes the former Monaco man is his side's best-performing player right now.

"He and Rodri are in the top form. They have both played incredibly well in the last four or five games," Guardiola said. "Bernardo is at the same level as in our second season together when we won 98 points. He was out of this world, the way he played.

"He always gives us the extra touch, the extra pass we need and he doesn’t lose balls. He scored a goal, which was important for him. The performance of Bernardo has been extraordinary again. 

"We are incredibly lucky to have him. He is a joy to have with us and is playing in an incredible top level right now."

Silva's goal against Burnley was his second in eight Premier League appearances against them. He has also assisted five goals in the fixture, making the Clarets his favourite opponents in the competition.

With their victory over Burnley, City have now kept six clean sheets in their opening eight Premier League games this season – more than any other side.

"My players always play good because they give everything and they gave it in a difficult game after the international break," Guardiola added.

"Burnley are organised and you have to adjust and adapt to the way they play. I am so satisfied for the game we played and the victory we got."

Pep Guardiola was delighted with the fighting spirit his Manchester City team showed as they edged past Burnley 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

City had won their previous four home games against Burnley 5-0, but the visitors caused Guardiola's men some problems after Bernardo Silva opened the scoring.

That was Silva's seventh goal involvement against Burnley in eight Premier League outings – his most against any one opponent – but did not trigger the sort of landslide scoreline that was anticipated.

However, Kevin De Bruyne scored in a second consecutive City match 20 minutes from time to secure a ninth straight victory over Burnley in all competitions.

Although City now have six clean sheets in eight league games this season and struggling Burnley are winless in 11 in the competition, Guardiola acknowledged his team had been in a battle.

"We run and fight for every ball," he told BBC Sport. "Burnley play for long balls and they're a master at this.

"You have to defend set pieces well, and anything could have happened if Chris Wood had scored that goal near the end. We had chances but couldn't score more, unfortunately.

"The importance is improving our game. I am satisfied that the second half was better than first. The team showed me the way we want to play and the shape we want to play in.

"All the guys gave everything. It doesn't matter if the performance is good or not; it's important that you fight for your team-mates, and everyone was incredible."

Guardiola brought in John Stones and Raheem Sterling for rare starts following the international break and said both "played really well".

He added: "It was a difficult game. I tried to tell them to forget about the previous 5-0s, because Burnley always fight and never give up.

"They are able to go to any stadium and create a problem and know what they have to do, so I give a lot of credit to them today."

Silva, whose goal came from one of three shots while he also created three chances, said: "[It was] very hard. We know how tough it is to play against Burnley.

"We started well, the first 20 minutes were good. Then the rhythm was a bit low, we should have scored a few more goals in the first half.

"We know how tough it is, they play very direct, they're a very physical side.

"In the second half, we controlled the game well. We should have scored a bit earlier again. But it's three very important points and onto the next one."

Pep Guardiola insists he has to treat all of Manchester City's players as equals after Raheem Sterling suggested he is open to leaving the Premier League champions.

In an interview released on Thursday, England forward Sterling told the Financial Times that he is contemplating a move away from City in order to secure regular game time.

Sterling has been a consistent figure in Guardiola's all-conquering City team since 2016, though his form tailed off last season and he was used sparingly in the latter half of the last term.

The 26-year-old still started the Champions League final before heading off to star at Euro 2020 with England, but has played only 274 minutes of Premier League football so far with just two starts.

 

Guardiola was unaware of Sterling's thoughts on potentially leaving City, though insists he cannot treat any of his players differently or assure them of regular minutes.

"Raheem is our player, we are happy with an incredibly important player for us," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Saturday's match with Burnley.

"Some players want to play all the time but I cannot assure them, they know it. I cannot assure how many minutes everyone is going to play. Always they have to speak on the pitch, that is the best moment.

"Not only Raheem, all of them. What I want is for everyone to be happy, satisfied to be here, delighted to be at this club. If this is not the case they are free to take the decision that is best for him.

"They have to be happy. More game time, I understand completely. I was a football player and all the time I wanted to play."

Asked how difficult leaving high-calibre players out of his starting XI is, Guardiola said: "Of course it's not easy. Raheem played in the final of the Champions League. He's an important player.

"But I have to treat Cole Palmer the same as Kevin De Bruyne. Why should I treat De Bruyne differently to Palmer? Both have parents, a girlfriend, a wife, friends. There's no reason why. I have to treat players the same.

"In my career, important players have not played in important games. I take decisions that are best for the team, not for the players and not for me."

Another player who has found his game time limited in 2021-22 is John Stones. The centre-back is yet to feature at all for City this term, despite enjoying a brilliant 2020-21 in which he made 35 appearances, helping City to 30 victories and keeping 19 clean sheets.

 

Yet Guardiola seemed to suggest Stones' attitude and desire to improve set him in good stead in comparison to how other players treat being out of the team.

"John was such an important player for us last season because he played incredibly well alongside Ruben [Dias]. This season, Aymeric [Laporte] played incredibly well alongside Ruben and it's fair to let him play," Guardiola said.

"John is an exceptional guy, knows the situation and always is fighting. Some players play more than the other ones, but it is normal. I would love to give them all minutes, but I cannot assure them. Not John, not Ruben, not Kevin, not Phil Foden. Everyone has to try to do it on the pitch.

"Raheem is so important for us, but he competes with Jack Grealish, Phil, Ferran [Torres], Gabriel [Jesus], Bernardo [Silva]. This is the reality at the top clubs. Sometimes it's difficult. Train harder, and in the moment you play, show you are right.

"Some players accept more, like John for example. There are players, they suffer more. It happens in all the clubs around the world. You have to fight and at the end there is a transfer window and you have to decide what you want to do.

"I don't want to see the players unhappy or upset or whatever. It is not the end of the world. There are many clubs, you can do whatever you want, we don't push barriers. Make a phone call to the club and sort the situation.

"I am not talking about Raheem. I am talking in general.  The transfer window is the moment to decide. When it's finished, you have to respect my decisions, I'm the manager. I don't take the decision to benefit the players."

Pep Guardiola fears Ferran Torres could be sidelined until January after the Manchester City forward fractured the fourth metatarsal in his right foot.

The 21-year-old suffered the injury in Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy but managed to play through the pain for 84 minutes in the 2-1 defeat by France in the final.

Scans conducted upon Torres' return to Manchester revealed a small fracture, and Guardiola suggested it could be a long wait before he plays again.

"Torres will be out for two months and a half, three months," Guardiola told a news conference on Friday.

"Except Ferran, the rest of the team are OK. The injury is the fourth metatarsal."

Guardiola considers Spain boss Luis Enrique blameless, saying he had full trust in his former Barcelona team-mate.

"The injury can happen here, at home, with the national team. I know perfectly Luis Enrique, he treats all the players as good as possible," Guardiola said.

"He doesn't want Ferran to get injured. They try to take care, sometimes it happens. It happened with Belgium with Kevin [De Bruyne], Phil [Foden] with England.

"It would be better not to happen but unfortunately it happens. He will spend a few weeks in Spain and then come back and recover hopefully in two, three months."

Guardiola said he was "delighted" Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan had recovered from knocks and were back in training, ahead of the home game against Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday.

However, Brazil internationals Ederson and Gabriel Jesus will miss the Burnley game, having been on World Cup qualification duty with their national team late on Thursday.

"They played in Brazil yesterday, they cannot fly back [in time]," Guardiola said.

Asked if they would be available for the Champions League game against Club Brugge on Tuesday, Guardiola said: "Maybe, I don't know that yet."

Torres is now certain to miss a long stretch of games, including the first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford on November 6, and seemingly the rest of City's Champions League group games.

It is bad luck for a player who enjoyed a fruitful start to the season, having been converted into a centre-forward by Guardiola.

Torres leads City in the Premier League this season for goals (two, level with Jesus), minutes per goal (152.5), expected goals (2.01) and shots (13, level with Gundogan).

With Torres and Jesus absent in the short term, Guardiola will have to look elsewhere for central attacking options. Foden and De Bruyne are not natural forwards, despite both players regularly being deployed in a false nine role.

Ferran Torres has fractured his right foot and will reportedly be out for a minimum of six weeks, although Manchester City have not provided a definitive timeframe for his return.

The 21-year-old suffered the injury during Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy, but managed to play through the pain for 84 minutes in the 2-1 defeat by France in the final, eventually coming off for Pablo Fornals.

However, scans conducted upon Torres' return to Manchester have revealed a small fracture that will likely prevent him from featuring until the end of November at the soonest.

The Spaniard could miss at least seven City games, including the first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford on November 6.

Torres enjoyed a fruitful start to the season, having been converted into a centre-forward by Pep Guardiola, and leads City in the Premier League for goals (two, level with Gabriel Jesus), minutes per goal (152.5), expected goals (2.01), and shots (13, level with Ilkay Gundogan).

However, despite City's lack of a natural option for the central attacking role, Torres has not featured in the league since starting against Leicester City on September 11, playing just twice in all competitions since.

City's pursuit of Tottenham's Harry Kane in the last transfer window ultimately ended in failure and, with Torres now out for an extended period, Guardiola is even shorter of potential options.

Jesus has primarily played in a wide role this term, while Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne are not natural forwards, despite both players regularly being deployed in a false nine role.

It is not only City who will feel Torres' absence keenly, however, as he is also set to miss Spain's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Sweden.

Luis Enrique's side sit second in Group B, two points behind Sweden.

Manchester City can solely rely on goals from their wingers and midfielders in the absence of a true number nine in the Premier League this season, according to former striker Paul Dickov.

City regained their domestic crown last term, finishing 12 points clear of second-placed Manchester United in the Premier League, while scoring 83 goals along the way, though just 13 of those came from recognised centre-forwards.

Gabriel Jesus scored nine goals, while Sergio Aguero – who has since joined Barcelona – contributed with just four having missed much of the campaign through injury.

Ilkay Gundogan top-scored with 13 goals in midfield, with winger Raheem Sterling notching 10 and Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez each netting on nine occasions as Ferran Torres added seven of his own.

Similarly this term, just two of City's 14 Premier League strikes have come courtesy of Brazil international Jesus – Torres has played in a forward role and scored twice but the Spaniard is not a true centre-forward.

Following Aguero's departure to Camp Nou, Tottenham striker Harry Kane was heavily linked with a move to City but a transfer did not materialise, while the likes of Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland have been linked.

Nevertheless, Scotsman Dickov is confident his former club have the credentials to cope without a main marksman once more.

"The answer at the minute is yes because we've seen that last season," Dickov, who spent two spells with City between 1996-2002 and 2006-2008, told Stats Perform. "I know Sergio Aguero was still at the club, but he missed the majority of it. 

"But Manchester City went on to win [the Premier League title] really quite easily playing without an actual number nine, and they've shown again this season that they can do it. 

"If Manchester City don't win the league this season, everybody's going to be saying it's because they've not got that number nine and the reliance has been on the midfielders and the false number nine to score the goals. But at the minute, you've got to say that they're not missing one.

"I think if Manchester City comes to January and they're still fighting for the top of league and still in the Champions League, people can say that Pep's been right again."

Dickov believes City's decision not to continue their pursuit of Kane demonstrates their own belief in the current quality of the squad.

"Knowing Manchester City as I do – as a club and as a board and how they do their transfers – they will identify players or a player and they will do what they can to get them," the 48-year-old added.

"They will not – especially over recent seasons – be held to ransom and pay over the odds. 

"I think when the new owners first came in, to get Manchester City onto a level they had to pay more money to get the players.

"But over the last few years, they now feel as though they don't have to. I think with the Harry Kane one, he was obviously the player that they wanted.

"If they didn't get him, they weren't going to settle for second best because they believe that the players within the squad – after what happened last season and the addition of Jack Grealish – were good enough to take them to the next level, and for them to retain the title this year."

Manchester City are the favourites to win the Premier League this year, according to former striker Paul Dickov.

Pep Guardiola's defending champions started off the new term with a 1-0 loss away at Tottenham but have embarked on a six-game unbeaten run to leave them third — two points behind leaders Chelsea.

City beat Thomas Tuchel's side 1-0 at Stamford Bridge last Saturday before battling for a well-deserved point against fellow title contenders Liverpool in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Anfield.

The latter result saw Liverpool extend their unbeaten run to 17 games but Dickov sees his former club's recent run of form as proof that they are the team to beat.

"Yeah, I think they have to be," Dickov responded to Stats Perform when asked if City were favourites to win the league.

"I think if you look at the week that they've just had you know there's probably three of the toughest away games in one week that is against three of the best teams in Europe — Chelsea, PSG and then Liverpool.

"The record has not always been great for Manchester City so for me, I look at the strength and depth in the Manchester City squad and that just edges it for me for them to be the favourites."

City conceded more goals against Jurgen Klopp's side (two) than in their previous seven top-flight games combined beforehand, but the draw means Liverpool have only managed to beat City on one of the last seven occasions in the Premier League.

Guardiola's team may have, perhaps understandably, felt hard done by to leave Anfield without all three points, but Dickov sees City's squad as the reason they will retain their title this campaign.

"I think the quality they've got in the squad, for me over the course of a very long, hard season in England, that's the thing that stands out for me," he continued.

"We look at the team [on Sunday] and they had Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez sitting on the bench.

"[There is] Ferran Torres or Ilkay Gudogan, who was possibly Manchester City's best player last season, coming back from injury.  [They have] Fernandinho, John Stones, I could just go on and on.

"That squad, that for me is the thing that's going to make the big difference over the course of the season because I don't feel the other teams are quite like that."

Pep Guardiola made clear James Milner should have been sent off during Manchester City's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, adding how his side may not have been so lucky in the same situation.

Having already received a booking in the first half, Milner escaped a second yellow card when he appeared to foul Bernardo Silva.

The incident occurred in the second half with the score at 1-1 and, not long after the reprieve, Liverpool's right-back, filling in for the absent Trent Alexander-Arnold, was involved in his side's second goal, scored by Mohamed Salah.

While Kevin De Bruyne scored an equaliser to make sure the Premier League champions claimed a point, Guardiola was in no doubt referee Paul Tierney had erred in not dismissing Milner.

"It's a yellow card," the City boss, who argued his case to fourth official Mike Dean during a game in which he also received a yellow card, told Sky Sports.

"But it's Anfield, like it's Old Trafford. In this situation, for City and it's our player he is sent off, 100 per cent.

"It's too clear. There are interpretations some time, but it was a second yellow card."

Milner had also been involved in a major incident in the first half too, appearing to clip Phil Foden as he moved into the penalty area. No foul was given then either, while the former City player was eventually replaced by Joe Gomez in the 78th minute.

City were on top in the first 45 minutes and while unable to maintain their dominance, Guardiola was delighted with how his team played, particularly coming after tough games against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.

"I know how difficult it is, against these players, this manager. I'm a big fan of Jurgen, every time it's a big challenge for us," Guardiola said.

"But the way we played, especially at Stamford Bridge, the way we played in Paris and then today again, in these three games we show we are a great team.

"We lose the way we played in Paris, then today, okay we didn't lose, but we draw — it is good.

"It's impossible that players like Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota don't take chances. It's impossible. The first half they didn't have one chance, for the second half we spoke about how it was going to be different.

"But how we reacted in every circumstance, when suffering, was brilliant."

Jordan Henderson believes it is Manchester City who set the standards in the Premier League and Liverpool will have to keep up with Pep Guardiola's men if they are to stand of chance of winning back the title.

Liverpool welcome City to Anfield on Sunday in what Henderson feels is undoubtedly the biggest match of the season so far for Jurgen Klopp's men.

The Reds can return to the summit with a win after Chelsea knocked them off top spot by beating Southampton 3-1 on Saturday.

Historically Liverpool boast a good record against City, having not lost consecutive home games against them since 1937 and losing just one of their past 18 meetings at Anfield.

But that solitary defeat came via a 4-1 thrashing in February as City cruised to the title, and although Liverpool are on the longest unbeaten run (16) in the top four tiers of English football, City's quality is not lost on Henderson

Writing in his programme notes, Henderson said: "There's no doubt that this game is our biggest of the season so far. The Premier League table tells us this, recent history and the aims of the two clubs tells us this.

"As an opponent, Manchester City are as strong as they come and we welcome them to Anfield in the knowledge that having got a great result at Chelsea last weekend they will be looking for another one today.

"City's record under Pep Guardiola speaks for itself. From a Liverpool perspective, they set the standards that we had to live up to before we could become champions and any team which wants to win the league this season will know that their chances of doing so will be maximised if they finish above City.

"They are the reigning champions and someone will have to take their crown because City won't be handing it over."

Henderson then turned his attention to talk of "respect", which could possibly be seen as a veiled message to supporters after Guardiola pleaded for Liverpool fans to not attack the City bus, eager to avoid a situation similar to that prior to their Champions League clash in 2018.

"There is a lot of talk about the rivalry between our two clubs, but for the most part this is built on respect and competition," he added. "You can't slug it out as we have in recent seasons and not have a rivalry, that wouldn't make sense.

"But by the same token, if you go toe-to-toe with a team like City it would be ridiculous if you didn't recognise their quality and respect them for it.

"Yes, there will be headlines, stories and flashpoints because all of this is part and parcel of elite sport in which one team is vying with another, but I can guarantee that when the game kicks off the overriding factor will be respect.

"It is only by having this kind of approach that you give yourself the best possible chance of being successful on the day. If you don't know how good the opposition are and respect that, how can you possibly beat them?"

The Liverpool captain also spoke of his bemusement at some of the criticism directed at City earlier in the season, and he felt there were similarities with the reaction to the Reds' shock 3-3 draw with Brentford last weekend.

"The mad thing is it's only a couple of games ago that reactionary questions were being asked of City after a home draw against Southampton," Henderson continued. "Honestly, that baffles me. This Man City are without question one of the most consistently successful teams of the modern era.

"But it is the world we live in now I suppose. A result and performance in isolation is analysed to death, ignoring wider context.

"The flip-side to that sort of reaction is it speaks volumes about the standards being set. It was similar for us last weekend when we drew at Brentford. Was it the perfect result? No. Did we want a better one? Of course.

"But the reality is that every team will play games throughout the season when points will be dropped against opponents whom you're supposedly favourites to beat, because that is just what the Premier League is like.

"There were positives, but these were undermined by individual and collective shortcomings at key moments and this cost us two points. This is why it was so important that we responded in the manner that we did against Porto in midweek. It is one thing to have an off-day, it is another thing to allow it to turn into two or three."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp likened players and people refusing the coronavirus vaccine to drink-drivers amid a reluctance to receive the COVID-19 jab.

Klopp discussed the COVID-19 vaccination ahead of Liverpool's blockbuster showdown with Premier League champions Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday.

While Klopp said "99 per cent" of his squad are fully vaccinated, many Premier League clubs are reportedly yet to reach half of their players receiving both jabs.

"I didn't have to convince the players, it was more a natural decision from the team," Klopp told reporters. "I cannot remember really talking to a player in a one-on-one situation and explaining to him."

"It sounds like we are not allowed to give people advice," Klopp added. "Where did I get the knowledge from that I think it makes sense to get the vaccine? I called doctors that I've known for years and I asked them: 'What should I do?'

"That's how I usually work: when you don't know, you call a specialist and the specialist tells you. That's why I took the vaccination because I am in an age group [54] where it is not that easy anymore, the virus could be tricky, and I was really happy when I could get it. The specialists out there say the vaccination is the solution at the moment.

"If I say I am vaccinated, other people say: 'How can you tell me I should be vaccinated?' It is a little bit like drink-driving. We all probably were in a situation where we had a beer or two and thought we still could drive but, [because of] the law, we are not allowed to drive so we don't drive. But this law is not there for protecting me when I drink two beers and want to drive, it's for protecting all the other people because I'm drunk and we accept that as a law.

"I don't take the vaccination only to protect me, I take the vaccination to protect all the people around me. I don't understand why that is a limitation of freedom because, if it is, then not being allowed to drink and drive is a limitation of freedom as well.

"I got the vaccination because I was concerned about myself but even more so about everybody around me. If I get [Covid] and I suffer from it: my fault. If I get it and spread it to someone else: my fault and not their fault."

Liverpool – the only side still unbeaten in the Premier League this season – can return to the top of the table with victory at home to Pep Guardiola's City on Merseyside.

The Reds have not lost consecutive league games against City since a run of four between 1935 and 1937, going down 4-1 the last time the sides met in February.

Liverpool are unbeaten in 16 league games (W12 D4) – the longest current run without defeat in the top-four tiers of English football. However, Klopp's men conceded more goals in their 3-3 draw at Brentford last time out than they had in their previous eight league games combined (two).

Guardiola has lost more games against Klopp in all competitions than he has against any opposing manager in his career (eight). Meanwhile, of sides he has faced at least 10 times in all competitions, the Spaniard's lowest win rate is against Liverpool (30.8 per cent - W4 D4 L5).

"All these kind of feelings have to be there - excitement, nervousness, pressure, emotions," Guardiola said. "If you don't have those feelings in important games, like the previous ones or for the biggest ones, this business is not for you.

"Maybe you don't sleep better the day before, or sleep good when it's over or not if the performance is not good, but this is how you live this life.

"I still have it before the games. If you don't feel that you are not for the business. You have to feel it."

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