Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players are thriving under the pressure of the title run-in.

City enjoyed an outstanding weekend in their quest for a fourth successive Premier League crown as an emphatic victory over Luton, coupled with defeats for rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, put them top of the table.

Guardiola’s side are now not only clear favourites to retain their title but in a strong position to secure an unprecedented second treble in succession.

“They like to play the pressure,” said City manager Guardiola, speaking after Saturday’s 5-1 hammering of the Hatters. “They like it when you are dead or alive.

“That doesn’t mean we are going to do it but I am pretty sure we will be there until the end because I know them, I see their faces in the meetings before games and how they prepare.

“That means we’ll be Premier League champions? No, no. I am not saying that. But we will compete, that is for sure.”

City now head into two decisive knockout games against Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in the FA Cup over the coming week in good heart.

Real are the first up at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday for the second leg of a quarter-final tie that is evenly poised at 3-3 after a pulsating game in the Spanish capital last week.

Full-back Kyle Walker, who has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury sustained on international duty last month, could return after being an unused substitute against Luton.

Guardiola said: “He feels much better but he was injured, so now we will see in the next days. But he is good, he feels good.

“Maybe he can help with minutes because it is a ‘final’ but I don’t want to lose him for a long time if he gets injured. He will train a bit more now and we will decide.

“I know how important Kyle is against the players from Real Madrid but he was not in Madrid and Manu (Akanji), Josko (Gvardiol), John (Stones) and Ruben (Dias) played incredibly well. We will see.”

Fellow defender Stones should be fit despite being left out of the squad altogether on Saturday as a precaution.

Guardiola said: “He had some problems, some niggles, but he’s fine.

“He is not injured but he felt uncomfortable and we didn’t want to take risks. That is all.”

Pep Guardiola immediately turned his attention to the challenge of Real Madrid after his Manchester City side thrashed Luton 5-1 on Saturday.

City enjoyed the perfect preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against the Spanish giants as they cruised past the Hatters in a one-sided encounter.

An early own goal from Daiki Hashioka set them on their way before second-half strikes from Mateo Kovacic, Erling Haaland, Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol wrapped up a comfortable win.

With the three points taking City back to the Premier League summit, putting pressure on rivals Arsenal and Liverpool ahead of Sunday’s fixtures, Guardiola could switch his focus to Real.

“The team is alive,” said the City boss, whose side played out a pulsating 3-3 draw with Real last Tuesday.

“It’s difficult against Real Madrid but, at the same time, let’s try and go to do it with our people.

“Whatever happens, we will give everything. There is not one minute when we won’t know what to do.

“We have all our desire to do it. I want the Etihad full, no seat empty.”

City are chasing an unprecedented second successive treble.

Guardiola said: “We have to admit it, what a privilege, still fighting for the Premier League, playing against Real Madrid with a chance to qualify for the semi-final, and the FA Cup next Saturday, a semi-final again.”

Although City won comfortably, Guardiola felt Luton had made things difficult.

He said: “It was really hard until the second goal.

“We played really good and had a lot of chances in the first half but we missed something in the finishing.

“How many times have I seen in world football that a team is better and doesn’t win the game? Many times. We know how difficult Luton are.”

Hatters boss Rob Edwards conceded he had not expected his relegation battlers to get anything from the game.

He said: “It was always going to be difficult. Without sounding very defeatist, I almost made peace with it.

“They were the dominant team, they were amazing, but we stayed in the game as long as we could. It’s tough but today was never going to derail us.”

Edwards bemoaned his side’s luck in conceding so early, with the own goal coming as a Haaland shot cannoned into the net off Hashioka’s head.

He said: “We wanted to try to be aggressive but then Haaland knocks out Hashy with the first goal – one of the few defenders we have left knocked out on the floor and we’re 1-0 down after a minute.

“What a start that is, that’s tough.”

Hashioka required treatment before continuing but Edwards later clarified he had not actually been knocked unconscious.

He said: “No, he was just lying flat. I was just saying that in jest. I was just worried that he was.

“He just got up and I thought, ‘thank goodness for that’. Otherwise we would have been putting a centre forward at centre-back.”

Champions Manchester City moved back to the top of the Premier League with an emphatic 5-1 victory over relegation battlers Luton on Saturday.

A fortuitous early own goal from Daiki Hashioka set the hosts on the way at the Etihad Stadium before a Mateo Kovacic screamer and Erling Haaland penalty effectively secured victory after the break.

Plucky Luton defended stoically throughout and earned consolation through Ross Barkley but Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol wrapped up the scoring.

The result took City above Arsenal and Liverpool at the summit, putting pressure on their title rivals ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.

Victory was almost as routine as it comes, with City not getting anywhere near top gear in a one-sided cruise.

Rodri got his wish for a rest as Pep Guardiola made six changes following Tuesday’s pulsating draw at Real Madrid.

With the Spanish giants visiting the Etihad next week, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones also sat out – the latter not even in the matchday squad – while goalkeeper Ederson replaced Stefan Ortega.

Kevin De Bruyne returned after illness while Kyle Walker was on the bench after recovering from injury.

Luton’s task was daunting enough without the outrageous slice of misfortune that saw them concede the opener inside two minutes.

Thomas Kaminski did well to save after Haaland had been played through by De Bruyne and Doku’s follow-up was also blocked.

Haaland had City’s third attempt as the ball looped up but his acrobatic volley was heading well wide until it took a huge deflection off Hashioka’s head and ended up in the net.

With the luckless Hashioka requiring treatment from the forceful blow, it was apparent the Hatters were facing a long afternoon.

Yet, to the battling visitors’ credit, they defended with great determination.

Kaminski parried a powerful effort from Gvardiol before saving comfortably from Matheus Nunes, De Bruyne and Ruben Dias.

Haaland put over a chance at the back post and Nunes shaved the upright with an effort that ran across goal.

De Bruyne forced a good save from Kaminski just before the interval and Dias sent a long-range effort narrowly wide early in the second half.

Julian Alvarez also missed the target with a shot on the turn but City finally doubled the lead with a Kovavic thunderbolt just after the hour.

The Croatian had a first strike deflected wide but made no mistake from the resulting corner, hitting an unstoppable effort as the ball bounced along the edge of the area.

Luton responded with their first meaningful attack, and Fred Onyedinma pulled the ball back for Cauley Woodrow, but the substitute fired against the bar.

It proved a short-lived foray into City territory, with normal service soon resumed and Doku winning a penalty after tricking and being brought down by Onyedinma.

Haaland calmly sent Kaminski the wrong way to register his 31st goal of the season but only his second in six outings.

Barkley robbed Nunes to pull one back but City, despite taking off a frustrated-looking De Bruyne, finished with a flourish.

Doku claimed their fourth after weaving through the area in the 87th minute and Gvardiol followed up his fine strike against Real with another stunner in time added on.

Pep Guardiola has dismissed Erling Haaland’s critics and insisted the Manchester City striker is continuing to make a big impact.

Haaland has scored 30 goals for City this term but only one in his last five. After Roy Keane last week claimed the Norway international was comparable to a League Two player in his general play, Jamie Carragher this week described him as “the ultimate luxury footballer” and said he was not world class.

But asked if he was happy with Haaland’s all-round contribution, Guardiola said: “A lot. He helps us to make more spaces in the areas and his contribution has been exceptional since the day he arrived last season.”

Guardiola said pundits “can do whatever they want”, but insisted he was only interested in the performance of his team, who are still in contention to repeat last season’s treble after drawing the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against Real Madrid 3-3 on Tuesday night.

City can go top of the Premier League for 24 hours at least if they beat Luton on Saturday, and face an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea next weekend.

“We are quite similar to last season,” Guardiola said. “We scored four goals, four goals, three goals in the last three games, 11 goals in three games.

“And (Haaland) helped us score some of them (by) creating lots of spaces for the other ones to score the goals. I saw in his face, in what he said after the game, in the locker room, he was extremely happy (in Madrid).

“It was a good result, let’s see what happens next Wednesday. Now the target is Luton.”

Bidding to win the Premier League for a fourth straight season, City remain locked in a tight race at the top. They start the weekend a point behind both Arsenal and Liverpool, with their rivals not in action until Sunday.

City have twice won the title on the final day of the season under Guardiola, but this is the first time they have faced a three-way title race so late in the campaign.

“We know what we have to do,” Guardiola said. “We’ve done it. The people say, ‘you’ve done it, so you’re going to win’. No, it’s not about that. But we have done it and know exactly what we have to do.

“The players will be ready. There is no doubt about that. We know what we are playing for.”

Although a treble repeat is still possible, there is a sense City have not been at the same standards this term, with injuries taking a toll.

“(The players) know how tough it has been this season for many reasons, maybe one of the toughest seasons we have faced for sure,” Guardiola added.

“We know exactly internally how difficult it has been in many, many moments this season and we were still there, we were there. I know the players will be ready.”

After Tuesday’s match in Madrid, Rodri had said he was in need of a rest after his 41st appearance of the season. Guardiola indicated any player who wanted a breather need only ask, but that he expects the 27-year-old Spain midfielder to be available to face Luton.

“It is normal,” Guardiola said. “If one player feels that, what is the problem? All the teams who play in the latter stages of all competitions, Champions League, Europa League, fighting for qualifications, or against relegation, all have the same problem with the amount of games…

“I’m pretty sure Rodri will be ready. I know him. After the game he was tired because it was tough, the game against Real Madrid. He came from Crystal Palace and it was really tough as well.

“But I know him. He will arrive and say, ‘I’m fine, I’m ready’.”

Pep Guardiola has said he will rest Rodri if the Spain midfielder asks to sit out Saturday’s Premier League match against Luton.

Following Tuesday’s 3-3 Champions League draw with Real Madrid, Rodri’s 41st appearance of the season, the 27-year-old said he was tired and that a rest was “something we are planning”.

Rodri is arguably the most difficult player for Guardiola to replace in his squad, and City lost all four of the domestic games he missed through suspension earlier this season. They have not lost any of the last 66 games in which Rodri played.

“I didn’t speak with him but if he needs a rest he will have rest,” Guardiola said on Friday. “Or no. I don’t know.

“I have the feeling that the games when he was tired like against Crystal Palace and Madrid, he was better in the second half. He runs more and was more precise in the second half than the first.

“More than the physicality, it is a case of spending mental energy. Playing every three days, three days. Of course he’s tired, playing a lot of minutes. Rodri is so important for us and we’ll decide tomorrow what we have to do.”

If City beat Real in next Wednesday’s second leg of their Champions League quarter-final, they will not have a free midweek for the rest of the campaign, and Guardiola acknowledged it is increasingly difficult to manage player fitness during such an intense schedule.

“If a player doesn’t want to play then he’s not going to play, simple,” he said. “Another one will play. If he’s exhausted, it can happen and another player is going to play.

“It’s not just Rodri. I’d love to rest central defenders but we don’t have them. In the (international) friendly games they were injured and we are in big, big trouble. So they cannot rest.”

Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Josko Gvardiol got City’s goals in Madrid, with Erling Haaland having scored only one in his last five for City – although he has 30 goals for the season so far.

Haaland may have scored 82 goals in 90 appearances since joining City at the start of last season, but Jamie Carragher this week said he was a luxury player who is not yet at a world-class level.

Guardiola has defended the 23-year-old striker against criticism but said there was still much he could do to improve his game.

“He’s a young player,” Guardiola said. “He has some departments where he has to improve, like a 33-year-old player has margins to improve too. But it’s more about the team than him. We scored three goals (in Madrid). They had two central defenders close to him and it’s not easy.

“It’s the most difficult position on the pitch. Two against one. They were so tight and are really good defenders…

“He has to play more minutes, learn what you have to do. The target is not to win the Ballon d’Or, it’s the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, and he did it.

“Without him what we won last season, five titles, it wouldn’t be possible, no chance.”

Phil Foden admits his confidence is soaring after delivering for Manchester City yet again.

The England international claimed his 22nd goal of the campaign with a stunning strike from outside the area in City’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old, who scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa earlier this month, appears to be City’s most in-form player heading into the closing stages of a season they hope will yield another three trophies.

“I seem to be in good scoring form this year,” said academy graduate Foden. “When you’re scoring, your confidence is really high.

 

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“I put it down to my determination and wanting to score goals. I always believe – no matter what – I’m going to get a chance in the game and hopefully I can put them away.”

Foden’s brilliant long-range effort at the Bernabeu pulled City back level at 2-2 after they had surrendered the lead.

“It’s one of the best goals I’ve scored,” he said. “I always have this special ability in and around the box where I see myself scoring a lot of goals – it’s one of those you practice on the training ground after training.

“When I received it on the edge of the box, I thought why not try it. Thankfully I got a chance in the game to do that. I made good contact with it and when it went in the top corner, I was delighted.

“It’s one of the best feelings – to score in one of the best stadiums in the world, I can say I’ve ticked it off the bucket list now.”

Foden’s goal was followed up by an equally impressive strike from Josko Gvardiol but Real hit back to level again and ensure the second leg of the quarter-final next week will begin evenly poised.

“We stayed calm when we went behind and we just played our football, we grew into the game,” Foden said.

“I feel we’ve come a long way to come here and do what we did. We could have controlled it better when we went 3-2 up but we’re playing one of the best teams in the world.

“Overall, it’s not a bad result for us. To come here and score three goals, we’ll take it back to the Etihad.”

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has not ruled out Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker being involved in Liverpool’s Europa League quarter-final against Atalanta on Thursday.

All three have been sidelined by injury since February but have returned to training and look set to contribute to Liverpool’s push for silverware over the closing weeks of the season.

Teenage midfielder Stefan Bajcetic, who has been out since September, is also back in training but is likely to have to wait a little longer for a first-team return.

“Obviously we didn’t rush it with the boys,” said Klopp. “That means they did a lot of training by themselves. Diogo and Trent worked as a group since two, three weeks and could do really proper training. It was very good yesterday.

“Stefan is different a little bit because he was out for much longer but is now training with us for longer as well. I think after the long spell he had without playing football it makes sense that we might give him a game in the under-21s and then let’s see how he deals with that.

“That’s not the plan with the other three guys. They are now back in training and now we have to see how we involve them, how we use them. That we need them is clear, but we need them in the best possible shape and we want to give them a kind of rhythm.

“It’s always a challenge to reintegrate the guys but, with the quality they have, obviously it should be a bit easier and we will use them in the next days and weeks. What it means for tomorrow, I didn’t make a decision yet.”

Liverpool’s injury problems have led to increased opportunities for their young players, many of whom have advanced their causes for further inclusion.

Klopp welcomed the availability of a bigger squad at a very busy time of the season, but he could be getting a knock on the door from 21-year-old midfielder Harvey Elliott if he does not get chances in the starting line-up.

“I want to be the player walking out, rather than coming on,” said Elliott. “That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for coming on the pitch, I’m very grateful for every opportunity that I get in a Liverpool shirt, but for me it’s about kicking on for myself and cementing my spot in the team.

“I’m not a kid any more, I’m a man, I’m growing up quickly, I feel like I need to take responsibilities into my own hands. If that means knocking on the gaffer’s door, it’s going to have to happen. But, at the same time, I do need to wait for my opportunities, I do need to be patient.”

Atalanta sit sixth in the Serie A table and put out Sporting Lisbon in the previous round but have won only two of their last nine matches.

Pep Guardiola described playing the Bergamo-based side as like going to the dentist in 2019, and long-serving manager Gian Piero Gasperini remains in charge.

“There are now only great teams left in the competition,” said Klopp. “It’s really outstanding and we know what Atalanta are all about.

“Gasperini is doing an incredible job there for years and years and it’s difficult to play against Italian teams, always was. Tactically they’re super disciplined and super dangerous in a lot of areas, so we have to be at our best to get into the next round over these two legs.”

There will be no flags on the Kop on Thursday night as fans stage a protest against ticket price increases next season.

Klopp admitted to mixed feelings on the issue, saying: “I understand the concerns and the discussion definitely. It’s a tricky one from my point of view obviously to say.

“We want to have the people in the stadium, we want to make it available for everybody. There’s a lot of good things the club is doing, but I understand 100 per cent where the supporters are coming from and I’m pretty sure they will find a solution.

“What we should make sure is that nothing gets between us and the supporters.”

Rodri admits he needs a break amid the intensity of Manchester City’s relentless pursuit of an unprecedented second successive treble.

The Spain international, who has not lost any of his last 66 games for club and country in a run stretching back more than a year, is vital to City’s bid to make history.

Yet Pep Guardiola’s influential midfield driving force looked laboured at times in Tuesday’s thrilling 3-3 Champions League draw at Real Madrid and concedes the schedule is taking its toll.

The 27-year-old said: “Every one of us can do better, even myself, but we need to rest to be honest.

“I do. I do need a rest. Let’s see how we speak, how we live the situation. Sometimes it is what it is.

“I need to adjust. It (rest) is something we are planning, yes.”

Guardiola could therefore make some changes for Saturday’s Premier League encounter with relegation-threatened Luton, as he looks ahead to the return clash with Real next Wednesday.

Yet with just a point separating the top three in the domestic competition, there is little margin for error for third-placed City.

Rodri felt the holders showed their mettle as they recovered from a 2-1 half-time deficit to lead on an enthralling night at the Bernabeu Stadium.

Bernardo Silva’s early strike was wiped out by a Ruben Dias own goal and Rodrygo effort, but the English side responded with stunning strikes from Phil Foden and Josko Gvardiol.

Real, however, were able to have the final say as Federico Valverde volleyed a late equaliser to ensure the second leg of the quarter-final tie will begin evenly poised.

“We showed our mentality to come back, to be honest,” said Rodri. “To go against them and come back with those goals sums up the mentality of the champions we are.

“It was a good result for us in terms of how the game was and everything is open. It’s one game in our home now and we are very strong there.”

City claimed a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of the semi-finals last year before thrashing the Spanish giants 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium to go through.

“Of course we can recreate it,” said Rodri, a former Atletico Madrid player. “We know how strong we are in our home.

“The key thing was, we knew whatever happened it wasn’t going to be over, even if we won or we lost. We have a draw that is the same result we had last season.

“It’s a good result in terms of the feeling of the team. We were finding the spaces in the second half, we did it great and now we move to Manchester. If we copy the first 20-30 minutes of the second half here, it’s going to be difficult for them.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola hailed his side’s character after the Champions League holders played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at Real Madrid.

Guardiola claimed the City of previous years could easily have crumbled under the weight of pressure as the Spanish giants twice hit back in a compelling quarter-final first leg at the Bernabeu.

City led after just two minutes through Bernardo Silva but Real hit back to go in front with a Ruben Dias own goal and Rodrygo effort.

Phil Foden and Josko Gvardiol turned the game around again with stunning second-half efforts but Federico Valverde levelled to ensure next week’s return clash at the Etihad Stadium will begin evenly poised.

Guardiola said: “I think it was really good. Two teams that want to attack. The quality of the goals was fantastic.

“What I liked most is how we played in the second half. We were 2-1 down, playing here without much composure.

“They are so dangerous on transitions and could score more goals but we controlled the game really well.

“This game, in the first three seasons together, we’d have lost 4-1 or 5-1 as we were not stable emotionally.

“You need time to learn and now we are more stable and hopefully in the future we can do better and better.

“We went 2-3 but here it is never over. It’s Madrid, it’s special. We take the result and in one week in Manchester, with our people, it will be sold out and they will help us.”

City were without chief playmaker Kevin De Bruyne after he was sick shortly before kick-off.

Guardiola said: “He started to vomit when we arrived and he didn’t feel good to play.

“But one of the secrets at the high levels is to adapt quickly to chaos. There is no time to complain.”

In De Bruyne’s absence, it was Foden who played the key role as City recovered from their half-time deficit.

Guardiola said: “Phil was not involved in the first half. He was not one of the best performers but he has this spark and incredible talent to score goals and create something.”

Foden was taken off with an injury late on but Guardiola played down fears it was serious.

He said: “It’s a knock. He was grumpy with me for the substitution so that means he’s OK.”

Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was taking charge of his 200th game in the competition, felt the result was fair.

“It was a well-balanced game,” the Italian said. “Both teams really competed to the limit. It was a hard-fought draw.

“They scored early but we reacted really well and played excellently for 60 minutes, but City scored two unstoppable goals.”

Pep Guardiola remains undecided about which of his goalkeepers will start the first leg of Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.

Ederson, who was forced off in City’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool last month, was on the bench for the Premier League title-holders’ 4-2 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Stefan Ortega put in another solid performance, including a first-half Cruyff turn to deny in-form Palace forward Jean-Philippe Mateta the opportunity of breaking a 1-1 deadlock at half-time.

Guardiola said: “I have to think about it because Eddie (Ederson) comes from injury, he feels good, I think so, so now I have to decide if a lack of rhythm for that match, I have to decide, but we are really pleased with the (performance) from Stefan. He is an exceptional keeper.”

There was speculation over whether Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne would start at Selhurst Park, but both were on the pitch at kick-off, shortly after which Mateta fired in the opener.

It was a De Bruyne masterclass that would win it for City, who were challenged by Oliver Glasner’s hosts throughout the first half but returned from the break a far more organised side.

Rico Lewis fired the visitors into an early second-half lead before De Bruyne set up Haaland’s 19th of the league campaign, then brought up a century of goals for City with his second of the afternoon.

Guardiola’s 2023 treble-winners remain in contention to repeat the feat this season but remain one point shy of both table-toppers Arsenal and Liverpool, who are level on 71 points and separated by the Gunners’ advantage on goal difference.

Though City have experience in finding themselves deep in multiple competitions late in the season, Guardiola admitted more injuries this campaign has made the task of fielding a fresh side for every match a bigger challenge this time around.

That may mean a few changes for Tuesday’s contest – and watching a bit more of the opponent.

He said: “I know everyone wants to play but I’ll have to see. The doctors will knock on the door and say, ‘OK, you can count on this player, you can count on this player’, and after we’ll try to see Madrid.

“Because still I didn’t see a lot. I will talk with my staff that see more games than me and change the line-up and try to win.”

Palace are still looking for their first win since Glasner replaced Roy Hodgson in February but showed plenty of promise in the first half of Saturday’s home contest.

Captain Joel Ward, who recorded his 300th Premier League appearance for the Eagles on Saturday, told the club website: “I think there’s a lot of positives that we can take from that game. Obviously we created a good few chances as well and scored two goals. I think from front to back we were solid for large spells of the game.

“You’re always going to have your back up against City. Against another team we’d probably go on to win that game.”

Pep Guardiola is refusing to look beyond Manchester City’s visit to Crystal Palace despite Real Madrid looming as a Selhurst Park slip-up would leave their Premier League title hopes in tatters.

A win for City in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off will move them level on points with leaders Liverpool, who head to Old Trafford for a clash with arch rivals Manchester United on Sunday afternoon.

Guardiola accepts a draw or defeat would all but end their aim of claiming a fourth-successive title so even the prospect of a trip to the Spanish capital on Tuesday evening will not divert his attention.

City are also defending their Champions League crown and take on Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the quarter-final first leg but Guardiola will only start thinking about the clash after facing Palace.

“Honestly, if we were 18 points in front of second in the Premier League, I would have two eyes on Madrid but it’s not the case,” Guardiola said.

“We’re third, not far away from the top of the Premier League, but if we drop points it will be almost impossible.

“We have to win that game and after that we will have more time, not for recovery, but to prepare. So I have not had much time to see Real Madrid.

“When we have been fighting for nine or 10 months for the Premier League title, why should I be distracted now from this important game against Palace, when the distance is so close?”

Guardiola is mulling over whether to restore Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne to his starting line-up in south London after benching the pair in the 4-1 midweek victory over Aston Villa.

City will be favourites to beat a side that have claimed just two points from their last 12 and sit 14th in the table but Palace hit back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Etihad Stadium in mid-December.

Guardiola, who could welcome back goalkeeper Ederson this weekend but will be continue to be without defenders Kyle Walker and Nathan Ake, is aware he cannot take the threat of the Eagles lightly if City are to remain in contention for a trophy he continues to prize above all others.

“I love it,” he said. “Of the domestic trophies, it is the most important. I’m not going to say the Champions League is not nice, of course it is.

“We have it and know how it feels in our soul and we are at peace, for the fact we’ve got it. But (the Premier League) is just the nicest because it’s more difficult, there are more games, every week, two or three games.

“The Champions League, of course, is important, but it depends on something you perhaps can’t control.

“Both are incredibly important, but the Premier League proves a lot. It shows the mentality of the teams, being there all the time for many, many years.

“From my education at home or whatever, every day you have to do the best – that means a lot to me personally.”

Phil Foden took his tally for the season to 14 goals with a hat-trick against top-four hopefuls Villa and Guardiola admitted he could be in the running for Premier League player of the season.

“He’s a contender like many others, many players play a good season,” Guardiola added. “He can be a contender for sure.”

Pep Guardiola is unsure about whether to restore Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne to his Manchester City line-up at Crystal Palace on Saturday with Real Madrid looming next week.

The pair were unused substitutes in midweek as City stayed three points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool by brushing aside Aston Villa 4-1, with Phil Foden bagging a sensational hat-trick.

But as a visit to Palace at lunchtime on Saturday is followed by a mouthwatering trip to the Spanish capital to face Real on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, this season’s leading goal-scorer Haaland and key playmaker De Bruyne might be kept on ice once again this weekend.

“I don’t know yet,” Guardiola said, when asked about the prospect of Haaland and De Bruyne returning to face Palace. “Playing at 12:30pm and playing two days ago, I have to think. There are so many games.

“We play less than two and a half days after our last game. Some players recover quicker than others. A long week is completely different but a short week, you have to talk with doctors, physios and staff.

“We are used to playing every three days over many months and months. For many, many years it has happened that way.

“We play 12:30pm, it’s perfect. More time to recover for the next game in Madrid. We then play on Saturday against Chelsea in the FA Cup afterwards, it’s not fair but we are going to do it.

“We take one game at a time and don’t give up. We are not new to European competitions so the players know how to handle it, not all the time but most of the time.”

City, who could welcome back goalkeeper Ederson at Selhurst Park but are still without defenders Kyle Walker and Nathan Ake, have dropped just six points in an unbeaten 13-match league run.

But with both Liverpool and Arsenal ahead of them, Guardiola reiterated that all City can do to keep alive hopes of a fourth successive league crown is win all of their eight remaining fixtures.

“I hope so but it doesn’t solve the problem if we don’t do our job,” Guardiola said after being asked about whether he expects their title rivals to drop points.

“If we were at the top of the league it would be in our hands, that’s not the case, so what we have to do is win our games. I hope it happens but we cannot control it.

“The quality of the opponent is why we have to keep going and at the end we will realise which team is there.”

Guardiola, who said he had “no opinion” on rumours of a luxury tax being imposed on Premier League clubs to help regulate on overspending, admitted he is wary of upcoming opponents Palace.

The Eagles have taken points in six of their last 12 meetings with City, winning in December 2018 and October 2021 along with four draws – most recently coming from 2-0 down in December with goals from Jean-Philippe Mateta and Michael Olise.

“They’ve always been tough,” he added. “I think (manager Oliver) Glasner is doing a really good job.

“The quality is there with (Eberechi) Eze, (Jordan) Ayew and Mateta. They have good structure, strong defensively with (Joachim) Andersen leading the back five, the physicality is always there. Selhurst Park is always difficult.”

Phil Foden’s stunning hat-trick against Aston Villa stirred up memories of a young Wayne Rooney as the Manchester City midfielder continues to impress this season.

The 23-year-old starred on Wednesday night, restoring City’s lead just before half-time with a free-kick and adding a second in the 62nd minute before completing his treble shortly after.

His performance drew comparisons with Rooney post-match, with TNT Sports host Laura Woods saying: “The third goal, especially. We were chatting about this a second ago, Rio (Ferdinand) was saying it was almost like your Wayne Rooney moment, that something doesn’t go right, you get angry, and you bang in a goal.”

Foden replied: “You know it’s funny you said that because as I was celebrating I was walking with Jackie (Grealish), he also said about the Wayne Rooney goal, said ‘that’s what it reminded me of’.”

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at how the two players compare.

Goals

Wednesday night’s discussion about the two players came following the similarity in the type of goal scored.

Foden’s third goal sparked the conversation as he secured his hat-trick in sensational style with a thumping top-corner finish just moments after losing the ball outside the box.

The comparison to Rooney’s goal against Newcastle in 2005 followed, where the forward smashed an incredible volley from outside the area into the top corner just moments are complaining to the referee about a foul that was not given.

Introduction to senior football

Both players had slightly different introductions to senior football, with Rooney quickly making a name for himself in the top flight.

The striker made his senior debut for Everton in 2002 aged 16 against Tottenham and scored his first Premier League goal for the Toffees in October that year with a long-range curling shot past England goalkeeper David Seaman which bounced in off the underside of the bar.

Rooney netted 17 goals in 77 appearances before moving to Manchester United in 2004, but compared to Rooney’s breakthrough, Foden has gradually eased into the senior team at Manchester City.

After impressing in City’s youth set-up and for England in the Under-17 World Cup, Foden was included in several matchday squads before making his senior bow as a substitute for City in their Champions League clash against Feyenoord in November 2017.

He earned his full debut in the competition the following month before making his Premier League bow against Tottenham 10 days later and Foden made five league appearances in total for the club in the 2017-18 season, gradually cementing his spot in the City line-up over the following seasons.

Style of play

Although Rooney was deployed as a striker for the most part, he was able to play across the forward line and used his pace well to score and create goals.

As well as being involved in wider positions, towards the end of his time with United Rooney dropped into midfield, especially under manager Louis van Gaal.

Foden displays a similar versatility and the left-footed midfielder can play out wide or in attacking midfield.

His best performances seem to come from a more central position, which is where he played against Villa and admitted post-match that he prefers playing in the middle.

Manager Pep Guardiola also believes playing centrally benefits Foden and said: “When Phil plays in a central position he has a sense for goals and he proved it again.”

Stats

After bagging his second hat-trick of the season, Foden now moves onto 21 goals in all competitions, a career best for him.

His first senior treble came in the Manchester derby last campaign where Foden and Erling Haaland both scored three times in City’s 6-3 hammering of their neighbours.

Foden now has three Premier League hat-tricks to his name at the age of 23 and only needs another four to draw level with Rooney, who scored seven in the league.

His total Premier League tally adds up to 49 goals, with 81 in his Manchester City career overall, but he still has plenty of catching up to do with Rooney, who scored 208 times in the top flight and bagged a club-record 253 for Manchester United.

Pep Guardiola said Phil Foden can “do whatever he wants” in football after watching him fire Manchester City to a 4-1 Premier League victory over Aston Villa with a brilliant hat-trick.

With Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne dropping to the bench, Foden moved into a central position and orchestrated the demolition of Villa with an outstanding display, playing a hand in Rodri’s opener and then taking the game away from the visitors after Jhon Duran had levelled.

Foden restored City’s lead with a free-kick in first-half stoppage time when he found the gap that Nicolo Zaniolo left in Villa’s wall, then won it with two excellent goals just after the hour, the last of them a shot into the top corner after he had lost the ball but quickly regained it.

His second hat-trick of the campaign moved Foden on to 21 goals for the season and kept the pressure on in the title race, with the champions one point behind new leaders Arsenal and level with Liverpool who host Sheffield United on Thursday.

“What can I say? Three goals,” Guardiola said. “He didn’t start well but I think the goal helped him a lot for the mood. When Phil plays in a central position he has a sense for goals and he proved it again.

“He can do whatever he wants. He’s a real top-class player. We know it. But he is still open-minded, he has to understand the game, he has to focus on things, sometimes he’s a bit distracted in exactly what you have to do offensively, defensively, but he has a natural talent – a gift – which is special.

“The work ethic is unbelievable and he has an incredible sense of goal. When he has the ball and he’s attacking the back line he is going to score, you had that feeling. It is not easy to find it and that’s why he’s so special when he’s playing these central positions.”

De Bruyne and Haaland got a breather with next week’s Champions League trip to Real Madrid looming, but without them City turned in one of their better performances of the season and a vast improvement on Sunday’s goalless draw against title rivals Arsenal.

“We were better,” Guardiola said. “It’s true we conceded a few transitions and we lost a few balls and when that happens it’s a lesson we have to learn for the next game but we had incredible energy, four-five players up front and it was really good. We created a lot of chances.”

Villa remain fourth but the defeat leaves them only two points above Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

Unai Emery was without the injured Ollie Watkins and then also lost goalkeeper Emi Martinez to a stomach problem after he had been named in the starting line-up. But the Spaniard chose to make several more changes to his side – six in total from Saturday’s win over Wolves.

“It’s clear we were motivated and excited to try to be competitive, trying to keep it consistent like we are in the Premier League, but of course we were playing against Manchester City,” Emery said.

“We were competing until the 60th minute and as well we were trying to build our team with some players who are not playing a lot, we are trying to give them chances to play.

“Even when we were losing 2-1 we had some chances to score with Douglas Luiz, but they were pushing us a lot, they showed us their potential and they deserved to win.

“We will play a lot of matches in the next weeks, starting on Saturday against Brentford, and it was important to try to be intelligent playing against Manchester City. Of course we wanted to win but with some players injured and some players suspended we wanted to get some practice with some players.”

Phil Foden scored a brilliant hat-trick as Manchester City kept the pressure on in the Premier League title race with a 4-1 win over Champions League-chasing Aston Villa.

A day after defending his star striker against criticism from Roy Keane, Pep Guardiola left Erling Haaland on the bench alongside Kevin De Bruyne, clearing the stage for Foden to grab the spotlight with an outstanding performance and his second hat-trick of the campaign.

After Jhon Duran cancelled out Rodri’s opener, the 23-year-old put City back in front with a free-kick late in the first half before two excellent strikes settled it just after the hour mark, taking Foden to 21 City goals for the season.

Pep Guardiola’s side remain third, a point behind leaders Arsenal and level with Liverpool – who host Sheffield United on Thursday – after their first win over a top-five side this term.

But while little has changed in the table, this was a far more fluid performance from the champions days after Arsenal ended their run of 57 consecutive home games with a goal.

The decision to leave out De Bruyne and Haaland was made with next week’s Champions League trip to Real Madrid looming, but neither have been at their best since coming back from injury in recent weeks.

Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku came in to play on the wings and Foden shifted inside, from where he would orchestrate City’s win.

Villa, already without the injured Ollie Watkins, had to replace goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez due to illness just before kick-off and stand-in Robin Olsen was soon picking the ball out of his net.

Foden fed Doku on the right and the Belgian cut it back for Rodri to sweep home his eighth goal of the season after 11 minutes.

City’s lead lasted only nine minutes before Villa drew level with an excellent counter-attack. Julian Alvarez lost the ball on the edge of the Villa box and the visitors swept forward before Duran played a quick one-two with Morgan Rogers and fired across Stefan Ortega’s goal into the far corner.

After Jack Grealish – booed constantly by his old fans in the Villa end – was booked for dissent when a free-kick went in Douglas Luiz’s favour, Olsen made a fine save with his right boot to deny Alvarez.

Luiz was living dangerously late in the first half. Already booked for bringing down Grealish on the edge of the area, he then fouled Foden in an almost identical spot in first-half stoppage time.

Darren England kept his cards in his pocket but Villa were punished anyway as Foden found a gap in the wall left by Nicolo Zaniolo to beat Olsen.

There was still time for Alvarez to go close twice before half-time, with Olsen tipping a close-range header over the crossbar, and the goalkeeper was busy again at the start of the second half, denying Bernardo Silva after Foden’s neat pass left him one-on-one.

Villa threatened on the break as Luiz drove forward and hit a shot that was tipped over by Ortega, who then denied Clement Lenglet from the resulting corner.

But Foden would soon settle the match. In the 62nd minute Rodri rode Moussa Diaby’s challenge and rolled the ball inside for Foden to beat Olsen with a first-time shot into the bottom right corner.

Lewis lashed a shot narrowly wide but the killer fourth goal arrived in the 69th minute. The chance appeared to have gone when Foden lost the ball on the edge of the Villa area, but Calum Chambers scuffed his clearance straight back to Foden, and he lashed a shot into the top right corner.

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