Joan Laporta says he is eager to see Pep Guardiola lift the Champions League trophy amid reports the Manchester City boss is his top target to coach Barcelona.

It was suggested this week that Barca president Laporta will make an audacious attempt to persuade Guardiola to return to Camp Nou after the Champions League final.

Laporta reportedly wishes to speak to Guardiola - who is under contract with City until 2023 after signing a new deal last year - before determining his next move with under-pressure incumbent Ronald Koeman.

Guardiola enjoyed a hugely successful spell at the Barca helm between 2008 and 2012, winning the Spanish title for three successive seasons, as well as the Champions League twice.

"If you want to ask me about Pep, I wish that he wins the Champions League with City on Saturday," Laporta said on Friday.

"I am not here to talk about my dreams. I focus on realities and like to make my dreams come true, not talk about them.

"May he win the Champions League with Barca and City; I think it will be wonderful for him and also for all of us who love him.

"That is the only thing in my head when we talk about Guardiola. I can't wait to watch the final and I hope Pep can win it because he is a good friend of mine."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project.

The Dutchman, who has one year left on his contract, is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge.

Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation and the president asked him to wait for a verdict while he looked at alternative options.

Former Barca player Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd in Qatar, has also been heavily linked with the job.

"Xavi will be a great coach and he is a friend but we have nothing specific," said Laporta.

"These are names that sound good - everyone wants them to come, but we are in a different situation now than when we bet on [Frank] Rijkaard or Guardiola, plus we don't want to involve Ronald in more stories.

"Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]. We are talking.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca. We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta revealed contract talks with Lionel Messi are going well as he prepares to meet again with Ronald Koeman to decide the head coach's future.

Messi's current deal is set to expire at the end of June but the Spanish club are in negotiations to make sure their talisman remains at Camp Nou.

Having pushed to leave Barca a year ago, the 33-year-old scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga appearances to finish as the competition's leading scorer, though Barca finished behind both champions Atletico Madrid and rivals Real Madrid in the table.

Laporta provided an update on Messi's situation at a lengthy news conference on Friday that covered a number of topics, during which he confirmed new signings are imminent.

"Messi's new contract is going well, but it has not been done yet," Laporta announced.

"We are working hard, all the executives that we have involved here are working hard to give him a good proposal. We are going to give him a proposal that is within our means and we hope that it will be accepted by the player.

"I see our relationship as very good. Messi loves Barca. We know that he is a man and a player conditioned by his incredible talent.

"Of course, we all want him to continue, and we hope that he will stay with Barca."

Barca are expected to sign defender Eric Garcia and forward Sergio Aguero in the transfer window, with both players soon to be out of contract at Manchester City.

"Our ambition is to improve the current squad and we are working on that very hard," Laporta said.

"Next week, we will talk about new arrivals for the first team. You will see the result of some of the work we have been doing.

"I understand that people want us to work in a rhythm that is faster, but we believe in working step by step, little by little and doing things right. We need to make two situations compatible, when I'm talking about the liquidation of one project and the beginning of a new one."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project; the Dutchman is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge. Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca," Laporta said. "We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Laporta was also questioned about links to Xavi and Pep Guardiola, two legendary names at the club who have been rumoured to be potential replacements for Koeman.

“Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]," Laporta said. "We are talking."

The domestic football season concluded at the weekend in typically dramatic fashion.

The title went down to the wire in France and Spain, while Champions League qualification was up for grabs for some big names in England and Italy.

Much of the focus during the closing rounds in Germany was on Robert Lewandowski's record bid, but there was no shortage of intrigue whichever way you looked.

It was in keeping with the rest of an unpredictable campaign, one that Stats Perform breaks down with the use of Opta data.
 

LILLE, LALIGA AND LUKAKU SHAKE THINGS UP

Lille, Atletico Madrid and Inter all have relatively recent history of league glory, but a pre-season wager would have fetched long odds.

In Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain had won seven of the previous eight titles and would have expected to do so again, having claimed a domestic treble and reached the Champions League final in 2020.

As it was, under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, they had to settle for pushing Lille all the way.

Les Dogues claimed the title but had already set a club points record when they reached 79 with two games to spare. PSG finished on 82, though, meaning Lille desperately needed the final two results to boost their tally.

Despite the presence of Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga, Atletico's triumph was perhaps more likely, even if the impressive nature of it may have come as a surprise.

Although they stuttered on the home stretch and had to come from behind on the last day to edge out Madrid, Atleti spent 30 matchdays at the top of the table – a mark only bettered once in their 10 other title-winning campaigns (36 matchdays in 1995-96).

Indeed, Atleti are used to having to wait to celebrate, with 10 of their 11 championships seeing the destination of the trophy decided on the final day (all except 1976-77).

Inter are another big name but had been waiting even longer than Lille for their most recent title, with one Milan victory and then nine in a row for Juventus since the 2009-10 Nerazzurri treble.

Antonio Conte's men completed the job in style, though, confirmed as champions with four games to play before finishing with 91 points (behind only their 2006-07 haul of 97) and 89 goals (third-most behind the classes of 1949-50 and 1950-51 – 99 and 107 respectively).

Talisman Romelu Lukaku was involved in 35 of them, becoming the first Serie A player to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season since at least 2004-05.


BAYERN BACK ON TOP, CITY SCALING NEW HEIGHTS

In Germany, the title race was a little less exciting. Winners of everything in 2020, Bayern Munich took home the Bundesliga crown for a ninth successive season.

Prior to this run, no team had won more than three on the bounce, yet there appears no end to Bayern's dominance in sight. They have now won 52 per cent of the championships since the formation of the competition in 1963.

Julian Nagelsmann, arriving from RB Leipzig, will be the coach tasked with achieving 10 in a row and Hansi Flick has set the bar high. His 86 games brought seven trophies.

Manchester City could soon be reflecting on a similarly dominant dynasty having now claimed three titles in four seasons.

Pep Guardiola played a big part in Bayern's run and now has nine league wins in 12 top-flight seasons as a coach, although this was an unprecedented achievement, with City eighth on Christmas Day – the lowest position at that stage for an eventual Premier League champion.

A record English league run of 12 away victories played a pivotal role in City's season, while defending champions Liverpool saw a club-record 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League ended as they subsequently lost six consecutive league matches at Anfield for the first time in their history.

City could yet win the Champions League too, where Sergio Aguero is in line for his final appearance before his contract expires. He will hope it is as successful as his last league outing, during which he scored twice against Everton on Sunday to set a new record for the most Premier League goals by a player for one club (184).
 

RECORD-BREAKING LEWY DELAYS NEXT GENERATION

Aguero might have had his say on the final day, once the title was secure, but he largely took a backseat – unlike Lewandowski at Bayern.

His 41 Bundesliga goals broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 in a single season. The next-best tally in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21 saw Lionel Messi trailing well behind on 30.

Lewandowski unsurprisingly also led Europe in expected goals, with his chances worth 32.2 xG, and expected goals on target, producing shots with a value of 35.8 xGOT.

As Lewandowski took the Kicker-Torjagerkanone and Messi went away with the Pichichi, Cristiano Ronaldo (29 goals) won the Capocannoniere, having also previously topped the charts in England and Spain.

Kylian Mbappe (27) was the leading marksman in France, while Harry Kane (23) earned the Premier League Golden Boot for a third time.

Kane is set to be the subject of intense transfer speculation throughout the close-season – replacing Aguero at City might be one option if he gets his wish to leave Spurs – and he will join Mbappe and Erling Haaland in that regard.

Haaland also scored 27 league goals and only just trailed Mbappe's seven assists with his six.

The expectation is both players will establish themselves as the world's best in the coming seasons, but it is now Lewandowski, rather than Messi and Ronaldo, they must surpass.

Pep Guardiola would love to bring a free-scoring striker to Manchester City, amid speculation surrounding Harry Kane, with Sergio Aguero saying goodbye to the club.

Aguero will leave City after next week's Champions League final against Chelsea in Porto.

The Argentine, who joined the club in 2011 and has gone on to become the Premier League's leading foreign goalscorer, as well as City's record scorer, has won five top-flight titles in Manchester.

Injuries have marred his final season, with the 32-year-old – who has reportedly agreed to join Barcelona – featuring for just 682 minutes across 18 appearances (eight starts) in all competitions.

Aguero faces a late fitness test to see if he will be able to play against Everton on Sunday, in City's final league game of the season, which will take place in front of 10,000 fans at the Etihad Stadium.

In Aguero's absence this term, and with understudy Gabriel Jesus not quite hitting the heights initially expected of him, Guardiola has often utilised a false nine system, with Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Ferran Torres and Kevin De Bruyne called upon to fill in up top.

It has served City well, Guardiola's team reclaiming the league title, winning their fourth straight EFL Cup and reaching their first Champions League final.

However, links to a new striker have not gone away, with Borussia Dortmund's in-demand forward Erling Haaland a mooted target, though Kane's recent comments about the possibility of leaving Tottenham will not have gone unnoticed. 

Kane added further fuel to the fire when, in an interview with Gary Neville on The Overlap, he declared his admiration for De Bruyne, labelling the Belgian playmaker a "striker's dream".

Pressed on possibly targetting a striker of Kane's ilk, Guardiola told a news conference: "I would love to have a guy who scores 50 goals.

"I would love it – but at the same I don't like just to have all the pressure on one player. Even at Barcelona Lionel Messi scored more than 50 goals every season, but in that team for example, in our first season Samuel Eto'o scored a lot.

"To win titles, especially the Premier League, the statistics speak for themselves, you need at least three guys [scoring] more than 10, 12, 15 goals to be competitors. But when you have a guy who scores 25 or 30, it helps a lot.

"We will try due to the way we play to have everybody involved in scoring goals – the more players we have with this quality the better we will be."

HOW HAVE CITY'S GOALS COME IN 2020-21?

With Aguero only managing four goals in all competitions – and just two from open play – the onus has been on other players to step up.

The standout in this regard has been Ilkay Gundogan, who has transformed himself into a superb attacking midfielder this term, scoring a team-high 17 times across all competitions, with the German averaging a goal every 194 minutes.

De Bruyne has tallied the most attempts (104), scoring nine goals and teeing up a further 17, while Riyad Mahrez is tied on 14 goals with Raheem Sterling.

Foden has netted 15 goals, all of which have come from open play. Torres and Jesus have both contributed 13, with John Stones and Bernardo Silva (both five) also chipping in with their fair share.

THE FINAL FAREWELL

It will no doubt be an emotional day for Aguero on Sunday, though he can take solace in the fact that there will be supporters on hand to wish him well.

"My message to the fans is: 'Thank you,'" Aguero wrote in a statement on the club's offciial website. "Thank you to the City fans for always supporting me.

"When you feel the love from your fans, everything is a lot easier. It's the same for anyone in any line of work – when someone believes in you, you do better. I owe a lot to the people at this club because I have the City fans to thank for everything.

"We have won a lot of games. I leave here feeling very satisfied with what I have achieved here. In the last games, I will do my best so that I can leave on a high.

"I want all the fans who saw me play in the stadium to remember me for what they saw me do on the pitch. I always say that you enjoy yourself on the pitch because of the support of the fans."

Pep Guardiola conceded Manchester City can get ready to pop the champagne corks, with their third Premier League title in four seasons "already there" after a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.

City are one victory away from an unassailable lead and could be champions by the end of the weekend if Liverpool beat Manchester United on Sunday.

Guardiola does not care if his team are crowned without being on the field, telling a post-match news conference he simply wanted the title "as soon as possible" after second half goals from Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres dispatched Palace.

"We can start to think about putting it in the fridge. Not yet, but we can put it in the fridge," he told BT Sport, before discussing his football-watching plans for Sunday – juggling preparation for Tuesday's Champions League semi-final showdown against Paris Saint Germain with keeping an eye on events at Old Trafford.

"It's [about] PSG right now. We start to see the game we played there [a 2-1 win on Wednesday] and what we have to do, but I will take a look [at United v Liverpool], yeah.

"The Premier League is already there, it is in our hands. We need one more victory or two points

"Now there is a game where we need to give absolutely everything to reach the final."

Aguero has been a marginal figure during his final season at City, grappling with form and fitness issues.

But his opening strike at Palace - a fabulous touch and half-volleyed finish from Benjamin Mendy's low cross – showed the value he could still have over the closing weeks of his City career.

"I'm incredibly delighted he is back. He was many, many times injured," Guardiola told reporters.

"In the last weeks he trained really well and he is another weapon that we have on Tuesday for our semi-final."

 

Aguero is now one behind Wayne Rooney's single-club record of 183 Premier League goals and Guardiola paid a glowing tribute to the 32-year-old, who is City's all-time leading goalscorer.

"He's an absolutely top legend, extraordinary, the most humble and nicest human being. That is not easy to find," he said.

"That's why I love him as a man. Another player in his situation, he could create conflict, he would create a difficult situation.

"When one guy is beloved, like he is by all our fans, it is not just for the scoring 1,000 million goals, that is the truth. It is because he has something that the people realise, that you cannot hide away, as a person.

"This season, we took a decision, a difficult one - one of the toughest ones I took, especially because he was injured a long time. This club, next season need to make another step and maintain this level for a longer time.

"But what he has done in this club remains, will remain forever and we want to finish the best way as possible.

"He's going to help us in the Champions League [and] is going to help us in the Premier League to finish it."

Pep Guardiola hailed an "incredible performance" from Raheem Sterling, despite the forward's goal drought continuing in Manchester City's EFL Cup final triumph.

City won the EFL Cup for a fourth consecutive season and record-equalling eighth time overall, matching Liverpool's haul, with defender Aymeric Laporte the unlikely goal hero.

Sterling had five goal attempts – the most of any City player – but did not hit the target with any of those, and he has not scored for the club since netting in the 1-0 win against Arsenal in February.

However, the England winger was certainly lively, troubling Serge Aurier with his pace and trickery from early in the contest, when he teed up Phil Foden for a chance that went begging.

That was to become a theme, with City creating but missing a host of chances before Laporte met Kevin De Bruyne's free-kick and powered a header past Hugo Lloris in the 82nd minute.

In terms of xG – Opta's expected goals metric – City had a score of 3.63 while Tottenham's total was just 0.06, reflecting the stark difference between the sides.

Asked about Sterling, Guardiola said the former Liverpool player had been "amazing".

"He showed the opponent we came here to win the game in the first actions. He was incredibly aggressive," said the City boss. "Aurier is a fast defender and they are incredibly good at defending the shot and the blocks. Lloris made some incredible saves but he was brilliant."

Guardiola is sure Sterling will soon start scoring regularly, saying: "We have no doubts of that, the mentality is great, he trained well and he made an incredible performance. He deserves it, he created a lot of chances and made a couple of assists for Ilkay [Gundogan]. All the players were brilliant."

Having become the first manager to win the competition in four consecutive years, Guardiola said City's success was "more than well deserved". There was no denying that, with Tottenham a blunt force going forward despite Harry Kane being passed fit to start after his recent ankle scare.

Now, though, City have more targets in their sights, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Wednesday. Guardiola admitted that "one eye is always on the Champions League".

And, as the Spaniard pointed out, they need just two more wins from five games to wrap up the Premier League title following Manchester United's 0-0 draw at Leeds United earlier on Sunday.

"Now we just rest and prepare for the semi-final, the first leg against PSG," Guardiola said. "And after we are two games away to try to win the most important title of the season.

"The Premier League is the nicest one and the one I am proud of the most. We are so close. Marcelo Bielsa's team made a good draw against United so we are 10 points clear and need two victories.

"Between the crazy schedule, between games against PSG, we're going to try to win the first one against Crystal Palace."

Guardiola also praised those members of his squad who played no part against Tottenham, including Eric Garcia, the 20-year-old defender who is expected to join Barcelona at the end of the season.

"I would say he is one of my favourite players," former Barcelona head coach Guardiola said. "I'd love to have 15 Eric Garcias, for the way he conducts himself, his behaviour.

"He helps the manager and the backroom staff all the time. When people say the people are unsatisfied if [they] dont play, I think of Eric.

"Most of the time he's not on the bench because he's going to move to Barcelona, I hope so, but I think of them. It's tough, but it is what it is."

Tottenham's Ryan Mason became the youngest manager to take charge of a side in an EFL Cup final at 29 years and 316 days, with the caretaker boss surpassing Gianluca Vialli, who was 33 when he guided Chelsea in the 1998 final.

It was not to be for Mason, who has taken over from the sacked Jose Mourinho and said it was "tough" to see the chance of a trophy slip by.

"The players believed and gave absolutely everything," Mason said. "I thought we rode our luck at times in the first half but defended well, blocked well, but we knew at times we'd have to ride our luck and they'd have long spells of possession.

"It was disappointing to concede from a set-play, but I can't fault the players. They've had a change of manager, a game in midweek, two or three days to prepare for this and work in a completely different way. I've so much pride in those players. They believed and gave everything."

Aymeric Laporte headed Manchester City to a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the EFL Cup final as Pep Guardiola's men landed their first trophy of what could be a treble-winning season.

City's attacking players rained attempts on the Tottenham goal in a one-sided Wembley clash, but it was defender Laporte who came up with the clinical finish in the 82nd minute, nodding Kevin De Bruyne's free-kick past Hugo Lloris.

The Spurs goalkeeper had been magnificent until then, but the quality of the delivery and the precision of Laporte's header gave the French goalkeeper little chance.

Top of the Premier League and chasing Champions League glory, a fourth consecutive triumph in the EFL Cup seems unlikely to be the pinnacle of City's achievements this term.

Chatter rippled quickly across the Wembley press room, a buzz of excitement quickly following. It was the first thing most people looking at hot-off-the-press team sheets mentioned.

"Foden's starting."

Since describing the playmaker as "a gift" in the aftermath of his maiden senior outing for Manchester City against Manchester United in the 2017 International Champions Cup, Pep Guardiola persistently had his use of Foden questioned.

The teenager wasn't playing enough, then he wasn't starting enough, then he wasn't starting enough meaningful games. Guardiola maintained he had a plan and it absolutely did not include Foden going out on loan.

But there he was in the first XI for a major cup final. He responded by turning in a man-of-the-match display as City beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win a third consecutive EFL Cup.

They will look to make it four in a row against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and, in the interim period, Foden has scarcely looked back.

A serious player

His outing in the 2020 final was Foden's 61st appearance for City, going back to a competitive debut from the bench against Feyenoord in the Champions League in November 2017.

Those initial steps of his career saw him make 24 starts and play 2,439 minutes. His knockdown for Sergio Aguero to open the scoring against Villa was a 10th assist to sit alongside 10 goals.

In a little over a year since, Foden has almost doubled his appearances with 56 and 38 starts contribute to a major leap of 3,598 minutes played.

The returns those appearances have yielded do much to explain his status as a one of Guardiola's go-to men, to the extent it is possible he will be afforded the luxury of a rest against Spurs, given City have a Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain on the horizon and a Premier League title to wrap up.

That might not be the most advisable course of action, given City's record of won 26, drawn three, lost one when Foden starts this season. The sole defeat came in the second Premier League game of the season against Leicester City in September.

That win percentage of 86.7 per cent drops to 68.2 (W15 D3 L4) when Guardiola opts to take Foden out of the firing line.

"His influence in our game is massive right now," the City manager told Sky Sports after another man-of-the-match showing at Villa's expense in midweek, where Foden netted a first-half equaliser in a 2-1 win before his twinkling feet mercilessly goaded opposition right-back Matty Cash into a red card.

"He is becoming a serious player for us," Guardiola added.

Pep's most prolific youngster

Last season's EFL Cup final was played out in front of a capacity Wembley crowd, for whom the Super League was a rugby league competition. It truly was a different world.

Whatever this disorientating reality is, Foden is making it his own.

In the period since he has scored 19 and laid on a further 11 in all competitions, with his minutes-per-goal figure down from 244 to 189 and shot conversion up from 13 to 16.5 per cent.

Such sharp shooting saw him score the winner in both legs of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund, the latter rasping strike leading to a cathartic and emotional embrace with Guardiola.

Unsurprisingly, Foden is far outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 11.8 since the 2020 EFL Cup final, while an xG 9.8 aligned almost exactly with his 10 goals beforehand.

This higher output is because, much to the profound discomfort of Cash and others, Foden has evolved from the scheming midfielder of his youth to an explosive and versatile wide attacker.

Only Kevin De Bruyne with 24 has been directly involved in more City goals than Foden's 23 this season, thanks to his 14 goals and nine assists.

Looking further back across a career where Guardiola has worked with some of the finest young talent in the game, Foden's overall 29 goals and 21 assists give him 50 goal involvements – more than any other player before turning 21 under the former Barcelona Bayern Munich boss.

The England international's 29 goals are also unmatched among that age group, with Bojan Krkic also scoring the same number for Guardiola's Barcelona.

This weekend is unlikely to be the last time Foden graces Wembley this year, as a starring role with England at Euro 2020 surely awaits – the 20-year-old having taken to international football effortlessly.

From boy to main man

"He was a boy when I arrived, at 17 years old he trained every day with these guys and played more minutes," Guardiola said on Friday.

"Now he is stronger with his physicality, but it is normal. He is still at an age to get stronger, play more minutes and have more experience.

"He has the ability to play in different positions. That's why he is a better player but still, like every player, he can be better. It depends on him."

In this week of all weeks, as he hauled his boyhood team to a vital win, there was something delightful about watching Foden's star continue its unchecked and rapid ascent since that surprise cup final call.

When the modern City began stacking up trophies almost a decade ago, he cheered them on from pitchside as a ballboy. Now, he plays a pivotal role in everything they achieve.

Given his employers' involvement in the tawdry Super League debacle, it will be an incredibly long time until any vaguely romantic notions can be pinned to Manchester City as an organisation.

But Foden's story, that of a young man living out his childhood fantasy every week, playing the football from all of our wildest dreams, is one any fan can cherish. Its appeal is something the suited goons and hedge fund cretins will never understand.

When Foden plays, in those moments of velvet first touches, darting dribbles and thumping finishes, all the nonsense melts away in the face of pure footballing talent. Guardiola was right, he really is a gift.

Ryan Mason insists Tottenham are not simply "the Harry Kane team" as he waits for news of the striker's fitness before the EFL Cup final.

Kane is a doubt for Sunday's game against Manchester City having sustained an ankle injury last week and failed to train since.

If the England captain is able to feature, though, he would come up against a side managed by Pep Guardiola, who famously referred to Spurs as "the Harry Kane team" in 2017.

Kane has been involved in 47 goals in 43 games for Tottenham in all competitions this season and would be sorely missed this weekend, but discussion of Guardiola's comments prompted interim head coach Mason to highlight the team's "combined effort".

"I think when you've got one of the best players in the world, I think you can say that," Mason said. "I think of Barcelona with Messi, Real Madrid with Ronaldo.

"When guys are posting up crazy numbers and scoring and creating moments, big moments in big games, it's normal that your mind thinks they're the most important players, of course.

"But we're a team, a squad, a group of players. Whoever's out on that football pitch needs to come together, needs to work, to fight together, to compete to get a positive result.

"Of course, if you have one of the best number nines in the world, people will talk, but, no, it's a combined effort of everyone involved, that's for sure."

While Mason is assessing Kane "hour by hour" and will undoubtedly pick the striker if he is fit, Spurs have actually fared better - numbers-wise - when their talisman has been out this season.

Tottenham have won 53.5 per cent of the 43 matches Kane has played this season, scoring 2.0 goals per game.

When he has not been involved - including in Mason's debut win against Southampton - Tottenham have six wins from nine (66.7 per cent) and have scored 2.8 goals per game.

Mason also has other attacking stars to turn to, with Son Heung-min matching Kane's 16 assists and posting 36 goal involvements.

Lucas Moura (17), Gareth Bale (14) and Carlos Vinicius (13) are next on that list of goal involvements and could each have a part to play if Kane cannot make it.

But the 27-year-old Kane, who has attempted 168 shots and created 52 chances this season, will be determined to make the Spurs team as he waits for his first piece of silverware at senior level.

Indeed, as long as Tottenham's drought - since 2008 - continues, there will be fears Kane could move on in pursuit of glory elsewhere.

"He will want to win trophies, no doubt about it," ex-Spurs man Brad Friedel told Stats Perform News this week.

"He's a very ambitious player, obviously one of the best, and everyone can see his goals tally and watch him play to say that."

Mason - appointed this week - becomes the latest man to try to end that wait. He will be the first coach to take charge of a major cup final in England as early as his second game in charge since Luton Town's Syd Owen made his bow in the 1959 FA Cup final.

"I think every club wants to win trophies. That's normal," Mason said. "It's very difficult in this country, probably the most difficult country in the world to win trophies. We've seen that.

"We've been close to that over the past few years, but unfortunately we haven't been able to get over the line."

Manchester City have confirmed their withdrawal from the proposed European Super League, leaving the controversial tournament in tatters within 48 hours of being announced.

Condemnation of the project, which drew the ire of fans, players, coaches, federations and national governments, was near universal following Sunday's rollout, which detailed how the Premier League's 'big six' would be founder members of the Super League alongside Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Milan and Inter.

The closed-shop element of the league was noted as being contrary to European football's traditions of fair competition – an observation made by City manager Pep Guardiola on Tuesday, among many others.

Speculation mounted as a dramatic day progressed, with Chelsea also thought to be ready to pull the plug.

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward resigned from his post, although the club claim this decision is not directly related to the apparently doomed Super League project.

Stats Perform News understands Woodward has brought forward the announcement of a planned exit at the end of this year due to the likelihood of leaks.

A short statement issued from the other side of town read: "Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League."

Moments after City confirmed their withdrawal, a statement from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin welcomed the Champions League semi-finalists "back into the European football family".

"They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices – most notably their fans – that have spelled out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football; from the world-beating Champions League final right down to a young player's first coaching session at a grassroots club," Ceferin said.

"As I said at the UEFA Congress, it takes courage to admit a mistake but I have never doubted that they had the ability and common sense to make that decision.

"City are a real asset for the game and I am delighted to be working with them for a better future for the European game."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, ostensibly to preview his team's Premier League trip to Aston Villa, Guardiola become the first person associated with City to speak publicly about the matter of the European Super League and left little doubt where he stood on a concept he described as an affront to sporting competition.

"Sport is not a sport when the relation between the effort and reward doesn't exist," he said.

"It's not sport when success is guaranteed, when it doesn't matter if you lose. I want the best competitions as strong as possible. In this statement, it's what I feel. This is not sport."

As cracks began to appear in the Super League project, City's star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne echoed his manager's sentiments in a Twitter statement.

"I have worked and competed against everybody trying to win the ultimate. But the most important word in this is COMPETING," he wrote.

"With all events that have been happening the last few days maybe this is the good moment for everybody to come together and try the work for a solution.

"We know this is a big business and I know I am part of this business. But still I am a little boy who just loves to play football. It's not about a certain entity in this case, it's about football over the whole world.

"Let's keep inspiring the next generation of footballers and keep the fans dreaming."

After City confirmed their exit, De Bruyne's team-mate Raheem Sterling simply tweeted: "Ok bye".

The farewells look set to keep piling up for this ill-conceived attempt to reshape European football.

A statement issued by the FA praised the role of fan pressure in helping to bring about the U-turn.

"We welcome the news that some of the clubs have decided to abandon plans for the European Super League, which threatened the whole football pyramid," it read.

"English football has a proud history based on opportunity for all clubs and the game has been unanimous in its disapproval of a closed league. It was a proposition that, by design, could have divided our game; but instead, it has unified us all.

"We would like to thank the fans in particular for their influence and unequivocal voice during this time, holding true the guiding principles of football. It is a powerful reminder that the game is, and always will be, for the fans."

Thomas Tuchel was proud to have got the better of Pep Guardiola for the first time in his career after leading Chelsea to a 1-0 victory over Manchester City on Saturday.

Hakim Ziyech's goal sent Chelsea into the FA Cup final for the fourth time in five seasons and ended Premier League leaders City's hopes of winning a quadruple this season.

Guardiola was unbeaten in his five prior meetings with Tuchel, all of which came during the Catalan's time in charge of Bayern Munich between 2013 and 2016.

Since taking over Chelsea in January, Tuchel has also come out on top against Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone.

He was pleased to have got the beating of a manager he considers to be the best in the world but urged his team to quickly put it behind them and focus on their push to finish in the top four of the Premier League.

"If you play against Pep, you know you play against the highest level in Europe because everywhere he was on the sideline he was the benchmark with his teams and he is again. You can see this in the Premier League," Tuchel told a post-match news conference.

"But it was our target to close the gap for the 90 minutes because it's possible in football if you arrive in good momentum you can make this happen.

"I'm happy and proud of the performances because we played with a lot of courage. We were brave with the ball and against the ball.

"We deserved the win, which is most important. We were very active and didn't get passive. We deserved the win against like I said maybe the best manager and clearly one of the best teams, so we are very happy with the performance.

"It'll be a huge boost for our confidence and for our progression and our development because we arrived with a young team. It's important to have these experiences together.

"Most important now is to enjoy it today and from tomorrow it's the past and we need to perform in a crucial week in the Premier League.

"Today the target was to close the gap to Man City for 90 minutes completely. It was a huge target and we were focused on that and delivered very well.

"Now the next big target is to forget this performance and success and enter with full awareness a crucial week in the Premier League."

Chelsea entertain Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday before taking on top-four rivals West Ham at London Stadium next Saturday.

Kevin De Bruyne's ankle injury sustained in the FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea "doesn't look good", according to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

The Belgium international went off in the 48th minute as City's quadruple hopes were ended by Hakim Ziyech's second-half goal in a 1-0 defeat at Wembley on Saturday.

De Bruyne will undergo tests on Sunday to determine the severity of his injury, with the EFL Cup final against Tottenham coming next weekend and the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain following three days later.

Asked about De Bruyne's status, Guardiola told a news conference: "He has pain now. Tomorrow they are going to make a test with the doctors. It probably doesn't look too good but tomorrow we will see what he has."

De Bruyne was one of only three City players to retain their place in the starting line-up from the midweek victory over Borussia Dortmund.

Guardiola rejected the suggestion that his widescale rotation signified a lack of respect for the FA Cup.

"We had two days to recover [after Dortmund] and played away and had to travel by train for three hours [to Wembley] and everyone deserves to play, but don't say we don't pay attention," said Guardiola.

"A team that arrives in the final stages of all competitions couldn't say that. This team won four finals in a row in the Carabao Cup, so just say we lost the game and when we lost the game the decision is bad. But it's such a poor argument.

"We wouldn't get to the semi-finals of the FA Cup or the final of the Carabao Cup and semi-finals of the Champions League if we didn't pay attention. This team always plays to win.

"It was a tight game. Congratulations to Chelsea, they're a top side. But if you believe we didn't pay attention, what would happen if we won today with eight changes? Say it before the game, say 'Pep doesn't pay attention' or 'the players don't pay attention'. Don't just say it after because we lost a game.

"These guys in 10 months, 11 months fight every game like I've never seen. We lose a game against a top side and now we don't pay attention or care about this competition? We respect a lot the FA Cup, we play to win."

Meetings with Chelsea have provided Manchester City with a measuring stick over the past 12 months.

In June 2020, at Stamford Bridge, City's 2-1 defeat handed the Premier League title to Liverpool, ending Pep Guardiola's two-season stay at the summit.

When City then returned to the same stadium in January, facing Chelsea for the first time in 2020-21, they rediscovered their mojo.

It was the fourth match in a sequence of 21 straight wins in all competitions and arguably the pick of the bunch.

Slick City, missing a host of stars due to COVID-19, swept Chelsea aside in a 3-1 win as Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne all scored. They left London in fifth but firmly back on track.

It has since looked as though that might be a defining display in a historic quadruple achievement. City, like Chelsea, reached the Champions League semi-finals this week. They are already clear at the top of the league table and have an EFL Cup final Wembley date with Tottenham next weekend.

But in the FA Cup, the fourth competition, City were tasked with again taking on Chelsea, an entirely different prospect now Thomas Tuchel has replaced Frank Lampard and fortified the Blues.

And Saturday's semi-final saw City finally come unstuck as Chelsea claimed a superb 1-0 success.

 

Blues a different beast

The improvement in Chelsea from January's match to this game was evident even in a first half in which they managed only two legal shots.

All three of City's goals had come in the opening 45 minutes last time, tearing through Lampard's men at will. They were now limited to three first-half efforts of their own worth a combined 0.1 expected goals. Parity suited Tuchel, who could not allow De Bruyne to dictate once more.

At the other end, a portender for City's later downfall appeared in the 'offsides' column, for the Premier League leaders were warned long before Hakim Ziyech's 55th-minute breakthrough.

With just six minutes on the clock, Timo Werner advanced up the left and the flag stayed down. The forward played a low, square ball, which City could not cut out, and Ziyech scored. Then the flag went up. A let off.

When Werner exploited the same space 10 minutes after the interval, set clear by a gorgeous Mason Mount pass, goalkeeper Zack Steffen decided to act.

Seemingly unimpressed by the way with which a usually sturdy City defence had allowed Werner to centre and Ziyech to finish on the first occasion, Steffen advanced and fared no better than his team-mates. The United States international failed to narrow the angle and simply granted Ziyech an open goal when Werner made his pass again.

 

KDB blow for treble bid

Mount moved uneasily as he was replaced 15 minutes later, but the damage was done. City had already lost De Bruyne - who completed only 10 passes in the Chelsea half - to an ankle complaint at the start of the second half. That setback could have implications far beyond this encounter.

Steffen twice saved City, blocking from Ziyech and reaching a tame Werner prod, and De Bruyne's replacement Foden sought to muster up more magic.

Momentum swung but the scoreline did not. Ruben Dias headed over from close range and Raheem Sterling blasted beyond the crossbar.

Although the flag was raised again to deny Chelsea a second in stoppage time - Christian Pulisic, on for Mount, frustrated - the Blues battled, blocked and bellowed their way across the finish line.

Tuchel five times faced Guardiola in Germany and failed to end on the winning side. Boosted by spirit in defence and speed in the form of the much-maligned Werner, he finally found the formula.

The Chelsea coach will get another go at Guardiola in the league on May 8, a third meeting this season hot on the heels of the sides' respective Champions League semis. They will know by then if there is to be a further part to this epic in a European final - hopefully, for City's sake, with De Bruyne back involved in Istanbul.

Should Guardiola's men win that prize, the most precious of all, it could clinch a tremendous treble, but FA Cup glory is not on the agenda this season.

"We never speak about the four titles," the City manager said in midweek. "One game at a time."

The next game ensured nobody outside the club could speak about that clean sweep either - at least for another year.

Pep Guardiola has suggested Raheem Sterling needs to rediscover his confidence if he is to usurp Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City's starting XI.

Sterling has been an important performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but has started just two of City's past eight games across all competitions.

He was in the XI for all three of England's World Cup qualifiers during the recent international break, scoring in a 5-0 win against San Marino.

Sterling started City's surprise Premier League defeat to Leeds United yet was back on the bench for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Borussia Dortmund, during which both Mahrez and Foden scored to seal a place in the last four.

"He's maybe the second or third player with the most minutes this season," the City boss told a media conference.

"The trust with Raheem is intact. He's only played less because Phil and Riyad are at the top level, scoring goals and being so decisive in the final third.

"The confidence, he has to have it. He has it from all of us, he has to have it because the quality is there. I cannot give the players confidence, he can have it for himself.

"Having confidence from me, for being selected, is completely the opposite. What we have done in these incredible years, with this amount of titles and records that went on, Raheem has been key.

"He was a key player and is a key player. But at this moment Phil is playing really good and Riyad is playing really good. That's the only reason. They know it. They know it and everybody plays a lot of minutes this season.

"Every day, people want to take what happened in the past and future. I could not care less. I don't care. I care about the training sessions, how you were, how you behave, about the body language, your mood, and then tomorrow, semi-final day, that's when you have to talk.

"We have excellent human beings, the relationship in the locker room in bad moments this season was fantastic and in good moments it's fantastic."

Meanwhile, Guardiola confirmed Zack Steffen will start against Chelsea ahead of first-choice goalkeeper Ederson.

The United States international has started all four of City's games in the FA Cup this season and Guardiola acknowledged it would not be fair on the 26-year-old to drop him for the clash with Thomas Tuchel's side.

"He's played really well in the FA Cup," Guardiola explained. "He's an international goalkeeper and when he has played he has played at a good level. He's training well, he deserves it. I am more than delighted to give him this opportunity."

Thomas Tuchel is confident Chelsea can close the gap to a Manchester City side he believes are the "benchmark" in European football alongside Bayern Munich for 90 minutes in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final.

Tuchel has never beaten a side managed by Guardiola during his career, having met the Catalan tactician five times across spells in charge of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, earning two draws against his opponent's Bayern Munich side.

Both Chelsea and City are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League but, with the Blues 20 points behind Guardiola's men domestically, Tuchel accepts his team are a long way off the standard set by the Premier League leaders.

Asked if, having always been an underdog against him in Germany, Tuchel's Chelsea and Guardiola's City can be considered equals at Wembley, Tuchel told a media conference: "Yes and no. We have to accept there is a gap between us and Manchester City.

"If you look at the fixtures in the Premier League and if you look at the fixtures in the last few years we have to accept this. It's important that we accept it but without making us too small.

"From day one next season we will hunt them and try to close the gap between us. For me, in Europe, there are two teams who are the benchmark: Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

"But I know what you're saying of course, he made it impossible for us to beat them with Mainz, I think we had two draws with Dortmund, one ended in the cup final in a penalty loss and we had another draw at home, so we came close, it's time that we beat them, the next try is tomorrow.

"I don't believe in how big clubs are, are we equal or not? We have to admit that there is a gap but for 90 minutes we are very self-aware and very self-confident that we truly believe we can close the gap for one game, this is the target for tomorrow and I arrive with a team that I'm absolutely happy to arrive, to compete against the benchmark in England and Europe.

"We don't have the momentum of football on our side. If we want to have this we have to play on our top level, to force things and need a bit of luck.

"If we manage to beat them it will be a huge boost if not we will have to accept and take it as a challenge and opportunity to grow because we have some fights coming up. It's not only about the FA Cup, it's about the top-four race and the Champions League."

Tuchel takes joy in competing with Guardiola, identifying him as a significant inspiration in his managerial career.

"[Guardiola is a] huge influence because when he was coach of Barcelona I was watching almost every game," Tuchel explained. 

"I was very impressed by the way they made success happen with the style they were playing with their own academy guys, the offensive way, the ball possession.

"The most impressive thing about this team was their mentality, how they defended when they lost the ball. I learned a lot watching the game and understanding more of the game, how adventurous, how brave you can approach this game.

"So it was a big, big lesson. At this time I was a coach at the academy and then became a coach at Mainz. Almost every match was a lesson in these days and then later we had the opportunity to play against him.

"It was not always a pleasure but when you arrive on a certain level it's of course a pleasure to play against him and to meet him and to fight on the highest level."

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