Phil Foden made the difference for Manchester City once again at Aston Villa, with Pep Guardiola feeling the England international is coming of age.

Having lost their previous Premier League game at home to 10-man Leeds United and slumped to 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, City emerged from the whirlwind of the European Super League debacle to go behind after 20 seconds to John McGinn's strike at Villa Park.

But Foden excelled, crowning a fine team move to equalise before Rodri headed home Bernardo Silva's cross to seal a 2-1 win before half-time.

There were further twists, as City ended the opening period with 10 men after John Stones clattered into Jacob Ramsey.

It was 10-a-side before the hour, though, as Foden tormented Villa right-back Matty Cash into a pair of yellow cards.

Overall, it was a supreme display from the England international, following on from his goals in each leg of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

"He's growing, this guy is growing. He is making steps forward every time," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"His influence in our game is massive right now. He scored a goal, provoked the two yellow cards, in the final third he ran a lot and he is so aggressive without the ball.

"He is becoming a serious player."

Foden's 14 goals and nine assists mean only Kevin De Bruyne (24) among his team-mates has more than his 23 goal involvements this season and he is second to Ilkay Gundogan (16) in City's scoring charts.

Whether the 20-year-old is ahead of where he was expected to be in terms of development is not something that overly concerns Guardiola when the returns he is producing right now are so good.

"There are guys at 19 and 20 years old who are unstoppable, at 29 and 30 they are not," he said.

"The players dictate who they are. Right now for the last games, Phil is becoming such an important player

"Against Dortmund he scored an important goal, the cross for the penalty, the final goal in the last minute against Dortmund at home.

"He can play inside, outside, he is so aggressive with the ball."

It was not such a pleasing outing for Foden's international team-mate Stones.

Guardiola was initially infuriated by the decision after referee Peter Bankes consulted the pitchside monitor and elected to upgrade his initial booking.

Villa boss Dean Smith also felt Stones was harshly done by, but the City manager feels the centre-back's woes should serve to sharpen minds in his squad ahead of Sunday's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and the Champions League semi-final showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

"He is late but the intention is not bad. He wanted to get the ball," Guardiola said.

"We are happy. If we lost we would be angry, but okay.

"It is a good lesson for the final on Sunday. You play a final 10 v 11, you have no chance. And especially then against PSG."

Manchester City moved closer to the Premier League title with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa in their first match since the remarkable European Super League fiasco. 

City were among 12 elite clubs signed up to play in a controversial new continental competition until its spectacular collapse on Tuesday. 

They appeared to be suffering a hangover from the affair as John McGinn gave Villa the lead inside the first minute, though the impressive Phil Foden and Rodri ensured Pep Guardiola's men went in at the interval ahead. 

City's hopes of victory appeared to suffer a blow when John Stones was dismissed before half-time, but Matty Cash saw red before the hour to level things up as the leaders sealed a win that moved them 11 points clear of Manchester United, having played a game more than their neighbours.

City got off to a dismal start, conceding their second quickest Premier League goal after just 20 seconds.

Stones failed to cut out Matt Targett's ball over the top, allowing Ollie Watkins to tee up McGinn for a low finish past Ederson from 10 yards.

The visitors pulled level after 22 minutes, Foden guiding home a controlled volley from eight yards after a sumptuous team move in which the England international played an integral role.

Bernardo Silva was the provider for Foden and the Portugal playmaker also laid on City's second five minutes before the interval, his lofted cross from the right headed past a flapping Emiliano Martinez by Rodri.

Villa were handed a lifeline a few moments later, though, Stones receiving his first Premier League red card for an ugly challenge on Jacob Ramsey, given after referee Peter Bankes had been encouraged to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Numerical parity was restored in the 57th minute, however, when Cash received a second yellow card for a wild lunge on Foden. 

Villa rarely looked like scoring an equaliser after that blow as City became the first team to secure 10 Premier League away wins in a row on more than one occasion, Guardiola’s side winning 11 consecutive games on their travels in 2017.
 

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."

Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden's sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.

Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development, opting to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.

A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.

Guardiola's cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City's most impressive players this campaign.

The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City's scorers' list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden's latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).

But asked if he can take credit for Foden's development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.

"It's not about what we believed in the past, it's about what they show on the grass," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

"So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it's about the present.

"In the present it doesn't matter what we have done, it's what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.

"It's the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It's as simple as that.

"Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He's going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day."

While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.

Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.

"If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious," said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.

"Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them."

Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined "big chances" (12) and both are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.

 

Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.

Phil Foden again showed his aptitude for high-pressure moments after firing Manchester City into the Champions League semi-finals.

In the first leg of their last-eight clash with Borussia Dortmund last week, Foden scored a 90th-minute winner to leave City 2-1 to the good.

Despite falling behind at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday to an early effort from another England youngster, Jude Bellingham, City levelled through Riyad Mahrez's penalty before Foden fired home from a cleverly worked short corner to repeat the first-leg scoreline and seal a showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

"You have the feeling that he is a guy who never hides. He always creates something. He is dynamic offensively, defensively with quality in the smaller spaces," Guardiola told a post-match news conference.

"He is learning right now not to take just one touch, he is able to make more touches when making decisions.

"He scored two important goals, the second goal in the Etihad and today helped us to be in the semi-final. In the quarter-final of the Champions League, he was the important player to go through to play against PSG."

Foden became the second player younger than 21 to score in both legs of a Champions League quarter-final after Kylian Mbappe did so for Monaco against Dortmund in 2017.

The meeting with Mbappe and his PSG team-mates is a mouthwatering prospect, with City into the semi-finals for the first time under Guardiola.

Quarter-final defeats to Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon have cast a considerable shadow over an otherwise excellent tenure in Manchester, although Guardiola hesitated to agree when it was suggested his players came of age by beating Dortmund

"In this competition during one game there are many moments," he said, having tasted success with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.

"[Dortmund] started well, we had a plan to press but it didn't work, we changed it after 10-15 minutes and played with wingers more inside, usually they are wider and that is why we add more connections with the midfield players - Phil, Riyad, Bernardo [Silva], Kevin [De Bruyne], Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan], Rodri.

"After the goal, in the last 30 minutes of the first half we had an incredible two or three chances chances to score a goal. In the second half we found a goal and played good. We didn't concede one shot, we created enough chances to win and finally we are in the semi-finals for the second time in the club's history."

Guardiola added: "At half-time we spoke and said, 'Guys, we have to score a goal. Even if they score to make it 2-0, one goal gives extra time. We have to score.'

"After we made it 1-1, we controlled the game. After that, the quality from Phil's finish helped us to go to the semi-final."

Liverpool, April 2018:

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn't scored for three months since he smashed home a long-range strike against Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions elect are back at a bloodthirsty Anfield and Mohamed Salah already has the Reds in front, so why not have a go?

Oxlade-Chamberlain larrups it beyond Ederson and before the half hour Sadio Mane has made it 3-0.

There would be no way back for City, who would finish the Premier League season 25 points better off than Liverpool, as they threw caution to the wind in the second leg but lost 2-1.

Guardiola talked himself into a half-time red card when Leroy Sane had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside before UEFA were using VAR. The competition the Catalan threatened to make his own at the start of the decade had already become a nagging irritation.

 

London, April 2019:

After losing three consecutive semi-finals at Bayern Munich, not to mention two out of four on the occasions his Barcelona didn't win it under his leadership, Guardiola is wary of a pressure-cooker Champions League night.

Embroiled in a titanic title battle with Liverpool, he rests Sane and Kevin De Bruyne and picks an unusually cautious line-up. Nevertheless, VAR intervenes to award them a dubious penalty against Tottenham, granting Sergio Aguero a punt at a priceless away goal.

Hugo Lloris saves from City's all-time record goals scorer and there will be no away goal as Son Heung-min gives Spurs a 1-0 win thanks to an Ederson mistake

At the Etihad, all hell breaks loose as the sides trade goals and Aguero puts City 4-2 ahead on the night to lead the tie for the first time. Then Fernando Llorente bundles home and survives a VAR examination for handball. Raheem Sterling has a stoppage-time winner ruled out because replays show Aguero's heel to be offside in the build-up.

Guardiola crumples to his knees. City are out on away goals to a team that would finish 27 points behind them in the Premier League.

 

Lisbon, August 2020:

No away goals to bother City this time, as the pandemic-delayed final stages of the Champions League take place as one-off matches in Lisbon.

After seeing off 13-time European champions Real Madrid, Guardiola has to reckon with Lyon – a team who finished seventh in Ligue 1 in 2019-20.

However, one point from two games against the same opponent in the previous season's group stage spooks the City boss into a rarely used 5-3-2.

They fall behind to a Maxwel Cornet goal, their attack disjointed. De Bruyne, who appears to be fighting a lone hand, equalises but Gabriel Jesus and Sterling miss glorious chances and Ederson is culpable as Moussa Dembele's brace ensures City's biggest European humiliation to date.

Phil Foden, so impressive in the second leg against Madrid, looks on as an unused substitute.

 

Dortmund, April 2021

The last time Guardiola won the Champions League, his present tormentor was seven years old.

Jude Bellingham's slick footwork and cool 15th-minute finish at Signal Iduna Park is the sort of thing City players do quite a lot but not on these occasions.

Here was the fear, it was happening again. Everyone just stay calm… no, Kyle Walker, don't shoot from all the way over there in Gelsenkirchen.

De Bruyne is in no mood for stage fright to kick in and tears at Dortmund, rattling the crossbar. Ruben Dias, unscarred by City's previous failures, is colossal in neutering Erling Haaland. Still, at half-time they are going out.

The big occasions do strange things to even the most seasoned performers, but Emre Can deciding to break out an elephant impression while heading a cross clear is a new one.

Handball. Penalty. VAR. Still a penalty.

Oh God, a penalty. City don't tend to be great at these, as Aguero showed at Tottenham.

Up steps Riyad Mahrez. Remember the Anfield loss? Well, the next time Guardiola's men visited the red side of Stanley Park, the Algeria winger put one into orbit from 12 yards.

Not this time. Having fought long and hard to become one of his manager's go-to attackers, Mahrez emphatically clatters home.

Nerves are dissipating but have never been a problem for Foden. They never are, as he showed with the winner after Dortmund equalised in Manchester last week. He and Bellingham might have a very exciting future together in their national team.

The boyhood City fan draws back his left boot to send home the decisive blow and makes a beeline for Guardiola in the dugout, grabbing his boss' head. It feels like an exorcism.

After sharing a post-match chat with the man of the moment, Haaland now towers in Foden's rear-view mirror. PSG and Kylian Mbappe are up next. Foden arguably belongs in their conversation, as an individual good enough to dominate for a decade.

Of course, such dominance is easier forecast than achieved. Guardiola's quarter-final problem is no more. Now, how is his Champions League semi-finals record?

Pep Guardiola insists Raheem Sterling is only out of the Manchester City side due to the "incredible, incredible, incredible top form" of Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

Sterling has been a key performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but a scoreless outing in last month's 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton stands as his only start in City's past six matches across all competitions.

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

The 26-year-old was back to a substitute's role when the Premier League leaders took on Leicester City last weekend before failing to feature in the 2-1 Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

Sterling might have the chance to press his claims once again when City host Leeds United on Saturday, with Guardiola expected to ring the changes.

Both men denied a reported bust-up in the aftermath of last month's Manchester derby defeat and the City manager insists the form of midweek matchwinner Foden and Mahrez – who was named PFA Premier League Player of the Month for March on Friday – is what has forced his hand.

"Raheem has been so important in our period here since we arrived, nothing would have been possible without him," he said.

"Right now, I decided because I see Riyad and Phil in incredible, incredible, incredible top form. This is the only reason why, there is not another one.

"Phil, you see the last 30 minutes he played against Dortmund, he created all the chances that we had [after] 1-0, he scored the last goal with an incredible control and assist from Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan].

"And Riyad, the last month always has been so decisive, so this is the only reason why.

"He's important for the team and the club, there's no doubt about that. That was the reason for the selection."

Mahrez and Foden more creative

Since the turn of the year, during which time City have won 24 of 25 games across all competitions, Sterling has started 15 matches compared to 16 apiece for Mahrez and Foden.

Foden leads the way with 1,480 minutes, to 1,312 for his England counterpart and 1,462 for the Algeria international.

Despite missing a couple of gilt-edged chances before his winner, Foden's eye for goal has been a notable feature of City's campaign, and his seven goals for 2021 is more than Mahrez (five), who is outscored by Sterling (six) over the period in question.

However, operating nominally as wide forwards, Foden (38) and Mahrez (34) have created considerably more chances than Sterling (19) this calendar year and are second only to Kevin De Bruyne (44) in the City squad. That output has yielded six assists for Mahrez, five for Foden – level with De Bruyne - and three for Sterling.

Mahrez's 47 crosses from open play are more than any other City player in 2021, with Foden's 28 coming in behind De Bruyne (34) and Joao Cancelo (33). Sterling is back on 13, with one completed.

The former Liverpool man's dribbling prowess remains to the fore, with the most attempted (79) and completed (38) among his team-mates during this period. Mahrez boasts an impressive dribble success rate of 55 per cent thanks to 33 out of 60, while Foden has completed 26 of 53 after tormenting Dortmund at times.

Looking after the ball

This season, Guardiola's City have often seemed to play in a more controlled fashion and the manager underlined the importance of retaining possession in all areas of the field.

"There are players who are incredible to make movements in behind, runs in behind and there are others who have the quality to not lose the ball in any circumstances," he said.

"They are good at keeping the ball and sometimes, in some games, we need this more than the other situations.

"Some players suit better the way we have to play than the other ones, just for the skills, not being on bad form or whatever."

While acknowledging Sterling, Foden and Mahrez are each very well-rounded attackers, Sterling's forte lies more with the piercing runs in behind that Guardiola identifies.

Mahrez and Foden – as you might expect for a player who came through City's ranks as a central midfielder – tend to be a little more reliable in possession and this could further explain Guardiola's recent thinking.

Creative attacking players generally rack up more instances of possession lost due to the kind of passes and dribbles they attempt, so a good measure of how well they use the ball is to calculate their giveaways as a percentage of their overall touches.

In 2021, 1,067 touches and 202 instances of giving away possession amounts to 18.9 per cent for Mahrez, making him the most judicious of the trio.

Foden has lost possession 221 times from 1,008 touches (21.9 per cent) but Sterling's percentage is a little higher at 22.3 despite only 883 touches (possession lost 197 times).

This aspect might not be to the fore if Saturday's showdown with Leeds is similarly chaotic to October's 1-1 draw at Elland Road, but it is perhaps the desire for elusive Champions League glory that has persuaded Guardiola to seek greater control, leaving Foden and Mahrez as his go-to men and Sterling with unfamiliar work to do.

Pep Guardiola conceded Manchester City felt pressure from their previous Champions League failures in a nervy 2-1 quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

Phil Foden struck in the 90th minute to ensure the Premier League leaders will take a slender advantage to Signal Iduna Park for next week's second leg.

Marco Reus had equalised four minutes from time for Dortmund, with City struggling to find their fluent best with any consistency after Kevin De Bruyne's first-half opener.

"We felt the pressure today for this competition at home. We don't know how we are going to play," Guardiola told BT Sport.

Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon have ended his team's involvement at this stage over the past three seasons.

"Now we know each other better," Guardiola said. "We are going to analyse what we have to do, like we have done for five or six months, playing every game to try to win."

Dortmund were understandably furious to have had an initial equaliser ruled out before half-time, when the impressive Jude Bellingham was harshly adjudged to have fouled City goalkeeper Ederson before rolling the ball into an empty net.

Guardiola suggested City's struggles that led to that let-off were part of a wider issue with their usually smooth build-up from deep failing to click – highlighting a tough outing for holding midfielder Rodri and full-back Joao Cancelo.

"To play good in the areas that we want, we need to make a good build-up and today was not good," Guardiola said.

"Joao and Rodri were not clever to receive the ball in positions to contact for the other ones. But it’s normal, Dortmund are strong. The quality that they have makes it difficult to do what we want to do.

"We are going to watch the game, now we know exactly what they do and now we are going to adjust a few things to go there to Germany and try to win the game."

Foden shone for his boyhood club throughout and was relieved to atone for a pair of missed chances that preceded Reus' leveller.

"Second half he was a threat for them. He played really well one-against-one, arriving in the final third," Guardiola added.

"He had two or three clear chances to score and finally he scored the goal."

Phil Foden gave Manchester City a slender 2-1 Champions League quarter-final advantage over Borussia Dortmund after Marco Reus snatched an away goal in a frantic finish at the Etihad Stadium.

Kevin De Bruyne started and finished a rapid move to put City ahead in the 19th minute, but Dortmund were unfortunate to be behind at half-time after referee Ovidiu Hategan inexplicably penalised Jude Bellingham for a fair challenge on Ederson.

City belatedly hit their stride in the final quarter of the game, although Foden looked like being the villain as he missed two golden opportunities before Bellingham and Erling Haaland combined for Reus to coolly equalise six minutes from time.

Fortunately for the home team, England youngster Foden kept a cool head when Ilkay Gundogan knocked down De Bruyne's majestic cross in the 90th minute.

Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund's keenly anticipated Champions League quarter-final could hinge on the battle between Erling Haaland and Ruben Dias.

That is the view of former City favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips, who anticipates an intriguing contest due to the attacking firepower boasted by both sides.

Norway youngster Haaland has rattled home a remarkable 33 goals in 32 appearances across all competitions this season, averaging a goal every 82.8 minutes thanks to a shot conversion rate of 31.4 per cent.

The 20-year-old has also supplied seven assists, although he will be faced with one of Europe's most formidable centre-backs in Dias.

If speculation proves accurate, Haaland might replace the Portugal defender as City's record signing at the end of the campaign but Dias' impact has been undeniably transformative since his arrival from Benfica last September.

City have won 31 of the 39 games in which Dias has played, losing only two and conceding 18 goals – an average of 0.5 per game.

"It's going to be hard, it's going to be a great battle for me between [Haaland] and Dias," Wright-Phillips, who played alongside Haaland's father Alf-Inge during his time at City, told Stats Perform.

"Dias doesn't like to lose, let alone concede goals – he hates that as well so it will be a good competition.

"And it stands out to be a good game, with the firepower and the way Dortmund play, and the way City play.

"So it’s going to be a good footballing match and I am looking forward and am very excited to see it myself."

Another intriguing battle that fans will be denied is a face off between England youngsters Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho in each team's creative departments.

Foden and Sancho were team-mates in City's youth team before the latter moved to Dortmund in 2017, where he has scarcely looked back.

Remaining with his boyhood club, Foden had to bide his time among a talent-stacked squad but has established himself as a key man for both Pep Guardiola and England boss Gareth Southgate this season.

However, a thigh injury means Sancho will miss out on a return to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday and faces a race to be fit for next week's return at Signal Iduna Park.

"It would be great to see them both on the field. But they’re very different players," Wright-Phillips said.

"Although [Foden] does go and dribble past people, he’s got a very good eye in seeing passes, linking up play and he presses harder.

"I think Sancho is a very, very good player as well but he's more of a dribbler, committing players, taking them on, putting the ball into the box and also scoring goals."

Along with Liverpool, who take on 13-time winners Real Madrid this week, Chelsea – another of Wright-Phillips' former clubs – complete a trio of Premier League sides in the last eight.

Thomas Tuchel's men saw off Atletico Madrid in impressive fashion in the previous round, although they must bounce back from a shock 5-2 weekend loss to relegation-threatened West Brom before taking on Porto.

"As we know it’s one of the toughest competitions," Wright-Phillips added. "And on the few times City have been on a run in it, they have not had the rub of the green.

"And Chelsea had been playing well with their defensive record, also. I would be happy if it was an all-England final, so I'll be supporting all English teams in Europe."

Mason Mount is relishing the battle for places in the England team, particularly with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in the long term. 

England manager Gareth Southgate has something of an embarrassment of riches in the attacking positions at the moment, with a host of players thriving at club level. 

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

That attitude will surely stand him in good stead not only at club level but also for England, whose creative options seem to be improving with each international window.

 

The advantage that Mount believes he has, however, is his versatility. 

"I am always trying to improve," he told reporters ahead of England's opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday. "I feel like I am versatile and can play in a deeper role and obviously in a more forward role. I'm always learning. I'm still young and I'm still learning. 

"In terms of the formation, we are versatile as a team. In the modern game, you have to be ready to change if the other team are tactically different to what you have prepared for. 

"We are ready for that, definitely. I feel like I can play in any position and I just want to understand, more and more, different positions." 

Elaborating on England's strength in depth, Mount added: "There are so many good players in this team. 

"I've seen Jack and Phil do brilliant things. It motivates me to want to do the same. We all have ambitions to win major trophies, at England and at club level we're all competing to want to do that." 

Of course, Mount's comments help pose the question: can he line up alongside Grealish and Foden in the same team? 

Well, they have done once already – against Iceland in November 2020, as all three started and England won 4-0. 

Mount, occupying a deeper role, did catch the eye as he got the Three Lions' second goal, though Foden and Grealish were arguably more impressive. 

 

Playing from the left, Grealish – whose 75 key passes in the Premier League this season is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes – was lively and created three chances, while also winning 81.8 per cent of his 11 duels. 

Of those involved in three duels or more, only Harry Maguire (15, 86.7 per cent) produced a stronger display, highlighting Grealish's competitive streak in the final third. 

Foden's performance had a similar relentlessness to it, his record in duels identical to the numbers for Grealish, though he was more decisive in attack when on the ball. 

The Manchester City talent scored twice, got an assist and laid on three chances, behind only Harry Kane on four. 

As such, Mount's display could be considered a little less impactful for England going forward. Sure, his 87.8 per cent pass completion rate in the opposing half was good, but none were considered key passes. 

It suggests that, while certainly possible to get all three into the line-up, if Southgate is to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, Mount will be the one shoe-horned into the team. 

With that in mind, it seems likely Mount's greatest strength – his creativity – could become stifled. 

However, with Grealish absent through injury, Mount has another opportunity to stake his claim as a key player in this team – succeeding in that respect will surely be reflected by an elevated status, with England's central midfield often crying out for more creativity in recent years. 

For the first time since 2005, neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will be involved in the Champions League quarter-finals.  

While Barcelona's exit to last season's runners-up Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps not too much of a surprise, few saw Juventus coming out on the wrong end of an upset against Porto in the last 16.  

So, could we be witnessing a changing of the guard in the competition? Is it a case of out with the old, in with the new? 

While Messi and Ronaldo have dominated in Europe through the years, a collection of some of the most promising talents in the world game have the chance to take centre stage now.

 

Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

Even by his own prolific standards, Haaland has been in sensational scoring form in the tournament so far.

His 10 goals in six games includes scoring a brace in each leg of the last-16 tie with Sevilla, helping Borussia Dortmund progress to the quarters.  

The Norwegian striker managed the same number in a Champions League campaign last season that saw him represent both BVB and Salzburg. Forget just breaking the record as the fastest to 20 goals, he has shattered it. Harry Kane was previously the quickest to reach that number, doing so in 24 games – Haaland managed it in just 14. 

His big chance conversion rate this season sits at a clinical 81.9 per cent, while he has also demonstrated his all-round impact by creating eight chances for his BVB colleagues.  

Next in his sights is Manchester City, a team with family ties as his father, Alf-Inge, played for the English club in the early 2000s. Haaland has been linked with them too, along with plenty of other clubs, and Pep Guardiola has been suitably impressed by a player who does not turn 21 until July.  

"The numbers speak for themselves, of course he is one of the best strikers in the world right now at his age," said Guardiola, who will be well aware that Haaland has the potential to ruin City's hopes of European glory. 

 

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

Mbappe has six goals to his name in European outings in 2020-21, the same tally team-mate Neymar has managed for a PSG squad aiming to go one better than last year.

The France international hit a hat-trick in a 4-1 thrashing of Barcelona at Camp Nou, joining Faustino Asprilla and Andriy Shevchenko as the only players to record a Champions League treble against the Spanish heavyweights.  

He was also on target when scoring a penalty in the drawn second leg, in the process becoming the youngest player to reach 25 goals in the competition, aged 22 years and 80 days. Messi was on the same pitch at the time his record was broken. 

Mbappe has also demonstrated how he can provide for others, too. No forward from any of the teams still in contention can top his three assists, while only Karim Benzema (15) has bettered his total of 14 chances created. 

PSG will be hoping the forward can continue his fine form when they take on Bayern Munich in a repeat of last year's final.

Phil Foden (Manchester City)

After three starts in the Champions League last season, Foden has risen from the periphery to become a prominent figure for Guardiola.  

Only goalkeeper Ederson has played more minutes in the campaign so far for City than the versatile 20-year-old, who has contributed a goal and two assists to help ensure smooth progress to the last eight.  

Foden has created the most chances for City during his appearances, his tally of 12 putting him just ahead of Kevin De Bruyne (11), while he has also been successful with 64.7 per cent of his attempted dribbles.  

The playmaker is set to feature in the Champions League knockout stage for a fourth season before turning 21 – a feat only previously achieved by Cesc Fabregas (2004-05 to 2007-08) and Theo Walcott (2006-07 to 2009-10).  

In the Premier League, Foden's 20 goal involvements (11 goals, nine assists) is comfortably the most by anyone aged 21 or under, showing just why he is no longer one to watch for the future but a player for the present, both for club and country.

Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)

It is not often a full-back catches the eye to the level that Davies managed during Bayern's triumphant Champions League run in 2019-20.  

The most eye-catching moment of all surely came in his side's 8-2 rout of Barcelona in a quarter-final result that sent shock waves across European football, as he initially beat two opposing players before breezing beyond poor Nelson Semedo to set up a goal for Joshua Kimmich, one of his three assists in the competition.  

Having arrived at the Bundesliga club as a left winger, the conversion to defence was made as quickly as he sprints up and down his flank (he clocked a top speed of 36.51 kilometres per hour in a Bundesliga game against Werder Bremen last year, the quickest speed recorded since such data began to be collected).  

His participation in the group stage this season was limited by an ankle injury, with the 4-1 first-leg victory over Lazio in the last 16 just his second start.  

However, the Canada international had no problems upon his return, having 101 touches (second only to team-mate David Alaba) while topping the list for Bayern in terms of tackles (four) and number of times possession was gained from the opposition (seven).

The return of UEFA club competitions this week offered a reminder that there remain significant hoops to jump through before the delayed European Championship kicks off.

Fixtures being switched to alternative venues due to local coronavirus regulations cast the multiple host city model for Euro 2020 in an unhelpful light, with March's international break set to throw up fresh challenges.

Postponing and rearranging a major sporting event due to ongoing and unspeakably tragic global circumstances makes any focus on the footballing concerns within the equation feel somewhat crass.

But all 24 men leading countries into the finals will look at their squads before kick-off and ponder whether the additional 12 months of waiting and haphazard preparation have been a help or a hindrance in terms of form and personnel.

For England manager Gareth Southgate, the delay looks to have been advantageous.

It is highly unlikely the now resurgent John Stones and Luke Shaw would have featured in his defensive plans, much less centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is now the obvious back-up to captain Harry Kane.

Aston Villa's sparkling creative inspiration Jack Grealish now has England caps to his name, while a crop of richly gifted youngsters are flourishing.

None more so than Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, who will go head to head when Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Arsenal on Sunday.

Learning on the job

When Southgate comes to whittle down his final 23, versatility will count as a plus point for those hopeful of making the cut.

Foden and Saka have it in abundance, even if they have edged towards a degree of specialism during stunning runs of individual form during English football's winter months.

A central midfielder on his way through the youth ranks at boyhood club City, Foden's deployment on the left-wing has more or less coincided with the record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions that left Pep Guardiola's side 10 points clear at the start of the weekend

Not that it stopped Guardiola starting the 20-year-old as a false nine away to Liverpool, before switching Foden to the right flank for the second half, from where he provided an assist and a goal to inspire a statement 4-1 win.

Then, with Ilkay Gundogan injured, he was back in midfield to open the scoring during Wednesday's 3-1 win over Everton.

"He can play in both positions, he is so young," Guardiola said ahead of the Arsenal game.

"Phil just needs - and for the age [he is], he will get it –  the timing to play inside.

"When you play as a winger you have to play in one tempo, with one timing and one rhythm. When you play in the middle you have to play with another one.

"When he gets this balance, he will be 10 times the extraordinary player that he is right now. It's just a question of time."

Foden has four goals and two assists since the turn of the year in the Premier League, the same figures that can be attributed to Saka since Mikel Arteta selected him on the right wing for the Boxing Day clash against Chelsea.

Saka has featured at left-back, in both wing-back roles and centrally during Arteta's tenure, but he got on the scoresheet in a dominant 3-1 derby victory and has not looked back.

"I see Bukayo evolving, getting better and getting to understand different positions and finally we will fit him in one that gives the best [result]," Arteta said back in July. It appears he has his answer.

Variety is the spice of life

Splitting Saka's 21 Premier League appearances this season into centre, right or left positionally, Opta data shows he creates 1.1 chances per 90 minutes when on the right.

Both of his top-flight assists this term have come when starting on that flank, while an expected assists (xA) scored of 0.23 per 90 indicates a better quality of pass into danger areas when set against stints on the left or through the middle.

The 19-year-old, whose four England caps have come at left wing-back, is similarly effective dribbling on either flank, with 1.4 (left) and 1.5 (right) completed per match.

That figure rises to 3.1 when Saka has played through the middle this season, although two appearances and a solitary – albeit goalscoring – start in a central three versus Sheffield United skew his numbers to a degree.

Guardiola's words this week suggest Foden will find himself back on the flanks at Emirates Stadium, but the City star's feel for a goal comes to the fore when he plays through the middle.

In six Premier League games where he has operated centrally, his goals per game rate of 0.81 per 90 minutes and 2.4 dribbles completed per game are his highest across the three categories.

A shot conversion of 30 per cent also dwarfs his efforts from the left (11 per cent) but 2.5 chances created from open play per 90 in the latter role is perhaps the most significant statistic when it comes to explaining why he has made Leroy Sane's old position his own.

Among Europe's best

Saka and Foden each stack up very well when compared to the leading players under 21 throughout Europe. Indeed, no player within their age range has played more than Saka's 2,317 minutes in all competitions across clubs in the big five leagues.

Foden (2,130) comes in sixth in that regard, while his 11 goals are third behind Moise Kean (16) and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (25). Saka's six goals overall place him seventh.

Jadon Sancho (11) is the only under-21 player with more assists than Foden (six), while the City player's 44 chances created from open play comes in second to the Dortmund winger – another handy illustration of the ample resources at Southgate's disposal.

How he should deploy them will be relentlessly discussed before June, even if those arguments are now the preserve of Zoom calls rather than crowded pubs.

What increasingly appears beyond debate is that Foden and Saka have established ironclad cases for inclusion, having at best been outside punts a year ago.

Along with their dazzling array of skills, the versatility Guardiola and Arteta have used to their benefit could prove invaluable to Southgate amid the cut and thrust of tournament football.

Manchester City moved 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday. 

With in-form goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan missing through injury, it was fellow midfielders Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva who stretched City's winning run to 17 games in all competitions. 

Mahrez struck a sublime second for City in the second half, his fourth league goal on this ground, after a fortuitous Richarlison effort had cancelled out Foden's deflected opener. 

Silva's third 13 minutes from time – shortly before Kevin De Bruyne made a return from injury off the bench – ensured Carlo Ancelotti's side have only won twice in eight league games in 2021, and their season is in danger of unravelling. 

City controlled the first half-hour but Everton limited them to few chances, with Michael Keane covering well to deny Gabriel Jesus the clearest opening. 

The Toffees went behind in unfortunate fashion 32 minutes in, Foden's right-foot shot flying past Jordan Pickford via a big deflection off Seamus Coleman.

The lead last only six minutes, though. Coleman's cross from the right was smashed goalwards by Lucas Digne – Everton's first shot of the match – and the ball came back off the post and bounced in off Richarlison's knee. 

The second half followed a similar pattern, Jesus and Rodri each missing the target from presentable chances, although Gylfi Sigurdsson led two promising breaks for Everton that should perhaps have yielded more. 

City's pressure told 63 minutes in, Mahrez cutting in from the right and curling a superb strike in off the left-hand post after Silva had created some space. 

Silva capped a fine performance with the decisive third, collecting Jesus' lay-off, working space on the edge of the box and firing in a shot that Pickford could only parry into the net.


What does it mean? Record-breaking City continue title charge 

City's lead at the top over Manchester United now stands at 10 points after 24 games and, on current form, it is a gap that looks unlikely to be bridged. 

This was their sixth league win in a row over Everton and made it 10 consecutive top-flight victories to start the calendar year, surpassing the record of nine first set by Bolton Wanderers in 1906 and then United in 2009. 

Everton, who have lost three league games at home in a row for the first time in five years, stay seventh. 

Silva service 

Everton were just beginning to look comfortable in defence when Silva produced the telling impact, pulling apart the backline to set up Mahrez and then rifling home a goal of his own. 

The Portugal midfielder misplaced just two of his 62 passes, 43 of which were in the Everton half. 

Mina injury adds to mounting Everton worries 

Yerry Mina went off injured in the first half to leave Everton's task even more daunting, as well as give Ancelotti a selection headache ahead of the weekend trip to Liverpool. 

The Italian last lost three league games at home in a row back when he was in charge of Milan in 2006 and, with Southampton and Chelsea to play after the champions, this could be a tough few weeks for him. 

What's next? 

City head to Arsenal on Sunday, with Everton next up at the home of the champions for Saturday's Merseyside derby. 

Wayne Rooney believes Phil Foden and Jack Grealish are too good to be left out of the England starting XI for Euro 2020.

Manchester City youngster Foden starred with a goal and an assist in the 4-1 away win at Premier League champions Liverpool last week.

He is gaining momentum after being handed more opportunities by manager Pep Guardiola.

Grealish, meanwhile, has thrived for Aston Villa this season, establishing himself as one of the Premier League's leading players with six top-flight goals and 10 assists.

Rooney is England's record goalscorer and thinks the form of the two attacking midfielders has become impossible to ignore ahead of the tournament.

"They have to be in the squad and arguably have to play because they are that good," the Derby County boss said about Foden and Grealish.

"Phil Foden has been one of the best players in the league this season, I think Guardiola has managed him really well.

"For Phil, it's about keeping doing what he's doing. He's one of the best players in the league this season.

"Foden is performing excellently — scoring, assisting — and hopefully he can carry that form on with England. He is entertaining to watch. 

"When my lad [Kai] used to go into City, I used to see Phil there.

"I spoke to him a couple of times and I could see he's a very level-headed lad. He was there a lot of the time, but it was just general chat, not me giving him advice.

"There are a few players — not just him. I think Jack Grealish brings something different for the national team."

Foden made his England debut away to Iceland in September but was promptly removed from the squad along with Mason Greenwood for breaking coronavirus protocols.

He responded by scoring a double - his first international goals - in the home match against Iceland in November.

Grealish, meanwhile, has five England caps and manager Gareth Southgate has spoken about the dilemma he faces over whether to play him or Chelsea's Mason Mount.

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