Manchester City are not ready to put a date on Sergio Aguero's return to action, yet Pep Guardiola expects the club's record goalscorer to "help us in the decisive moments" this season.

Aguero underwent meniscus surgery last June and then saw a hamstring injury hamper his initial comeback in October.

These issues have limited the 32-year-old to just nine appearances in all competitions this season, which have yielded two goals.

Aguero also had to self-isolate earlier in January when he was set for an outing in the FA Cup and last week revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Into the final six months of his City contract, Guardiola is keen to have Aguero back available, although he detailed how the striker was laid low by the effects of COVID-19.

"The important thing is when we text him during the first three, four days, he struggled, he felt so tired, but today he sent a message to the backroom staff to say he feels much better," Guardiola said ahead of Tuesday's trip to West Brom.

"Now he needs to test negative and abide by the protocols, and then start to come back here and move and see how he feels, day by day.

"I cannot tell you [when he will be back], I don't know how he will react in the first days when we start to train."

There have been only three starts for Aguero this term, with his pitch time a meagre 260 minutes overall.

The Argentina international has scored with both of his shots in the Champions League but failed to register in the Premier League, having four efforts across five outings and passing up a big chance with his only shot on target against Newcastle United.

A contract extension remains on the agenda, though, and Guardiola sees Aguero rediscovering the scoring touch that has so far brought 256 goals in 316 games for City, netting with 19 per cent of his attempts.

"I don't know when he is coming back, February or March, but I'm so optimistic that he will give us until the end of the season some good, good months," Guardiola said. "I'm so optimistic.

"He is going to help us in the decisive moments, to give us the goals and the difference that we need. I'm so confident it's going to happen."

In 2018-19, as Vincent Kompany entered the final months of his contract, the former City captain put long-term injury troubles behind him to play a key role in their most recent title success.

Guardiola was asked if the plan was for Aguero to have a similar impact and replied: "Hopefully. Hopefully it's going to happen.

"But at the same time, Vincent had an incredible quality; after being two months injured in the gym, he can go out and play one training session and play incredibly well.

"Sergio doesn't know if he has this quality to immediately go out and do it. He needs the special sharpness and the first steps for this quality to score a goal, but it depends on him.

"At the end, we'll see him in the training session and on the pitch and it's easy to realise if he's fit or not.

"But hopefully he can help us with the special quality he has. That's why he is one of the best strikers ever - not just in England, all the time in football history."

Frank Lampard was left disappointed at being prevented from taking Chelsea to the next level following his sacking but expressed pride at the emergence of several academy players during his tenure.

Lampard was relieved of his duties on Monday following a significant dip in form from a Blues side that had looked poised to challenge for the title earlier in the season.

Having gone top of the table with a win over Leeds United in December, Chelsea have since taken seven points from a possible 24, leaving them 11 behind leaders Manchester United and five off the top four. 

Despite a win over Luton Town in the FA Cup on Sunday, Lampard paid the price for that slump, with Thomas Tuchel expected to replace him.

Lampard pointed to the progress of the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour as one of his top achievements.

"It has been a huge privilege and an honour to manage Chelsea, a club that has been a big part of my life for so long," Lampard said in a statement through the League Managers Association.

"Firstly, I would like to thank the fans for the incredible support that I have received over the last 18 months. I hope they know what that means to me.

"When I took on this role, I understood the challenges that lay ahead in a difficult time for the football club.

"I am proud of the achievements that we made, and I am proud of the academy players that have made their step into the first team and performed so well. They are the future of the club.

"I am disappointed not to have had the time this season to take the club forward and bring it to the next level.

"I want to thank Mr Abramovich, the board, players, my coaching team and everyone at the club for their hard work and dedication, especially in these unprecedented and challenging times.

"I wish the team and the club every success for the future."

The Premier League has announced eight new positive cases from its most recent two rounds of coronavirus testing, half the amount of players and club staff who tested positive the previous week.  

Testing was ramped up to twice a week earlier this month due to a rise in the infection rate across the league and the United Kingdom in general.  

A record 40 positives were identified between December 28 and January 3, with a further 36 cases confirmed the following week.  

However, the number dropped by 20 between January 11 and 17 and has seen another significant decrease this time around.  

Across the two rounds carried out between January 18 and 24, 2,518 players and staff were tested for the virus – eight returned positive results.  

The Premier League does not provide specific information over who the individuals are who test positive, nor which clubs they are associated with.

Pep Guardiola offered his sympathy to sacked Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard but recognised managers have to win to keep their jobs in the Premier League.

Blues playing great Lampard was dismissed on Monday following a run of just two victories in eight league matches, leaving Chelsea in ninth and 11 points off the top.

A club statement described "a very difficult decision", but owner Roman Abramovich is now set to turn to Thomas Tuchel, who was fired by Paris Saint-Germain last month.

Lampard averaged an underwhelming 1.67 points per game during his tenure and Manchester City counterpart Guardiola knows more is expected.

"Young and old managers, here you have to win," Guardiola said. "When the people talk about projects and ideas, they don't exist. You have to win; if not, you will be sacked.

"Respect for Chelsea, huge hug for Frank. Hopefully I can see him soon; when the lockdown will be over, I can go to a restaurant to see him again."

Asked for his assessment of Lampard's work, Guardiola reiterated: "It depends on the results.

"The way we play, the philosophy, the project... you have to get results. If you don't, you will be replaced by another manager."

But the City boss does wish coaches were given more time - from the media as well as clubs.

"All the managers, we need this," he said. "I'm not judging the decision from Chelsea ,I am not there. Respect in every decision, it has to be this way.

"But sometimes the journalists ask the club to be patient when the journalists don't have patience. We drop one game and we should sack all the managers?

"We try to win as much as possible, but it doesn't happen if you don't have the directors, the board, the owners and CEOs in the same line and you know exactly what the target is.

"Every manager needs time to do what you believe or make the players feel that it doesn't matter what happens, we believe in this, in this idea.

"And that is exceptional; it only happens in a few places around the world because the board, owners, CEOs want results immediately, quick, quick, quick.

"Winning the Premier League in November is better than January and winning in January is better than May. But this doesn't happen.

"It's difficult to talk about the projects in years, because in one month you can drop everything you built. The opponents also have good players, managers, too; you are always at risk to be out."

Guardiola finds himself in a relatively comfortable position at City, though, after a run of 10 straight victories in all competitions eased early-season pressure.

West Brom, up next on Tuesday, were the last team to stop City winning, but Guardiola is not interested in reflecting on how they turned their season around following that 1-1 draw.

"It's difficult to say," he said. "We won the next game in Southampton, one of the turning points. In that moment, Southampton were in incredible form.

"The process was we start to play better, more confident. We saw we were far away from the top of the league, then we get closer, the team eats better, trains better, we get results, successive wins.

"I know always you ask me about the past; what happened happened. I'm not a big fan of this. The next one is always important, like we have done in recent weeks."

Indeed, if City win the next one they will top the table for the first time this season - the ninth different team to reach the summit this term - with rivals Manchester United not in action until Wednesday.

"The leader is United - they are top of the league," Guardiola said. "We'll have all the games, the same games all together, we will see.

"But now we aren't top of the league. The distance is so narrow, but I don't see the table much; I didn't watch it when we were 12th, now it's the same. My focus after Cheltenham is West Bromwich."

Frank Lampard has been sacked as Chelsea head coach after 18 months in charge. 

The Blues great qualified for the Champions League and reached the FA Cup final in his first season at the helm but failed to build from a position of strength, departing in ninth in the Premier League despite significant spending in the transfer market. 

Defeat at Leicester City last week left Chelsea with just two wins from their past eight league games and, although he oversaw Sunday's FA Cup win over Luton Town, it proved sufficient to end Lampard's reign. 

That Leicester reverse was merely the latest sign Lampard was struggling as a young coach in a huge role, however. 

We look at five games from his tenure that suggested Lampard was not cut out for the top job at Stamford Bridge.


Chelsea 0-2 Southampton - December 2019

In the early days of Lampard's time in charge, Chelsea were a force to be reckoned with away from home, losing 4-0 at Manchester United on the opening day of the season but winning their next seven games on the road in all competitions. Bobby Campbell, in 1989, was the only previous Chelsea boss to oversee such a run.

But the Blues' problems persisted on home soil and were particularly evident over the course of a month late in 2019 when they lost to West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton at Stamford Bridge. 

Defeat to Saints, just four days after a brilliant win at Tottenham, saw Chelsea lose consecutive home league matches for the first time since November 2011. 

Already their seventh top-flight loss of the campaign, there was little sign of progress, with Maurizio Sarri having only lost eight times in the entirety of the previous season. 

Chelsea 0-3 Bayern Munich - February 2020

Chelsea again got the better of Jose Mourinho's Spurs in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, yet that victory was followed by another damaging home defeat, this time in the Champions League. 

The Blues met Bayern for the first time since their 2011-12 Champions League final triumph – when Lampard was captain – but were completely outclassed by the eventual title winners. 

The first leg of their last-16 tie saw Chelsea suffer their heaviest home European defeat, going down 3-0 to a Bayern team who had 16 attempts and bossed 63 per cent of the possession. 

The gap between Lampard's men and Europe's best was never more prominent.

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea - August 2020

A testing first season, disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, could still have ended on a high had Lampard masterminded an FA Cup final victory over Arsenal. 

The Blues beat Liverpool, Leicester and United en route to the delayed August showpiece but came up short as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice in a 2-1 Arsenal success.

Unlike against Bayern, Chelsea had control of the ball with 60 per cent of the possession. However, they were out-shot 11-9 as the Gunners were clinical on the counter. 

Silverware last term might have given Lampard a firmer grasp on his role during the recent rocky patch.

Wolves 2-1 Chelsea - December 2020

Chelsea led the Premier League early in December having beaten Leeds United, but their season – and Lampard's tenure – really fell apart either side of Christmas. 

Having lost at Everton after facing Leeds, the Blues conceded a last-gasp winner to Wolves to suffer consecutive league defeats for the first time in a year. 

Lampard's side were poor at both ends of the pitch, failing to muster a single shot on target in the first half before being caught on the break in the 95th minute. 

The Chelsea coach told his players to "wake up to what this is about right now", but it was not a warning they heeded. 

Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea - December 2020

A scarcely deserved 3-0 win over West Ham appeared to get Chelsea back on track and they should then have been able to build some momentum against struggling Arsenal. 

But Mikel Arteta's side, winless in seven in the league, arrested their own slump in a deserved success as they took control with a flurry of goals either side of half-time. 

Chelsea had again been unable to test the opposition goalkeeper before the break and left it far too late to attempt to stage a comeback, scoring in the 85th minute through Tammy Abraham but then seeing Bernd Leno save Jorginho's penalty.

With defeats to Manchester City and Leicester following in the final weeks of Lampard's reign, this represented a huge missed opportunity to relieve pressure.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being absent for a prolonged period would be a problem for Arsenal but Mikel Arteta is expecting big things from Gabriel Martinelli.

Arsenal were without Aubameyang for their 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Southampton on Saturday after the Gabon international left the squad to attend to a personal matter.

Arteta was unsure how long the striker would be unavailable for, making him a doubt for the second straight game at St Mary's Stadium – this time a Premier League meeting on Tuesday.

Aubameyang has struggled for form this season, scoring eight goals – three of which have come in his past three appearances – and supplying one assist in 20 outings in all competitions

"Of course, it would be a problem [if he was out long term] because he's our top striker and the one who has scored the most goals," Arteta told a news conference.

"He's our captain and an important player in the team. We have to respect the time. Let's see. I don't have enough information right now to see how things are evolving and hopefully things will go in the right direction."

Martinelli made his first start in three and a half weeks against Saints after overcoming an ankle injury and was replaced just before the hour mark.

Arteta confirmed Martinelli had not suffered a setback and he expected the 19-year-old to really start producing for the team.

"He was fine, it was a tactical decision. He's missed a few training sessions from the last injury, but I expect big things from Gabi," said Arteta.

"He's been really helpful since he joined again after such a long period, so I'm really positive about him."

Arteta was impressed by Southampton's pressing in their FA Cup meeting and expects a similar challenge in their next meeting.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team have the third-lowest opposition passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) value in the Premier League this season at 10.9, indicating that only Liverpool (10.1) and Leeds United (8.9) press higher than them.

Furthermore, the average distance from their own goal that Saints' open play sequences start is 42.9 metres, with only Liverpool (44.4m) and Manchester City (45.4m) commencing sequences further up the pitch.

Arsenal, meanwhile, rank joint-11th in PPDA (13.8) and joint-sixth in average start distance (41.8m).

"We know they are one of the most effective teams in that [pressing] like we are," said Arteta.

"It was an intense game and we were expecting that for sure, and we are expecting that on Tuesday because they don't really change.

"They are a really great team, really good manager, they know exactly what they're doing and they've been doing it for years now, and they are good at it so we expect a similar game on Tuesday."

Frank Lampard's appointment as Chelsea head coach was widely heralded by the club's fanbase, who were desperate for a returning hero to succeed in the dugout.

Just 18 months later and Lampard – the club's record all-time leading goalscorer who won 11 major honours at Stamford Bridge – has been sacked.

The Blues have proven in the past there is little time for sentimentality or to dwell on past successes and not even a player with the stature Lampard holds at the club has been granted extra time.

Lampard's first season in charge brought a top-four finish and an FA Cup final but a run of just two wins in eight league matches saw Chelsea wield the axe with the team ninth and 11 points off top.

A huge close-season recruitment drive that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell arrive perhaps gave the Blues hierarchy itchy feet and brought about the end for Lampard.

With that in mind, we have looked at some hits and misses when players have returned to a club as boss.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping down in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint, though a slump this term has left his long-term future shrouded in doubt.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Conte is now battling to end the Bianconeri's domestic dominance as head coach of Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try to save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a relegation play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

JURY'S OUT

Mikel Arteta

Arteta served Arsenal with distinction as a player between 2011 and 2016, captaining the club and winning the FA Cup twice. Success in football's oldest cup competition followed last term, with Arteta having replaced Unai Emery in December 2019. After finishing eighth, Arsenal defeated Liverpool on penalties to win the Community Shield but eight defeats from 19 league games in this campaign have left Arsenal 11th and 13 points off top spot.

Andrea Pirlo

Lampard's opportunity at Chelsea arrived when Maurizio Sarri departed for Juventus, but his stint in charge at the Bianconeri lasted just one season despite winning the Serie A title. Pirlo won four Scudetti, the Supercoppa Italiana twice and the Coppa Italia during a four-year stint as a player in Turin and was appointed head coach just a week after being installed as Under-23 boss. So far it has been a mixed bag in Juve's hunt for a 10th straight title, with six draws and two defeats in 18 matches leaving them seven points back of league leaders Milan – albeit they do have a game in hand. Pirlo also collected a first trophy courtesy of victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana last week.

Frank Lampard has been sacked as Chelsea head coach, the Blues have confirmed.

Widespread reports emerged on Monday that the Blues were set to dismiss Lampard after a run of two wins in eight Premier League games left them ninth, 11 points off the pace.

Confirmation soon followed, bringing to an end Lampard's 18-month reign back at the club where he remains the all-time record goalscorer, with former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel expected to be appointed as his successor.

Chelsea statement did not comment on Tuchel's potential arrival but read: "This has been a very difficult decision, and not one that the owner and the board have taken lightly.

"We are grateful to Frank for what he has achieved in his time as head coach of the club. However, recent results and performances have not met the club's expectations, leaving the club mid-table without any clear path to sustained improvement.

"There can never be a good time to part ways with a club legend such as Frank, but after lengthy deliberation and consideration it was decided a change is needed now to give the club time to improve performances and results this season."

Owner Roman Abramovich added: "This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him.

"He is a man of great integrity and has the highest of work ethics. However, under current circumstances we believe it is best to change managers.

"On behalf of everyone at the club, the board and personally, I would like to thank Frank for his work as head coach and wish him every success in the future.

"He is an important icon of this great club and his status here remains undiminished. He will always be warmly welcomed back at Stamford Bridge."

Lampard was unable to replicate the success of his playing career at Stamford Bridge, where he won 11 major trophies in 13 years.

This was his second senior coaching role, having fallen just short of promotion from the Championship with Derby County in 2018-19.

A return to Chelsea followed, with Lampard given the task of overseeing a period of transition as the club served a transfer ban while bringing through a number of players from their talented academy.

Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James all established themselves as regulars as the Blues qualified for the Champions League last term and reached the FA Cup final.

Expectations were raised by significant expenditure in the close-season transfer window, with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell among those arriving, and Chelsea initially thrived, climbing to the top of the table in December 2020.

But the 2020-21 campaign has since gone on a downward spiral, their poor run of form including defeats to Everton, Wolves, Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester City.

The latter three reverses were especially humbling, handing struggling Arsenal a much-needed win before being completely outplayed by City. Leicester - title contenders unlike Chelsea - were comfortable in Lampard's final league game in charge on Tuesday.

Lampard's tenure ended with a 3-1 victory against Luton Town in the FA Cup in which Abraham scored a hat-trick, although Werner's struggles continued with a penalty miss.

Werner and Havertz have failed to perform consistently following their big-money moves from the Bundesliga.

They will hope to be boosted by the apparently imminent appointment of fellow German Tuchel, who won two Ligue 1 titles and made the Champions League final with PSG.

Frank Lampard has been sacked as Chelsea head coach, the Blues have confirmed.

Widespread reports emerged on Monday that the Blues were set to dismiss Lampard after a run of two wins in eight Premier League games left them ninth, 11 points off the pace.

Confirmation soon followed, bringing to an end Lampard's 18-month reign back at the club where he remains the all-time record goalscorer, with former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel expected to be appointed as his successor.

Frank Lampard will be sacked as Chelsea head coach on Monday, according to widespread reports.

It is said former Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel will take charge at Stamford Bridge just a month after leaving the Ligue 1 champions.

Confirmation of Lampard's departure is seemingly set to follow a run of two wins in eight Premier League games.

The Blues' record goalscorer was appointed in July 2019 and led them to a fourth-place finish and the FA Cup final in his debut campaign as a top-flight coach.

Chelsea invested heavily ahead of the 2020-21 season and were top of the table at the start of December.

But a dreadful run has seen Chelsea slide down to ninth, 11 points off the pace, reportedly costing club great Lampard his job the day after a 3-1 FA Cup win against Luton Town.

Lampard's failure to get the best out of an expensively assembled side appeared to heavily contribute to his demise.

Timo Werner continued his miserable run of form with a penalty miss against Luton, his only goal since November having come in the previous round of the cup at home to Morecambe.

Germany colleague Kai Havertz has netted only once in the Premier League, with his most recent three starts in the competition all coming in defeats.

Havertz was in the line-up at Everton when Chelsea, top after beating Leeds United in their first match in December, went down 1-0.

A late defeat at Wolves followed and victory over West Ham could not arrest the slump, as struggling rivals Arsenal eased past the Blues on Boxing Day.

Held by Aston Villa, Chelsea were then outclassed by Manchester City before a narrow win at relegation-battling Fulham eased the pressure only slightly.

Defeat at Leicester City - Premier League contenders while Chelsea flounder - was apparently the final straw, despite progress in the cup.

In Tuchel, a compatriot of Werner and Havertz, Chelsea would bring in a coach who won consecutive titles in France and also guided PSG to last season's Champions League final.

The former Borussia Dortmund boss looks to have been preferred to Massimiliano Allegri and ex-Chelsea coach Rafael Benitez.

Liverpool's shock home defeat to Burnley was sort of emblematic of the odd times football, and indeed wider society, continues to live through.

The Reds had not suffered defeat in a Premier League fixture at Anfield since April 2017 – a staggering run of 68 home matches – prior to Ashley Barnes' penalty securing a famous three points for the Clarets.

It leaves Jurgen Klopp's defending champions six points adrift of the top at a time when rivals Manchester City and Manchester United – who beat the Reds in the FA Cup on Sunday – are absolutely flying.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means this season has been another strange one, with congested schedules, hastily rearranged fixtures and empty stadia becoming the norm.

It has meant that the dominance City and Liverpool have had in their recent title wins has been difficult to replicate this term and thrown the race for the trophy wide open.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league season, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model - with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

CITY TRIUMPH WITHOUT THE DOMINANCE OF PAST TITLE WINS

The results in our model show City have an 82.1 per cent chance of winning the title, and doing so with 84 points. 

By recent standards that would represent a rather modest total. City won back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the former seeing them rack up a competition record 100 points and following up with 98 in the latter.

Indeed, it would represent the lowest tally since Leicester City's famous triumph in 2015-16 when the Foxes earned 81, but there have been eight occasions of teams topping the table with fewer than 84.

City are on a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions and if they can continue that form, Guardiola's serial winners will take some stopping.

UNITED PIP REDS AND SPURS TO SECOND AS FOXES SLIP AWAY

While the model tips City to ultimately win the title relatively comfortably, the "race for second" is certainly not clear cut.

According to our predictor, Manchester United – currently top of the table having played a game more than City – will fall off the title pace but still finish second on 75 points (a 40.2 per cent chance).

Liverpool are in a poor run of form but are tipped to recover from their recent malaise to secure a third-place finish on 73 (while the simulator still gives the Reds a 26 per cent chance for second and a five per cent shot at retaining the title).

Interestingly, Jose Mourinho's Tottenham side came fourth in our outcome on 70 points, three above Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City side who are only two adrift of United in the real-life table.

Frank Lampard's future at Chelsea is sure to face more scrutiny if a predicted finish of sixth, 22 points adrift of City, comes to fruition.

Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa completed the top 10 in the sim.

BLADES NOT THE WORST EVER AS BAGGIES, FULHAM HEAD BACK DOWN

It has been a miserable first half of the season for Sheffield United, who have taken only five points from 19 matches.

Should Chris Wilder's side replicate that over the next 19 they would record the lowest tally ever in a Premier League season.

Our predictor has the Blades finishing rock bottom, but fans can take some solace from the fact they are tipped to do so on 24 points. Indeed, our sim still gives them a three per cent chance of finishing 17th and a 0.1 per cent of the dizzying heights of 15th...hey, you never know!

The reading is no better for two sides promoted from the Championship last term in West Brom and Fulham.

Sam Allardyce was the man drafted in by the Baggies to replace Slaven Bilic and continue his record of never being relegated from the Premier League, but under this model West Brom are headed for a 19th-place finish on 26 points.

In our league, Fulham – promoted by the playoffs last term – pick up 28 and return immediately to the second tier as well. That would at least be two more than the 26 they gained when relegated in the 2018-19 campaign.

West Brom's chances of reaching 17th and survival are rated at just 5.6 per cent, while Fulham are given a little more hope at 11.2 per cent.

Brighton and Hove Albion (37), Newcastle United (41), Burnley (42) and Crystal Palace (44) are all tipped to safely beat the drop, while Leeds United – champions of the Championship last term – are predicted for a 12th-place finish and 49 points.

If Paris Saint-Germain have their way, Lionel Messi will be playing for the French giants in 2021-22.

But will he be playing alongside Kylian Mbappe in Paris?

Real Madrid target Mbappe could stay.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN, MBAPPE OUT?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign Lionel Messi but Kylian Mbappe could remain with the Ligue 1 champions, according to reports.

Barcelona captain Messi is out of contract at season's end and has been heavily linked with PSG and Manchester City.

Le Parisien says there is no doubt who will replace Mbappe at PSG if he departs for LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though Canal + journalist Pierre Menes claims the French forward is interested in staying at Parc des Princes.

 

ROUND-UP

Madrid are considering a €45million (£39.9m) bid to re-sign Sergio Reguilon from Tottenham, according to Sport. Reguilon left the LaLiga champions at the start of the season, but Madrid have an option to buy him back within two years.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are eyeing Bayern Munich duo Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Zirkzee. Bayern are reportedly unwilling to let Zirkzee leave permanently.

- Sport 1 claims Borussia Dortmund are set to battle German rivals Bayern for Borussia Monchengladbach star Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old reportedly has a €40m release clause.

- RB Leipzig attacker Hwang Hee-chan could be loaned out amid links to West Ham, reports Kicker.

Inter and Lautaro Martinez remain in negotiations over a new contract, reports Calciomercato. Once tipped to join Barca, Martinez's Camp Nou dream appears to be fading due to the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Inter are not prepared to meet Martinez's wage demands at the moment.

Pep Guardiola has seemingly accepted that Eric Garcia will leave Manchester City and return to boyhood club Barcelona.

Garcia left Barca's La Masia academy to join City in 2017 and was handed his senior debut in the following year's EFL Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.

The defender made 20 appearances in all competitions last season but neglected to sign a contract extension, as rumours of Barcelona's interest first surfaced.

Garcia, 20, has had his appearances restricted this time around by injury and a positive coronavirus test, although not before making an international breakthrough with Spain.

Barcelona's ongoing presidential elections have featured a regular focus upon the youngster, with candidates debating whether he should be bought this month or signed for free when his City contract runs down.

Sunday's 3-1 FA Cup win at Cheltenham Town was Garcia's first start since the beginning of December and Guardiola, who previously stated he wanted to "seduce" the player into signing a fresh deal, now believes his City career is ticking down.

"I don't think so," he replied when asked whether a new contract was possible for the centre-back.

"I'm pretty sure he'll leave at the end of the season.

"Now, in this transfer window, will depend on the clubs."

City were behind heading into the closing stages at Whaddon Road, before strikes from Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres spared them an FA Cup humiliation of historic proportions.

A fifth-round trip to Championship side Swansea City awaits for the EFL Cup finalists, who are two points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United with a game in hand and resume their Champions League campaign against Borussia Monchengladbach next month.

Despite being favourably placed on all fronts, Guardiola baulked at talk of a quadruple bid to usurp the unprecedented domestic treble his team won in 2018-19.

"The target is 'Big Sam', West Bromwich. This is our target," he replied, with City's next Premier League game at the Hawthorns against Sam Allardyce's West Brom.

"The [quadruple] is a fairytale and 99.9 per cent has never been accomplished. My advice is don't do these questions to the managers, it's unrealistic."

Gareth Bale must earn every minute on the pitch at Tottenham with Jose Mourinho insisting he does not give them out easily. 

On loan from Real Madrid and facing an uncertain future, Bale is yet to hit the heights since delighting Spurs fans with his return to the club in September. 

Issues with the winger's form and fitness have meant he has only started one Premier League match, while he is yet to complete 90 minutes in any competition. 

Ahead of Monday's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Wycombe Wanderers, Mourinho was asked if it would be beneficial to give Bale regular outings of between 30 and 60 minutes to build up his fitness and confidence. 

Mourinho, however, suggested performances in training held the key to his decision. 

The former Madrid head coach hopes Bale will come through this week unscathed in order to boost his chances of a long run-out against Championship outfit Wycombe. 

"I cannot give players minutes," Mourinho said about Bale. "Minutes on the pitch are not something I can give. I wouldn't go in this direction.  

"We all know the difficulties he had for a couple of seasons. We all know that he arrived injured. We all know that even this season he has been a little bit up and down with small things.  

"The most important thing is to be consistent and training without any problems. 

"When a player is consistently training high intensity without any kind of problems then the player is ready not to be given minutes but is ready to earn minutes. That to me is a different thing." 

Mourinho added: "This week, he is working every minute like everybody else at a good intensity.  

"Let's see the way he reacts to that accumulation, to that load of work. Let's see how he reacts by the end of the week.  

"If he feels - because it is also about his own feelings - that the week that he had has had a positive impact on him and his confidence, he will play the match on Monday." 

Amid reports Tottenham would not be extending Bale's loan spell for a second season, Mourinho insisted last week that no decision had yet been made.

Mesut Ozil has completed a move to Fenerbahce after negotiating his departure from Arsenal.

World Cup winner Ozil, once Arsenal's record signing, had been excluded from Mikel Arteta's first-team plans this season and departs after seven and a half years with the Premier League club.

The former Germany midfielder was under contract until the end of the current campaign but reached an agreement for an early termination, clearing him to sign elsewhere.

Fener have now confirmed the arrival of Ozil, with Arsenal announcing the playmaker's departure on their official website.

In a statement in the Gunners' announcement, Ozil said: "I'd like to thank the club for this amazing journey over the past seven-and-a-half years.

"The support I have felt from the team and fans during my time here has been truly incredible and something I will always be grateful for.

"Together we won trophies for the first time in years and created memories that will last a lifetime.

"The Arsenal fans will forever remain in my heart. I'd like to thank Edu Gaspar for helping bring about a professional and dignified solution in the past few days, and I wish everyone at the club the best in their attempt to continue to bring Arsenal back to the top, where we belong."

Having joined from Real Madrid in September 2013, Ozil made 184 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, scoring 33 goals and contributing 54 assists.

He was a key part of Arsene Wenger's squad that finished second in the 2015-16 Premier League season, while he also started in the FA Cup final triumphs in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

However, the 32-year-old had increasingly become a peripheral figure in recent years, initially under former Gunners boss Unai Emery before being left out entirely by Arteta. 

His final Arsenal appearance came on March 3, 2020, when he played 89 minutes in a 1-0 win over West Ham at Emirates Stadium.

Although he was twice named on the bench when the 2019-20 season resumed after the coronavirus-enforced break, the 32-year-old was an unused substitute against both Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton in June.

"Mesut's achievements at Arsenal are undisputed," Arteta said. "It was a privilege to play alongside him and, more recently, coach him.

"His creativity and vision led to many goals during his time in the Arsenal shirt. Mesut was at the heart of many great moments for this club over the years, including those three FA Cup final wins.

"These successes will always be part of our history. We thank Mesut and wish him all the best with Fenerbahce."

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