Conor Gallagher has been rewarded for his fine form at Crystal Palace with his first call-up to the senior England squad.

The Chelsea-owned midfielder enjoyed a promising debut campaign in the Premier League last season with West Brom, impressing despite their relegation.

He won the Baggies' Young Player of the Year award and subsequently secured another temporary move within the top flight, joining Patrick Vieira's Palace.

At Selhurst Park, Gallagher has been a standout performer, earning a nomination for the Professional Footballers' Association's Player of the Month award for October.

A regular at under-21 level, Gallagher will link up with the senior squad in the hope of featuring against San Marino on Monday, with England requiring a point to seal their qualification for the World Cup.

Several players will not be available for Gareth Southgate, however. Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish have returned to their clubs for injury assessments, Mason Mount will miss out due to dental surgery, Luke Shaw has concussion and Raheem Sterling has a "personal matter" to attend to.

Nevertheless, it offers Gallagher a great opportunity to stake a claim with Qatar 2022 a little over a year away.

He was arguably unlucky not to be called up ahead of Friday's win over Albania, such has been his start to the season with Palace.

Gallagher has been involved in six goals, four of which he has scored himself, and created another 17 opportunities – no other Palace player can better him in any of those metrics.

There are also only eight Premier League midfielders to attempt more tackles (26) and complete more dribbles (12) than Gallagher this term, while his 65 wins in duels see him ranked third, evidence of the well-rounded qualities he will bring to Southgate's squad.

 

Raheem Sterling's future at Manchester City remains unclear.

The England winger has only made three Premier League starts this season.

Sterling, who starred during England's run to the Euro 2020 final, could now be on the move.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA RESOLUTE ON RAHEEM

Barcelona are determined to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City despite the Premier League club's refusal to let him leave, reports Manchester Evening News.

The Catalans want to bring Sterling to Camp Nou in January on a loan deal, with the forward open to a move after losing his regular starting spot at City.

Sterling still has 18 months remaining on his City contract and the English champions have no intention of accepting an offer for him.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester City are set to launch a new bid for Tottenham forward Harry Kane in January, claims ESPN. City pursued Kane over the off-season but the Spurs skipper ultimately remained in London after Tottenham declined their approaches.

- El Nacional reports Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has told the club to sell or release Gareth Bale. The Wales forward has only made three appearances this term and is contracted to Los Blancos only until the end of the season.

Hakim Ziyech is unhappy at Chelsea and could be lured to Borussia Dortmund, claims The Mirror. The Morocco winger could move in January, having been unable to re-discover his best form at Chelsea after moving from Ajax in 2020.

Norwich City are set to offer ex-Aston Villa boss Dean Smith their vacant manager role, according to Sky Sports. Smith was sacked as Villa coach this week.

- The Daily Record claims former Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst will hold talks with Rangers about taking over as manager after Steven Gerrard's departure for Villa.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has long been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Madrid are reportedly preparing another approach for the France forward.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID PUSHING FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid will make another move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo.

Madrid have made no secret of their interest, while Mbappe – who will become a free agent at the end of the campaign – revealed he wanted to leave PSG for Los Blancos at the start of the season.

With Mbappe's contract winding down, LaLiga giants Madrid are stepping up their pursuit.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Mundo Deportivo and Sport claim Barcelona are closing in on the signing for Manchester City attacker Raheem Sterling. The England international has found himself down the pecking order in Manchester.

Arsenal are interested in Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, but there have been no talks with the Serbia international's agents, reports Fabrizio Romano. Vlahovic is also wanted by City, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Tottenham.

- Staying at Emirates Stadium, Gianluca Di Marzio says Arsenal are ready to make a move for Juventus sensation Dejan Kulusevski.

Roma, Milan, Atalanta and Napoli are eyeing Sassuolo winger Jeremie Boga, per Foot Mercato.

- Milan are readying contract renewals for Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer and Rafael Leao, claims Gazzetta dello Sport.

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are hoping to beat Barca to Milan midfielder Franck Kessie on a free transfer. Kessie has also been linked with PSG, Arsenal, Tottenham, Inter and Atletico.

Xavi has his work cut out at Camp Nou following his appointment as Barcelona head coach.

Barca have struggled on the pitch amid off-field turmoil and financial problems.

But Xavi wants to make Barca great again and he reportedly has his eyes on some players across Europe.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYE TRIO

RB Leipzig star Dani Olmo and Manchester City pair Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling are transfer options for Barcelona, according to Thursday's Mundo Deportivo.

Xavi is now at the helm of Barca and the club great is tasked with restoring the fortunes of the embattled LaLiga giants.

The Barca head coach is keen to reinforce his squad in either January or at the end of the season.

Barca have also been linked with Chelsea forward Timo Werner and Manchester United veteran Edinson Cavani.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Paul Pogba is set to leave United and Juventus are trying to re-sign the Frenchman, though his salary is proving problematic. Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and he has been linked with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

Inter are pressing Marcelo Brozovic to sign a new contract by Christmas, claims Gazzetta dello Sport. The Croatia international is reportedly wanted by Barca, Liverpool, PSG and United.

Steven Gerrard is expected to join Aston Villa as their new manager, reports Fabrizio Romano. The Rangers boss is set to be joined by his backroom staff at Villa.

Fiorentina are trying to sign River Plate striker Julian Alvarez as Dusan Vlahovic prepares to leave but Juve are also interested, according to Corriere dello Sport. Vlahovic has no plans to renew in Florence and the Serbia international has been linked with City, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juve and Inter.

- The Mirror says United are confident of landing Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers as their new manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under mounting pressure at United and former Liverpool boss Rodgers has emerged as a target for the struggling Red Devils due to a release clause in his contract.

Is a move to London on the cards for Kingsley Coman?

Coman and Bayern Munich have so far been unable to reach an agreement over a new deal.

Chelsea are reportedly ready to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TARGETING COMAN

Chelsea are monitoring Bayern Munich forward Kingsley Coman, according to Bild.

Coman has been in negotiations with Bundesliga champions Bayern regarding a new contract, but up until now, the Frenchman has been unwilling to re-sign.

Champions League holders Chelsea are keeping tabs on Coman, who has also been linked with Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United.

 

ROUND-UP

- It is set to be a busy time at St James' Park. Sky Sports reports Eddie Howe has agreed to become Newcastle United's manager, while El Nacional claims the Magpies have made Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen a transfer priority.

Barcelona are prioritising a January move for RB Leipzig star Dani Olmo, per Diario AS. Should they fail in their pursuit, out-of-favour Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling is the alternative.

- Sport1 claims the agent of Salzburg sensation Karim Adeyemi has met with LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid. The 19-year-old has also been linked with Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG and Bayern are eyeing Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic on a free transfer, says Calciomercato. United and Barca are also reportedly interested.

Raheem Sterling ended his goal drought as Manchester City edged closer to the Champions League knockout stages by grinding their way to a 4-1 victory over Club Brugge. 

Second-half substitute Sterling, who has become a peripheral figure at the Etihad Stadium since declaring his openness to a move away, struck for the first time since August in what ended up being a comfortable victory for Pep Guardiola's side, who moved top of Group A. 

Phil Foden put City ahead inside the opening quarter of an hour, but an own goal from John Stones restored parity two minutes later and the hosts struggled to create further chances in the first half. 

However, unlike in their 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace at the weekend, City found a way to break down a low block and secured all three points thanks to goals from Riyad Mahrez, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus – enough to leapfrog Paris Saint-Germain, who were held by RB Leipzig.

Brugge sat deep from the off, at times operating with a six-man defence, but City took just 15 minutes to make the breakthrough.  

After seeing a lovely lifted effort hit the upright, Joao Cancelo drilled a low cross into the centre of the box that Foden tapped home for an easy finish.  

The hosts were only in front for two minutes, though, with Charles De Ketelaere's cutback deflecting off Bernardo Silva onto Stones' head and into the back of the net.  

City did not manage to get another shot on target before half-time, but they regained their lead nine minutes after the restart when Mahrez got in front of Eduard Sobol to nod Cancelo's cross home.  

Guardiola sent Jesus and Sterling on and three minutes later the latter tucked home his second goal of the season from inside the six-yard box after a neat team move, though his celebrations were muted. 

Jesus made the scoreline appear more comfortable than it looked like it would for a long time when he was teed up by Cancelo in the second minute of stoppage time. 
 

What does it mean? City back on track  

They may have had their chances of winning a fifth straight EFL Cup ended by West Ham and lost to Palace in the league last week, but City got exactly what they needed against Brugge.  

It was far from a vintage display – it looked like an upset could be on the card when Stones became the first City player to score an own goal in the Champions League for more than five years.  

However, they avoided the ignominy of becoming the first English side to lose a home game against Brugge in European competition, with the Belgian side having now lost 12 and drawn two of their 14 such games.  

Wow Cancelo  

Driving runs from left-back and pinpoint deliveries saw Cancelo make a pivotal impact against Brugge. He supplied seven key passes, three of which were assists, and went very close to scoring himself when he struck the upright in the first half.  

Sterling stakes his claim 

Having only started six games in all competitions this season, Sterling showed he still has the quality to make the difference for City. He has now been involved in 25 goals in 28 home games for the club in the Champions League – only Sergio Aguero (27) has played a part in more.

What's next?  

City have a trip to arch-rivals Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday, while Brugge do not face Standard Liege in the Pro League until Sunday.

Atletico Madrid are hoping to recover from losing to Liverpool on matchday three with a repeat of their Anfield heroics last March.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City will look to take bigger steps towards the last 16, while Real Madrid will go in search of another big win against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Inter can put themselves in a good position to progress, too, although city rivals Milan have got much more of a fight on their hands.

Here are some of the key Opta facts for Wednesday's Champions League matches...

 

Liverpool v Atletico Madrid: Can Suarez improve rotten recent record?

Atletico were winners at Anfield on their last visit as they claimed a 3-2 victory in the last-16 second leg in March 2020. Indeed, Liverpool have only twice beaten Spanish teams at home in 13 attempts in the European Cup and Champions League.

That said, the Marcos Llorente-inspired game last year was one of only two out of 22 at home that Jurgen Klopp has lost in this competition as Reds manager, while Diego Simeone is chasing what would only be the second instance of a third successive away win in the tournament with Atleti.

Luis Suarez will hope to haunt his old side, although recent history is against him: he's only scored one for Atleti in nine Champions League games, and none from open play. Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, needs one more goal to equal Steven Gerrard as Liverpool's top scorer in the competition at Anfield (14).

Manchester City v Club Brugge: Bad omens for Belgian champions

City's 5-1 triumph in Bruges on matchday three took their tally to six wins in seven European games against Belgian opposition, while Brugge are now without a victory over English teams in 13 attempts dating back to February 1995.

Since Pep Guardiola took charge, City have won 80 per cent (20 out of 25) of home Champions League matches, which is the best record for a coach at a single club in the competition among those to take charge of 20 or more. A first win on English soil for Brugge looks unlikely.

Might this be a chance for Raheem Sterling to impress? The England forward has been directly involved in 24 goals in 27 home Champions League games for City, a tally surpassed only by Sergio Aguero (27).

 

RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain: Nkunku could outshine Messi

PSG have only lost one of their past nine away games in the group stage, but that defeat was against RB Leipzig last season. It was the only time in the previous seven meetings with French sides that Leipzig emerged victorious.

He might be enduring a difficult time in Ligue 1, but Lionel Messi has managed three goals in three games in Europe for PSG. His double in the reverse fixture was his 34th in the competition, something only Cristiano Ronaldo (37) can better.

However, perhaps the most in-form player in 2021-22 is Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku, who has been involved in the most open-play sequences ending in a goal (six) among Champions League midfielders this season. And he has four goals of his own from the first three matches.

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Another big win on the cards with Benzema

Madrid's 5-0 win over Shakhtar on matchday three means the past five meetings between these teams have seen an average of 4.6 goals scored per game. In fact, Los Blancos have scored 15 times in five Champions League matches against Shakhtar: that average of three per game is their best figure against a side they have faced on at least five occasions, apart from Galatasaray (3.4 per game).

Shakhtar are one of just three sides yet to score in this season's group stage, but with Madrid having lost three of their previous eight home games in the competition, this could be a good opportunity.

They will need to stop Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, though: they are the two players with the most involvements in shot-ending sequences in 2021-22 (31 and 34, respectively). Plus, Benzema is on a run of 10 goals in 10 home games in the competition.

 

Sheriff v Inter: Nothing shot-shy about Inzaghi's men

Inter ended Sheriff's 11-game unbeaten run in Europe last time out and will now look to secure consecutive Champions League victories for the first time since October 2018.

The Nerazzurri have lost just once in their previous five Champions League away matches, but Sheriff are unbeaten in their most recent five European games on home soil, excluding qualifiers. They've also won the past two.

Inter certainly have the variety to break down Sheriff's stubborn defence. Each of their previous 17 away goals in the competition have come from open play, while their 29 shots in the meeting on matchday three were the most by an Italian side in a Champions League game since at least 2003-04.

Other fixtures:

Borussia Dortmund v Ajax

45 – Ajax's 4-0 win over Dortmund last time out was the biggest victory by a Dutch side over a German team in Europe since November 1976, when Feyenoord defeated Kaiserslautern 5-0 in the UEFA Cup.

8 – Sebastien Haller has been directly involved in more Champions League goals this season than any other player (eight – six goals, two assists). Among debutants in the competition since 2003-04, this is the highest such figure over a player's first four appearances and one more than Erling Haaland managed.

Milan v Porto

3 – Milan are one of just four sides this season to have lost all three group games. They are on a five-game losing run in the competition, the worst such streak in their history.

1 – Since scoring four for Chelsea against Sevilla in December 2020, Olivier Giroud has scored only once in 250 minutes of play in the Champions League.

Sporting CP v Besiktas

5 – Paulinho has been directly involved in three of Sporting's five goals (two scored, one assisted) in this season's Champions League. Their last player to manage more goals and assists combined in a single season was Nani in 2014-15 (six).

10 – Michy Batshuayi has attempted 10 shots for Besiktas in the Champions League in 2021-22 without scoring. Over the first three matchdays, only Inter's Lautaro Martinez (12) had more shots without finding the net.

The Premier League table continues to take shape as we approach matchday nine, with Liverpool versus Manchester United the headline clash of the weekend.

Mohamed Salah, a fantasy football favourite, will look to further his nine-game scoring run as the Reds travel to Old Trafford, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping the comeback win against Atalanta inspires his side.

Chelsea, whose defence continues to provide valuable clean-sheet points for many a fantasy line-up, face strugglers Norwich City and Manchester City – another clean-sheet machine – travel to Brighton and Hove Albion.

Whether it is the Blues' regimented defence or Jurgen Klopp's shot-hungry attack, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to pick out seven potential fantasy stars.

EDOUARD MENDY (Chelsea v Norwich City)

Edouard Mendy was, arguably, the primary reason Chelsea collected all three points at local rivals Brentford last time out.

The goalkeeper produced six second-half saves as he left the Bees in disbelief with his various acrobatics to secure his 20th clean sheet in just 38 top-flight games.

With that many shutouts to his name, he boasts a clean-sheet ratio of 53 per cent – the highest of all keepers with 10-plus starts in Premier League history.

BEN CHILWELL (Chelsea v Norwich City)

Marcos Alonso may have been an early pick but Thomas Tuchel's wing-back roulette now seems to be favouring Ben Chilwell, who is in fine goal-scoring form.

The England left-back not only offers defensive returns, but he has also managed to score in his last three Premier League matches – having registered just two gaols in his first 26 Blues appearances in the competition.

Partnered with Mendy and against a shot-shy Norwich outfit, Chilwell is almost a certainty to provide some much-needed contributions from your backline.

JOAO CANCELO (Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester City)

Joao Cancelo is the only one of Pep Guardiola's defenders to start all eight top-flight fixtures this term, after fantasy favourite Ruben Dias was surprisingly benched against Burnley.

The versatile full-back is yet to score but boasts the highest expected goals of any defender this term (1.3), while enjoying the most touches in the opposition box among the same category (22).

Only Shane Duffy (14) has attempted more shots than Cancelo (13), and the full-back should also be a shoo-in for clean-sheet bonus points, given no defender has kept more than his six shutouts this season.

MOHAMED SALAH (Manchester United v Liverpool)

By this point, if Salah is not present in your team then questions may need to be asked following his solo 'Goal of the Season' competition he has seemingly created in the last couple of games.

Since the start of March, the Egypt forward has been directly involved in the most goals, with his 18 (12 goals, six assists) two more than Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho.

A premium but must-buy option for every fantasy outfit, Salah could wreak havoc on Sunday against a somewhat timid Red Devils defence at Old Trafford.

SON HEUNG-MIN (West Ham v Tottenham)

With an unusually out of form Harry Kane failing to deliver for Tottenham, and the majority of fantasy owners, Son Heung-Min has stepped up for Nuno Espirito Santo's side.

The South Korea international has scored four times and assisted once – those contributions worth eight points to Spurs, more than any player in the competition this campaign.

Son, up against West Ham, could provide further joy on Sunday if he is to carry Spurs seemingly single-handedly to victory once more.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Arsenal v Aston Villa)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been integral to Arsenal's early-season revival, finding the net in each of his last three top-flight games at Emirates Stadium.

In total, he has managed 42 Premier League goals at the Gunners' home ground, with only Robin van Persie firing in more (46).

Against a wounded Aston Villa defence, who shipped three late goals against Wolves in their last game, can Aubameyang continue his fine scoring run?

RAHEEM STERLING (Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester City)

Again, err on the side of caution with this pick, given Guardiola's preference to rotate his wealth of playmaking riches regularly.

However, should Raheem Sterling start against Brighton – he could be an unlikely differential to source vital attacking gains in gameweek nine.

The England international has netted four times in four starts against the Seagulls, scoring a hat-trick on his last visit to the South Coast in July 2020.

Raheem Sterling is open about a move away from Manchester City for more game time.

The 26-year-old dropped down the pecking order at City last season before an excellent Euro 2020 campaign, where he scored three times for runners-up England.

Sterling has only managed five starts in all competitions this season and could be on the move in the January transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PRIORITISE STERLING MOVE

Barcelona will make completing a loan deal for Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling their priority in January, claims Sport.

Sterling faces strong competition for places at City and has spoken publicly about his desire for more time on the field.

The Catalans have financial restraints inhibiting their transfer activity but view a loan deal for the England international as an attractive option given their ambition.

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid have lost ground in the pursuit of Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland , who is also being tracked by Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain,  according to AS. Madrid are being squeezed out financially by the competition for Haaland's signature.

- France forward Ousmane Dembele is open to a move to Newcastle at the end of his contract, claims Goal.com. Dembele has not played a minute for Barcelona this season.

- Newcastle are also interested in signing Everton's England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin,  reports The Telegraph.

- Manchester City are keeping a close eye on Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic as the race for his signature hots up, according to Tuttosport. City are short on forward options, having not replaced Sergio Aguero following his exit for Barcelona.

- Calciomercato reports that Inter are concerned about the state of contract talks with Croatia international Marcelo Brozovic,  whose current contract expires in June.

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips.

He has starred for club and country, but Real Sociedad's Swedish forward Aleksandar Isak has also impressed.

Isak could be lured to Barcelona if Haaland is not available.

 

TOP STORY – ISAK WANTED AT CAMP NOU

Barcelona are lining up a move for Real Sociedad forward Alexander Isak if they are unable to sign in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to Diario AS.

Haaland is wanted by Barca and Europe's elite, with the Norwegian linked with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

With competition fierce, LaLiga outfit Barca are looking close to home and at Isak as an alternative.

 

ROUND-UP

- Ekrem Konur claims City are considering Barca sensation Ansu Fati as a possible replacement for Raheem Sterling should the England international depart the Premier League champions. Barca are reportedly interested in Sterling on a loan deal.

Dortmund want Ajax's Sebastien Haller to succeed Haaland at the Bundesliga outfit, reports Calciomercato. Former Eintracht Frankfurt forward Haller has starred for the Eredivisie giants.

Juve's objective is to sign Monaco and France star Aurelien Tchouameni, says Calciomercato. Tchouameni is also a target for United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, PSG and Madrid.

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Juve, Milan and Tottenham are eyeing PSG's Mauro Icardi.

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne believes Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is the best player in the world.

Of the players to have scored eight or more goals across all competitions in Europe's top five leagues this season, Lewandowski ranks top for goals (15), minutes per goal (59.87), shots on target (27), expected goals (13.39) and expected goals on target (13.45).

The Poland captain's fine form is a continuation of his remarkable achievements in recent years, including a treble with Bayern in 2019-20 and breaking Gerd Muller's record for Bundesliga goals in a season last term.

With the Ballon d'Or set to be awarded next month after being cancelled last year, De Bruyne feels Lewandowski's performances over the last two years are deserving of the award. 

"I would have to look at a two year period and I would choose Robert Lewandowski," De Bruyne said. "For what he has done goalscoring-wise and what he has won with Bayern Munich."

De Bruyne also addressed the comments of his City team-mate Raheem Sterling, who voiced his openness to a move abroad due to concerns about his playing time.

"Sometimes it is tough to play one game and then miss then next, but obviously it is the manager who has to make those choices," De Bruyne continued.

"We have a group of 22 or 23 internationals who are unbelievable so when the team plays good, there's not a lot you can say as a player. It can be frustrating, but we are all supportive of each other."

The Belgium midfielder also insisted that, while the team are keen to compete for a Champions League title, they are satisfied with their numerous domestic achievements in recent seasons.

"We always try to maintain a high level at his club and compete for titles," De Bruyne added. "That is what we did last year. Winning two semis and a [Carabao Cup] final. Sometimes you can lose these games [the 1-0 defeat in the Champions League final against Chelsea] and you have to move on.

"We've not won [the Champions League] but we are trying. Hopefully in my period here we can get one. It doesn't define your legacy, maybe for people outside. I'm happy with what we've done as a club for the last six years."

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raheem Sterling is "open" to moving away from Manchester City in a bid to secure regular football.

The 26-year-old starred for England at Euro 2020, scoring three goals and registering an assist en route to the final, where Italy triumphed after a penalty shootout.

Despite Sterling's strong showings for his country, at club level Pep Guardiola has used him sparingly this term, giving the winger just 274 minutes of Premier League football so far – only the 12th-highest among City players – with just two starts from a possible seven.

Sterling has now indicated a willingness to explore his options, with his contract expiring at the end of next season, and appears particularly interested in a move abroad if his playing time at City does not change for the better.

"If there was the option to go somewhere else for more game time I would be open to it," Sterling told the Financial Times. "As I said, football is the most important thing to me. 

"Challenges that I have set myself from a young age and dreams as well. As an English player, all I know is the Premier League and I’ve always thought, you know, maybe one day I’d love to play abroad. See how I would come up against that challenge."

Sterling made 31 league appearances last season, in line with the amount he played in 2019-20 (33). However, his goal return of 10 was the lowest it had been since the 2016-17 campaign (seven), with the attacker scoring every 253.7 minutes.

His tally of 39 chances created was also the lowest it had been since Guardiola joined the club in 2016.

Sterling is keen to remain professional, however, and insists he will continue to work hard and try to win his place back in the side.

"I’m not a person that’s going to complain," Sterling continued. "I've not tried to make it a bigger deal than it actually is. I get on with my work. Do what I need to do. And I'm just raring to go. Playing football matches regularly. Scoring goals regularly. 

"With everything that comes with football, money, being able to do nice things. At the end of the day, if football for me is not at a certain standard I’m not really at my happiest. If I want my happiness at a certain level I need to be playing football. I need to be scoring goals and enjoying myself."

Ferran Torres' recent injury that is reportedly likely to see the Spaniard miss a period of around six weeks could open a door for Sterling, although it would again mean the former Liverpool attacker playing out of his preferred position on the left.

Gareth Southgate refused to assess the individual performances of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling or rush to judgement on Phil Foden's role in the England team after their draw with Hungary.

The Three Lions were held 1-1 at Wembley on Tuesday, ending a run of 21 consecutive home qualifying wins.

They had to come from behind, too, with Roland Sallai dispatching a penalty after Luke Shaw was penalised for a high boot, before John Stones nodded a leveller.

Southgate sought to change the game – avoiding a repeat of the Poland game, where he made no substitutions in an England match for the first time since Euro 96 – but Jack Grealish was an odd choice for the first withdrawal.

Grealish had caused Hungary problems, unlike Kane and Sterling, who both followed.

Although Sterling had two of England's biggest chances, he could not beat Peter Gulacsi, while Kane's run of goals in 15 consecutive qualifiers came to an end without the struggling Tottenham superstar netting.

Southgate was asked if poor club form, with Sterling out of the first team at Manchester City, had contributed to below-par showings from two of England's most consistent performers.

But he told ITV: "I don't think we should look at individuals, because collectively we didn't perform at the level we needed to.

"When you have that sort of situation, it's difficult for individuals as well."

Southgate took a similar tact when asked about the make-up of his midfield, where Foden again played a central role – as in Andorra on Saturday – but this time joined Mason Mount alongside Declan Rice.

Mount represents a similarly adventurous option, and Southgate had recognised a need to look at "the balance of the team" after Hungary posed England "a tactical problem".

"We've got to go away and reflect," the manager said. "We shouldn't just judge things on one game in terms of that experiment, if you like, because I think right across the board, from the start, we weren't sharp with our play, gave the ball away, we were overrunning things.

"I just think we were underneath it. It's the first time in a long time, but we've got to hold our hands up to that."

Despite the difficult outing, which was further marred by clashes between police and the Hungary fans, one of whom was arrested for a "racially aggravated public order offence", England remain in control of Group I.

And discounting penalty shoot-outs, Southgate's side are now unbeaten in 18 – their longest such sequence since a run of 19 that included their 1966 World Cup win.

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