While Pep Guardiola feels Rodri was deserving of a nomination for the Premier League's Player of the Season award, he expects the midfielder to shrug off that rejection and stay focused on the title race.

Rodri was surprisingly omitted from the eight-man shortlist for the league's top individual prize when it was revealed on Thursday, with team-mates Phil Foden and Erling Haaland making the cut.

That is despite the Spaniard playing a key role as City chase an unprecedented fourth straight league title, and three wins from their last three matches will ensure they edge out Arsenal to retain their crown.

Ahead of Saturday's trip to Fulham, where City have a chance to go top of the table before Arsenal face Manchester United on Sunday, Guardiola said there was no doubt over Rodri's importance.

"He has been one of the best. The nominated players deserve it, other players also deserve it. The winner of the trophy will deserve it, and the ones who don't will too," Guardiola said.

"We know what we think of the importance of him, how magnificent and extraordinary he is as a player. He should not be worried about it.

"When I won [Manager of the Season], it's because we won. It's because your team won a title, won games. The award is not for me – I didn't play one minute."

Fulham caused a stir earlier this week when their social media accounts posted a video of some players flying kites during a training session, sparking fears among Arsenal fans that the mid-table side may be 'on the beach'.

Boss Marco Silva, however, insists that is not the case, saying: "They had one moment after training. It's not even a case to be talked about.

"I have been asked, as we say in England, whether the players are going to be on the beach. It's not the case. If my players are a little bit relaxed, I am the first one to put some pressure on them."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Fulham – Rodrigo Muniz

Fulham's recent drop-off in form has coincided with the goals drying up somewhat for Muniz, who will be looking to return to form on Saturday.

He scored eight times in eight Premier League appearances through February and March but has since netted once in his last six – in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace last time out at Craven Cottage.

Manchester City – Rodri 

Rodri has assisted six goals in his last eight Premier League appearances, including two last week against Wolves. 

City have not lost any of their last 47 Premier League games in which the Spaniard has featured, the fourth-longest unbeaten run any player has ever recorded in the competition.

MATCH PREDICTION – MANCHESTER CITY WIN

City have won their last 15 meetings with Fulham in all competitions. It is the joint-longest winning run any team has ever managed against another in competitive English football history, with theCitizens also having 15-game sequences against Bournemouth and Watford.

Fulham have only won one of their previous 15 home Premier League games against City (five draws, nine defeats), winning 2-1 under Chris Coleman in November 2005.

They have also gone three home games without victory, drawing with Crystal Palace and losing to Newcastle United and Liverpool in what represents their worst run on home soil this season.

With City unbeaten in their last 20 Premier League games (16 wins, four draws), it's difficult to see a surprise taking place on Saturday.

Guardiola's champions have been truly rampant in recent weeks, winning their last six league games while netting four or more goals in five of them – against Aston Villa (4-1), Palace (4-2), Luton Town (5-1), Brighton and Hove Albion (4-0) and Wolves (5-1).

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Fulham – 15%

Manchester City – 61.7%

Draw – 23.3%

Erling Haaland's four-goal haul ensured Manchester City continued their Premier League title charge with a 5-1 triumph over Wolves, as Pep Guardiola's team responded to Arsenal's victory earlier on Saturday in style.

Arsenal moved four points clear at the league summit with their 3-0 win over Bournemouth but Haaland eased any City nerves with his dominant first-half hat-trick at Etihad Stadium.

That quickfire treble included two penalties before Haaland added to his tally after the interval – following Hwang Hee-chan's consolation strike – to move to a competition-leading 25 goals this term.

Haaland’s replacement Julian Alvarez added further gloss late on, as City, who have a game in hand on Arsenal, cut the gap to the Gunners to just one point. Wolves remain 11th with just one win in their past eight league games.

City needed just 12 minutes to take the lead. Rayan Ait-Nouri conceded a penalty for an inadvertent collision with Josko Gvardiol, and Haaland made no mistake from the spot after a VAR review confirmed the on-field decision, sending Jose Sa the wrong way and sweeping into the bottom-left corner.

Sa was equal to Haaland shortly after, though, tipping away the striker's header following Bernardo Silva's right-wing centre – but the Wolves goalkeeper was powerless to prevent the Norwegian doubling his tally after 35 minutes, as Haaland climbed high to redirect Rodri’s back-post centre into the bottom-right corner.

And Haaland had his hat-trick when, on the stroke of half-time, he repeated the trick from 12 yards after he had drawn a clumsy challenge from Nelson Semedo, with the VAR having recommended an onfield review of the incident.

Wolves reduced the deficit eight minutes into the second half as Hwang fired into an empty net from Ederson's unconvincing punch, though City restored their three-goal advantage just a minute later.

Haaland latched onto Phil Foden's over-the-top pass before cutting inside and blasting an arrowed left-footed strike into the top-left corner for the finest of his four strikes.

There was time for City to increase their goal difference, too, as substitute Alvarez wrapped up the scoring after Rodri regained possession high before finding the Argentine, who angled a low effort across Sa.

Golden Boot within Haaland’s grasp

For every Arsenal victory, Guardiola's side continue to respond with three points of their own and still boast a game in hand away against Tottenham to move clear of the Gunners.

City are now unbeaten in their last 20 Premier League games (W15 D4), becoming the second side to manage a streak of 20+ undefeated league matches on five separate occasions – after fierce rivals Manchester United (seven).

That is in large part thanks to Haaland, whose four goals came in just 54 minutes here. Only Gabriel Jesus has scored as many times earlier in a Premier League game, finding the net four times in 53 minutes against Watford in April 2022.

He is now five clear of his rivals in the hunt for the Premier League Golden Boot, and surely he has all but wrapped up that award now.

Frustration grows at Wolves

Gary O'Neil has regularly voiced his concerns over the depth of Wolves' squad, with his side suffering from numerous injury issues across a troubled season.

Matheus Cunha and Ait-Nouri – the latter who conceded the first penalty for an accidental collision with Gvardiol – returned to the starting XI from injury, but that did little to mask Wolves' problems.

Injuries have played their part in hampering O'Neil's tenure, though this clash was a stark reminder of their shortcomings – Wolves have now lost eight of their last nine Premier League visits to Man City.

Jamaica international and Manchester City striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw has achieved another remarkable feat in a dazzling career that has left her heat filled with pride and gratitude.

The 26-year-old, whose journey from humble beginnings in Spanish Town, St Catherine to stardom for both club and country, has been nothing short of triumph of talent and tenacity, and copping the Footballer Writers' Association's (FWA) Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2023-24, is another testament of her unwavering determination and indomitable spirit to rise above challenges.

Shaw won the women’s Footballer of the Year award with almost 80 per cent of the voters opting for either the Manchester City striker or Chelsea’s Lauren James.

James finished runner-up with another Manchester City standout Alex Greenwood finishing third. Yui Hasegawa, Elisabeth Terland and Khiara Keating completed the top six.

The prolific Shaw scored 21 goals and got three assists in 18 Women’s Super League (WSL) games for her side who are on the brink of securing their first WSL title since 2016.

“I am very proud and privileged to have received this award and to be recognised in this way is a special honour," Shaw, who recently did a season-ending surgery for a broken leg, said in a statement.

"I want to also thank all of my teammates. They provide me with the chances to score goals and I could not have won this award without them. I also owe a lot to Gareth [Taylor], the rest of the coaching team and everyone else here at City. It’s a pleasure to be part of such a special group.

“Many thanks to all who voted for me and to my fellow nominees. It means such a lot to have won this award. Hopefully the side can now finish off the season in style and give everyone special cause to celebrate,” she added

Meanwhile, another Manchester City stalwart, Phil Foden, copped the Male Player of the Year award.

Foden has enjoyed a fantastic campaign with Manchester City, scoring 24 goals in all competitions so far. He garnered more than 42 per cent of the votes with teammate Rodri, and Arsenal's Declan Rice, named as runners-up.

"Being named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year is a huge honour. I’m very, very happy to receive this award but I could not have done it without the help of my teammates. We have a very special squad of players at City, and I’m privileged to be a part of that group. I want to thank all my team-mates as well as Pep and the coaches for all the support and advice they have given me," Foden said in his statement.
 
"I strive to be the best that I can be every single day and that is all down to the way the manager and my colleagues always seek to improve and get better. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted for me as well as my fellow nominees. I’m immensely proud to have won this award. Now I am focused on seeking to finish the season as strongly as possible and to try to help City win more trophies," he noted.

It is the second time that two City players have won the men’s and women’s awards. Raheem Sterling and Nikita Parris picked up the prizes in 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodri admits Manchester City cannot afford a single slip-up as they bid to secure a second consecutive trophy treble.

City head into Sunday’s showdown with Arsenal a point behind the Premier League leaders and will then face eight games in April, including a two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid and FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea.

Victory over Mikel Arteta’s side could go a long way towards securing an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title and would also extend Rodri’s remarkable unbeaten run in all competitions to 62 matches.

“It’s a very, very important match,” said the Spain midfielder, whose last defeat came for his national side against Scotland on March 28 last year.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be decisive, but it will be very important for the mental fight in the sense of if we are able to beat them it will be very important for our confidence, and we will show them that we are here again.

“It’s not just this game that’s like a final, it’s all of them from now until the end of the season. We’re still in every competition, but any game that you lose can practically leave you out of the running.

“Really that’s the level that this league demands from you, to reach between 90 and 100 points to be able to win the league.

“So, we have to win practically every game and that starts against Arsenal, who are currently the league leaders.”

Liverpool are the only side apart from City to lift the Premier League trophy in the last six seasons, while Arsenal’s most recent title triumph came 20 years ago.

“Of course we have the experience from previous years in managing these situations of being in multiple competitions,” Rodri added.

“When you get into the dynamic of playing every three days at the highest level you enter this competitive rhythm which can help you reach a very high level – it’s true with very high physical demands – and we’re going to have to manage that well.

“That’s why the whole team will be important from now until the end of the season and it’s one of the keys to success.

“We have to play with confidence like we have in the last years and be humble enough to run more than the opponent and do more than the opponent if we want to win.

“The target for us is to put ourselves into a position where we can fight until the end, and this is something we have been working on and to arrive in this moment.

“Now is the moment that we have to do the last push. The goal is to fight for everything. Our objective is basically this; if we were able to show that we could win everything we won last season, then why can’t we do it again?”

Lucas Paqueta scored a stoppage-time penalty as Brazil came from behind for a second time to claim a 3-3 draw in their international friendly in Spain.

Spain captain Rodri looked to have won the match for the hosts with his second spot-kick of the night, three minutes from time in Madrid.

The Manchester City midfielder had also opened the scoring in a thrilling contest at the Bernabeu Stadium with his first effort after 16 minutes before Dani Olmo added a superb second.

Brazil hit back through Rodrygo and Real Madrid-bound teenage star Endrick, and Paqueta snatched the draw after Rodri had put Spain back ahead.

Spain started strongly with 16-year-old Barcelona star Lamine Yamal an immediate handful.

The youngster blazed an early chance over and then won the penalty from which his side took the lead after jinking into the area and being brought down by Joao Gomes.

Rodri made no mistake with a shot straight down the middle.

Vinicius Junior, who was playing at his home ground and the focus of much pre-match attention, had Brazil’s first opportunity after a powerful run by Rodrygo but shot tamely at Unai Simon.

Spain wanted another penalty after Nico Williams was fouled by Bruno Guimaraes but the offence was just outside the area.

The hosts increased their advantage after 36 minutes with a dazzling effort from Olmo. Yamal was again involved with a well-weighted pass but the goal was all about Olmo’s nimble footwork as he weaved through three challenges before curling a shot past Bento.

Yet, as stunning as that was, Brazil pulled one back almost immediately after a poor error by Simon. The goalkeeper’s pass for Fabian Ruiz was far too weak and Rodrygo was quick to swoop, expertly lifting the ball back over Simon.

Brazil introduced Endrick at half-time and it did not take the youngster long to make his mark at the ground he will call home from this summer.

The 17-year-old, fresh from his winner against England on Saturday, was in the right place at the edge of the box when a corner was half-cleared. He met the ball with a powerful left-footed volley that thundered into the bottom corner with the aid of a deflection.

There were further chances at both ends with Olmo twice testing Bento either side of a Lucas Beraldo effort for Brazil that flew well over.

Dani Carvajal also forced a save before being awarded Spain’s second penalty of the night as he went down, under a Beraldo challenge five minutes from time.

Again Rodri was on target but Paqueta was to have the final word after Galeno was bundled over by Carvajal.

Lucas Paqueta scored a last-gasp penalty as Brazil twice came from behind to draw 3-3 with Spain in a thrilling friendly at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Paqueta converted with one of the last kicks of the game, less than 10 minutes after Rodri thought he had grabbed the winner for Spain in their first meeting with Brazil for 11 years.

Rodri had opened the scoring from the spot before Dani Olmo's strike doubled Spain's advantage.

Rodrygo issued an immediate response to halve the deficit and Brazil wonderboy Endrick scored for the second game running to level the score, paving the way for the late drama.

Having missed an early opportunity when he failed to test Brazil goalkeeper Bento, Lamine Yamal was at the heart of Spain's opener when, in the 11th minute, he was brought down by Joao Gomez in the box, with referee Antonio Nobre pointing to the spot – Rodri calmly slotting the resulting penalty down the middle.

Brazil went close at the other end when Real Madrid stars Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior combined, with the latter firing straight at Unai Simon, but Spain made it 2-0 when Olmo lashed in following superb skill to bamboozle two defenders.

Brazil responded quickly, though, punishing an error from Simon when Spain’s goalkeeper gifted the ball straight to Rodrygo, who finished coolly.

The half-time break and the four changes made by head coach Dorival Junior had the desired impact for Brazil, as Endrick – fresh from his historic winner against England – volleyed home an equaliser following a corner.

Olmo was denied a second when Bento pulled off an excellent save, but Spain did eventually get their chance to win it when Dani Carvajal was bundled over by Beraldo.

Once again, Rodri was on target, but in the dying embers, Carvajal’s clumsy tackle on Galeno handed Paqueta the chance to grab a draw, with the West Ham midfielder making no mistake.

Endrick shows the Bernabeu what he can do

After becoming Brazil’s youngest scorer since Ronaldo when he grabbed the winner at Wembley on Saturday, Endrick – who will be joining Madrid ahead of next season – will hope his goal this time out is the first of many at his soon-to-be stomping ground.

The 17-year-old levelled the scores five minutes into the second half with just his fourth shot for Brazil.

Head coach Dorival Junior will be disappointed that Brazil could not build on Saturday's 1-0 win against England with another victory but will see the positives as his side prepare to try and win a 10th Copa America title this summer.

The draw also keeps up Brazil’s excellent record against European nations in friendlies having not lost such a match since August 2013 against Switzerland.

Spain slip up... again

Spain failed to score in Friday's surprise friendly defeat to Colombia despite having 13 shots, but they had no such problem this time in a dominant first-half display.

Barcelona prodigy Yamal impressed, winning the penalty and being involved in much of Spain's positive play, while Olmo showed his individual quality too.

But from a position of comfort, Simon's mistake gifted Brazil a route back into the contest, head coach Luis de la Fuente will only have been further frustrated by Carvajal's clumsiness right at the end, as their search for a first win of 2024 rumbles on.

Crystal Palace defender Daniel Munoz scored a stunning first international goal as Spain’s build-up to Euro 2024 began with a surprise 1-0 defeat by Colombia.

Right-back Munoz acrobatically converted Luis Diaz’s cross in the 61st minute to earn his side a morale-boosting result moving towards this summer’s Copa America in the United States.

Three-time European champions Spain enjoyed plenty of possession at the London Stadium but lacked a cutting edge as their eight-match winning run ended.

Former Real Madrid man James Rodriguez played an instrumental role in his country’s success, which stretched their unbeaten run to 20 games, after coming off the bench following a forgettable first half.

Spain will look to bounce back on Tuesday night when they host Brazil at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.

The Spanish – unfamiliar in yellow shirts against a nation renowned for wearing them – opted to leave influential Manchester City midfielder Rodri on the bench for the evening, while Liverpool’s Diaz captained Colombia.

Luis de la Fuente’s side started in the ascendancy but without seriously threatening in a tight opening period of few chances.

Athletic Bilbao defender Daniel Vivian nodded narrowly over on his international debut following a fine cross from Alex Grimaldo, who earlier fired straight at opposition goalkeeper Camilo Vargas.

Colombia, backed by a sizeable support at the home of West Ham, were aggressively pressed by a team monopolising possession.

Mateo Cassierra forced a save out of Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya following a well-worked free-kick routine but the South Americans were restricted to little as they largely sought opportunities to counter.

Colombia manager Nestor Lorenzo turned to James in search of a much-needed spark for the second period, while Spain keeper Raya was replaced by debutant Alex Remiro of Real Sociedad.

Lorenzo’s men improved significantly after the restart, albeit Vargas had to be alert to deny Gerard Moreno a 49th-minute opener.

Minutes after skying well over when well placed, ex-Everton player James played a key role in what proved to be the winner.

His fine pass released Diaz down the left and, after twisting and turning Vivian, the skipper delivered an inviting centre which bounced before Munoz, winning his 24th cap, dispatched the ball high into Remiro’s net with an eye-catching scissor kick.

The thumping finish sparked wild scenes of celebration among the healthy Colombian contingent in a crowd of more than 43,000.

Spain introduced striker Alvaro Morata as part of a triple change.

But they could not find a leveller as they slipped to a first defeat since a shock 2-0 European Championship qualifying loss to Scotland last March.

Pep Guardiola refused to blame Erling Haaland for wasting chances after Manchester City were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Chelsea on Saturday.

The normally prolific Haaland spurned a number of opportunities, including one glaring free header from six yards out, as the champions were held in a compelling Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium.

City ultimately needed an 83rd-minute equaliser from Rodri to rescue a point after their former forward Raheem Sterling had put the Londoners on course for an unexpected win with a 43rd-minute effort.

City manager Guardiola said: “It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score.

“I was a football player for 11 years and scored 11 goals. What stats! One goal a season. I’m not a proper man to give advice to strikers.

“We create the chances; he had the chances and next time he’s going to score. I don’t blame him. It’s football, it’s human beings.”

Haaland looked frustrated at the end of the game and pushed away a TV camera, but it has been a difficult week for the Norway international after the death of his grandmother.

The result left City four points off the top of the table in third place, after title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal won earlier in the day.

City dominated the second half, but Guardiola felt they paid the price for a poor first-half display.

Guardiola said: “As a team and a group, the first half was not like we are.

“The demands are so high because no-one is going to give it to us, we have to do everything. We are Man City, so we have to do it for ourselves all the time.

“We had to improve the first half and the second half was unbelievable, how we played and how we made transitions.

“In general, it was really good after we conceded from Raheem but when we play teams with composure and prestige of Chelsea you have to perform at your best for 95 minutes.”

Chelsea’s season has been one of inconsistency, but manager Mauricio Pochettino felt they showed their true character against strong opposition.

Pochettino said: “We tried to prepare, all the coaching staff, to make the plan for the game but football is always a game that belongs to the players and today the execution and the performance was from them. They showed character.

“It was a really important game for us to keep the momentum to realise we are in a good way and improving.

“Still we are not at the level of Man City but that is our aim.

“We need to live this type of game to improve and to create the spirit we need. We show in every single game we want to be competitive.”

Julian Alvarez struck twice and Erling Haaland returned to action as Manchester City eased to a 3-1 win over relegation-threatened Burnley.

Argentinian World Cup-winner Alvarez, on his 24th birthday, netted twice in the first half and Rodri added a third as the champions went untroubled until Ameen Al-Dakhil grabbed a stoppage-time consolation at the Etihad Stadium.

City were further cheered by the sight of Haaland returning from injury as a late substitute while Kevin De Bruyne made his first Premier League start since August.

It was a miserable return to the ground for former City captain Vincent Kompany, the Burnley manager, with his side comprehensively beaten and left seven points adrift of safety.

Given their predicament and having conceded 37 goals in their previous nine visits to the Etihad, the Clarets were hardly expected to trouble the treble winners.

Yet this was an especially limp performance and City, aided by some poor defending, barely got out of second gear.

After 15 minutes of the home side calmly controlling possession, Phil Foden caught the visitors off-guard as he released Matheus Nunes with a flicked ball.

The Portuguese’s first cross was blocked but he was given all the time he needed to attempt it for a second time, and casually picked out an unmarked Alvarez to head home from close range.

Burnley were caught napping again just six minutes later as the striker doubled City’s lead from a cleverly-taken set-piece.

De Bruyne spotted a huge gap in the area as he lined up a free-kick and played a low ball in for Alvarez to turn and slot past former City youngster James Trafford.

It was a routine that had clearly been worked on in training as manager Pep Guardiola made a point of congratulating his assistant Carlos Vicens, a dead-ball specialist.

City threatened more as Nunes tested Trafford from a tight angle and a dangerous Jeremy Doku cross was turned behind.

Burnley had a rare chance when Lyle Foster curled an effort narrowly wide but City tightened their grip in the opening minute of the second half.

Foden was again instrumental as he raced onto a De Bruyne throughball and pulled back for Rodri, who nonchalantly passed into the net from the edge of the area.

Burnley had a fleeting opportunity as Zeki Amdouni blazed over and their frustration was evident as Connor Roberts got involved in a needless confrontation with Rico Lewis and Ederson.

After that the biggest cheers from City fans came as Haaland entered the fray 19 minutes from time.

He was unable to find the net despite some good runs and one air shot.

Burnley had the final say when Al-Dakhil turned in a cross from debutant David Datro Fofana’s cross but the outcome had long since been determined.

Manchester City could be without midfielder Rodri for Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Huddersfield following the death of his grandmother.

The Spaniard has been granted compassionate leave and is currently back in Madrid.

Manager Pep Guardiola says the player has not definitely been ruled out but he seems unlikely to feature as the holders begin their defence of the trophy in the third-round tie at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola said at a press conference: “Rodri, unfortunately, his grandmother passed away yesterday and he is in Madrid. Today and tomorrow he will not be here.

“Hopefully he will come back for the game but, if he needs to stay, family issues are the most important thing.”

Guardiola has also revealed a number of his players have suffered from fever this week and are also doubtful.

He said: “Four players have problems. Bernardo (Silva), Scotty (Carson), Kalvin (Phillips) and Matheus Nunes are, like many people at this time, suffering.”

The match could give Kevin De Bruyne the opportunity to get some minutes as he continues his comeback from a hamstring injury but Guardiola insists the Belgian will not be rushed.

De Bruyne, who was an unused substitute for last week’s clash against Sheffield United, has not played since August.

Guardiola said: “Kevin has been (out for a) long time so we have to be patient and give the right minutes for him.

“It was a big injury. What I am concerned with the most is to try and avoid a repeat. This is what we have to be careful with.”

Star striker Erling Haaland and winger Jeremy Doku are still out after injuries but are nearing a return.

Guardiola said: “For Erling, it’s a bit better. He has done two training sessions and he feels good.

“They are improving. I don’t know for Sunday, I don’t know for Newcastle, but for the rest (of the games) they will be ready.”

Defender John Stones is City’s other notable absentee with an ankle injury.

Guardiola said Jack Grealish’s state of mind was improved after a burglary at the England international’s home over Christmas.

Thieves reportedly stole jewellery worth £1million after breaking into the midfielder’s Cheshire mansion while his fiancee and members of his family were present.

Guardiola said: “He’s much better. He’s had time to fix so it won’t happen again and the burglars have to know that there is no more jewellery at home.

“Our chief security man is handling it with Jack, his family and his (fiancee). They’re impacted, which is normal. When you’re at home and you have people come inside, it’s scary.”

The January transfer window is now open but Guardiola would give no clues as to any potential arrivals or departures.

Asked specifically about Phillips, whose future has been the subject of speculation, Guardiola said: “I don’t know, I don’t talk about the transfer window.

“I don’t know if we are going to sign 10 players, get (rid of) 10 players. Maybe one – I don’t think it will happen, but you never know.”

Pep Guardiola played down the significance of his side’s victory over Sheffield United on Saturday despite it increasing the pressure at the top of the Premier League.

Goals from Rodri and Julian Alvarez at the Etihad Stadium saw the champions wrap up a memorable 2023 – a year in which they won five trophies – with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the struggling Blades.

The result lifted City within two points of leaders Liverpool at the end of a draining month in which they played nine matches, including two in Saudi Arabia at the Club World Cup.

That could be viewed as ominous for the rest of the competition but City manager Guardiola did not want to be drawn into such talk.

Guardiola said: “What we have done in the past doesn’t mean it is going to happen in the future. The future is happy New Year and three days off, and after that it is Huddersfield. No further than that.

“Except for two or three games, we were better than the opponents and could not get the results we deserved – but it is business and you have to win games.

“Today we did it and I’m really pleased for the guys. It was an intense month.”

Guardiola felt City were initially below their best but was pleased with the way they roused themselves.

He said: “The first half was a little bit flat. The body language of the players – they didn’t communicate, didn’t talk, didn’t laugh, didn’t shout.

“It was ‘OK, I have to play a football game’, but football games cannot be played in that way.

“At half-time, for the first time, I didn’t talk one word about tactics. I took a chair and sat and said, ‘Guys go out with a smile on your face and with another rhythm in terms of enjoying what you’re doing. We are not going to do what happened against Crystal Palace’.”

“In the second half, the first 15 minutes were the best minutes that we did.”

Guardiola also hailed an “incredible effort” from Jack Grealish, who started for City after a difficult few days following a burglary at his house.

Defeat left Sheffield United bottom of the table but manager Chris Wilder found positives in the attitude of his players.

He said: “It felt like we played football for about five hours. At the start, when you are walking out, and you see five trophies, it hits home to you and what you are up against.

“We were light in terms of Premier League experience but what we weren’t light on is fight or character, and that has delighted me since I walked through the door.

“It is incredibly difficult to come here, even for the top teams. We stuck at it and it was great experience for the young lads to learn. There is no downside from this game.”

Aston Villa scored a late penalty to beat strugglers Burnley 3-2 and move second in the Premier League.

Villa – who lost 3-2 at Manchester United on Boxing Day after leading 2-0 – went ahead in the 28th minute through Leon Bailey.

The Clarets were back on level terms just three minutes later when Zeki Amdouni fired home from close range following a free-kick.

Burnley had the ball in the net again, but Lyle Foster’s effort was ruled out for offside before Moussa Diaby then added a second for Villa in the 42nd minute.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when midfielder Sander Berge was given a second caution for tugging back Douglas Luiz.

Foster, though, hauled Burnley level with 20 minutes left – this time his goal allowed to stand following a VAR review.

Just when it looked like Vincent Kompany’s men would hold out for a welcome point, Aaron Ramsey fouled Jhon Duran to concede an 89th-minute penalty. Luiz sent his spot-kick on to the underside of the crossbar and into the roof of the net to secure another home win for Villa.

Manchester City beat Sheffield United 2-0 at the Ethiad Stadium to move third, above Arsenal on goal difference.

Rodri gave City the lead in the 14th minute with a low finish into the bottom corner after good hold-up play by Phil Foden.

Midfielder Jack Grealish – whose Cheshire home had been burgled while he was away playing at Everton on Wednesday night – was taken off early in the second half and replaced by Oscar Bobb.

Julian Alvarez doubled City’s lead just after the hour from close range after Bobb had played in Foden.

Earlier, Chelsea survived a spirited late fightback by Luton to win 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

Mauricio Pochettino’s team had looked to be cruising to a first away victory since early November following a brace from Cole Palmer – his second goal showing fine close control – either side of Noni Madueke’s strike just before half-time.

Luton, though, set up a tense final 10 minutes after Ross Barkley scored against his former club before Elijah Adebayo pulled another back late on, but the Blues held out.

Michael Olise scored twice as Crystal Palace returned to winning ways after coming from behind to beat Brentford 3-1 at Selhurst Park.

Keane Lewis-Potter fired the Bees into an early lead after just two minutes, the goal given following a lengthy VAR check for a possible offside.

Palace were soon back on level terms in the 14th minute when Olise volleyed in at the back post before Eberechi Eze completed the turnaround shortly before half-time.

Olise fired in a well-taken second from the edge of the penalty area in the 58th minute as Palace ended an eight-match winless run.

Wolves maintained their good form with a 3-0 win over relegation-battlers Everton at Molineux.

Captain Max Kilman put Wolves in front in the 25th minute following a scramble in the penalty area, which was only his second goal for the club. The players celebrated by holding up a shirt in support of Mario Lemina following the death of his father.

Wolves doubled their lead early in the second half through a close-range finish from Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson added a third on the hour.

Hwang Hee-chan and Pedro Neto both saw goals disallowed for offside as Gary O’Neil’s well-drilled went on to close out a third straight win.

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