Carlo Ancelotti appeared to feign ignorance when asked about reports that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is set to sign for Real Madrid. 

Thomas Tuchel revealed at the weekend that Rudiger had informed him of his desire to leave Stamford Bridge when his contract expires at the end of the season. 

The Germany international will reportedly finalise a deal to join Madrid this week. 

Asked about Rudiger by beIN SPORTS after Madrid's 4-3 Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday, Ancelotti replied with a smile: "Toni? Who is this? 

"He's a Chelsea player until... He's still a Chelsea player and I cannot say anything about this." 

Ancelotti highlighted Madrid's defending as a key factor in their loss to City. 

Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus found the back of the net inside 11 minutes at the Etihad Stadium – the earliest Madrid have conceded twice in a single Champions League game. 

Karim Benzema pulled one back on his 600th appearance for the club and Vinicius Junior found the back of the net after Phil Foden nodded in a cross from Fernandinho in the second half. 

Bernardo Silva restored City's two-goal cushion before Benzema gave Madrid a sliver of additional hope with an audacious Panenka following a handball in the box by Aymeric Laporte. 

"You cannot cover a position with four defenders, You have to help with a midfielder," said Ancelotti. 

"There were losses in individual duels, so we have to be more attentive. With the ball, we had opportunities. We suffered a bit without it, though. But we have to have confidence. 

"We came out of the first leg with a result that isn't good, because we've conceded four goals and not defended well. 

"We hurt City with the ball, but what we have to do is defend better. The result can change in the second leg. They're a very strong team – they showed it tonight – but we competed. Defending better is the key to reaching the final." 

Madrid will be crowned LaLiga champions if they get a point at Espanyol on Saturday, but Ancelotti has no intention of denying the players a chance to celebrate ahead of Wednesday's return game against City at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

"If we are able to win the league, of course we'll celebrate. And it will help us for Wednesday's game," he added. 

On April 26, 2016, Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a tepid 0-0 draw in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final at the Etihad Stadium. 

Back at the same ground, in the same round of the same competition six years later, they produced a spectacle that had the contrast cranked up to the maximum.

It was the joint-highest scoring semi-final in the competition's history, and it was a story that twisted and turned from the first minute until the last.

But the opening chapter reached its conclusion with City holding a 4-3 advantage after an enthralling 90 minutes.

A start for the history books 

City pressed Madrid high from the off and it was shortly after regaining possession in the final third that Kevin De Bruyne made a phenomenal dart into the box to head home Riyad Mahrez's pinpoint delivery. 

There were just 95 seconds on the clock, making it the quickest goal in Champions League semi-final history. The previous mark was 2 minutes 44 seconds, which was set by Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich against Madrid in May 2018. 

It did not stop there, though. De Bruyne picked out Gabriel Jesus, who, after a somewhat fortuitous first touch, guided a cool finish beyond Thibaut Courtois to make it 2-0. 

Madrid had never before conceded twice in the first 11 minutes of a Champions League match and it looked like they could be seriously up against it with Mahrez, Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko all going close. 

Benzema brings it back 

It has already been the best season of Karim Benzema's career and he showed just how important he has become to Madrid in his 600th appearance for the club – the most by a non-Spanish player. 

He got in front of Zinchenko to steer home a brilliant volley from the edge of the box in the 33rd minute for his 40th goal of the season. The Frenchman now belongs to an exclusive club of just five players to hit that mark in a single campaign for Los Blancos, joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez. 

No let-up 

Madrid lost their best defender in David Alaba at half-time and the momentum they had built before the break quickly dissipated. 

Los Blancos concede an average of five more shots per game when Alaba does not feature and City had already had four efforts on goal – two of which came when Mahrez hit the post and Foden saw his goal-bound follow-up blocked by Dani Carvajal – before restoring their two-goal cushion through Foden in the 53rd minute. 

Makeshift right-back Fernandinho, who replaced the injured John Stones in the first half, set up Foden with an excellent cross but his defending belied his years of experience just two minutes later. Vinicius Junior got the better of his fellow Brazilian with a clever dummy by the halfway line, and no one could catch him before he tucked the ball into the bottom-right corner. 

It was the first time two players aged 21 or younger had scored in the same Champions League semi-final match.  

Don't look away

The drama was far from over, though. Bernardo Silva capitalised when referee Istvan Kovacs wisely played the advantage following Toni Kroos' challenge on Zinchenko by slamming the ball into the top-left corner in the 74th minute.

City consequently became the first English side to score four against Madrid in the Champions League since Liverpool in March 2009. It would have been five had Mahrez been able to add a finish to his coruscating run.

But Aymeric Laporte inexplicably handling a cross enabled Benzema to score his ninth goal of the knockout stages – a Panenka from the penalty spot moving him one adrift of Ronaldo's record (10) from Madrid's triumphant 2016-17 campaign. The Portugal captain (13) is also the only player to have scored more Champions League semi-final goals than Benzema's seven.

Madrid were unable to stop Pep Guardiola claiming a 12th win in his 20 meetings with them across his entire coaching career, though. The Catalan's record in the semi-final has been met with a lot of questions, but he has never been eliminated after winning a first leg at this stage.

He will hope to get the job done at the Santiago Bernabeu and get a chance at redemption after last season's final defeat to Chelsea.

Second-half goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva put Manchester City back on top of the Premier League as Brighton and Hove Albion were consigned to a 3-0 defeat.

Liverpool had moved to the summit with a 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola's side responded 24 hours later to keep their fate in their own hands in the title race.

Deflected strikes from Mahrez and Foden put the champions in command at the Etihad Stadium and Silva added a third as they moved a point ahead of the Reds with six games to play after losing to Jurgen Klopp's men in an FA Cup semi-final last Saturday.

City had been without a win in three matches, but normal service was resumed in their quest for a Premier League and Champions League double.

Moises Caicedo spared Robert Sanchez's blushes when he produced a brilliant challenge on Mahrez after the Seagulls goalkeeper gifted the City winger a chance to open the scoring early on with a terrible pass.

The hosts were not at their devastating best in the first half, but Brighton had another let-off when they made a mess of trying to play out from the back again and this time Lewis Dunk came to the rescue by blocking Ilkay Gundogan's strike.

The fit-again Ruben Dias replaced Nathan Ake at the break to make his first appearance since March 1 and the City defender was fortunate to get away with late challenge on Alexis Mac Allister soon after his introduction.

Kevin De Bruyne was the architect for the opening goal eight minutes into the second half, bursting forward from inside his own half before picking out Mahrez, who benefited from a couple of fortunate deflections before his finish struck Dunk and beat Sanchez.

Foden doubled City's lead 12 minutes later, this time Enock Mwepu sticking out a leg in an attempt to keep out the midfielder's drive from outside the box but seeing the ball flash past a helpless Sanchez.

There was concern for City when John Stones was withdrawn late on after sustaining an injury, but Silva put the icing on the cake with a clinical left-foot finish in the 82nd minute as Brighton shot themselves in the foot again trying to play out from the back.

Bernardo Silva welcomes the pressure on Manchester City to continue their charge for a maiden Champions League title when they face Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final in what is "not just another game".

Pep Guardiola's Premier League side cruised through their last-16 clash with Sporting, winning 5-0 on aggregate, to tee up their first meeting with Atletico in European competition.

The Etihad Stadium will play host to the first leg on Tuesday before the return meeting in Spain on April 13 as City look to lift the Champions League for the first time in their history.

City have only lost one of their last nine games in the competition beyond the group stage (W7 D1), with that defeat coming in the final last season against Chelsea.

Silva openly acknowledged the pressure on his team to deliver European success, but he sees it as an opportunity as opposed to a reason for concern.

"It's not just another game, it's a very important game for us, it's a competition that maybe just Scott Carson has won," he told reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"Pep as well but the club has never won it. Most of us have never won it. We really want to do it. Over the years we weren't able to do it, it is the only one missing and we want to go for it again.

"The pressure is always there and we know these fans always expect us to perform well in this competition and we're going to try our best to make our fans happy and proud of us."

Pressed on the frustrations of Europe's premier club competition evading City so far, Silva added: "We know how important this competition is. It's where the best clubs in Europe play.

"It's definitely a goal. It's a thing that we really want to achieve but if we are going to achieve it - nobody knows. The only thing we can promise to our fans and the club is that we're going to do our best and try as hard as we can to achieve that.

When asked about the pressure to win the tournament when seemingly appearing the favourites, Silva responded: "I don't think it is anxiety but pressure. Pressure to win is nice because it means you're in a great club fighting for everything.

"It is pressure that we want because we want to win those competitions. Atletico are a great side also, I'm sure they have that same thing. There is lots of pressure from the fans to continue to win.

"They are the champions of Spain and they also have to do well in the Champions League. There is lots of pressure on both sides but we are players used to this and we will manage it really well."

Guardiola and Simeone have faced off four times before in their managerial career, with the latter eliminating the Spaniard's Bayern Munich on away goals in the 2015-16 Champions League semi-final.

Atletico averaged just 27 per cent possession across the two legs and scored twice from 18 shots, while Bayern netted the same number of goals from 53 attempts, and Silva believes Simeone's visitors will pose a unique challenge.

"Honestly, no. Maybe the style of play might be similar to some teams in the Premier League," he said of how Atletico compared to English teams.

"It's a team with some of the best players in the world. It's not comparable. Club teams in England, most or all, don't play like Atletico, which makes the game different. Very competitive, organised, with a specific style of play. It wasn't easy for [Manchester] United, Liverpool two years ago. It won't be easy for us but if we follow Pep's plan it will work out.

"The team I see today is better prepared than even last season. It comes from disappointment. We know each other better. It’s been five or six years we’ve been with Pep. We keep learning from our mistakes."

City's focus will quickly turn to a home clash with Liverpool on Sunday that is being labelled as a title decider, with Jurgen Klopp's side just a point behind Guardiola's leaders with eight games to play.

However, Silva suggested the crucial double-header within five days of each other is a compliment to the quality of his team.

"The players are used to it," he continued. "It’s a good sign and it means we are there to fight for titles. It's good to be able to fight for all of them. We enjoy it, playing against the best teams for the best competitions."

Bernardo Silva acknowledged the pressure on Portugal to qualify for the World Cup but assured his side can cope with the challenge of making Qatar.

Portugal overcame Turkey 3-1 in the play-off semi-final on Thursday, when Roberto Mancini's Italy crashed out to North Macedonia as Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a 92nd-minute winner in Palermo.

Fernando Santos' side boast home advantage in the final at Porto's Dragao Stadium as the Euro 2016 winners aim to qualify for a sixth straight World Cup, having previously failed to appear at three consecutive tournaments between 1990 and 1998.

Manchester City star Silva insisted that Portugal players will call upon their club experiences to deal with the expectations on them against North Macedonia on Tuesday.

"The responsibility of being present at the World Cup means that, regardless of the opponent, we have this pressure," Silva told reporters at Sunday's pre-match news conference.

"The pressure exists in that sense, and we accept it, and it would be the same against Italy, [North] Macedonia or anyone else. We are used to pressure at our clubs.

"Of course, having players with experience in decisive games helps. But the fact that North Macedonia haven't played as many games like these also makes their motivation levels higher."

North Macedonia are eyeing a first World Cup in their 27-year history, having qualified for Euro 2020 last year, and Silva knows Blagoja Milevski's team will by no means be pushovers.

"North Macedonia have won four of their last five away games, two of them against two of the best teams in the world [Germany, a 2-1 win in March 2021, and Italy]," he added.

"Let's do our homework, see what the coach's plan is and try to follow it in the best way, knowing that teams are different and will demand different things.

"We are a team that creates many chances. We also know that we need to control the counter-attacks, and the best way to do that is by moving the ball well.

"We know that we have a difficult task ahead of us, but we will do our best to overcome an opponent that we know will create some difficulties. It's 90 minutes, anything can happen, and we're sure it will be very difficult.

"We need to go to the game with the same idea and all rowing in the same direction. I'm sure things will go well."

Fellow midfielder Joao Moutinho echoed Silva's sentiments, though he admitted Portugal expected to contend with Italy for a place at the 2022 edition of FIFA's showpiece event.

"I won't lie to you: we were all expecting it was going to be Italy," Moutinho told reporters.

"Football is different nowadays, every team can win at this level; it doesn't matter the names, numbers or stats. North Macedonia have an extraordinary core and will do their best to make our life miserable on Tuesday."

Bernardo Silva insisted it is better to be in Manchester City's position rather than Liverpool's after the Premier League leaders were held at Crystal Palace.

Liverpool cut the gap on Pep Guardiola's side to three points with a 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, and City could only respond with a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park on Monday.

City were twice thwarted by the frame of the goal, with Kevin De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo denied either side of the interval, but Palace battled valiantly to share the spoils.

Silva also squandered a pair of glorious chances in either half, with his touch letting him down from close range in the first before nudging wide from Jack Grealish's low cross after the break.

Liverpool play their game in hand against Arsenal on Wednesday and could be top by the time the two sides meet at the Etihad Stadium on April 10, but Silva claimed he would rather be in his side's position.

"It was a tough game, we actually played well, we controlled the game apart from one or two times," Silva told Sky Sports after the match.

"We couldn't score, and we should've scored. Nine games to go, but it's still better to be in our position than in Liverpool's, and they have to play in our stadium, so it's going to be exciting.

"It's never easy to play at any team away in the Premier League. It's always better to win than draw, and we wanted to have an advantage of six points over Liverpool."

The goalless draw ended a run of 18 consecutive Premier League games in which City had scored, since a 2-0 defeat to Palace in October 2021.

Guardiola's side also mustered 18 shots in total without scoring against Palace, their biggest tally without a goal in the competition since their 18 efforts against Tottenham in August 2021.

City will be hoping to make amends in their next league outing at Burnley on April 2, after the international break and an FA Cup quarter-final trip to Southampton on Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino's future at Paris Saint-Germain is unclear amid rumblings that he wants out.

Manchester United have been linked with the ex-Tottenham manager, who took over at PSG in January last year.

The Red Devils dismissed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November, with Ralf Rangnick taking over on an interim basis.


TOP STORY – LOS BLANCOS KEEN ON POCHETTINO

Real Madrid are set to rival Manchester United to land Pochettino this off-season, claims the Daily Mail.

The Red Devils are understood to be circling for the Argentine, who is reportedly unhappy at Paris Saint-Germain.

But the report claims Madrid have doubts over current boss Carlo Ancelotti's future and believe that Pochettino is obtainable in the off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City's Portugal midfielder Bernardo Silva is dreaming of a switch to join Real Madrid, claims Calciomercato.

- Calciomercato also reports that Inter are monitoring Gabriel Jesus' status at City, with a view to bolstering their attack.

- Nicolo Schira reports that Atalanta are keen to move for Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti in the off-season when he is a free agent.

- TuttoMercatoWeb claims Arsenal, Newcastle United, Borussia Dortmund and Inter are all in the race to sign Lille's Canadian forward Jonathan David.

- GiveMeSport claims Liverpool are "seriously interested" in West Ham United's Jarrod Bowen.

- Roma are keen on signing Barcelona's USA international defender Sergino Dest according to Fichajes.

Pep Guardiola considered Bernardo Silva's first goal against Sporting CP on Tuesday "one of the best I've ever seen".

Silva, a former Benfica player returning to Lisbon, netted twice in Manchester City's stunning 5-0 defeat of Sporting in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

The moment of the match came 17 minutes in when the City midfielder thundered a half-volley in off the crossbar to put the visitors two up.

Silva had not scored a Champions League goal since the same stage of last year's tournament, with his two on Tuesday meaning five of his eight City strikes in the competition have been netted in the last 16.

This was Silva's first ever Champions League brace and took him to 10 goals for the season in all competitions – his most in a single club campaign since 13 in 2018-19.

Guardiola has long felt Silva could score more often, as he told a news conference: "Always I tell him: Bernardo, you are a perfect player, defensively so intuitive, can run 12km, 13km – but with sense, not just running for running – and with the ball he's more than exceptional.

"But I always say: you have to score goals, you have to win games, you have the ability to do it.

"And today, with the [first] goal, he scored one of the best I've ever seen – for the technique, for everything. Hopefully he can get confidence [from the goal]."

Silva also added his third assist of the season for Raheem Sterling's fifth goal, while his three tackles were a joint-high among City players in an all-action display that showed why Guardiola considers the midfielder "unique".

"He can play in six roles, easily," the City manager said. "He doesn't just play football; he understands the game. There are players that play good with the ball, but he understands the game, exactly what he needs with every action.

"There are few in the world [like him], few. He's a fantastic player.

"Hopefully he can stay with Man City for many, many years, but it depends of course the club will decide and himself."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said his players can do much better despite a record-breaking 5-0 win over Sporting CP in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

City became the first team in Champions League history to lead an away knockout match by four goals at the break after a brace from Bernardo Silva and strikes from Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

Raheem Sterling added a sublime fifth after the interval as City racked up the joint-biggest winning margin in a Champions League knockout game.

It was also the Premier League champions' biggest ever win in an away game in any round of the competition.

While acknowledging his side's ruthlessness in front of goal, Guardiola did criticise his side for giving the ball away cheaply.

Asked if it was a perfect performance, Guardiola told BT Sport: "No. Some players underperformed and we lost easy balls, but we were so clinical.

"We saw in the first five or six minutes how good Sporting are. The difference between the two teams is not 5-0 but we were so clinical. We punished them.

"There is one rule in football when you have the ball and that's not to lose it. We had some simple passes that we lost. Against the top sides in Europe we would be punished.

"It's just a game with a fantastic result. We have one more game to be in the quarter-finals and this is what you want but the players know with me and the way we work that we can do better.

"I'm incredibly happy, please don't misunderstand me, but we can do better."

Lisbon-born Silva, who started his career at Sporting's city rivals Benfica, registered his first goals in the Champions League since netting in the last 16 in last year's competition.

Indeed, five of his eight Champions League goals for the Citizens have come in this round.

But despite City's commanding lead, the 27-year-old insisted they will not take next month's second leg lightly.

"I am Portuguese and I'm from the other side of the city so it was special to score here in my hometown," he said.

"It was nice to start the last 16 with a 5-0 win. It's always an extra motivation to come here to Lisbon in such an important game. There is still a job to do in Manchester. We cannot relax.

"It was a very good performance. In the first half we were in that mood to win 4-0. We were a bit sloppy which gave them the opportunity to counter-attack but we were very clinical.

"You need some luck as well. We are very happy with the win. To win 5-0 away is a great result and it's a great performance.

"Sometimes you play better than we did in that first half and we have gone in 0-0. We can always still improve."

City are next in action on Saturday when they host Tottenham in the Premier League.

Bernardo Silva scored twice as Manchester City made Champions League history with an emphatic 5-0 away win over Sporting CP in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Riyad Mahrez got them on their way with a simple finish early on before Silva added a second with a thunderous strike before the midway point of the first half.

Phil Foden scored a third shortly after the half-hour mark and Silva got his second before half-time as Pep Guardiola's side became the first team in Champions League history to lead an away knockout match by four goals at the break.

Raheem Sterling added a superb fifth in the second half, with City's progress to the quarter-finals all but secured ahead of the return fixture in Manchester next month. 

City started at a blistering pace and went ahead in the seventh minute, Mahrez slotting in Kevin De Bruyne's pull-back after Antonio Adan had parried Foden's effort.

John Stones headed wide soon after, yet City doubled their advantage after 17 minutes when Silva crashed a sumptuous half-volley in off the crossbar from 10 yards.

City's dominance heralded a third goal in the 32nd minute, Foden stroking in from close range after Mahrez's low cross had squeezed past two Sporting defenders.

They made it 4-0 before the break when Silva’s strike from Sterling's pull-back was diverted past Adan by the unfortunate Goncalo Bernardo Inacio.

Silva saw a header ruled out for offside shortly after the interval, yet they added a fifth in the 58th minute courtesy of Sterling's wonderful curled strike from 20 yards.
 

What does it mean? City blow hosts away

City were utterly electric in the opening 45 minutes, effectively ending the tie with a game and a half remaining thanks to some ruthless finishing.

They cooled off somewhat in the second period, although Sterling's glorious strike meant they became the 14th team to score 200 goals in the Champions League. It took them 97 games to reach that milestone – fewer than any of the other 13 teams to do it in the competition.

Sterling's landmark goal

Sterling brought up his 150th club goal with a wonderful strike after the break, while the England international also left Portugal with an assist after teeing up Silva's second goal.

Poor Porro

Pedro Porro did not enjoy the most fruitful of outings against his parent club, the Spaniard losing possession a joint game-high 19 times, while he failed to have a shot or play a single key pass.

What's next?

Both sides are back in domestic action at the weekend, with City hosting Tottenham on Saturday and Sporting at home to Estoril a day later.

Manchester City became the first team in Champions League history to lead an away knockout game by four goals at half-time after a blistering opening 45 minutes against Sporting CP. 

Riyad Mahrez got City on their way after seven minutes on Tuesday before Bernardo Silva doubled their advantage with a sublime half-volley 10 minutes later. 

Phil Foden added a third shortly after the half-hour mark as City's dominance continued. 

Silva then netted his second shortly before the interval as Pep Guardiola's side wrote their names into the record books once again.

Manchester City youngster Cole Palmer could have a similar trajectory to that of Phil Foden, according to Pep Guardiola's assistant Rodolfo Borrell.

Palmer played a crucial role in City's 4-1 FA Cup third-round win over Swindon Town on Friday, setting up the opener for Bernardo Silva before netting his maiden goal in the competition late on with a gorgeous strike.

It was an all-round positive display from the right-winger, whose close ball control and technical ability made him a constant nuisance to the fourth-tier opposition, while he also proved a reliable creative outlet.

No player on the pitch could match his four chances created, and his overall positivity on and off the ball led to him registering four more touches (14) in the penalty area than anyone else.

That led to a game-high total of five shots, four of which were from inside the box, including his well-taken goal.

 

The 19-year-old was making his 10th competitive appearance of the season across all competitions and looked at home alongside seasoned superstars like Kevin De Bruyne and Silva.

Borrell, who was in charge due to Guardiola testing positive for coronavirus, suggested they are looking at Palmer's development in a similar light to that of Foden.

With it put to Borrell that Palmer looked "special", the coach told ITV Sport: "Yes, it's true, we have him training with us [the first team] on a regular basis.

"He has great quality, everyone has been able to see this. He's a great player, still needs developing quite a lot but there is obviously a lot of talent there.

"Hopefully very soon he can play more minutes with us like Phil Foden a couple of years ago."

Borrell attempted to temper any comparisons between the two City youth products, but he did not hide his excitement about Palmer.

He continued: "They're completely different players and obviously Phil has shown… I'm not going say [Foden's shown] more than him, but obviously he's older than [Palmer] and has had more opportunities.

 

"At the end of the day, they're two great players. Right now, Phil is already established in our first team and in the national team.

"With Cole, he obviously has the talent and the ingredients to become [something similar] but let's see.

"It's in his hands, he has to keep working hard and performing consistently at a good level."

Ultimately there was little for City to worry about at the County Ground, with Guardiola's absence no more than a footnote.

As it turned out, he had little to do with the game once it started, such is his belief in his coaches.

Borrell added: "We were in touch at half-time. There was not a massive change because everything was as planned as before.

"He has great confidence in all of us. Not just me but all the backroom staff, we have been with him a long time.

 

"We planned all of this together but to be honest with you, after the start of the game he said, 'listen, do as if I wasn't there and obviously if you need anything, keep in touch, and we'll chat at half-time'.

"He has huge confidence in us and I'm grateful, we are grateful. Everything was as planned and it has been a great experience for me and for all of us."

Manchester City ran out comfortable 4-1 winners over hosts Swindon Town in Friday's FA Cup third-round clash.

City, under the guidance of assistant coach Rodolfo Borrell after Pep Guardiola contracted COVID-19, never looked in danger of suffering a first FA Cup defeat to a side from the fourth tier or lower since 1984.

The visitors were cruising by the half-hour mark, with Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus getting the goals.

Ilkay Gundogan buried a fine free-kick with just under an hour played to put the game beyond doubt, before Harry McKirdy got a consolation.

Cole Palmer's gorgeous late strike finished the League Two side off and capped a great performance late on.

Swindon were lucky to hold out for 14 minutes, but Silva – who had previously wasted two great chances – was never going to miss when the excellent Palmer presented him with a tap-in.

City then pounced on Louis Reed's questionable flick just outside his own area as Swindon attempted to play out from the back, with Kevin De Bruyne feeding Jesus into the box for a simple finish.

The contest was over – if it wasn't already – in the 59th minute as Gundogan cleverly curled his free-kick around the wall and into the bottom-right corner.

The Swindon goalkeeper's wall positioning may have played a part, though Lewis Ward went some way to making amends when saving Jesus' penalty after Jordan Lyden fouled the Brazilian.

City could not keep a clean sheet, with Jonny Williams capitalising on Rodri's error and playing McKirdy into the area to finish past the suspect Zack Steffen.

But the away side had the last laugh, Palmer planting an exceptional finish into the top-left corner.

 

Reigning champions Manchester City end the year as hot favourites to win the Premier League again, but how many of Pep Guardiola's players should make it into a team of the year?

Do any of the Manchester United players Gary Neville described as "whingebags" deserve a place in an elite XI? And is there a case to be made for any players from beyond the 'big six'?

The answers to those questions are: a) five, by our estimations; b) yes; and c) yes.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform selected a dream team for 2021, packed with standout performers from the calendar year.

Safe hands? It has to be Mendy

Chelsea's Edouard Mendy had a save percentage of 74.36, which put him fourth among goalkeepers with five or more Premier League appearances. Curiously, his Blues club-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga headed that list with an 81.82 per cent record, but he only played five Premier League games: the Spaniard's previous inconsistency and propensity to make expensive errors cost him a regular place.

Mendy has demonstrated reliability and Chelsea's upturn in form under Thomas Tuchel, highlighted by their Champions League triumph, owed a lot to the man at the back. He had 18 clean sheets in 38 Premier League games and in this team of the year he edges out the likes of Arsenal's former Sheffield United shot-stopper Aaron Ramsdale, and Wolves' outstanding Jose Sa (80.28 per cent save percentage in 18 games – a half-season wonder so far).

Risk-takers on the defensive flanks, no-nonsense in the middle

Top of the defenders' league for assists (13) and ball recoveries (308), Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold remains a sensational presence at right-back. He is much closer to the bottom of the league when it comes to duel success (46.77 per cent), and being dribbled past by opposition players (34 incidences), but his strengths are such that Liverpool can put up with those figures. The playmaker at full-back might be prone to an occasional error, but his service from the flanks has often been a match-winning ingredient in the Reds' mix.

Similar can be said for Manchester City's Joao Cancelo, a first-class operator on either defensive flank. He has three goals and six assists in the league over the year and has created 39 chances from open play, putting him in the top five among defenders in the latter metric (Alexander-Arnold's 67 leads the way). Cancelo has a healthy tackle success rate of 66.27 per cent, but he has also been dribbled past 53 times by opponents, more than any other defender and has made three errors leading to shots (Harry Maguire tops this list, with six errors). Cancelo is imperfect, but also often quite brilliant.

In the centre of defence, Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger might be in his last season at Stamford Bridge, amid speculation linking him with Real Madrid and others. He has been largely formidable, developing a strong alliance with Thiago Silva. Only three defenders with more than 20 Premier League appearances across the year managed to top 60 per cent for duel success (Rudiger: 63.75) and 70 per cent for tackle success (Rudiger: 73.08) while being dribbled past no more than 10 times (Rudiger: 10). Surprisingly, one of those was Newcastle's Ciaran Clark. The others were Rudiger and Silva, and you could have either in a team of the year.

Ruben Dias has been the Rolls-Royce engine in Manchester City's defence: powerful and classy, surely built to last. His passing accuracy of 93.28 per cent has been beaten only by one defender in the league – team-mate Aymeric Laporte (93.91) – with Dias also managing three goals and two assists in 2021, his first full year in English football. City are no longer crying out for a Vincent Kompany replacement: Dias, 24, could be the cornerstone of their defence for many seasons to come.

Midfield marvels... from Manchester

Is Bruno Fernandes a maestro or a "whingebag"? Neville used the latter description after Manchester United's draw at Newcastle, but he would doubtless concur on the former too, given it has not been all shoulder shrugs and finger-pointing from the mercurial Portuguese this year. In 2020, Fernandes had 18 goals and 14 assists, alongside 60 open-play chances created. He has played more games this year (39, compared to 29 in 2021) and finished up with 13 goals, eight assists and 79 open-play chances created. His 21 goal involvements lead the way among midfielders, and even if those have dried up in recent weeks – he had just one goal and one assist in his final nine league games of the year – he had already done enough.

Across Manchester, Ilkay Gundogan was a revelation for City, particularly during a purple patch last season. He ends the year with 15 goals, the most of any midfielder, adding five assists from the 44 open-play chances he created, and had a princely passing accuracy in the opposition half of 90.09 per cent. Among Premier League players with more than 30 games, that accuracy was only beaten by Gundogan's City team-mates Bernardo Silva (90.23) and Rodri (90.74).

Of course Bernardo Silva makes the team too, a flagrant example of recency bias after the Portuguese's five goals in five league games from early November to early December. With his nine goals and seven assists across the Premier League year, and his determined dribbling (109 dribbling attempts - second only to Burnley's Dwight McNeil among midfielders), the ever-elegant Bernardo just edges out Manchester City team-mate and previously perennial all-star Kevin De Bruyne.

What a year it has been for Phil Foden, another City star to make this team. Granted, it would have been better had City won the Champions League final on his 21st birthday, but the young man from Stockport has continued his growth at Premier League level, bagging 12 goals and seven assists and another title. Those goals have come at an average of 0.53 per 90 minutes, and the assists at one every 0.31 per 90. He is top five in both per-90 aspects among midfielders, but is Foden still truly a midfielder? The twinkle-toed local lad has been deployed in the frontline frequently, looking at home wherever Pep Guardiola decides he should be slotted.

Standout Salah, remarkable Raphinha

Where would Leeds United be without Raphinha? Rumours of Bayern Munich interest surfaced in December, and his numbers tell us why the German giants might fancy the Brazilian. His 20 goal involvements (12 goals, eight assists) put him joint-fifth among Premier League forwards, with only Mohamed Salah (35), Michail Antonio (24), Harry Kane (23) and Son Heung-min (22) ahead of Raphinha. The former Rennes player attempted 194 dribbles (only Adama Traore, 252, and Allan Saint-Maximin, 238, tried more) and he also played far more passes into the final third than any other forward (198 – Leandro Trossard second on this list with 136). Raphinha got stuck in too, making 50 tackles (only Jordan Ayew, with 60, attempted more among forwards).

Mohamed Salah became the first player to score 20 or more goals in five consecutive seasons for Liverpool in all competitions since Ian Rush from 1981-82 to 1986-87 (six in a row). That is the remarkable level he has reached, and with his own long-term future still somewhat in doubt, Liverpool will be making every effort to retain the Egyptian. In the year when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the Premier League, the Portuguese was resoundingly outshone by Liverpool's star forward. Salah had more touches in the opposition box than any other player in 2021 (383), and he made good use of those. He created 67 chances from open play, and the goals and assists hauls were both league-highs among forwards.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future at Arsenal is murky.

Aubameyang lost the captaincy and was suspended for disciplinary reasons last week.

The 32-year-old has been with Arsenal since moving from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE INTERESTED IN AUBA MOVE

Tuttosport claims that Juventus are interested in signing Aubameyang with his future at Arsenal uncertain.

The Gabon international was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week for disciplinary reasons, creating doubts about his future under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.

The Bianconeri would be interested in signing the 32-year-old on a six-month loan deal.

ROUND-UP

- Cashed-up Newcastle United are looking to sign Anthony Martial on loan from Manchester United in January, reports the Sun.

- Barcelona have made Manchester United's veteran Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani their top January target according to Sport.

- Barcelona are also interested in forgotten Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata, claims the Star.

- The Sun claims Leeds United are considering a move for Juventus' US international Weston McKennie who is valued at £20 million.

- AS reports that Manchester United are set to enter into the race for Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Chelsea are also keen on the French defender.

- Manchester City are set to reward Bernardo Silva for his good form, with a lucrative new contract where his salary will be doubled, claims the Sun.

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