Pep Guardiola has long known the lot of the holding midfielder.

During his playing days, Guardiola operated at the base of Barcelona's engine room as the likes of Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo took the plaudits higher up the field.

In his Manchester City side, who claimed a 15th successive win across all competitions this week to set a new record in English top-flight history, the attacking stars also trip off the tongue.

Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying the most prolific season of his career from midfield and was named Premier League Player of the Month on Friday, while Phil Foden's rapid rise is firing enthusiasm over England's Euro 2020 prospects.

City's all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero and star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne are still to return to the mix after spells on the sidelines, but another less-glamorous player has been there throughout the dominant run.

No one in Guardiola's squad has made more than Rodri's 21 appearances, the Spain international having made the anchor role his own.

"The best holding midfielders never appear in the newspapers, in the front pages," the City manager said ahead of Saturday's game against Tottenham.

"They hide behind the team but when [the team] plays good it is because they are playing outstanding."

Since a 2-0 defeat to Spurs last November, City are undefeated in 22 matches - something that reflects very well indeed on Rodri in Guardiola's eyes.

 

A £62.8million signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2019, the 24-year-old's first season in English football proved a struggle at times.

Without Aymeric Laporte through injury for large chunks of the season, the defence Rodri was charged with protecting often looked vulnerable.

Fernandinho being pressed into action at centre-back meant the new man was left to learn on the job as Guardiola sought and struggled for midfield balance.

But Rodri has started to thrive in the months since City last tasted defeat, with Ruben Dias at the heart of defence and an attacking line ahead of him displaying its fluidity of old.

"He adapted quickly, immediately. He's still young and there are some issues that he still has to learn but he will learn them," Guardiola said. "He's a really important player for us."

No Premier League player has attempted more than Rodri's 1,723 passes this season and he retains an impressive 90.3 per cent accuracy across that volume of work.

The quality of possession Rodri plays a part in and often launches is notable.

According to Opta, he has initiated 36 open play sequences leading to a shot and five resulting in goals - both league-best returns.

Similarly, Rodri is out on his own with 81 involvements in open play build-ups concluding with a shot, while weekend opponent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the only man who can match the Spaniard's 11 involvements in build-ups preceding a goal.

Smoothness on the ball is a pre-requisite for any Guardiola player, especially one operating in the Catalan's old position, but Rodri has also shown an aptitude for the dirty work required to keep City's pristine machine on the road.

None of his team-mates can boast more than his 174 recoveries this term - 10th in the Premier League overall. Rodri also leads the way at City for tackles (40) and duels won (128), while winning 52 of 70 aerials contested – that is unmatched in the top-flight leaders' squad as well.

"A good holding midfielder plays for the other ones and not for himself. These are the best holding midfielders," Guardiola said.

"They think what's happening, what they have to do to correct the mistakes of the other ones and don't play for the highlights."

Leicester City's Champions League aspirations suffered a major blow with the news full-back James Justin will require surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Justin hurt his knee in Leicester's FA Cup win over Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday and was taken off on a stretcher.

Manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed the severity of the injury in Friday's pre-match media conference ahead of their Premier League meeting with Liverpool.

"Sadly the scan hasn't shown up so well, which is a massive blow for us," Rodgers said.

"He looks like he's done his ACL, which is a devastating blow for us because he's been incredible since he came into the team last year.

"He's played in many positions. Wherever I've asked him to play, whatever position, he's been a minimum eight out of 10 and developing as a top Premier League player."

Rodgers' words are supported by the Opta data, with Justin clearly emerging as one of the better attacking full-backs in the league and among Leicester's top outlets going forward.

Justin has created 20 chances in the league this season, level with attacking midfielder Harvey Barnes and behind only James Maddison, who has crafted double that amount in an excellent campaign, among Leicester players.

The gap between Maddison and Justin in chances created from open play is significantly closer. Maddison still has the edge, but only by a 24-19 margin.

Marc Albrighton (5) is the only Leicester player to set up more 'big chances' for his team-mates than Justin (4).

Only one of Justin's chances created has resulted in an assist, though his proficiency in starting attacks is illustrated by his accuracy on passes into the final third.

He has been successful with 74 per cent of such passes, second only to Maddison (75).

Among Premier League defenders who have played at least 10 games, Justin has created the 12th-most chances and the fifth-most big chances.

Just seven defenders have generated more chances from open play, Joao Cancelo leading the way with (30), while seven defenders have a higher number of passes into the final third than Justin's 312.

Leicester will face the top two players in that regard, Andrew Robertson (577) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (508), when they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that teenagers Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri will be promoted to Manchester United's senior squad.

The young attackers have been playing for United's Under-23s this season and blossomed in Neil Wood's free-scoring team.

Still just 17 and 18, respectively, Shoretire and Mejbri are seemingly now considered a level above that which United's second team play, with both looking destined for big futures.

Shoretire was spotted training with the United first-team squad last week and Mejbri is set to join him, with Solskjaer confirming it is his plan to integrate both into the senior group.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Solskjaer said: "Yeah, we've moved Shola up with us, Hannibal will probably join us, and we'll keep them with us for a while.

"Of course, it's a decision we have to make – are they going to train with us and travel by themselves and not be a part of the Under-23s group?

"We felt, with Shola, it was time for him to train with us. In the Under-23s games, he's just got to travel by himself; he can't be in the dressing room, but we felt it was the right thing to do for him.

"I think it's the next step in their development and we've just got to take the hit on them when they play in the Under-23s – that they've got to travel by themselves, because they're in our [first-team] bubble."

Shoretire and Mejbri have long been considered among the best prospects in United's academy, but what can they offer?

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Jose Mourinho believes Tottenham must be "perfect" to stop Manchester City racking up a 16th straight win on Saturday, and Harry Kane is poised for a key role.

City's last defeat in any competition came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in November, when Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso struck to stun Pep Guardiola's visitors.

What has become a record-breaking run of wins for any English top-flight team began in December, and it appears City are charging towards the Premier League title following last Sunday's 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool.

Spurs led the way briefly before Christmas, but their season has unravelled and they enter the weekend in eighth spot, already 14 points behind City.

The 5-4 FA Cup defeat at Everton on Wednesday was another jolt and Mourinho's stewardship is again coming under scrutiny, with the head coach seeking an upturn in momentum.

Mourinho will usually dissect the post-match data of Tottenham's game, but when presented with the file from the Everton game he recognised it was too bleak an experience to relive.

"I opened and in two seconds I closed it immediately because I didn't want to go through it," he said on Friday.

"And I don't want even to share that with my players."

Among those players, Mourinho says Kane is fit and well. The England captain came off the bench early for Spurs in the second half at Everton, with his equaliser sending the game into extra time.

Mourinho had hoped Kane would only play a fleeting role at Goodison Park, having only returned from injury in last weekend's win over West Brom.

"He played 60 minutes or so, which he didn't want and I didn't want, but it was the game that pushed us in that direction, but no negative feelings after the game, just the normal stiffness. I believe he can start," Mourinho said.

It is hard to imagine Tottenham standing any chance against this rampant City side without Kane, who has scored the opening goal in more Premier League games than any other player this season (6).

Kane remains the main man, despite Son netting six goals in his past eight games against City across all competitions, with only Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (9) having scored more against the Etihad Stadium side since Guardiola was appointed.

The Kane-Son combination makes Spurs tick, and without one or the other, their threat diminishes.

Both have 13 league goals this season, with Kane also having 11 assists and Son six.

Tottenham have played two Premier League games without Kane this season, losing both times, so to have him absent against a side of City's stature would be asking for trouble.

"They're a very, very good team with a fantastic run of results, no doubts about that," Mourinho said. "It's always difficult to play against Man City. There is nothing new about it. They are probably now the biggest candidate to win the title which is not a big surprise.

"We beat them because we played so, so, so, so well in that match, and that's the only way any team can beat Man City."

Since that November defeat to Spurs, City have gone unbeaten in 14 Premier League games, winning 12 and drawing twice, conceding just three goals in that time.

"You make a defensive mistake and they'll kill you," Mourinho said. "You just look to the pragmatism of the numbers and what is Man City in this moment? It is a team that wins matches, it is a team that scores goals, and it is a team that doesn't concede goals.

"So when you play against a team with these very clear numbers, you know it is very difficult to stop them to score, because they score all the time, and you know it is difficult to score goals, because they don't concede.

"So you have to play a perfect match, like we did when we played them here at home.

"I don't see any weakness, that why I say to win the game we need to be perfect in every aspect and every minute because they are really a very strong team."

Stefano Pioli remains confident Milan can agree contract extensions to keep Hakan Calhanoglu and Gianluigi Donnarumma at the club. 

Both goalkeeper Donnarumma and midfielder Calhanoglu – two influential players in helping Milan sit top of Serie A – have expiring deals, along with talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

Technical director Paolo Maldini recently said Milan hope to reach terms to retain the trio beyond the current campaign, with head coach Pioli wanting them to stay as they build for the future.  

"The important thing is that both the club and the technical group have already had their say in a convincing way," Pioli said of contract negotiations ahead of Saturday's trip to Spezia.  

"We are happy to be able to continue the journey together and the boys are also very determined. 

"We all want to do well, the club is building something important and we are all focused on doing the best." 

Donnarumma has played in 20 of 21 league games under Pioli this season. The 21-year-old boasts a save percentage of 73.33 in Serie A – only Lazio's Pepe Reina (73.68) has managed better out of all the goalkeepers to feature at least 10 times in the competition. 

Calhanoglu, meanwhile, has a league-leading eight assists despite missing three games after testing positive for coronavirus. Indeed, since the beginning of December, he has set up seven goals in Serie A, the joint-most in the top five European Leagues, along with Kingsley Coman at Bayern Munich. 

The Turkey international will be back in the team to face Spezia as Milan aim to avoid a first league loss on the road since December 22, 2019. 

"Calhanoglu will start, either (Ante) Rebic or (Rafael) Leao will play on the left," Pioli said on Friday. "We will see what will happen – we want to get to the end of the season without regrets.

"We have ample room for improvement, we must raise our level because expectations are now high."

Pioli received praise from Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis for his work this week, with the pair united in their aim to help the Rossoneri become a dominant force again, both domestically and in Europe.

"We are in tune and his statements have made me very happy, our relationship with time has grown," Pioli said of the comments made by Gazidis.

"With the club we are going in the same direction and we have only one goal, to bring Milan back up. There have never been divisions and we must continue like this."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer applauded Fred for building a career for himself at Manchester United after a rocky start, with the midfielder preparing to make his 100th appearance for the club.

Fred joined United in 2018 for a reported £52million from Shakhtar Donetsk, the deal seen as a significant coup for the Red Devils after he had been heavily linked with bitter rivals Manchester City. 

Pep Guardiola was said to have seen Fred as the ideal long-term replacement for Fernandinho, but United fans were left underwhelmed by what they saw in his first season at Old Trafford, making just 17 Premier League appearances. 

But he showed signs of improvement last season and has become one of Solskjaer's go-to players for the biggest matches, highlighting the manager's trust. 

In 2019-20, Fred improved virtually across the board statistically, averaging more passes (66.4 to 69.5), interceptions (1.4 to 1.6) and touches (85.3 to 91.1) per game than he had in his first season. 

He has dropped off in some of those areas this term, but his increase in tackle attempts (3.2 from 2.5) and interceptions (at 1.9 this season) per game, coupled with the fact he is losing possession less often (11.5 occasions, down from 14.5 per 90 minutes) suggests he has become more comfortable with his defensive role and the speed of the English game. 

His 3.2 tackles attempted per 90 minutes is the seventh-most of all Premier League players to have featured at least 10 times this term, and Solskjaer has no doubt where the praise should lie. 

"He's really done well. I've enjoyed working with him these past couple of seasons," Solskjaer told reporters ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom. 

"When I came in, he was a boy who was struggling a little bit. I got numerous questions about Fred in press conferences early on. As I said then, players coming into a new country, it takes time to settle - and it took some time for Fred to settle. 

"He has settled now, he's grown in confidence. There's less time in the Premier League than what he was used to. He's quickened up his game, he's not getting caught on the ball.

"I'm not going to take any credit for that, of course. It's the coaches - I think Michael Carrick and Kieran [McKenna], they've been brilliant with him, but it's Fred himself who has had the hunger and humility to learn and want to improve, stick at it and keep working. 

"There are not a lot of people who can say they've played 100 games for Manchester United. Hopefully there will be many more [games] to come - and hopefully he will score from outside the box soon, but I'm not sure it’s going to be with his right [foot]! I've tried to tell him." 

With Solskjaer confirming Paul Pogba remains sidelined with a thigh injury, Fred looks likely to play again this weekend and his most-likely partner behind Bruno Fernandes will be another United midfielder who has attracted praise this season. 

Scott McTominay scored the extra-time winner as United beat West Ham 1-0 on Tuesday to book their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals, taking the Scotland international's tally for the season to seven goals. 

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) and Marcus Rashford (16) have more than McTominay across all competitions in 2020-21, with Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani also on seven each, and Solskjaer is urging the midfielder to reach double figures. 

"Of course, to add goals from midfield is vital," Solskjaer continued. "Last season our three forwards were brilliant and really efficient and scored goals - 60 odd - and Bruno came in and scored goals. 

"We need more goals from midfield and Scott does have that ability to go box-to-box. He's a threat inside the box and he used to be a striker. 

"I think for us to move up the league and be successful in the cups, we need our forwards to keep on firing - getting more goals - and I wouldn't mind some midfielders adding a few.

"If Scott can get into double figures then that would be a very good season for a so-called defensive midfielder."

Ronald Koeman insists the match in LaLiga between Barcelona and Deportivo Alaves is more important to him than discussing Paris Saint-Germain or Neymar.

A huge Champions League last-16 tie between Barca and PSG begins at Camp Nou on Tuesday and Neymar has been ruled out against his former club through injury.

But Barca boss Koeman stressed the home Alaves match on Saturday was most important to him because it is what comes next.

He also suggested he was considering squad rotation but would not make significant changes prior to the PSG game because he lacks options.

Barca lost 2-0 to Sevilla last time out on Wednesday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie. It was their first defeat inside 90 minutes in 17 matches across all competitions.

But they have won seven and drawn one of their last eight LaLiga games with Alaves.

"I don't think Neymar is an Alaves player," Koeman said when asked about the injury to the PSG forward.

"This is a question for Monday, not for today. I'm not talking about Neymar, I'm not talking about PSG.

"Saturday's game is more important than Tuesday's. We are going game by game and we want to continue our good streak.

"The result of the Sevilla game is there but we played a very good game. If we repeat the game, we do not lose.

"We dominated in many areas against Sevilla, but you also have to have a bit of luck. We need freshness, but the team is feeling very well.

"You don't play a second half like we did in Seville if the team is not physically well."

Defenders Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo are unlikely to be risked against Alaves.

Koeman added: "Sergino Dest, Miralem Pjanic and Martin Braithwaite have done something [in training on Friday].

"[On Saturday] there is training and we will decide if they are on the squad list.

"For Araujo or Pique, I always believe in the margin of a risk. The objective is to recover players until the end of the season.

"If it is the last game of the season, you can risk more, but I am not in favour of risking a lot for a game.

"Those players have to recover well and step by step. If they are there and they can play, even better."

On the prospect of rotation, he continued: "Of course there are players who have been playing for many minutes with us not having everyone available.

"You have to think about giving rest to those players to be well in the next game. [But] not many [will be rotated], because there is not much we can change either.

"We look at the players, we train and we will decide. By winning the game, you are always mentally less tired than when you don't win.

"The goal is to win. But first you have to play and it will be difficult."

The Alaves match will start a run of four consecutive home games and Koeman added: "It's good to have back-to-back games at home because you save yourself traveling.

"We can rest more now and hopefully we will get players back to start having a very competitive squad again.

"It is good to see the youth team players and the youngsters play, but we need our more competitive players back."

Lionel Messi has scored 10 goals against Alaves in LaLiga in as many appearances against them, including four in his last three.

If he plays against Alaves, he will equal the record held by Xavi for most Barca league appearances by playing in his 504th top-flight match.

Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza set up a blockbuster clash at the Australian Open, while Aryna Sabalenka cannot wait to face Serena Williams.

As Williams was tested before winning through, Osaka and Muguruza raced through their third-round outings in Melbourne on Friday.

Osaka and Muguruza dropped just seven games between them to set up what will be their first meeting, which will take place without fans in attendance as Victoria prepares to move into a five-day lockdown beginning on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns.

Sabalenka also progressed and will next face Williams, while Simona Halep cruised through.

 

OSAKA, MUGURUZA STORM THROUGH

Osaka, the three-time grand slam champion, brushed past fellow seed Ons Jabeur 6-3 6-2 in the third round.

The Japanese star, winner of the Australian Open in 2019, is looking forward to facing fellow major champion Muguruza.

"I've practised with her once, but it was on grass, and I was younger. It was maybe like a couple years ago," Osaka said.

"But I just remember being really impressed by her, and for me, I've watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open when I was younger, and I've always wanted to have the chance to play her. So for me, this is really exciting."

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's strong start to the Australian Open continued with a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Zarina Diyas.

"I don't think we've played each other before. Just looking forward for a fourth round, a good fourth round, playing the top players," Muguruza – who has lost just 10 games in the first three rounds – said ahead of facing Osaka. "I feel like that's always the right way, you know, a good sign. Just expecting a good match."

 

JOB DONE FOR SERENA

Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title remains on track after overcoming Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

In her 101st Australian Open match, Williams secured her 90th career victory in Melbourne. The 39-year-old also improved her overall slam record to 360-51 – Martina Navratilova (306-49) is the only other player to pass 300 wins in the Open Era.

Next up for Williams is Sabalenka, who was too good for Ann Li, winning 6-3 6-1 to reach a major fourth round for just the second time in her career and first in Melbourne.

The Belarusian seventh seed is not daunted by the task facing her when she meets the American for the first time.

"I want to get this thrill. Can I say thrill? I said it right. So it's going to be a thrill. But, yeah. I'm going to do everything I can," Sabalenka said.

 

HALEP THROUGH AS SEEDS CRUISE

Halep reached the fourth round in Melbourne for the sixth time with a convincing 6-1 6-3 win over Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Awaiting the two-time major winner in the fourth round is Iga Swiatek after the Polish 15th seed got past Fiona Ferro 6-4 6-3.

Swiatek thrashed Halep 6-1 6-2 on her way to the French Open title last year.

Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time after beating Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-4.

Up next for the Czech 19th seed is Hsieh Su-wei, who battled past Sara Errani 6-4 2-6 7-5 after two hours and 44 minutes.

Errani had won her previous three meetings with Hsieh in straight sets, including winning a set 6-0 - known as a 'bagel' in tennis parlance - in each of those victories.

It meant Hsieh, 35, had a simple plan against the Italian.

"I don't remember when I lose to someone but someone reminded me I eat the bagel every time so I said, 'Okay, I will try to not take any bagel today'," she said.

Jurgen Klopp promised Alisson has the full support of Liverpool's dressing room as he backed the goalkeeper to bounce back from his Manchester City nightmare.

The Reds boss also revealed that Fabinho has suffered an injury blow, ruling the midfielder turned stand-in centre-back out of Saturday's trip to Leicester City.

In his tale of two Brazilians, Klopp said he had taken Alisson aside this week to check on the shot-stopper after his error-plagued performance in Sunday's 4-1 defeat to Pep Guardiola's men at Anfield.

Two poor clearances with his feet presented City with chances from which they ruthlessly capitalised, and now Liverpool are 10 points adrift in the Premier League title race, the champions' hopes of a successful defence seemingly in tatters.

Klopp said: "We had of course a little talk. If it was about encouragement or what, I don't know. It's just a little talk.

"He was not happy that it happened, of course, but it's very important in a moment like this to realise in a long career goalkeepers make mistakes.

"For a goalkeeper of the quality of Alisson Becker it's pretty rare that he makes this kind of mistakes, and that he makes two of them in one game, that's clear as well.

"But goalkeepers are used to making mistakes. It means they have to stay in a game. They concede a goal and they know earlier than maybe all the rest of the world – 'I should have saved it' – and have to deal with that always.

"He has just a few days in between the City game and this game and there was absolutely no real criticism from our side, from the boys, the players around him, because everybody knows how good he is.

"He is a very calm person and now the next game is coming up and he can play his normal level again, then everything will be fine."

Klopp said Fabinho had a "little muscle issue" that rules him out of contention for the King Power Stadium clash with a Leicester side who sit three points above Liverpool in the table.

Ozan Kabak, on loan from Schalke, could be an option to replace Fabinho at centre-back, but Klopp would not be drawn on who would figure in his defence.

He said Liverpool must "fight through a situation like this because nobody will help you", and pointed to the threats posed by Leicester's Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes.

The German boss described fast-improving winger Barnes as "one of the biggest talents ... an unbelievable player".

Klopp must also know Vardy will relish facing a defence that has looked as vulnerable as Liverpool's in recent times.

"Jamie's obviously a proper challenge in this league, the way he plays and the way he gets set up by his mates," Klopp said.

He said taming Vardy would require a collective effort.

"That's a proper job to do, but you only can do it always with the whole team," Klopp said.

"Jamie's a world-class player for sure in a specific area of the pitch and with his speed that's really tricky."


What have Liverpool got to worry about?

In many senses, Klopp should be relishing this trip. Liverpool have won on their last three Premier League visits to Leicester, who this season have already lost five Premier League home games – one more than in the whole of the last campaign.

Leicester have plenty of incentive, however, not least wanting to avoid losing four consecutive home top-flight matches to a specific opponent since a run of five defeats between 1999 and 2003 against Manchester United.

Liverpool are in a worrying dip, and a trip to a top-four rival comes at a time when West Ham, Chelsea and even Everton are rivalling them for a spot in the Champions League places.

Klopp's men will be seeking to avoid a third successive league defeat this month after losing at home to Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City. They last lost three games in a row in the Premier League in November 2014, when current Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was in charge of the Reds.

Thomas Tuchel is confident Chelsea will get to see the best of the "incredibly talented" Kai Havertz but warned there is no quick fix to help him reach his full potential. 

Havertz was a big-money signing by the Premier League club prior to the start of the season, having starred in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen in recent years. 

However, after a solid beginning to his career at Stamford Bridge, the 21-year-old has found it tough going in recent months, not aided by contracting coronavirus in November. 

Having scored one goal and set up another in his opening five league games, Havertz has managed just one solitary assist since, creating a total of 13 chances in his 18 appearances, albeit only 12 of those have been starts. 

The Germany international has missed Chelsea's previous three games through injury and while Monday's clash with Newcastle United may come too soon, Tuchel is willing to be patient with his compatriot. 

"I'm pretty sure we will see him," he replied when asked if Chelsea will see the same Havertz who dazzled for Leverkusen.  

"It takes time, there is no short answer – if there was, I'd go and talk to him in that way to bring out his full potential. What we know and can rely on is that all this potential is in him and it's logical that he can show it on the pitch.  

"For every transfer, for every change of club for the player, it's different. Sometimes it needs a little more time to adapt, sometimes it can be quick, sometimes it can be between one match and another, sometimes a process.  

"All we can do is push him, support him, give him what he needs. We figure this out with us right now. 

"He had a pretty good start with us, he had good matches, and I have the feeling that I see a guy that is totally clear, totally self-aware, very humble and incredibly talented. There are no doubts that he will show this – the sooner the better. 

"Now, unfortunately, he missed some training sessions and games for us, but hopefully he can come back in the next few days, because I'm absolutely convinced he will have a big impact at this club."

Tuchel appreciates he is not short of options within his squad, particularly in midfield where Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic are seemingly vying for two positions. There is also Billy Gilmour too, showing the strength in depth at Chelsea.

The former Paris Saint-Germain coach is pleased with the competition for places and understands he will have to manage expectations when it comes to first-team minutes.

"If we have difficult decisions to make, everything is good as we have a full squad available," Tuchel said.

"If I have a difficult decision to make, it's my job to manage them. It's my job to trust also the guy from the bench. Is it possible to achieve our goal with 12, 13, 14 players? No, it's simply not possible. 

"To have the three guys is a big gift for me for the two positions. To have a fourth guy like Billy Gilmour is absolutely necessary on this kind of level we expect from us, what the supporters also expect from the team. 

"We need exactly this kind of quality and I'm not worried about the management, because I feel a group that is strong, I feel a bond between the players.

"Yes, we will have to prove it when things become a bit difficult, a bit complicated. But, until today, I feel a very good atmosphere, and it's my job to manage that, to focus on that and create it. 

"They can be competitive with each other but we need to be allies, need to be close and understand this is an effort of the whole team."

Tuchel confirmed Timo Werner is expected to be back to face Newcastle, while Thiago Silva is targeting a return to action against Southampton on February 20.

The game will mark a first for the Chelsea boss, who has never previously managed a top-flight match on a Monday. His last match in any competition on that day was back in August 2016, when he led Borussia Dortmund to a 3-0 win in the first round of the DFB-Pokal.

England will have a new-look bowling attack on duty for the second Test as they go up against an India side determined to bounce back in the series.

James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Dom Bess were all part of the XI that helped England become the first visiting nation to win a Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai since Pakistan in 1999, ending an eight-game unbeaten streak for the hosts.

However, none of the trio will be involved when the two teams face each other again at the same venue.

While Archer is ruled out with an elbow injury, Anderson has been rested and Bess left out of a 12-man squad. Stuart Broad seems certain to play, with the other seam-bowling spot between Chris Woakes and Olly Stone. Moeen Ali will be the second spinner; the all-rounder has not featured in Test cricket since August 2019.

Captain Joe Root admitted it was not an easy decision to give Anderson a break considering how well he performed in the opener, but England had to look at the bigger picture during such a busy year.

"Everyone's heart was in favour of him being available for this game but also you have to look at the bigger picture and ideally if he is available for two of the last three, that is a huge asset for us with the way he is bowling and his reputation, as well as his numbers and the way he has performed in recent games," Root told the media.

India, meanwhile, head into this match under pressure; they have only ever lost the first two games of a home Test series against England once previously, when they went on to suffer a 3-1 defeat in 1976-77.

Virat Kohli pointed to a failure by the bowling unit to keep England's scoring rate in check in the aftermath of the opening defeat, with slow-bowling duo Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem struggling to provide support for pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma, as well as frontline spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

Axar Patel missed that match due to a knee injury but came through a fitness test on Thursday. Kuldeep Yadav could also get an opportunity on a pitch that, according to Ajinkya Rahane, will spin from the outset.

"I am sure it will turn from day one," Rahane said on the eve of the game. "We will have to wait and see how it behaves in the first session and take it from there."

In a boost for India, there will be fans present for the second of four matches in the series. The ground is allowed to be 50 per cent full, though there will be social distancing measures in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Captain Kohli in the spotlight

India have now lost four Tests in a row under Kohli, who departed the tour of Australia after his side had been shot out for 36 to lose the series opener in Adelaide. He returned home for the birth of his first child, with stand-in Rahane then leading the side to a 2-1 triumph.

Kohli made scores of 11 and 72 upon his return to the XI, but those numbers were not enough to stop him slipping to fifth in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings for batsmen.

Root keeps on digging in

Root underpinned England's triumph last time out with a double hundred in a mammoth first innings of 578, in the process continuing his stunning run of form following on from a hugely successful tour to Sri Lanka.

The right-handed batsman has managed 684 runs in his previous three matches, which equates to 39 per cent of his side's total runs in Test cricket in 2021. There have been useful contributions from his top-order colleagues so far overseas, but no other batsman has reached three figures in an innings during the calendar year.

Key match facts

- England have only managed to register one Test series win in India since their 2-1 tour win in 1984-85 - their successful tour in 2012 being the solitary triumph during that period (D1 L4).
- India still lead the head-to-head record with England in Tests played at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, winning five compared to the visitors' tally of four after the series opener (D1).
- England have managed to record six overseas Test wins in succession ahead of this match – victory in this game will equal their longest ever run in the format (seven in a row between 1911 and 1914).
- Rishabh Pant has a batting strike rate of 70.6 in Test cricket, only two men (with a minimum of 600 runs scored) have higher rates for India (Virender Sehwag at 82, plus Kapil Dev at 81)
- Broad (517) is three scalps away from going into sixth place on the all-time leading Test wicket-takers list, jumping above Courtney Walsh (519); the Englishman has picked up 41 wickets at an average of 14.5 since the start of 2020.

Serge Gnabry is set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering a muscle tear in his left thigh, Bayern Munich have confirmed.

Germany international Gnabry was taken off in the 64th minute of Bayern's 1-0 Club World Cup final victory over Tigres UANL on Thursday.

No time frame for the 25-year-old's return was provided by the Bundesliga champions, who are already without Thomas Muller after he tested positive for coronavirus in Qatar.

An official club statement read: "For the time being, Bayern will have to do without Serge Gnabry.

"The attacker suffered a muscle tear in his left thigh in yesterday's Club World Cup final against Tigres. This was the result of an examination by the medical department of Bayern."

After winning the Club World Cup, Bayern return to Bundesliga action at home to Arminia Bielefeld on Monday.

They take on Lazio in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 23 and face Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker on March 6.

Gnabry has scored six goals and supplied two assists in 28 appearances in all competitions for Bayern this season.

Robert Lewandowski (106) is the only Bayern player to have had more efforts on goal than Gnabry (63) this season, but his shot conversion rate of 9.5 per cent is one of the worst in the squad.

Among players for the Bavarian giants to have attempted at least 20 shots, Corentin Tolisso (8.3 per cent) is the only player with a worse shot conversion rate than Gnabry.

Stephen Curry believes he is experiencing one of the best moments in his career and plans to let his game do the talking as the MVP conversation heats up.

The Golden State Warriors improved to 14-12 thanks to a 111-105 victory over the Orlando Magic, with Curry contributing 10 three-pointers in a 40-point haul. He also had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.

It extended Curry's career-best streak of making at least four three-pointers to 13 games and was the 17th time he has reached double digits for makes from beyond the arc – no player in NBA history has more than five such games.

Curry acknowledged that the Warriors' win-loss record could have a negative impact on his chances of being named MVP, but he wants to solely remain focused on prolonging his impressive form.

"The game speaks for itself – 15-16, 14-15, those two years is the exact same kind of conversation," said Curry.

"Obviously, that's an amazing accomplishment, and being in that conversation with all that we've been through in the last two or three years, that means something.

"Those narratives make themselves as you go through the season and my job is to be at the level I expect to be and usually that means you're at the top of the end of the season.

"I really try not to get distracted by that because it kind of taints the moment. If I do my job, I'll be there at the end of the season."

Asked if Curry should be in the MVP conversation, Warriors coach Steve Kerr replied: "How could he not be? He's other-worldly."

He added on Curry's latest display: "It is routine, which is the crazy part of it. You just come to expect it.

"These threes that he hits when there's nothing there offensively and he just uses his dribble to free himself up, not exactly with a ton of space just a few inches of space, then he rises up and you expect every single one of them to go in, it's kind of crazy. He's in a really good groove."

Two-time MVP Curry has scored at least 30 points in four straight games and will match the best run of his career if he extends that streak to five against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.

While not looking to compare parts of his career, Curry acknowledged he is experiencing one of his best stretches in the NBA.

"One hundred per cent, but it's all about what's happening now. I don't compare it to what's happened in the past," said Curry.

"I obviously know the levels I've been at and our team's been at and where we're trying to go as a team, but definitely in terms of how I'm playing – I've been saying it for a while – I feel confident and strong and in rhythm. It's a good feeling and I want to keep getting better, that's the goal."

Buoyant Scotland will go in search of back-to-back wins over Wales for the first time in 18 years and France travel to Ireland for a mouthwatering Six Nations showdown this weekend.

Scotland ended a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham on the opening weekend with a dominant 11-6 defeat of the defending champions.

Gregor Townsend's side need to follow that up on Saturday with a victory over a Wales side that got the better of 14-man Ireland at the Principality Stadium following Peter O'Mahony's first-half red card.

France started the tournament by hammering Italy 50-10, but will face a bigger test in Dublin, while England should respond to their Calcutta Cup defeat by beating Italy at home on Saturday.

Ahead of the second round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

 

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

The Red Rose have won each of their 21 fixtures against Italy in the Six Nations, and they are the only team yet to suffer defeat against the Azzurri in the championship.

England have hosted Italy on 10 occasions in the Six Nations, winning each of those 10 fixtures by an average margin of 31 points and scoring 5.6 tries per game.

Italy have won just twice away from home in the Six Nations (losing 50 and drawing one), with both victories coming against Scotland at Murrayfield (2007 and 2015).

 

ONES TO WATCH

George Ford comes into the England side, with captain Owen Farrell moving to outside centre, in one of five changes to the side, and the fly-half will be ready to make a statement after being named on the bench for the loss to Scotland.

Italy endured a torrid start to the competition, but Luca Sperandio scored a fine try. The wing had seven carries and made 52 metres. The Azzurri will need to get Sperandio flying down the flank again in London.

 

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

Scotland were superb against England and will be aiming for consecutive wins over Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2002-2003.

Wales had an extra man, but Ireland could consider themselves unfortunate to go down 21-16 in Cardiff. The Welsh have lost their last six Tests away from home and will be in for another huge battle at Murrayfield.

They have conceded 30 points per game in that miserable sequence of matches on their travels.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Captain Stuart Hogg was man of the match in a rousing performance from Scotland against Eddie Jones' men. The full-back made 112 metres and had 13 carries. He was also brilliant with the boot, kicking for 367 metres.

Louis Rees-Zammit showed why he is so highly rated in Wales' win over Ireland. He dived to finish magnificently in the corner as Wayne Pivac's side made a winning start at home last Sunday.

 

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

Flanker O'Mahony's reckless dismissal proved to be costly for Andy Farrell's Ireland side in Cardiff. They will be looking to avoid suffer back-to-back losses to Les Bleus in the Six Nations, having not endured such a fate since 2010-11.

Ireland have won five of their last seven clashes with France in the Six Nations (L2) after winning only four of their 30 previous meetings with them in the Five/Six Nations (D3 L23).

 

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont was the player of the opening round of the tournament. The mercurial scrum-half assisted four tries, the joint-most by any player in a Six Nations match, equalling the record set by Frederic Michalak against Italy in 2006. He also scored a try of his own in a sublime performance.

Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne made the most carries (21) of any player in the opening round. He also hit the most rucks of any player (48) and was Ireland’s joint-highest tackler (10, level with CJ Stander).

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