Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund's keenly anticipated Champions League quarter-final could hinge on the battle between Erling Haaland and Ruben Dias.

That is the view of former City favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips, who anticipates an intriguing contest due to the attacking firepower boasted by both sides.

Norway youngster Haaland has rattled home a remarkable 33 goals in 32 appearances across all competitions this season, averaging a goal every 82.8 minutes thanks to a shot conversion rate of 31.4 per cent.

The 20-year-old has also supplied seven assists, although he will be faced with one of Europe's most formidable centre-backs in Dias.

If speculation proves accurate, Haaland might replace the Portugal defender as City's record signing at the end of the campaign but Dias' impact has been undeniably transformative since his arrival from Benfica last September.

City have won 31 of the 39 games in which Dias has played, losing only two and conceding 18 goals – an average of 0.5 per game.

"It's going to be hard, it's going to be a great battle for me between [Haaland] and Dias," Wright-Phillips, who played alongside Haaland's father Alf-Inge during his time at City, told Stats Perform.

"Dias doesn't like to lose, let alone concede goals – he hates that as well so it will be a good competition.

"And it stands out to be a good game, with the firepower and the way Dortmund play, and the way City play.

"So it’s going to be a good footballing match and I am looking forward and am very excited to see it myself."

Another intriguing battle that fans will be denied is a face off between England youngsters Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho in each team's creative departments.

Foden and Sancho were team-mates in City's youth team before the latter moved to Dortmund in 2017, where he has scarcely looked back.

Remaining with his boyhood club, Foden had to bide his time among a talent-stacked squad but has established himself as a key man for both Pep Guardiola and England boss Gareth Southgate this season.

However, a thigh injury means Sancho will miss out on a return to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday and faces a race to be fit for next week's return at Signal Iduna Park.

"It would be great to see them both on the field. But they’re very different players," Wright-Phillips said.

"Although [Foden] does go and dribble past people, he’s got a very good eye in seeing passes, linking up play and he presses harder.

"I think Sancho is a very, very good player as well but he's more of a dribbler, committing players, taking them on, putting the ball into the box and also scoring goals."

Along with Liverpool, who take on 13-time winners Real Madrid this week, Chelsea – another of Wright-Phillips' former clubs – complete a trio of Premier League sides in the last eight.

Thomas Tuchel's men saw off Atletico Madrid in impressive fashion in the previous round, although they must bounce back from a shock 5-2 weekend loss to relegation-threatened West Brom before taking on Porto.

"As we know it’s one of the toughest competitions," Wright-Phillips added. "And on the few times City have been on a run in it, they have not had the rub of the green.

"And Chelsea had been playing well with their defensive record, also. I would be happy if it was an all-England final, so I'll be supporting all English teams in Europe."

Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez has suggested he will wait to see if Sergio Ramos signs a new contract before deciding whether to also agree fresh terms.

Long-serving centre-back Ramos is due to be out of contract at the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the campaign, while Nacho has another season to run on his deal.

Madrid have been in talks with Ramos over extending his stay, but head coach Zinedine Zidane recently admitted he is unsure if the Spain international will put pen to paper.

Nacho's own future is far from certain and the 31-year-old, who has become a regular for Zidane, will see what Madrid's plans are before making a decision on whether to commit.

"Of course, whether Madrid renew Ramos, or sign a central defender or two, are decisions that influence my future," he said at a pre-match news conference on Monday.

"It's normal, everything affects [the situation]. I will look at it, analyse it and talk with my club and my family.

"I have spoken with the club. I have this season left and one more. I will make the best decision for myself after speaking with my club."

Ramos has not been included in Madrid's 21-man squad for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool due to a calf injury sustained on international duty.

He has spent the past 16 seasons with Los Blancos but has been strongly linked with a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the campaign.

"The best thing for him is that he stays," Nacho said. "As a team-mate, a friend and a Madridista, I can only say that the best thing for the club is that he stays.

"Sergio is feeling down because he is our captain and will not be present during a key period of games."

Nacho has featured 21 times for Madrid in all competitions this term and started both legs of the 4-1 aggregate win over Atalanta in the Champions League round of 16.

He leads the way for Madrid defenders to have played at least six times in LaLiga this season in terms of interceptions per 90 minutes (1.68), while only Raphael Varane (0.56) averages more blocks than Nacho (0.45).

"This may be the best period of my career," he said. "I have the confidence that I have never previously felt.

"This is a dream and I hope the confidence lasts, which is what a player always wants."

Madrid have won their last three meetings with Liverpool, most recently prevailing 3-1 in the Champions League final three years ago when Nacho was introduced as a first-half substitute.

Liverpool won their only previous two-legged European knockout tie with Madrid 5-0 on aggregate in the 2008-09 last 16, however, and Nacho is expecting a tightly-fought contest this time around.

"Since our previous meeting we have lost Cristiano [Ronaldo] and they have become champions themselves. But there is not that much difference between the sides," he said.

"We enter the tie in a very good way. We are focused on our job."

It is safe to say Jrue Holiday enjoyed himself in the NBA last week.

The former All-Star sparkled for the Milwaukee Bucks before the weekend brought news of a four-year, $160million extension.

On the evidence of his performances since last Monday, it was a well-earned reward.

Holiday leads this week's NBA Heat Check, powered by Stats Perform data, alongside a man he might have counted as a team-mate this season.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Jrue Holiday

The Bucks paid a big price to get Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans in a bid to persuade Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay. It was a move that worked in that sense and is increasingly showing its merit on the floor, too.

Milwaukee may have tumbled to third in the East this season, but they are showing signs they might finally provide a threat in the playoffs.

Holiday will be key to that, as he was during a three-game winning run last week. After starting their road trip with defeat at the Los Angeles Clippers, in which Holiday scored 24 points, the point guard tallied 28, 22 and 33 respectively in victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.

An average of 26.8 over those seven days lifted Holiday's seasonal mark from 15.9 to 17.0.

Bogdan Bogdanovic

As the Bucks desperately sought reinforcements to prove their ambition to Antetokounmpo, a deal for Bogdanovic from the Kings was reportedly struck. Instead, however, he signed for the Atlanta Hawks.

Milwaukee are certainly a more serious prospect than Atlanta, but the Hawks are belatedly finding some form with the help of Bogdanovic.

The forward had just two starts for the season until late March but has since been in the lineup for six successive games, including a run of three wins last week that started with his 28-point display against the San Antonio Spurs in which he shot 70.6 per cent from the field.

Gary Trent Jr.

Last week allowed teams around the NBA to get a good look at the players they traded for before the deadline, and the Toronto Raptors could only be pleased with Trent's output.

He averaged 23.3 for the week, albeit the Raptors only won once. Trent had a staggering plus/minus of 54 in that demolition of the Golden State Warriors.

Norm Powell, the man Trent was traded for, tallied 13.7 points across three Portland games, although the Blazers won two of them.
 

GOING COLD...

Victor Oladipo

While Trent has had an instant impact, the same certainly cannot be said for Oladipo.

The two-time All-Star was the Miami Heat's most notable signing as a move for Trent's new Toronto team-mate Kyle Lowry did not materialise, while LaMarcus Aldridge headed for the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing a buy out with the Spurs.

On his third team of 2021, Oladipo was averaging 20.8 points for the season prior to his Heat debut but then tallied a measly total of 14 points across his first two games as a Miami player.

Zach LaVine

Oladipo's is not the only switch yet to prove profitable, with the Chicago Bulls making a big move to bring in Nikola Vucevic to pair fellow All-Star LaVine.

But LaVine, previously scoring 27.9 points in 2020-21, averaged an underwhelming 20.0 last week.

No player in the NBA saw a greater decrease in their made shots from three-point range - 3.5 previously but just 1.3 last week - and LaVine was among three Bulls in the top five in that unwanted table (also Vucevic and Lauri Markkanen).

DeAndre Jordan

Like LaVine, Jordan was not on the move ahead of the deadline. But he was still negatively impacted.

When Aldridge chose Brooklyn over Miami, the Nets center - already struggling to hold off surprise star Nicolas Claxton - saw his opportunities decrease further.

Jordan played in only two of his team's four games last week, appearing for less than 12 minutes in each and averaging 1.5 rebounds down from 7.5 for the season.

Pep Guardiola is primed for Manchester City's showdown with Erling Haaland and Borussia Dortmund, suggesting even a blind person could see the Norwegian's talents.

City host Dortmund in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday, with Haaland unsurprisingly one of the main topics of conversation.

The Norway star has been in lethal form ever since joining Dortmund in January 2020 and boasts a remarkable haul of 10 goals in six Champions League outings this term, including two in each of their meetings with Sevilla in the last round as the German's narrowly progressed 5-4 on aggregate.

Since then, reports linking Haaland with Europe's biggest clubs have been frequent, as Barcelona and Real Madrid seemingly positioned themselves as interested parties following meetings with his agent Mino Raiola.

While City – whom his father Alf-Inge Haaland played for – have been rather more coy on the matter, few strikers have been focused on as much as Haaland with respect to potential replacements for Sergio Aguero following last week's announcement of his end-of-season departure.

After all, in the spell since Haaland scored a 23-minute hat-trick on his Dortmund debut, his 49 goals across all competitions has been bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (67) and Cristiano Ronaldo (52) among players in the top five leagues. City's leading scorers in the same period are Raheem Sterling (24) and Gabriel Jesus (22).

Guardiola appreciates Haaland is a fine talent, though he would not be lured into making any grand statements about a potential future for him at City.

When asked if Haaland was the sort of player who could command a transfer few of over £100million, Guardiola said: "I don't know, it's a question for Dortmund, his agent.

"I understand completely why people ask about Haaland, of course he's an exceptional striker, but it's not appropriate for me to talk about a player for another club.

"All I can say is he's an exceptional striker. The numbers speak for themselves. A fantastic player, that's all."

 

On those "numbers", Guardiola was pressed for an opinion on how City might be able to stop Haaland, given his conversion rate of 33.6 per cent is better than any other player in the top five leagues with 20 goals or more since his Dortmund bow.

For comparison, Bayern Munich's Lewandowski – widely regarded as the best striker around – has converted 27.8 per cent of his chances over the same period.

"The striker who scores goals, they are going to score when they are in our box," Guardiola continued. "If they're far away from our box, they have fewer chances. It's a question of mathematics.

"Not just Haaland. [Jamie] Vardy, [Sadio] Mane, Aguero, all the strikers, they want to be there [in the box] as much as possible. This is the best way is to avoid [conceding].

"In that age to score that amount of goals is not easy to find in the past, honestly, so I think he's 20 – the numbers speak for themselves.

"He can score right [foot], left, on the counter-attack, in the box when you dominate, headers. He's a fantastic striker, everyone knows it.

"A blind guy could realise he's a great striker. It is not necessary to be a manager to realise that."

Keeping Haaland quiet will surely go a long way to ensuring City finally get past the quarter-finals, having been knocked out at this stage in each of the past three seasons, losing four of their five games at this point.

Eden Hazard has not been included in Real Madrid's 21-man squad for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool.

The Belgium international has been plagued by injuries during his first two seasons in Madrid, restricting him to just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions.

Hazard missed Los Blancos' last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and played no part for Belgium in their three World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had increased hope of a midweek return following Saturday's win over Eibar but said on Monday he would not select the winger unless he could prove he was 100 per cent fit.

And Madrid subsequently confirmed Hazard will play no part against the Premier League champions, having been omitted from the squad for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Captain Sergio Ramos' absence had already been all but confirmed after he sustained a calf injury on international duty with Spain last week.

Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games Ramos has missed since the end of 2017-18 when they were last crowned European champions.

Fellow defender Dani Carvajal also remains out, but midfielder Federico Valverde has recovered from a muscular injury that kept him out of the Eibar game.

Tuesday's clash will be the first between Madrid and Liverpool since the 2018 final, which Los Blancos won 3-1 to seal a third successive Champions League trophy.

Eden Hazard will not be rushed back for Real Madrid's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool on Tuesday, insists Zinedine Zidane. 

Hazard has been plagued by injuries since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million in June 2019.

He has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions in that time, scoring only four times. 

The 30-year-old returned from injury in March but then missed the Champions League last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor – a development Zidane described as "inexplicable". 

That injury kept him out of the Belgium squad for the recent international break and Zidane says he has no intention of playing Hazard against Premier League champions Liverpool if he is not 100 per cent fit. 

"Eden has to be calm," the Madrid boss told a media conference on Monday. "We never risk the return of a player if he is not well. 

"We will do things little by little and we will see when he will be with us. At the moment it is like that.

"I need all my players to be available and fit. I like my players to be fit and in good health. I don't like seeing players out injured. We have had a lot of players out injured this season.

"I hope to have Eden back soon. I hope to have a fully fit squad come the end of the season."

Tuesday's clash will be the first between the sides since the 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 to seal a third consecutive Champions League trophy.

Los Blancos have won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties, while they have claimed victories in their last three matches against the Reds in the competition. 

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, however, has won each of his last five games at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, including all four of his games at this stage while in charge of the Reds. 

Zidane is an admirer of what Klopp has achieved at Anfield, but says he is not interested in copying the German's methods. 

"Klopp is a great manager, he has been coaching for a long time," he added. "He's got a great CV and has done superbly at Liverpool. 

"I don't have to look at what he does and copy him. Everyone has their way of going about things but I look at all the managers.

"I looked and learned when I was going to be a manager and, of course, I analysed Klopp."

Liverpool will need to be particularly wary of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who has scored four goals in his three Champions League appearances against them.

He is level with Didier Drogba as the player to have scored the most against the Reds in the competition. 

Benzema should lead the line on Tuesday and Zidane has attributed his success to the understanding he has developed with his team-mates.

"All the players who are here know how to play and have earned the right to be in this squad, they are the best," he explained. "They all understand Karim well and Karim the others. There is a lot of chemistry between them."

Melbourne City left it late to overcome Wellington Phoenix 3-2 and climb into second place, while an early Lachlan Wales strike saw Western United down Newcastle Jets 1-0 in Monday's other A-League match.

City's six-match winning run was halted by Western United last time out, but they hit back at WIN Stadium to move to within two points of leaders Central Coast Mariners with a game in hand.

Tomer Hemed equalised for Phoenix after Curtis Good had headed City in front from six yards, but Jamie Maclaren restored the visitors' lead with a powerful strike across Oliver Sail.

Wellington equalised for a second time before the hour through skipper Ulises Davila, who curled a delightful low shot into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards – the seventh goal they have scored from outside the box in the 2020-21 A-League season.

But Melbourne went away with the three points in Wollongong thanks to substitute Marco Tilio's late header following some good link-up play out on the right to make space for Connor Metcalfe's cross.

It was an early goal that proved the difference in Monday's early kick-off between Jets and Western United, with winger Wales slotting Dylan Pierias' throughball into the bottom-left corner after just 36 seconds to make it goals in back-to-back games.

That was the first goal the visitors had scored in this fixture at the fourth attempt and was the earliest they have netted in their A-League history, putting them on course for a maiden victory against the Jets.

Craig Deans' side attempted 20 shots in the remainder of the game, but just two of those were on target as they fell to a sixth loss in a row to remain second bottom of the division, while United are up to seventh with games in hand on the top six.

It was hardly the sort of entrance that said "I'm here to save the day". Luka Modric was still putting his headband on as he rather leisurely entered the Old Trafford pitch just a few moments after Nani's controversial sending off in the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Los Blancos were down 2-1 on aggregate after a Sergio Ramos own goal had put United in the driving seat a short while earlier, but with the hosts a man light, Jose Mourinho sent Modric on as Madrid looked to suffocate Alex Ferguson's men.

Alongside Xabi Alonso, Modric was swiftly into the thick of it as Madrid tried to pull United this way and that, and he soon took matters into his own hands with Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to break through.

Allowed space just outside the United area, Modric's motioning for a shot lured Michael Carrick out of position and the Croatian easily breezed past him before lashing an unstoppable effort in off the right-hand post just seven minutes after coming on.

It was only his second goal for the club, but as it spurred Madrid on to seal a 2-1 win and a spot in the next round thanks, Modric has regarded that match as the turning point in his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A perfect storm

It's easy to forget how disappointing Modric's first season at Madrid was deemed to be. After all, before Christmas, he was voted as the worst signing of the campaign in a Marca poll, beating Alex Song of Barcelona to top the charts.

Two years Modric's junior, Song has been playing his football in Djibouti this season; Modric remains, at the ripe old age of 35, arguably the finest midfielder in Spain.

There are certainly comparisons to be made with Thiago Alcantara's first season in England, with Liverpool struggling to even maintain a challenge for the top four, let alone defend their title.

Thiago was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle, the sort of central midfielder that balanced flair with genuine playmaking abilities, unlike anyone already in the squad. It was said his arrival would enable to Liverpool to play with greater flexibility, but the reality has been a little different.

Teams are playing deeper against Liverpool, as evidenced by the fact their shots outside the area per game is up from 4.6 per game to 5.2, while they are being allowed 190.4 passes in the final third each match, up from 180.9. Opponents are more confident they can keep Liverpool out if they defend deep.

Of course, Liverpool's issues this term are plentiful – injuries have been particularly frequent, and Thiago himself has lost a significant chunk of the season in this regard.

But even when he has been fit, it's difficult to say the Spain international has transformed the Reds. In fact, they have a better league win percentage (57.1) when he doesn't play than when he does (37.5), while they tend to score more goals (2.4 per game, compared to 1.1 when he is playing).

One theory for Thiago's struggles has been his apparent lack of comfort with Liverpool's intense pressing style, but the data suggests that to be a red herring.

Granted, Liverpool do engage in 18.9 pressed sequences – instances where the opposition have three or fewer passes in a move, which ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game, with their total of 567 the most in the Premier League this term.

But Bayern averaged 16.9 per game in 2019-20 and led the way in the Bundesliga in this regard. Meanwhile, they allowed 9.8 opposition passes per defensive action, with Liverpool's PPDA this term 10.7, showing the Bayern side Thiago played in wasn't too dissimilar.

So, why would Liverpool's off-the-ball intensity impact him so much? It seems far more likely the issue is simply that he's in the middle of a perfect storm of settling into new surroundings and a new team during an injury crisis that has impacted him as well.

Changing perception

Fans can forget that players are people first and foremost. Upheaval off the pitch can have a demonstrable effect on it – of course it can, just like life at home can impact the job performance of average Joe.

This was a key element for Modric, who explained how he found it difficult to settle in initially at Real Madrid, not only because as a club they are an entirely different beast to Tottenham but also as he didn't have a pre-season and gaining fitness was always likely to be a struggle when playing catch-up.

As for fan expectations, perhaps there was also a degree of misunderstanding from Madrid supporters. Maybe they were initially expecting something more than Modric.

After all, in his final season at Spurs, Modric was a key creator. His 96 key passes in 2011-12 was bettered by only two midfielders in the Premier League (David Silva – 104, Juan Mata – 103), evidence that much of the creative burden was on his shoulders.

So, perhaps the fact his creative ingenuity wasn't being so frequently displayed at Madrid coloured opinion.

Granted, his 17 key passes in 13 league appearances between the start of the season and January 1 left a lot to be desired, but his end-of-season record of 56 was the third-highest in the Madrid squad.

Time, patience and trust were seemingly key to Modric establishing himself, but to suggest he's played the same way at Madrid as in his best season at Spurs would be incorrect – the closest he's ever got to that 96 key passes haul since was 61 in 2015-16.

In fact, when you consider a whole range of his key metrics such as passes, pass completion, chance creation, touches of the ball and defensive areas, there hasn't been drastic fluctuation between 2012-13 and now.

Certainly, his 62.6 successful passes per 90 is up from 55 in 2012-13, while his touches have improved from 80 to 86.7, but those differences certainly aren't major. The fact is his figures have been pretty steady throughout his time in LaLiga.

But at 35, he has still played in 28 of Madrid's 29 league matches this term. He's arguably more important to them than ever before.

Coming back from being a target of ridicule to becoming a club great and winning the Ballon d'Or speaks to Modric's attitude and talent, but also serves as inspiration for Thiago.

While the Spaniard has not had to contend with quite the same level of criticism, there are certainly those unconvinced by him.

With a full pre-season under his belt and allowed to gel into a settled team that isn't constantly being chopped and changed due to injuries, Thiago can surely enjoy a sparkling second season at Liverpool. After all, the data proves the Reds' pressing shouldn't be a long-term issue for him given how Bayern played.

A 25-yard strike of his own against Manchester United would go down very well right now, although a similarly decisive impact against Madrid would surely be a nice compromise for the Barcelona product.

Youssoufa Moukoko's record-breaking season is over after suffering ligament damage in his foot, Borussia Dortmund have confirmed.

Moukoko became the youngest player in the Bundesliga's history last November when making his debut the day after his 16th birthday.

The Germany youth international had long been considered a big prospect at Dortmund, having set a number of records in the club's academy despite generally playing several age groups up.

Even before he turned 16, Moukoko was training with the first-team and he soon followed up his Bundesliga record by also becoming the Champions League's youngest-ever player (16 years, 18 days).

Edin Terzic handed him a first Bundesliga start after replacing the sacked Lucien Favre, and he subsequently became the German top-flight's youngest scorer a few days later in a 2-1 defeat to Union Berlin.

He is by far the most junior player to have featured across Europe's top five leagues this term (16y, 136d) – Tottenham's Dane Scarlett is the second youngest (17y, 12d).

There are also only four players who are still teenagers that have bettered his haul of three league goals – Florian Wirtz and Ansu Fati have four, Bukayo Saka has five and Arnaud Kalimuendo is out in front on six.

But Moukoko will not be adding any more to his tally this term, owing to a foot injury.

A brief statement released on Twitter read: "Youssoufa Moukoko is out for the rest of the season with a ligament injury in his foot.

"Get well soon, boy!"

Moukoko suffered the injury ahead of Germany's European Under-21 Championship group stage match against Hungary.

While it was initially thought the issue would only keep him out of Germany's following two games, it turned out to be rather more serious.

Dortmund look likely to miss out on Champions League football next season, with BVB fifth on 43 points, trailing Eintracht Frankfurt by seven points with as many matches left.

The first time Pep Guardiola was drawn to face a Bundesliga team in the Champions League as Manchester City manager, the match was postponed after a torrential pre-match downpour soaked the Etihad Stadium.

Twenty-four hours later, Borussia Monchengladbach were swatted aside 4-0 but there were some other, more incongruous storm clouds hovering.

Sergio Aguero scored a hat-trick, already his second of the campaign to move on to nine goals in his first five outings under Guardiola.  A brace that weekend at Swansea City took him to 11 in six, but his manager was not completely satisfied with the bigger picture.

"Sergio just has a talent to score goals that is natural, I cannot teach him that," Guardiola said.

"What I can tell him is there is a team behind him that is going to help him. I want to convince him to help them and, if it happens in that way, he's going to score a lot of goals."

Those fraught moments in Guardiola and Aguero's early relationship at City, one that looked to be hurtling towards an early end when Gabriel Jesus arrived in January 2017 and displaced the Argentina striker from the starting line-up, were long forgotten in the glowing tributes paid last week.

Aguero will leave City when his contract expires in June as the club's all-time record goalscorer and the top scoring overseas player in Premier League history.

Bundesliga opponents are back on the agenda this week, with Borussia Dortmund in town for the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final. Erling Haaland, presumed by many to be Aguero's most suitable heir, will be the focus of much pre-match attention.

Should City emerge from the pack of European heavyweights to claim Haaland's signature, the experience of Guardiola's previous centre forwards – from those who eventually thrived like Aguero, to those who fell by the wayside – suggest there would be plenty of hard work ahead for the Norwegian youngster.

False nines and harsh truths

Guardiola's most celebrated innovation during his trophy-laden stint in charge of Barcelona was Lionel Messi's deployment as a false nine, helping Aguero's compatriot to flourish into he world's finest player.

However, more traditional centre-forwards experienced collateral damage. Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry flanked Messi in the 2009 Champions League final triumph over Manchester United. A year later they had both left Camp Nou, as had Zlatan Ibrahimovic after a year under Guardiola most notable for his string of subsequent withering comments about the Catalan tactician.

If the assumption was these supreme strikers were simply victims of playing second fiddle to Guardiola's star pupil, his stint at Bayern Munich suggested something more baked in to his football philosophy that meant centre forwards would adapt to the coach and not the other way around.

After a season under Guardiola in 2013-14, Mario Mandzukic stomped off to Atletico Madrid and accused the coach of a lack of respect. Robert Lewandowski took his place but the returns that now make the Poland superstar the most feared number nine in Europe were not immediately forthcoming.

A haul of 17 Bundesliga goals in 2014-15 was way below the levels he would go on to set. The breakout moment of his Bayern career came in September 2015, when he ravenously rattled home five goals in a mind-boggling nine minutes against Wolfsburg. An often-forgotten plot point of those Lewandowski heroics is they came as a substitute. Guardiola had started Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller and Douglas Costa in the sort of fluid forward line that did for the likes of Ibrahimovic and Mandzukic.

Since August 2011 – the month of Aguero's City debut and the first season Lewandowski was a regular starter at Dortmund - only Messi (483) and Cristiano Ronaldo (460) have scored more goals across all competitions among players from the top five European leagues than Bayern's star striker.

Lewandowski (380) is the only other player above 300, with Aguero seventh overall (257) behind Luis Suarez (295), Edinson Cavani (278) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (264).

If Haaland were to link up with Guardiola, history suggests these are the sort of levels he will have to hit. The signs of the past 18 months point promisingly in that direction.

The boy wonder

There were echoes of Lewandowski's Wolfsburg heroics – and, for that matter, Aguero's "anything you can do…" efforts of five goals in 20 minutes against Newcastle United a month later – in Haaland's sensational Bundesliga debut last January 18.

The 20-year-old came on as a second-half substitute and fired a 23-minute hat-trick to inspire Dortmund's 5-3 win over Augsburg.

In the spell from that game onwards, Haaland has 49 goals in all competitions, a haul only bettered across the top five leagues by Lewandowski (67) and Ronaldo (52). Despite being in contention for four major honours this term, City's leading scorers during the same period are Raheem Sterling and Jesus, with 24 and 22 respectively.

It seems Haaland would offer an obvious uplift, thanks in large part to his remarkable efficiency in front of goal. At Dortmund, he boasts a shot conversion rate of 33.6 per cent – better than any other player with 20 or more goals during this time.

For context, Lewandowski is back on 27.8 per cent and Romelu Lukaku and Andre Silva – each speculated alternatives should City be unable to land Haaland – convert just under a quarter of their attempts with 23.7 and 24.5 per cent respectively. Jesus (17.5) and Sterling (16.9) are about half as reliable as the man they will face this week.

A look at Haaland's expected goals (xG) figures for this season suggests judicious shot selection is a key part of his lethal makeup.

In the Bundesliga and Champions League combined, he has 29 non-penalty goals from 93 shots that have a cumulative xG value of 21.2.

By way of comparison, in 2018-19 – the campaign that will stand as his last truly great one in City colour – Aguero scored 24 times from open play in the Premier League and Champions League, outperforming an xG of 20.6 accumulated from 144 attempts.

Haaland's efficiency is again illustrated but a higher xG figure from 51 fewer efforts shows he is coldly selective when it comes to taking on shots, usually only pulling the trigger when a clear opportunity presents itself and to great success.

The speculative strike is not something he has a need to call upon too often, which holds an obvious appeal for a coach like Guardiola, who places such an emphasis on his team controlling every aspect of matches.

Attackers going rogue and firing off shots from all over the place is not high on the list of things he enjoys to see, placing a big tick next to Haaland.

Running and pressing until the end

Kevin De Bruyne's midfield masterclass to inspire a 2-0 weekend win at Leicester City was something of an archetype for what is required from City's big hitters.

Along with moments of high artistry such as his immaculate throughball to make Jesus' game-sealing goal possible, the Belgium international regained possession 14 times and contested 20 duels.

"This is one of our identities. When the most talented players in the world are able to do this kind of job," Guardiola said.

"There is no negotiation on this. You can play really badly but in terms of running and pressing for your team-mates until the end, we have to do it. Do it for your mates, because in the next action your mates are going to do it for you.

"We cannot deny that in the five years we were together the players we had run and fight every single game. That is one of the things I am proud of the most."

So, how would Haaland shape up to this non-negotiable part of the job description?

In 2020-21, the Dortmund centre-forward has won possession in the final third 31 times, made 65 recoveries overall, nine interceptions and contested 195 duels.

Even taking into account a BVB playing style that can be more chaotic than Guardiola's finely grooved City, these efforts stack up well compared to peak Aguero.

Only once under Guardiola has he won back the ball deep in opposition territory more frequently – 33 times in 2018-19, when he made his sole foray into double figures for interceptions (13) during the Catalan's tenure.

Aguero made 122 recoveries and contested 481 duels during Guardiola's first season at the helm in 2016-17, when City were some distance from their present model of efficient dominance. His recoveries/duels returns of 86 and 310 and 89 and 325 during the subsequent back-to-back Premier League triumphs are more in line with where Haaland might be at the end of the current campaign.

This begins to demonstrate that Guardiola's running and pressing until the end is not quite as advertised. Much as with Haaland's shot selection, there is an emphasis on picking your moments to lay down maximum effort. His is not the Heavy Metal Football under which the Dortmund of a previous era thrived, more Post-Rock Football laced with frequent and precise tempo changes.

In his final two seasons under Manuel Pellegrini, when City's sole major honour was the 2015-16 EFL Cup, Aguero won back possession in the final third 35 and 40 times – returns never bettered in the Guardiola era despite an improvement in his work off the ball being rightly lauded. A total of 126 recoveries in 2015-16 is one he has not topped, while 24 interceptions back in 2011-12 showed Roberto Mancini benefitting from the youthful enthusiasm of his record signing.

The idea that Guardiola strikers have to run themselves into the ground for scant reward is a horror story Mino Raiola might try to spin for his new favourite client. But Aguero's experience shows it is more of a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship.

In 2018-19, he averaged 8.15 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes. This figure increased to 9.08 last season, one only bettered by 9.99 in 2013-14 during his City career. During Pellegrini's final year in charge, Aguero's touches in the area were down to 6.67 per game.

Taking some time to adapt to Guardiola's methods is neither unusual nor limited to strikers, with Joao Cancelo and Rodri's second-season improvements this time around standing as the latest examples.

If Haaland became a blockbuster signing, there is no reason to think his rewards would be anything other than plentiful after a period of assimilation. For the next week or so, however, Guardiola's only concern will be keeping his precocious talents under wraps.

New York has long been starved of NBA success but now has two teams making strides in 2020-21.

The Brooklyn Nets have made plenty of noise as they have claimed a share of first place in the Eastern Conference, led by the 'big three' of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

But the New York Knicks, the city's favourite team, are also in playoff contention with a .500 record.

On Monday, the two teams go head-to-head at Barclays Center – and Durant, Irving and Harden could all feature for just the eighth time this season.

The Knicks will have their work cut out as they try to stop their star-studded neighbours.

TOP PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets - Kyrie Irving

Durant is likely to be seen as the Nets' difference-maker in the biggest games, while Harden, the third man in the 'big three', has established himself as an MVP contender. He cannot afford many more nights off.

But as both players recover from hamstring injury – Durant is "an outside possibility", Harden's absence is "just caution" - it will likely again be Irving's turn to carry the team, showing their remarkable depth.

The point guard leads Brooklyn in total points, scoring 27.7 per game – the best mark of his career and one which puts him eighth in the NBA among all players.

Irving had a game-high 34 points when these teams last met in March, a 117-112 Nets win.

New York Knicks - Julius Randle

First-time All-Star Randle has led the Knicks' improvement this season and he has been talking a big game ahead of this clash.

The forward responded to talk of Brooklyn's 'big three' by suggesting New York have a "big 15", of which he is undoubtedly the star, averaging 23.0 points and 10.7 rebounds this year.

Randle will certainly not be short of motivation.

He had 33 points in the game last month, just shy of Irving's total, and had to be held back from the officials after a late three-pointer was ruled out due to an incorrect traveling call.

KEY BATTLE - BROOKLYN BIGS TO BOSS BIG APPLE?

It is not just the Nets' superstar talent the Knicks have to worry about, as there is also a mismatch at center.

Third-year big man Mitchell Robinson was set for a breakout year in New York, seemingly contributing to the team's decision not to push harder for a buyout signing as Andre Drummond went to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But Robinson, posting 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals, fractured his right foot, leaving the Knicks with Nerlens Noel (4.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and Taj Gibson (5.0 points, 5.0 rebounds) as their primary options at the five.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn have a whole array of possibilities at the position, led by buyout signings and former All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin but also including DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and surprise performer Nicolas Claxton (7.9 points, 1.3 blocks).

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nets are 2-0 in this season's series, also beating the Knicks in January, and Monday's game could see a significant power swing.

The all-time record stands at 101-100 in the Knicks' favour, giving Brooklyn the opportunity to pull ahead for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Frank Vogel offered his injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers "no excuses" as they were blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

James is out with a high ankle sprain, while a calf issue continues to keep Davis sidelined.

With new signing Andre Drummond then also ruled out due to a toe injury on his Lakers debut, Vogel was short-handed heading into Sunday's meeting with the Clippers.

But the title-winning head coach still was not impressed by what he saw in a 104-86 loss.

Montrezl Harrell, a former Clipper, led the Lakers in scoring with 19 points, but only fellow center Marc Gasol, who played fewer than 18 minutes, reached double-figures among the starting five.

The reigning NBA champions shot a disappointing 40 per cent from the field, their joint-second worst mark of the season.

Vogel said the Lakers would have to "improve with our offensive execution" and did not accept the injuries to James and Davis as mitigating factors.

"There's no excuses here," he added. "The guys that are playing have what it takes to get the job done, it's that simple."

The team's 86 points were a season low, yet it was also the fifth time in eight games – going back to the meeting with the Atlanta Hawks in which James went down – they have failed to reach 100.

Forward Kyle Kuzma, who had six points on awful two-for-10 shooting, said: "Defensively, we'll be all right. We'll compete, challenge most opponents.

"But offensively, we've got to find ways to play together and put points on the board. You can't win games scoring in the 80s and 90s."

Shohei Ohtani's big night ended with a worrying collision, but he will get more chances to show his talents as a two-way star for the Los Angeles Angels.

For the first time in his MLB career, Ohtani was the starting pitcher while also batting second.

Against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, the Japanese sensation rose to the occasion in a stunning show of his two-way abilities.

The first starting pitcher to bat second in a game since Jack Dunleavy in 1903, Ohtani produced a scoreless first inning as his fastball reached 100mph – a season high across the major leagues.

Then the 26-year-old picked up the bat and hit a crushing solo homer at the bottom of the inning, a projected 451-foot shot that reached 115.2mph. It was the hardest hit by an Angels player since 2015.

Ohtani now has three hits, four runs and two homers this season, although his sole remarkable hit on Sunday made him the first Angels pitcher to record one in an American League game since Clyde Wright in 1972.

The first four White Sox innings were scoreless as Ohtani's pitching prowess produced a three-pitch strikeout - one of seven total strikeouts - of Luis Robert with two runners stranded.

A staggering outing was dampened on his final play, however, as he was clattered into by Jose Abreu at home plate following some sloppy fielding that meant the pitcher finished with three runs, one earned.

But the felled player later assured he was "fine" and the collision "wasn't as bad as it looked", meaning the Angels could revel in his display after Jared Walsh's walk-off homer secured a 7-4 win.

"What he did tonight was pretty special and you're going to see a lot more of that," manager Joe Maddon said.

"It was fun to watch. I think everybody was entertained. That's what he signed up to do and you're going to see more of it."

The incident with Abreu in the fifth came after Ohtani was allowed to continue despite giving up a run on a hit and two walks, but Maddon did not regret that call.

"That's how a guy becomes a guy," he said. "You've got to give him that opportunity, especially this time of year.

"If he does that now and is able to fight through it, he will know what he's capable of. If you are constantly taking guys out of troubling situations, they are never going to find out.

"It's all interconnected. Everything we do is interconnected. He is a very introspective bright young man who loves to play baseball.

"Let's stay out of his way. Let him play baseball and see what happens."

Ohtani pitched and batted in his first year in the majors in 2018 but never in the same game.

"I'm glad I got this game under my belt," he said. "It will lead to more confidence.

"It's just one game. I'm going to take it one game at a time. I'm not out to prove the doubters wrong or anything."

The Premier League made its comeback this weekend, and there was no shortage of drama on Sunday.

It was a tail of turnarounds throughout the four fixtures – three sides coming from behind to win while Newcastle United and Tottenham played out a topsy turvy 2-2 draw.

Manchester United needed a late goal to see off Brighton and Hove Albion, while Southampton and Aston Villa claimed victories.

United have now won 95 Premier League points after conceding first, seven more than any other team in the history of the competition and, using Opta data, we take a look at more of the best facts from across the day's matches.

Southampton 3-2 Burnley: Ings puts former club to the sword in thrilling fightback 

Southampton picked up their first Premier League home win since their opening game in 2021 as they came from two goals down to beat Burnley 3-2, ending a run of five league outings at St. Mary's without a victory (D1 L4).

The Saints had not won a league game that they had trailed in by two goals since March 2016, when they defeated Liverpool under Ronald Koeman, but Danny Ings inspired the turnaround against his former club.

Having teed up Stuart Armstrong's goal, Ings became just the fourth player in Premier League history to score in four successive appearances against sides he has previously played for in the competition, after Robbie Keane in 2004, Jermain Defoe in 2009 and Wilfried Bony in 2017.

It was Nathan Redmond who then dealt the decisive blow, volleying in from Theo Walcott's cross after Nick Pope had brilliantly denied Ings a second.

Redmond has been directly involved in five goals in his past two games for Southampton (three goals and two assists), as many direct goal involvements as he had registered in his previous 30 appearances in all competitions combined.

Chris Wood gave Burnley the lead from a VAR-awarded penalty – the 100th spot-kick taken in the top flight this season, and the 83rd to be converted. This is only the seventh Premier League campaign to see a century of penalties awarded.

Newcastle United 2-2 Tottenham: Kane double not enough as Spurs let another lead slip

Tottenham looked set to move into the top four as they led 2-1 at Newcastle – Harry Kane's double putting them ahead after Joelinton carried on his goalscoring form against Spurs; he has now netted a total of four Premier League goals in 62 appearances, with two of those coming in four matches versus the north London team.

Kane has been directly involved in 45 goals in all competitions this term, scoring 29 times and providing 16 assists, equalling his career-best tally from 2017-18 (41 goals and four assists).

He has also scored 84 goals in 120 away games in the Premier League for Spurs, the most goals any player has scored on the road for a single club in the competition, going past Wayne Rooney's 82 for Manchester United.

Yet his efforts were not enough – Joe Willock rescuing a point for relegation-battling Newcastle, who have drawn three consecutive Premier League games at St. James' Park for the first time since another three-game run spanning December 2017 and January 2018.

Tottenham have dropped four points from winning positions against Newcastle this season, their most in a campaign against a single side since also dropping four versus Arsenal and West Brom in 2015-16, while Spurs have now failed to win six Premier League games after leading at half-time, the most of any side in 2020-21.

Aston Villa 3-1 Fulham: History made at Villa Park before Cottagers collapse

Sunday's clash between Aston Villa and Fulham was the first game in Premier League history in which every player in the starting XI for both sides was born after the first ever Premier League game on August 15, 1992.

Despite Dean Smith saying he would be available, Jack Grealish was not in Villa's squad, and Fulham hit the front through Aleksandar Mitrovic, who – after 159 days and 23 games without a goal for club and country – has now scored six times in the past 12 days, five times for Serbia and once for the Cottagers.

Yet only Southampton (18) and Brighton (20) have dropped more points from winning positions in the Premier League this season than Fulham (16) after Scott Parker's third-bottom side suffered a collapse.

Trezeguet scored a rapid double – his two goals coming just 160 seconds apart. The Egypt international had previously attempted more shots without scoring than any other player in this season's Premier League (29).

Ollie Watkins helped himself to his first league goal in eight games, ending a run of 18 shots without a goal in the competition since netting versus Arsenal in February.

Manchester United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Matchwinner Greenwood in elite company

Only Wayne Rooney (15) and Marcus Rashford (13) have scored more Premier League goals as teenagers for United than Mason Greenwood (12), who struck late on to complete the turnaround at Old Trafford.

Former Red Devil Danny Welbeck opened the scoring in Sunday's final game – he became the first player to net as many as three Premier League goals against United after having appeared for the club in the competition.

The 2020-21 season is only the second to see two players who have previously appeared for Manchester United in the Premier League score against them (Wilfried Zaha and Welbeck), along with the 1997-98 campaign, when Dion Dublin and Mark Hughes did so.

But United have now won 25 points from losing positions this term, nine more than any other side, while Brighton remain winless at Old Trafford in 13 attempts in all competitions (D2 L11).

Rashford – who has only scored more league goals (five) against Leicester City than he has against the Seagulls – equalised after being teed up by Bruno Fernandes, who has been directly involved in five goals in three Premier League appearances against Brighton.

Paris Saint-Germain attacker Angel Di Maria said it would be "wonderful" to play alongside Lionel Messi amid doubts over his Barcelona future.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the superstar Barca captain has been heavily linked with Ligue 1 champions PSG and Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Barca – led by new president Joan Laporta – remain hopeful of re-signing the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

Di Maria has played alongside Messi at international level for Argentina and the PSG star admitted he would love to join forces with his countryman at club level.

"From my whole career, from everything I've seen, I think Leo is from another planet," Di Maria told beIN SPORTS. "To have him as a team-mate would be wonderful.

"But he is a Barcelona player, he has a contract. After that, we'll see.

"I talk a lot with him and I always tell him that the important thing is his happiness and that of his family. It's hard to say anything else."

Barca face Real Valladolid on Monday, with Ronald Koeman's men able to move within a point of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi has been directly involved in 23 league goals in 2021 – 16 goals and seven assists – which is more than any other player in the top five European leagues. 

The Argentinian has had a direct hand in eight goals in his last four LaLiga games against Valladolid – four goals and four assists.

Those goal involvements have helped Barca to 13 wins in their previous 14 LaLiga games against Valladolid, with the only exception being a 1-0 defeat away from home in March 2014.

 

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