Sergio Ramos is reportedly set to quit Real Madrid and is eyeing Manchester United, while David Alaba is apparently not a target for Manchester City.

Ramos, 34, seems set to leave Madrid at the end of the season with his contract expiring.

With the defender appearing no closer to agreeing to a new deal, he could make the move to the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – RAMOS TO QUIT MADRID, EYES MAN UTD

Ramos is ready to quit Real Madrid and his camp are set to target Manchester United as his next destination, according to the Mirror.

Manchester City, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Everton have also been linked with the defender.

Ramos has been at Real Madrid since 2005, winning five LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other honours.

 

ROUND-UP

- Another defender set to move at season's end is David Alaba, with the Bayern Munich star linked with numerous European giants as his contract comes to an end. But 90min reports Manchester City will not be making an approach for the Austria international.

- Amid an injury crisis at centre-back, Liverpool could sign a defender before Monday's transfer deadline. The Evening Standard reports they are interested in Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Arsenal may not be done in this transfer window, either. The Mirror says Arsenal are considering a move for Crystal Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt.

- Marcos Rojo is set to get a Manchester United exit. Sky Sports reports the defender will terminate his contract, which was due to expire at the end of the season, before joining Boca Juniors on a free transfer.

Manchester City extended their lead at the Premier League summit with a 1-0 win over struggling Sheffield United on Saturday. 

Pep Guardiola's side started the day one point ahead of rivals Manchester United, but finished it three ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's outfit after they were held to a disappointing, if record breaking, 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. 

Newcastle United turned around their woeful recent form with a 2-0 win at Everton, while Aston Villa won away at Southampton. 

Crystal Palace edged past Wolves 1-0 at Selhurst Park, while strugglers West Brom and Fulham played out an entertaining 2-2 draw. 

Here is the pick of the Opta facts from the day's action in the Premier League.

Manchester City 1-0 Sheffield United: Guardiola's men keep on winning

An early goal from Gabriel Jesus helped City set a new club record of 12 consecutive wins in all competitions.

It is also the longest winning run by a Premier League team since Arsenal racked up 12 in a row between August and October 2007. 

The slender win was also their ninth triumph in January, the most they have ever won in a single month in their history. Indeed, it is the most wins by a team in the top four tiers of English football in a single month since the formation of the Football League in 1888.

The result also means City have kept 20 clean sheets in all competitions this season, which is at least five more than any other side in the top-five European leagues. 

After their shock midweek win at Manchester United, this was a case of normal service resumed for the rock-bottom Blades. 

They have now lost 20 of their last 24 Premier League matches - seven more than any other side in the same period - and have been on the end of eight 1-0 defeats this season. That is the joint-most ever by a side at this stage (21 games) of a top-flight season, along with Ipswich Town in 1985-86.

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United: Record-breaking stalemate for United

They did not come away from London with all three points, but United can at least toast an 18th consecutive away match in the Premier League without defeat – their longest run without a loss in their illustrious top-flight history.

While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side created the best opportunities, they failed to find the back of the net for a third consecutive league match against Arsenal. The last time they went that long without scoring against the Gunners was between September 1981 and May 1983 when they went four games without a goal.

The result means Solskjaer has now failed to win any of his five Premier League games against Arsenal, with the Norwegian the only Red Devils manager to face the north London side more than once in the top flight without winning a game.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have now kept four consecutive home clean sheets in all competitions for the first time since April 2019.

The draw means Mikel Arteta's side are unbeaten in their past six league games against United – their longest run against the Red Devils in league competition since between October 1980 and May 1983 (also six).

Everton 0-2 Newcastle United: Toffees downed by a familiar foe

Steve Bruce relieved some of the intense pressure he had been under as Newcastle ended an 11-game winless run in all competitions with victory at Goodison Park.

It was no surprise that Callum Wilson was the inspiration behind the win, the England international's brace means he has now been involved in 67 per cent of the Magpies' 21 Premier League goals this season (10 goals, four assists).

His first goal was his 50th in the Premier League, while he has only scored more against West Ham (eight) in the competition than he has versus Everton (six).

The Toffees, meanwhile, have now been defeated in four home league games this season. That is the most Carlo Ancelotti has lost in a single campaign since the 2007-08 campaign with Milan, when he was also beaten four times.

Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson made his 300th Premier League appearance in the defeat to become the second Icelandic player to reach the milestone after Hermann Hreidarsson (332).

Southampton 0-1 Aston Villa: Grealish and Barkley combine to overcome Saints

Villa secured a first win over Southampton in the Premier League since December 2013 thanks to Ross Barkley's first-half goal, laid on by the superb Jack Grealish.

Grealish has now been involved in 15 league goals (six goals, nine assists) in a single season for the first time, eclipsing his tally of last term when he scored eight goals and created six for his team-mates.

Only Harry Kane (11) and Kevin De Bruyne (10) have more assists than Grealish this season, while the last Villa player to register more in a single season in the competition was Ashley Young with 10 in 2010-11.

Dean Smith's side were also indebted to another clean sheet from goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, whose 10th shutout of the campaign is only bettered by City's Ederson (12).

Defeat for Southampton means they have lost three consecutive top-flight matches for the first time since November 2019, while they have also failed to score in five of their past seven Premier League games - they had only drawn a blank in five of their previous 41 in the competition before this.

Jurgen Klopp fears Manchester City "could run away" with the Premier League as Liverpool desperately fight to keep hold of their title.

City beat Sheffield United 1-0 on Saturday to make it a club-record 12 wins in a row, with eight top-flight victories on the bounce moving Pep Guardiola's side seven points clear of the champions.

The Reds, who ended a five-match winless league slump with an impressive 3-1 win at Tottenham on Thursday, head to in-form West Ham on Sunday needing a victory to keep the pressure on.

It is in stark contrast to last term, when Klopp's charges roared clear to win the league by 18 points. In fact, with only just over the half the season gone, no side can now surpass Liverpool's tally of 99 from last term.

Klopp was asked whether this might be the most exciting title race, with so many clubs in the mix, and if perhaps it could be won with the fewest points, a record belonging to Manchester United after their 1996-97 triumph with 75 on the board.

But the German warned that Guardiola's men are looking nicely poised to claim the trophy back, with his own side's chances hampered by injuries.

"Will it be the most exciting run-in with different teams in and around? Could be, but City could run away now as well. They're in a good position, playing good football again," he said.

"I don't know, I don't know if it will be the lowest amount of points, I don't even know how many points are out there to get.

"What we see is it's a difficult season for all teams, maybe apart from West Ham and Leicester look pretty good as well.

"So a lot of teams look good but we all have our ups and downs during the season.

"It's for a sure a season when you need to be lucky with injuries, to be really on top of things. More so than in other years because of the amount of games in a specific period.

"But I can imagine watching from outside it's really exciting, especially for a neutral fan. I don't know who will be champions at the end of the season." 

Liverpool lost the influential Virgil van Dijk to a serious knee injury in the Merseyside derby back in October, while centre-back partner Joe Gomez is likely to miss the rest of the campaign having damaged his patella in November.

Joel Matip's fitness issues reared their head again in the win at Spurs when he damaged his ankle.

The Anfield club have had to utilise defensive midfielder Fabinho almost exclusively in defence this term, with skipper Jordan Henderson also filling in at centre-back.

Pep Guardiola described his players as "animals" after they extended their advantage at the top of the Premier League with victory over Sheffield United.

City claimed a fifth 1-0 league victory of the season as Gabriel Jesus' early goal and another impressive defensive performance clinched the points.

Afterwards, Guardiola revealed he expected nothing less than a difficult match against Chris Wilder's disciplined Blades.

He was delighted with the way his players stuck to the task of keeping their opponents at arm's length throughout.

He told Sky Sports: "So difficult [to] win, like we knew it [would be], an incredibly huge victory for us.

"It's amazing after this run of victories in a row, 12 in all competitions, still the players run and fight like animals.

"We concede one [chance] at the end, it was dangerous, but it's so difficult an opponent. We knew it.

"Every time we play against them, we struggle a lot but we concede few [chances] and this is important."

City moved four points clear of second-placed neighbours Manchester United in the Premier League with their win over Sheffield United on Saturday.

That a game against the team currently propping up the division was so tricky speaks volumes about how big an achievement it is to hit the summit, Guardiola believes.

He added: "With these weather conditions when we woke up, we said, 'Today, forget about it, it will be one of the toughest games of the season.' And it was.

"The team who is now top of the league [played against] the team who is bottom of the league and we didn't know what is going to happen.

"The team was incredibly committed, didn't make mistakes, they were so focused in the second balls and long balls.

"We won a lot of duels and we lacked a little bit to create chances but it's so difficult because they defend [with] 10 players, defending all the space inside, they allow you to go outside so it's not easy.

"And after that, with the ball, they know exactly what they have to do. Chris and his team they are a long time together, they know exactly what to do.

"That is the real proof that the Premier League is incredibly tough: the team at the bottom of the league is this team. This team showed that everything has to be won, there's nothing given."

Manchester City set a new club record of 12 consecutive wins in all competitions by beating Sheffield United 1-0 on Saturday.

An early goal from Gabriel Jesus and a 12th Premier League clean sheet of the season helped Pep Guardiola's side to victory and a four-point lead at the top of the division.

The streak is the longest winning run by a Premier League side since Arsenal racked up 12 in a row between August and October 2007.

It also secured a new milestone for a team whose recent recovery has revived a campaign that started in mixed fashion.

City sat in sixth place, five points off the summit after drawing at home to West Brom prior to their sensational winning run getting under way.

However, they are now not only top of the pile in the league, but also into the EFL Cup final and the fifth round of the FA Cup.

In fact, City's nine wins in all competitions in January is the most achieved by a team in the top four tiers of English football in a single month since the formation of the Football League in 1888.

Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points as they beat Sheffield United 1-0 to make it a club-record 12 wins in a row in all competitions.

Pep Guardiola's side continued a renaissance that has restored them to the summit of the English top flight and marked them out as clear favourites to clinch the title.

Gabriel Jesus' ninth-minute strike decided the game but, while City failed to add to their advantage as a result of a blunt performance in the final third, they never looked like conceding an equaliser.

Sheffield United arrived at the Etihad Stadium with a renewed sense of hope following their shock midweek victory away to Manchester United.

But City quickly set about extinguishing any optimism, Ferran Torres capitalising on a defensive mix-up before showing great feet to beat his man on the byline and teeing up Jesus for a tap-in.

Although the nature of the opener will have disappointed Blades boss Chris Wilder, he will have been pleased with his players' response to such an early setback.

They restricted the hosts to just one more shot on target before the break thanks to more of the sort of solidity that had earned them three points across Manchester on Wednesday evening.

Unsurprisingly, City looked to up the tempo following the restart, and went close through a Ruben Dias header from Ilkay Gundogan's cross within two minutes.

But they continued to struggle to carve out clear opportunities, their next big chance again coming from a corner as Aymeric Laporte's header forced Aaron Ramsdale into a save.

Sheffield United enjoyed their best spell of the match in the final five minutes, with a John Fleck long-distance effort whistling just past the post in that period.

However, they had left it too late to put sustained pressure on the hosts, who saw out the remaining minutes to claim yet another victory in a remarkable run of form.

What does it mean? City juggernaut rolls on

City's previous title successes under Guardiola have been built on a simply unstoppable attack occasionally covering for a less-than-convincing defence, but that certainly isn't the case with this team.

The Blues have conceded the fewest goals (13) and kept the most clean sheets (12) of any side in the Premier League this season, and that is driving a renewed charge to regain the title.

Laporte proves worth

Ruben Dias' role in City's recent defensive improvement means only the spot next to him is up for grabs when it comes to Guardiola picking a team.

Laporte strengthened his case to start more regularly, winning a team-high eight aerial duels out of the nine he contested against physical opposition.

The defender also took more touches than any player on the pitch (137) and completed the most passes (119).

Brewster struggles continue

Brought into a team that pulled off a huge shock at Old Trafford, Rhian Brewster failed to stake a claim to more regular starts.

The Englishman managed just one speculative shot from distance and fewer touches than any other starter (20).

What's next?

Manchester City will look to extend their winning run against Burnley at Turf Moor on Wednesday, while Sheffield United must try to get back to winning ways at home to West Brom 24 hours earlier.

Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points as they beat Sheffield United 1-0.

Pep Guardiola's side claimed a 12th successive win in all competitions to continue a renaissance that has restored them to the summit of the English top flight and marked them out as clear favourites to clinch the title.

Gabriel Jesus' ninth-minute strike decided the game but, while City failed to add to their advantage as a result of a blunt performance in the final third, they never looked like conceding an equaliser.

Sheffield United arrived at the Etihad Stadium with a renewed sense of hope following their shock midweek victory away to Manchester United.

But City quickly set about extinguishing any optimism, Ferran Torres capitalising on a defensive mix-up before showing great feet to beat his man on the byline and teeing up Jesus for a tap-in.

Although the nature of the opener will have disappointed Blades boss Chris Wilder, he will have been pleased with his players' response to such an early setback.

They restricted the hosts to just one more shot on target before the break thanks to more of the sort of solidity that had earned them three points across Manchester on Wednesday evening.

Unsurprisingly, City looked to up the tempo following the restart, and went close through a Ruben Dias header from Ilkay Gundogan's cross within two minutes.

But they continued to struggle to carve out clear opportunities, their next big chance again coming from a corner as Aymeric Laporte's header forced Aaron Ramsdale into a save.

Sheffield United enjoyed their best spell of the match in the final five minutes, with a John Fleck long-distance effort whistling just past the post in that period.

However, they had left it too late to put sustained pressure on the hosts, who saw out the remaining minutes to claim yet another victory in a remarkable run of form.

What does it mean? City juggernaut rolls on

City's previous title successes under Guardiola have been built on a simply unstoppable attack occasionally covering for a less-than-convincing defence, but that certainly isn't the case with this team.

The Blues have conceded the fewest goals (13) and kept the most clean sheets (12) of any side in the Premier League this season, and that is driving a renewed charge to regain the title.

What's next?

Manchester City will look to extend their winning run against Burnley at Turf Moor on Wednesday, while Sheffield United must try to get back to winning ways at home to West Brom 24 hours earlier.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

For so long, Real Madrid have been favourites to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Premier League champions Liverpool are believed to be stepping up their pursuit.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL FRONTRUNNERS FOR MBAPPE

Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid in the race to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe , according to Canal+ show Late Football Club.

Mbappe has been tipped to leave Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Madrid at the end of the season.

But Liverpool are reportedly the frontrunners to prise the France World Cup winner to Anfield amid doubts over Mohamed Salah 's future.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Madrid are preparing for the departure of Sergio Ramos as their star captain nears an exit. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with the likes of PSG , Juventus , Manchester United and Manchester City .

- Will Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Inter's Alexis Sanchez swap clubs? Sky Sport Italia reports an exchange deal could be set to collapse. City reportedly turned down a chance to re-sign Dzeko, who has a fractured relationship with Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca.

Milan are continuing to target Palmeiras and Uruguayan defender Matias Vina , says Calciomercato.

- Cadena Cope reports PSG want to sign Barcelona defender Emerson , who is on loan at Real Betis.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk says United are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano , but Bayern Munich lead the race to secure his services at season's end. Upamecano has also been linked to the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool .

- Falk also confirmed that Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate has a release clause in excess of €40million (£35m) amid interest from United , Liverpool and Tottenham .

United are eyeing Barca's Ousmane Dembele if Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho does not arrive ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, according to Falk.

Barcelona made a mistake not selling superstar captain Lionel Messi at the start of the season, according to Rivaldo.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the current campaign and the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner appears likely to leave on a free transfer amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

The 33-year-old attacker had tried to exit Camp Nou prior to the start of 2020-21 before opting to remain with the LaLiga giants.

As Barca struggle financially amid the coronavirus pandemic, former star Rivaldo wrote in his Betfair column: "Barcelona were not in good financial health pre-pandemic, but things got nasty in the last year and beyond Lionel Messi's almost inevitable departure, the club may need to sell some more important players to generate income.

"As I mentioned previously, the club's board made a mistake by not selling Lionel Messi while he was still under contract, something Real Madrid did with Cristiano Ronaldo receiving around €100million in exchange [from transfer to Juventus].

"It's sad to see such a talented and valuable player leaving Barca for free when the club is going through so many financial problems.

"But looking to potential transfers that might occur, I think Phillipe Coutinho time may have be coming to an end. He has admirers in England and perhaps Barcelona could generate some good income with his sale, allowing them to keep others like Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann.

"The Brazilian never managed to show his best football in Spain, and since his better moments happened in Premier League I'm sure there will be clubs interested in his services and available to pay considerable amounts, although not quite what Barcelona paid to Liverpool!"

Barca are third in the table and 10 points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid as they prepare to host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Athletic stunned Messi's Barca in the Supercopa de Espana final earlier this month.

Ilkay Gundogan's hot streak in front of goal means another successful Premier League title tilt is brewing at Manchester City, but Pep Guardiola has not given up on playing with a conventional striker.

Injury problems for Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus this season, both of whom have also tested positive for coronavirus, forced Guardiola to think outside the box for matters inside the box.

The results, especially in recent weeks have been dazzling.

Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres have all spent times operating at the point of City's fluid attack.

However, the main beneficiary of the confusion and space opened up within opposition defences has been Ilkay Gundogan.

The Germany international's brace in Wednesday's 5-0 thrashing of West Brom took his tally to seven Premier League goals in his past eight matches - already more than he has managed in any top-flight campaign during his career.

Gundogan's purple patch began with the opening goal in a 1-1 draw against the Baggies on December 15.

From that point onwards, no player can match the ex-Borussia Dortmund playmaker's tally, with Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette next up on five. Gundogan's minutes-per-goal rate of 92.4 is better than any other player over the same period with two or more goals.

"There are players who are in front of the keeper and could take a coffee and still have time to do a good finish. The others get nervous. It is a quality in itself," Guardiola said of the Gundogan, somewhat appropriately a week when the 30-year-old midfielder launched a charity initiative to help cafes and restaurants in Manchester struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

"The quality of his finishing we have always seen. As a holding midfielder [where Gundogan played during the run-in of City's treble-winning 2018-19 season] the distance to get to the box was difficult but he has a special sense of finishing.

"The last two goals in the game against West Bromwich explain perfectly the quality because it shows how quickly he moves and the quality of the shot. It is not easy to find that.

"We are delighted because it is not easy to control the players who come from the second line behind.

"It is easier to control the strikers, but more difficult for the players in behind and he is exceptional."

City are still waiting on Aguero to return a negative COVID-19 test so he can resume first-team duties and the Argentina international's struggles on his return from meniscus surgery - including a further hamstring setback - mean only two of his five scoreless Premier League outings this season have been starts.

In the last of those, he made way at half-time for Foden, who promptly secured a 1-1 draw at West Ham as the visitors played the second 45 minutes without a recognised centre-forward.

Jesus has started eight matches, with four wins, three draws and a defeat to his name. In 11 without him in the first XI, City have improved that 50 per cent win ratio to 72.7 (W8 D2 L1).

Although their average of goals per game is slightly higher with Brazil international in the starting line-up (two compared to 1.8), City average 16.7 shots per game when he doesn't make kick-off as opposed to 15.6 when he does.

Even though seven straight wins have come predominantly in striker-less fashion, Guardiola still believes Jesus and Aguero have an important part to play as Saturday's game against bottom club Sheffield United begins the second half of the league season.

"I never put pressure on Sergio and Gabriel to solve all the problems we have up front," he said. "The reason why we score goals and win games is because our game itself is better, nothing more secret.

"There are games I need a striker and other games I prefer to play without a proper one, but there is one consequence - if you play with a striker or not you have to have six or seven players arrive to the box.

"It is another way to read the game. Sometimes I need one, sometimes two, sometimes I need a striker to drop to play with the midfield players. It depends on the opponents and the skills of my players in that moment."

Reports in Italy this week claimed City had been offered a more traditional number nine in the form of Edin Dzeko, a one-time crowd favourite at the Etihad Stadium who has fallen out of favour at Roma.

It is a move that probably appeals more to sentimentalists within the City fanbase than Guardiola himself, meaning it will not have escaped their notice that the manager did not categorically rule out the move.

"I don't talk about the transfer market here. He's a Roma player and I will never discuss this kind of situation," Guardiola added.

"My feeling is that we will finish the season with everyone that we started the season with, except maybe one player [Eric Garcia] that everyone knows may be moving.

"I don't think anything else will happen. We will see in the final few days [of the transfer window]."

Pep Guardiola has criticised candidates in the Barcelona presidential race for talking too much about Manchester City defender Eric Garcia.

Spain international Garcia has long been linked with a return to his boyhood club since failing to agree an extension to his contract at the Etihad Stadium last year.

The 20-year-old centre-back's terms expire at the end of this season, when signing him on a free transfer might be the most prudent course of action for a financially embattled Barca.

One of the candidates, Toni Freixa, said this is the likely conclusion to the saga, although Victor Font this week claimed Garcia would go unpaid for the rest of the season in order to force through a move.

Acting Barca president Carles Tusquets does not have the authority to sign players during this window after the presidential election was delayed until March 7, adding another layer of complication.

Guardiola has already stated he is "pretty sure" Garcia will leave City when the 2020-21 campaign concludes, although there was a weariness when he addressed the matter once more as the Premier League leaders prepare to host Sheffield United.

"I don't want to talk anything about this case because the people talk much," he said, in comments apparently directed towards Freixa and Font, who are standing against his old boss at Camp Nou, Joan Laporta.

"He's our player, the transfer window finishes in a few days.

"We are fully committed with him while he is here because is an exceptional player and guy and that's all."

Saturday's top-versus-bottom clash at the Etihad Stadium threatens to be more competitive than billed if events this midweek on the other side of Manchester are anything to go by.

Chris Wilder's Sheffield United claimed only their second top-flight win of the season, stunning Manchester United 2-1 in a result that means City are in first place at the end of a round of fixtures for the first time this term.

"Of what I saw before the United game, Sheffield United is a team that is alive. [You can tell] from their body language," said Guardiola.

"It is not easy with the results they have got this season and that speaks incredibly well about Chris, his staff and the players.

"The result against United speaks for itself. Everybody knows how difficult it is to win at Old Trafford."

The Blades remain bottom, three points behind a West Brom side City thumped 5-0 last time out and 10 points from safety.

Nevertheless, Guardiola believes they have a chance of survival and is wary of a team his men edged past 1-0 in their previous two meetings, both of which were at Bramall Lane.

"I think the reason why they are still a team and they are alive is because they are together for a long time with the same manager and they believe each other a lot," he said.

"That is why they were able to do what they did a few days ago. But it is an opportunity to try to play good again and win the game."

Guardiola added: "To play Sheffield, it is always uncomfortable to us, that system, the 5-3-2, it is difficult to attack, that is why I’m a little bit concerned about the game."

Manchester City are threatening to run away from the rest of the Premier League and their success has been in a large part down to the previously unsung Ilkay Gundogan.

As they prepare to face Sheffield United, who surprisingly may be relishing a second trip to Manchester in four days, we look at who else is making City tick.

A trio of Pep Guardiola's players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with high performers from Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Crystal Palace.

EDOUARD MENDY

One thing is for certain: Chelsea's new boss Thomas Tuchel will know all about Mendy. Tuchel's old Paris Saint-Germain side faced Mendy twice in Ligue 1 during the goalkeeper's Reims days, scoring four the first time but just once second time around in a shock defeat. Last season saw Mendy help Rennes finish third in the French top flight.

The goalkeeper conceded just three times in his first eight Premier League games for Chelsea but has shipped 11 in eight matches since that bright start.

Clean sheets in two of his past three league games, however, suggest Mendy and the Chelsea defence are getting their act together.

Ahead of a home clash with Burnley, only one goalkeeper - City's Ederson (61 per cent) - has kept a higher share of clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Tuchel's new number one, with Mendy avoiding conceding in eight of his 16 appearances.

JOAO CANCELO

Move over Andy Robertson, there's a new defensive assist king in town. City's Cancelo has created more chances from open play than any defender in the Premier League this season after setting up 30 opportunities.

Admittedly, Robertson is second on that list after making 27 chances for Liverpool team-mates, but Cancelo has played four fewer games than the Scot.

With City facing the Blades at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, the flying full-back will doubtless be eyeing up more forward missions.

RUBEN DIAS

If City are to succeed where neighbours Manchester United failed, by keeping out the Blades, then Dias may have a big role to play.

The Portuguese centre-back has achieved more clean sheets than any other Premier League defender this season, playing in 10 games where City have had shutouts.

He is yet to score but has an xG value of 1.4, suggesting he is getting into positions from where he might soon be due a goal.

Only James Tarkowski (1.62) and Adam Webster (1.66) have a higher xG value without scoring among Premier League defenders this season.

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes is enjoying a purple patch after scoring three times and claiming two assists in his past six Premier League games.

Perhaps back him while he's hot as Leicester host Leeds United on Sunday.

Barnes has six goals and three assists in the top flight this season, while he also scored six and assisted eight goals across the previous Premier League campaign.

ILKAY GUNDOGAN

It seemed unlikely that Gundogan would be the man to step up and be City's top scorer in the absence of Sergio Aguero this season.

Despite Aguero having been rarely available, the name of Gundogan at the top of City's list of Premier League top scorers might mystify many.

But his seven goals have come from some exhilarating performances, and all have come in his past eight league games. This weekend he could become the first German player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Where would Palace be without Zaha? The Championship seems a likely answer to that, as again his goals and attacking drive are propping up their campaign.

Palace are suffering at the moment, though, having won just one of their past nine league matches, so Saturday's home game with Wolves would be a good moment for Zaha to fire.

He has nine goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season – only in 2018-19, when he netted 10 times, has he managed more in a single campaign in the competition.

MICHAIL ANTONIO

West Ham are challenging for Champions League football. Those eight words are a lot to take in, but Antonio has had a big say in their success this season.

He has five goals in 12 games in the Premier League and two goals and an assist in his past three outings ahead of a home clash with Liverpool, who sit just behind the Hammers.

Antonio enjoys facing Liverpool, having scored more goals against the Reds than any other West Ham player in the Premier League era. His four goals in six appearances against the reigning champions shows Antonio should not be overawed by Sunday's London Stadium occasion.

Could he rub salt into Liverpool's wounds as Jurgen Klopp's side, and their vulnerable defence, wonder where their title challenge has gone to?

Paris Saint-Germain have disrespected Barcelona by publicly discussing a move for Lionel Messi and the Spanish club should take action, says Joan Laporta.  

Messi's future remains unclear as his contract at Barcelona continues to wind down. The talismanic forward was linked with Manchester City having made clear his desire to leave in the previous transfer window, though he ended up remaining at Camp Nou to see out his current deal.  

Negotiations over a renewal are not helped by the uncertainty over the identity of the next president at the Spanish club, though an election date is now set for March 7.  

Laporta is one of the remaining candidates in the running and has made clear the importance of making Messi an offer that helps convince him to stay – and is not happy with how PSG have talked about potentially signing the 33-year-old.  

Leonardo, sporting director at the Ligue 1 champions, said this month that "great players like Messi will always be on PSG's list", his comment coming after ex-Barca player Neymar fuelled speculation last December by declaring his desire to play alongside his former team-mate again in 2021.

"The club has to be able to make a good proposal to Messi so that he understands and accepts it," Laporta - previously Barca president between 2003 and 2010 - told the media on Wednesday. 

"I would understand any response from Leo. He has to know the situation of the club and this is urgent. The situation is consolidating; he is free to negotiate with another club, and Barcelona are without a president. 

"PSG allow themselves to publicly say they want to sign Messi. Barcelona cannot allow this. It is disrespectful, even more so coming from a club-state that breaks the rules.

"We have to work with UEFA and FIFA on this. PSG must abstain from [talking about Messi]. It is out of place for another club to speak about him - and there is no president to respond."

Laporta also made clear his position over the potential signing of Eric Garcia, the Manchester City centre-back strongly linked with a return to Spain.

A January move has been rumoured but Barca's financial troubles may make a deal difficult, particularly with the player set to be out of contract at the end of the season.

"I remain in the position I had when this possibility was raised. If a player wants to come to Barca, he has to prove it and if in June he would come for free," Laporta said in reference to the defender.

"It is hard for me to understand why we would have to give money to a competing club.

"I do not understand that the manager attributes the power to negotiate a salary or to pay money now when in June it would not have to be paid, even more so taking into account the economic situation of the club."

Eric Garcia would be willing to go unpaid for the rest of the season to force through a protracted return to Barcelona from Manchester City this month, according to Blaugrana presidential candidate Victor Font.

Garcia, 20, came through Barca's La Masia academy before being snapped up by City in 2017, subsequently making the breakthrough into the club's first-team squad.

Although he made 20 appearances across all competitions last term as he began to establish himself, Garcia delayed signing a new contract and now looks set to leave by the end of the season when his deal expires.

Pep Guardiola has already accepted Garcia will likely leave, but Barca's acting president Carles Tusquets does not have the authority to sign players, with the delayed election set to take place on March 7.

Media reports claim Tusquets and the three presidential candidates had previously agreed to wait until the end of Garcia's contract to sign him, such is the club's crippling financial state.

But now Font is urging the acting board to bring plans forward and meet City's €3million asking price, adamant he could significantly improve the team's chances of winning trophies this term.

"Eric Garcia is willing to make an effort and not get paid this season. He is crazy about coming immediately, he is committed and eager to play," Font told a news conference on Wednesday.

"The steps we have taken allow us to understand that the incorporation of Eric Garcia is possible for now, the club can take it on financially.

"Ronald Koeman and our sports structure consider his signing fundamental to aspire to all the titles this year. From here we ask that the management board make the decision to sign Eric this week."

Financial records dating back to August last year were recently uncovered and revealed Barca's debts topped €1billion, with their financial woes a key talking point in the various presidential campaigns.

While Joan Laporta – the favourite to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu as president – previously said signing Garcia this month is not possible due to Barca's debts, Font claims the club are in a position to sanction the move.

"If he is willing not to charge this season, why don't we incorporate him? City accepts €3m plus variables," Font continued. "The impact on Barca's accounts would be €230,000 of amortisation. How do we motivate Koeman if the only request he has is denied?

"There is a European Championship in the summer. Eric having minutes is essential so that Luis Enrique can count on him in the national team.

"There is no formal agreement with City but we have made the necessary arrangements so that if Oscar Grau [Barca CEO] calls City, he can verify that they are true - the conditions of €3m fixed, plus variables."

The battle to sign David Alaba continues among European giants, while Thomas Tuchel is eyeing Dayot Upamecano at Chelsea.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and it was reported this month the defender had agreed a deal with Real Madrid.

But it seems the race to secure the Austria international's signature remains on.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS FIGHT FOR ALABA

Real Madrid have offered Alaba €11million per year and Manchester City are prepared to give the Bayern Munich star €14m, according to AS.

The report says Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are also battling to sign Alaba.

Alaba has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea head coach was confirmed on Tuesday, and the former PSG boss is already looking to strengthen. Bild reports Tuchel wants RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano at Stamford Bridge. It comes as The Guardian reports Chelsea's interest in West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is likely to end following Frank Lampard's sacking.

- Real Madrid have work to do before the end of the season. Marca reports Luka Modric has agreed a new contract with Madrid, while Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez are yet to accept offers. The report says Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez are their next priorities.

- Eric Garcia is linked with a move to Barcelona. Sport reports the next president of the Catalan giants must ratify the defender's five-year deal if the Manchester City defender is to arrive ahead of next season.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain the end of the season, Angel Di Maria's future is uncertain. L'Equipe reports the attacker, though, is on track for an extension with the Ligue 1 giants.

- Staying at PSG and the club are still pushing to sign Dele Alli on loan, according to Fabrizio Romano, who reports Tottenham are unwilling to let the midfielder go until they sign a replacement.

- Jordi Alba turns 32 in March and Barcelona are considering the left-back's successor. Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia's Jose Gaya and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso are candidates.

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