John Stones hopes rediscovering his best form for Manchester City will lead to an England recall after the defender scored in Saturday's 3-0 win over Fulham.

Pep Guardiola's side extended their lead at the Premier League summit to 17 points, with all three goals coming in the second half at Craven Cottage.

It was Stones who got the ball rolling early in the second half, before Gabriel Jesus scored and Sergio Aguero ended his goal drought from the penalty spot.

Stones has now scored five goals in all competitions this season and has strung together a series of fine displays to put himself firmly back on Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate's radar, and the 26-year-old revealed earning the right to add to his 39 caps was a motivation for him.

Asked if an England recall was on his mind, he said: "Definitely. It's a massive honour for me and being out of the [recent] squads has been difficult for me.

"It's been a motivation for me and I've worked hard to get back into the team here and the England call-up – if it comes – is progress from what I've done for City."

Fulham, fresh from a 1-0 win over champions Liverpool, provided a stern test in a cagey opening 45 minutes before City pulled away.

It was a much-changed visiting side, with Guardiola's men competing for silverware on four fronts, and Stones was pleased with how the incoming players performed in a testing encounter in London.

"Everyone that came in deserves every bit of credit for the way we played," he said. "We fought and stayed so patient, which is difficult in moments like this.

"I'm glad to get on the scoresheet again. We knew that they keep such a high line from set-pieces. I tried to time my run as best as I could. The ball was great from Joao [Cancelo]. We told him to go over earlier to have an in-swinging ball and it paid off.

"We know that the squad is rotated because of the schedule of whatever it may be that the manager decides. We all know our roles and responsibilities.

"Give a lot of credit to Fulham. The way they play their football doesn't really reflect where they are in the table.

"They're a strong opposition and they made it hard for us in the first half. It was hard to find space in the pockets and in behind.

"We corrected a few things and it was great to get three points again and another clean sheet."

Sergio Aguero scored his first Premier League goal since January 2020 as Manchester City cruised to a straightforward 3-0 win at Fulham and extended their lead at the top of the table.

Scott Parker's Cottagers had given their survival hopes a massive boost with a 1-0 win at Liverpool last weekend, but runaway leaders City brought them back down to Earth with a clinical second-half display.

Neither side looked particularly impressive in the first half, with City's few opportunities not giving Alphonse Areola a great deal to worry about.

But Pep Guardiola's men took their chances in the second period as Fulham gifted them a couple of goals, with John Stones, Gabriel Jesus and Aguero netting, the latter's penalty his first league strike since January 21 last year after being plagued by injuries.

Fulham were initially the brighter of the two teams as Ademola Lookman's pace and trickery caused issues, but he was guilty of overplaying early on and allowed Ruben Dias to block a shot.

Bernardo Silva and Aguero both drew routine saves from Areola at the other end, but the goalkeeper was helpless to keep City out at the start of the second half.

Just 76 seconds after the restart, Stones latched on to Joao Cancelo's free-kick delivery and guided the ball in from close range.

It was 3-0 by the hour mark – first, Jesus rounded Areola and smashed home after Joachim Andersen's clearance struck Ivan Cavaleiro and fell kindly for the Brazilian.

Then former City youngster Tosin Adarabioyo was tackled on the edge of his own area by Ferran Torres and he subsequently hauled the Spaniard down, with Aguero converting the penalty.

City comfortably saw the game out to extend their lead at the summit to 17 points, though second-placed Manchester United do have two games in hand.

What does it mean? City make Fulham pay for errors as hosts get a reality check

Having lost just one of their previous seven Premier League games, Fulham have hoisted themselves back to within touching distance of safety and have received a lot of praise for their performances.

But there were hints of them believing the hype as they played one pass too many in decisive areas, meaning City were able to keep them out at the back and punish those errors at the other end.

City were by no means excellent in the first half, with many of their regulars held back for the week ahead, yet you still got the impression they knew what they were doing.

Cancelo catches the eye

It was not a match full of standout individual performances, but Cancelo – as he often does – did make his mark.

The Portuguese full-back has developed into a key man for City and he was a joy to watch here, his forays forward adding an extra dimension to his team.

While he only played one key pass in open play, he also got the assist for Stones' opener with a gorgeous delivery and was solid defensively, making five tackles – tied with Rodri for the most by a City player.

Adarabioyo's day to forget

Playing against his former team, Adarabioyo will have been desperate to impress, and perhaps that was partly to blame for his decision-making in the lead-up to the City penalty.

His attempt to dribble past Torres was unnecessary and he conceded the foul. That aside it is difficult to say he impressed much defensively, failing to make any tackles or clearances.

What's next?

City now turn their attentions towards the Champions League as they face Borussia Monchengladbach in the second leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday. As for Fulham, they host Leeds United on Friday.

All eyes will be on Emirates Stadium on Sunday when Tottenham chase a first league double over Arsenal in the north London derby since 1992-93.

Premier League leaders Manchester City are also in the capital, giving struggling Fulham a tough task at Craven Cottage in Saturday's late kick-off.

The most intriguing tactical battle of the weekend could come at Elland Road, where Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United host Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea, while West Ham are likely to face a thorough examination of their top-four ambitions at Manchester United.

Here, we give a few pointers on which players could come up trumps in fantasy football terms.

DEAN HENDERSON

England goalkeeper Henderson has not played too frequently since opting to make a go of things with parent club Manchester United.

But when he has featured for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, the 24-year-old has generally impressed, even if his midweek outing against Milan in the Europa League contained an unwanted sting in the tail.

If David de Gea is absent once more against West Ham, Henderson's 19 saves from 22 shots faced in the Premier League this season suggests the United goal is in safe hands. His save percentage of 86.4 is the best of any goalkeeper to have played more than one game this season.

AARON CRESSWELL

Given the dearth of natural left-back options available to England manager Gareth Southgate, a strong season at West Ham for Cresswell could turn out to have been perfectly timed.

The full-back is also a threat in opposition territory, with his seven assists more than any other defender in the division. It is a left-back dominated list, with Lucas Digne up next on six from Andy Robertson, Luke Shaw (both five) and Southgate's first choice Ben Chilwell (four).

Seven assists also matches the most productive season of Cresswell's career in that regard, having provided the same number in 2017-18.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Tuchel has overseen a defensive transformation since taking over from Frank Lampard, tightening up an unhelpfully leaky backline.

Club captain Azpilicueta has been a pillar of this turnaround. His eight clean sheets are the most for any Premier League defender in 2021.

Azpilicueta is one ahead of rejuvenated club-mate Antonio Rudiger, while Manchester City centre-backs John Stones and Ruben Dias and Manchester United duo Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka similarly have seven apiece.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Relegation-haunted West Brom would be forgiven for dreading the sight of Crystal Palace winger Zaha.

In his past four outings against the Baggies, the Ivory Coast international has scored four times.

That run includes a second-half brace from when Palace hammered the Baggies 5-1 at The Hawthorns in December – a result that would prove influential in Slaven Bilic's sacking later that month.

RAHEEM STERLING

England forward Sterling sat out City's 5-2 win over Southampton in midweek after his latest disappointment in the derby against United.

His native London is a far happier hunting ground, with the 26-year-old amassing 16 goal involvements (10 goals and six assists) in his previous 16 Premier League starts in the English capital.

Sterling continued that streak last time out at Emirates Stadium, heading the only goal early on in a 1-0 win over Arsenal.

GARETH BALE

This weekend, another wide forward on a hot streak will be foremost in Arsenal's thoughts.

A revitalised Bale scored twice in a 4-1 win over Palace last weekend, meaning he has had a hand in six goals in his past four top-flight appearances (four goals and two assists).

And, if you believe the form book stays on this side of the window on derby day, the Wales star has five Premier League goals against Arsenal – more than against any other side in his career.

DOMINIC CALVERT-LEWIN

As the battle for a top-four finish hots up, sides in the chasing pack will need players to weigh in with 'heavy' goals.

Thankfully for Everton, no player's goals in the Premier League this season have been worth more in terms of points gained than Calvert-Lewin's.

The centre-forward, who was rewarded with an England breakthrough following a sensational start to the campaign, has netted 13 times in the league this season – strikes that have won a total of 14 points.

Burnley, this weekend's visitors to Goodison Park, could be the next team to add to his tally.

A second coming for Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish capital?

After a trophy-laden spell with Real Madrid, Ronaldo made the switch to Juventus.

But Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer is reportedly keen on a second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO EYEING MADRID REUNION

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to return to Real Madrid, according to the frontpage of Saturday's Diario AS.

Ronaldo's future with Juventus has been placed in doubt following the club's Champions League last-16 exit.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who left Madrid for Juve in 2018, has reportedly been in contact with Los Blancos for months.

 

ROUND-UP

- New Barcelona president Joan Laporta will offer superstar captain Lionel Messi a fresh contract in the coming weeks, reports Mundo Deportivo. The deal would include Messi – heavily tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City as a free agent at the end of the season – becoming a club ambassador after retirement. Laporta is also set to push ahead with moves for Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and City forward Sergio Aguero.

City lead the race to sign Haaland, according to the Daily Mail. Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Manchester United, Chelsea, LiverpoolJuve, PSG, Barca and Madrid.

Joao Felix is also an option at the Etihad Stadium. Cuatro claims the Atletico Madrid star is a target if Aguero leaves City.

- Le10Sport claims PSG remain in talks with Neymar over a four-year contract extension. A deal is believed to be some way off.

Harry Maguire wants United to sign an English-speaking defender, reports The Transfer Window Podcast. The Red Devils have been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly. But Brighton and Hove Albion's Ben White has emerged as a target.

- TMW Radio says Atletico could be set to make a move for Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz. The Spain international has been previously linked with Barca and Madrid.

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero played down growing speculation over a move to LaLiga giants Barcelona.

Aguero is out of contract at the end of the season and City's record goalscorer is yet to re-sign with the Premier League leaders.

There have been rumours that Aguero has a formal agreement with new Barca president Joan Laporta to join close friend Lionel Messi at Camp Nou.

Aguero, who has been hampered by injuries and is struggling to break into Pep Guardiola's starting XI this season, responded to the speculation.

"They are all writing Barca, Barca, Barca," the 32-year-old Argentine forward said via Twitch.

"Let's hold on a little, have a look. Stop. We are still with City."

It is now 13-and-a-half months since Aguero – fourth on the competition's all-time scorers list – added to his 180 Premier League goals.

A meniscus injury requiring surgery during Project Restart ended his 2019-20 campaign and further knee soreness, a hamstring injury and a bout of coronavirus have restricted him to a bit-part role this time around.

Aguero came off the bench in the 5-2 rout of Southampton, playing the final 18 minutes on Wednesday.

City are 14 points clear of neighbours Manchester United, who have a match in hand, atop the table ahead of Saturday's fixture against lowly Fulham.

Pep Guardiola is concerned he could lose players to injury because of the state of Manchester City's pitch.

The City manager feels his club are far from top of the league when it comes to their playing surface, casting an envious eye towards rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.

As he takes his team to Fulham on Saturday, Guardiola is expecting a far-from-perfect pitch at Craven Cottage, but it is issues at home that Guardiola wishes he could control.

City are streaking away in the Premier League, looking set for a third title in four years, and they could yet achieve an unprecedented quadruple.

But for Guardiola, City are achieving their success while being hampered by an Etihad Stadium problem: when autumn and winter comes, their pitch deteriorates.

"We have tried from day one, we have tried every season to find a solution, knowing that the weather's going to change so the sun will not come," Guardiola said.

"We have to try to find a way that for as much time as possible, and the time from October, November until March, the grass can be better as much as possible.

"We need it for, of course, avoiding injuries. So our football can be better for many, many reasons.

"And I'm sure the club will try to do, as it always has done and always does, the best to find a solution."

City's next Etihad Stadium assignment is due to be the April 10 clash with Leeds United, given next Tuesday's Champions League second leg against Borussia Monchengladbach has been switched to Budapest. That will be played at the Puskas Arena, which has a pitch Guardiola has described as like "a red carpet".

Guardiola, who borrowed the golf terminology of 'greenkeeper' to describe the City groundsmen, joked his team might have caused the damage to the pitch with a shabby style of football.

The reality is that City are perhaps the easiest team on the eye in the Premier League.

"I'm not a greenkeeper so I cannot give you a solution, the reason why, but the reality is not good," Guardiola said of City's pitch problem. "Maybe it's because our quality of football isn't good enough and we destroyed the grass, but I don't know.

"They give me the reasons and they give the reasons to the club and we follow and say, 'okay, this is what it is', and we accept it because I cannot argue with them because I'm not a greenkeeper."

Pep Guardiola has no doubt Chris Wilder would be challenging for Premier League glory if he managed Manchester City.

Wilder's time at Sheffield United looked to be coming to an end as Guardiola spoke out on Friday, with the Blades propping up the top-flight table after mustering just 14 points from 28 games.

That is a far cry from the situation with Guardiola's City, who have 68 points and look to be streaking towards a third championship in four seasons.

Yet Guardiola is known to rate Wilder, who led United to promotion in 2018-19 and to a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League last term.

"If he would be here he would be fighting to be champion. If I would be in Sheffield maybe I would fight to not be relegated," Guardiola told a news conference.

Speaking early in the afternoon, Guardiola was reluctant to say too much about Wilder before the manager's exit from Bramall Lane was confirmed.

"Right now it's not official. I'd prefer not to comment anything about that, but I have a good relationship with him from the time we've faced each other," the former Barcelona boss said.

"Of course I wish him all the best if he's still there or if it's not the case."


Why are Sheffield United in so much trouble?

Wilder's team have scored just 16 league goals this season, with only Derby in 2007-08 (13), Aston Villa in 2014-15 (15) and Huddersfield Town in 2018-19 (15) scoring fewer at this stage of a Premier League campaign.

The Blades have created more chances (196) than Everton (194), who sit sixth in the table heading into the weekend, albeit far fewer than City (350) have carved out.

The South Yorkshire side have also committed fewer errors leading to goals (three) than Liverpool (nine), Chelsea (six) and Manchester United (four).

However, a shot conversion rate of just 6.58 per cent from Sheffield United is the worst in the Premier League, and their 'big chance' conversion rate of 21.62 per cent also puts them at the bottom of the pile.

Pep Guardiola has admitted Manchester City have a worrying pitch problem as they attempt to land an unprecedented quadruple this season.

The City manager has been impressed by playing surfaces at stadiums his team have visited recently, pointing to Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United as clubs who have pristine grass.

However, the boss of the Premier League leaders says his team are playing on a pitch that is ill-suited to players of their prowess, and he wants a solution to be found.

Guardiola revealed his turf torment when assessing that the pitch at Fulham's Craven Cottage, where City play on Saturday, is also not one of the best around.

"I know the stadium is always difficult, the grass is not in good condition, quite similar to our grass that is not good," Guardiola said.

When asked how much of a problem it was to City that their Etihad Stadium conditions were not ideal, Guardiola replied: "A lot. They're working a lot trying to find a solution, but the grass is not good.

"All the players know how good the grass is and sometimes is not. I know the weather conditions here are tough, but there are stadiums where the grass is good. We were in London against Arsenal, we were in Anfield and Old Trafford and the grass was better.

"We were in Budapest in the Champions League and the grass was a red carpet, it was amazing, but the grass here is not good."

Such an inconvenience did not prevent City recently running up a 28-game unbeaten streak, which ended on home soil against United last weekend.

Guardiola's star-studded team thumped Southampton 5-2 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, restoring a 14-point lead over second-placed United.

With the end of City's unbeaten run coming so recently, Fulham may fancy causing a shock on Saturday evening, despite losing their past six games against City across all competitions by an 18-0 aggregate.

City have lost just one of their 13 Premier League away games against Fulham (W7 D5), going down 2-1 in November 2005 under Stuart Pearce.

Guardiola spoke passionately about Fulham's qualities, and he ranks Cottagers boss Scott Parker highly in the group of forward-thinking young managers who are emerging across Europe.

On the style front, Guardiola admits he will struggle to compete against the sharply dressed Parker, saying: "He's younger, he has hair, he's better than me, definitely. I accept a draw against him."

On the pitch, however that pitch may look under his close scrutiny, Guardiola will not want to settle for a point in west London.

He namechecked Brighton's Graham Potter - "Mr Potter" - as another bright young coach, and said he admired young managers who compelled their teams to play football with bravado, even if results are slow in coming.

"They are the ones I admire the most," Guardiola said. "They're doing this in the beginning and it's not going well, they continue to do it and in the end the results come.

"Both teams want to attack, both teams want to create, not just speculate, not just wait for one mistake or wait for one action to do it. I have a feeling the new generation of managers, all of them, have this quality.

"Just take a look in Spain, Germany, Italy. All the new managers, they play like they are managers of Bayern Munich. So go forward and try to do it. Sometimes they can do it."

Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has been named the Premier League's player of the month again, with Pep Guardiola unsurprisingly taking the manager award for February. 

The duo had both previously received the respective honours for January, meaning Gundogan becomes the first back-to-back winner for City in the competition's history.

The Germany international was influential in his five appearances as City moved clear of the rest in the title race, including scoring twice in a 4-1 win over reigning champions Liverpool at Anfield. 

He also managed a brace in the home victory over Tottenham too, while there was an assist in a 2-0 away triumph over Burnley at the start of the month. 

Gundogan's second successive triumph means he pips team-mate Joao Cancelo to the award, as well as Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes, Leicester City's Harvey Barnes and Jesse Lingard, who has thrived since joining West Ham on loan. 

"I am very proud to win this award again – but I am most proud of being part of this amazing team," Gundogan said, having become the first German to claim the honour twice.

"To win all our games in February, like we did in January, is amazing. I get the sense we are playing really good football and being part of that makes me happy. 

"Hopefully we can continue like this because, ultimately, winning trophies is what matters. I know all the squad want that to happen and we will try our best from now until the end of the season."

As for Guardiola, he is rewarded after six wins from six in the league during February, a 100 per cent run that saw City score 15 goals and concede just twice. 

Fulham's Scott Parker, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and Thomas Tuchel, who is undefeated in the league since taking charge at Chelsea, were the other coaches on the shortlist.

Ronald Koeman only took charge of Barcelona at the start of the season, but his tenure could be brief.

With Joan Laporta back at Camp Nou as president, he is determined to make his mark.

And highly rated RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann is reportedly fancied in Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY – LAPORTA FANCIES NAGELSMANN

New Barcelona president Joan Laporta is eyeing RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann as the club's next head coach, according to El Larguero.

Laporta was elected Barca president on Sunday and attention has immediately turned to the dugout at Camp Nou.

Ronald Koeman is currently at the helm but while Laporta respects the Dutchman, he prefers Nagelsmann.

 

ROUND-UP

Paris Saint-Germain could make a move for Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo if Kylian Mbappe leaves, claims Le Parisien. Reports in Italy and Spain say Juve will sell Ronaldo at the end of the season following their Champions League last-16 exit. With Mbappe's future unclear in Paris amid links to Real Madrid, PSG are eyeing a possible deal for Ronaldo. Barca's Lionel Messi has also been heavily linked.

- The Daily Mail reports Chelsea are keen on Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman if Christian Pulisic leaves Stamford Bridge. Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern have emerged as possible suitors for Pulisic, who is out of favour under Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel. Coman was linked with United during the previous transfer window.

Barca are dreaming of signing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, claims Mundo Deportivo. Madrid, PSG, United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Manchester City are all reportedly keen on Haaland. City forward Sergio Aguero, Lyon captain Memphis Depay, Bayern star David Alaba and City defender Eric Garcia are also among Barca's list of targets.

- Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum is a target for Inter, according to Calciomercato. The Netherlands international has been linked with Barca previously.

- Ajax's Brian Brobbey will join Leipzig on a free transfer at the end of the season, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Inter vice-president Javier Zanetti "can't say" the Serie A leaders want Lionel Messi as he believes the Barcelona superstar will remain at Camp Nou.

Messi's future has dominated headlines, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner tipped to join Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain or Premier League leaders Manchester City on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Inter have also emerged as a possible destination for Messi, who tried to leave embattled LaLiga giants Barca ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

Argentina and Inter great Zanetti, though, feels his 33-year-old countryman will continue playing for Barca beyond this season.

"We can't say that, he is a Barcelona player and he's spent the whole career there. I think he will continue there," Zanetti told ONTime Sports.

"We are focused on the group of players we have. We must be focused on ourselves, we are focused on the next game. Everyone is doing very well."

Asked to compare Messi to legendary football Diego Maradona – who died in November – Zanetti added: "I can't make comparisons, they are both great champions.

"It's always good when big players move to Serie A. When Cristiano Ronaldo arrived, it was good for the league."

Messi has scored a league-high 19 goals and supplied six assists in 24 LaLiga appearances for Ronald Koeman's second-placed Barca this season, and 25 across all competitions.

Barca are six points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of Monday's match against Huesca.

Messi has been involved in five goals in two games against Huesca in LaLiga (two goals and three assists), including two goals and two assists in his only league appearance against them at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have gone 16 games without losing in LaLiga (W13 D3) – the best current unbeaten streak of any team in the five major leagues in Europe.

Timo Werner's unproductive spell at Chelsea may be over after one season.

The Germany international only signed from RB Leipzig ahead of this season.

He has largely underwhelmed with five goals from 27 Premier League appearances.

 

TOP STORY – WERNER COULD LEAVE CHELSEA

Football Insider reports Werner is prepared to quit Chelsea less than 12 months into a bumper five-year contract.

Werner netted 28 Bundesliga goals for RB Leipzig in 2019-20 but that return has drastically fallen since moving to London.

It is said there is a growing expectation that Werner will leave in the next year or two, despite the arrival of countryman Thomas Tuchel, which has led to a slight upturn in form.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero has been offered a contract by Barcelona, according to TyC Sports. City have publicly declared they will not make a call on off-contract Aguero's future until the close season.

- AS reports that Real Madrid are willing to listen to offers for French centre-back Raphael Varane this close season. It is claimed he is interested in playing in the Premier League.

- Milan are keen to sign 22-year-old PSV forward Donyell Malen, according to Calciomercato. This is despite the probable renewal of veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

- Bild reports that Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner is ready to quit his post amid a breakdown in his relationship with sporting director Jorg Schmadtke, with Borussia Monchengladbach a potential new home with Marco Rose to depart for Borussia Dortmund.

Pep Guardiola lauded Southampton as the best team Manchester City have faced at the Etihad Stadium this season despite the Premier League leaders running out 5-2 winners.

Three days on from a 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United in the derby, City returned to winning ways in an action-packed contest.

It was far from plain sailing after Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring in the 15th minute as James Ward-Prowse levelled from the penalty spot when Aymeric Laporte fouled Jannik Vestergaard.

The excellent Riyad Mahrez pounced on a poor pass from Che Adams to restore City's lead and Ilkay Gundogan poached his 14th of the season in all competitions when the Algeria winger's shot came back off the post in first-half stoppage time.

Mahrez and De Bruyne each added to their personal tallies in the second half, either side of Adams getting in on the act, and Guardiola felt such individual quality proved the difference.

"They started incredibly well. They are the team who made us suffer without the ball the most this season," the City boss told Sky Sports, with his team having battled to a hard-fought 1-0 win at St Mary's in December. "Without the ball they have a process to play incredibly well."

"After three shots on target we scored two goals. Second half we were much, much better. Unfortunately, at 4-1 we conceded a goal we have to avoid but, in general, good and another victory.

"They are so good, They put a lot of players in the middle - Vestergaard and [Jan] Bednarek. Ward-Prowse has the quality to attract with his passes our players in the middle, After they found the two wingers and the strikers behind. They do it really well.

"In the first 15 or 20 minutes they were the best team we have faced at the Etihad Stadium this season.

"Today the quality of our players won the game. Phil [Foden], Riyad and Kevin, they won the game"

Despite the teams sharing seven goals, the biggest talking point arguably came when the score was 1-1 and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy slid into a rash tackle on Phil Foden.

The England international looked to remain on his feet and the expected VAR call for on-field official Jon Moss to review the decision never arrived – much to Guardiola's amazement.

"Jon cannot see it but the VAR is there. You know for a long time, I never complaint about the referees, but this action is incredible. In-cre-di-ble," he exclaimed.

"The VAR exists for when the referees don't see the action, they can make a mistake.

"But for no review when you don't whistle for a penalty in this action? I don't understand."

Foden, who played the full 90 minutes of Wednesday's contest, was similarly baffled.

"I'm an honest guy and I never like to dive, I tried to stay on my feet," he told Sky Sports after setting up Mahrez and De Bruyne's second-half goals.

"I thought it was 100 per cent a penalty and I don't know what happened there, but it happens and we just had to react after that."

Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez netted doubles as Manchester City returned to winning ways with a raucous 5-2 victory over Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola's men saw a 21-match winning run in all competitions ended by Manchester United at the weekend, and some of the defensive problems from that 2-0 defeat remained as James Ward-Prowse scored a first-half equaliser from the penalty spot and Che Adams was on target before the hour.

However, an unexpectedly open contest worked in De Bruyne and Mahrez's favour, while Ilkay Gundogan chipped in with his 14th goal of the season in first-half stoppage time.

City are 14 points clear of United at the Premier League summit having played a game more, with their rivals in Europa League action this midweek.

The leaders started poorly but scored from their first attack of note in the 15th minute– De Bruyne making sure on the goal-line after clattering the crossbar when Alex McCarthy parried Phil Foden's shot into his path.

Southampton were undeterred, with Ederson tipping Nathan Redmond's low strike behind and denying Jannik Vestergaard from the resulting corner.

Unfortunately for the City goalkeeper, Aymeric Laporte pulled back Vestergaard when trying to deal with the loose ball the latter save and Ward-Prowse made no mistake from the spot.

City felt they should have had a penalty of their own when McCarthy was played into trouble by Mohammed Salisu's backpass and hurtled into Foden.

A quickfire double from Guardiola's side undid all of Saints' good work – Mahrez snaffling a shocking pass from Adams to curl in a wonderful finish before Gundogan poached their third after the Algeria winger's shot hit the post.

McCarthy saw enough of a Foden drive through a throng of bodies to save five minutes into the second half but he had no chance when Mahrez shimmied to engineer room and thump home with his trusty left foot.

A pattern of ricochets falling pleasingly for attackers continued as Adams reduced the arrears but, following another McCarthy stop to frustrate Foden, the England midfielder laid off for De Bruyne to storm into the Saints box and rifle into the bottom corner.

In the final half hour, the unlucky Foden and substitute Ferran Torres came closest to adding further gloss to the scoreline.

Manchester City will play Borussia Monchengladbach in Budapest when their Champions League last-16 tie concludes.

The second leg on March 16 was due to take place in England but a change in coronavirus regulations in Germany means Gladbach will be unable to travel there.

Budapest also hosted the first leg of the tie, which was designated as the Gladbach home game, due to COVID-19 complications. 

City won 2-0 at the Puskas Arena courtesy of goals from Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus, making them strong favourites to reach the quarter-finals next week.

"UEFA is able to officially confirm that the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach will now be played at the Puskas Arena in Budapest," read a statement from UEFA on Wednesday.

"The date of the match (March 16, 2021) and the kick-off time (21:00CET) will remain the same.
 
"UEFA would like to thank Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach for their support and close cooperation, as well as the Hungarian Football Federation for its assistance and agreeing to stage the match."

City added: "Changes to the German COVID-19 regulations mean that the visitors are unable to travel to the UK to play the return leg in Manchester as originally planned."

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