Pep Guardiola expressed disappointment with Jurgen Klopp's attempt at pre-match mind games after the Liverpool manager falsely claimed Manchester City had "a two-week break for COVID reasons".

Champions Liverpool host Premier League leaders City on Sunday, where Guardiola's men have the chance to go 10 points clear of Klopp's side with a game in hand if they can claim a first win at Anfield since 2003.

Both men addressed the media on Friday, with Klopp speaking first and suggesting a coronavirus outbreak within the City squad between Christmas and new year actually helped their title bid.

Asked about Guardiola's recently repeated mantra that his team - currently on a 20-match unbeaten run across all competitions - are playing better because they have managed to "run less" in possession, Klopp focused his attention upon the spike in infections that saw City's scheduled December 28 trip to Everton postponed.

"The more you keep the ball, the less you have to run, probably. We didn't have a break," he said.

"I think City had a two-week break for COVID reasons. It's really tough. It's a tough year, season; for some teams, it looks like lesser but, for us, for the reasons you know, it's tough."

In reality, City had a seven-day break between their 2-0 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day and a January 3 trip to Chelsea, where a squad heavily depleted by a raft of players being forced to self-isolate secured an impressive 3-1 win.

Having started his own briefing later than scheduled, Guardiola opted to respond initially with heavy sarcasm.

"He made a mistake, it was two months off or three months off. Four months we had off. That is why we are in top form right now," he said.

"Jurgen has to see the calendar again. We had COVID, we had one week and we played with 14 players at Stamford Bridge, Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it was three or four weeks.

"Tomorrow when I see Jurgen I'll say to him, 'How many weeks or days were we off?'"

Guardiola famously endured a tempestuous back and fourth with Jose Mourinho when the pair were in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid a decade ago - an affair he was perhaps referencing when stating he held Klopp, whom he also competed against in the Bundesliga, to higher standards.

"I'm surprised," he said. "I thought Jurgen was not that type of manager like other ones [for whom] it is usual to do it. I didn't expect that comment. From him, I didn't expect it.

"He knows it’s not true, come on! Nobody in the Premier League has had two weeks off, everyone knows. In some situation you do it [mind games] for a purpose, but I did not expect he will do it."

Liverpool have lost their past two home games 1-0 to Burnley and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Nevertheless, Anfield remains something of a final frontier for Guardiola as City boss, having lost four and drawn one of his five visits to the red side of Stanley Park.

"They are always an incredibly tough team and remain a tough squad," he said.

"They know the process, the skills, the routines and methodology they do offensively. No change.

"They are aggressive and will be more aggressive than ever, I'm pretty sure. They'll rest really well after the game against Brighton and they'll recover in these two weeks off and they will be ready."

City remain without Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring), Nathan Ake (muscular) and Sergio Aguero, who has endured a prolonged absence after testing positive for coronavirus. He is expected to return in a few weeks.

Jurgen Klopp is "not surprised at all" by Ilkay Gundogan's outstanding form for Manchester City, describing the midfielder as "one of the best players I ever coached".

Gundogan is enjoying the best scoring season of his league career, netting seven times to help City climb to the top of the Premier League.

Robbed of Sergio Aguero for an extended period and now also without Kevin De Bruyne, Pep Guardiola has handed additional attacking responsibilities to the Germany international, who is thriving.

Gundogan, a 2016 signing from Borussia Dortmund, has nine goals in all competitions this term at a rate of 0.5 per 90 minutes, his best performance in a City shirt.

Yet Gundogan continues to create for his team-mates, too, supplying a pair of assists and creating 1.8 chances per 90, trailing only his numbers for the 2018-19 season.

At Dortmund, where he played for several years under Klopp, Gundogan neither scored nor created at this rate across any single season, his highest return in terms of goal involvements the three goals and six assists in his final campaign.

Even as the 30-year-old outperforms his younger self, though, this is a standard Klopp expected Gundogan to set once he stayed fit for an extended period.

"Not at all [surprised] - the goalscoring maybe a little bit, the rest not," Klopp said ahead of facing City on Sunday "Ilkay was one of the best players I ever coached.

"He was a very young player when he came to us from Nurnberg to Dortmund. Especially in the 2012 season, he was unbelievable and played pretty much like he is playing now.

"Then he had, unfortunately, some injuries, really tough injuries, but that's now all sorted.

"It's the longest period he can play football without getting interrupted and I wish him really well that he can continue like this.

"That's the only reason. He was always that player.

"When you are smart and experience comes into play as well, then it's another jump in your performance level, and I'm not surprised at all."

Klopp was less interested in discussing the merits of Ruben Dias, a player he has never worked with but who has drawn comparisons with injured Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

Dias debuted after the first two matches of the season, one of which City lost 5-2 at home to Leicester City, but has since formed part of a defence conceding 0.4 goals per game.

Klopp acknowledged Dias represented "good business" yet could not comment on an opponent he does not know personally.

Referring to Liverpool's defensive injury crisis, Klopp said: "That's a really harsh one. You talk about a centre-half... that's not nice.

"He had an impact, he's a good player, but City's a good team, to be honest, a really good team. They were always.

"It's good business, absolutely. Do I compare it with Virgil? You can compare him with Virgil; I don't know him good enough.

"Virgil is an outstanding football player, but I know him as a person, and the package makes for me the difference. I don't know anything about Ruben Dias. I'm sure he's a nice fellow, but I don't know it."

Jurgen Klopp was bemused to be asked about Liverpool's Premier League title hopes ahead of their clash with Manchester City.

The Reds won the championship last season but sit fourth heading into the weekend, seven points behind leaders City having played a game more.

And City head to Anfield in top form, having won 13 consecutive matches in all competitions - one short of the all-time record for a top-flight English side.

Andy Robertson acknowledged after Liverpool's midweek loss to Brighton and Hove Albion that they were not in a title race "at this moment", an assessment Klopp agrees with, even if he continues to be questioned on their end-of-season hopes.

The manager told a news conference on Friday: "After two years now of getting this question all the time, when we were close enough that it might make some sense...

"I just don't see it in the moment. You have to win football games. If you do that often enough then there's a specific moment in the season when it's clear: okay, now we go for it.

"We were in the last two years in that situation, now we are not.

"So why should we think about it? What we have to think about is collecting enough points that it might happen in April, May again. But I don't know yet, so why should we think about it?

"We only think about it because we get asked, but it's not what drives you, it's not what gets you up in the morning or drives us through the day, being so close to City or whoever is top of the table.

"We really try hard in a very, very tricky season. We will try and continue trying, Sunday and the next time."

Klopp will have new signing Ozan Kabak available after he received international clearance, while goalkeeper Alisson - ill against Brighton - is "much better" and injured pair Fabinho and Sadio Mane were set to join at least part of training on Friday.

The Brighton match saw a second consecutive 1-0 home league defeat inflicted, after a loss to Burnley ended a 68-match unbeaten run at Anfield in the top flight.

Not since 1963 have Liverpool lost three straight home league matches, while they have never gone four without scoring - they also drew a blank in the draw with Manchester United before hosting Burnley.

Klopp insisted he did not need to remind his squad of the inspiring surrounds of Liverpool's home stadium, although he would not divulge details of his team talk regardless.

"It's not that I say now, 'Boys, come on'. Everybody knows it's Anfield," he said. "We love playing there still; it's a great place, the best place you can imagine.

"It's all good, but we didn't win the last two games. But we weren't interested in the 68 in a row, so why should we now make the two games we didn't win bigger than it is?

"I don't think I could sit here when we lost 68 in a row - that would be a real sensation.

"It's all about trying again, about being positive, enjoying football, all these kind of things, and make it a fortress again. That's how it is.

"It will not happen in a press conference with what I say here. I'm not 10 per cent in the mood to speak about anything I would say to my players.

"When I'm with them, I'm 100 per cent. Here is still like paid holiday. I cannot win the game here, I cannot lose the game here, all I have to do is answer questions. That's what I do, but not about what I tell my players."

Raheem Sterling struck Manchester City's second goal in their 2-0 win at Burnley to move onto 99 for the club in the Premier League.

With Pep Guardiola's men starting to build an ominous lead at the top of the table, this weekend would be an ideal time for Sterling to score for just the second time against Liverpool in what would be his 11th league meeting with his former employers.

Burnley have had a poor couple of games but there's value to be had in backing three of their top performers to deliver when they host in-form Brighton and Hove Albion.

Meanwhile, Anthony Martial is back among the goals for Manchester United and could well be worth a spot in your fantasy line-up.

NICK POPE

Burnley's number one Nick Pope had a rare moment of misfortune last time out, flapping at a Bernardo Silva shot that allowed Gabriel Jesus a simple goal three minutes in.

Still, he made four saves in total to keep the scoreline reasonably respectable and take his tally to 204 in the competition since the start of last season. No goalkeeper has made more.

In fact, only Ederson (29) has kept more clean sheets than Pope (22) in that same time frame, and the man hopeful of becoming England's regular number one will be determined to add to that against Brighton and prove his City slip-up was a mere blip.

 

JAMES TARKOWSKI

Like his goalkeeper, James Tarkowski has also kept 22 Premier League clean sheets since August 2019, more than any other defender (Harry Maguire is next on 21). He has every chance of getting another here.

Brighton are on a roll after beating Tottenham and Liverpool 1-0 and they won this game last season at Turf Moor 2-1, Aaron Connolly scoring a second-half winner.

However, three of the seven Premier League meetings between these two have finished 0-0, including the reverse game in November. Indeed, this could be the first fixture in Premier League history to see no goals scored in both games in two separate campaigns (there were two 0-0 draws in 2017-18, too).

 

LUCAS DIGNE

Everton left-back Lucas Digne has already registered six assists this season, the most of any defender in the league. Since he joined the Toffees in 2018, only Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) can better his tally of 17.

Digne actually splits the two Liverpool full-backs when it comes to chances created over the same time period, his 165 bettered only by Alexander-Arnold among defenders (166).

His battle with Manchester United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be key to the result at Old Trafford.

RAHEEM STERLING

As well as scoring 99 goals, Sterling has provided 55 assists in all competitions for City under Guardiola. Those 154 goal involvements are the most of any player in the Catalan's time in charge, eight more than next best Sergio Aguero.

The England forward has not always enjoyed facing his old club and City have a fairly miserable record at Anfield, having won just once in their previous 29 league visits – and that was back in May 2003.

But with the champions reeling from consecutive home defeats to Burnley and Brighton, Sterling may well sense the Reds are there for the taking.

 

JAMES MADDISON

In Leicester City's 2-0 win at Fulham, James Maddison set up both goals, marking the first time he has recorded multiple assists in a Premier League game.

In his previous 12 appearances in all competitions, the former Norwich City man has been directly involved in 12 goals (six scored and six assisted). There were just three games in that run where he failed to score or set up a team-mate.

Brendan Rodgers' men are flying high and will be confident of a result away to an inconsistent Wolves.

 

CHRIS WOOD

Chris Wood has only scored four league goals all season and just one of those has come in his most recent seven appearances.

That could all change against Brighton. Wood has scored eight times in league football against the Seagulls, making them his favourite opponent in English football.

 

ANTHONY MARTIAL

Anthony Martial had a positive cameo in that 9-0 demolition of Southampton, scoring twice and winning a (controversial) penalty after coming on at half-time.

Everton will not want to see Martial with renewed confidence. The France forward has managed six goals and three assists in his past 11 appearances in all competitions against the Toffees.

Even if Edinson Cavani starts in his place, Martial may well be a threat: he came off the bench to score one and set up another in a 2-0 EFL Cup win at Goodison Park in December.

Is Erling Haaland's future becoming clearer?

Haaland's exploits for Borussia Dortmund have attracted interest from far and wide.

But Manchester City appear to be the frontrunners for his signature…

 

TOP STORY – CITY LINING UP BIG HAALAND BID

Manchester City are confident of landing Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland in a £100million (€114m) deal, according to the front page of Friday's Mirror.

Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, having been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus.

But City believe winning this season's Premier League will help them sign Haaland at the end of the campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal claims Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi will wait until season's end before deciding his future. Messi has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain and City on a free transfer.

Sergio Aguero is tempted by a move to Barca if Messi remains at Camp Nou, reports Cadena Ser. Like Messi, City forward Aguero is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21.

- Defensa Central says Chelsea are interested in re-signing Eden Hazard, but at a huge discount. Hazard has struggled for form and fitness since leaving Chelsea for Madrid in a big-money move in 2019.

Milan will miss out on signing Ajax teenager Brian Brobbey as he is set to join RB Leipzig, according to Calciomercato and widespread reports in Italy. But Milan are close to signing Marseille's soon-to-be free agent Florian Thauvin.

- Calciomercato claims Madrid have put veteran full-back Marcelo up for sale amid links to Juventus.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi will retire wherever he wants amid doubts over his future, according to former team-mate Luis Suarez.

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 Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants 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 embattled LaLiga powerhouse.

Suarez won four LaLiga titles and the Champions League among other honours during his time together with Messi before joining Atletico Madrid in the off-season and he hailed the superstar.

"This afternoon I spoke with him, he was very happy about yesterday's victory [over Granada]," Suarez told El Transistor.

"He is [playing] at a spectacular level, he is the best in the world.

"Messi will retire wherever he wants, he can decide whether it's at Barcelona, in Argentina or wherever."

Suarez has starred since leaving Barca after six years at Camp Nou, spearheading Atletico's title charge this season.

The 34-year-old has scored a LaLiga-high 14 goals to help Diego Simeone's Atletico sit 10 points clear atop the table, ahead of second-placed Barca with a game in hand.

Suarez averages the fewest minutes per goal (one goal every 85 minutes) among players to have scored at least two goals this season.

The Uruguay international reflected on his Barca exit following Ronald Koeman's arrival, adding: "When Barcelona told me that they did not count on me it was hard, I did not expect it.

"They were very difficult moments because of the manner [in which it happened]. Koeman called me and told me that I was not in his plans.

"When Barcelona made it official that they did not count on me, conversations began with Atleti, with Cholo [Simeone], with Miguel Angel...

"There was interest from many clubs, not just Juventus. I wanted to make the right decision, the best for me and my family."

Liverpool must wave goodbye to any lingering Premier League title hopes if they cannot beat Manchester City on Sunday, according to Reds great Jamie Carragher.

A slump in form from Jurgen Klopp's injury-hit team has seen last season's champions fall seven points behind leaders City, who have a game in hand.

The Anfield clash could yet turn around Liverpool's season if they can rouse themselves back to last season's high standards.

But Carragher is taking a pragmatic view of the title picture, suggesting Liverpool need to stabilise and make sure of a top-four finish.

His verdict follows Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson saying the champions, who sit fourth, are not currently in title contention after Wednesday's 1-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion.

"Liverpool have to be looking at the top four positions, and to say the obvious, take each game as it comes because the form is so down," Carragher said.

"There are so many changes to the team that you are never quite sure what it's going to be. Alisson was out at the last minute against Brighton and Liverpool are still waiting for players to come back.

"So, I think from now, if you were to offer Liverpool a top-four finish they would take that and shake on it. That should be the mindset for Liverpool because that is what they are aiming for at the moment.

"If they could get back into the title race – and, to do that, they would have to beat City on Sunday – you could maybe see where they are with seven or eight games to go. Hopefully from Liverpool's perspective, City could have some sort of drop."

Liverpool have suffered without Virgil van Dijk, their defensive leader who has been absent since sustaining a knee injury in the derby with Everton on October 17. He is not expected to play again this season.

From the beginning of last season through to that Merseyside derby this term, Van Dijk was ever-present in the league and Liverpool racked up an average of 2.5 points in each match, winning 81.4 per cent of games to end a 30-year wait for an English league title.

But since that Everton draw, the points return has fallen to 1.8 per Premier League game, with the win rate tumbling to 47.1 per cent.

Carragher, who was speaking to Sky Sports' Pitch to Post podcast, described City's form as "out of this world" after Pep Guardiola's men racked up a 13th straight win across all competitions when beating Burnley 2-0 on Wednesday.

That is the longest winning run by a Premier League side since Arsenal also put 13 together in a row between March and August 2002.

But Carragher stressed: "It's impossible to keep that going, City cannot win every single game so I would expect them to drop points at some stage.

"But the problem for Liverpool is that the gap is too big – and it certainly will be if they fail to win at Anfield."

Liverpool were stunned by Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield as they lost for the second home Premier League game in a row, while Manchester City stretched their winning streak at Burnley.

Having seen their 68-game unbeaten home league run ended by Burnley two weeks ago, the champions again came unstuck against an improving Brighton side.

Liverpool's next opponents are leaders City, who had less trouble seeing off Burnley as they made it 13 victories in a row in all competitions - the longest such run by a Premier League side since Arsenal between March and August 2002 (also 13).

There were also victories for Leicester City, Everton and West Ham on Wednesday, overcoming Fulham, Leeds United and Aston Villa respectively.

Here is the pick of the Opta facts on a day in which history was made as all five away sides triumphed.

Burnley 0-2 Manchester City: Jesus and Sterling keep winning run going

Twenty-four hours on from Manchester United's record-equalling 9-0 win against Southampton, City regained a three-point lead at the summit with a game in hand thanks to a routine victory at Turf Moor.

Gabriel Jesus scored for the third game in a row that he has started to give City an early lead and Raheem Sterling marked his recall to the starting line-up with his 99th goal under Pep Guardiola in all competitions.

Burnley offered little in response as they failed to register a single shot on target for the second game running, making them the first Premier League side to do so since Everton in January 2018.

It meant for a quiet day for City's defenders as they kept a sixth straight shutout in the competition - their joint-longest run without conceding - in what was a 12th successive victory in games played on a Wednesday, which is a Premier League record.

Burnley will be glad to see the back of City for another season having now lost to them by an aggregate 10-0 scoreline across their three meetings in all competitions this season, the other defeat coming in the EFL Cup.

Fulham 0-2 Leicester City: Maddison inspires Foxes to another away win

Kelechi Iheanacho's first Premier League goal in 15 appearances and a second strike of the season for James Justin earned Leicester all three points at Fulham.

James Maddison set up Iheanacho and Justin to take his goal involvement to 12 - six goals and as many assists - in his last 12 outings in all competitions, with this the first occasion he has laid on more than one goal in a Premier League match.

Leicester have now collected 26 points on their travels this season, which is already their second-highest tally in a campaign after their 2015-16 title success (39 points).

As for Fulham, they have now gone 11 games without a win in the Premier League and have lost their opening four home games of a calendar year in all competitions for the first time in their English Football League history.

Leeds United 1-2 Everton: Toffees earn rare Elland Road triumph

Everton made it four consecutive away league victories for the first time since December 1985 through first-half goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

This may just be the sweetest victory of the lot during that run, given it is only their second at Elland Road in the top flight in 38 attempts - the most recent before today coming in 2002.

It is the fifth home league match Leeds have lost in 10 games this term - the last time a Marcelo Bielsa side lost more at home in the league in a single season was Athletic Bilbao in the 2012-13 LaLiga campaign.

Sigurdsson put Everton on their way with another goal assisted by Lucas Digne - the sixth he has set up in the Premier League this season, which is the most by any defender. 

Only Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson (both 28) have registered more than Digne's 17 assists since the start of the 2018-19 season.

Calvert-Lewin doubled his side's tally with his ninth headed goal in the Premier League since the start of last season - only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (12) has scored more in Europe's top five leagues over that period.

Aston Villa 1-3 West Ham: Lingard at the double on Hammers bow

Jesse Lingard marked his first appearance for West Ham since joining on loan from Manchester United with a couple of goals against Aston Villa.

The England international is only the second player for the club to achieve that two-goal debut feat after Trevor Sinclair against Everton in January 1998.

Lingard's double came after Tomas Soucek had given West Ham the lead with his eighth league goal of the season - the most of any midfielder when excluding penalties.

Ollie Watkins gave Villa temporary hope at 2-0 but the home side could not avoid a fourth defeat in their last six league matches, compared to only four losses in their opening 14.

David Moyes has plenty of reasons to be cheerful, having overseen three successive away wins in the competition for the first time since April 2014 when at Man United, with this latest victory taking West Ham to 38 points - their highest top-flight tally after 22 games since 1985-86.

Liverpool 0-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Alzate stuns stuns toothless champions

Liverpool's home struggles continued with defeat to Brighton, who picked up a victory in this fixture for the first time in 13 meetings in all competitions - and a first at Anfield since 1982.

The Merseyside club having now lost consecutive games at Anfield in the top flight for the first time since September 2012, having gone 68 without a home loss in the Premier League.

It is four Premier League games at Anfield without a win, meanwhile, the last three of those without scoring - the first time that has happened since October 1984 - in a goalless run spanning 348 minutes and counting.

Steven Alzate was the match-winning hero for Brighton with his first Premier League goal in his 28th appearance, coming from the first shot on target of the contest. 

Toothless Liverpool offered little in reply, testing opposition keeper Robert Sanchez just once as Brighton made it four top-flight clean sheets on the bounce for the first time in their history.

Pep Guardiola is not interested in the plight of other Premier League teams after seeing Manchester City once again move clear at the top of the table, declaring: "We have to do our job".  

Goals from Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling saw in-form City record a 2-0 triumph at Burnley on Wednesday, meaning they have now won 13 games on the spin in all competitions.  

Guardiola also saw his side keep a clean sheet for a sixth successive league outing – their joint-longest run without conceding in the competition – as they went three points clear in the title race.  

Manchester United had moved level with their neighbours at the summit 24 hours earlier with a 9-0 thrashing of Southampton, yet the only focus for Guardiola is the next game, which happens to be Liverpool away on Sunday.   

"We have to do our job. It's a big mistake to think about other sides," Guardiola told BBC Sport.  

"When we were 12th we were thinking forget about the Premier League, if we can achieve getting in the Europa League next season.  

"It's not about runs of games, statistics. It's always next game, next game."

Jesus scored for a third successive game when he has been selected in the starting XI, having also hit the winner in the 1-0 triumph over bottom club Sheffield United at the weekend. 

The Brazil international is proving an able deputy for the injured Sergio Aguero, earning praise from Guardiola for his contributions to the cause. 

"There are no doubts about Gabriel," Guardiola said. "We are delighted with Gabriel all the time. 

"The strikers need to score goals. Last game he gave us three points and today he gave us the start. 

"Of course, we need his goals. He knows that but his contribution in many ways is fantastic." 

On the upcoming trip to Anfield, the City boss added: "It is the same points, but against a contender. At the end the aim is to be champion." 

City have won all three of their meetings in all competitions with Burnley this season, doing so by an aggregate score of 10-0.

Alisson was a notable absentee from Liverpool's squad for Wednesday's Premier League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion due to illness. 

The Brazil international has started 18 of the reigning champions' 21 top-flight games this term, keeping five clean sheets. 

However, he will play no part against Brighton at Anfield, a game which comes four days before the Reds face league leaders Manchester City. 

Caoimhin Kelleher, who had featured just once previously for Liverpool in the Premier League, was drafted in as his replacement. 

Liverpool triumphed in just one of the three previous league games Alisson missed, conceding an average of three goals against in those matches.

That compares to an average of 0.8 goals against in the 18 games Alisson has started, of which the Reds have won 10, drawn six and lost two. 

The only other change made by Jurgen Klopp from the 3-1 win over West Ham at the weekend was up top, Roberto Firmino coming in for Divock Origi. 

Ben Davies, signed from Preston North End on deadline day, was named among the substitutes, though fellow new defender Ozan Kabak was not included in the matchday squad. 

Liverpool are unbeaten in their past 12 meetings with Brighton in all competitions, winning 10 and drawing two in a run stretching back to 1984.

First-half goals from Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling saw Manchester City ease to a 2-0 win at Burnley.

The Premier League leaders extended their club-record winning run to 13 matches across all competitions, with the result rarely appearing in doubt from the moment Jesus capitalised upon a third-minute error by Nick Pope.

Sterling claimed his 10th of the season seven minutes before the interval, after which point City's football continued to flow but the goals dried up.

Pep Guardiola's side are three points clear at the summit with a game in hand on Manchester United, with champions Liverpool next on their agenda this weekend.

Sterling darted inside from the left to play in Bernardo Silva, whose shot was poorly dealt with by Pope to leave Jesus with a simple leaded finish.

Pope looked to be in trouble again when he charged out of his area to confront Sterling in the 20th minute but the England goalkeeper managed to get a timely foot in.

City had to bide their time as Burnley grew into the contest but a wonderful link-up between Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan allowed the latter to drill across goal for Sterling to convert from close range.

Joao Cancelo fired too close to Pope just before half-time and Burnley's number one sharply thwarted Sterling early in the second period as the visitors looked to conclusively end the argument.

Mahrez thought he had but was fractionally offside when he steered in Jesus' cross.

Burnley finally registered a shot in the 64th minute when Matej Vydra acrobatically volleyed over, but waves of slick City attacks continued to arrive.

Ederson decided to involve himself in the action by clattering through Erik Pieters and provide the strange spectacle of a goalkeeper getting booked for a foul on a left-back.

It was the closest City came to a scare.

Poor, poor Southampton.

For all the progress Ralph Hasenhuttl has made since their October 2019 mauling at the hands of Leicester City, here they are again. 9-0. Again.

Manchester United made hay at Old Trafford, reigniting their Premier League title bid by equalling the competition's all-time largest winning margin - the second time the 20-time English champions have accomplished the feat, albeit with a near 26-year gap.

Saints' teenage debutant Alexandre Jankewitz was sent off in the second minute and it got unimaginably worse or implausibly better from there, depending on your point of view.

Here, we look back at the times one-sided encounters in England's top flight have spun wildly out of control.

Manchester United 9-0 Southampton - February 2, 2021

After Jankewitz was dismissed for a shocking studs-up lunge on Scott McTominay, Hasenhuttl perhaps should have checked the date and feared the worst. February 2 is Groundhog Day. Aaron Wan-Bissaka got United off and running in the 18th minute, with Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani more familiar sights on the scoresheet either side of a Jan Bednarek own goal. Anthony Martial came on at half-time, but even after he scored in the 69th minute and McTominay did shortly afterwards, the game could have meandered towards a conclusion. Instead, the roof fell in on Southampton as they crumpled entirely under late strikes from Martial and Dan James after a Bruno Fernandes penalty and a red card for Bednarek.

Southampton 0-9 Leicester City – October 25, 2019

Ryan Bertrand - one of seven Southampton players to feature in both 9-0s - was the Jankewitz of the piece as he was sent off for a challenge in the build-up to Ben Chilwell's 10th-minute opener. Youri Tielemans was granted ample room to double the lead, then Ayoze Perez began romping towards a hat-trick that he completed a minute before Jamie Vardy's headed second made it 7-0 in the 58th minute. A James Maddison free-kick and a Vardy penalty took this defeat into uncharted territory for a home side in the Premier League.

Manchester United 9-0 Ipswich Town – March 4, 1995

For nearly a quarter of a century, Alex Ferguson's United were out there on their own. Andy Cole scored five after Roy Keane began this rout in the 15th minute. Mark Hughes hit a quickfire second-half double and Paul Ince also got in on the act. Peter Schmeichel watched it all unfold from the other end, just as his son Kasper did in goal for Leicester at St Mary's all those years later.

Tottenham 9-1 Wigan Athletic – November 22, 2009

Wigan had a slither of hope when Paul Scharner pulled a goal back to make it 3-1 before the hour at White Hart Lane. Ultimately, the only significance of that strike was to keep them off the top of this list. Jermain Defoe did his best Cole impression, rattling in five goals from the 51st minute onwards, while Aaron Lennon, David Bentley and Nico Kranjcar piled on the pain. Remarkably, Peter Crouch's ninth-minute header was the only goal of the 10 scored before half-time.

That same season, Wigan lost 8-0 at Chelsea, who beat Aston Villa by the same margin at Stamford Bridge two years later. Newcastle United claimed the division's first 8-0 scoreline at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday in 1999, with Alan Shearer scoring five.

Southampton 8-0 Sunderland – October 18, 2014

The St Mary's faithful at least know what it feels like to be on the joyous end of what they have endured in the past two seasons. The boot was definitely on the other foot here, although what exactly Sunderland defender Santiago Vergini and his boots were trying to achieve when he inexplicably walloped into his own net after 12 minutes remains anyone's guess. Graziano Pelle scored the first of a double six minutes later. Jack Cork, Dusan Tadic and Victor Wanyama also netted, with Patrick van Aanholt and Liam Bridcutt joining Vergini in putting through their own goal.

Manchester City 8-0 Watford – September 21, 2019

When City raced into a 5-0 lead inside 18 minutes against Watford last season, double figures looked to be on the cards for the first time in the Premier League era. David Silva netted from close range inside a minute, with Riyad Mahrez winning a penalty for Sergio Aguero before scoring himself. Bernardo Silva opened his tally on the way to a hat-trick, with Nicolas Otamendi a more unlikely first-half goalscorer. Kevin De Bruyne masterfully orchestrated the destruction of a side City demolished 6-0 four months earlier in the FA Cup final and wrapped up the scoring with an emphatic strike into the top corner.

Nottingham Forest 1 Manchester United 8 – February 6, 1999

The biggest away win the Premier League had seen until Leicester went about their savagery. This seemed fairly standard stuff for Alex Ferguson's majestic treble-winning side as Dwight Yorke and Cole both scored twice against an overmatched Forest, who would finish the season bottom of the table. Standard, that was, until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged from the bench and pilfered four goals in the final 11 minutes at the City Ground. Apparently, he has passed on the wisdom of targeting flurries of late goals against bedraggled opponents.

Pep Guardiola claims Ruben Dias has become "undroppable" amid comparisons between the Manchester City centre-back and Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk.

Dias joined City from Benfica last September for a club record fee of £62million.

He arrived in the aftermath of a chastening 5-2 defeat at home to Leicester City, when Guardiola's men looked a far cry from the team who head into Wednesday's match at Burnley on top of the table and aiming to extend a 12-match winning run across all competitions.

The Portugal centre-back has been a key figure in the turnaround and Guardiola was asked whether his impact at the Etihad Stadium has been similar to the galvanising effect Van Dijk had at Anfield upon his January 2018 arrival.

Although the City manager shunned the chance to make a direct comparison, he left no doubt that Dias is one of the most important signings of his four and a half years in Manchester.

"Yeah, absolutely, absolutely," Guardiola said. "He settled immediately. In terms of mentality he's a guy who lives 24 hours for his profession.

"Every step he does, at home, on or off the pitch, eating, sleeping, recovery time, preparation time - everything is to be perfect during [the next] 95-minute football game.

"That's why [he has had an impact]. It depends on him to maintain [his form] and hopefully we can help him to grow. We are more than satisfied."

Van Dijk proved a crucial piece in the puzzle for Jurgen Klopp, transforming his Liverpool from a thrilling but inconsistent side into a winning machine that lifted the 2018-19 Champions League and 2019-20 Premier League.

Comparisons between him and Dias are set to persist when City travel to Merseyside this weekend, even though Van Dijk remains sidelined following knee ligament surgery.

Before the midweek match at Turf Moor, Dias has played 18 Premier League games, winning 12 and helming 11 clean sheets amid seven goals conceded.

During Van Dijk's first 18 top-flight matches, Liverpool won 11, conceded 11 and kept 10 clean sheets.

Like his Dutch counterpart, Dias' leadership qualities mean he has caught the eye beyond impressive raw statistics.

"He’s not just a player who plays good, he's a player who makes the other guys play good too," Guardiola said.

"It’s 90 minutes talking, 90 minutes communicating, 90 minutes saying what they have to do in every single action.

"When that happens, it's difficult for me [to pick anyone else] and [Dias becomes] undroppable."

It has been far from a one-man act, however, with City's form truly gathering pace since John Stones was paired with Dias at the heart of defence.

In 10 Premier League games together, Stones and Dias have combined for a remarkable nine clean sheets and conceded once - Callum Hudson-Odoi's late consolation in City's 3-1 win at Chelsea last month.

Without the Stones-Dias partnership, City have won four, drawn four and lost two in the league this term, conceding 12 - the same amount of goals they scored in those games.

Stones was Guardiola's first major defensive signing at City back in 2016 but his days in east Manchester appeared to be numbered as he struggled for form and fitness amid personal problems last season.

The Stones turnaround has been as stunning as it was unexpected and Guardiola insists all the credit should lie with the former Everton man.

"What I want from my players - all of them, not just John - is to be happy," Guardiola said. "He struggled to be happy here - especially with injuries, some personal problems, for many reasons, a lack of minutes. I didn't see him like he is right now.

"In the past he was not like he is now, with the stability, the mentality, happiness, commitment, focusing and everything. That's why I give a lot of credit to him. He overcame this situation himself.

"He could have fallen down and gone even more down, but it was completely the opposite. He said 'no, I'm here, I know how good I am'. He didn't need my confidence, he didn't need the words.

"He said, 'I know who I am, I know I'm a top central defender and guys, I'm coming to show you, the whole of England, the whole Premier League and the whole of the world that I'm good'. This is the only way."

Sergio Aguero is still not back in training for Manchester City despite recovering from COVID-19.

Aguero has not featured in the City squad since he was an unused substitute in the 2-0 EFL Cup win at Manchester United on January 6.

He went into isolation on January 10 after being confirmed as a close contact of a person that had tested positive for coronavirus.

The Argentina forward then revealed on January 21 that he had returned a positive test and was experiencing symptoms.

On Sunday Aguero posted on Twitter that he had fully recovered from the virus and was back at the club's gym. 

However, Guardiola said a return to the training pitch is not imminent.

"He [Aguero] is still not training on the field. He started moving yesterday," Guardiola told a media conference ahead of Wednesday's game with Burnley. 

"He will need a few weeks to come back. The important thing is he is negative and he can come back to us."

City have continued to thrive without Aguero, with Guardiola's men having won their last 12 matches in all competitions.

The Premier League leaders are three points ahead of Manchester United and four clear of defending champions Liverpool and have the advantage of a game in hand.

Their trip to Turf Moor precedes a Sunday visit to Anfield to take on Liverpool in a crucial clash, though Guardiola is not thinking about that game or how many wins it will take to regain the title.

"We were a little bit inconsistent earlier in the season," said Guardiola. "We will see how consistent we still are. In some games we have been more comfortable in some games we have fought until the last minute. It cannot be any other way. Burnley is the next one.

"Always I have the feeling that I can lose a game. That's what drives you. Insecurity and fear and being scared that you can lose a game. Everyone is the same.

"Six weeks ago we were not contenders for anything, six weeks later we are. Everything can change so quickly. We could drop points. Only I am concerned about Burnley. That's all.

"I don't think for one second how many games we have to win. If you win, celebrate that night and then the next one. The good teams when they are in the shower they are thinking about the next one."

Achraf Hakimi only moved to Inter from Real Madrid at the start of the 2020-21 season.

But the future of the Morocco international is already making headlines.

Will Hakimi still be an Inter player at the end of the campaign?

 

TOP STORY – HAKIMI WANTED IN ENGLAND

Manchester City are interested in signing Inter star Achraf Hakimi, according to Calciomercato.

Hakimi has established himself as a key player for Antonio Conte's Inter after arriving from Real Madrid.

But Inter – in the spotlight amid reported financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic – are facing a battle to keep Hakimi, with Chelsea and Arsenal also chasing the Morocco international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato says Napoli want to bring back former head coach Maurizio Sarri. Gennaro Gattuso is under pressure and Sky Sport Italia claims the two parties will part in June. Sarri left Napoli for Chelsea in 2018. Former boss Rafael Benitez has also been linked.

Lionel Messi could help bitter rivals Madrid. According to El Chiringuito, Messi's proposed switch from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain could aid Madrid in their quest to prise Kylian Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu. Mbappe has also been linked to Liverpool.

- Fabrizio Romano says Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are interested in Erling Haaland, but Borussia Dortmund have no intention of losing both the Norwegian and Manchester United target Jadon Sancho at the end of the season.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.