Toni Kroos has fallen out of favour with Real Madrid. 

A January transfer is a top priority with the World Cup looming.

Could a reunion with Pep Guardiola await? 

 

TOP STORY – KROOS HEADED TO CITY?

Manchester City have reached out to Toni Kroos about a January transfer, El Nacional reports. 

The Germany international has played in just one league match for Real Madrid this term. 

The 31-year-old previously played for City boss Guardiola at Bayern Munich and a reunion could be on the cards. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Ferran Torres is set to land a contract extension at Manchester City, says the Daily Star, with the new five-year deal set to pay him £100,000 a week.

- Lazio midfielder Luis Alberto could be headed for a reunion with Simone Inzaghi at Inter, reports Calciomercato. 

- Everton lead several clubs in pursuit of Manchester United's Jesse Lingard, says Football Insider, with West Ham and Newcastle United also interested. 

- Liverpool and Manchester United are among the clubs queuing for 18-year-old United States and Dallas sensation Ricardo Pepi, the Mirror reports. Milan, Juventus and Bayern Munich also have been linked to the teen. 

- Newcastle have increasingly focussed on Ajax's Erik ten Hag to replace Steve Bruce, the Express reports, adding that Marc Overmars could also make the move to St. James' Park as director of football. 

 

Chelsea maintained their position at the Premier League summit as they thumped sorry Norwich City 7-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Manchester City remain two points behind after cruising past Brighton and Hove Albion 4-1 at the Amex Stadium.

Watford produced a stunning comeback to thump Everton at Goodison Park, while Leeds United left it late to snatch a point against Wolves.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of the fixtures from the day.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-4 Manchester City: Foden inspires City's latest win over Seagulls

Phil Foden was at the heart of City's big win at the Amex Stadium as Pep Guardiola's side sealed an eighth win in nine Premier League games against the Seagulls.

Ilkay Gundogan put the visitors ahead before Foden scored just his second brace in the Premier League, previously doing so against Burnley in June 2020.

Alexis Mac Allister pulled one back for Graham Potter's side to became the first player to score a Premier League penalty as a substitute for Brighton.

Riyad Mahrez added gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time, though, after being teed up by Foden. The Algerian has scored more goals in all competitions (16) than any other City player so far in 2021.

The result meant Brighton conceded four goals for the first time in 43 Premier League games, since a 4-2 loss against Everton in October 2020. Indeed, the Seagulls conceded as many goals as they had in their previous seven league games combined.

Chelsea 7-0 Norwich City: Mount puts Blues in seventh heaven

Chelsea made light work of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner's absences, winning a Premier League game by seven or more goals for the fourth time and the first time since an 8-0 win over Aston Villa in December 2012.

Mason Mount was the star man, the England international becoming the 20th different player to score a Premier League hat-trick for Chelsea. Only Arsenal (21) have had more hat-trick scorers in the competition.

Ben Chilwell was on the scoresheet as well, the former Leicester City left-back becoming the first Englishman to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances for Chelsea since Frank Lampard in February 2013.

The defeat was Norwich's joint-heaviest in Premier League history, the Canaries also losing 7-0 to Manchester City in November 2013.

Their haul of just two goals after nine league games this season is the joint-lowest tally ever at this stage of an English league campaign, and just the third time a team has registered such a low return at this stage in the Premier League (Crystal Palace in 2017-18 and Everton in 2005-06).


Everton 2-5 Watford: King comes back to haunt Toffees

Watford scored four times in the final 12 minutes to complete a remarkable fightback at Goodison Park.

They were indebted to a superb hat-trick from former Toffees striker Josh King, who became just the third player to score a Premier League hat-trick against a side he has previously played for in the competition, after Andy Cole (for Manchester United vs Newcastle) and Marcus Bent (for Wigan vs Blackburn). 

It was just the second time Watford had scored five goals in an away Premier League game (also vs Cardiff in February 2019), becoming just the seventh newly promoted side in Premier League history to score five or more goals in an away game.

The result also marked the first time the Hornets had come from behind to win an away Premier League game since January 2019 vs Crystal Palace, having lost each of their previous 21 such matches in the competition.

Leeds United 1-1 Wolves: Rodrigo leaves it late for Bielsa's men

Despite earning a late point thanks to Rodrigo's stoppage-time penalty, seven points from nine games marks Leeds' worst start to a top-flight campaign since 1981-82 (six points), a season in which they were relegated to the second tier.

Wolves had looked destined for all three points thanks to another goal from Hwang Hee-chan. The South Korean has scored four goals from just four shots on target in the Premier League this season, the best such 100 per cent conversion rate in the competition so far this term.

Rodrigo stepped up late on to salvage a point, though. His equaliser from the spot was just Leeds' third penalty goal scored in the final minute of a Premier League match, after Gary McAllister against Coventry City (October 1995) and Ian Harte against Derby County (December 1999).

Phil Foden is enjoying playing as the focal point in Manchester City's star-studded attack and earned special praise from boss Pep Guardiola after inspiring his side to victory at Brighton and Hove Albion.

The City academy product started through the middle once again in Saturday's meeting at the Amex Stadium and scored just his second ever double in the Premier League in a 4-1 win.

Foden had eight shots, four of those on target, but he could not find a way past Robert Sanchez in the second half for a hat-trick.

The England international did set up substitute Riyad Mahrez late on for City's fourth, however, and he is thriving off the freedom of being used right across City's frontline this season.

"I'm enjoying it. I can drop deep and get the ball and pick the passes off. It's a new role for me and I can say I'm really enjoying it," he told Sky Sports. 

"It changes game to game. Sometimes I stay higher than normal, but this game they went man-to-man so I dropped a bit deeper and I thought we used the extra man well.

"On another day I could have scored three, but the main thing is the result and I'm just happy we got it today."

Foden has featured nine times for City this season, starting six of those games and playing a direct part in eight goals – only Mahrez (nine) has scored and assisted more for the club this term.

Guardiola agrees with Foden that he should have further added to his goals tally against Brighton, but the Catalan coach is pleased with the strides being taken by the 21-year-old.

"There are players that play in one position and there are players who play football. When you play football it means you can play any position, you understand the game," Guardiola said at his post-match news conference.

"In the final third he can play up front, has the quality to move and be aggressive one on one and arrive in the box. He can play as a false nine, a winger, wide right or wide left.

"He is a guy who is a midfield player with a big sense of the goal. He scored two and could have had more, but he is still young and still has a margin to improve."

Foden's double came after Ilkay Gundogan had opened the scoring as City raced three goals ahead inside 31 minutes.

Alexis Mac Allister pulled one back from the penalty spot nine minutes from time after Ederson took out Enock Mwepu, but Mahrez thumped home a fourth for the visitors late on.

The reigning champions are back to within two points of leaders Chelsea, who thumped Norwich City 7-0 earlier on Saturday.

Fourth-place Brighton had lost just one of their opening eight league games and Guardiola was full of praise for Graham Potter and his side.

"It was a really good result for us because I knew which team we face today," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"It was a good lesson as for 30 minutes they were better than us. This game must be played with the ball. We suffered and we'll be better for that in the future.

"This is a huge victory for us. To win here is a big compliment for the team.

"They are aggressive and when they have the ball they know what they have to do. They have all the mechanisms of a big team.

"They have courage. I admire them for that. They play like a top four or five team."

Phil Foden scored twice as Manchester City eased to a 4-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion to keep pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.

Chelsea sent out a message with a thumping 7-0 win against Norwich City earlier on Saturday, but City responded with a convincing win of their own to close the gap on the leaders to two points.

Foden's double at the Amex Stadium came after Ilkay Gundogan opened the scoring as the visitors went three goals ahead inside 31 minutes in a dominant first-half showing.

Brighton improved in the second half and pulled back a deserved consolation nine minutes from time through substitute Alexis Mac Allister's penalty, though City had the final say when Foden played in Riyad Mahrez for a late fourth.

Lewis Dunk produced an acrobatic goal-line clearance to deny Gabriel Jesus early on, but Gundogan tapped in two minutes later after Robert Sanchez failed to take a routine catch and Bernardo Silva hooked the ball into his City team-mate's path.

Sanchez initially did well to keep the scoring down with a couple of good saves, only for Foden – under pressure from Brighton defender Dan Burn – to double his side's tally by converting Jack Grealish's unselfish pass at the end of a swift counter.

Foden was credited with the goal after some initial uncertainty over whether he or Burn got the final touch, and he had a second soon after, the England international getting in the way of a Jesus shot to help deflect it past a wrong-footed Sanchez.

Brighton recovered from two goals down to beat City 3-2 at this ground in May and they grew into the game in the second half, with Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard finally calling Ederson into action.

City could not hold on for a seventh clean sheet in nine league games this term as Ederson caught Enock Mwepu and fellow Albion substitute Mac Allister made no mistake from the penalty spot, but there was still time for Mahrez to lash in his seventh of the season at the other end when played in by Foden.


What does it mean? City keep pace with Chelsea

City may not have racked up the seven goals Chelsea managed against Norwich in Saturday's early kick-off, but Brighton are far stronger opposition than the doomed Canaries and this was a performance equally as impressive.

Brighton had lost just one of their opening eight games and entered this match only two points behind City, yet they were completely blown away by the reigning champions, especially in an incredibly one-sided first half.

The nine shots on target managed by City in the first half is the most by a team in a Premier League game before the interval this term.

Brighton rocked

City's lack of an out-and-out striker has been a topic of discussion since the moment the transfer window closed, yet once again that was not a problem as they made it 37 goals in 14 matches this season.

Each of City's five attackers – Silva, Gundogan, Jesus, Foden and Grealish – either scored or assisted a goal in the first half. Gundogan now has 13 Premier League goals this calendar year – only Mohamed Salah (16) and Harry Kane (15) have more.

Ed rush

City were closing in on another clean sheet when Ederson rushed off his line and took out Mwepu, allowing Mac Allister to convert from the penalty spot.

The Brazilian goalkeeper will be doubly disappointed as he even managed to get a hand to the penalty without keeping it out. He has now conceded 15 of the last 16 spot-kicks he has faced in the Premier League.

What's next?

Both sides are in EFL Cup last-16 action next Wednesday, with City travelling to West Ham and Brighton away at Leicester City.

Thomas Tuchel wants Chelsea's players to continue proving their quality after watching them run riot against Norwich City.

Shorn of the injured Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, Chelsea made light work of lowly Norwich at Stamford Bridge, with Mason Mount scoring a hat-trick in a 7-0 win.

It was the fourth time Chelsea have won a Premier League game by seven or more goals and the first time since December 2012 against Aston Villa (8-0), with only Manchester United netting seven or more goals in more Premier League games.

Mount opened and rounded off the scoring, with strikes from Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Ben Chilwell and an own goal from Max Aarons wedged in between.

Chelsea's win lifted them four points clear at the top for at least a few hours, and though pleased with the display, Tuchel wants the same level of performance when the Blues take on Southampton in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.

He told BT Sport: "Yes, a good performance, we were sharp, put in a lot of effort.

"High-pressing, [we] played a high rhythm and created a lot of chances and we were very precise. It was a deserved win. To score seven you need a bit of luck and momentum, but a good game.

"This will not stop, this is only one game and the next one follows on Tuesday here, up for a challenge again and they will have to prove it again. All the credit, but it's only one game."

Mount had not scored since netting in a 2-0 Champions League win over Real Madrid in May, but he was the star of the show against the hapless Canaries, who also had Ben Gibson sent off.

He had more shots (five) and efforts on target (four) than any other player, while his tally of three key passes trailed only Mateo Kovacic (six).

Tuchel said: "It's good, because no matter what the coach says and how many good opportunities you have, how satisfied the coach is, the offensive guys need goals to feel fully happy, full confidence.

"He waited long, too long, and it was good that he got some goals today."

Tuchel had concerns about fatigue with Mount, and he added: "I don't think it was a matter of now he is fresh and yesterday he was tired. For now it's a process, we are still in between international breaks, I think it's normal. It's a status that will not change from one game to the other.

"I agree that today he looked fresh and it was good to put him on the pitch. We need to be careful with these players ... who play important roles in their national teams and have a lot of competitions."

Mount added: "Before the game I was putting pressure on myself to get on the scoresheet because it's been quite a long time since I did, and then three come around in the same game.

"I don't think I've ever scored more than one in a game for Chelsea, so it's obviously a massive moment for me to get three, I'll remember this for a long time.

"You put pressure on yourself. I was always getting in the positions to score, but I just wasn't putting it in the back of the net, and I just thought there'd be a game where it was going to come off and today was the day.

"It was my luck today, and obviously the team as well, not just me. The way we played today, I spoke before about intensity, an early kick-off, being at it from the beginning and we were like that today."

Chelsea did not miss Romelu Lukaku or Timo Werner as the Premier League leaders made light work of 10-man Norwich City in a 7-0 rout, with Mason Mount scoring a hat-trick.

A side starting the day bottom of the league has not beaten the team at the top since February 2011, and Norwich never looked likely to halt that run at Stamford Bridge as Thomas Tuchel's side cruised to their biggest win of the season with ease.

Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi got things started with their first league goals of the campaign, with Ben Chilwell scoring for a fourth successive top-flight match after fellow wing-back Reece James got in on the act.

Max Aarons' own goal and Ben Gibson's red card made life even more miserable for Norwich, with Mount doubling his tally from the spot before rounding off his hat-trick in stoppage time.

It took Chelsea just eight minutes to take the lead, as Mount allowed Jorginho's lay-off to run across him before planting a firm strike into the bottom-left corner.

Mateo Kovacic's weighted throughball teed up Hudson-Odoi for a cool finish across Tim Krul 10 minutes later, with Mount turning provider for Chelsea's third, sliding a perfect ball through to James, who chipped in with aplomb. 

After making an error that allowed Milot Rashica to test Edouard Mendy, Chilwell quickly atoned at the other end, drilling in a low finish to continue his brilliant scoring form.

Aarons' deflection on Hudson-Odoi's cross-shot did for Krul, who spilled over his own line, before Gibson – only 10 minutes after he had first been cautioned – dived in late on James.

Mathias Normann's handball handed Chelsea a spot-kick and, though Krul initially saved Mount's effort, the goalkeeper had come off his line, and Norwich's goalkeeper was unable to keep out the second attempt.

There was time for one more, Ruben Loftus-Cheek beating the offside trap and cutting back for Mount to slot in his third.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer often seems destined to fail at Manchester United, and this season the stakes appear higher.

With media scrutiny mounting, Solskjaer's future looked bleak at half-time against Atalanta on Wednesday, with United 2-0 down and staring at a fifth defeat in eight games across all competitions.

"There is pressure all the time. There is pressure on me of course but we've been through this before and come through it stronger as a team and as individuals," Solskjaer said before that match.

His players came good. Goals from Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose arrival seems to have presented more questions than answers regarding Solskjaer's tactical set-up, rescued a vital three points in the Champions League, but Sunday brings an altogether different challenge, with Liverpool in town.

How the managers match up

Prior to the clash with Atalanta, Solskjaer had taken charge of 162 games at United, with Jurgen Klopp having hit that figure at Liverpool back in September 2018.

Four months earlier, Liverpool had slipped to a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Strengthened by the arrivals of Alisson and Fabinho, they would go on to win the European trophy in 2019 – Klopp's first piece of silverware at Anfield. A Premier League title followed in 2019-20.

Yet looking back over the pair's first 162 matches at the helm, it is Solskjaer who can boast the better win percentage (54.9 compared to 53.1).

While Klopp recorded fewer defeats in those games (31 to 37), Solskjaer won 86 times, three more than the Liverpool boss managed.

Klopp did, however, take Liverpool to two finals in his first half-season in charge, only to lose both, in the EFL Cup and Europa League. His third final, and the last within his first 162 games, was the defeat to Madrid in Kiev.

Solskjaer, comparatively, has reached just one final – United going down on penalties in the Europa League showdown against Villarreal at the end of last season.

United scored 299 goals under Solskjaer before Wednesday, from an expected goals (xG) value of 269.6, suggesting the level of chances they have created has not quite matched the finishing. That xG figure outperforms Liverpool's xG of 259.9, though the Reds netted 327 times.

Defence has been a major cause for concern this term, but overall Solskjaer's United kept 59 clean sheets in 162 games prior to tackling Atalanta, conceding 168 goals.

An expected goals against (xGA) of 185.2 suggests United's goalkeepers had plenty to do, though Liverpool only kept 62 clean sheets in the same amount of matches under Klopp, conceding four more goals (172).

Alisson's signing in July 2018 has certainly proved key, given Liverpool's xGA from Klopp's first 162 games was 135.3, suggesting goalkeeping may have been responsible for some of the Reds' issues.

On the right track?

"We've progressed over the years since I was [first here for] half a season. Sixth, third, second. You can see the progress, development and improvement. This season we still want to improve. We've signed players that have raised expectations," Solskjaer said before the Atalanta game.

While the underlying metrics may back up Solskjaer's point, digging deeper presents a more worrying picture.

United's goal tallies have improved, yet Solskjaer's crux is clearly in defence. His team allowed 685 shots last season, 70 more than in 2019-20 from the same number of games (61), with their xGA leaping from 59.2 to 71.5.

Klopp's side, on the other hand, managed to get Liverpool's defeats down from 12 to nine (in both 2016-17 and 2017-18) to seven in his third full season.

As Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah hit their stride, Liverpool's goal totals ticked up, from 87 to 92 to 129, and their highest xGA value in this period was 49.5, way down on United's worst figure.

While there may be similarities in results, Klopp used the first half of his Liverpool spell to implement a style of play, and lay the groundwork for European and domestic triumphs.

Solskjaer will insist he has a vision of what his incarnation of United should be, and though his record against other 'big six' Premier League sides is decent (W13 D10 L10), Liverpool are unbeaten in 18 league games, the longest current run in the top four tiers of English football.

Away from Anfield, they have scored at least three goals in each of their last five Premier League games. United have not kept a clean sheet at home in nine top-flight matches and, despite the calibre of players brought in during Solskjaer's tenure, the old rivals look worlds apart.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's move to Paris Saint-Germain dominated headlines following a busy off-season in the French capital.

Donnarumma was part of an incredible transfer window for PSG, which included the likes of Lionel Messi and Achraf Hakimi arriving.

But Donnarumma is already reportedly considering his future with the Ligue 1 giants.

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA WEIGHING UP FUTURE

Gianluigi Donnarumma will leave Paris Saint-Germain if he continues to be overlooked in favour of Keylor Navas, according to Calciomercato.

Donnarumma only joined PSG from Milan on a free transfer at the start of the season, but he has found himself playing second fiddle to Navas in Paris.

The Italy international has already been linked with Juventus and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

Luis Suarez is seeking a new contract at Atletico Madrid but the LaLiga champions want to hold off until the end of the season before deciding, per Saturday's Marca. Atletico have been linked with wantaway Fiorentina star Dusan VlahovicManchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Inter have also been linked to Vlahovic.

Bayern Munich are pushing to sign Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi, reports Sport1. The 19-year-old has impressed in Austria, where he has been linked with Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Inter and Real Madrid.

- Porto's Luis Diaz is attracting interest from Newcastle United, Chelsea, Bayern and Madrid, claims Nicolo Schira.

Antonio Rudiger's priority is to stay at Chelsea but Fabrizio Romano says the race is open to sign the Germany defender, with Madrid and Bayern among his admirers.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic has emerged as an option for Atletico, who are planning for life without Saul. Brozovic has been linked with Manchester United and Barca.

 

Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said star duo Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez will extend their contracts with the Serie A champions, while he hit out at former striker Romelu Lukaku.

Barella is contracted to Inter until 2024 amid links with Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and the Nerazzurri have been determined to tie the Italy international down to a new long-term deal.

Martinez – long linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona – and his current deal does not expire until 2023.

Marotta addressed the futures of Barella and Martinez ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against rivals Juventus, while highlighting the time needed to re-sign midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Barca.

"Barella and Lautaro will extend their contract with a pay rise, we are close," Marotta told Il Corriere della Sera.

"Brozovic's contract is expiring, it will take more time, but I am confident."

Marotta, meanwhile, said there is not much difference between Inter's Edin Dzeko and former star Lukaku – who he claims left San Siro for more money.

After leading Inter to the Scudetto last season, Lukaku re-joined Chelsea in a club-record £97.5million (€115m) deal.

Dzeko was brought in from Roma as a replacement for Lukaku ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

"Lukaku was sold for €115m and we bought Dzeko for free. On the pitch, there isn't much difference,” Marotta said. "Lukaku left to double his salary, in Italy these figures can't exist.

"Today, we can't make important investments, I wouldn't be allowed to sign Lukaku for €75m. We need reduced and specific investments."

Barella and Arturo Vidal netted in the last home Serie A match against Juventus – the last Inter midfielder to score in consecutive league seasons against the Bianconeri at San Siro was Lothar Matthaus (in 1989-90 and 1990-91).

Among the 13 teams he has faced at least 10 times in Serie A, Juventus are one of the two against which Dzeko has been involved in the fewest goals (alongside Torino) – only three (two goals and one assist).

Inter have scored 78 goals (in 32 games) in 2021 in Serie A. In the big five European leagues, only Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have netted more (89 in 29 games) this calendar year; Juventus have scored 64 goals in 33 matches.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel insisted his comments about a possible Romelu Lukaku-Erling Haaland partnership were a "joke" as he tried to play down speculation linking the European champions with the Borussia Dortmund star.

Tuchel this week said Chelsea had discussed a move for Haaland and did not rule out partnering the in-demand Norwegian forward with Lukaku at Stamford Bridge.

However, Tuchel backtracked on those comments as Chelsea prepare to host Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday.

"I fell into a trap," Tuchel told reporters, referencing his Bild interview. "I got an award in Germany. I got an award from a newspaper and they asked me about a player.

"Normally I never, never speak about other players because simply I never, ever do.

"Then we were making more or less fun about it. I should have known better because [I was] making fun about it and being a nice guy and answering a question instead of 'no, I don't want to answer a question'.

"Getting this award and I joke about a double striker with Romelu in October and then it gets like we put in an offer. That was the context but OK, I should have known better."

Haaland has 70 goals in 69 games for Dortmund since his arrival in January last year, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (89 goals in 74 games) has a better return among players from Europe's top-five leagues.

In this season's Bundesliga, Haaland surpassed his expected goal (xG)-value by 2.9 (nine goals, 6.1 xG) – only Bayer Leverkusen sensation Florian Wirtz eclipsed his value (3.0), per Opta.

Since Haaland joined Dortmund, he exceeded his xG-value (38.7) in the Bundesliga by 10.3. It is the highest value of a player in Europe's top-five leagues in this time.

Since Haaland's arrival in Dortmund, he has scored 13 Bundesliga goals after carries – in Europe's top-five leagues, it is only bettered by six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi (15).

In the 2021-22 league campaign, Haaland is one of four players who has been involved on 10 open-play sequences which ended in a goal – together with Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric, Bayern veteran Thomas Muller and Wirtz.

"It is interesting that we as German staff, we become very humble when we see the difference in performance in the Bundesliga and obviously how much harder it is to produce the same numbers in the Premier League," Tuchel added.

"It is, by the way, the big question in every transfer you do. This player performs in Germany, Spain, Italy or the other way around in England, can he also perform in the other country, the other culture, in the other team, in the other style of football? That is for me one of the big questions because you can scout them on any physical, mental level, do tests with them and observe them, how they behave.

"On social media, they let you observe their lives so you know pretty much everything except for the fact what does it mean if you perform in club A in country B, what does it mean for your club C in country D? This will be the question.

"Every player is different so to make it a general rule, it is maybe not possible but it seems it is the toughest league here and to produce outstanding stats. This cannot be a surprise. You are proud to have this league in England and you should be. It is big fun to watch and maybe bigger fun to work in it. That's the way it is."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted it is wrong to criticise Cristiano Ronaldo's work ethic as he launched a staunch defence of the Red Devils superstar.

Ronaldo was the hero again on Wednesday, scoring the match-winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 Champions League win over Atalanta, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored six goals in eight matches across all competitions since returning to United from Juventus, though there has been some scrutiny of the 36-year-old amid the club's struggle for form.

Ronaldo has been criticised for not working hard or defending enough and as United prepare to host bitter Premier League rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer backed the all-time leading scorer in men's international football.

"First of all, he's fit enough to do it still. But he's played this game 500 times before," Solskjaer told Sky Sports.

"He's been in that situation so many times, and it's one of them: 'I know what [team-mate Luke Shaw] is going to do, I know where I need to be and I'm still capable of doing it'. That's key.

"He's changed his position from being a wide forward into more of a box centre forward because he knows how to score a goal, he wants to score goals. When he first came, with all the tricks and the pace, he had the hunger - and he's still got the hunger.

"He's done what every player has to do throughout his career, you have to evolve."

Solskjaer added: "When Cristiano came to us, he'd not had a proper pre-season at Juventus and you can see he's gradually getting fitter and fitter.

"Now he feels: 'I'm getting towards the level I know I can be'. Wednesday night, the focus, the physical effort, the run… he had the highest amount of sprints, the longest sprint distance, the longest high-intensity distance.

"We talk about players who run a lot, he does as much as them. If people want to criticise his work ethic, that's completely wrong. You see him running down the channels, which he has to do as a centre forward.

"He does the work that we want him to do for the team. Of course, the team, when you have a player like him, you've got to get the best out of him, but he knows he's part of the jigsaw of that team and he's been brilliant."

United – sixth in the table and four points behind second-placed Liverpool – have won just one of their last 10 Premier League meetings against the Reds (D6 L3), losing this exact fixture 4-2 last season.

Solskjaer's United shipped four goals in a home Premier League game for only the fifth time in last season's encounter with Liverpool. The last team to score four-plus goals in consecutive top-flight visits to Old Trafford was Burnley in 1961-62 (won 4-1) and 1962-63 (won 5-2).

United are without a clean sheet in any of their last nine home league matches, their longest streak without one since a run of 10 between September 1970 and February 1971.

Meanwhile, United have only picked up eight points from their last seven home Premier League matches (W2 D2 L3), winning twice as many points in their previous seven at Old Trafford (16 – W5 D1 L1).

Mikel Arteta says Arsenal laid down a marker for how he wants his side to play in their dominant 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Friday.

The Gunners snapped a run of three successive defeats to Villa in the Premier League, moving up to ninth place thanks to goals from Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal were two goals ahead at the end of a first half that saw them register 14 shots to Villa's none – the first time they have managed to stop their opponents from getting a shot away before half-time in the league since May 2018 against Burnley. 

The win extends Arsenal's unbeaten run to six matches in the top flight since kicking off their campaign with three straight losses and Arteta was delighted with what he saw.

"The way we started the game and the way we continued was good," he told BBC Sport. "We attacked them really aggressively, we won every duel. We were creative, a threat. I'm proud of the team, they played really well.

"This is how we have to play. This is when we are good, when we play with real desire, real commitment and can have clear ideas of how to attack them. We are closer together as a team. Our decisions were good. We have good players."

Arsenal had an Aubameyang goal rightly ruled out and hit the crossbar through Partey's strike before the latter found a way through with his first goal for the club on his 40th appearance in all competitions.

It looked as though Arteta's side would only have that one goal to show for a dominant first half, but they were awarded a penalty just before half-time after a lengthy VAR review for a Matt Targett foul on Alexandre Lacazette. 

Aubameyang's spot-kick was saved by Emiliano Martinez, but the Gabon international beat his former team-mate from the follow-up as he scored a home league goal for the fourth game running.

Star man Smith Rowe went on to put Arsenal out of reach early in the second half, before Jacob Ramsey's late consolation, but Arteta admitted he was concerned his side's profligacy may have cost them before the second goal went in.

"That was the worry," he said. "That [Aubameyang] goal was really helpful. We deserved many more. Villa are a really good side. When they had a little bit of the ball in your half they can cause problems.

"It was really impressive what they did, especially Nuno Tavares. This was his first start. To play with courage, credit to the boy. We reviewed the Crystal Palace game, how we started and why we weren’t consistent in the game. We put it right today."

Smith Rowe pulled the string for Arsenal from midfield by playing a game-high four key passes, including the assist from a corner for Partey's opener, which he added to with a deflected strike of his own to round off a counter-attack.

"Emile was terrific," Arteta told Sky Sports. "He's scoring goals, but I feel it was more about the team today. Scoring should be a habit and he should demand that in his game as he's capable of doing it. He's developing more in other areas.

"The other night against Crystal Palace, he wasn't 100 per cent fit but he wanted to step forward with the injury he had. 

"He's changing his ways in terms of the eating habits that he had and I thought he was superb. This was an example of why we wanted to keep him and we're very happy with him."

Arsenal returned to winning ways and moved into the top half of the Premier League with a well-earned 3-1 victory over Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium.

Mikel Arteta's side had been held in back-to-back games but Friday's win never seemed in doubt after Thomas Partey deservedly headed them in front with his first goal for the club.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a second just before half-time from a rebound after Emiliano Martinez had saved his penalty, which was awarded after VAR intervened.

Villa substitute Jacob Ramsey pulled one back late on after Emile Smith Rowe had further extended Arsenal's lead, as the Gunners stretched their unbeaten league run to six matches and condemned their opponents to a third loss on the bounce.

 

Aubameyang had a goal rightly ruled out for an Alexandre Lacazette foul in the build-up and Partey turned a shot against the crossbar in a dominant start from Arsenal.

The hosts deservedly took the lead with 23 minutes played, when Partey got away from John McGinn and guided Smith Rowe's corner past Martinez.

Former Arsenal keeper Martinez produced a fine save to deny Bukayo Saka from a one-on-one on the half-hour mark, but he was beaten for a second time from the penalty spot right at the end of the first half.

After being asked to check the pitchside monitor, Craig Pawson adjudged Matt Targett went through the back of Lacazette to win the ball and Aubameyang fired past Martinez at the second attempt after his former team-mate kept out the initial spot-kick.

Villa squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 against Wolves last week, but any hopes of a comeback of their own were extinguished by a Smith Rowe strike that deflected in off Tyrone Mings.

Ramsey curled a delightful shot past Aaron Ramsdale eight minutes from time following some nice play from fellow substitute Leon Bailey, though that proved nothing more than a consolation.

Cristiano Ronaldo says a period of adaptation for Manchester United is only natural after the club made three huge signings in the transfer window.

The Portugal forward also insists he has no plans to quit international football to prolong his club career, with the 36-year-old still one of the most prolific players in world football.

Ronaldo has scored six times for United since making his sensational return from Juventus, a move that came 12 years after he initially left Old Trafford for Real Madrid.

The signings of Ronaldo, his former Madrid team-mate Raphael Varane and Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho had United fans dreaming of a first Premier League title since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

But going into Sunday's crunch home clash with Liverpool, United are sixth in the table and five points behind leaders Chelsea, with Ronaldo's compatriot Bruno Fernandes an injury doubt.

Ronaldo has netted memorable late Champions League goals in the recent wins over Villarreal and Atalanta and he remains patient despite the pressure that is growing on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

"We are in a moment in my opinion that Manchester do a few changes; they buy me, they buy Varane and Sancho," he said to Sky Sports.

"The adaptation will take time, even the system of the game that we play, but I think step by step we have to put it in our mind that everything is possible.

"I don't speak only about my individual stuff, I put the collective in first place. It's more easy to win individual stuff.

"Everyone should know their role. I know my role in the team, in the club - my role is to score goals, to help the team with my experience and know-how to understand the game.

"If everyone is thinking like that, sacrifice for the team, we will be a better team. We have fantastic supporters behind us, fantastic stadium, fantastic team, so we have to carry on."

United have won just one of their last 10 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D6 L3), losing this exact fixture 4-2 last season, and will hope Ronaldo helps them to secure a different outcome this time.

Ronaldo recently became the highest scorer ever in international football and does not see the need to stop playing for Portugal, with the World Cup just over a year away.

He compared his drive to play on for his country with his club career, where he still pursues success despite holding the record for most Champions League goals (137). 

Asked about retiring from internationals, Ronaldo replied: "But why? I think it's not my time yet. It's not what people want, it's what I want. 

"It's when I feel that I'm not capable to run, to dribble, to shoot, if the power is gone - but I still have that stuff so I want to continue because I'm still motivated.

"It's the main word - [motivated] to do my stuff, to make people happy and my family happy and the fans and myself. 

"I want to put the level even higher. You speak about Portugal but in the Champions League I have the most goals, the most wins, assists - everything. 

"But I want to carry on. I like to play football. I feel good to make people happy."

United need to improve their form at Old Trafford in the Premier League.

Going into the Liverpool match, Solskjaer's men have only picked up eight points from their last seven home matches and are without a clean sheet in nine, their longest league run without one since 1971.

Mohamed Salah has declared he wants to stay at Liverpool for the rest of his career.

The Egyptian forward is rated by his club boss Jurgen Klopp as the best player in the world currently, after scoring 12 goals in 11 games for the Reds this season.

His current deal runs through to the end of the 2022-23 season, but Liverpool are eager to secure his future as soon as possible.

It is clear that in-form Salah is happy at Anfield, but there is more to it than that, with the club needing to satisfy his financial demands.

He is putting all the onus on Liverpool to come up with the attractive offer that will persuade him to make a long-term commitment, knowing there would be clubs queueing up to offer him big-money deals should he leave.

At the age of 29, the next contract he signs will likely be Salah's last major deal of his career.

"This doesn't depend on me. If you ask me, I would love to stay until the last day of my football [career]," Salah told Sky Sports.

"But I can't say much about that, it is not in my hands. It depends on what the club want.

"At the moment, I can't see myself ever playing against Liverpool. That would make me sad.

"It's hard. I don't want to talk about it, but it would make me really sad. Let's see what will happen in the future."

On Sunday, Salah is set to line up for Liverpool at Manchester United, where he scored three times in two visits last season, netting twice in an FA Cup defeat and then once late on in a 4-2 Premier League win.

No Liverpool player has ever scored in three consecutive away games against Manchester United, but Salah has netted in his last nine outings across all competitions.

It would almost be a surprise, therefore, if he failed to find the net at Old Trafford, with the fact United have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last nine home league matches another factor to consider.

Comparisons have been drawn between Salah and United forward Cristiano Ronaldo, and they will continue on Sunday, with the performance of each man likely to be pivotal to the outcome.

In his first season at Liverpool, in 2017-18, Salah broke Ronaldo's record of 31 Premier League goals in a 38-game campaign, scoring 32 times and averaging a strike every 91 minutes.

Salah's shot conversion rate of 22.22 per cent that season (from 144 attempts in total) is the best either he or Ronaldo have managed in their Premier League careers.

In terms of assists, Salah has twice reached 10 for a campaign, in 2017-18 and Liverpool's title-winning season of 2019-20. Ronaldo's best figure of eight was recorded in 2006-07.

This season, Salah sits alongside Jamie Vardy on seven goals at the top of the Premier League scoring chart, heading into the weekend programme.

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