Pep Guardiola said title-hunting Manchester City "don't have any alternative but to win" as he recalled Phil Foden and John Stones for the final-day Premier League clash with Aston Villa, who were without first-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Leaders City came into the home game at the Etihad Stadium with a one-point advantage over Liverpool, who had an Anfield assignment against Wolves.

Jack Grealish, who played and scored in the draw with West Ham last week, dropped to the bench as Guardiola promoted Foden to form a front three with Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus.

Left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko was also a substitute as Stones came into the team in his place, joining Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho in City's backline. Fit-again Kyle Walker was also a full-back option on the bench for Guardiola.

For Fernandinho, it was to be his final match for City, after choosing to leave following nine years at the club.

In midfield, Premier League player of the season Kevin De Bruyne was joined by Rodri and Bernardo Silva.

Stones and Walker had been expected to miss the rest of the season, but Guardiola was able to summon both for the decisive final day.

Chasing a fourth Premier League title in five seasons, Guardiola wrote in his programme notes: "We have a job to do, and we must do it as a collective. We simply have to win. We don't have any alternative but to win."

He urged City fans to roar the team to the title, adding that such final-day moments on home turf are "a privilege and something very special".

"As a club, these situations are relatively new. Embrace it and enjoy today as much as you can," Guardiola wrote. "I have the feeling every year that winning the Premier League is harder. We have consistently been there fighting to win it, which says everything about the mentality and quality of my players."

Villa, significantly, were without Martinez with Villa boss and Liverpool great Steven Gerrard citing a knee injury for his absence. His absence meant Robin Olsen, on loan from Roma, was handed a debut in place of the former Arsenal man.

The visitors' line-up also included another former Anfield favourite in the form of Philippe Coutinho.

Pep Guardiola hailed the efforts of Liverpool for pushing Manchester City to new heights in the battle for the Premier League title.

City are one point ahead of the Reds heading into their final match of the season against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium, with Jurgen Klopp's side at home to Wolves on Sunday.

Victory over Steven Gerrard's Villa would ensure a fourth Premier League title of the Guardiola era in just five years at City, with only Alex Ferguson winning more (13).

It would also make the Spaniard the outright leader for English top-flight titles among non-British managers, going one clear of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

Guardiola believes his side would not have achieved what they have without the competition from Liverpool, who remain in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple.

"We would not achieve what we have without them [Liverpool]," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "We have our opponent who brings you to the limits, otherwise complacency arrives.

"The players are not stupid, I do not need to tell them how good they are. They play against them and see them on TV and I said, 'wow, if we want to be there, we have to do it'.

"I think it is quite similar like they should think about us."

Guardiola heaped praise on his players as they stand on the brink of back-to-back titles.

"Incredible, top human quality players and persons," he added. "Without that, no tactics, no ideas. Nothing, nothing, top-quality players.

"All the other managers have amazing ideas and tactics. The praise in the football world is so suspicious. Every time you give good praise to me, I do not believe you. Not for one second, I'm so suspicious.

"Behind that is the players, the quality, the talent, the effort. When we are good is when we try to altogether follow one idea, but my ideas are not more special than the other ones.

"I have found a lot of incredibly talented managers in the Championship, or the Premier League who do not have success. Do you know why? They do not have the good players that we have, it is as simple as that."

Victory over Villa would secure City's eighth top-flight title, the outright fifth-most in history since its inception in 1888, while it will be their sixth Premier League title (outright second-most after Manchester United’s 13).

Kevin De Bruyne has been named the Premier League's Player of the Season.

The Manchester City star has driven Pep Guardiola's team to the verge of a fourth title in the space of five seasons with some sensational displays.

Despite having a rather stuttering start to the campaign after suffering an eye injury in last season's Champions League final, and then sustaining another problem during Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final defeat to Italy, the 30-year-old has gone on to score 15 goals in the Premier League so far in 2021-22.

Remarkably, those goals have come from an expected goals (xG) value of just 5.8. He has also provided seven assists.

Four of those came in City's 5-1 thrashing of Wolves earlier in May, with De Bruyne becoming the first player since Harry Kane in May 2017 to score three goals in a Premier League game with his weak foot, while he is the first midfielder in the competition's history to do so.

Indeed, he has contributed to 13 goals across his last nine Premier League appearances to truly take the reins of City's title charge.

While City still need to beat Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa on the final day to ensure the title is theirs, De Bruyne's stellar efforts have been rewarded.

The playmaker previously won the award in 2020, after matching Thierry Henry's Premier League assists record, while a City player has taken the prize for a third successive season, with Ruben Dias having won the accolade last year.

City may be signing Erling Haaland ahead of next term but this season they have once again operated without a recognised number nine, though De Bruyne's 15 strikes put him as the team's leading scorer.

Over his last 19 league matches, De Bruyne has registered a goal involvement every 81 minutes, edging out his single-season best from 2019-20 (85 minutes per goal involvement). He is also the only player to average over three shots and over three chances created per 90 minutes this season in the Premier League.

De Bruyne's triumph seals a fine day for City players, with Phil Foden having been selected as the league's Young Player of the Season.

Golden Boot contenders Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min were also on the eight-man shortlist for the Player of the Year award, which included Joao Cancelo, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jarrod Bowen, Bukayo Saka and James Ward-Prowse.

Pep Guardiola would be an ideal coach for Brazil as his style of play would benefit the likes of Neymar and Vinicius Junior, according to Julio Cesar. 

Brazil are on the hunt for a new boss with Tite leaving the role after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Guardiola has been linked with the position.

The Catalan is under contract at Manchester City, who he could lead to Premier League glory on Sunday, until June 2023 but has previously expressed a desire to move into international management.

Julio Cesar thinks he would be a great fit for the Selecao as his possession-based approach would help Brazil's most talented players.

"He has all the qualities to do it. He is one of the best in the world, his style of play is very Brazilian," Julio Cesar told Stats Perform courtesy of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. 

"Everyone knows that Brazilian players love to keep the ball; the majority of them also play in Europe and they are learning to play better on the pitch.  

"We have so much quality on the Brazilian national team: Neymar, Raphinha, [Lucas] Paqueta, Vinicius Junior. All these players are very talented and having a manager like Guardiola would give these players the opportunity of playing the ball more. 

"Every player would love to work with a manager like him. It wouldn't be a bad idea, although we also have really good managers in Brazil. He is a big name in the football world and it wouldn't be a bad thing having him representing our national side. I like the idea." 

Tite's only previous World Cup campaign with Brazil ended in a quarter-final defeat to Belgium in Russia four years ago. 

He steered the Selecao to Copa America glory in 2019 but they were unable to defend their title two years later, with Argentina defeating them in the final. 

Julio Cesar already believes Tite will leave a lasting legacy but has no doubt that leading Brazil to glory in Qatar would achieve him an even higher status. 

"This is what the World Cup gets you, it will level you up. If you can bring the World Cup to Brazil, you can leave with your head held high, you have done your job," he said. 

"He won the Copa America in 2019, he got to the final again against Argentina. He did very well so far, even in the [World Cup] qualifiers he got first place ahead of Argentina.

"He can leave with his head held high, but winning a World Cup with Brazil will take him to the top." 

Manchester City's Phil Foden has been named the 2021-22 Premier League Young Player of the Season.

The England international, who was awarded the gong last term after helping Pep Guardiola's side to the title, picks it up for a second time after another fine season.

Foden is the first man to win the award in successive campaigns, and is feted for a season that saw him establish himself as a mainstay of the City squad.

Only Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have featured for more minutes among the team's midfielders than the 21-year-old, who beat off stern competition for the prize.

Arsenal duo Aaron Ramsdale and Bukayo Saka were among those also shortlisted, as was Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Crystal Palace pair Conor Gallagher and Tyrick Mitchell, alongside Chelsea's Mason Mount and West Ham's Declan Rice, completed the eight-man nominee list.

Foden won the award after receiving the most combined votes from the public and a Premier League panel. 

He has scored nine goals and assisted a further five in 27 top-flight outings this term, with 23 of those being starts.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin is reportedly finished at Everton – and he may have a chance to put himself in the shop window when his side play Arsenal in the last game of the Premier League season.

After 13 goals in Everton's 2019-20 Premier League campaign, and 16 in the 2020-21 season, the 25-year-old struggled with injuries this time around, missing three months with a fractured toe and scoring five goals in 16 league appearances.

Coming through Sheffield United's youth academy before moving to Everton in 2016, it appears unlikely Calvert-Lewin's next move will take him out of the country, with two Premier League clubs said to be leading the race.

 

TOP STORY – CALVERT-LEWIN SET FOR ARSENAL AUDITION

According to Football Insider, Calvert-Lewin expects Sunday's fixture to be his last appearance for the Toffees, and Arsenal are named as one of the two Premier League sides interested in making a move for the English striker.

Newcastle United are the other interested party, although Calvert-Lewin is said to have communicated to friends that his preferred landing spot would be Arsenal.

With the Arsenal futures of Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah up in the air, the Gunners have reportedly set aside £45million to be used on a young striker in the upcoming transfer window.

 

ROUND-UP

– Marca reports that Real Madrid have interest in Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan if he leaves in the next transfer window, although Pep Guardiola wants to keep the German international at the club.

Newcastle are ruling out a move for Manchester United's Jesse Lingard, unless he lowers his wage requests from £150,000 per week, according to ESPN.

– Sport reports that Barcelona have made centre-back Samuel Umtiti available to Arsenal, with a loan move more likely.

– Eurosport claims Paul Pogba will choose between Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus for his next club.

– According to football.london, 20-year-old Nottingham Forest winger Brennan Johnson has plenty of Premier League admirers, with Tottenham named as an interested party.

Title races are the best, aren't they?

Months of games, so many ups and downs, goals scored and conceded, and yet it can all still come down to the finest margins in the closing minutes of the last day.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson, the winner is showered with praise; the loser is taunted and booed until my throat is sore.

With one matchday left, the title races in both Serie A and the Premier League are going to the final 90 minutes. Milan and Manchester City have their destinies in their own hands, but Inter and Liverpool are looking to respectively pounce on any stumble.

There is the potential for exceptional drama in Italy and England, but can the Nerazzurri and the Reds have much hope of pulling off the improbable and wrestling the respective title from their rivals?

Stats Perform has taken a look at some of the more dramatic title races from recent history that show anything is possible.

Every goal matters

The Eredivisie provided about as tense a finish as you could imagine in 2006-07, with PSV Eindhoven and Ajax unsurprisingly the main characters.

A strong title defence from Ronald Koeman's PSV began with 18 wins from 21 games, and just one defeat.

However, losing four and drawing four of their next 12 games coupled with Ajax winning five of six leading into the final day meant they were neck and neck on points heading into the last game.

Despite being behind on goal difference, a tremendous effort from PSV saw them pip their rivals after an emphatic 5-1 win over Vitesse, while Ajax could only muster a 2-0 victory over Willem II, losing the title by a single goal.

When goals made no difference in LaLiga

In the same season, Real Madrid made a disappointing start in LaLiga, drawing their first game 0-0 with Villarreal at home before going on to lose seven of their first 21 league matches.

After drawing four games in a row between mid-February and mid-March, title hopes seemed to be over for Fabio Capello's men, only for nine wins in 11 games to send them into the final day level on points with Barcelona.

Barca thrashed Gimnastic 5-1 away from home to do their bit, but Madrid eased to a 3-1 win against Real Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Blaugrana had a significantly better goal difference of +45 compared to Madrid's +26, but that mattered not as the tie-breaker came down to head-to-head record, which was in Los Blancos' favour having beaten Barca 2-0 at home and drawn 3-3 at Camp Nou.

"Agueroooooo!"

Following Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City in 2008, the club had grown year-on-year and by the 2011-12 season, felt they were ready to mount a challenge at the top of the Premier League.

Roberto Mancini's side started well enough, winning 11 of their first 12 games, but three defeats across December and January dented hopes, while two losses and two draws in a five-game period in March and April all but killed them.

That was until five wins in a row coincided with Manchester United losing to Wigan Athletic and dramatically drawing 4-4 with Everton at Old Trafford.

City beating United on matchday 36 swung things in the Sky Blues' favour, and they went into the last day needing only a win against lowly QPR to seal it.

In typical fashion, they made it hard work for themselves, finding themselves 2-1 down heading towards the 90th minute. United had won 1-0 at Sunderland, which meant City needed two goals or they would have lost the title in agonising fashion.

An Edin Dzeko header made it 2-2, before Mario Balotelli slid in Sergio Aguero for one of the most famous goals in English football history, giving City their first top-flight title since 1969.

 

The ultimate last day head-to-head

It was like something out of a Hollywood film. All the previous nine LaLiga titles had been won by Clasico giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in 2013-14, Atletico Madrid believed they could spoil the party.

Barca were the pacesetters, winning 13 of their first 14 games, while Real Madrid were struggling after losing to both Atletico and Barca.

Diego Simeone led his team to an incredible 16 wins from their first 18 games, but a 0-0 draw with Barca made it look like it would be the tightest of run-ins.

Indeed it was, with Real coming back to the party after an 18-match unbeaten run, though back-to-back defeats to Barca and Sevilla stopped them in their tracks.

Gerardo Martino's Barca were wobbling too, losing three out of seven games between February and March, and then drawing with Getafe and Elche to give Atletico their chance on the final day.

As if it could not have been more dramatic, Atletico went into the last game three points clear, but needing a point to clinch the title, away at Barcelona.

Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring for the Blaugrana, but Diego Godin's header handed the crown to Atletico.

When six were not on the beach

You may not be as familiar with this final day, but it stands as one of the most remarkable in the history of the game.

Never mind two or three, there were six clubs that could still claim the Ligue 2 title going into the final round of matches in 2016-17.

Strasbourg, Amiens, Troyes, Lens, Brest and Nimes all in with a shout with one game remaining, all separated by three points at most.

Technically, the drama was not really with the winner of the title, but the other automatic promotion spot that was up for grabs, with Strasbourg able to hold on to top spot following a nervy 2-1 win against Bourg-Peronnas, but it was a 96th-minute strike from Emmanuel Bourgaud sealing a 2-1 win at Stade Reims for Amiens that provided unbelievable drama, taking the aptly named Unicorns from sixth to second.

I did not think I would be advising Inter and Liverpool to go into their games with an "Amiens mindset", but there we are.

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool must not be disappointed in the 2021-22 season if they fail to win the Premier League.

The Reds head into the final day of the season just a point behind leaders City, who face Aston Villa, managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard, in their last game.

Liverpool take on Wolves at Anfield, in a repeat of the final fixture of the 2018-19 season, when the title race also went down to the wire. On that occasion, a victory for the Reds was not enough, as they lost out by a single point to City, who won at Brighton and Hove Albion.

Even though history could repeat itself, Klopp – who like in 2019, has a Champions League final to look forward to – believes it has been an incredible campaign.

Liverpool's title defence floundered in 2020-21 but they have returned to the top in style this season, winning both the EFL Cup and FA Cup.

Speaking in a news conference on Friday, Klopp said: "After that game [Wolves in 2019] I was fine with the situation.

"I remember walking on the lap of honour next to Trent [Alexander-Arnold]. We both had a smile on our faces because it was a great season.

"Whatever happens on Sunday, I will not forget that it has been an absolutely fantastic season."

Klopp also believes that if City do pip Liverpool to the post once again, it will only spur his side onto more success in the future.

"The biggest defeats in my life have led to the biggest successes in my life, wherever I was," he added. "Whether it was Mainz or whatever, it's a little bit like this.

"Even if we don't win the Champions League final, I learned at Mainz when we didn't get promoted and we arrived back and thought it'd be really sad but we had 20,000 people waiting for us.

"We had to go on stage the day after we lost our dream of going to the Bundesliga. That was the moment we realised it was OK and if they think it was fine then we can go from here.

"The response [of fans] is really important and whatever happens on Sunday we will not stop. We will not stop trying.

"Yes, we have the best opponent in world football, which is a bit of a shame, but they have us in their neck, which is not too cool as well. So let's see."

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has been disappointed by questions over his side's integrity ahead of their season-ending clash with Manchester City.

It means Gerrard, a Liverpool great, has the chance to do his old club a huge favour. Should City drop points against Villa on Sunday, then a win for the Reds over Wolves would ensure the Premier League title is theirs.

Villa hosted Liverpool last week, with some doubts raised over how Gerrard would approach that game, but the Reds were pushed hard before ultimately triumphing 2-1. 

Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings started on the bench on Thursday in Villa's final home game of the season – a 1-1 draw with Burnley – with both players coming on in the final 20 minutes.

Those questions, however, have frustrated Gerrard.

"In terms of Liverpool, I totally understand and respect the external noise and the questions that have been coming my way for some time," the former England midfielder told a news conference.

"They're involved in a title race, and I spent a lot of time there. It is disappointing when people mention integrity and aim it towards me or Aston Villa or any of my players.

"We'll go out at the weekend and give it everything we've got to try to get points for Aston Villa and our supporters. If that inevitably helps Liverpool, fantastic."

City have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa (D1), including the last six in a row, while Villa have lost 15 of their last 16 trips to the Etihad Stadium in the league, losing each of their last 11 on the bounce since a 2-0 win in 2007.

Speaking of facing City and Liverpool, Gerrard said: "In terms of my experience being back in the Premier League, they have been the two best sides by far that we have faced.

"Very different – one tries to hurt you with positional play and possession and one tries to hurt you with speed and intensity.

"They are both extremely consistent and have got top managers. They have both recruited extremely well over a period of time and had a lot of time to work with the team so it is no surprise that they get the results that they do."

Trent Alexander-Arnold says Liverpool's quadruple tilt represents one of the greatest seasons from a Premier League side, regardless of the outcome of their final-day title tussle with Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp's team remain in contention for the second top-flight title of his tenure when they host Wolves at Anfield, having already won the EFL Cup and FA Cup, while reaching the Champions League final.

With Liverpool one point behind City and possessing an inferior goal difference, the Reds will need Pep Guardiola's men to slip up in their home game against Aston Villa to preserve their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple.

Liverpool and City have set a relentless pace at the top of the Premier League table this season with the Reds winning 15 and drawing three of their last 18 league games, while City are unbeaten in 11 league outings after rescuing a 2-2 draw at West Ham last Sunday (eight wins, three draws).

Alexander-Arnold was part of the Liverpool team that finished as runners-up despite amassing 97 points in the 2018-19 season as City finished one point clear of the Reds.

The England international believes Liverpool's effort on four fronts this term represents a historic achievement amongst Premier League sides, whatever the outcome of Sunday's title fight.

"I think back in March, or April I was thinking 'this is going to happen again', but when there are seven or eight fixtures to go you think 'surely someone has got to drop a few points'," the full-back told Sky Sports.

"We have [a 1-1 home draw with Tottenham last month], but it's been quite even and it's all we could do. You think back to January and we were miles behind them, and we fought back and got ourselves into an amazing position.

"I think, to push the way we have in all competitions this season, it's got to be, for me, one of the best team performances over the course of a season in Premier League history.

"We've taken every trophy to the last game, that's all you can really ask for, and I think it's been a special achievement no matter what happens on Sunday."

Liverpool will be supremely confident of doing their part after going unbeaten throughout their last 22 home Premier League games (17 wins, five draws).

If the Reds avoid defeat against Wolves, they will have gone unbeaten through an entire home Premier League campaign for a fifth time, the joint-most of any club (alongside Chelsea).

However, rivals City have ended 10 of their last 13 campaigns with a victory (two draws, one defeat), not losing on the final day since suffering a 3-2 reverse against Norwich City in 2013, while the defending champions have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa.

Look away Liverpool, this may make for painful reading. Manchester City are not quite home and hosed in the Premier League title race, but all signs point to them brushing off Aston Villa on Sunday to clinch the trophy.

Another gripping race for domestic dominance culminates in City hosting Villa, while rivals Liverpool face Wolves at Anfield.

If City drop points, a Liverpool win would make Jurgen Klopp's team the champions. Yet recent history shows us that City rarely stumble against Villa, so a slip-up in the clash with Steven Gerrard's side would be a monumental shock.

A sixth title in the Premier League era beckons, which would rank City outright second behind Manchester United's haul of 13 championships.

Stats Perform takes a look here at key Opta numbers ahead of the final-day showdown

Saving the best for last

Pep Guardiola has repeatedly denied City lost their nerve against Real Madrid, when they remarkably surrendered what should have been a match-winning lead in the Champions League semi-finals.

Such wild things happen in football, Guardiola has reasoned, which is why he will take a meticulous approach to preparation for the Etihad Stadium clash with Villa. There could yet be an extraordinary finish to the season, but not if Guardiola can help it.

City have kept running through the tape in each of Guardiola's seasons in England, winning all five of their final league games under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss. That ranks as the best such 100 per cent record for a manager in the competition's history.

Going back even further, to the start of the Abu Dhabi ownership era, City have lost just one of their final league games in the last 13 campaigns (W10 D2). That loss came when they went down 3-2 at home to Norwich City in 2012-13 when Brian Kidd was in caretaker charge for the last game. A year previously, they famously beat QPR by that same scoreline to clinch a first Premier League title.

This season, City have lost just one of their last 27 Premier League games (W22 D4), and are unbeaten in 11 since losing 3-2 at home to Spurs in February.

 

What it would mean for Guardiola

The City manager, who reports have claimed is ready to extend his contract until 2025, stands on the brink of Premier League history.

Should his side keep Liverpool at arm's length, Guardiola will become the outright leader for English top-flight titles among non-British managers, going one clear of both Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

This would be his fourth such Premier League title success in England, with only Manchester United's Alex Ferguson winning more. Guardiola has no intention of staying long enough to match Ferguson's staggering stack of 13 titles.

City have won 168 of the 227 Premier League games they have contested in the Guardiola era, scoring 562 goals in that time. Those are inevitably league-best figures, and it would be hideously out of character for them to crack against Villa.

A one-sided rivalry

It was not always this way, of course. Villa finished ahead of City as recently as the 2008-09 season (finishing sixth to City's 10th), but the tables turned in the dynamic between the teams when the Abu Dhabi investment began at the Etihad Stadium.

In recent years, this has been almost a formality victory for City, who have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa (D1), including the last six in a row.

City's last defeat to Sunday's opponents was a 3-2 loss at Villa Park in September 2013.

It is even more of a grim story when the focus falls solely on the games in Manchester. Villa have lost 15 of their last 16 away league games against City, losing each of the last 11 in a row since a 2-0 win in April 2007. This run of 11 is Villa's longest away losing streak against an opponent in their league history.

What's more, Villa's record when facing any league-leading team is unimpressive. They have won just one of their 21 Premier League away games against league leaders (D3 L17), beating Leeds United 2-1 in January 2000, and have lost the last seven by an aggregate score of 21-1.

Villa pulled off a shock of sorts when beating fourth-placed finishers Chelsea on the final day of last season, but they have not won their last game of a league campaign in consecutive seasons since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. The second of those wins came against champions Arsenal, but that is almost a quarter of a century ago.

 

Doubling up on the last day?

City will have Erling Haaland on board next season, so a flip of tactics seems inevitable to accommodate the prolific striker. This term, City have tended to rely on their midfield and attacking wide players to deliver in front of goal, and three players have reached double figures: Kevin De Bruyne (15 goals), Raheem Sterling (13) and Riyad Mahrez (11).

Now it could be Phil Foden's turn.

Foden has scored nine Premier League goals this season, and if he scores against Villa it would make this season the first for City with two English players (Foden and Sterling) scoring at least 10 goals in a league campaign since 2004-05, when Robbie Fowler and Shaun Wright-Phillips were the pair.

Pep Guardiola has no intention of selling Ilkay Gundogan, even if "all the great Twitter accounts" have suggested he could leave Manchester City.

Gundogan has been at the centre of online debate following claims he had held talks with Real Madrid, seemingly focused around a reported image of the midfielder heading to the Spanish capital on a private flight.

Model Sara Benamira revealed on her Instagram she and Gundogan had actually been married in Copenhagen during his time out of the country.

Guardiola was aware of that private ceremony but had no knowledge of any desire on the part of either Gundogan or the club for a transfer.

The former Borussia Dortmund man has a year remaining on his City contract.

"He asked me permission to go to Denmark or I don't know [where] to get married," Guardiola told reporters. "I congratulate him.

"If you ask me personally, the club, I want Ilkay next season here. There is no idea, no intention that next season he cannot be here.

"After, if he wants to leave – because... I don't know, he's getting married, a new experience or whatever – as a club we don't know it.

"All the great Twitter accounts, the guys like you, said he's going to leave, so congratulations, but I didn't know it. Maybe you have more info than me or the club, but this is the situation right now."

In the more immediate future, Guardiola has been boosted by the potential return of defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones for Sunday's Premier League match against Aston Villa, where City will win the title with three points.

The England pair had previously been ruled out for the rest of the season but could now feature after a "partial" training session on Thursday.

"I have incredible doctors," a smiling Guardiola said on Friday.

Pep Guardiola has defended his claim "everybody in this country supports Liverpool", suggesting Manchester City's modern success does not yet compare to the Anfield giants.

Guardiola became the centre of much attention following City's 5-0 win over Newcastle United earlier this month when he gave a remarkable post-match interview to beIN SPORTS.

The Catalan coach responded to discussion of City reclaiming control of the Premier League title race by saying: "One week ago, we were [already] one point in front. But everybody in this country supports Liverpool, the media, everyone."

City are again one point ahead of Liverpool heading into the season's final round of fixtures, certain to win the title if they can beat Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola was asked to explain his comments and suggested they had been lost in translation, although he then suggested Liverpool were indeed favoured in England due to their history.

"I'm pretty sure my English is not good enough after four or five years, so maybe I don't explain well," he told a news conference.

"All I said was when you arrive to win titles, the teams with more tradition, more history winning leagues and winning Champions Leagues, they have more supporters through the media.

"It happens in Spain with Barcelona and Madrid, it happens in Germany with Bayern Munich, it happens in Italy with Milan, Inter and the other ones.

"We are new outsiders in the last decade. We were not there in that moment.

"Of course people don't want Liverpool winning, like us. If you win too much, they don't want you to win again. Of course the Liverpool fans want to win it, other fans don't want them to win it, they prefer us.

"I'm not saying all the country is doing that, but in general, because they are a team with history in terms of titles.

"If you want to deny it, deny it; maybe I'm wrong. But if you compare all the countries around the world, there are two or three or four teams who the people support more than the other ones because they have been there more times.

"Here it's the same. People support more United than the other ones, Liverpool than the other ones, Arsenal when they were there, because they have a lot of history.

"We are new in this position. How many times have we been in this position in our history? How many times? The Aguero moment, Brighton [in 2019], Paul Dickov to be promoted [in 1999] and then... I don't know? It's not much. It's new for us."

Guardiola has gone some way to establishing City among the elite, on the brink of an eighth top-flight title, the fifth-most of all time.

A sixth Premier League triumph – and fourth in five seasons, all under Guardiola – would be the outright second-most behind Manchester United (13).

United's Alex Ferguson (13) alone would rank ahead of Guardiola for championships in the Premier League era, while he could move clear of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho (both three) for the most top-flight successes by a non-British manager.

The omens are good, too, given City have lost only one of their past 13 final-day matches (to Norwich City in 2012-13) and Guardiola has won five from five, the best 100 per cent record in Premier League history.

Pep Guardiola has learned winning titles is not as life-changing as he expected and told potential first-time Premier League champion Jack Grealish his happiness should be the priority.

Guardiola's Manchester City head into the final day of the league season a point ahead of Liverpool, knowing victory against Aston Villa – £100million man Grealish's boyhood club – would clinch the championship.

Unlike for Grealish, though, this is far from Guardiola's first title triumph, winning LaLiga nine times with Barcelona as a player and coach, then adding a hat-trick of Bundesliga crowns at Bayern Munich.

Guardiola is closing on a fourth Premier League success in six years since joining City, but he revealed two days before the Villa match how his perspective of such victories was changed by his first as a player.

"Before winning the first title, I thought it would be the most incredible moment in our lives," Guardiola told a news conference. "But the day after you feel, 'oh, this is all it's about?'

"Because the day after, the sun rises and people start to demand more and more. The satisfaction is there, of course, but after one, two, three days, it's already forgotten. It has to be like that.

"That's why it's nice, because there's a lot of work behind and we have incredible focus to try to do it, but at the end it does not change many lives winning or losing.

"We are going to try. This is the most important thing, to be ourselves and do what we have to do to be proud after the game.

"I think people forgot most of the time: football is a game. A game means unpredictable things, luck, unlucky, a thousand things you cannot control.

"The way we play and the quality of the players we have, we are most of the time in the position to win, because we play to win and are most of the time closer, closer, closer, but there are aspects you cannot control, even if you want to.

"It's a game, football is a game. Something can happen – that's why you have to put it in the right measure.

"We are going to try. Of course, we have incredible desire to win; if we can do it, we will be incredibly happy. But after one or two or three days of celebration with our people, we'll continue and start again."

It was a theme Guardiola returned to later when asked what victory might mean to Grealish, who left Villa last year having won only a Championship play-off final.

"For him, who has never won a Premier League, it must be so exciting, so important, but now he will realise what I said before," his manager said. "The day after, 'oh, everything was about that?'

"He will be happy he has won, but my advice to him is try to be happy as much as possible playing football. This is more important than winning titles. Be happy doing your job.

"After two or three days, you feel, 'all the effort for that?' Okay, it's good, the name in your curriculum vitae, but no more than that.

"What's important is if he feels happy here. If he is comfortable, getting better, getting better, that's the most important thing."

In an entertaining meeting with the media, it was put to Guardiola that this would be a special title for him, too, as the first he has won on his own terms at the Etihad Stadium.

Twice his City were made champions by defeats for rivals Manchester United, while their final-day 2018-19 celebrations came after a win away at Brighton and Hove Albion.

But Guardiola was not convinced, sarcastically replying: "Oh, so nice, so nice. Yeah, good. I would prefer winning two days ago, in Wolves for example."

Tick-tock, tick-tock. It appears time will finally run out on Sunday and the Kylian Mbappe transfer saga will finally be at its end.

Paris Saint-Germain have experienced another monumental blow this season with another cruel elimination in the Champions League and Real Madrid are waiting in the wings.

According to reports, the 23-year-old will finally announce his decision on Sunday.

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO CONFIRM DECISION ON SUNDAY  

Kylian Mbappe will announce whether he will play for Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid on Sunday, according to L'Equipe.

The Parisian has never hidden his admiration for LeBron James and appears set to mimic his 'The Decision' announcement from 2010.

What is for certain according to reports, Mbappe is intent on announcing the decision before the France national team meets up for camp in Clairefontaine on May 28.

While it has been recently reported a move to Real Madrid seems likelier, talks are still ongoing according to the L'Equipe report, with PSG aiming to scupper a potential move at the last minute.

ROUND-UP

– Meanwhile, France team-mate and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba had agreed personal terms with Manchester City, according to the Times, but backed out in fear of fan backlash and now appears likely to move abroad.

– Along with Pogba, Juventus are also hoping to further bolster their midfield stocks and sign Chelsea midfielder Jorginho, the Gazzetta dello Sport reports.

– Diario AS is reporting Paulo Dybala has ruled out a move to Tottenham once his contract with Juve expires at the end of the season.

– Kalidou Koulibaly has emerged as a target for Barcelona, who would be willing to add Miralem Pjanic as part of a package deal for Napoli, per Fichajes.

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