Even when Jack Grealish charged into the penalty area in the 87th at the Santiago Bernabeu last week and saw his shot cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy, there seemed no way Manchester City wouldn't be in the Champions League final.

They were already 1-0 up on the night, 5-3 up on aggregate. Real Madrid had three minutes plus stoppage time to turn things around – even for a side that produced some memorable comebacks en route to the semi-finals, turning things around looked impossible.

Yet we all know how the tale unfolded in a matter of minutes, with City's Champions League aspirations dissolving for another season.

Over the course of the two legs, City were comfortably the better team and few would disagree with the idea that they're almost certainly better equipped than Madrid to stop Liverpool in the final.

City's failure served to highlight a key deficiency in their squad. Whether that's fair or not is up for debate, because they look destined to win the Premier League title again and no one would've questioned the legitimacy of them seeing off Madrid, but when the victor is led by the type of figure the loser is lacking, it's an easy conclusion to jump to.

Karim Benzema may not have been at his unplayable best in the second leg last week, but he won and converted the ultimately decisive penalty, and the effectiveness with which he led the line in the first leg ensured Madrid were still in with a shout upon the return to Spain.

City will now hope they have such a goalscoring talisman in Erling Haaland.

The club confirmed on Tuesday that Haaland will join at the end of the season, with City apparently set to pay £51.3million (€60m) to Borussia Dortmund for his transfer. Even when you consider the apparently significant agents' fees et cetera, it's difficult to see this as anything other than a bargain for City.

Of course, while the timing of the signing might frame it as a reaction to Champions League elimination, it's clearly not. Reports have suggested for weeks that the deal was virtually done and Haaland was going to follow in his father's footsteps by signing for City.

However, it's hard not to look at the deal through the prism of Champions League failure because of what will now be expected – rather than hoped for – with a player like Haaland in the team.

When trying to understand what has specifically gone wrong for City in the Champions League since Guardiola was hired, most people seem to have different opinions. Some might point to an apparent lack of on-field leaders, others highlight wastefulness at crucial moments, and of course there are many who have bemoaned Pep's dreaded "overthinking".

The idea of there being a lack of on-field leaders has always seemed wide of the mark, while no one can accuse Guardiola of overcomplicating his selections against Madrid – even if they did try to claim that, City were on course for the final until the 90th minute of the second leg.

Similarly, wastefulness is something most clubs can be accused of at one time or another and, in fact, across all the Champions League ties from which City have been eliminated under Guardiola, they have scored 17 times from 16.99 expected goals (xG). Granted, there were occasions where they didn't score as often as they should have, but over time it evens itself out.

Yet perhaps this is where Haaland can make the difference. Sure, City's xG has evened out over the unsuccessful ties in question, but with a striker as freakishly deadly as the Norwegian, there becomes a greater opportunity to finish chances that maybe you wouldn't generally expect to.

Haaland is a pure finisher unlike any other player in the world. Since his Bundesliga debut on January 18, 2020, he has scored 85 times from 69.7 xG across all competitions. Similarly, when excluding penalties he remains almost as potent, with 75 goals from 60.2 np-xG.

In both instances he has scored roughly 15 more goals than he should have based on the quality of his chances – among players with 30 or more goals over the same period, only Son Heung-min (16.1 and 16.5) can boast better xG differential figures. Again, ordinarily you'd expect this to even out over time, with such form usually unsustainable – but when you make the implausible look routine, this is the output you can produce.

One thing you cannot accuse City of is being ineffective when it comes to controlling football matches and creating chances – they wouldn't be about to claim a third Premier League title in four years if they were.

But in knockout ties when there is such a limited amount of time to respond to setbacks or make amends for certain mistakes, whether that's defensive or in front of goal, the value of the greatest strikers can shine through even more: Benzema showed that against City.

While there are likely to be stylistic compatibility questions to be asked regarding City and Haaland, particularly given the Premier League champions-elect haven't really played with an out-and-out striker for a couple of years now, they suddenly have arguably the finest finisher of his generation in their arsenal.

If Haaland isn't the final piece of the puzzle in City's quest for a maiden Champions League crown, Guardiola might as well give up.

The worst-kept secret in football is finally out – Erling Haaland will be a Manchester City player from next season onwards.

The Norway international will bring the curtain down on a two-and-a-half-year stay with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga to join the Premier League champions, who confirmed a deal in principle on Tuesday.

The arrival of the Leeds-born forward at the Etihad Stadium – to a club where his father played two decades ago – brings one of the game's hottest talents to British shores.

In addition, it fills the gap Pep Guardiola has sought to occupy since Sergio Aguero's exit at the end of last term and further bolsters City's already fearsome arsenal.

As the Opta numbers from his time at Dortmund illustrate, Haaland could well prove to be the man that finally makes the difference for City in the Champions League.

3 – The number of minutes it took Haaland to score on debut for Dortmund against Augsburg, after coming on as a second-half substitute. He went on to score a hat-trick.

85  Haaland has scored 85 goals since arriving in Germany from Salzburg at the start of 2020. Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (122) and Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (89) are the only two players across Europe's top five leagues to have scored more in that span.

86.84 – The minutes-per-goal average posted so far by Haaland across his Dortmund career in the Bundesliga. He has recorded a marginally lesser 86.90 this season alone.

23 – Haaland's all-time goal haul in the Champions League, the most a player has scored by the age of 21, two ahead of Mbappe.

2 – The number of players to have scored more Champions League goals than Haaland since his competition debut – Lewandowski (33) and Karim Benzema (26).

14  Haaland needed just 14 games to score 20 goals in the Champions League, the fewest in the competition's history ahead of Harry Kane (24).

64  His minutes-per-goal ratio in the Champions League, which is the best among players to have scored 20-plus goals in the competition. Mario Gomez (102) is second.

32.31 – The conversion rate enjoyed by the Norway star in the Bundesliga this term.

It is finally official. Manchester City will be the new home of Erling Haaland next season after the announcement of an agreement with Borussia Dortmund for the superstar's capture.

Barring an unexpected issue with personal terms, the striker will arrive after two and a half years in the Bundesliga to bring even more firepower to the Premier League champions.

Having flirted with Tottenham's Harry Kane throughout last year's pre-season transfer window without landing their man, City have decided to go down the Haaland route to finally bring in the number nine they have sought since Sergio Aguero left.

Pep Guardiola has told anyone who will listen all season how incredible it is that his team has maintained the standards they have "without a striker", which can't have made Gabriel Jesus feel all that good about himself, let's be honest.

But can Haaland replace the significant impact of club legend Aguero? Stats Perform has taken a look at the numbers to determine the potential impact of the Norway sensation.

More than just "Agueroooo"

When you reel off a list of the greatest players to don a City shirt, Aguero's name is likely to feature prominently.

The Argentine striker played a huge role in taking the club from top-four contenders to the most dominant team in England, winning five Premier League titles, six EFL Cups and an FA Cup.

Aguero scored 260 goals in 390 games for City, averaging a goal every 107 minutes over his 10 years at the club.

He, of course, will also forever be synonymous with the famous stoppage time goal against QPR in 2012 that sealed City's first Premier League title, snatching it from the hands of Manchester United with almost the last kick of the season.

Despite his undoubted quality, there were some questions about how he would fare under Guardiola when the Catalan coach arrived in 2016.

While Guardiola had played with orthodox strikers before, arguably his crowning achievement was cultivating a Barcelona team that many still believe to this day is the greatest club side the game has ever seen – and that broadly played without a number nine, with Lionel Messi often used in a false nine role.

He did utilise Robert Lewandowski to good effect while at Bayern Munich, though, and while he did not exactly make Aguero his first name on the teamsheet every week, the overall development in quality of the team led to the striker actually improving his own numbers.

Under Guardiola, Aguero played 182 games, scoring 124 goals at a rate of 102 minutes per goal.

Unfortunately, injuries hindered Aguero in his final two seasons before he bade a tearful goodbye at the end of last season to join Barcelona. He was then forced to retire from the game altogether in December on health grounds, but the forward's significant impact at City will never be in question.

 

Step forward the second-generation sensation

It almost sounds like something out of the Football Manager computer game series. The son of former Leeds United and City player Alf-Inge Haaland goes on to become one of the best strikers in world football? Yeah, sure.

Well, it's true. Haaland burst onto the scene as he scored goals at rates rarely seen before at Salzburg, before making the move to Dortmund in the January transfer window of 2020, and he has not looked back since.

Haaland has bagged 85 goals in 88 games for BVB in all competitions, which works out at a goal every 84 minutes. Not bad for someone who only turns 22 in July.

But how does he compare to Aguero? It is difficult to make comparisons given the difference in style, experience and leagues, but to try to get a good idea, let's look at Haaland's two and a half years in the Bundesliga compared to Aguero's first three Premier League campaigns under Guardiola.

In Haaland's 66 league games for Dortmund – in which he has scored 61 goals, averaging 87 minutes per goal – he has attempted 3.5 shots per 90, with a shot conversion rate of 29.9 per cent, and he has scored 62.0 per cent of his 'big chances' (chances from which Opta would expect a player to score).

He has also averaged 3.3 shots from inside the penalty area per 90, notable with City spending so much time camped around opposition boxes.

Between 2016 and 2019, Aguero played 89 Premier League matches for City, scoring 62 goals at an average of one every 111 minutes.

The Argentinian averaged 4.6 shots per 90, with a shot conversion rate of 17.7 per cent, scoring from 53.9 per cent of his big chances, with an average of 3.6 shots from inside the penalty area.

It therefore appears that Haaland is actually the deadlier finisher, which is quite an achievement next to someone as good as Aguero, and one would assume Haaland's shot numbers will increase playing in a more dominant team like City, who always create plenty of chances.

 

It might be argued that goals in the Bundesliga do not always translate into goals in the Premier League. For example, Timo Werner scored 28 goals in 34 games in his last league campaign at RB Leipzig before joining Chelsea, where he has scored just 10 in 56 Premier League appearances.

However, even allowing for a period of adaption, it would take a brave person to bet against Haaland being a success in England based on his career to date.

Already outstanding in a single season without Aguero, City have seemingly identified the man to fill those big boots.

Erling Haaland will become a Manchester City player at the end of the season after the Premier League club confirmed an agreement in principle to sign the Borussia Dortmund star.

The prolific Norway striker has been one of the most sought-after players in the world and will now follow in the footsteps of his father Alf-Inge Haaland, who played for City between 2000 and 2003.

City, who had previously been reported as ready to meet the release clause of €75million (£64.2m) in the 21-year-old's contract, announced a deal subject to personal terms on Tuesday.

A statement on the club's website read: "Manchester City can confirm we have reached an agreement in principle with Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of striker Erling Haaland to the Club on 1st July 2022.

"The transfer remains subject to the Club finalising terms with the player."

 

Haaland has struggled with injuries this season, but has still managed 28 goals in 29 games in all competitions for Dortmund.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has a better ratio (1.13) of goals per 90 minutes in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions than Haaland's 1.1.

Since arriving in Germany from Salzburg at the start of 2020, only Lewandowski (122) and Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (89) have scored more than Haaland's 85 goals, with City's new recruit behind just Lewandowski (1.18) in terms of goals per game (1.07) in that time.

Erling Haaland will become a Manchester City player at the end of the season after the Premier League club confirmed an agreement in principle to sign the Borussia Dortmund star.

 

Pep Guardiola would not confirm that Manchester City will be signing Erling Haaland, but he teased that "everybody knows the situation".

Haaland has been linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium from Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, with City said to be ready to trigger the striker's release clause, believed to be around €75million (£64.2m).

Speaking at a media conference ahead of his team's trip to Wolves in the Premier League, Guardiola explained he could not talk about any transfer, but did say it was because the two clubs involved told him not to.

"Everybody knows the situation," Guardiola told reporters. "I shouldn't talk because I don't like to talk about the future or next season.

"Dortmund and Man City told me I'm not allowed to say anything until it's completely done. We'll have time to talk.

"I'd love to talk, they tell me don't say anything until the legal actions [are done]. We'll have time to talk, not because I don't want to."

Norwegian striker Haaland has scored 85 goals in 88 games for Dortmund, though City have not exactly struggled for goals themselves this season, hitting five against Newcastle United on Sunday, meaning they have now bagged 89 goals in 35 Premier League games, more than anyone else.

Guardiola said new players can always help his team to improve, whether it comes in the form of transfers or through the youth set-up, and insisted he approves of the steps the club are taking.

"We have I guess new players in the squad, some from the academy come up next season," he said. "New players always helps [us] to be a stronger team. But not one defender or striker will solve our defensive or scoring problems.

"The club always has to have a vision for the future. The decisions the club makes I am aware and supportive 100 per cent."

The 5-0 win against Newcastle took City back to the top of the table, leading Liverpool by three points ahead of both teams' midweek fixtures.

Jurgen Klopp's Reds were travelling to face Aston Villa on Tuesday before City's game at Wolves on Wednesday, and Guardiola understands that the quality of Liverpool means the clash at Molineux is a final for his team.

"Nothing changes, we can't affect what Liverpool do," he said.

"Both teams have done another impressive season. We know what we have to do, we will try to be there. Tomorrow is a final for us, an opportunity to arrive in the last game here with the title in our hands. It's massive for us."

The City boss also confirmed that none of his injured players will return on Wednesday, with defenders Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias not expected to play again this season.

"Nothing changed after the game against Newcastle," Guardiola said. "We are who we are for the next three games with the players we have. We have problems in one department, the others will solve it."

Erling Haaland is "destined to be one of the best players in the world" ahead of an anticipated move to Manchester City, says Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch.

A move to the Premier League champions for the Borussia Dortmund striker at the end of the season will reportedly be confirmed this week, ending a prolonged saga of speculation over his future.

Marsch has first-hand experience of working with Haaland, having previously coached the Norway international – who was coincidentally born in Leeds – during their time together at Salzburg.

Speaking ahead of the Whites' clash with Chelsea on Wednesday, the American coach predicted bigger things are to come from Haaland and joked that he should have gone to Elland Road instead.

"Erling Haaland is destined to be one of the best players in the world," Marsch told his pre-match media conference. "It's his quality, but it is also his talent.

"I wish he was coming back home to Leeds... but I understand the decision for him to go to Man City.

"It will be interesting. He's an explosive player in transition and Man City often play a lot in possession. He can play any style of play.

"Certainly, I believe it makes Man City – one of, if not the best team in the world – even better. So credit to them for getting that done.

"I always wish the best for Erling, he's an incredible human being."

Marsch also commented on the tough run his own side now faces to survive in the Premier League, with Leeds' destiny effectively out of their own hands.

Everton are a point ahead with a game in hand while Burnley are level on points, albeit with a vastly superior goal difference, and need only to match the results of their rivals to survive.

"We knew coming into these three matches with City, Arsenal and Chelsea that it was going to be very, very difficult to pick up points," Marsch added.

"So it's proved to be that, just like we knew it was, and we still have so much to play for. So our focus is really on controlling every moment and being prepared for every moment.

"Credit to Burnley and Everton. In a difficult moment they've also fought for their lives and done whatever's possible to claw their way back into this situation, and we'll do the same."

Arsenal are reportedly interested in signing Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling if he becomes available in the upcoming transfer window.

Since arriving from Liverpool in 2015, Sterling has accumulated 130 goals and 70 assists from 336 appearances in all major club competitions, and has 19 goals from 74 senior caps for England.

Despite his status as one of England's best players, Sterling has found himself on the fringes at times during the tail end of this season, playing just 28 minutes across City's two-legged Champions League tie against Real Madrid.

TOP STORY – GUNNERS TO EXPLORE STERLING DEAL

The Telegraph reports Arsenal intend to test the availability of Sterling in the next transfer window, when he will have one year remaining on his contract.

With Erling Haaland expected to arrive at Manchester City on the biggest contract in the Premier League, players such as Riyad Mahrez have been floated as potential sales to balance the books and give the club some flexibility going forward.

Selling Sterling, at 27 years old, could help City fund further moves if they do not feel he is integral to their success next season – specifically in the Champions League.

ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich are said to be planning a move for Liverpool's Sadio Mane in the next transfer window, according to Sky Germany.

– Should Arsenal fail to reach an agreement on a new deal for striker Eddie Nketiah, the Daily Mail claims West Ham are the front-runners to prise him away.

– The Athletic is reporting Paul Pogba has told Manchester City he does not intend to join them when his Manchester United contract expires at the end of this season, favouring the offer of an unnamed club instead. The report suggests the favourites to land his signature are Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid.

– According to the Daily Mail, Aston Villa have made an offer of £12million to purchase Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona – significantly less than the £33million option that was included in the initial loan deal.

– The Daily Mail is also reporting that Sunderland are hoping to sign the younger brother of English Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham – Jobe Bellingham – after he became the second-youngest debutant in the history of Birmingham City.

Jack Grealish does not expect any more favours from Liverpool, as he called on Manchester City to win their remaining games to defend their Premier League crown.

City seized the initiative in an absorbing title battle on Sunday, thrashing Newcastle United 5-0 after Jurgen Klopp's Reds had been held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Tottenham on Saturday. 

Having embarked on a nine-match unbeaten run in the league, winning seven of those, City hold a three-point advantage heading into the final three games of the season, and will travel to Wolves for their next outing on Wednesday after watching Liverpool face Aston Villa on Tuesday.

Grealish, however, says City must simply focus on winning their remaining games to be crowned champions, and thinks another error from quadruple-chasing Liverpool is unlikely.

"Liverpool are a great team and I don't think they will be slipping up again if I am honest," he said. "We have to stay on the ball and go and pick up maximum points.

"For me, the Premier League is the best league in the world. Anything can happen in these remaining games, so we have to stay strong and keep our foot on the pedal.

"We cannot take our foot off it, and they are going to be three very tough games and we have to get maximum points if we want to lift the title."

City travel to Molineux looking to extend a 16-match unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League, the longest such streak in their league history, and have kept five consecutive clean sheets on the road in the top flight.

Having arrived at the Etihad Stadium as the most expensive British player in history last year, Grealish has not enjoyed a standout individual season, recording just five goals and four assists in 37 appearances in all competitions.

However, the England star has created 73 chances, with only Kevin De Bruyne (119) laying on more opportunities for City this term.

The 26-year-old was criticised after missing two great chances in City's stunning Champions League capitulation against Real Madrid last week, and admitted prior to the Newcastle win that he "could have done better" since his move.

But Grealish says he has enjoyed his debut campaign with Guardiola's team, which he is hopeful will end with the first major trophy of his career.

"I am loving it. This is what I have come here for, to play in these big games and that is what I want to do," he added. "I want to win medals, win titles, so I am really enjoying it.

"I have got the lads, the staff and the manager to thank for that for making me feel so welcome. Hopefully we can all win something."

Manchester City's reportedly imminent capture of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland will "set new levels", according to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Pep Guardiola's City and Klopp's Reds have emerged as the dominant forces in the Premier League since the 2018-19 season, when they finished on 98 and 97 points respectively in an enthralling battle for top spot, with each team winning one league title apiece since City's triumph that year.

Their rivalry has been stepped up again this season, with City currently three points clear at the top of the league with just three games remaining.

Meanwhile, Liverpool remain in the hunt for a remarkable quadruple after winning the EFL Cup, reaching the Champions League final, and eliminating City in the FA Cup's last four to reach the showpiece.

However, City look set to bolster their ranks with the incredible signing of Haaland, who has scored 21 goals and provided seven assists in just 23 Bundesliga appearances this season, averaging a goal every 86.9 minutes.

With reports suggesting City could announce the signing of the Norway international before the end of this season, Klopp says Haaland's arrival could push City to new heights.

"I signed a new contract knowing City will not stop developing, so it's not about City to define if we can be happy or not, it's about us and what we can make of it," Klopp told Sky Sports.

"You have so many opportunities and so many different ways to win a football game, we have to find just one.

"It's possible, and you can do that, we can face City in two or three cup competitions, in the Champions League or whatever, in five or six finals a year maybe, all the rest we play against the other teams.

"Yes, if Erling Haaland goes there it will not weaken them, definitely not. I think it's been spoken about enough, this transfer. I know at the moment there's a lot of talk, and people talk about money.

"But this transfer will set new levels, let me say it like this."

Despite often playing without a recognised striker, Guardiola's team have netted more goals (89) than any other Premier League side this season (Liverpool are second with 87), and the 21-year-old forward will undoubtedly be thrilled by the prospect of featuring in a City team that has created 112 big chances in 35 league outings this term.

Since Haaland arrived in Germany from RB Salzburg at the start of 2020, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (122) and Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (89) have scored more than his 85 goals in all competitions, among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Jurgen Klopp has questioned why Liverpool would stop believing they can win the Premier League title and dismissed Pep Guardiola's claim that the entire country wants the Reds to be crowned champions.

Manchester City moved three points clear at the top of the table with three games to play by thrashing Newcastle United 5-0 on Sunday after Liverpool were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham.

A visibly angered Klopp heaped criticism on the defensive style of football Antonio Conte employed at Anfield and Guardiola also delivered a notable post-match interview the following day.

The City boss suggested "everyone in this country supports Liverpool" in a thrilling title race.

However, Klopp explained Guardiola may have been talking in the heat of the moment after the game, as was the case following the Tottenham stalemate when Klopp suggested he could not coach like Conte.

"I live in Liverpool, here a lot of people want us to win the league but even here it is only 50 per cent," he told a pre-match news conference ahead of Tuesday's clash with Aston Villa. 

"As managers, after a game, we're obviously massively influenced by games and situations. What I said after Spurs [the criticism of Conte], I wouldn't say it again.

"I said: 'they play like they play and are still only fifth', but that was just my feeling at the moment and I couldn't respect Antonio more.

"I don't know how Pep reacted after getting knocked out of the Champions League and of course, Liverpool made it to the final, we played Villarreal, they played Real Madrid.

"I have no idea if the whole country is supporting us, it is not the feeling when we go and play around the country. Maybe he knows more than me."

Liverpool are also four goals behind City on goal difference and Klopp says they must beat Villa, Southampton and Wolves to have any chance of dethroning City.

"It's easy to describe our situation. We drew, they won, the goal difference too. We can decide for ourselves how we see it. There are some facts but I try to help the boys see it like me," he added.

"I am not sure I said [the title race is still on] because it is obvious. We both have three to play, my concern is how can we win our games. We shouldn't add on points before games are played.

"Why should we stop believing? The perfect situation would be we were nine points clear, 30-plus goals but it's not possible, so let's go from here.

"Whatever happens tomorrow night if we win, it helps. If not, we train for the FA Cup final [against Chelsea on Saturday].

"Ideal world, we win them all. We have to respond. The only chance to win is to win all the games."

Klopp is looking forward to seeing how Liverpool respond after coming up against a well-organised Spurs side at the weekend.

"Having another game is cool but it's not that we have to overcome something," he continued. "When I said about it being a funeral, I meant the press conference, not the players.

"A draw was a normal result, especially against Spurs. We played a good game against a well-organised team.

"It's not possible to be perfect due to the part of the season we are in now. We have to keep going."

Xavi believes Barcelona's financial issues will have been the overriding factor if Manchester City win the race to sign Erling Haaland.

Widespread reports claim City will announce the signing of Haaland this week, with the defending Premier League champions ready to activate his €75million release clause.

Barca and Real Madrid are said to be seriously interested in the Borussia Dortmund striker, who has scored 28 goals in 29 games in all competitions this season.

But Barca are still operating under the financial constraints that led to Lionel Messi's departure before the start of the campaign.

And it is those restrictions, according to Xavi, that are seemingly set to take Haaland to the Etihad Stadium rather than Camp Nou.

Xavi told a media conference ahead of Barca's LaLiga clash with Celta Vigo on Tuesday: "It's not official, when it is, you ask me again...

"If I rule him out for us? I'm not going to lie to you, with our economic situation it's very difficult."

Asked if Haaland is choosing money over a project, Xavi replied: "I wouldn't say that. I'm not going to disrespect other club's sporting projects.

"City have a lot of titles and compete at a top level. If what you say happens, it would've been because of our financial issues."

While Xavi did not go into detail about the club's plans for the transfer window, he conceded the squad needs to be strengthened with Barca 12 points behind newly-crowned champions Madrid.

"This year is not positive and we have to reinforce ourselves," said Xavi. 

"All who come will be welcome. People have to leave. The situation is not easy, it is one of the most difficult in the history of the club. But we have to strengthen ourselves. There is evidence and everyone has seen it.

"We have made a football diagnosis. Then there is the economic. We are very clear about what we want for next year and we will try to do everything that can be done."

One player Xavi is keen to keep on the books is winger Ousmane Dembele, whose contract expires at the end of June.

Dembele has recorded 11 assists in LaLiga this season, tied for the most in the division alongside Karim Benzema, and he has been linked with a host of top clubs.

"The club already knows my idea," Xavi added on Dembele. 

"I would like him to stay. He has helped us and, if he stays and renews, he will help us. He has already done so this season."

Raphinha has been a bright spark for Leeds United as they have battled relegation from the Premier League this season.

Following the weekend's results, the Whites are in huge danger of going down after they dropped into the bottom three. As is the case in football, the vultures will circle in that eventuality.

The Brazil international has long been on the list of targets for Barcelona and the winger looks likely to move on at the end of the season, when Leeds could find themselves back in the Championship.

 

TOP STORY – LEEDS RELEGATION TO SPEED UP RAFINHA'S BARCELONA MOVE

Leeds United's potential relegation from the Premier League could help force Raphinha's move to Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Even if Ousmane Dembele signs a new contract, the Catalan giants are keen to land another winger.

While Dembele's future has reportedly depended on Barcelona's qualification for the Champions League, the desire to sign Raphinha has been clear regardless. 

Leeds' relegation would reportedly allow the the 25-year-old to leave for €25million (£21.4m), though there is no clause in his contract that establishes an exact price.

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal's bid to sign Lautaro Martinez could be scuppered with Inter Milan not looking to sell the 24-year-old, per the Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Manchester City's deal with Borussia Dortmund for Erling Haaland could be finalised and announced next week, the Sun is reporting.

- Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid and Chelsea in the race to sign Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni , according to Marca.

- Bayern Munich are preparing to begin talks with RB Leipzig over midfielder Konrad Laimer , Fabrizio Romano reports.

Manchester City regaining the Premier League title is not a foregone conclusion yet, despite Pep Guardiola's side moving three points clear of Liverpool on Sunday.

That is according to Manchester United great Gary Neville, who believes the injury to centre-back Ruben Dias in City's 5-0 rout of Newcastle United offers hope to Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

Liverpool were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham on Saturday, before a Raheem Sterling double inspired City to a comfortable victory the following day.

City furthered their advantage with three games to play and also boast a better goal difference than Liverpool, whose 64 is four fewer than Guardiola's side.

However, Neville – speaking on The Gary Neville Podcast – insisted the title race is not over yet as City face challenging trips to West Ham and Wolves, and a home clash with Aston Villa to secure the championship.

"I do believe Wolves or West Ham could shock Manchester City," he said. 

"With Ruben Dias injured, they are going to teams who have got systems of play that can hurt City. Both teams have had good seasons. They are awkward. City will need to be at their best.

"The centre-back partnership has been obliterated. The injury is a boost for Liverpool's chances. I do think there is something left in this title race. It won't go plain sailing to the end.

"If City get through the next two, they'll win it. Wolves or West Ham have to pull points off City but it's not over.

"If Liverpool had to pick two away games to send City to it probably would be Arsenal and Tottenham, but after that it would be West Ham and Wolves.

"Manchester United have gone and Chelsea have dropped their levels. There is a lot to play for. It's good for the league that Liverpool are playing first and can get level.

"I don't think Liverpool will drop points. They will do their job.

"Whoever finishes first or second you won't say the other one has blown it or bottled it. These two teams never disappoint with their work-rate or attitude. Being professional and preparing well is a permanent thing.

"These two teams do it so well. They care about their work, their attitude, their ethos. It's constant. Under Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, it's been faultless."

At the other end of the table, Leeds United slipped into the relegation zone for the first time since October after their 2-1 loss to Arsenal and Everton's 2-1 win at Leicester City.

Neville acknowledged Jesse Marsch's Leeds are now the favourites to go down alongside Watford and Norwich City, especially after Luke Ayling's mindless dismissal meant he will miss the rest of the season.

"I fear for Leeds I really do," he added. "They are favourites to go down. Everything that could go wrong, Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, the spirit and energy of the club, is not there. They are massive players. What Ayling has done will cost them.

"We'll see what happens. But we've got a title race, a good top-four race and a compelling yet awful relegation battle.

"The desperation of going down. And the financial loss is too great. That drop is enormous and a club is going to suffer it. We hear rumours of Burnley paying a £65million loan back, imagine the losses that Everton would suffer and there will be lots of losses at Leeds too.

"It's going to be awful. I've heard the difference between staying up and going down for a Premier League club is £120m of cash they'd have to put in if they didn't sell any players. It's not pocket change.

"That can't be right that the cliff edge is so steep. The fall is so big. But that's the Premier League."

Pep Guardiola believes Liverpool are the neutrals' favourites for the Premier League title, but he knows it will not matter if Manchester City keep winning with the support of their fans. 

City endured a difficult week in which their Champions League hopes were dashed for another season, yet they reached Sunday evening in pole position for their latest domestic triumph. 

A 5-0 home win against Newcastle United moved City three points and, perhaps crucially, four goals ahead of Liverpool, who were held by Tottenham on Saturday. 

However, in a remarkable post-match interview with beIN SPORTS – in which he also highlighted Liverpool's lack of Premier League heritage – Guardiola suggested City's potential title success would not be popular in England. 

Asked about the change in the title race this weekend, the City manager quickly pointed out his side had already been in control. 

"One week ago, we were one point in front," he said. "But everybody in this country supports Liverpool, the media, everyone, because Liverpool has an incredible history in European competitions. 

"Not in the Premier League, because they've won one in 30 years. 

"But it's not a problem at all. The situation is what it is. We have to do nine points or maybe six right now – it depends on what is going to happen in the next two games in terms goal difference. 

"Now, Wednesday [against Wolves] is the real, real, real final for us. We are going to try to go there to win. Our destiny is in our own hands, and that's important. We have to look at ourselves. With one point or three points, nothing changed." 

Later in the same interview, Guardiola was asked to explain his comments. 

"Liverpool alongside [Manchester] United are the most important teams in history in terms of legacy, titles, history, dramas, for many, many things," he replied. 

"But we are in the last 10, 11, 12 years always there. I know we are sometimes uncomfortable, but I don't care. If the people want more [for] Liverpool to win than us, it's not the issue. It's normal. 

"Maybe there are more supporters all around the world for sure and here in England that support Liverpool more than us, but this is not the question. The question is, today, before the start of the game, the people cheering and supporting us more than ever in one home game. 

"They know that even being out of the Champions League, we can rely on these players. The support was amazing, and hopefully we can arrive at the last game here with the chance to be champions." 

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