Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi has claimed that Raheem Sterling is most likely to pick up the mantle from Lionel Messi as the best player in the world.
The Al Sadd manager named Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Mohamed Salah as potential successors but is confident that the English winger has the pole position in the race.
Xavi explained that playing under Pep Guardiola has helped Sterling convert himself into a dangerous player.
“Messi is the best ever for me, and even though they’re both still playing at a very high level, there will come the day not so long away when somebody else must step into those shoes,” he told The Mirror.
“You look at young players who can be crowned the future best in the world and you still think of Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Mohamed] Salah and of course Sterling. I look at the moment and Sterling is winning that race.
“He’s always been a good player, a dangerous player, but under Pep he [has] become one of the best in the world.
“I know how Pep works – he would have worked closely with him since his arrival – where he needs to improve and what he needed to work on.
“We’re now seeing the results of that. He’s still young and can be the world’s best.”
Manchester City‘s defensive woes have increased after John Stones pulled up injured in training ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Manager Pep Guardiola fears he could be without the England centre-back for up to six weeks after Stones suffered a thigh injury during a morning session in Kharkiv.
The Premier League champions are already without Aymeric Laporte until the new year and, after Vincent Kompany left at the end of last season, Nicolas Otamendi is now the club’s only fit senior centre-back.
Midfielder Fernandinho, who has been training as a defender in the early weeks of the campaign, is now set to be pressed into action as a makeshift centre-back in the Group C clash against Shakhtar.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Guardiola said: “John Stones was injured this morning. (He could be out) a month – four, five or six weeks. It is a muscular problem.”
Stones’ injury further weakens City as they attempt to win a third successive Premier League title and win Europe’s elite competition for the first time.
But Guardiola sees it as a challenge and he is determined to make the most of it.
He said: “It’s a big challenge. For me as a manager it is an incredible challenge.
“We’ve got just one central defender in Nico – but I believe a lot in the something people don’t know, which is the spirit and commitment.
“We have to get 11 players out and on the pitch and make an extra effort. I like it, (the chance) to prove myself and show we are able to find a solution for the team, to make an incredible step forward and find a solution to this problem that we have.
“It’s not a problem, it is a challenge. They will do it, no problem. My players are the best.
“football is not how you handle the good situations, it is how you handle the bad ones. The ideal situation does not exist in football, it is how you approach the challenge and I am ready for the challenge. I like it, I like to love this situation.”
Guardiola also took the opportunity to defend Stones and Otamendi after criticism of their performance in Saturday’s surprise defeat at Norwich.
“No comment on what the pundits say,” he said. “I’ve got respect for what John and Nico have done, and what they continue to do for our club.”
Asked if team spirit had been hit by the loss at Carrow Road, Guardiola said: “No. The spirit is good.”
City and Shakhtar, the Ukrainian champions, are familiar foes having also faced each other in the group stages in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Guardiola knows Shakhtar even better having faced them 11 times throughout a managerial career that has also included spells in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“I have bought an apartment here!” Guardiola said. “I came here many times and it’s always good. With Barcelona, Bayern and now City, I’ve come almost every season.”
Guardiola also confirmed midfielder Phil Foden had not travelled to Ukraine due to a stomach virus but Benjamin Mendy was with the squad and in contention to make his first appearance of the season.
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Bernd Leno admits Arsenal were lucky not to lose at Watford on Sunday as his goal was peppered with shots on an afternoon to forget for the Gunners.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s first-half brace appeared to have Arsenal on course for a Premier League victory, only for the Hornets to welcome Quique Sanchez Flores back into the Vicarage Road dugout by staging a comeback as the visitors’ defence crumbled.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos gifted possession to Gerard Deulofeu as the Gunners looked to play out from the back, with Tom Cleverley punishing the Greece international by converting as a result.
Things went from bad to worse when David Luiz tripped Roberto Pereyra inside the box and the Argentinian substitute converted the resulting penalty to level the scores.
In total, Watford had 31 shots during the game compared to just seven for Arsenal and Leno conceded leaving Hertfordshire with a point may have even flattered the visitors.
“I think in the second half we lost completely the control of the game,” the Germany international said.
“The distance from the midfield to the strikers and all the distances from the players were too big. Watford deserved at least the draw.
“It was very frustrating because we controlled the game but also in the first half, you could see that we made two easy mistakes and then at the end we conceded two goals from these kind of mistakes and we were lucky we didn’t lose this game.”
Arsenal have faced more shots in the opening five games of the new Premier League season than any other club across Europe’s top five divisions – but Leno believes the statistics do not always correspond with reality.
“I don’t know why this is but I think many shots are from distance and when you see Watford, they had many chances but sometimes they were shooting for a throw-in and you can’t count every shot,” he said.
“Thirty-one (shots) is like every three minutes, someone is shooting at our goal. It is a statistic but it is not the truth.
“For example, Deulofeu, he was shooting 15 times from distance and of course there were some dangerous shots but not every one.”
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