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Sky Blue New: Haaland FWA PotY, Pressure on City, UCL Final Venue Change?, and More...

Friday headlines as we slide into the weekend.

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Manchester City v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Manchester City are set for a weekend trip to Goodison Park to face Everton. The Toffees are in the thick of the relegation fight. They need every point they can muster with just three fixtures left on their Premier League schedule. The Manc Blues will have their work cut out for them at one of the more difficult grounds in English football.

After a record-breaking season, Erling Haaland is on track to become ‘the best striker ever’ - George Ramsay - CNN

Haaland’s finishing has been at its deadliest this season when he’s inside the penalty area, according to Opta data from Stats Perform, which shows 11 of his 35 league goals coming from inside the six-yard box.

Scoring goals has always been at the heart of Haaland’s game, ever since he was a young boy playing in Bryne – a town of around 12,000 people on the southwestern tip of Norway.

At the age of 16, he moved from Bryne to Molde FK to play in the top flight of Norwegian football under the guidance of former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer; from there, he made his name with Salzburg, Dortmund, and now Man City.

“Erling had an incredible journey in the sense that he has taken to the next level perfectly,” Alf Ingve Berntsen, who coached Haaland for eight and a half years as a youth player at Bryne, tells CNN Sport. “In a way, it’s natural for him just to keep doing what he has always done.”


The City centre forward overwhelmingly topped the prestigious poll of more than 800 FWA Members, garnering more than 80 per cent of all the votes cast, in the wake of what has been a sensational maiden campaign at the Etihad.

Haaland follows in the illustrious footsteps of Club colleague Ruben Dias who won the coveted prize in 2021 and former City star Raheem Sterling who took the award in 2019.

The Norwegian international also becomes only the fourth player to receive the FWA award in their first season playing in England, following Dias (2021), Gianfranco Zola (1997) and Jurgen Klinsmann (1995).

And, in gratefully accepting the award, Erling was typically quick to highlight and praise the major role played by his team-mates along with Pep and his coaching staff in helping him so seamlessly adapt to life at City.

“To win the Football Writers’ Award in my first season in English football is an honour,” Haaland said. “I try every single day to be the best I can be, and to be recognised like this means a lot to me.

“I have loved my time at City so far – my teammates are incredible, and they provide me with the chances to score goals. I want to thank all of them, because I could not have won this award without them.

Pep Guardiola may have already hinted at Man City plan for ‘toughest’ Premier League fixture at Everton - Joe Bray - Manchester Evening News

City will underestimate Everton at their peril, and Guardiola’s weeks-long concern suggests he will not allow his players to think about next week’s second leg against Real Madrid.

However, Guardiola has referred to the tiredness in his squad, meaning a number of players asked for a rest last weekend against Leeds. He puts City’s poor record in FA Cup semi-finals down to playing directly after a big Champions League quarter-final every year. There are similarities with the effort put in by the players in Madrid on Tuesday, and the effort that will be needed in the second leg, so it may be fair to expect some rotation this weekend.

With no substitutes coming off the bench at the Bernabeu, the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Rico Lewis, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez could all come in having had a week off since the Leeds game. With a rare five-day gap between games, those who did play 90 minutes may also be in a better condition than had there only been three days.

Guardiola’s go-to line-up for big games appears set these days, so maybe those rested players could come in to give Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish, Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne a rest on Sunday for at least part of the game.

Gary Neville: Pressure on Man City at Everton | ‘Arsenal aren’t knocked out’ | Football News - United News Bag

With both sides on Super Sunday it could prove to be a pivotal day in the destination of the title and Neville thinks Man City face a big test at Goodison Park, especially after their Champions League exploits in midweek.

Speaking to The Gary Neville Podcast, Neville said: “The games against Real Madrid are monumental battles. They’re games of a lifetime against that kind of club, Man City will become all-consumed by those games and in between them they’re playing an Everton side at Goodison Park where they’ve had difficulties there in the past at times.

“Everton are fighting for their lives, and something can happen in that type of stadium.

“City will probably win. It’s more than likely. But there’s some pressure on them going to Goodison Park next Sunday, and Arsenal have created that. Those City players will have gone to bed after Arsenal’s win at Newcastle, trust me, with a little bit of a sigh, a dig to the ribs.

“Arsenal aren’t on the ropes, they’re not knocked out, it’s something they could do without.”

Manchester City ace gives ‘green light’ to Xavi for Barcelona move – report - Connell Edgar-Jones - Barca Universal

Barcelona were waiting for Gundogan’s approval for Xavi, who has been very picky when it comes to signing a midfielder. He is aware of the fact that Gundogan can operate in the defensive midfield spot, but he wanted a specialist in the position.

Nevertheless, the Gundogan operation could be on, with Barcelona likely to hand him a three-year contract. He will earn less than what he currently does at Manchester City, which poses an issue given the fact that the player was holding out for a higher salary package.

Other top clubs across Europe have taken note of Gundogan’s situation and are likely to pursue him in the coming, given that he is available as a free agent.

But with Barcelona offering a lucrative sporting project, it appears the German international is ready to pack his bags and move to Camp Nou, where he will likely serve as the short-term replacement for Busquets, before the club eventually signs a new midfielder.

Champions League Final poised for venue change amid possibility of political unrest - Freddie Pye - City Xtra

Manchester City will be hoping to reach their second Champions League final under Pep Guardiola, having previously reached the final stage of Europe’s premier club competition in 2021 – where they ultimately succumbed to a defeat at the hands of Chelsea.

The Premier League leaders’ semi-final tie with Real Madrid is currently finely poised at 1-1 heading into next week’s second-leg at the Etihad Stadium. However, given the Blues’ home form, Pep Guardiola and his players are the favourites to reach the final.

In the other semi-final, Inter currently hold a 0-2 lead over city rivals Milan, making them the clear favourites to represent Italy in a showpiece final next month. However, concerns over the location of the event have taken yet another turn this week.

According to a new report from the Mail’s Matt Hughes, UEFA have now held talks about the possibility of moving the 2023 Champions League final to Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz if there is unrest in Istanbul following the presidential Turkish election.

It is highlighted the European football’s governing body would be ‘extremely reluctant’ to switch the final again, having twice moved the occasion from Istanbul due to Covid in 2020 and 2021.

And finally... Certainly, João would behave himself in London, right?

Arsenal to move for Joao Cancelo? Gunners join Barcelona in race for full-back as Mikel Arteta plots another Man City reunion - Chris Burton - Goal

WHAT HAPPENED? The versatile 28-year-old departed the Etihad Stadium in January when completing a loan move to Bayern Munich. That deal includes the option for a €70 million (£61m/$76m) transfer, but said option is unlikely to be taken up by the reigning Bundesliga champions.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: According to 90min, Bayern would be open to the idea of extending Cancelo’s loan agreement, but other interested parties are now sniffing around. It is claimed that Arsenal form part of that pack, alongside La Liga giants Barca, with Mikel Arteta having previously worked with the Portugal international at City.

AND WHAT’S MORE: Arsenal prised Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko away from Manchester in 2022, with another reunion potentially on the cards for Pep Guardiola’s former assistant Arteta. The Gunners reportedly believe that Cancelo would be another useful option in their tactical system.

There you have it. Have a great weekend everybody. Stay with Bitter and Blue all weekend long as we bring you all the latest. Sky Blue News returns Monday with more headlines.