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The countdown has begun as Manchester City step up preparations ahead of Bank Holiday Monday’s pivotal Premier League clash at home to Leicester City.
With just two games of the season to go and City one point clear of Liverpool, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our final home league match of the campaign.
And Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers has expressed his pre-match thoughts with the former Celtic and Liverpool manager pledging that Leicester will travel to the Etihad armed with a burning desire of their own to try and claim a victory that would boost their own hopes of securing a top-seven finish.
The Leicester Mercury’s Rob Tanner reports on how Rodgers is relishing the prospect of seeing his side tackle the defending champions in what could be a potentially season-defining encounter.
Tanner writes: “A remarkable victory for Brendan Rodgers’ men would certainly strengthen their top-seven cause, but it could also have a defining impact on the title race, with Rodgers’ former club Liverpool hoping to cash in.
“I haven’t given it a great deal of thought (the title race),” Rodgers said.
“We have games before that, but my job is to do Leicester a favour. Every game is important.
“These are exciting games in this last period of the season and we will look to give our best.
"Our only concern is ourselves. We have to concentrate on our own performance enough to get some good results in these last three games. It then gives us a great springboard to finish the season, then have a real good pre-season to get ready for next year.
"You've seen me play the younger players, I want to see how they are under pressure in the big games.
“We will be doing everything we can, in every game, to get a result so I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us. It's certainly not a negative."
"Man City were excellent in dealing with the situation of the derby game, especially in the second half, the level of the game was fantastic.
"Liverpool have been in the hunt, obviously they were seven points clear at the start of the year and they have fought really well.
"Both are top class teams. There is still a wee bit to go and only then can you reflect on it all at the end of the season."
Meanwhile there are warm words of praise for Raheem Sterling’s qualities both on and off the pitch from BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson in the Daily Mail.
Sterling has been in inspired form all season for both City and England and his impact was recognised earlier this week when the 24-year was named both PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year.
The winger has also drawn widespread praise for his off-field commitment to social justice and equality along with his fight to stamp out racism.
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And former Liverpool defender Lawrenson believes Sterling’s development since he moved to City from Anfield in 2015 had been exemplary.
Talking to the Mail’s Jonathan Spencer, Lawrenson said: “As good as he was then (at Liverpool), I didn't think he really understood the game. I don't think he understood his role in his team.
“'I think we forget how young he was and whether it's him or Pep Guardiola, I don't know, but he has seriously, seriously improved beyond all recognition.'
Lawrenson added: 'He has done fantastic, he really has and he just comes across now as a really decent human being, who happens to be an outstanding footballer.
“'I think he has been brilliant, I seriously do. I saw him do an interview the other week and I thought it would be interesting to hear his answers to those questions but he was very, very good. Very considered and thoughtful.'”
Looking further ahead, the Manchester Evening News ponder on potential transfer targets for City – and David Alexander Hughes has penned an article identifying one of Ajax’s outstanding young talents as an ideal potential recruit.
According to Hughes, Donny van de Beek, who netted the winner in Ajax’s 1-0 Champions League semi-final first leg clash at Spurs in midweek could be tailor-made as City look to recruit a long-term successor fill Fernandinho’s formidable boots.
The MEN man writes: “Midfield general Fernandinho turns 34 this week and City remain on the lookout for a successor for the Brazilian.
“As a result, City could make a move for Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek.
“Van de Beek scored the game's only goal on Tuesday night to add to his strike against Juventus last month. He is a product of Ajax’s youth academy and fits perfectly into their sharp short passing style - much like City’s.
“An appealing aspect of the Dutchman is his ability to play both in the No.6 and No.8 roles for his club. His fluidity across the pitch means he is capable in all areas and is a handful for the opposition to track.
“If he comes deep, he is apt at playing line-breaking forward passes for Ajax forwards to sprint onto. This was illustrated in the below sequence taken from Ajax’s victory against Excelsior.
“Not just menacing in attack for his side, he is also a proficient anchor in the middle and great reader of the game from the No.6 position. He averages a decent four interceptions per 90 minutes when playing in a CDM role which is not too dissimilar to Fernandinho’s average of 4.87.
“Van de Beek has certainly proven himself as one of those players. With City’s midfield landscape expected to change in the next 12 months, the 21-year-old could prove a very wise investment.”
Finally, the rumour mill continues to crank up ahead of the summer transfer window and hitc.com report on claims from Spain that the latest name to be linked with City is Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey.
According to hitc.com: “Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is interested in signing Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey this summer, according to El Gol Digital, and believes the powerhouse could potentially be the new Yaya Toure.
“At the age of 25, Thomas is finally establishing himself as one of the first names on Diego Simeone’s team sheet, after spending time out on loan at Mallorca and Almeria in recent seasons.
“The Ghana international is a dynamic player with a thunderbolt of a shot in his locker, although he is hardly lacking in technical ability either while his ability to play in defence has also made him a very useful presence at Atletico.
“According to El Gol Digital, Guardiola wants to bring Thomas to the Etihad this summer and has asked the Premier League champions to prioritise a deal, though it will likely cost a club-record £68 million thanks to a hefty release clause in his contract.”
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