Extra Time: Alexis at United, Real's transfer inactivity
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has revealed he chose Pep Guardiola over former manager Jurgen Klopp upon moving to England from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2016.
Gundogan signed on with City for £24.3 million that summer after spending five successful seasons at the Westfalenstadion, where he won a Bundesliga title, a German Cup and reached a Champions League final under the guidance of Klopp.
But when it came time move on, Gundogan said Guardiola's inistence on signing him, despite having picked up a serious injury at the time, trumped the chance to join his former coach at Anfield.
"I spoke with Jurgen about different things," Gundogan told outlets in the UK on Friday. "He always liked me as a player and I would be a liar if I said he didn't try. But when I had the opportunity to join City and work with Pep, it was quite clear that I wanted to come here.
"When I was a little bit down because of my injury, he was quite sure he was still going to try to buy me. That showed me it could never be the wrong decision to join this club. They are both great managers, great characters and very ambitious. I've been lucky."
Gundogan's current club sit well atop the Premier League table -- 15 points clear of second-placed Manchester United -- but face a tricky match at fourth-placed Liverpool on Sunday.
City haven't beaten Liverpool at Anfield since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008, and haven't won at Anfield for 15 years overall. But the Germany international believes that history presents an exciting opportunity for his team this weekend.
"It could be a big moment for us," Gundogan said. "Anfield is one of the hardest stages in the world and on good days Liverpool are able to beat any team in the world.
"It's more exciting for everyone when you have two top teams who try to attack and try to create chances.
"I can imagine it's not attractive for the spectators when we play teams with 10 players around their own box, just defending and hoping for a set-piece or throw-in, anything.
"We need to be ready to show the same spirit as we did away at Chelsea and Manchester United. We have beaten all the big teams until now and we want to continue on Sunday."
City are undefeated in the league this campaign this far, and are looking to become the first team since Arsene Wenger's 2004 Arsenal side to complete a Premier League season without a loss.
Guardiola's men are also on pace to win an historic Quadruple of titles in 2017-18. Asked if winning four trophies was feasible, Gundogan took a cautious approach.
"It's difficult," he said.
"If I said yes now I would disagree with the manager, and that wouldn't be so smart! We have a lot of games to go, and a lot of hurdles to take, but everything is possible."
On emulating Arsenal, Gundogan added: "We are in a comfortable situation and enjoy being on top.
"Having that gap also gives us confidence. This season is special as we are winning and winning and winning. We will try to go all the way. Maybe we will lose one day and maybe we won't.
"We always feel safe. In games where we don't score many goals, we still feel quite sure we won't concede much. And in games where we concede one or two, we feel we can score a lot more.
"At this point, it just fits automatically. It's just there. We don't think about it much. On the field, everyone knows exactly what we need to do. Sometimes it's strange.
"I have never felt at any time this season there is a safe first XI, just players who play more and some who play less.
"There is even more potential in this team. We didn't play badly last season but it was more up and down. This season, we are just on a wave and it's very hard to get us off this wave."
Gundogan provided two assists in City's FA Cup third-round defeat of Burnley last week, and played the full 90 minutes in their narrow FA Cup semifinal first-leg win against Bristol City as he continues to regain form that has been hindered by serious injuries over the past two years.
He said that while he'll never be the same player he was before the setbacks, that doesn't mean he's lost any quality or effectiveness.
"I can see the finish line to my old form," he said. "That feels more important to me than assisting or scoring. Obviously my knee doesn't feel like that of a 20-year-old who is at the beginning of his professional career.
"I need to do things to take care of it. Having treatment every day, and my routines before and after games.
"I remember when I was at Dortmund, I would go outside and kick the ball into the goal straight away, taking free kicks or something.
"When I see the young players doing that, I think, 'Oh my God, no!' I won't do it now, and maybe I couldn't even do that. I'm quite sure that I will never be the same player again that I was. But that doesn't mean I will be weaker or not of the same quality. Just a different player.
"Honestly, I don't even regret it. I just think that these kind of things happen in football and life.
"I try to see it as an experience that I accept and take with me."
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West Brom boss Alan Pardew has set a deadline for the sale of Jonny Evans to avoid a last-gasp scramble.
Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have all been linked with a move for the Northern Ireland international this month.
Albion are likely to need to sell skipper Evans, valued at £30 million, to generate funds for new players who can aid their Premier League survival bid.
There have been tentative enquires but no concrete bids for the defender yet.
Pardew lost Andy Carroll as Newcastle boss when the Magpies sold the striker to Liverpool for £35m on deadline day in January 2011 and does not want to be left in the lurch again.
He said: "I'll put in a cut-off date on any transfer, for that particular reason. It damaged Newcastle at the time and it was only the response of the strikers we had behind that kept Newcastle in the division that year.
"I would say three or four days [before the Jan. 31 deadline], depending on the business we have done. We might be looking to do some business on the last day.
"I'm not saying I won't do any transfers with three days to go, but if it was a big transfer, one of the players who was very important to us and didn't give us the time to execute our plan, then no.
"It might be a situation where no one comes in and I'm going to have to react to that in terms of trying to come up with a strategy to get us the wins we desire. But the window is open and I'd like to take the opportunity if we can.''
The Baggies host Brighton on Saturday without a win in their last 20 league games and sitting second bottom and Pardew knows he needs new faces.
He said: "It wouldn't decide our fate, we have 13 or 14 games to do that, but I think it would help us. It's better for us.
"I think we are at a critical point in the season, yes. It's not lost on us as a group and a club. I don't think if we lost this game that would mean we will get relegated, by any means. There are far too many games left for that but it is a crucial game.''
Leicester boss Claude Puel has questioned whether Eden Hazard would need to leave Chelsea to become the best player in the world.
The Foxes chief gave Hazard his professional debut when he was a 16-year-old at Lille in 2007.
Hazard has starred for Chelsea since moving from Lille in 2012, winning the Premier League twice, and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid.
The Belgium international has been quoted as saying he is ready to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge.
Yet, ahead of their reunion when Leicester travel to Chelsea on Saturday, Puel remained unsure over Hazard's long-term future.
Puel said: "He can continue to make progress. After, I don't know if he has to stay at Chelsea or not -- is that a problem?
"But I think he can continue to develop as a player. He has all the qualities to play for all the great teams in Europe, of course.
"He can make the difference, so for me he is a top player in Europe.
"The team is around Eden because he is the most important player for them. It is not possible to stop him because he cannot play in just the same position.
"He can play wide or striker or come back to take the ball. He can make always penetration and the difference, it is just important to have a good structure and organisation around him.''
Hazard has also won the EFL Cup and Europa League at Stamford Bridge while also being named the Premier League Player of the Year in 2015.
But Puel could always see the player's ability when the pair were together at the Metropole.
"He is a fantastic player and he improves a lot,'' he said. "But he had the same quality at 16 when he started in the first team at Lille, it was the same.
"Of course now he has more consistency in his game but always he is fantastic in his play and has the ability and capacity to make good penetration and give good assists.
"Eden is a fantastic player but I wouldn't man-mark him.
"If we just keep concentration on Eden, other players can make the difference also. A good response is always a collective response with a competitive organisation.''