Football Focus: ‘City could be tested by counter-attacking Real’

Manchester City struggle to prevent the best teams from scoring against them and their central defenders could be targeted in Friday’s Champions League clash against Spanish champions Real Madrid, former England skipper Wayne Rooney said.

Pep Guardiola’s City lead Real after they won the away leg of their last-16 tie 2-1 in March, before Europe’s elite club competition was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rooney, who won the competition with Manchester United in 2008, said City have their best opportunity yet to lift the trophy for the first time.

“City may never have a better chance to win the Champions League,” Rooney wrote in his column for the Sunday Times.

“Sergio Ramos is suspended which is a huge loss to the Real defence and I think City will score. Whether they are solid enough at the back themselves is my only question.

“Real will target their centre halves and it’s a worry that this season every other (Premier League) ‘Big Six’ club beat City… This shows Guardiola’s team can struggle to keep the best sides out.”

Rooney said he expected Real to allow City to dominate possession and then aim to hit them on the counter.

“I saw Zinedine Zidane do it in his first spell as Real coach when he played against Guardiola-style teams in big games, and it brought him successes,” Rooney added.

“Yet my money is still on City. They don’t have to chase the game. They don’t have to score. They can even afford to lose 1-0 and go through, and in the first leg they surprised Madrid by sitting in themselves.

“It was the first time I’ve seen Guardiola play like that and I’ve a feeling he’ll do the same at the Etihad. It could be a game of cat-and-mouse.”

Pulisic, Azpilicueta to miss Bayern clash, says Chelsea boss Lampard

Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta will miss Chelsea’s Champions League match against Bayern Munich after picking up hamstring injuries, manager Frank Lampard said.

Defender Azpilicueta and forward Pulisic limped off during Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat by Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Chelsea will visit German champions Bayern Munich on Aug. 8, trailing 3-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie.

“I don’t know the full extent of the injuries,” Lampard told reporters. “But I know the hamstrings with Azpi and Christian — they have to be scanned and assessed over the next few days.

“They clearly won’t be fit for next week.”

Guardiola has been ‘key figure’ in my development as coach: Arteta

After winning the FA Cup title, Arsenal’s manager Mikel Arteta thanked Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola for playing a key role in his development as a coach.

Arsenal defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the finals of the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium to script their record 14th FA Cup title win.

Arteta said that City’s coach Guardiola will always have his gratitude.

“He has been a key figure in my development as a coach. He has my gratitude. I wouldn’t be sitting here today without him. I have to thank him big time,” Goal.com quoted Arteta as saying.

In the match between Chelsea and Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice for the Gunners to hand them a 2-1 win.

Chelsea had struck the first goal in the match, owing to Christian Pulisic’s efforts, but Arsenal came from behind to win the match.

“Big games require big moments for big players — he (Aubameyang) did that in the semi-final and now today,” Arteta said.

“People questioning whether he can do it in big games and he’s done it today,” he added.

Arsenal had finished the 2019-20 Premier League season at the eighth position, their lowest since the 1994-95 season.

Arteta also labelled the FA Cup win as the best moment of his managing career at Arsenal so far.

“I think this is the best moment of my career because I know the difficulties we’ve been through. I had one mission — make the players and staff believe that we could do it. Seeing the change in the dressing room is what makes me more proud,” Arteta said.

“I completely understood the needs of this football club. I knew the challenges I was facing when I made a decision to come here and the expectations we will always have. This is the first one. Let’s enjoy it. My players have been fantastic and the staff and everyone upstairs,” he concluded.

Ten-man Porto stun Benfica to clinch domestic double

Portuguese champions Porto completed the domestic double in style on Saturday as a pair of second-half headers by defender Chancel Mbemba gave them a 2-1 win over Benfica in the Cup final despite having a man sent off.

Porto forward Luis Diaz was given his marching orders by referee Artur Soares Dias for his second bookable offence shortly before halftime, and five minutes later his manager Sergio Conceincao was also sent off.

But former Newcastle United centre back Mbemba fired Porto ahead in the 47th minute with a looping header over two defenders after Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos misjudged a free kick from the left by Alex Telles.

Benfica were again undone from a set piece in the 58th minute, as Otavio floated in a free kick and Mbemba powered it past Vlachodimos from eight metres after beating the offside trap.

Carlos Vinicius set up a tense finish when he converted an 84th-minute penalty for Benfica after Porto substitute Diogo Leite fouled Rafa Silva.

Benfica threw men forward in the closing stages and missed their best chance for an equaliser in stoppage time when Jota hit the post with a fine volley from the edge of the penalty area.

Porto, who overhauled Benfica in the home straight of their two-team league title race, defended desperately in the last few minutes but held on to put the icing on the cake of a memorable season.

Antwerp down Clube Brugge to win Belgian Cup title

Antwerp denied Club Brugge the double as they won the Belgian Cup final 1-0 on Saturday in the first football tournament in the country since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.

The 34-year-old Israel international Lior Refaelov slid home the winner after 25 minutes to hand Antwerp their first cup success in 28 years.

The game was the only one held over from the 2019-20 season which was cancelled less than a month after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic with runaway leaders Brugge declared champions.

Yet any hopes Brugge had of adding more silverware were quickly dampened by a strong Antwerp performance with former Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet making several key saves to deny Antwerp a greater winning margin.

The final had been scheduled for March 22 but was finally played behind closed doors in Brussels just a week before the scheduled start of the new campaign.

Inter coach Conte wanted more support from the club

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte said the club failed to back him and his players in the face of criticism and complained that some members of the club had jumped on the bandwagon.

“I don’t think the work of the players has been recognised and I don’t think my work has been recognised,” said Conte after his side won 2-0 at Atalanta on Saturday to finish the season in second place, one point behind champions Juventus.

“We all received very little protection from the club, absolutely zero.”

“We have to grow and improve in all areas, including off the field, and a big club should protect its players more. We’ll discuss it all at the end of the season — I have to meet the President (Steven Zhang) and he’s in China right now.”

Conte added: “I don’t like it when people jump on the bandwagon — they have to be there in the good times as well as the bad and here at Inter it wasn’t like that, I’m sorry to say.”

It is not the first time Conte has publicly complained about the club.

In November, he criticised poor planning, saying the squad was too small to challenge in both Serie A and the Champions League. The club responded with several signings in the January transfer window.

Inter are still in the Europa League, and face Getafe in a single-leg round of 16 tie. Conte said he would make his judgement after that campaign had finished.

 “After the Europa League, we’ll make our judgements for next season. I’ll make my judgements, the club will make theirs.”

Howe leaves Bournemouth after Premier League relegation

Eddie Howe left his job as Bournemouth manager by mutual consent on Saturday, saying it was the right time for the club to have a change following their relegation from the Premier League.

Bournemouth’s five-year stint in the top division ended on the final day of the season after they finished third-bottom in the standings with 34 points.

Howe, 42, departed after a discussion with Bournemouth officials, the club announced in a statement.

“Having spent a total of 25 years with the club as both a player and a manager this decision – made together with the club — is one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make,” he said.

“However, although the affection and love I have for this football club will always remain, we collectively feel that now is the right time for the club to go in a new direction.

“I have always ensured that every decision I have ever made as manager has been in the best interests of the club and its supporters, and this is no different.”

Howe managed Bournemouth in more than 450 games across two spells at the Vitality Stadium spanning more than a decade.

The Englishman was initially appointed as a caretaker manager in December 2008, and defied expectations to secure the club’s safety in League Two despite starting the season on — 17 points.

He then went on to win promotion to League One the following season.

After a brief spell as Burnley manager, Howe returned to guide the Cherries to the Premier League in 2015, where they remained for five seasons.

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