First half was the worst I’ve seen us – Phil Foden savours thrilling fightback

By Sports Desk November 28, 2023

Phil Foden felt Manchester City were at their worst before recovering from 2-0 down to secure top spot in their Champions League group with a 3-2 win over Leipzig.

The holders trailed to two breakaway Lois Openda goals at half-time of Tuesday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium.

Foden sparked their recovery after the interval, teeing up goals for Erling Haaland and substitute Jeremy Doku either side of scoring a sublime effort himself.

The England midfielder told TNT Sports: “First half was the worst I’ve seen us. Courage and motivation courage changed it around. This team has great mentality and it’s so nice to see.

“We just needed that goal to get going. Even the fans were a lot louder after the goal. Once the first went in the motivation was there. We’ve got a great record at the Etihad and it only takes one goal to change things.”

City’s victory not only made certain of preferential seeding in the last 16 for a seventh successive season but extended their English record unbeaten run in European competition to 19 games.

Manager Pep Guardiola was pleased with that achievement but admitted concern about the performance.

The Spaniard said: “If we talk about the qualification it is a great night. If we talk about the game, we could do better.

“Sloppy goals – in football you have to win duels and it was quite similar against Chelsea. We were solid and now we’ve had two warnings already.

“It’s the same up front. We’ve had chances and missed them.

“But maybe for the future it’s good to win not comfortably, to show we are able to make a comeback.

“When we scored early in the second half, 45 minutes was a long time for them. It was not easy because they defended really well and they were strong, but we are there.

“Now we have five days to recover for the game against Spurs.”

Leipzig’s display was a huge improvement on their 7-0 loss at the same venue last season and coach Marco Rose felt his side were unfortunate not to get more from the game.

Rose said: “We knew we made them angry in the first half. It got more difficult.

“If we kept the clean sheet a little bit longer, maybe then the chance would become bigger and bigger to win or to take something home, but at the end you need a little bit of luck and that is what we missed maybe.

“We played a really good game, but this is City.”

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    Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has lavished praise on “top-class” Phil Foden for his outstanding form, but insisted the attacker can still improve.

    Foden struck the only goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth to move the Premier League champions to within one point of leaders Liverpool after 26 fixtures.

    It was Foden’s 16th effort in all competitions this campaign, which equals his previous best tally from the 2020-21 season and made it six goal involvements during February after he hit a hat-trick at Brentford earlier this month.

    “Forget about the goals. Of course they’re important, but do you know how he played? How he controls and accelerates. He has become already a top-class football player,” Guardiola explained.

    “He was before a little boy, good actions. Now he has become already a world-class top player. So good. He can play everywhere, especially in the central positions, which is really, really good.

    “In the middle, I think in the (Club) World Cup in Saudi Arabia, he play really good, he understand more the game. His work ethic and how he runs, everything. He has become a top, top class player.

    “He’s young and can improve. Always I had the feeling that Phil always had the sense of goal.

    “Always had this sense of he can score. I met him when he is 16-years-old, he train with us and a little bit like Cole Palmer, arrive there and always have the feeling they can score.

    “Phil has this incredible ability, this incredible ability to do it.”

    Foden’s latest decisive effort made it 15 wins from 17 matches for City who remain in the hunt to achieve another treble after last season’s Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League triumphs.

    Next up for Guardiola’s side is a trip to Luton on Tuesday for an FA Cup fifth-round tie, which is the final fixture of a busy February where they have juggled three competitions.

    City’s schedule shows no sign of easing though with league encounters to come against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in March.

    Guardiola added: “We are tired, but we recover. We’ll sleep good, we’ll eat good and we will be ready for Luton. We want to go through. I know it’s very difficult but it is what it is.

    “We played Champions League and all the teams have a long week in the Champions League because the schedule is there. (Then) we played against Brentford and Brentford is dentist. Going to the dentist without anaesthetic.

    “Do you know why we played against Brentford (last week)? We played the World Cup in Saudi Arabia, two games.

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    “I see the schedule, (every) three days and after Tuesday to Sunday, then we have Champions League and then we have another one. United, then maybe I don’t know FA Cup or Brighton, then after Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa. So, yeah still we are there.

    “One point behind after being champions for everything. That is good. I don’t know what is going to happen with my players after they win everything, how they would react? Oh my god. Better than is possible. Impossible, impossible.

    “Every year it’s tough, but I love that it is tough. Okay, we accept it. We accept the challenge, that’s for sure.

    “We accept the challenge to be good. I know Arsenal and Liverpool, what a team they (both) are.

    “And step by step, as much as we are there, we can arrive the last games being there and everything can happen.

    “With these players, with this genetic personality and mentality, no matter what competition always they perform and give everything.”

  • Former Aston Villa and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl dies at age of 77 Former Aston Villa and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl dies at age of 77

    Former Southampton and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl, who captained Aston Villa to League Cup glory, has died at the age of 77.

    Nicholl, who also managed Southampton before taking charge of Walsall, had been living with dementia, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which he attributed to brain damage caused by repeatedly heading balls over his lengthy career.

    The former central defender’s death was confirmed in a family statement on his daughter Cathy’s Facebook account.

    It said: “It is with a heavy heart that we write this. Chris Nicholl (our dad) sadly passed away peacefully on Saturday evening in hospital.

    “He fought a very long battle with CTE, caused by his dedication to football. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

    Wilmslow-born Nicholl, who was capped 51 times by Northern Ireland and represented them at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, began his career at Burnley, but made more than 200 appearances for both Villa and the Saints.

    A dependable defender, he famously scored with a 40-yard piledriver as Villa lifted the 1977 League Cup with a 3-2 second replay victory over Everton which went to extra time at Old Trafford.

    In a series of posts on the club’s official X – formerly Twitter – account, Villa said: “Aston Villa is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former player Chris Nicholl, who has died at the age of 77.

    “The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Chris’ family and friends at this difficult time.

    “A two-time promotion and League Cup winner, Chris Nicholl’s achievements in claret and blue will never be forgotten.

    “He was a dominant figure at the heart of the Aston Villa defence for over five seasons, making 252 appearances and scoring 20 goals.

    “Rest in peace, Chris.”

    After hanging up his boots, Nicholl moved into management at the Dell when he was appointed as Lawrie McMenemy’s replacement during the summer of 1985, and it was he who promoted the emerging talents of Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and Rod Wallace to the Southampton first team.

    Shearer said on X: “RIP Chris Nicholl. You believed in me and gave me my chance. Thank you.”

    Le Tissier added: “The thoughts and prayers of my family go out to the family of my first manager Chris Nicholl, who has sadly passed away.

    “I’ll always be eternally grateful to Chris for having the faith in me as a 17 year old boy to give me my opportunity to prove I was good enough to be a professional footballer. Gone, but never forgotten #RIPChris.”

    Nicholl parted company with the Saints in May 1991 and spent three years out of the game before taking the hotseat at Walsall.

    The Saddlers said on X: “We are devastated to learn that former manager Chris Nicholl has passed away.

    “Chris led the Saddlers from 1994 to 1997 and won promotion to Division Two in what was a memorable 1994-95 campaign.

    “Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”

    Nicholl was reunited with McMenemy during his spell in charge of Northern Ireland, serving as his assistant manager.

    A statement on the Irish FA’s X account said: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Chris Nicholl. He played 51 times for us, including the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

    “Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time”

    In 2017, Nicholl told Shearer as part of a BBC documentary of his fears over the damage he had suffered during his playing career.

    He said: “I am brain-damaged from heading footballs. My memory is in trouble.

    “Everyone forgets regular things, where your keys are. But when you forget where you live, that’s different.

    “I’ve had that for the last four or five years, it is definitely getting worse. It bothers me.”

  • Jurgen Klopp savours ‘most special trophy’ after Liverpool win Carabao Cup Jurgen Klopp savours ‘most special trophy’ after Liverpool win Carabao Cup

    Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea was manager Jurgen Klopp’s “most special trophy” after they overcame more injury adversity to win 1-0 at Wembley after extra time.

    Already without 11 first-team players, they lost Ryan Gravenberch to an ankle problem after half-an-hour and finished the match with four academy players on the pitch but the youngsters held out long enough for captain Virgil van Dijk to head the 118th-minute winner.

    “In more than 20 years it is easily the most special trophy I have ever won. It is absolutely exceptional,” said Klopp, who is leaving the club at the end of the season and looked emotional on the pitch at the final whistle.

    “Sometimes people ask me if I’m proud of things and it’s really tricky, I wish I could feel pride more often but tonight is an overwhelming feeling.

    “I was proud of everyone involved in everything here: I was proud of our people (fans) for the way they pushed us, I was proud of the staff for creating this kind of atmosphere surrounding where these boys can just do what they are best at.

    “I was proud of our academy, I was proud of my coaches, I was proud of so many things. It was completely overwhelming.

    “It was nothing to do with it being maybe my last game at Wembley.

    “Can you create in football stories which definitely nobody will ever forget? It’s so difficult because ‘this’ happened before, ‘this’ happened before: this tonight, if you find the same story with academy players coming on against a top side and still winning it, I’ve never heard of it.

    “I loved it. What we see here today is so exceptional. We might never see again. Not because I’m on the sidelines but because these things don’t happen in football.

    “I got told there’s an English phrase ‘you don’t win trophies with kids’. I didn’t know that.”

    Victory extended Liverpool’s own record to 10 League Cups and was the seventh major trophy he has won since arriving at the club in 2015.

    His side are top of the Premier League and are one of the favourites for both the FA Cup and Europa League but Klopp has no interest in the sentimentality of his final few months.

    “I couldn’t care less about my legacy, I am not here to create one,” he added.

    “Nothing we’ve done in the last eight or nine years is replaceable, we couldn’t have done the same at another club. It was exactly made for this combination. It is fantastic.

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    “As long as they are the way they are, Liverpool Football Club will be fine and that’s the most important thing.

    “From time to time you need something to really celebrate. This was so special, you saw the game and saw the circumstances, they become bigger.

    “We had a ref (Chris Kavanagh) who was not up to the level of the game, that didn’t help one team or the other. There was no common sense again.

    “Then getting through all things. You see tired players. I have no clue who can play on Wednesday (against Southampton in the FA Cup) because we have players on the pitch until the end of the game who had problems.”

    Klopp reserved special praise for his captain, who put in a real leader’s performance to lift his first trophy since taking over from Jordan Henderson.

    “From the first day coming into the club (Van Dijk) was absolutely outstanding. Thank God he is in form, top shape. I think he learned an important lesson for himself: you always can win the game,” he said.

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