Jack Grealish: FA Cup semi-final the perfect game to ‘put right’ European exit

By Sports Desk April 19, 2024

Jack Grealish believes Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea gives Manchester City the perfect opportunity to put their Champions League agony behind them.

City’s hopes of successfully defending their European crown – and winning a second successive treble – were shattered on Wednesday as they were beaten by Real Madrid on penalties.

The defeat was particularly galling given that City had dominated the second leg of the quarter-final tie at the Etihad Stadium, but they have little time to dwell on their misfortune.

Attention has immediately shifted to Wembley and a key clash in City’s bid to retain one of the other two trophies they won in glorious fashion last season.

Midfielder Grealish said: “We’ve not been used to losing, especially in the last couple of years. We always knew it was going to be a tough game against one of the best teams in the world.

“It went down to penalties and it’s never nice to go out on penalties. Luckily enough for us we’ve got another game within three days where we can go and put it right.

“Sometimes it’s better when it’s like that. It’s better when you can put it right straight away rather than waiting and dwelling on it for a couple of weeks.

“It’s the perfect game for us to put it right.”

As well as being favourites for the FA Cup, City have put themselves in a strong position to win the Premier League for a fourth year in succession and a sixth time in seven years.

Grealish said: “This year, if we win the Premier League and the FA Cup it would be a hugely successful season. Hopefully we can go on and do that and that’s our aim.”

It has been a frustrating campaign in a personal sense for Grealish, although he has regained form and his place in the side in recent games.

The 28-year-old England international, who excelled in the treble-winning season, struggled to find consistency after an injury in the autumn and was then hindered by further fitness issues.

“It’s been difficult,” he said. “Especially on the back of last year, I had such a good season.

“At the moment, I feel good and I feel confident. At the start of the season, I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like I was playing well really. I didn’t really feel that fit if I’m honest.

“But I feel good now. I feel fit and I feel like I’m playing with good confidence. Hopefully I can bring that into the end of the season.

“We’ve still got a lot to play for. The season is nowhere near over yet. I still feel like I’ve got a big part to play.”

Grealish spoke recently about his determination to repay manager Pep Guardiola for guiding him through his difficult spell and he remains keen to deliver for the City boss.

He said: “I’ve got a really good relationship with him. I’ve said before that he’s the best manager in the world, in my opinion.

“I’ve had my own problems, even off the pitch, and he’s always spoken to me and been there for me.

“Hopefully, I can help him and he can help me towards the end of the season.”

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    Arne Slot should block out any noise around trying to catch Manchester City and instead set his sights on compiling 90 points in his first season in charge of Liverpool.

    That is the view of former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, who believes securing Champions League football should be seen as the minimum requirement for former Feyenoord boss Slot, who is replacing Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.

    While Klopp lifted the EFL Cup in his final campaign as manager, James feels it is very difficult for Premier League teams to set any targets relating to any silverware due to the consistent dominance of City under Pep Guardiola.

    City have won an unprecedented four straight Premier League titles and will face rivals Manchester United this weekend at Wembley in an attempt to win back-to-back FA Cup crowns. Guardiola also has four EFL Cup trophies to his name.

    James feels Slot should therefore focus only on what he can control and believes 90 points is an aspirational target that will at least put the Reds in contention.

    Liverpool made it to 82 points in 2023-24, which saw them finish nine behind Man City and seven adrift of second-placed Arsenal.

    That tally was comfortably enough to seal a return to the Champions League for next season, a status which James says Slot must ensure he maintains.

    "As we have seen under Jurgen Klopp, the fantastic manager, there are teams around in the Premier League who don't really care what you think you want to do, namely Manchester City," James said to Stats Perform when asked what Slot's minimum target should be.

    "There could invariably be a situation where whatever it is, such as if Pep decides it is his last season, then it might be fairytale stuff again, that he goes for the quadruple and he does it.

    "Then it doesn't matter [what your targets are], no one wins anything domestically. 

    "The minimum requirement, which Pep can't stop you from doing, has to be qualifying for the Champions League of course. But beyond that, I think it's just getting the performances. 

    "If you get 90 points, and I know this has happened to Liverpool and they have got records to prove it, but if you get 90 points or even more and still don't win the league, then it's not down to you doing something wrong, it's down to the excellence of whoever finishes above you. 

    "I would say minimum Champions League qualification and then just going for 90 points and see where it takes you. As I say, 90 points is the benchmark in the Premier League.

    "You know, it isn't that difficult to achieve when you think about it. You can literally lose to the four best teams, again subjectively, four best teams, home and away, and as long as you beat the others, the other 30 games, that's 90 points.

    "Who cares [which teams you beat]? You don't get an extra three points for beating the teams above you. It's just winning."

    James expects to see plenty of movement in the transfer window now that there have been substantial changes to the staff, but says Slot and his coaching team may not always get their own way.

    He added: "I do [expect a lot of movement]. There are a couple of things to say. The analysis department will have their numbers, they'll know who they need to keep, they'll know who they need to replace and obviously they'll know who they need or want to bring in. 

    "This wasn't just about Jurgen leaving, this was the whole staff going. This is a massive shift, and everybody [left at the club] has their opinion [on the squad], even the analysis guys.

    "[Those opinions] might encourage or discourage the manager from making choices, whether it's selection choices in games or whether it's selection choices for transfers. 

    "The conversation with Slot will be a whole room of [new] opinions added to a data analysis group [trying] to find replacements because some of the players are leaving. 

    "With transfers I think it will cause a little bit of a ruffle. It will be done for the right reasons but I don't think there'll be a situation where Slot will just bring the ones he likes in. 

    "It will be a group decision with the analysis department. It will need to be the right players and, as Liverpool have proven under Jurgen's tenure, when they get it right, they are very successful."

  • Wirtz will stay at Leverkusen amid transfer interest, Rolfes insists Wirtz will stay at Leverkusen amid transfer interest, Rolfes insists

    Florian Wirtz will stay at Bayer Leverkusen next season despite interest from Europe's elite clubs, says Die Werkself's managing director Simon Rolfes.

    Wirtz has been in irresistible form throughout Xabi Alonso's first full season at the BayArena, which could yet end with an unbeaten treble.

    Leverkusen won 28 of their 34 games as they became the first team to go unbeaten through a Bundesliga campaign, and they face a pair of finals this week – against Atalanta in the Europa League and Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal.

    Wirtz was named Bundesliga Player of the Year earlier this week, having scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists throughout the campaign. He has also been involved in eight goals (four goals, four assists) and created 28 chances from open play in the Europa League this term.

    That form has reportedly put the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United on alert, but Leverkusen are not entertaining a sale.

    "He will stay. His father and agent said it before. He has a contract here and he's really happy," Rolfes told Sky Sports.

    "This is the right place for him to develop as a player and person. His future is bright, that's for sure. He is such a good player and shows a great will to win and to work. 

    "It's not normally the attribute of a number 10 but he combines talent with the work rate of a six or a defensive player along with producing special magic moments."

    When Bayern Munich last failed to win the Bundesliga title in 2012, they responded by raiding rivals Borussia Dortmund for the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels over the next few years.

    Asked if Leverkusen had any concerns about that happening to them, Rolfes said: "For sure 10, 15 or 20 years ago that was a normal thing but things are changing. The European environment has changed a lot. 

    "It's an international market now with the Premier League, and clubs in Spain, Italy and France as well."

    Bayern were, alongside Liverpool, unsuccessful in attempting to lure Alonso away from Westphalia, and Rolfes says he was always convinced the Spaniard would stay.

    "Maybe that was a little more special but I'm always convinced you have to concentrate on your strengths," he said. 

    "I was convinced we could offer a lot to him and our players with other interest in them. That's why I was always calm."

     

  • Jackson laments Pochettino exit as Palmer thanks departed Chelsea boss Jackson laments Pochettino exit as Palmer thanks departed Chelsea boss

    Nicolas Jackson appeared to question Chelsea's decision to part company with Mauricio Pochettino as Cole Palmer paid thanks to the Argentine.

    On Tuesday, Chelsea announced Pochettino had left the club by mutual consent after just one season in charge, which ended in a sixth-place Premier League finish.

    Several pundits expressed shock at the decision, after an upturn saw Chelsea recover from a poor start to the season to clinch European qualification.  

    Only four teams – Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United – had a better expected goals (xG) figure than Chelsea (75.3) in the Premier League in 2023-24, while only three – City, Liverpool and Arsenal – had more shots on target than the Blues (215).

    From March 11 onwards, Chelsea's return of 27 points was only bettered by eventual champions Manchester City, who took 28 in that span.

    A number of Chelsea players appeared to be surprised by Pochettino's exit when reacting on social media, most notably Jackson.

    Alongside an image of himself alongside Pochettino, Jackson wrote on Instagram: "Love you coach. Wish we could stay together more.

    "But may God continue to bless you and your family. Thanks for the advice and support, you're a true lion and a fighter, wish you all the best."

    Leading goalscorer Palmer, meanwhile, paid a heartfelt tribute to Pochettino in an Instagram post of his own.

    "Gaffer, thank you for everything you have done for me and making my dreams come true," the England international wrote. "All the best."

    Former Blues captain John Terry, meanwhile, said he was "gutted" to see Pochettino depart.

    Posting to his Instagram story, Terry added: "I just hope we don't sign or sell any players until we get a manager in."

    Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna and Brentford's Thomas Frank have been touted as possible successors, with co-owner Todd Boehly reportedly looking to hire a progressive young coach to work within Chelsea's existing structure. 

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