De Bruyne and Aguero return to Man City training ahead of EFL Cup final

By Sports Desk April 23, 2021

Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are back in training ahead of Manchester City's EFL Cup final showdown with Tottenham on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola's side are aiming to win the trophy for a fourth consecutive season, returning to Wembley eight days after a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals.

The pain of that defeat was compounded by star midfielder De Bruyne hobbling off with an ankle injury, although the problem is not as bad as first feared.

De Bruyne sat out Wednesday's 2-1 win at Aston Villa but resumed work with Guardiola's first-team squad alongside Aguero.

City's all-time record goalscorer has endured a final campaign at the Etihad Stadium beset by knee and hamstring issues after meniscus surgery last June, while he also suffered the effects of coronavirus.

"Both [De Bruyne and Aguero] they are training today," Guardiola said, meaning each man appears to have better prospects than Harry Kane, who was unable to take part in Tottenham's Friday session.

"Today was the first training session after the last two weeks [for Aguero]. Tomorrow he will have the last training session and we are going to decide."

Final successes in the past three campaigns over Arsenal, Chelsea and Villa mean City can become the second team in history after Liverpool between 1981 and 1984 to lift the cup for a fourth season in a row.

However, as was the case in the Chelsea reverse, Guardiola hinted there might be wholesale changes as he casts an eye towards Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain.

"We've said many times. every game must be taken seriously. But the Premier League is the most important competition this season. After that it is the Champions League, the FA Cup and after the Carabao Cup," he said.

"When you play this competition at the beginning of the season when every player is fit, it is perfect to rotate and everybody can be involved.

"We have to play right now in the middle of the decisive part of the season. I would say the Premier League is the first title of the season and the second to qualify for the Champions League – ask all the teams who are fighting to qualify for next season.

"Once we are there and arrive in this position, normally the Carabao Cup is over, but now we are going to play [the final] in the middle part of the important part of the Premier League season. And three days before, like a dream come true at the end [of the season], we play the semi-final of the Champions League."

Guardiola added: "That’s why we have a mix of contradiction; that it's a final we have to win, but we have one eye on the Champions League and one eye on Crystal Palace [in the Premier League next weekend].

"Carabao Cup is nice - we want the four, we will play to win the fourth. But PSG and Palace are there and PSG [in the second leg] is there. We'll see what happens on Sunday."

Related items

  • Ronaldo wants to play for another 'four or five' years Ronaldo wants to play for another 'four or five' years

    Cristiano Ronaldo has said he hopes to play for another "four or five years" despite turning 37 next month.

    The Manchester United forward received the FIFA Best Special Award at a ceremony in Zurich on Monday in recognition of breaking the world record for international goals in September last year previously held by Iran's Ali Daei (109), with Ronaldo now on 115 goals for Portugal.

    When asked by event co-host Jermaine Jenas about his "obsession" with the game and where it could take him, Ronaldo said he still has the same love for football as he did when he was younger, and gave an idea as to how long he intends to keep playing.

    "I still have the passion for the game. Not just to score goals," Ronaldo said. "It's to entertain myself, because I have played football since I was five, six years old.

    "When I go to the pitch, even in training, I still enjoy [it] and my motivation is still there. Even [though] I'm going to be 37 soon, I feel good, I feel motivated.

    "I keep working hard, since 18 years old, and I continue. I love the game, I still have that passion and I want to continue.

    "People ask me sometimes how many years more I am going to play, and I say I hope to play four or five years more.

    "It's all about mentally, because I think physically if you treat your body good, when you need your body, it will give it back to you, so this is what I do."

    Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in 22 games for United in all competitions since making a dramatic return to Old Trafford at the start of the current season, but recently indicated frustration at the recent form of the team.

    The Red Devils currently sit seventh in the Premier League table, five points off fourth-placed West Ham and 24 points behind top of the table Manchester City, though with two games in hand over both.

    Talking to Sky Sports last week, the former Real Madrid and Juventus marksman said: "I don't accept that our mentality be less than being in the top three in the Premier League.

    "I think to build up good things, sometimes you have to destroy a few things. So why not – new year, new life and I hope that we can be the level that the fans want. They deserve that.

    "We are capable of changing things now. I know the way but I'm not going to mention it here because I don't think it's ethical on my part to say that.

    "What I can say is we can do better – all of us. Manchester United belongs to important things, so we have to change that.

    "I don't want to be here to be in sixth place, or seventh place, or fifth place. I'm here to try to win, to compete.

    "I think we compete but we are not yet in our best level. But we have a long way to improve and I believe if we change our mind, we can achieve big things."

  • FIFA Best Awards: Chelsea dominate as Lewandowski scoops top men's prize FIFA Best Awards: Chelsea dominate as Lewandowski scoops top men's prize

    The FIFA Best Awards were conducted on Monday, with Chelsea taking three prizes.

    While Robert Lewandowski and Alexia Putellas, who won the women's Ballon d'Or last year, took home the prizes for Best Men's and Women's player respectively, the Blues had winners in the form of Thomas Tuchel, Emma Hayes and Edouard Mendy.

    Tuchel, who guided Chelsea to Champions League success last season, scooped the Best Men's Coach award, while Hayes was named Best Women's Coach.

    Hayes' team won the Women's FA Cup and Premier League in 2020-21, while also finishing as runners-up in the Women's Champions League to Barcelona, who Putellas plays for.

    Mendy, meanwhile, won the Best Men's Goalkeeper award. However, he did not make the Men's XI, with Italy and Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma preferred.

    Tuchel's triumph also means that a German coach has won the Men's award for the last three years, after Jurgen Klopp in 2020 and 2019.

    The Denmark national team won the Fair Play Award for their actions in helping to save Christian Eriksen's life after the midfielder collapsed on the pitch in Copenhagen at Euro 2020.

    Erik Lamela won the Puskas Award for his incredible rabona finish in the north London derby.

    Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, was given a Special Award for his career achievements.

    FIFA Best Awards 2021 winners:

    Robert Lewandowski (Best Men's Player)
    Thomas Tuchel (Best Men's Coach)
    Edouard Mendy (Best Men's Goalkeeper)
    Alexia Putellas (Best Women's Player)
    Emma Hayes (Best Women's Coach)
    Christiane Endler (Best Women's Goalkeeper)
    Denmark men's national team (FIFA Fair Play Award)
    Erik Lamela (Puskas Award)
    Denmark and Finland fans (FIFA Fan Award)
    Cristiano Ronaldo (FIFA Special Award)
    Christine Sinclair (FIFA Special Award)

  • False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez

    The irony of Everton sacking Rafael Benitez on the day Carlo Ancelotti won the first trophy of his second Real Madrid stint was not lost on the Goodison Park faithful.

    Ancelotti stunned Everton in June by leaving to return to Madrid. While there can be no comparison between Los Blancos when it comes to allure, it cut deep that a manager who seemed committed to a long-term project on Merseyside, had left at the first opportunity.

    Not that Ancelotti's 18 months at Everton had been a roaring success. His final game was a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City – the heaviest defeat of the Italian's managerial career, in his 1,167th match.

    That result condemned Everton to a 10th-placed finish. Just City and Manchester United won more away games last term in the Premier League, yet the Toffees suffered nine home defeats, with only the three relegated sides losing more on their own turf.

    But there was a feeling that Everton might have enough to push on under Ancelotti, should reinforcements arrive.

    Instead, it was former Liverpool boss Benitez, who had replaced Ancelotti for an ill-fated spell at Madrid in 2015, who arrived at Goodison.

    An unpopular pick among the fanbase, the Spaniard was always starting from behind the eight-ball.

    As was inevitable, the experiment failed. Benitez was sacked on Sunday after defeat at lowly Norwich City with Everton lingering six points above the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 league games (the club's joint-worst Premier League run) and facing the prospect of hiring a sixth permanent manager since 2016-17.

    False promises

    From Benitez's first news conference, it was clear that Everton, lavish spenders in recent years, were going to be cutting their cloth in line with tight financial limitations.

    "You have to work in the context of having a director of football, the board, and financial restrictions," he said after becoming only the second manager to take over Everton and Liverpool. "Talk the talk and walk the walk? I prefer to walk the walk."

    Only £1.7million was spent, but Everton started the league campaign brightly. Indeed, ahead of a September 13 game with Burnley, they had scored seven times, as many as they had in their last 10 games last term.

    After a 1-1 draw with United on October 2, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games, the most since they had gone on to secure a fourth-place finish in the competition in 2004-05 (16). 

    Was that optimism built on solid foundations, though?

    Benitez's system was based on counter-attacking, with Everton happy to surrender possession. Only once before October had they had more than 50 per cent of the ball (51.71 v Burnley).

    It is a trend that has continued, with Everton – who have had more possession than only three top-flight teams across the season – only seeing more of the ball than their opponents on three further occasions. In each of those games, they lost.

    However, to be a counter-attacking team you must be solid, and Everton are not. They have shipped 34 goals, with only four teams having weaker defences, while 11 goals have been conceded from set-pieces, the second-worst figure in the league (Ancelotti's team only allowed 10 from dead-ball situations in 2020-21).

    But since Everton's woeful run started with a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17, they have taken the lead just once – in a 5-2 home defeat to Watford. It is hard to sit back and play on the break if you are constantly chasing a game.

    In total, the Toffees have spent 36 per cent of games losing this season (when the ball has been in play), and only 12 per cent of the time ahead. West Ham (12) are the sole team to have gained more points from a losing position than Everton (11), so at least Benitez's men showed resolve on occasion.

    From October 17, Everton rank 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139), 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), 15th for chances created (93) and have the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded). They have an expected goals against (xGA) of 20.6 in that timeframe, the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

    Everton did play forward under Benitez (41.6 per cent of their passes were in an attacking direction, up from 32.9 per cent last season) but on only 86 occasions have they strung together a move of 10 passes or more, which ranks them 18th in the league, while their 490 passes/crosses is the fifth-lowest total.

    The bright sparks in that run have come from moments of inspiration. Demarai Gray's stunning winner against Arsenal or Richarlison's overhead kick at Norwich. Gray has been a standout performer, scoring five league goals from an xG of only 2.7, but it felt like there has been too much onus on the winger in recent weeks.

    Though injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure must be taken into account, Benitez's mantra became "I know what the fans want", but he appeared to be talking the talk rather than walking the walk. 

    Falling outs

    With Everton craving stability and unity, it is odd that owner Farhad Moshiri (more on him later) turned to Benitez, who was never the right pick to unite the fanbase or stabilise the club.

    He has fallen out with owners, sporting directors and high-profile players at previous clubs and, indeed, his time at Everton proved no different.

    Director of football Marcel Brands, who signed a contract extension in April, was moved on when Everton fans protested over the running of the club back in December, following a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool. 

    Evertonians' worst nightmare had played out, their rivals singing Benitez's name at Goodison after a humiliating defeat. It was the first time the Reds scored four goals in an away league derby since a 5-0 win in 1982, and Brands paid the price. His recruitment department followed, with director of medical services Dan Donachie having already left.

    Everton offered their full backing to Benitez and five days later, claimed a vital win over Arsenal. But a cloud hung over that victory.

    Since his arrival at Everton, Lucas Digne was second only to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold for chances created by a Premier League defender (211). The France international had spoken openly of having been asked to play a more defensive role under Benitez, though behind the scenes matters appeared to boil over in a reported training-ground row.

    Digne was dropped and did not return bar, for reasons known only to Benitez himself, to take a seat on the bench in a 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. The full-back received applause from the crowd when he warmed up, but did not come on despite Everton needing an equaliser late on in a game in which they only made two changes.

    Last week, Digne was sold to Aston Villa. The sale eases the financial issues but leaves Everton without their third-most creative player (22 key passes) in the league this term. Indeed, only Andros Townsend (2.13) has crafted more opportunities for them this season than Digne (1.69) per 90 minutes.

    With Digne and James Rodriguez, who left for Qatar in September, gone and Gylfi Sigurdsson not involved, Everton are without all three of their leading creators from 2020-21.

    Moshiri mayhem

    Benitez leaves with a 26.3 win percentage from 19 league games. Only Mike Walker performed worse in the Premier League era. His dismissal should have come sooner, it seemed pointless delaying the inevitable.

    But for his faults, he is not the root cause of Everton's issues and owner Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright must look in the mirror.

    Since Moshiri took over in 2016, Everton have recorded 1.37 points per game, ranking them 10th in the league, but a vast amount of investment has been made. So, what next?

    Roberto Martinez, who was sacked in 2016, is reportedly a leading candidate. The Belgium boss won 21 Premier League games in his first season in charge at Everton, guiding them to a record points total of 72, but he won just 22 games combined across the next two years.

    Lucien Favre has also been mooted. He averaged 2.08 points per game at Borussia Dortmund, a figure bettered by only Thomas Tuchel (2.09) and new boss Marco Rose (2.11), while the Swiss led the club to their third-best Bundesliga points tally in 2017-18. He could provide experience and a modern approach.

    Graham Potter seems to have ruled himself out. Wayne Rooney is doing terrific work at Derby County, might he be an option?

    For now though, Everton's immediate focus must be on avoiding a relegation scrap. 

    Assistant Duncan Ferguson, who remained unbeaten in the league in his spell in charge prior to Ancelotti's arrival, seems a logical pick to take over on a temporary basis, with Villa visiting Goodison on Saturday, to perhaps provide some of the spark missing during Benitez's doomed tenure and buy Everton time to make the right choice.

    With just 19 points from the first half of the season, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06 (17), Everton cannot afford to get this appointment wrong, too.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.