Mauricio Pochettino called for more trust and urged the Chelsea fans to offer “unconditional” backing to his young team after they progressed into the FA Cup semi-finals with a roller-coaster 4-2 win over Leicester.

Stoppage-time goals by substitutes Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke settled a last-eight clash that had everything, with Leicester reduced to 10 men after Raheem Sterling’s missed first-half penalty, while the Blues’ Axel Disasi also produced extraordinary own goal.

When Disasi fired his back pass beyond goalkeeper Robert Sanchez in the 51st minute, it offered Leicester a lifeline and they levelled in stunning fashion 11 minutes later when Stephy Mavididi rifled into the corner.

The Stamford Bridge crowd were ready to turn when Sterling blazed a free-kick into the stand, which was met with boos, after the visitors were reduced to 10 men after Callum Doyle brought down Nicolas Jackson.

Pochettino’s decision to take off Mykhailo Mudryk and not Sterling was greeted with chants of, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, but the Chelsea boss had the last laugh, with Chukwuemeka slotting home in the first minute of stoppage time before Madueke curled home from range to clinch a Wembley return.

“For a second time, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, we are going to Wembley,” former Tottenham manager Pochettino insisted.

“When I arrived in England at Southampton, they said, ‘we need to go to Wembley, we need to go to Wembley’. In Tottenham, ‘we need to go to Wembley, we need to go to Wembley’.

“Now look in nine months in two different competitions we got to Wembley and we need to enjoy and we need to trust more.

“I am a very positive person. I really believe in our fans, I really believe in our club and I really believe the most important in our staff we have today because all the staff are fantastic. And of course our players.

“Young (players) but I am enjoying a lot trying to help them achieve what they want. Of course all together we will succeed, no doubt.”

Chelsea had started well against their second-tier opponents with Jackson impressively able to burst past Jannik Vestergaard to set up Marc Cucurella for a 13th-minute opener.

It should have been 2-0 when Sterling was caught in the area by Abdul Fatawu, but the penalty by the Blues attacker was poor and Jakub Stolarczyk saved the scuffed effort with his feet.

Sterling had taken the ball off Palmer, who had scored all five of his spot-kicks this season, although the duo combined before half-time with the latter able to sweep home for his 14th goal of the campaign.

A dramatic second half was to follow, but the Chelsea boss attempted to defend Sterling after he took his penalty record to five misses from nine kicks.

Pochettino added: “Raheem asked for the ball for the penalty and Cole gave the ball. You saw on the TV but that is not a problem.

“Cole can miss, Raheem can miss. For me, their decision and I will always support the decision of my players on the pitch.

“It’s obvious that I cannot hide nothing. You are like me, the feelings weren’t good for him (Sterling) but I am going to support him, we are all going to support him.

“We need to accept. It doesn’t mean we agree or not agree but we have to accept because our fans, all the fans in football live expectation and want the best for the club, the best for the players.

“Of course when you don’t match the expectation, this is difficult thing for our fans to understand. I was talking in the past and I am strong. I have no problem.

“We will keep moving in the same direction and of course we want to create better emotion. I cannot lie, I hope the next game our fans will be always unconditional behind the team because we are representing Chelsea.

“The players also want to give the best for the club and for the fans. We want to make happy our fans and we are going to try.

“I hope we can create until the end of the season a good connection with the fans, but I am never going to criticise the fans. Never, because they are entitled to say what they want.”

Leicester boss Enzo Maresca praised his team, adding: “The most important thing is we don’t lose our identity.

“It doesn’t matter if it is Chelsea or Bristol City. We are just working since the first day one way and we will continue until the end.”

Chelsea needed stoppage-time goals from substitutes Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke to edge past 10-man Leicester 4-2 in a wild FA Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side led 2-0 before the visitors stormed back to level, but a glorious flick from the excellent Cole Palmer set up Chukwuemeka to slot the ball into the corner to put Chelsea 3-2 up before Madueke gave the score some gloss with a brilliant solo effort.

Chelsea were two up at the break thanks to goals from Marc Cucurella and Palmer, while Raheem Sterling had a first-half penalty saved.

A surreal own-goal from Axel Disasi and a Stephy Mavididi goal improbably hauled Leicester back, before Callum Doyle was red carded late on.

Extra-time beckoned, until Pochettino’s subs won it.

Chelsea took the lead after 12 minutes and the move started with a powerful tackle from Moises Caicedo to win the ball on the edge of his own box. One pass released Palmer down the right, and he looked up to see Nicolas Jackson galloping clear and he crossed for the unmarked Cucurella to tap home.

After a strong Leicester opening the goal settled nerves around Stamford Bridge, but this has become a ground used to existing in a state of apprehension.

Robert Sanchez dithered and was nearly dispossessed by Patson Daka, with only good fortune sparing the goalkeeper’s embarrassment. Abdul Fatawu might have done better when he glanced a header wide at the back post from Daka’s cross.

Whatever frustration the winger felt, he moments later allowed it to get the better of him when he crashed through the back of Sterling inside the box for a penalty.

Sterling had scored only six goals in the league this season and took the ball out of the hands of usual taker Palmer, a move he would quickly regret. The penalty was hit low and centrally, and was saved by Jakub Stolarczyk.

He had the chance to make amends for his penalty blunder when sent clear by a fine through-ball from Caicedo but he placed a shot wide with only Stolarczyk to beat.

Sterling finally put things right in the final minutes of the first half. Receiving the ball in the box he ran it almost to the byline and crossed low from the left for the arriving Palmer to make it 2-0.

Chelsea were in full control, but five minutes after the break things altered in ludicrous circumstances.

Disasi received the ball back from a throw-in in the right-back position and was quickly put under pressure by Daka. Turning to play it to his goalkeeper, the Leicester forward nudged him at the moment of contact, and his pass span up and out of his control, sailing over Sanchez for a comical own-goal.

And the tie was level after 62 minutes.

Mavididi cushioned the ball wide on the left, turned and ran at Gusto. The defender backed off and with a swing of the right boot Mavididi sent a fine, arching shot round the dive of Sanchez and in.

It capped a stunning recovery from the visitors, but within minutes they were down to 10 men.

Jackson was tripped by defender Doyle and Andrew Madley initially gave a penalty and showed a yellow card. VAR showed the contact was outside the box, but as the furthest Leicester player back, Doyle saw red.

Madueke came off the bench and saw a first-time shot saved low to his right by Stolarczyk, before he skied one into the Matthew Harding Stand from 12 yards.

The last hope of avoiding extra-time looked to have slipped away. Then came Palmer’s flick, Chukwuemeka’s finish and Madueke’s crowning touch to send Chelsea to Wembley.

Erik ten Hag is relishing the challenge of overcoming Liverpool in Sunday’s crunch FA Cup quarter-final as Manchester United look to save their season.

All eyes will be on Old Trafford as Jurgen Klopp makes his penultimate visit as Reds boss against a side looking to keep their final route to silverware alive.

Liverpool have already won the Carabao Cup and would love to pile further misery on injury-hit United, who are looking to avoid their campaign heading into a tailspin.

A Wembley semi-final would prove a welcome shot in the arm for Ten Hag’s side before returning to their push to climb the Premier League and sneak Champions League qualification.

Asked if he trusts his players to save the season for him over the coming weeks, Ten Hag pointed to the collective and said: “I think we have to save the season.

“But we know we have to catch up in the Premier League but now we have an opportunity to win silverware. The only opportunity is the FA Cup, so we are only three wins away but big games and we have to play our best.

“Sunday is a test for us, but we like the test, we like the challenges and we can be, to a certain range, relaxed because we believe in ourselves. But on Sunday we have to prove (that).”

Ten Hag spoke with calmness and confidence at a time of scrutiny as ambitious new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos look at the best way to take United back to the top.

The Dutchman won the Carabao Cup, reached the FA Cup final and finished third in the Premier League in his first season in charge, but pressure has mounted as things have gone awry this term.

United face an uphill battle for Champions League qualification and exited Europe before Christmas, but setbacks and adversity could improve their resolve.

“So, of course, it’s about sticking together,” Ten Hag said. “You have to face it together and make sure we are always on one page together. You know around Manchester United there will always be noise.

“Don’t get distracted from it and know together where we are going. What is the project? But also what is the process?

“Then everyone knows why we are in the position that we are and how can we improve it? Then the attitude, always give your best. Every day deliver, then finally you will achieve your aims and your goals.”

Harry Maguire, Rasmus Hojlund and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are set to bolster United’s squad on Sunday after returning to training this week, so too reportedly is summer signing Mason Mount.

Liverpool were also looking at the England international before he left Chelsea for Old Trafford, where he has enjoyed a challenging start to life and has missed the last four months with a calf issue.

“I’m convinced he will be (a key player),” Ten Hag said. “He didn’t have the chance to prove this point. But he will be a very good player for Manchester United.

“It’s really unfortunate and disappointing for him but also for us when you have such a class player in the middle and you can’t play him.

“He has had three injuries as we all know, so he didn’t have any time to come into a rhythm. But I am sure that when he is fit and he will play and get into that rhythm, then he will contribute to a successful Manchester United I’m sure.”

Pep Guardiola praised the attitude of his Manchester City players after they became the first team in the history of the FA Cup to reach the semi-finals in six consecutive seasons.

Two deflected strikes from Bernardo Silva secured a 2-0 win over Newcastle and the first of what City hope will be three visits to Wembley before the end of the season as they remain in the hunt for a second consecutive treble.

Guardiola is keen to deflect talk of that but praised their consistency, pointing to their record both in the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup, which they won in four consecutive years between 2018 and 2021.

“After we won the treble, and five titles, we’re coming to the international break with two months left and to be in contention for all the titles means a lot,” the City boss said.

“I know people talk about the Premier League, the Champions League, but to have won four Carabao Cups and (reach) six FA Cup semi-finals in a row, this team, this club, has something special, so it’s incredible.

“Of course we want to win all of them but sometimes this is not possible basically for the quality of the opponents and the schedule we have…but we were there six times in a row.

“Always you can have a bad night or a bad afternoon and to be there six times, you didn’t have a bad night. And for those that doubt the consistency of the team you prove they are wrong.”

City effectively put this tie to bed early on. The opener came in the 13th minute when Silva’s right-footed strike looped up off Dan Burn and into the net, and just after the half-hour mark, the Portugal international cut on to his left to hit a shot that found its way in off Sven Botman’s head.

Silva signed a one-year contract extension in September, but while his terms run until 2026, the 29-year-old has been the subject of long-running speculation over a move away.

“Everybody loves him,” Guardiola said of the midfielder. “He is really important for us and that he stays is really, really important.”

Newcastle ended City’s aspirations in the Carabao Cup in September with a 1-0 win at St James’ Park, but have since suffered home and away defeats in the Premier League to the reigning champions, and rarely threatened to trouble Guardiola’s side here, managing only two attempts at goals all game.

Manager Eddie Howe was pleased with how his defenders marshalled City’s attack and could only rue the deflected nature of the goals.

“Of course the goals are difficult to take, especially the first one with a big deflection to fly into the top corner,” Howe said. “That’s the football gods working against us in that respect. I thought the lads gave everything today.

“Manchester City are very difficult to play against at any time but when they’re in that kind of mood, they pick those players with a technical base, their aim was to keep possession and make it difficult for us. We’re trying to unsettle their rhythm, it’s a really delicate game and I thought we did OK.”

Defeat ensures Newcastle’s wait for a major domestic trophy will continue into a 70th year. They sit 10th in the Premier League, a long way from the side that finished fourth last term, but Howe is still targeting a return to European football.

“I don’t think we can feel sorry for ourselves,” Howe said.

“This season could have ended up very different, some of the big moments have gone against us, but we have to take responsibility for that.

“We will come back. The two-week break has come at a good time for us to let this result sink in and then focus on our last 10 games in the Premier League.”

Two deflected strikes from Bernardo Silva saw Manchester City become the first team in the history of the FA Cup to reach the semi-finals six seasons running with a 2-0 win over Newcastle.

Pep Guardiola may not want to talk about the prospect of a second treble, but his side are now unbeaten in their last 22 games in all competitions going into the international break after what turned into a Saturday evening stroll in the Manchester rain.

Newcastle can point to a crippling injury list, but the team that ended City’s aspirations in the Carabao Cup back in September could barely lay a glove on them this time, finishing the match with only two efforts at goal to City’s 16.

Guardiola made five changes to the side held 1-1 at Liverpool last weekend, some of them enforced after injuries to Ederson and Kevin De Bruyne, but his players did not skip a beat as they dominated play from the off.

Silva’s 13th-minute opener was the hosts’ first real sight of goal but it had all been City up to that point as they looked for an opening.

When Silva took a stride forward in the Newcastle box, he found space to try a curling shot which deflected off Dan Burn to leave Martin Dubravka wrong-footed.

The second goal came in the 31st minute. Where Silva hit the opener with his right foot, this time he cut inside on to his left and looked for the far post, instead finding the net with the help of Sven Botman’s head.

Newcastle needed a response as the game threatened to get away from them before half-time. In the 36th minute Burn headed Jacob Murphy’s ball back across goal to Alexander Isak, but his well-struck shot was kept out by the left palm of Stefan Ortega.

The German goalkeeper would have always expected to play in this match as Guardiola’s regular cup starter, but it was a welcome sign for City given the injury Ederson suffered at Anfield last weekend.

At the other end a lovely spin from Phil Foden put the England man through on goal, but Bruno Guimaraes did well to force him wide as his off-balance shot missed the target.

They kept the pressure on in the closing minutes of the half as Dubravka saved from Jeremy Doku and then, from the resulting corner, kept out Ruben Dias’ close-range header.

And City were straight back on it at the start of the first half as Foden’s flick released Doku, whose low shot across goal was well saved by the goalkeeper.

Erling Haaland, whose scored five goals as City brushed aside Luton 6-2 in the previous round, then tried his luck, taking the ball from Mateo Kovacic on the halfway line and driving at the Newcastle defence before curling a shot narrowly wide of the post.

The third goal that might have killed the game off completely would not come, yet City rarely looked troubled.

In the 65th minute Silva was dispossessed and Newcastle substitute Miguel Almiron charged at goal. Isak, in plenty of space to his right, demanded the ball but when it came, the pass was behind him and the chance – a rare one for the Magpies – disappeared.

City sent on Oscar Bobb, scorer of their stoppage-time winner at St James’ Park in January, and Julian Alvarez as they kept looking for a third, but Haaland was twice denied late on.

Wolves boss Gary O’Neil described the behaviour of Coventry counterpart Mark Robins “disgusting” after he celebrated his side’s remarkable FA Cup quarter-final win in the face of a 13-year-old ball boy.

The Championship outfit stunned their Premier League opponents with two goals in added time to seal a 3-2 victory and book a first semi-final in this competition since they won it in 1987.

It was after Haji Wright’s winner at the death that Robins showed a rare sight of emotion by celebrating in front of a ball boy, who had irked him moments before.

Robins offered an unprompted apology in his press conference after the game, but O’Neil said the teenager was left distressed.

“I was disappointed, I waited for Mark downstairs and spoke to him because I was really respectful at the end, having lost a massive game, waited for them to finish their celebrations, shook everyone’s hands, congratulated them on a real good performance, reaching Wembley and what a fantastic achievement it was,” O’Neil said.

“And he apologised, but to celebrate in a young boy’s face like that I thought was disgusting, the boy is really upset. It shouldn’t happen, but I don’t have too much to say about it because we have lost and it’s going to seem bitter.

“But I thought it was really important to speak to Mark about it because they are just kids doing a job.”

Robins was regretful afterwards and admitted to letting his emotions get the better of him.

He said: “I have an apology to make, before the winner went in, the ball boy has the ball, a young kid, so I am apologising to him, he has the ball in his hand, drops it and walks away smiling.

“It really annoyed me, but he’s a kid, at the end of the day I have reacted, we scored the goal and I went and celebrated in front of him.

“I apologise to him. I do not show emotion very often and before that happened I apologise to him, I don’t show emotion very often but that is what the FA Cup does to you. I apologise to him unreservedly to him.”

It is little surprise Robins was emotional given the manner of an unbelievable climax at Molineux.

It looked like they would be leaving with broken hearts after two goals in the final 10 minutes from Rayan Ait-Nouri and Hugo Bueno overturned Ellis Simms’ opener and seemed to set a Wembley date for Wolves.

But the Sky Blues were not done and in nine minutes of time added on they turned the last-eight tie around again, with Simms grabbing a second and then Wright earning himself folklore by grabbing the winner.

They are into just a second semi-final in this competition, with the last one coming en route to lifting the cup 37 years ago.

With some of the teams still left in this year’s edition, Robins is not overly optimistic of a repeat of that famous win over Tottenham.

Asked if he thought they could win the competition, Robins said: “Did you say win the competition? You do realise who is left in?

“Well, we have got a small chance. We are going to Wembley and we are going to enjoy that game, I don’t want to go there and just make the numbers up. We know, are not stupid, the levels go up all of the time.”

Coventry stunned Premier League Wolves with two goals in injury time to seal an amazing 3-2 win and book a first FA Cup semi-final appearance since 1987.

The Sky Blues went on to win the competition that year in one of the most famous finals ever and they kept their hopes of another unlikely triumph this season alive after a remarkable climax at Molineux.

It looked like they would be leaving with broken hearts after two goals in the final 10 minutes from Rayan Ait-Nouri and Hugo Bueno overturned Ellis Simms’ opener and seemed to set a Wembley date for Wolves.

But the Championship side were not done and in nine minutes of time added on they turned the quarter-final tie around again, with Simms grabbing a second and then Haji Wright earning himself folklore by grabbing the winner.

It was a dramatic ending to a breathless derby, which the Championship side probably deserved to win.

Coventry survived a couple of early scares as Mario Lemina and Nelson Semedo missed chances, but having absorbed the pressure, the visitors missed a golden chance of their own to go ahead and Simms will not want reminding of it.

After Jose Sa had palmed Kasey Palmer’s shot into the path of Jake Bidwell, the wing-back set up a simple tap-in from close range after rolling the ball across goal, but Simms got his feet in a mess and somehow put his shot straight at Sa.

The momentum had suddenly switched and two more glorious chance came for Coventry before half-time as Simms played in Milan van Ewijk, who looked prime to score until Sa made a fine block and the Wolves keeper was grateful to an unmarked Palmer for cushioning the ball straight at him.

The Sky Blues finally made the breakthrough eight minutes after the restart as Simms made amends for his earlier howler.

Liam Kitching headed a free-kick back across goal to the far post where Simms appeared to bundle the ball in with his arm.

But it survived a lengthy four-minute VAR check to give the travelling supporters a second chance to celebrate.

They should have been celebrating another goal soon after as their side bombarded Wolves’ goal.

Sa had to make a double save, first keeping out Wright’s effort with his feet and then parrying away Josh Eccles’ effort from the rebound.

After Sa then rolled the ball to Matt Doherty, the Republic of Ireland wing-back was dispossessed in a dangerous area and Palmer put a shot agonisingly wide.

They could have done with one of those chances going in as the inevitable Wolves onslaught came in the final 20 minutes.

Joao Gomes saw a vicious effort tipped onto the post by Bradley Collins and then Ait-Nouri hit the other post with a header soon after.

But Wolves remained ragged at the other end and only a one-man show from Sa stopped Coventry from killing the tie.

The Portugal keeper pulled off three big saves to keep the score at 1-0, palming away efforts from Simms and Callum O’Hare and then denying Kitching at close range.

And he was rewarded as Wolves levelled in the 83rd minute when Joel Latibeaudiere could not clear a cross and Ait-Nouri slammed home the loose ball.

The writing appeared on the wall for Coventry as Ait-Nouri surged forward, playing in Bueno, who made no mistake.

But in the sixth minute of time added on Simms headed home at the far post after Bobby Thomas had flicked on Bidwell’s cross.

There was time for more drama as in the 10th minute Simms teed up Wright to steer Coventry to a famous victory.

Eric Ramsay believes Manchester United have all the ingredients to go to the next level under Ineos – but Erik ten Hag’s former coach felt he had to leave for a dream first managerial job at Minnesota United.

The 32-year-old swapped Uniteds following March’s derby defeat at Manchester City, with his move to the Twin Cities seeing him become the youngest permanent manager in Major League Soccer history.

It is an exciting new chapter in an impressive coaching journey that led Ramsay to Swansea, Shrewsbury and Chelsea before joining Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching set-up in June 2021.

Initially focused on individual players and set-plays, the Welshman’s remit broadened over time and he is looking forward to putting his experiences into practice as Minnesota’s second-ever head coach.

“I have never been desperate to be a head coach by a certain age or a certain point,” Ramsay told the PA news agency ahead of his first match in charge against Los Angeles FC this weekend.

“But I felt naturally I was sort of gravitating toward that opportunity coming.

“I’ve had some opportunities over the course of the last two years to go into the Championship or League One and for whatever reason haven’t pursued those.

“The club itself is phenomenally well set up. The ownership is really stable. I think that’s incredibly attractive for a first-time head coach.

“From a club perspective, the league and the wider US context, in terms of the competitions being held here in the coming years, the general feel around the sport, I think it’s as perfect an opportunity as I’ll get.”

Ramsay also had a stint working with Wales during his time at United, where he felt like he squeezed in a lot at an institution that garners “endless attention” and “feels like no other club”.

The 32-year-old never got caught up in the background noise – “if you as a coach were to be too drawn into that then you’d lose focus on what you’re there to do” – and enjoyed his time there despite the difficult spells.

“To have the opportunity to be one step removed from three managers and Michael Carrick, working at Man United over two-and-a-half years, I don’t think you’re getting better preparation for your own role as head coach because it’s a really trying set of circumstances with a lot of intensity,” Ramsay said.

“(Erik) is obviously incredibly focused, has real conviction as to how he wants the team to play, how he feels the group should be managed, as you’d expect of anyone who hits that level as a manager.

“Obviously, he’s had some difficult circumstances to deal with this year, so hopefully once that gets cleaned up then we’re going to see the trajectory recaptured that we saw last year.”

Injuries have proven the main difficulty in a bumpy season and Ten Hag is under the spotlight heading into Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against rivals Liverpool.

But Ramsay is confident better times lie around the corner at Old Trafford, having been impressed by new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his Ineos team.


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“As has been presented in the media and as I’m sure you’ve heard lots of people say, the Ineos vision for Man United is really exciting,” Ramsay said.

“They, as well, have a lot of conviction in how elite sports teams should look and feel.

“There is a genuine Ineos way that I think the combination of that and the way in which Erik wants to operate, it could be a really exciting combination.

“I think you’ve got some phenomenally bright people now attached to the club, through the likes of Dave Brailsford and the people that they will inevitably bring in to wrap around the existing structure.

“So, I do think all the ingredients are there for the club to really move on to the next level.

“I said this to the Ineos guys as I was leaving, I’m loathed in some senses (to go) because I think I was probably a nice fit for the way in which they wanted to go about things.

“I felt like it would take a lot from them and their way of working.

“But, personally, I felt like this opportunity from my individual perspective was one that I couldn’t turn down in spite of all that positivity around the club.”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk believes Joe Gomez’s England recall is fully deserved as the team’s popular utility man continues to impress.

It was not that long ago that speculation was linking the defender with a move away as he dropped down the pecking order at Anfield.

However, this season he has taken over the mantle of the veteran James Milner, who left for Brighton in the summer, in terms of being a reliable performer in a number of positions.

His 40 appearances have come across the back four, with a couple as an emergency holding midfielder, as injuries piled up in February and that versatility is something which appeals to Gareth Southgate, who included him in his squad for the first time since 2020 for next week’s friendlies against Brazil and Belgium.

“I’m very happy for him. To be honest, me and Ibou (Ibrahima Konate) have been saying for quite a while he definitely shouldn’t book any holidays in this international period as he will definitely be in it,” said Van Dijk.

“Still, it’s been such a long time for him. The work he has put in day in, day out – him and his family – not many people see but he has been outstanding the whole season and I’m delighted.

“Let him get his chance and then he will show he should stay in the squad.”

Gomez could be deployed in either full-back position or as Van Dijk’s partner for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

It is a credit to him that his performances have not dropped despite being shifted around the pitch and the fact he is still only 26 means his best years are still ahead of him.

Asked what had changed, Van Dijk added: “Playing more helps, of course, but it’s the confidence he plays with as well in any position across the back line and a couple of games as a holding midfielder.

“He’s doing great, he’s a fantastic player.”

Manager Jurgen Klopp trailed Gomez’s selection after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City, when he praised his performance and suggested it was a simple decision for Southgate.

“I don’t think my comments had a lot of influence. Wasn’t necessary really, Joey deserves it, absolutely,” said the Reds boss.

“The season he has played so far is absolutely exceptional. We would not be where we are without Joey. He’s played so many different positions. Really happy for him.

“I saw on his face he was very happy about it so it’s good news. Now, let’s play the (United) game, he can go there, and hopefully comes back healthy and we can play the rest of the season.”

Mauricio Pochettino admits some of Chelsea’s younger players are struggling with the pressure of playing for the club.

The big-spending west London side have floundered in mid-table all season, with their summer overhaul of bringing in young talent from across Europe so far yet to bear fruit.

Chelsea had the chance to claim a trophy last month, but a number of missed opportunities cost them dear as they lost the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool after extra-time.

And Pochettino believes not all of the club’s signings have settled in as well as star man Cole Palmer, who scored his 11th Premier League goal of the season during the Monday’s 3-2 win over Newcastle.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup quarter-final with Leicester on Sunday, Pochettino said: “One thing we cannot change is to give time to the players to get experience and be more mature.

“In the same time that you ask me about Cole Palmer, not all the players have the same process of settling in at the club or to perform.

“Yes, we are in a process that the main group, the main young players…of course they struggle a little bit to deal with the pressure to play for Chelsea.

“That is the thing we are, of course, aware of and we are focusing on trying to help them in all the areas.

“Because when you have this young squad, it’s not only to help them in training, in the two hours maybe of that. We have spent a lot of time talking with the people that work around these guys, who are important too.”

Chelsea brought in over a dozen new players last summer – as well as coach Pochettino – as they looked to build on a hugely disappointing 2022/23 campaign which saw them finish 12th in the league and suffer early exits from both domestic cup competitions.

One of the newcomers was Nicolas Jackson, who joined the Blues from Villarreal for a reported £29.8 million, and, after a difficult start in England, he took his league tally for the season to nine goals with the opener against Newcastle.

That is one less than former Chelsea star Didier Drogba managed in his first year at Stamford Bridge and Pochettino believes the 22-year-old Senegal international is a player on the rise.

The Chelsea boss said: “You all are now seeing how he is improving. The most difficult thing was to support him when it was tough. I told you I really believe in him.

“I believe he is going to be very successful here.

“He has the quality and the capacity. Now he is doing much better but still needs to improve a lot. The numbers are similar to Drogba in his first season.

“That maybe gives the fans more belief in him and to be a little more patient with him, but always it depends on the circumstances.

“Now I hope people can start to understand he has the condition to be very good.”

Chelsea’s struggles this season sees them down in 11th spot in the table, but with seventh-placed West Ham only four points ahead and having played a game more, there is still a possibility of securing European football for next season.

That may be the Europa Conference League, but Pochettino says Chelsea – Champions League winners in 2012 and 2021 – will respect any competition they are in.

He said: “We need to accept the reality and if we arrive at the end of the season and we qualify for the Conference League, we need to accept and respect the competition and go to try to win the competition.

“We need to accept the reality. I am not going to say nothing, it is an international competition.”

Pep Guardiola hopes to have the Jack Grealish of last season back for the closing stages of Manchester City’s latest push for silverware.

Grealish, a key part of City’s treble success last season, has endured a frustrating campaign this time around.

He missed a month early in the season with a dead leg and a groin problem has limited him to just one appearance in City’s last seven games.

The 28-year-old also had a spell out through illness and had personal matters to deal with after a high-profile burglary at his home.

His form has suffered and, with other players excelling in his place, he has not been able to get a consistent run in the side.

Yet he could return as City take on Newcastle in the FA Cup quarter-finals at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday and Guardiola believes the player can get back to his best.

The City manager said: “We’ll see. We have this game and then two weeks where he will work hard and as clever as possible to be ready when we come back.

“He’s trained the last two or three days really good. He feels good and positive.

“Saturday maybe we’ll need him and then he has these two weeks especially to work well and come back.

“Then we can have the Jack that unfortunately this season we had few, few times – and he can help us.

“Always we dream of arriving at the last international break of the season in all competitions.

“Jack has helped us but not like last season. That’s why the most important thing is to recover well from this minor injury and take a good condition in case we need him.

“I’m not going to say how important Jack is – of course he is. But he has to be ready.”

City will come up against one of world football’s standout players in Jude Bellingham when they face Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League next month.

The holders have been drawn against the Spanish giants for a third successive season and Guardiola recognises they are a tougher proposition with the Englishman in their midfield.

City overpowered Real in last year’s semi-finals with a 4-0 win in the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola said of Bellingham: “His impact has been massive. It’s a different team from last season. His influence is obvious, and we have to try to discover what he does to control it.

“Facing Real Madrid is always a tough challenge, nobody can deny it. They are an exceptional club, and in this competition can control many things with the experience they have had in the past.

“We have made steps in the last few years but it could be so difficult.”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk takes inspiration from world’s best sportsmen and tries to live by NBA great LeBron James’ ‘strive for greatness’ mantra.

Last week the pair were pictured together in an advertising campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers – and Reds’ minority shareholder – star’s signature clothing collection for the club.

It is the second collaboration from the NBA’s all-time leading points scorer and while Van Dijk has yet to meet or even speak to LeBron, they have exchanged messages and the 32-year-old believes he can learn from someone seven years his senior.

Lebron sent him a video message in which he said: “I know you will lead this club on amazing things. Strive for greatness.”

“We haven’t spoken but we have had messages passed between us. I saw the billboard this week and it is amazing,” said the Netherlands captain.

“That phrase that he uses is perfect and it could be used for a lot of things. For me personally I definitely try and follow that because I want to achieve the most I can in life and get the maximum out of myself, the team and the position we are in. We are in a good place to do that this season – again.

“Funnily enough I look at all the top athletes at the highest level because I feel like they all have a big role, either as a big role model or for their team and community and there are so many things you can learn.

“The way they conduct themselves on the pitch or on court, also what they do in order to be great.

“There is LeBron, (Novak) Djokovic, Roger Federer, Tom Brady – I could name so many. I like to listen to these guys and learn with how they dealt with being at the top and dealing with difficult moments but also good moments.

“We always hear about the negative sides but you also have to deal with the positives.”

Van Dijk’s assertion that Liverpool are in a good place is down, in no small part, to the return of the imperious form which made him the world’s best defender a few years ago before an ACL injury.

He scored the goal which won them the Carabao Cup last month and is the cornerstone of a team which sits second in the table behind Arsenal only on goal difference.

Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester United represents the third leg of a potential quadruple, with Atalanta awaiting in the last eight of the Europa League.

“Every season is always a challenge but this season we are in a special situation,” added the Dutchman.

“There are no guarantees but we feel like it is quite special with the way we have overcome things as a group, situations like the news of the manager (leaving at the end of the season).

“I feel very comfortable this season in every aspect of the game. Obviously confidence is a big driver but in general I think I have made big steps in possession. I think there are a lot of things that just clicked again.

“I feel really good and the responsibility I have has helped that but I feel that I have made steps again in possession, in the way I defend and I really enjoy that, I want to continue enjoying it and see what it leads to.”

After lifting his first trophy as Liverpool captain at Wembley, Van Dijk aimed a barb at his critics by saying ‘They thought I was finished’.

“I shouldn’t have said that. That was part of the emotion coming out of me because there were so many emotions going through my whole body that day,” he explained.

“Last season was disappointing. Not disappointing in a way that I was bad, I didn’t feel like that at all, I was just below my standards and the consistency wasn’t there that I have had and set for myself in every game.

“I fully understand the noise that came with it but I am a human being and not immune to any of that.

“Maybe in one way it was good to say because it gets it out of me – but I don’t like noise around me.”

The FA Cup returns this weekend as the remaining sides look to seal a semi-final trip to Wembley.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the main talking points around the four fixtures.

Can underdogs Coventry tame Wolves?

The lowest-ranked side left in the competition travel to Gary O’Neil’s impressive Wolves on Saturday lunchtime looking to cause an upset. Coventry sit eighth in the Sky Bet Championship and are hoping to return to Wembley, where they suffered an agonising play-off final defeat to Luton at the end of last season. The Sky Blues are dreaming of a first FA Cup semi-final since they went on to win it 1987, while Wolves are determined to reach the last four for the first time since 2019.

Newcastle attempt to dump City out of another cup

Treble winners Manchester City had dreamt of making it a quadruple this season, but Newcastle had other ideas. Alexander Isak’s goal knocked Pep Guardiola’s men out of the Carabao Cup in September and the Magpies have the chance to end their other domestic cup campaign on Saturday night. The FA Cup holders are favourites to progress at the Etihad Stadium, but they will have to do without star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne through injury.

Leicester try to give Chelsea the blues

The Foxes’ main focus is making an immediate return to the Premier League, but Sunday offers the Championship leaders a free hit and break from their stuttering promotion push. Enzo Maresca’s men had looked dominant until a month ago, losing three and drawing one of their last five league matches.  The 2021 FA Cup winners travel to a Chelsea side looking to put a poor Premier League campaign behind them and continue towards another final. Mauricio Pochettino’s side suffered an extra-time defeat to Liverpool in February’s Carabao Cup final and will look to avoid a shock slip-up at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool look to compound Man United’s misery

The quarter-final weekend ends with the most mouth-watering fixture as bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool go toe-to-toe. Jurgen Klopp’s men already have one cup under their belt this season and have the chance to end United’s last hope of silverware in his penultimate visit to Old Trafford. Erik ten Hag is under pressure after a poor season impacted by a swathe of injuries and progress to the semi-finals would be a huge shot in the arm. If United lose, there is sure to be plenty of talk about his future throughout the international break as ambitious Ineos look to turn the club around.

Gary O’Neil is refusing to getting carried away by dreams of FA Cup glory at Wembley, insisting Wolves cannot afford to look any further than their quarter-final date with Coventry.

O’Neil’s side have a big opportunity to book a place in the last four when they take on the lowest-ranked team left in the tournament on Saturday, but nothing is being taken for granted at Molineux.

“None of my attention is on winning it, it’s on beating Coventry tomorrow,” said O’Neil.

“It’s tough (to win a cup), you need a lot to go your way. This will be a huge test and we need to get through it.

“I’m desperate to give the fans more enjoyable moments. We will need the fans to help, especially when you have players missing.”

O’Neil was deliberately coy about exactly which individuals would not be available, eager not to offer the Sky Blues a helping hand in their planning.

“We’ve decided not to do injury updates today, with a big game tomorrow,” he said.

“I’m sure our fans will understand giving team news away before an FA Cup quarter-final will hand unnecessary advantages to the opposition. It’s important we keep stuff in house, that’s why we haven’t named the team yet.”

Pedro Neto and Jean-Ricner Bellegarde are two obvious concerns having picked up knocks in the 2-1 Premier League victory over Fulham last time out, though there is more encouraging news on Matheus Cunha.

He has been out for more than a month with hamstring trouble but is ahead of schedule with his comeback.

“He’s in a great mood and the lads are really pleased to have him back in training,” said O’Neil.

“It’s an unbelievable effort for him to get back into full training as quickly as he has.

“It’s now on us to manage him the best way we can and get the best out of him. We were expecting to be without him a lot longer than we have been.

“We’re delighted to have him back in training and it’s given the group a real lift.”

Wolves last appeared at this stage in 2018-19, upsetting Manchester United 2-1. Republic of Ireland full-back Matt Doherty is the lone survivor from the XI that defeated the Red Devils and is ready for a different challenge this time.

“I managed to get into a semi-final a few years ago with Wolves, and we should have won, so I really want to get back there this year,” he said.

“Our run hasn’t been filled with ‘huge’ games against United and all the other teams, but that’s the whole point of the cup competitions, you play a variety of teams from different leagues.

“Obviously, we’ll be favourites against Coventry, and we are at home. We’re not going to take anybody lightly, but we’re pretty confident.”

Pep Guardiola is relishing another clash with Real Madrid after Manchester City were pitted against the Spanish giants for a third successive year.

Champions League holders City will take on the competition’s record 14-time winners in the quarter-finals of this season’s competition next month.

The two clubs have met in the semi-finals for the past two years, with Real winning in 2022 but City avenging that loss – wrapped up with a 4-0 win at the Etihad Stadium – last term.

“It looks like a little bit of a tradition, three years in a row playing the kings of the competition,” said City manager Guardiola following Friday’s draw.

“Hopefully we can arrive in a good moment but there are still a few weeks before the first game in Madrid.

“When people say draws are easy, you undermine the other opponent but it’s not necessary to say what Real Madrid are in this competition. When you play the latter stages you play against the best teams in Europe and Real Madrid are totally there.

“But all the opponents are really tough, everybody knows it. We were excited before the draw because it’s a privilege every time we are here. It is a special competition.”

City’s immediate priority is Saturday’s home FA Cup quarter-final tie against Newcastle.

It will be the fourth time the two clubs have faced each other this season, with City edging both Premier League meetings but the Magpies prevailing in the Carabao Cup.

Guardiola said: “This season and the previous one, and the previous one – since Eddie Howe was there and the people from Saudi Arabia took over – they have always been tight games.

“I don’t expect differently but we have an incredible chance at home with our people. From now on, until the end of the season, we need at every home game the support of our fans like we had against (Manchester) United.

“I can’t remember an environment like that for a long time and we need that tomorrow.”

City will be without key players Kevin De Bruyne and Ederson but Jack Grealish is back in contention after missing six of the last seven games with groin trouble.

“He’s getting better,” Guardiola said. “He’s in the group.”

De Bruyne was this week left out of the Belgium squad after it emerged he carried a groin injury into last week’s draw at Liverpool.

“He’s not ready,” Guardiola said. “He played at Anfield with some problems but he’s getting better.

“He’s not ready for tomorrow and we spoke with the Belgium manager Domenico Tedesco and he decided not to go. I’m grateful because he didn’t feel good.

“He can recover for the last part of the season. All the players today in modern football are not clean, always they have problems. It’s better to take a step back.”

Goalkeeper Ederson, who suffered a thigh injury as he fouled Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez to concede a penalty, should also return after the international break. Stefan Ortega will deputise this weekend.

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