Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea are “awake” after recent results that have altered the course of their season ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The meeting with Liverpool at Wembley will be the club’s first final since co-owner Todd Boehly took charge and embarked on a radical overhaul that has so far not brought success.

It comes after wins away at Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, which were followed by a fine draw against champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago.

Those three performances have significantly changed the perception of Pochettino’s rebuilding of the team, after the last home game – a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge early in February – saw Chelsea booed off the pitch by sections of their own support.

Days earlier they were soundly beaten 4-1 at Anfield by Sunday’s opponents, a disjointed performance in which the team looked to be in disarray and well short of expectations set by the more than £1billion spent by Boehly on recruitment.

Now the the Argentinian is confident that the last three weeks have brought a significant change in his players’ ability to compete at Wembley with title-chasing Liverpool.

“We will need to manage some moments during the game,” he said. “But I think in the last few weeks we’ve learned a lot, we’ve stepped up from (the defeat at Anfield). We arrive with very good momentum.

“After competing against Villa, Palace and Manchester City, it’s provided the team with the confidence and the trust.

“The team is awake to the competition. There was a click to change in the way we compete, that we were missing in the first half of the season.

“The circumstances are completely different (now), for us and for (Liverpool).”

Since the game at Anfield, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost a number of key players to injury including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones.

Pochettino has selection worries of his own, with Thiago Silva to be assessed having missed the last three games.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is available after injury but Djordje Petrovic, who has impressed since coming into the side early in December, could keep his place.

Klopp has stated he believes his team are not favourites at Wembley, an idea the Chelsea manager rejects.

“(Klopp) is clever enough,” said Pochettino. “He knows that when you play a final, anything can happen. If they’re not the favourite, then we are not the favourite.

“For me Liverpool is the favourite. After eight years they have the experience to compete like a team, and be involved in different finals.

“For our players, it’s new. For some of them it’s maybe their first final. That’s why they are favourites, in my opinion. But he is clever enough to say it’s 50-50.”

Pochettino added that his team may ultimately be stronger for their chastening night on Merseyside in January.

“In this type of process, you need that these type of things happen,” he said. “You need to really wake up about the situation.

“The team needs to learn from the good and the not-so-good experiences. It was positive.

“After Liverpool, that result was completely unfair. But maybe that was good for us, to feel the pain, the negative situation, to be stronger now, and to find the way to compete better.”

Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart has revealed he wanted to end his playing career on his own terms and could not imagine finishing it at any other club.

The 75-times capped England international this week announced his decision to retire at the end of the season, when he will be 37.

The former Manchester City player rejuvenated his career after moving from Tottenham in the summer of 2021, adding a clean sweep of Scottish domestic trophies to his full collection of English major honours.

And he wants the focus on his future to quickly switch to his attempts to continue that success as Celtic bid to rise to a strong title challenge from Rangers after losing top spot in the cinch Premiership last weekend.

Hart said: “I have loved every moment of being here, myself and my family, it’s been everything and more than I wanted it to be, and I will be forever proud that I represented this club.

“The most pleasing thing for me is a lot of the people here respect that I come and I give my all. Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of times when people wanted me in, wanted me out, but that’s the life of a goalkeeper. But ultimately you are respected as a person, and welcomed into a really special club.

“I will be 37 at the end of this season. What direction the club wants to go, whether I fitted into that, I wasn’t too sure. We didn’t even have that conversation.

“I certainly wasn’t interested in going and trying to play anywhere else.

“So I felt, right, I wanted to be strong and fit and ultimately happy. If there is such a thing, I feel I am in that place, and I feel like it’s the right time.”

Hart, who made his first-team debut for Shrewsbury 20 years ago, added: “I looked at what age I’m going to be, I’m aware of all the stresses I have put myself through body-wise all through my career.

“I didn’t really want to wait and be told. And with the cycle of the three years I have managed to do here, I wasn’t interested in playing anywhere else. It just felt right.

“I felt like I know and I wanted the club to know because I have a lot of love and respect for this club and I want the club to move forward to bigger and better things.

“No-one needs the speculation of whether a regular starter is going to be offered a contract, sign a contract, whether he is looking elsewhere. That’s a needless narrative when all of us are on the same page so I thought it was important to address it.

“There will be a couple of days of noise but after that no-one will care. ‘Oh right, Joe is retiring at the end of the season, Celtic need a goalkeeper, but right now he is there and he is going to be head down and fully fighting for this special club’.”

Hart’s decision gives manager Brendan Rodgers one less big call to make as he plans for what appears to be a crucial summer transfer window.

“I think we are very clear on what we need to improve on within the team and the squad,” said Rodgers, who welcomes Alistair Johnston and Cameron Carter-Vickers back from injury for Sunday’s trip to Motherwell.

“But certainly with Joe going, that really quickens that up in terms of needing to bring in someone for next year.”

New Crystal Palace boss Oliver Glasner warned he was “no magician” as he prepares for his first game in charge of the relegation-threatened side.

While there will no doubt be changes coming at Selhurst Park, the Austrian’s message in his first press conference at times echoed his predecessor Roy Hodgson who, in the weeks leading up to his departure last Thursday, liked to remind critics that he did not have a “magic wand.”

Glasner, who led Eintracht Frankfurt to Europa League glory in 2022, takes over a Palace side five points clear of the relegation zone and 12 ahead of Saturday’s opponents Burnley, still missing a trio of their most influential players, and in recent weeks playing in front of an increasingly disillusioned fanbase.

The 49-year-old, who took charge of his first training session on Wednesday, referenced the famous American illusionist as he said: “I’m no magician. I’m not David Copperfield.

“But what I always tell the players is the same for me. You can grow with your challenges, and it’s a challenge for me, it’s a challenge for all of us, but I’ve had a warm welcome from all the players, from the whole organisation, also from the British weather the last few days.

“It made it really easy to start the players listening. The players have great character. We’ve had more meetings than training sessions on the pitch, but I really think we all did well together.

“Now it’s up to us to get the confidence back. It was a short week but the players are listening, are willing, are open-minded and this is what I like.

“I don’t expect that there will be something totally different tomorrow because that is not possible – sorry, no David Copperfield here – but I feel this is a great team with great character fighting for each other, fighting for a win.

“What I can promise is that it is always our basic (philosophy), the only thing I expect from my players in every game is that we give 100 per cent to win this game.”

Glasner, who spent almost his entire playing career as a defender for Austrian side SV Ried, had spells leading Ried and LASK before moving to the Bundesliga where he led Wolfsburg to Champions League qualification and then joined Frankfurt.

He was in talks to take over from Hodgson when the 76-year-old’s contract expired at the end of this season but was instead announced ahead of schedule, replacing a man already under pressure and rumoured to be on his way out before he was hospitalised after falling ill during a training session on Thursday.

Glasner sees himself as a glass-half-full character when it comes to the relegation battle and, in a meeting with league officials, checked to see where his naturally expressive nature on the touchline could get him into trouble.

He added: “I was used to sprinting down the sidelines and celebrating with my players. I try to be calm but sometimes I’m not calm.

“I don’t know what you will see tomorrow but everything you will see, this is Oliver Glasner.

“I cannot change in two days and I don’t want to change. If I feel the emotion, I want to show it.”

Pep Guardiola has bluntly responded to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s aim to knock Manchester City “off their perch” by pointing out he speaks “the truth”.

Ratcliffe completed his purchase of a 27.7 per cent in Manchester United this week and immediately set out his ambitions to restore the club to the top of the English and European game.

He did this by reprising the language of Sir Alex Ferguson, who similarly pledged to rein in Liverpool in his early days as manager at Old Trafford.

United have won just one trophy compared to City’s 14 in the past six seasons and Guardiola feels Ratcliffe’s acceptance of the Blues’ current pre-eminent status is the Red Devils’ first step towards a fightback.

The City manager said: “It’s the truth! As (soon) as the teams admit it, they will be closer to us.

“If they want to deny it for things that are not the reality then it’s their problem. It’s not our problem.

“When I’ve been below teams I’ve always admired them and thought about what we need to do to be close, to challenge them.

“If they want to be judged on things they are comfortable with for one day they will not arrive where we are now.

“When we were below and United were winning, we were watching them, admiring them. We wanted to learn from them.

“The period of Sir Alex Ferguson – the generation with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville – and all those big, big players, Rio Ferdinand – I’m pretty sure City admired and thought ‘we want to be there’. Now we are there.

“That’s why, for these type of comments, that I have the feeling that they will be back.”

While Guardiola now expects United to improve under the guidance of Ratcliffe, who has taken control of footballing operations at Old Trafford, he insisted it was not something that concerned him.

The Spaniard said: “It’s not about (being) worried. I’m pretty sure with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the other people that United are going to take a step forwards.

“I feel that they know exactly what they have to do, appoint the people they need to appoint with their experience in the business world to make projects better.

“But that is normal. It’s not just United. All the teams want it. We want to be there and as long as I’m here, we will try to be there again.

“What I want is Man City, my team, being there. The rest, I don’t care.”

Second-placed City travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday with a chance to cut the gap to leaders Liverpool to one point in what is their game in hand.

Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne was not risked in the midweek win over Brentford due to what Guardiola described as “niggles”.

He would not confirm if he would return this weekend but said he was “pretty sure he will travel”.

Guardiola said: “He’s good. He’s not injured. He’s better but I don’t know if he’s 100 per cent. I think we took a good decision not to take a risk.”

Real Madrid striker Joselu is facing a spell on the sidelines after tests revealed an ankle problem.

The 33-year-old Spain international, who has scored 14 goals for Madrid this season after joining on loan from Espanyol, has been diagnosed with a bone oedema in his right ankle, the Spanish giants have announced.

Madrid have not said how long Joselu is likely to be out for but reports in Spain suggest he could be absent for around three weeks.

That would rule him out of Sunday’s LaLiga visit of Sevilla and several other matches, including the Champions League last-16 second leg against RB Leipzig on March 6.

A club statement read: “Following tests carried out on Joselu by the Real Madrid Medical Services, the player has been diagnosed with a bone oedema in his right ankle. His progress will be monitored.”

Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are six points clear at the top of LaLiga with 13 games remaining.

David Moyes has revealed West Ham have offered him a new contract, but he has yet to decide whether to stay at the club.

The Hammers manager’s current deal ends this summer and there was some doubt he would be offered a new one given their struggles since the turn of the year.

However, it seems Moyes is in charge of his own destiny in east London, and he could even opt to follow Jurgen Klopp’s lead at Liverpool and walk away at the end of the season.

Moyes, who is more than four years into his second spell at West Ham, said: “There’s a contract there for me.

“I’m the one deciding I want to wait until the end of the season, to make sure everything is correct, to concentrate on this season.

“I’ve really enjoyed my four years. I’ll see my contract out.

“There are plenty of reasons. I’ve got to make sure it’s the right thing for the club, for me and my family. I’ve spoken to the board. I’ve had a fabulous four years. We’ll sort it out but I’m happy to wait.”

Moyes guided West Ham to their first trophy in 43 years in last season’s Europa Conference League final, but some supporters have turned on him again after a run of eight matches without a win.

They have lost their last three in the Premier League, conceding 11 goals and scoring none, and were dumped out of the FA Cup by Bristol City.

However, much like last season, Europe is Moyes’ saving grace and the Hammers have got a favourable draw against Freiburg in the last 16 of the Europa League.

West Ham have already beaten the Bundesliga side twice this season after meeting them in the group stages, although their fans were banned from the away fixture due to the trouble at the Conference League final.

“We’re looking forward to going back and playing them again,” said Moyes.

“They were the toughest team in the group. We have to go back again and see if we can win for a second time.

“I don’t think that makes it any easier. The group was tight, the games were close. There’s no big difference.

“There are some big teams in this competition, the leaders in Germany, the leaders in this country. You’re trying to avoid them as much as you can.

“But it’s a tough game. They’ve just beaten Lens, who were in Arsenal’s Champions League group, giving you an idea they are a good team.

“The good thing about it is we knew we’d have European football after Christmas for the third year in a row, we’re really pleased.

“Once you get this far you want to see if we can get to the next round. We’ve had a few brilliant years in Europe.”

Philippe Clement declared Rangers as underdogs for the first time since he became manager after the Light Blues were drawn against Benfica in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The cinch Premiership leaders are scheduled to travel to Portugal for the first leg on March 7 before the return game at Ibrox a week later.

Benfica sit joint-top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga table with rivals Sporting Lisbon, having played a game more.

Clement, who took over the Ibrox hot seat from Michael Beale and who has dragged Rangers from seven points behind Celtic to two points clear of the Hoops at the top of the cinch Premiership ahead of the visit of third-placed Hearts on Saturday, surveyed a difficult but winnable European tie.

“It is a really exciting challenge because it is a very good team,” said the Belgian boss, who confirmed midfielder Todd Cantwell will be out for three to four weeks with a hamstring injury while striker Kemar Roofe returns to the squad after another lengthy spell out with injury.

“I think it will be the first game since I have been here that we have been underdogs in a game. That is the reality.

“I don’t see us as underdogs against Celtic. I see us as two teams at a similar level competing and so that is different to Benfica.

“I saw them last season against my old team Club Brugge and they were very impressive (won 7-1 on aggregate). But it doesn’t mean that we cannot qualify.

“We believe in our qualities and with the mentality that is in this group now, we can beat everybody but we have to be at our top form and we also need to have luck in key moments in the game.

“Of course European nights are important for the club and the stature of the club but you need to be realistic.

“You have to look at your budget, what you spent, the value of your squad and compare that.

“So in that way Benfica are in front of us but there is a really special story developing here and there is a lot of motivation, hunger and desire and with that we can do really amazing things so that is what we are going to try to do in those two games.”

Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund is due to miss next weekend’s derby against Manchester City after suffering a muscle injury in a significant blow for manager Erik ten Hag.

The in-form 21-year-old, who had scored seven goals in his last six appearances for United, will sit out Saturday’s Premier League match against Fulham and Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Nottingham Forest.

United said the Denmark international is expected to miss two to three weeks, a timeframe that would also rule him out of the trip to the Etihad Stadium a week on Sunday.

“It’s a small injury, two to three weeks,” Ten Hag said in Friday’s press conference. “That’s what happened, that is the risk playing high intensity, training. It’s not a big injury but he has to wait now for two, three weeks.”

Hojlund’s injury – which comes in the same week that Luke Shaw was ruled out for several months – leaves Ten Hag short of options in attack with Anthony Martial already sidelined until April following a groin operation and it is likely that Marcus Rashford will be asked to play in a central role.

Ten Hag was speaking for the first time since Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of a minority stake in the club was ratified and after the billionaire gave a wide-ranging interview in midweek in which he laid out ambitious plans to knock the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool “off their perch”.

Ten Hag said he and Ratcliffe, whose Ineos group have taken control of footballing operations following the deal, are on the same page.

“We speak a lot, we have many conversations with him and with Dave Brailsford (Ineos director of sport) about this club, about the team about the structures,” he said. “We are very aligned. Their ambitions fit with the ambitions I have, with the ambitions I had when I came in.

“We are in that project now. For me, I’m 18, 19 months in and I see (things) go in the right direction. We had setbacks in the second season but you see the team coming, you see the squad progressing and developing.”

And the Dutchman denied that he would find himself under increased pressure given the expectations that Ratcliffe will have for the club. United have won four in a row in the league but remain five points adrift of the top four.

“No more pressure because we have the same ambition, we have the same targets,” Ten Hag said. “I see the process and I see this team is developing, it’s progressing.

“I see we have now also the right age across the squad, we can make that even stronger and they will grow and we will do everything in our power. There is strong competition and there are reasons behind it.

“We still have to catch up in the moment where every game is a final for us because we have to be in the Champions League. The players want this, the team want this but we have to believe.”

Injuries, however, could be the thing that derails United’s bid to break into the top four.

Hojlund and Shaw have joined an injury list that already includes Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Lisandro Martinez, Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia.

“Of course that is an issue but other clubs have this and we have to deal with this,” Ten Hag said. “I feel we can deal with it better but still it’s an issue with the depth of the squad, and the squad have to prove it.”

Xavi is not expecting Getafe to sit back at Camp Nou when they face his Barcelona side on Saturday.

Nothing else but three points will do for Barca if they are to keep their flagging La Liga title hopes alive, as they trail their bitter rivals Real Madrid by eight points with 13 games to go.

Xavi, who will leave his position as head coach at the end of the season after a difficult campaign, does not think a win will be easily achieved by his team against a Getafe side who occupy 10th spot.

“Getafe are not a defensive team, they are a brave team,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.

“They press very high up the pitch and they have picked up points at some tricky away grounds. They always compete and (coach Jose) Bordalas always gets the most out of his players, and that is worthy of praise.

“The points are very important for the battle for the league title. As long as we are mathematically involved, we will fight for it. Each week is a different story. We can’t drop points, less so at home.

“We would go to be in second place in the table (above Girona) and that will put more pressure on Girona and Real Madrid, who play later. We are not throwing in the towel, even though we know that it will be tough.”

Barcelona come into the match after a 1-1 draw away to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Wednesday.

“We will see how we come into the game, but it is the moment for the best players,” Xavi added.

“We will make some changes but not many, because it is a vital match. It would have been better to play on Sunday or Monday but that is no excuse.”

Barcelona are without Alejandro Balde (hamstring), who is sidelined for the rest of the season, while Marcos Alonso remains unavailable due to lower back pain, which has meant Joao Cancelo being forced to play at left-back.

“He is playing very well both on the left and on the right, his contribution is fantastic,” Xavi said about Cancelo.

“The instructions I give him are because sometimes he plays too high or too low. Also because he is closer to the bench for me (to communicate with). But he is a leader too, we are very happy with him.”

Manchester United have received a blow with in-form striker Rasmus Hojlund expected to be out for between two and three weeks with a muscle injury.

That means the 21-year-old will definitely sit out Saturday’s Premier League match against Fulham, and almost certainly miss the Manchester derby on March 3.

Hojlund has been in a rich vein of scoring form, netting eight goals in his last eight appearances for United. His brace against Luton last Sunday also made him the youngest player ever to score in six consecutive Premier League games.

A United statement on Friday read: “Rasmus Hojlund has suffered a muscle injury which is expected to rule him out for two to three weeks. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Rasmus.”

The Denmark international’s absence will leave Erik ten Hag short of options in attack with Anthony Martial already missing, and is a second significant setback this week following news that Luke Shaw will miss several months with a leg problem.

Jamaica's Cavalier and Dominican Republic's Moca FC will both have to play catch up in order to progress to the next round of the Concacaf Champions Cup, after they suffered 0-2 and 0-3 defeats to Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC in their respective Round One first-leg fixtures on Thursday.

Despite a gutsy performance, Cavalier were undone by goals from Sergio Santos (45+5) and substitute Malik Pinto (87th), much to the delight of a small FC Cincinnati fan base, which outcheered their local counterparts inside Jamaica's National Stadium.

FC Cincinnati started more purposeful and controlled the tempo of the game for the most parts, as their high attacking line forced Cavalier into a defensive posture from where they tried to catch their opponents on the counter.

By virtue of their consistent press, the visitors, which boasts the likes of out-of-favour Reggae Boy Alvas Powell, were always more threatening in opening play, and it took some good glovework from Cavalier's custodian Jeadine White, as well as the crossbar, to keep them at bay.

Santos's header from close range, was kept out by a well-positioned White in the 22nd minute.

Cavalier responded immediately after, on the counter, through Orlando Russell, whose effort was parried by FC Cincinnati's goalkeeper Roman Celetano.

FC Cincinnati again went close on two occasions in quick succession, first in the 33rd where the menacing Luciano Acosta's effort from a distance was parried by White, who got down well to his right, and the second a minute later through Santos, who caught White off his line, but his right-footer came back off the crossbar.

It took some desperate defending from Richard King and Jeovanni Laing, putting their bodies on the line to deny Acosta, who got through on twice in the 38th and 45th minutes. However, just when it seemed as if Cavalier had survived the storm, Santos broke their hearts when he poked home from a Bret Halsey on the stroke of the break to put FC Cincinnati 1-0 up.

Cavalier were more assertive on the resumption as they went on the probe for the equaliser, which they should have had in the 64th minute, but Shaniel Thomas failed to finish off a tidy team build up and was later dispossessed.

With the introduction of fresh legs, FC Cincinnati again went on the attack and almost doubled the lead in the 82nd, when Pavel Bucha met Acosta's weighted corner kick on the volley, but the effort grazed the crossbar on its way out.

Pinto, who entered the field in the 84th minute, eventually found the second for FC Cincinnati in the 87th when he drove home a right-footer from an Arquimides Ordonez backheel pass, to give his team a tidy cushion heading into their home leg on Wednesday.

MOCA FC vs NASHVILLE SC

Over in Dominican Republic, Hany Mukhtar and Sam Surridge each had a goal and an assist to lead Nashville SC to a 3-0 over Moca FC at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago de los Caballeros.

Mukhtar (12th), Surridge (25th) and Tyler Boyd (75th), got the job done for Nashville, who will be aiming to wrap things up on their home turf on Wednesday.

Nashville SC could not have asked for a better start, as they broke the deadlock in the 12th minute, when star attacking midfielder Mukhtar polished off a one-two combination with Surridge by finishing past goalkeeper Pascual Ramirez.

The dynamic duo of Mukhtar and Surridge hooked up again to produce Nashville’s second in the 25th. This time it was Mukhtar, who filtered a pass for Surridge to fire past Ramirez.

Moca started to threaten toward the end of the half and forced the Nashville defence into some nervy moments, especially when a Juan Angeles shot required a reaction save from Joe Willis, in goal for Nashville.

But Nashville later regained their momentum in the second half and after several looks at goal, they inevitably added a third through Tyler Boyd, who fired home in the 75th minute.

From there, it was just a matter of seeing things out for Nashville, who ensured Moca went scoreless, and maintain a very healthy advantage going into the return leg.

 

Premier League leaders Liverpool will face Sparta Prague in the last 16 of the Europa League, while Brighton face another glamour tie against Roma.

The Reds will travel to the Czech capital for the first leg on March 7, before a return at Anfield a week later in a competition Liverpool have won three times in the past.

Brighton’s maiden European campaign takes them to the Italian capital after they topped Group B containing Marseille, Ajax and AEK Athens.

Europa Conference League holders West Ham face German team Freiburg, while Rangers are up against two-time European champions Benfica from Portugal.

The Europa League final will take place in Dublin on May 22.

Liverpool reached the knockout phase of Europe’s second-tier competition by topping Group E.

Sparta are the reigning Czech champions and qualified for the knockout round play-off by finishing second in Group C. The clubs met in this competition back in 2011.

Brighton face a Roma side which reached the last 16 with a penalty shoot-out victory over Feyenoord in a play-off on Thursday night. The Giallorossi are in transition following the decision last month to sack Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho.

West Ham will feel confident of overcoming Freiburg, having beaten them home and away in the group stage earlier this season, while Scottish Premiership Rangers met Benfica in the Europa League group stage in 2020-21.

Aston Villa were drawn to face Dutch giants Ajax in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League.

Villa progressed as Group E winners and now face the Amsterdam club, who have been champions of Europe four times.

Ajax signed England midfielder Jordan Henderson last month, although he did not feature as they beat Norwegian side Bodo Glimt in extra time to progress from the knockout play-off round.

The first leg will be played in Amsterdam on March 7, with the return at Villa Park on March 14. The Conference League final takes place in Athens on May 29.

Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders believes it is impossible to replace Jurgen Klopp and the club should not try to find a replica but someone who can develop their own dynasty.

Klopp’s shock decision to step down at the end of the season began an unenviable task for owners Fenway Sports Group of finding a successor for a manager who has won every club honour – bar the Europa League – during his time at Anfield.

The German has the chance to add to his tally of trophies this weekend in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday and the finale to the season could see them contend for another three in what would be a remarkable send-off.

But Lijnders, who with the rest of Klopp’s backroom staff is also leaving, insisted there was no point in trying to find someone who would be a clone of the 56-year-old, with former Reds midfielder Xabi Alonso currently the leading candidate.

“No one can replace Jurgen Klopp. But I think the past showed already a few difficult transitions,” said the Dutchman.

“What was the most difficult transition inside this club was (Bill) Shankly saying ‘That’s me’. (Bob) Paisley stepped up and was completely different from Shanks.

“It shows, as a club, we have to search for someone who wants to grow, who has the mindset to develop.

“I think we did the right thing by announcing early so the club has real time to make this transition smooth but the past has already shown that it is really impossible.

“The (Pep) Guardiola team of Barca, he says out of nothing ‘That’s me’ and then Tito (Vilanova) took over and has the highest win ratio ever – that was probably the most difficult transition in the last 15 years.

“What I’m trying to say is they don’t have to replace Jurgen, they have to find a good, good manager because nobody will replace Jurgen.”

There was a concern that Klopp’s announcement could possibly derail a team which leads the Premier League, faces Southampton in the FA Cup next week and is favourite for the Europa League, having been drawn against Sparta Prague in the last 16.

However, that has not been the case with five victories and just one defeat since the news broke and Lijnders said that was down to the mentality within the dressing room.

“I think you underestimate our squad, the personalities in it,” he added.

“They have been through a lot already, in recent history but also how they grew up; a lot of these boys had to show character from a young age – not everything went easy for them.

“A lot of us get a lot of criticism but we grow with this, it only feeds us. All these boys know how to deal with it.

“A lot of these boys didn’t win anything with Liverpool yet so of course they give everything despite the manager saying he is leaving.

“We are stable enough to deal with it. That’s what I thought before – but you never know. It is in the back of your mind but I, we, trust the squad enough that they can deal with that.

“We never make it more complicated than it is and I like that. It is the next game, that’s our final – and it is a final so let’s give everything on this planet to win this one and give joy and emotion to the fans.”

Liverpool will make a late decision on the fitness of forwards Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez, who both missed the midweek win over Luton, and midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who has not played since the league win over Chelsea at the end of January.

FC Cincinnati asserted their dominance in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round One series, securing a convincing 2-0 victory over Jamaican club Cavalier in the first leg at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.

The match witnessed early and intense action, with both teams having promising opportunities to score within a span of 30 seconds. Sergio Santos of FC Cincinnati initiated the action, heading a shot at Cavalier goalkeeper Jeadine White. In response, Cavalier's Orlando Russell's shot at goal was thwarted by a save from FC Cincinnati custodian Roman Celetano.

Santos came close to breaking the deadlock in the 34th minute, striking the crossbar with a powerful shot. However, his persistence paid off just before half-time when Bret Halsey found Santos, who skillfully slotted home a shot, giving FC Cincinnati a 1-0 lead.

In the second half, Cavalier aimed to stage a comeback and tested the FC Cincinnati defense. A crucial moment occurred in the 64th minute, with Shaniel Thomas, the top scorer in the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup, seemed poised to take a shot but FC Cincinnati's Yuya Kubo intervened with a last-ditch slide tackle, clearing the imminent threat.

Determined to further assert their dominance, FC Cincinnati sought a second goal and they came close in the 82nd minute when Pavel Bucha unleashed a volley from a corner kick that grazed the crossbar.

The coveted second goal materialized for FC Cincinnati in the 87th minute, orchestrated by a slick back heel from Arquimides Ordonez. Malik Pinto sealed the deal with a powerful and well-placed right-footed finish, securing the 2-0 victory and putting Cavalier on the ropes as FC Cincinnati will carry this advantage into the next leg, aiming to advance further in the competition.

 

Mikel Arteta believes Premier League officiating has improved since his “strong” criticism of VAR following Arsenal’s defeat at Newcastle in November.

The Spaniard labelled the decision to allow Anthony Gordon’s goal to stand in a 1-0 loss at St James’ Park as “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”.

Arteta was later charged by the FA for breaking Rule E3.1 – which could have resulted in a ban but was instead cleared in December.

Arsenal now host Newcastle on Saturday looking to keep up the pace in the Premier League title race, as well as bounce back from their 1-0 Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat in Porto on Wednesday.

Asked if he had seen an improvement in officiating and VAR since his post-match rant – which was backed up by an official statement from the club – Arteta replied: “Well that is what we all wanted.

“That at the end the decisions are better and I think the last stats that came across show that there was a significant improvement and a lot of the decisions they were getting right, so hopefully that is the case and we continue to do that.

“I talked the way I felt. I was very straight and I did it in a way that was pretty strong but within the law because I didn’t get charged for it and I think that tells the story.”

After impressive away wins at West Ham and Burnley, Arsenal suffered defeat in Portugal on Wednesday night to leave their Champions League progression in the balance.

Porto did a great job of slowing the game down at the Estadio do Dragao, with 36 fouls awarded – a Champions League record this season – before Galeno hit a last-gasp winner.

Speaking after the game, Declan Rice said that Arsenal need to improve their “savviness” while Arteta admits his players need to develop their level of streetwise.

“Yes, we certainly can develop a lot of things and those experiences are really relevant to judge whether we were or we weren’t,” he replied when asked if the team need to improve their darks arts.

“I believed that they did a lot of things right. But managing games and things like that, we can still improve.

“But in a year’s time for sure we can still improve and we can improve in our build-up phase and we can improve in our restarts. We can improve in many areas.

“I don’t know if it is about (being) a bad guy but you have to be tricky, you have to be smart, you have to be streetwise and you have to try to take advantages in every situation. They know that.
 
“That’s a thing that has to be developed – you don’t have it, that’s for sure. The best teams, the best players, they have that.”

Arteta revealed that Thomas Partey could return on Saturday evening, with a number of other recent injury absentees pushing to be in contention.

Partey has not played since suffering a thigh injury in October, while Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko could also return – while Takehiro Tomiyasu is still out.

Arteta also offered up good news on Jurrien Timber’s return – the summer signing having been out since suffering a serious knee injury on his Premier League debut in August.

Asked if Timber could play again this season, the Spaniard said: “I really hope so. He’s doing really well.

“He’s been with some players on the pitch. He’s going to start to do some bits with us on the pitch in the next week or so.

“Then we’ll have to see how he’s doing, his confidence level, his fitness level. Hopefully the answer will be yes.”

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