Rio Ferdinand has heaped praise on Manchester City after the club finally achieved its long-standing aim of reaching the Champions League final, while hailing Phil Foden as ‘the best young player in the world.’
City dazzled against a Paris Saint-Germain side which quickly lost its head inside the Etihad, with Angel Di Maria receiving a straight red card in a painful 4-1 aggregate defeat.
Ferdinand was left in awe by the performance of his once rivals, and reserved a specific segment of praise for the 20-year-old Foden, who did not look an inch out of place against the world’s best.
‘At the moment I would say Phil Foden is the best young player in the world right now on form,’ Ferdinand said from the BT Sport studio in the aftermath.
‘[Erling] Haaland is yet to play at this level. In terms of this moment, Foden is the best on form.
‘They’re doing it in a fantastic manner. I’m not a City fan but I enjoy watching them play football. Mahrez, Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva, Gundogan, they interchange, the fluidity they play with – it’s total football.
‘By the end of it they were taking the mick, it was embarrassing for PSG, a team who are full of experience and full of winners. Huge hats off to Pep and his team.
‘[It was a] Totally dominant display – we were wondering “is it a step too far?” The last 45 mins in Paris was a pivotal moment, we wondered “can they carry the same momentum?”
‘[Ruben] Dias and [John] Stones were impenetrable, Foden and Mahrez were immense going forward, Fernandinho was superb at the age of 36, it was a very, very good performance from a top, top team.’
Fellow pundit Joe Hart was in full agreement with Ferdinand, noting that Foden is coming from humble beginnings in north west England to dominate at the highest level of world football.
‘Look at his [Foden’s] freedom. His name is Phil, he’s 20 from Stockport and he’s lighting it up! It’s so important for Man City to have a player doing that,’ Hart added.
City have now progressed to the last two of the competition for the first time, and will feature in the Istanbul final on May 29 in the Ataturk Stadium.
There they will meet the victor of Chelsea and Real Madrid, whose second-leg clash will be concluded on Wednesday night.
The tie is finely poised at 1-1 after Thomas Tuchel’s Blues put on a bold performance in the Spanish capital, with a vital away goal coming courtesy of Christian Pulisic.
Crystal Palace and Aston Villa served up a feast of attacking football in the early kick off at Selhurst Park.
The hosts twice came from behind to level proceedings, before Tyrick Mitchell scored his first professional goal to give Palace all three points in a 3-2 victory.
Both sides went into the match with little to play for, and it resulted in an end-to-end classic which saw a massive 42 shots between the two sides.
Palace managed 23 themselves, the most they’ve had since firing 25 efforts at West Ham’s goal in 2019, with Villa letting fly 19 times at Jack Butland’s goal.
Nine different Villa players registered a shot in the match, while Eberechi Eze led the way for his side with seven efforts himself.
Only one Premier League match has bettered that total tally so far this season – Manchester United and Leeds when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side beat the visitors 6-2 at Old Trafford.
There were 43 shots that day, with United responsible for 26 of them as they ran riot against a care-free Leeds team.
It was perhaps less of a surprise to see so much attacking action between those sides though, with Leeds playing in six of the 15 matches in the Premier League this season that have seen the most shots.
Villa have featured just once on that list of matches with the most shots, with 39 in their match against Marcelo Bielsa’s side at home earlier in the season.
The tally at Selhurst Park was unexpected, certainly from the hosts’ perspective. Palace average just 9.2 shots this season, with only Sheffield United and West Brom producing worse numbers than that.
Dean Smith’s side are more reliable when it comes to attacking output though, their tally of 13.7 shots a game bettered by only the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea.
This was the final match both sides will play before fans return to stadiums midweek – supporters will be hoping their teams have left some excitement in the tank for when they are in attendance.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is optimistic Harry Maguire will be fit to lead Manchester United into the Europa League final against Villarreal.
Maguire damaged the ligaments in his left ankle at Aston Villa eight days ago and is racing to be back in time for the final in Gdansk on May 26.
‘He’s making progress but we’ve consciously taken the route of not testing him out too quickly because we don’t want to aggravate something,’ said Solskjaer.
‘Harry wants this so much, so he doesn’t want to take any risks either. We decided early on to focus and be positive and think that you’re going to make it until you have to say no. I’ve always been an optimist so we’re positive.
‘Harry is our leader and our captain. He’s been more or less ever-present. He is a big miss at the moment. I will give him as long as he needs, until he says yes or no.’
Solskjaer faces some difficult selection decisions and none more so than in goal, where he must choose between Dean Henderson and David de Gea.
Both goalkeepers have played in the Europa League this season. ‘Both have done really well so it will be a difficult call, of course,’ said Solskjaer.
‘It’s probably a different scenario with the keepers than it’s normally been because they’ve shared close to 60 games and both are around the 30 mark.
‘It is always difficult — the human side. You want everyone to get the experience but then you have to pick your 11.’
FA Cup hero Youri Tielemans will hold contract talks with Leicester at the end of the season as the Foxes plan another assault on English football’s elite next term.
The Belgium midfielder has been Leicester’s best outfield player this season and crowned a superb campaign with a memorable winner at Wembley as Leicester beat Chelsea 1-0 to lift the Cup for the first time in their 137-year history.
Tielemans has two years left on his contract and a new deal would see him move closer to Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel at the top of Leicester’s pay league.
Sportsmail understands defender Caglar Soyuncu and forward Harvey Barnes are also in line for new deals.
Leicester have traditionally made one big sale per summer — N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell have all departed in the last five years — but Champions League qualification could prove a game-changer, with the extra funds and prestige it will generate.
They would secure a top-four finish in the Premier League by winning at Chelsea on Tuesday and the importance of that fixture means that celebrations after Saturday’s triumph remained low key.
Leicester have not yet made firm plans to show off the Cup to supporters as they prepare to welcome them back to the King Power Stadium for the first time since March last year.
The way the club have managed their ticketing means that, in theory, none of the fans in the stadium against Tottenham on Sunday would have been at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Rodgers believes Leicester’s season must already be judged a success, regardless of what happens in its final week.
They have already secured qualification for the Europa League for the second successive season thanks to the Wembley triumph.
He said: ‘Success for us is fighting with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. People talk about it not being a good season if we drop out of the top four, but we are competing with some of the richest clubs in world football, and that is success.’
Valerien Ismael has had this feeling before: it’s the combination of tension, anticipation and the wonderful unpredictability of the unknown.
‘It’s the same feeling when you date your wife for the first time,’ says Barnsley’s impressive French manager, 45.
‘It’s exciting, it’s nerve-racking and I’m grateful for the possibility for everyone to meet each other on Monday (with supporters back). It’s a great feeling to have such a finish at Oakwell this season.
‘To have the fans back in the stadium is fantastic. I’ve been here for six months without any of that, so I’m looking forward to hearing the noise from the crowd. There may only be 4,500 but I want them to make a noise like 30,000!’
There will be no issue on that front. Barnsley, whose wonderful and unexpected rise under Ismael has carried them to within 270 minutes of the Premier League, are ready to grasp the moment in their Championship play-off against Swansea.
This has been one of the stories of the season. Barnsley were as far removed from promotion candidates as could be imagined when Ismael arrived, but a run of 13 wins in 19 games, which started on February 14 at fellow play-off contenders Brentford, has left them daring to dream.
Ismael has made Barnsley fiendishly difficult to face, with a direct, high-pressing style, and there is no sense from a man who has been linked with the Crystal Palace job that this will be a step too far.
Swansea are something of a bogey team for Barnsley — they are unbeaten against them in the last 12 league and cup meetings, dating back to December 2008 and won both fixtures in the Championship this season 2-0.
But Ismael is paying no heed to that fact and does not believe those performances are a guide to what will happen over the next five days. If anything, he has turned the situation on its head. Barnsley’s only win against Swansea in the last 38 years was on penalties in the 2006 League One play-off final.
‘It’s a motivation against Swansea that we lost twice to them during the season, because we want to change the story,’ said Ismael.
‘We have a completely different team from then with probably five different regular starters since we last played them.
‘We’re more confident and have built a massive momentum over the last few months. We respect them and their quality but we deserve to be here and we want to show why. We’re not just here to have a good journey, we have a big desire to make a great game in the first leg.
‘We have so many key players who can make the difference. The big step we’ve made this season with the team is that the danger comes from everywhere and that is the big improvement.
‘We are at the next level. We want to put ourselves in a good position for the second leg.’
That sound you heard from north London on Saturday evening was not just a football crowd. It was the sound of English football finally getting up off its knees.
Youri Tielemans’ second-half winner for Leicester to settle a memorable, magical FA Cup final will be recalled as one of this cherished institution’s great strikes.
The shot was delivered so truly by the cultured Belgian that it barely deviated in flight. That is incredibly difficult to do with the modern football.
But on a cold late spring day in the capital, that moment 18 minutes into the second half seemed to carry an even greater resonance than a goal to win a big football match usually does.
This was the afternoon when our game was finally allowed to look to the future again and it felt even more liberating than anybody could really have expected.
There were only 21,000 supporters inside Wembley on Saturday — only a quarter of its capacity. Yet it certainly sounded like more. The injection of real life back into an important sporting occasion was tangible and moving.
Football and its public have inched their way through the Covid-19 pandemic with more fortitude, dignity and grace than many would have predicted. But the echo of matches played in isolation has never lost its deep sadness. Indeed, the longer it went on, the deeper that feeling began to penetrate.
Those who felt 12 months ago that supporters were not intrinsic to the beauty of this game have been proved wrong and here was the evidence.
The atmosphere at Wembley built steadily from the moment the Cup final hymn, Abide With Me, was so beautifully sung before kick-off.
It even survived a poor first half and by the time Tielemans’ winning goal flew into the Chelsea goal, it began to feel as though a dam had finally burst.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said: ‘It has been such a difficult year for the supporters. This game is about the connection between players and supporters and we have missed that so much.
‘For us to win a final against a great club like Chelsea means everything and it means even more that so many people were here.’
This was a final that certainly felt like it had an appropriate winner.
That is not to be dismissive of a likeable Chelsea team. Thomas Tuchel has coached his side superbly since taking over from Frank Lampard in January and Chelsea beat Manchester City in the semi-final. They had earned their place at Wembley.
Nevertheless, Leicester were virgin winners and celebrated as such. The club from the East Midlands had not even contested an FA Cup final for more than half a century.
To steal a quote from one of Rodgers’ former clubs, this really did seem to mean more.
It is tempting to wonder what supporters of those many clubs who no longer seem to take the Cup seriously were thinking as they watched from home.
The FA Cup has without doubt lost some of its sheen over the years, dulled by comparisons to the Premier League and big European competitions.
So many Premier League managers tend to treat it as an inconvenience in the early rounds. Yet here our favourite cup was, in all its visceral glory.
Yes, tomorrow’s league meeting between these two clubs is arguably as important. Whoever wins will have one foot in next season’s Champions League. That will bring money and profile.
But what will Leicester supporters talk about in years to come? Without doubt it will be this, the day their club bathed in glory, the day they felt silver in their hands.
The scenes at full-time were magically old school. Players clad in maroon wept on the field. Rodgers — such a fresh and inventive coach —was given the ‘bumps’ by his team.
There were modern twists, too. Kasper Schmeichel — who produced a save for the ages to deny Mason Mount an equaliser — appeared to be speaking to his family, possibly his father Peter, by video call on his phone.
Up in the stands, a late VAR decision in Leicester’s favour was celebrated with as much abandon as had been the winning goal. Maybe it’s not such a bad system after all.
Leicester desperately wanted to win a cup final and this was a cup final worth winning, a game of football that not only nodded to one of our sport’s great traditional days out but also to a future that has for so long seemed so dark.
This was only one step on the road back to freedom. Challenges remain, but it was a taste of what we have all missed so much.
This was not a great FA Cup final in terms of the football. Leicester actually won it with their only shot on goal. Chelsea would have led at half-time had they had the run of the ball inside the Leicester penalty area.
They were the more assertive team at that point. But they were not unlucky, as Tuchel said afterwards.
Leicester’s goal was superb, Chelsea’s ‘equaliser’ was indeed offside.
Nothing unfortunate about any of that, nor about the fact that Roman Abramovich’s money has built a squad without a natural and reliable goalscorer in it.
How lovely, though, to debate all this. How terrific to look back on a day that felt warm and real and inclusive.
Those who were there will never forget it and one of them was England manager Gareth Southgate.
This occasion and all the overdue familiarity it returned to us will not have been lost on him.
Wembley this summer for the European Championship may yet be a rare old place to be.
In an interview published at the weekend, Steven Gerrard was perfectly clear about his long-term ambitions.
‘Would I love the opportunity at some point to be the Liverpool manager? 1,000 per cent,’ Gerrard told The Times.
‘Do I want that now? Am I ready for that now? No.
‘Do I love the club? Yes.
‘Do I have unfinished business there? Yes.’
Gerrard is manager of new Scottish champions Rangers. He is still relatively new to the profession. Liverpool, meanwhile, have a very good manager of their own. But watching Jurgen Klopp’s team beat Manchester United at Old Trafford last Thursday, it was hard not to think about what might be if Liverpool do not return to something like their recognisable selves next season.
It was Liverpool’s third goal that did it. It was born of desire and energy and killer instinct, Liverpool’s midfield terrifying United into mistakes and then punishing them. It was reminiscent of last season but not this one.
This one has been about regression and disappointment and relative failure.
Klopp’s team have lost key players to injury. Take two central defenders and a captain out of any team in the world and watch them suffer.
But the truth is that Liverpool have lost more than that this season. They have lost the very essence of what made them so frightening to play against over the previous two years and it will be interesting to see if they can get it back.
There is a theory in some circles that Klopp’s teams have a shorter shelf life than others, that some players simply cannot play his brand of fast-forward football for more than two or three seasons. It is not proven. But it exists. When the engine stalled during his years at Borussia Dortmund, things fell away quickly and what happens next at Liverpool will be viewed in that context, especially with someone like Gerrard in the background.
Klopp has a contract at Anfield until 2024 and has already said he will leave at that point. It feels about right.
It gives one of the stellar coaches of his generation time to refresh his team in a similar way to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Klopp deserves that time and more. However, football does not always work that way. It is an emotional sport and if Liverpool do not find themselves back on an upward trajectory again next season, then the calls for Gerrard will begin quickly.
Klopp has set the bar high. Two Champions League finals and a Premier League title. There have been times when it was almost impossible to spend an afternoon at Anfield without going home feeling utterly exhilarated.
But all those memories have served to make the last few months feel even more barren.
It is not necessary for Liverpool to win the league next season. City will begin as favourites. However, it does feel as though Klopp’s team must revert to type and quickly. If they don’t, it is clear what will happen.
‘Nothing says that Steven Gerrard, the ex-player and Rangers manager, will be at any point the automatic choice to be Liverpool manager,’ said Gerrard at the weekend.
‘There might be some clamour for it.’
Rather unwittingly, Gerrard cut to the heart of it there. Klopp must get Liverpool moving again next season if the clamour is not to grow.
One bad season does not really matter. A second would be a different thing entirely.
There was some booing when Leicester and Chelsea took the knee at Wembley and that was regrettable.
However, scepticism about whether to continue with the gesture runs deeper in football than you might think.
One manager told me last month: ‘Some of us think it has run its course but we can’t stop. If we do we will get hammered.’
English football says it is committed to a more diverse future. Time will tell on that.
In terms of an act that has become symbolic of our times, it would be dreadful were it now to become divisive.
At the very least, a conversation needs to be had about where we go from here.
Roy Hodgson says he doesn’t know where his future lies and we hope he is fibbing. Crystal Palace have started interviewing potential replacements such as Frank Lampard. It would be very wrong indeed if Hodgson really doesn’t know.
My Footballer of the Year vote went to Mason Mount of Chelsea.
It would be a huge surprise if someone from new Premier League champions Manchester City doesn’t win it.
But Mount has been peerless nevertheless.
Starting the campaign under Frank Lampard and having to listen to questions about his selection for England ahead of the people’s choice Jack Grealish, the 22-year-old is finishing it as a certainty for the Euros and arguably the most important member of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea team.
Uncertainty and change can unsettle footballers and young ones are even more susceptible.
But Mount has carried the responsibility of his creative role lightly on his shoulders and has already played more than 50 times for his club – more than any other player.
He would be a worthy winner.
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