Leicester record pre-tax loss of £20.2m for most recent financial year

Leicester record pre-tax loss of £20.2m for the most recent financial year… but the figures do NOT include record £80m they received from Manchester United for Harry Maguire

  • Foxes’ results apply to year ending May 31, 2019 and have recorded pre-tax loss
  • Figures include £8.8m compensation paid to prise Brendan Rodgers from Celtic
  • The Premier League club have also invested significantly in new training ground

Leicester have recorded a pre-tax loss of £20.2million for the most recent financial year – figures that do not include the record £80m they received from Manchester United for Harry Maguire.

The Foxes’ results apply to the year ending May 31, 2019, and include the £8.8million compensation paid to prise Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff from Celtic last February.

The club have also invested significantly in a new training ground, which they hope to occupy this season and which is expected to cost close to £100m. Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has also given the green light to the expansion of the King Power Stadium.

Leicester have recorded a pre-tax loss of £20.2million for the most recent financial year

Figures do not include record £80m they received from Manchester United for Harry Maguire

Chief executive Susan Whelan said: ‘We remain a club of fierce ambition: striving to progress every season; giving ourselves every opportunity to compete more consistently at the elite level of the game.’ 

Despite a poor start to 2020, Rodgers’ team remain on course to qualify for the Champions League. They are third in the table, with an eight-point cushion to fifth-placed Manchester United, with 10 Premier League matches remaining.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Birmingham will be shown live on Facebook Watch, the tech giant’s TV app.

The Foxes’ results apply to the year ending May 31, 2019, and include the £8.8million compensation paid to prise Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff from Celtic last February




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‘Only thing in our mind is football’: Matildas ready for Games battle

While much of the world is in a frenzy over the coronavirus, the Matildas aren't the least bit concerned about the disease ahead of trips to Vietnam and potentially Japan later this year.

Few teams in Australia have been more impacted by COVID-19 than Australia's national women's football team, whose 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers last month were heavily disrupted. Plans to travel to Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, were hastily rearranged with the matches moved to Sydney before being delayed significantly due to quarantine measures placed on the travelling Chinese team. Throughout that period, the players' health was monitored by Football Federation Australia's medical team while the squad received regular updates on the evolving disease from other officials.

Kyah Simon was in hot form for the Matildas last month.Credit:AP

That experience has left the Matildas' striker Kyah Simon somewhat numb to the growing hysteria around the spread of the disease. Australia face Vietnam in Newcastle on Friday in the first leg of their Olympic play-off before travelling to Vietnam for Wednesday's return leg. While Vietnam has fewer reported outbreaks than Australia, the Matildas will play in Cam Pha, just 125km from the border with China.

"Obviously there has been a lot of stuff – whether it’s exaggerated or not – though the media in the last couple of months. The only thing in the forefront of our mind is the football side of things. We have full trust in the associations and the people organising it that make sure our health is a priority," Simon said.

The Matildas will earn a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they progress past Vietnam in the two-legged series and Simon has no concerns over travelling to Japan in August, should Australia qualify.

"As footballers, as professional athletes you are always going to have distractions on and off the field. All we have to do is worry about what our job is and ensure we are in the best possible condition we can be in and playing the best football we can," she said.

The Matildas anticipate facing a defensive-minded Vietnamese side on Friday night and have spent their first training sessions together preparing to overcome a deep, stacked defence. Coach Ante Milicic has spent significant time reviewing their 1-1 draw with China from last month, pinpointing flaws in the Matildas' performance that nearly led to them losing at home. In particular, he wants his side to make better decisions in possession and be cautious of long balls and counter-attacks while focusing on how to play through a deep defensive unit.

"I think Vietnam are a similar team to Thailand in that respect, generally parking with a low block and making it difficult. Usually when a lesser opponent plays against a pretty aggressive powerful team, in the past they have played with a lower block and they make it difficult to play through. From our perspective it will take some more patience," Simon said.

"We have faced this type of opponent before so we know what to expect but it’s been a long time since last time we played them so we are prepared for anything."

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Ronaldo spotted celebrating Vinicius Jr goal during El Clasico

Cristiano Ronaldo spotted celebrating Vinicius Jr goal during El Clasico as Brazilian copies his celebration after scoring opening goal in Real Madrid’s win over Barcelona

  • Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the Bernabeu for Sunday night’s El Clasico
  • Ronaldo clapped after Vinicius Jr fired Real Madrid in front on 71 minutes
  • Madrid sealed a potentially title defining win through Mariano’s injury-time goal 

Cristiano Ronaldo was spotted celebrating Vinicius Jr’s opening goal during Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Barcelona on Sunday night. 

Ronaldo returned to the Bernabeu to watch El Clasico and entered the stadium in a low key black van to avoid being detected by fans.

Supporters and TV cameras soon spotted him sat in the stands and he showed he still holds the club close to his heart after his jubilant celebrations.

Cristiano Ronaldo was spotted in the stands during Real Madrid’s clash with Barcelona

Ronaldo clapped after Vinicius Jr fired Madrid in front at the Bernabeu on 71 minutes

The Madrid legend celebrated for several seconds as fans jumped up and down in front of him

Vinicius put Madrid in front on 71 minutes and then copied Ronaldo’s famous celebration as the Portuguese clapped in appreciation from his seat.  

Ronaldo’s and Madrid’s night got even better when Mariano scored a second goal in injury-time to seal victory and a potentially title defining three points. 

It’s the first time Ronaldo has returned to Madrid since leaving the club for Juventus in a £99.2 million deal in the summer of 2018.

Vinicius Jr copied Cristiano Ronaldo’s celebration after scoring in El Clasico on Sunday night

The Brazilian fired home the first goal as Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 2-0 at the Bernabeu

Mariano made sure of all three points when he fired home from close range in injury time

Since his departure Madrid have failed to replace his goal output after the Portuguese scored 450 goals in 438 games for the club.   

However, they have put themselves in a strong position to wrestle La Liga out of Barcelona’s grasp following Sunday’s win. 

Victory leaves Madrid top of La Liga by a single point ahead of Barcelona in second place with just 12 games remaining. 

Madrid’s win was all the more impressive after they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie on Wednesday.




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Victory still planning for ACL game with Beijing despite coronavirus

Melbourne Victory officials are planning for their Asian Champions League game against Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan to go ahead as scheduled on April 8 at AAMI Park, despite mounting fears over the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Beijing Guoan was away from China carrying out a pre-season camp in South Korea in January this year, avoiding the possibility of infection when the illness first went viral.

Renato Augusto and Beijing Guoan beat Chiangrai United in their ACL fixture in Thailand last month.Credit:Getty Images

As the disease has intensified and been transmitted all over the world, the soccer club has stayed out of China, playing its opening Asian Champions League fixture in Thailand and then returning to a training camp in the Middle East so as to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus.

"Obviously we are watching everything on as close a basis as we can and are taking advice from the relevant authorities and the Asian Football Confederation," Victory's CEO Trent Jacobs said.

"We are planning for the home game with Beijing to go ahead as programmed at this point, but it will ultimately come down to what the federal government and the authorities say in the lead up."

When Beijing played their first ACL match – a 1-0 win over Chiangrai United – they came to Thailand a fortnight ahead of the game to acclimatise and train without disruption.

It is believed that they will adopt a similar approach for the visit to Australia, arriving in Newcastle in late March to prepare for their clash with Victory.

The Melbourne side won their opening match of the ACL against Chiangrai, and then lost their second game 1-0 to FC Seoul in South Korea on February 18.

* The coronavirus has had an impact on A-League newboys Western United. CEO Chris Pehlivanis had planned to travel overseas for meetings with player agents as the club looks to replenish its stocks for its second season, but he has had to put that on hold for the time being.

"There was no point going somewhere and then having to be in quarantine and not able to do much for 14 days," he said.

Western has several players out of contract for next season, including marquee man Alessandro Diamananti, Croatian import Dario Jertec, new signing Steven Lustica and veteran Andrew Durante.

It has a second-year option it can exercise for goalkeeper Filip Kurto, who has been one of the team's standout players.

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Reading 1-2 Sheffield United AET: Billy Sharp scores extra-time winner

Reading 1-2 Sheffield United (AET): Billy Sharp scores extra-time winner as Blades overcome Championship strugglers to reach FA Cup last eight

  • David McGoldrick headed Sheffield United ahead after just two minutes 
  • However, Reading equalised on the stroke of half-time through George Puscas
  • Puscas scored from the spot after George Baldock pushed Andy Rinomhota 
  • The game went to extra-time, and Billy Sharp headed the Blades back in front
  • The Premier League side eventually held on to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals  

Not even Pele or Puscas could stop this Sheffield United train from rolling on.

Dreams of Europe and now the last eight of the FA Cup. When will Chris Wilder’s powers wane?

Here, Reading pushed their visitors beyond 90 minutes. But at the end of a long, tense tie, United stood tall thanks to one of their shortest stars. 

Sheffield United veteran Billy Sharp heads powerfully into the net for the Blades victory 

The 34-year-old celebrates his goal on the stroke of half-time in extra-time at the Madjeski

READING (4-5-1): Rafael 6; Yiadom 5.5, Miazga 6, Morrison 5.5, Obita 6; Meite 6.5 (McCleary 105), Rinomhota 6.5 (Baldock 105), Swift 6.5, Ejaria 6.5 (Gomes 98), Olise 6 (Masika 98); Puscas 6.5

Subs not used: Walker, Moore, Blackett

Goals: Puscas 43 pen

Bookings: Rinomhota

Manager: Mark Bowen 6.5

SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Henderson 6; Basham 6, Egan 6.5, O’Connell 6; Baldock 5.5, Lundstram 6.5, Berge 6.5 (Robinson 99), Freeman 7 (Retsos 106), Osborn 6.5; Mousset 5.5 (McBurnie 61, 6), McGoldrick 6.5 (Sharp 79, 7)

Subs not used: Verrips, Jagielka, Zivkovic

Goals: McGoldrick 2, Sharp 115

Bookings: None

Manager: Chris Wilder 6.5

Attendance: 15, 129 

Referee: Kevin Friend 5

Billy Sharp netted an extra-time winner after George Puscas’ penalty cancelled out David McGoldrick’s first club goal in nearly a year.

Even after Sharp’s intervention, a long-range effort from Judilson Gomes – known as Pele – came within a whisker of forcing penalties. But instead United are in the quarters for the first time since 2014.

‘As a Championship side we knocked out so many Premier League sides in this cup and the League Cup so we knew it was never going to be easy,’ Wilder said.

‘The biggest thing is getting through… we got the job done and found a way to win. It was a difficult night for us.’ 

David McGoldrick heads home past Reading goalkeeper Rafael Cabral after just 85 seconds

The Sheffield United forward’s goal was his first of the season in any competition 

Relief at the end of an evening that had begun so smoothly.

Within 85 seconds, McGoldrick buried a free header from seven yards and soon the visitors’ unrelenting possession began to suck the life out of the game. Both McGoldrick and John Egan missed chances to extend their lead, too.

But then three minutes before half-time, a lifeline for Reading.

From a harmless ball into the box, Andy Rinomhota went down under a challenge from George Baldock.

It looked a soft call from Kevin Friend but Puscas didn’t care. He beat Dean Henderson and the goal seemed to shellshock United, who struggled to re-establish their authority. 

Reading equalised in the 43rd minute through George Puscas’ penalty into the corner

The Romanian (R) celebrates his goal which levelled the scores heading into the interval

Instead it was Reading who, despite being 16th in the second tier, were on the front foot.

Unfortunately they created little to show for it and eventually paid the price. Before the end of normal time McGoldrick headed over and Luke Freeman went close from distance. 

United had to wait until the 105th minute before a chance eventually stuck, with substitute Sharp making no mistake after Freeman’s cross reached him at the back post.

Nothing, not even their famous names or their Friend in black, could help Reading come back this time. 

‘It was a long hard fought battle and it’s hard to take,’ Reading boss Mark Bowen reflected. ‘We have to take this on in our league form.’ 

Sheffield United’s Ben Osborn attempts to take the ball off Reading defender Andy Yiadom 

Sharp celebrates his third goal of the season with his team-mates on Tuesday night 

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder celebrates after his team progressed to the last eight 




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Sub goalkeeper saves THREE penalties in shootout before scoring winner

Ajax goalkeeper Daan Reiziger saves THREE penalties before scoring the winner after being brought on in 93rd minute for shootout in UEFA Youth League victory against Atletico Madrid

  • Daan Reiziger enjoyed a remarkable cameo appearance in UEFA Youth League
  • He played an instrumental role as Ajax reached the quarter finals of competition
  • The goalkeeper was brought on as a substitute in the 93rd minute vs Atletico
  • Reiziger saved three penalties before scoring the winner as Ajax triumphed

We have witnessed some brilliant cameo appearances down the years, but can you name a better super-sub than Ajax youth team goalkeeper Daan Reiziger?

With Ajax locked at 0-0 against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Youth League and with the contest heading to a penalty shootout, the Eredivisie youth side opted for a late change that would end up making all the difference.

Manager John Heitinga substituted Reiziger on in the 93rd minute just for the penalty shootout and it more than paid off as his heroics sent Ajax through to the quarter finals of the competition.

Ajax goalkeeper Daan Reiziger saves a penalty during the shootout victory vs Atletico Madrid

Reiziger saves to his left as his heroics sent Ajax through to UEFA Youth League quarter finals

Reiziger ended up remarkably saving three penalties before scoring the winner with an emphatic finish into the top right corner as the club’s chief executive Edwin van der Sar watched on alongside Daley Blind and Donny van de Beek.

And the man of the moment savoured the special occasion by imitating Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic celebration before his team-mates mobbed him following their 6-5 shootout victory. 

Ajax clearly took a leaf out of Holland’s book following Tim Krul’s match-winning heroics at the 2014 World Cup against Costa Rica.

The goalkeeper then steps up and scores the winning penalty in the tense shootout

He fires the ball emphatically into the top corner past his counterpart in the Youth League

Then Holland coach Louis van Gaal took the unusual step of replacing Jasper Cillessen with another goalkeeper, Krul, as they were approaching penalties in the quarter final.

And it couldn’t have worked out any better as Krul saved two spot-kicks as Holland went on to win 4-3 on penalties.

Ajax will now face the winner of Red Star Belgrade or FC Midtjylland in the quarter finals in two weeks time. 

The 18-year-old is mobbed by his Ajax team-mates following his heroics against Atletico 

The Ajax youth team jump on their match-winning team-mate on Tuesday afternoon




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James Tavernier pleads with Steven Gerrard to fight on as Rangers boss

Please don’t go! Rangers captain James Tavernier pleads with Steven Gerrard to fight on as Ibrox boss despite Scottish Cup exit and collapse in title race against Celtic

  • James Tavernier says Rangers players want Steven Gerrard to remain as boss
  • Rangers are having a torrid time after losing to Hearts in the Scottish Cup
  • They are also well adrift of rivals Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership 

James Tavernier insists Rangers’ players want Steven Gerrard to battle on as manager.

Describing Saturday’s Scottish Cup exit to Hearts as the lowest point of his managerial career, Gerrard vowed to do ‘some real, serious thinking’ after another faltering domestic display left him staring at a second trophy-less season.

And, speaking after Oliver Bozanic’s winner fired Hearts into the Scottish Cup semi-finals, the Ibrox boss offered a cryptic response to questions over his own future. On Sunday night, sources close to the former England captain told Sportsmail that he is not giving serious thought to walking away from his first managerial post.

Steven Gerrard is having a tough time, after Rangers were dumped out of the Cup by Hearts

James Tavernier has insisted that the Rangers players want to see Gerrard continue as boss

The Liverpool icon recently signed an extended contract, which takes him up until 2024, and he has guided his side to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Admitting the Rangers players have let their manager down, captain Tavernier said: ‘The gaffer has given everything to the boys and we have not delivered two seasons in a row.

‘We were unlucky in the League Cup final against Celtic — but we have now been knocked out in this competition in the quarter-finals for a second season.

‘The league was in our hands but we have now given ourselves a mountain to climb.

‘We have lost it again, so we are going to look at ourselves as the gaffer has given us everything.

‘We want him to be here, definitely. He has driven the standards right up and, if selected by him, we have to deliver.’

Oliver Bozanic (centre) was Hearts’ hero with his strike in the second half proving decisive

Gerrard omitted Alfredo Morelos from his matchday squad after the top scorer returned 24 hours late from a spell of compassionate leave in Colombia.

The 23-year-old will be fined for his actions, with an apology to team-mates and fans likely.

With on-loan Florian Kamberi cup-tied and Jermain Defoe on the bench after injury, Greg Stewart started up front at Tynecastle on Saturday.

Unable to muster a shot on target until the 65th minute, however, Rangers surrendered their hopes of winning the last domestic trophy of the season in feeble fashion.

‘We are devastated,’ added Tavernier. ‘The lads are finding it hard to swallow.

‘We have let the club down, the fans down, the gaffer down and ourselves down. Going from such a high during the week against a very good (Braga) team to failing to answer questions at a place where we have struggled during the season.

Rangers are also far adrift of arch rivals Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership 

‘We have not produced a performance good enough to put us into the semi-final.

‘This has happened two years in a row now as we were knocked out by Aberdeen last year.

‘It has happened again this year and it is hard to take.’

Since returning from the winter break, Gerrard’s side have now lost three and drawn two of their 13 games.

Their league hopes faded after falling 12 points behind Celtic, with Tavernier adding: ‘I don’t know what it comes down to.

Rangers have now lost three and drawn two of their 13 games since the winter break ended

‘We proved we can do it in midweek but in the second part of the season we have lacked consistency.

‘Since the break, we have let ourselves down too many times and this is another one.’

Gerrard has questioned the mental strength of his team under pressure, querying whether they share his desperation to win games and trophies.

‘It is clear as day the mental strength wasn’t there,’ Tavernier acknowledged.

‘We didn’t back it up with a performance. There is not much I can say on that. We can only show we have it by winning games. Clearly, we didn’t show it enough against Hearts.

‘In the past, we have shown it in certain games. When Hearts sniffed blood from the get go, we struggled to deal with it. The first half of the season when teams dropped off us, we were scoring five or six goals.

‘And then we come to the second part of the season. We are not gritty enough and able to see out games.

Rangers are still in the Europa League, and will face Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16

‘We knew what was coming. You need to grab it with both hands and respond to it.

‘But I don’t think we tested the keeper once in the entire game. I don’t think he even had a shot to save.

‘It was not good enough from the team in general.’

A home clash with Hamilton in the Premiership on Wednesday night offers an opportunity to steady the ship before an away trip to Ross County and the visit of Bayer Leverkusen.

‘We really need to look hard at ourselves,’ said the skipper.

‘We need to sit down together and see what the answers are.

‘It has happened too many times and we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves. We need to show the gaffer and the fans how much it means to us.’




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Portsmouth look to stun Arsenal seven years after financial crisis

‘We’re a bigger club than we were in the Premier League’: Portsmouth were on the brink of oblivion seven years ago… now they’re debt free, chasing promotion to the Championship and ready to shock Arsenal in the FA Cup – SPECIAL REPORT

  • Portsmouth are a club on the up under the ownership of Michael Eisner
  • Pompey came close to extinction 7 years ago as they tumbled down divisions
  • The club now have 14,000 season ticket holders and have a long waiting list

The man known as Big Kev ducks and weaves his super-heavyweight frame through the tight twisting corridors to Portsmouth’s inner sanctum.

Mind your head. Watch that step. Life amidships is recreated in this windowless world with blue-and-white walls in the heart of a famous naval city.

Little has changed since Milan rolled up in the UEFA Cup, puzzled by the idiosyncrasies of Fratton Park and disturbed by the raucous din shivering the timbers of the wooden stands above.

Sportsmail went behind the scenes at Portsmouth who are thriving after years of turmoil

Pompey host Arsenal in FA Cup fifth round and are chasing promotion to the Championship

Manager Kenny Jackett will also lead his team out at Wembley in the EFL Trophy final

The Italians assumed it was Pompey’s training ground when they went through their paces under the lights on the eve of the match and they departed, after Ronaldinho had come off the bench to salvage a late draw against the FA Cup holders, querying the size of the crowd, certain there must have been more than 20,000 inside.

Five hours before kick-off against Milton Keynes Dons in League One, the air is still and the mood is calm. The kit is freshly laundered and the dressing room is primed for Kenny Jackett and his players.

This is the first of three games in seven days which will culminate tonight in the FA Cup against Arsenal, a fifth-round tie evoking memories of their eight years in the Premier League.

Big Kev takes a sachet of isotonic energy gel, examines it and tosses it back into its box with a shake of his head. ‘I mean, when did that ever help anybody score a goal?’

Little has changed and yet everything has changed. And Kevin McCormack, a former Royal Marine and ABA boxing champion, has seen it all in more than 20 years as the Pompey kit man.

Mikel Arteta and his squad will visit Fratton Park for an FA Cup clash under the floodlights

Portsmouth’s facilities remain basic as they bid to remain financially stable and free of debt

Pompey’s training ground setup has remained the same as it was despite new investment

There was a decade of breathless success and a parade of world-class stars through the club when his job included lighting half-time cigarettes for Robert Prosinecki and providing Peter Crouch with a furniture delivery service.

Crouch, he pauses to explain, had bought an expensive sofa only to find it was too big to negotiate the spiral staircase to his penthouse flat in Port Solent. So he summoned Big Kev, who organised a long ladder, hoisted one arm of the sofa on to his head, ran the length of it down his back, secured it around his waist with a rope, scaled the ladder against an outside wall of the flats and threw it over the balcony.

When you have earned your green beret and carried the Wales flag into a Commonwealth Games, such piffling problems cause no stress.

Big Kev does dispute the details of a story told by Crouch, who once claimed on his podcast that he paid the kit man £60 a week to wash his kit, in the days when Portsmouth’s players were expected to wash their own. ‘More like £15,’ says Big Kev.

Well-known fan John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood poses during a game with MK Dons

Pompey, pictured in action at Fratton Park last month, are third in the League One table

Portsmouth won the FA Cup in 2008 before paying the price for their financial excess

He rolls his eyes. ‘And he hardly ever paid it. I just did it. The more they earn the tighter they get.’ He laughs. True words spoken in jest, most probably. ‘They’re good lads. Like ships in the night most of them, but while they’re here let’s make it as much fun as we can.’

Along with the fun came acts of friendship and kindness. Avram Grant gave him his FA Cup medal from the final in 2010 and David James came to find him one day when Pompey were deep in one of their financial crises and not paying their staff. ‘He asked who was in my team and how much they were missing, and next day he brought in three or four grand and said, ‘There you go, make sure they’re paid’.’

Pompey’s crash was as spectacular as the climb. From the Premier League in 2010 to League Two in 2013, in and out of administration, with points deducted, they became a warning against reckless spending.

‘The saddest part was the people losing their jobs,’ Big Kev says. ‘I had to let two people go and they didn’t do anything wrong. They weren’t crooks. They were only good, hard-working people with mortgages to pay. That’s what breaks my heart.’

Sportsmail went behind the scenes as Pompey prepare to take on giants Arsenal in the FA Cup

Players get massages at the training ground as they approach the business end of the season

Portsmouth nearly lost their Fratton Park home as they succumbed to crippling debts

Unscrupulous owners and executives came and went and the suffering went on. The club was perilously close to winding up before the Supporters’ Trust won its struggle for control. A year later, they were 90th of the 92 league clubs and staring at the prospect of relegation from the Football League.

Mark Catlin is a beaming chief executive, sweeping down the tunnel, trading congratulations with full back Lee Brown and central defender Christian Burgess who is posing for photos with a pizza to satisfy the sponsors.

Portsmouth have kept their focus to score six in the beating of MK Dons and Rochdale. They are in formidable home form and firmly in the race for promotion to the Championship. Everyone agrees this is the priority.

They are also bound for Wembley, as they attempt to defend the EFL Trophy they won last year and are confident they can sell out their allocation of 50,000 for next month’s final against Salford.

Portsmouth’s players are pictured in the changing room shortly before a win over MK Dons

The fans are desperate for success after dropping down the divisions amid financial issues

Former Disney exec, Michael Eisner, bought the club in 2017 and nursed it back to health

‘With regards to our fan base, we’re a bigger club than we were in the Premier League,’ Catlin says. ‘Coming out of administration, we had 10,000 season ticket-holders. Now we’re at 14,000 and we’ve had to cap it.’

Of all the historic images on display inside the club, the most prominent is one which has come to define Pompey’s new era. The photograph was taken before kick-off against Sheffield United, the final home game of a season which featured a record run of 23 games without a win.

Fans had finally won their court battle to seize control and the team, already doomed to relegation to League Two, were in a pre-match huddle and behind them was a montage in the Fratton End with the word ‘OURS’.

Portsmouth were saved and eventually fans turned round the tanker, clinched promotion to League One and, after a careful vetting process, in 2017 sold the club to the former Disney executive, the American Michael Eisner. 

The players stretch in the gym as they look to deal with a busy run of league and cup fixtures

Portsmouth boss Jackett speaks to Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow ahead of the game with Arsenal

Portsmouth are now third in League One and have managed to grow their fanbase

‘We were stewards until the right person came along,’ Catlin says. ‘Not a day went by without someone wanting to buy the club, but it had to be someone with a history of caring and the finances to take it forward. Not only on the pitch, but Fratton Park needs a lot of work and attention.

‘Michael could blow this league away if he really wanted to. But it’s a short-term fix and you get to the next level and then what? You’ve got to put more money in and you’re on that sinking sand where clubs owe their owners tens of millions.

‘If any club knows about that, it’s this one. Coming into his third year, and we’re still self-sustaining. The club is debt-free, we’ve got our own training ground and we own Fratton Park. We’re in a great place.’

Kenny Jackett, the manager, starts the week with light training in awful conditions before his players file off towards the gym, the physio’s room and the mobile cryotherapy unit in the corner of the car park.


Portsmouth’s players pose for Sportsmail’s Andy Hooper after having cryotherapy treatment

Portsmouth average nearly 18,000 at Fratton Park despite playing in League One

The manager settles at a table outside his office for a media briefing. Throughout the week his public tone is the same: promotion is the priority, important games against MK Dons and Rochdale, everyone is excited by the Arsenal tie, he trusts his players to strike the balance.

Some have personal connections. Burgess started out in Arsenal’s academy in the same year group as Jack Wilshere. Ronan Curtis and Sean Raggett both grew up supporting Arsenal.

Curtis has 15 family and friends coming over from Ireland. Raggett, on loan from Norwich, was part of the Lincoln City team which reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 2017, scoring the winner at Burnley before losing 5-0 at Arsenal.

‘We’re excited, not overawed,’ says Jackett, the most level of level heads. As a player under Graham Taylor, Jackett helped Watford climb through the divisions and reach the FA Cup final. As a manager, he led Millwall to a Wembley semi-final against Wigan.

Jackett says he’s proud to be in charge ahead of Portsmouth’s biggest night in nearly 10 years

‘It’s a home game and we want to do well. Our home form is strong and we will try to give them problems,’ he said. ‘We will enjoy the challenge and try to rise to it.’

Pompey are accustomed to cup football. They played 62 games last season and will play at least 60 in this campaign, although they have not hosted one of the aristocrats of English football since they were in the Premier League.

‘Arsenal are one of the genuinely great clubs in this country,’ Jackett says. ‘It is a decade since the national focus was on Fratton Park. It is a big occasion, a mouth-watering tie. I’m proud to be the manager of the last League One team in the competition.’

And he is reminded of the last time Arsenal visited in the FA Cup, won 5-1 and Thierry Henry pulled on a Portsmouth shirt for a lap of honour in tribute to the fans at Fratton Park.

‘Kev the kit man was telling me about it,’ Jackett says. ‘But I’ve got to say I don’t always listen to his stories.’

 

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What a third straight Carabao Cup final victory really means to Man City and Pep Guardiola

At the end of a long but satisfying day at Wembley, Pep Guardiola was posed a question that has long been asked of the League Cup. It has come, in a curious way, to almost define the competition’s very existence.

What does it actually mean? That’s all the more pointed when you have as won as much as Guardiola has.

This is also why you knew it meant so much to Aston Villa. It would have been some glory, for the first time in 24 years. They came so close to it, and certainly a lot closer than anyone expected.

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Dean Smith said that made the manner of it painful for the players, but he was sure to add that they will wake up on Monday morning feeling a bit of pride. To force Guardiola to bring on Kevin De Bruyne, and City into just hacking the ball away, was a testament to their display. The defending champions don’t usually allow themselves to be subjected to such mayhem. Villa disrupted their sense of control. “We went toe to toe,” Smith said.

What this should now really mean for Villa, however, is the next step. They need it to power their survival push.

“The performance level today is the standard that we have to be,” Smith added. “We were written off after Southampton but there haven’t been many of those performances. City are one of the top teams in the world. We came here to win. Our concentration goes to the Premier League. You can’t hide from the results yesterday. We’ll take heart from this performance. If we play like this we’ll get out of the relegation places.”

That could yet be the greatest meaning of this final for Villa.

As for City, it’s a bit more complex, not least when it comes to counting trophies. When a question was put to Guardiola that referenced last season’s treble, he raised four fingers and pointedly said “four trophies”.

And if you are counting the Community Shield – as Guardiola evidently does – it is eight trophies from 11. There has never been a period of domestic dominance like it, where such a concentration of silverware has been at one club.

Not even Liverpool 1981/84 or any of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United sides could match it.


Ratings: Villa vs City





1/25 Aston Villa vs Man City: Player ratings

2/25 Aston Villa

3/25 Orjan Nyland – 6

4/25 Frederic Guilbert – 6

5/25 Bjorn Engels – 6

6/25 Tyrone Mings – 7

7/25 Matt Targett – 6

8/25 Douglas Luiz – 6

9/25 Marvelous Nakamba – 6

10/25 Ahmed El Mohamady – 6

11/25 Jack Grealish – 6

12/25 Anwar El Ghazi – 7

13/25 Mbwana Samatta – 7

14/25 Man City

15/25 Claudio Bravo – 6

16/25 Kyle Walker – 6

17/25 John Stones – 5

18/25 Fernandinho – 6

19/25 Oleksandr Zinchenko – 7

20/25 Ilkay Gundogan – 7

21/25 Rodri – 8

22/25 Phil Foden – 8

23/25 David Silva – 6

24/25 Raheem Sterling – 6

25/25 Sergio Aguero – 7

1/25 Aston Villa vs Man City: Player ratings

2/25 Aston Villa

3/25 Orjan Nyland – 6

4/25 Frederic Guilbert – 6

5/25 Bjorn Engels – 6

6/25 Tyrone Mings – 7

7/25 Matt Targett – 6

8/25 Douglas Luiz – 6

9/25 Marvelous Nakamba – 6

10/25 Ahmed El Mohamady – 6

11/25 Jack Grealish – 6

12/25 Anwar El Ghazi – 7

13/25 Mbwana Samatta – 7

14/25 Man City

15/25 Claudio Bravo – 6

16/25 Kyle Walker – 6

17/25 John Stones – 5

18/25 Fernandinho – 6

19/25 Oleksandr Zinchenko – 7

20/25 Ilkay Gundogan – 7

21/25 Rodri – 8

22/25 Phil Foden – 8

23/25 David Silva – 6

24/25 Raheem Sterling – 6

25/25 Sergio Aguero – 7

This is why the League Cup was about something bigger for City and Guardiola, particularly since he has pretty much called for the competition’s discontinuation. It was about that record, that relentlessness, that he is evidently so proud of.

When asked whether he could ever imagine it when he came here, or through that barren first season, Guardiola said “definitely not”.

Others may have a different opinion.

You might even say that such domination is actually quite easy to imagine when you put a super-funded club, that are effectively a vehicle of a state’s foreign policy, with the greatest manager in the world.

This is why, as Smith added afterwards, Villa “were 18-1 to win”. City bringing on a £50m centre-half was seen as something of a surprise. It spoke to the strength of their squad, but also ensured the game meant a lot to some of City’s less-used players.

Guardiola went out of his way to praise three of them: John Stones, Claudio Bravo and man of the match Phil Foden.

Stones’ display – and particularly that second-half header that so averted danger – was all the more important given the slip that led to Villa’s goal. It meant a difficult afternoon became a defiant one.

Even that paled next to Bravo’s supreme save. He was, once again in a cup competition, the hero. Guardiola described him as one of the “best professionals” he’s ever known.

The best player on the day, however, was Foden. He was named man of the match, in what felt like a significant step for the young player. Still someone who hasn’t fully made the breakthrough to prime starter, this might be that moment.

It does feel like this is also a better moment for City, that the better form of the wider squad now reflects and feeds into. The slackness of late 2019 is gone, replaced by a new slickness that we really saw late on in Madrid. It would be grounds for a title surge … if Liverpool weren’t so far ahead. City, however, now have other ambitions. The Champions League is in sight.

That may be the real meaning of this League Cup victory. It might lead to an even better record.

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Foden shows intelligence beyond his years in Carabao Cup final win

Phil Foden shows why he is David Silva’s long-term replacement with intelligence beyond his years after heeding Pep Guardiola’s tactical instructions in Carabao Cup final win

  • Phil Foden assisted Sergio Aguero for the opening goal in Man City’s 2-1 win
  • Foden’s dribbling and low centre of gravity gave Matt Targett nightmares 
  • Aston Villa failed to dispossess Foden once throughout the 90 minutes 
  • With David Silva leaving at the end of the season, Foden is his heir apparent 

Around the City Football Academy, they say Phil Foden absorbs instructions like very few others. That, among myriad outstanding qualities, gives him a real advantage in his quest to become one of this country’s finest.

‘When you tell Phil something, it sticks,’ one club source said. In this case, there is no need to take their word – the evidence arrived early on in his first major cup final.

Four minutes elapsed between Pep Guardiola’s subtle note to stay wider, to not drift infield, and Manchester City’s opening goal. Foden heeded the order, ghosting on the right, waiting patiently for Rodri’s clip. His header to Sergio Aguero resulted in the striker prodding City ahead.

Phil Foden assisted Sergio Aguero for Man City’s opening goal in 2-1 Carabao Cup final win

Foden’s driving runs from the right wing and jinking hips gave Villa’s defence problems

The midfielder displayed temperament and decision making beyond his years at Wembley

The cushion to Aguero represented intelligence betraying his tender years, nodding backwards to City’s greatest goalscorer. Many others, particularly those still in their teens, would have played the percentages across goal. But then again, he is not like many others.

It is why Guardiola is given such a hard time for a lack of starts. The 19-year-old would walk into the vast majority of Premier League teams already and a fair number, including at least one in the top eight, have pondered trying their luck in asking for him on loan.

City have never countenanced that idea, although you probably could not blame Foden if his eyes momentarily diverted elsewhere last January in pursuit of minutes. Naturally, his trust in Guardiola’s plan for him has been tested over the last six months as City cried out for energy in key matches.

Matt Targett had the task of stopping Foden but struggled to get to grips with his wing play

Foden came close to scoring a goal himself but saw a second half effort fly just wide of goal

Of course, the poignancy of wearing the No 47 in tribute to his late grandfather, City-supporting Ronnie, diminishes if nobody ever watches him in a blue shirt.

‘He is always ready,’ Guardiola said. ‘Phil’s so fast and clever in tight spaces. Today he was under pressure but it is a winning experience for his mind. He belongs here, no problem.’

Foden must hope this start, his seventh since November, and subsequent performance cements regularity in selection, certainly as David Silva’s time draws to a close. His mentor, Silva, has not looked the same player this season, with Guardiola crying out for more legs in midfield.

The 19-year-old must now kick on and look to replace David Silva when he departs this summer

Foden can and does give them that, often holding off more than one Villa challenge when slaloming forward, his low centre of gravity a menace for jockeying defenders. He is defensively tenacious when tracking back, even from the same right wing berth that Guardiola deployed him in for an away victory at Arsenal before Christmas.

He was City’s most progressive player that afternoon at the Emirates. The same at Dinamo Zagreb a few days earlier, despite a Gabriel Jesus hat-trick earning headlines. A similar argument can be made in this final, where he completed 90 per cent of his passes and sent Matt Targett dizzy.

‘An unbelievable day,’ was Foden’s assessment. ‘Every minute counts and I’m very proud of my performance today.’

One sublime first touch with his outstep drew gasps and Villa failed to dispossess him once yesterday (SUN). City and England staff struggle to take the ball off him at the end of training, too, Foden clutching to it as long as possible. Given the chance, he would still be out on the Wembley grass now.




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