Wembley hero Laporte eyes confidence boost for Man City

By Sports Desk April 25, 2021

Aymeric Laporte felt Sunday's EFL Cup triumph gave Manchester City a timely confidence boost as they enter a decisive period of their season.

Centre-back Laporte was the unlikely matchwinner against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday, heading home the only goal from Kevin De Bruyne's 82nd-minute free-kick.

City were back at England's national stadium eight days on from a sapping 1-0 reverse against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Now they will turn their attentions towards a Champions League last-four clash against Paris Saint-Germain, with Manchester United's 0-0 draw at Leeds United earlier on Sunday also meaning Pep Guardiola's men are just two wins away from claiming Premier League glory.

"We are so happy to win this title again," Laporte told Sky Sports after City lifted the trophy for a record-equalling fourth season in a row.

"It's very special because we lost in the FA Cup so it is something good for us to get confidence and keep playing like we have done the past few months.

"We have done so, so good and we have to keep this rhythm this way to win more titles."

Laporte's moment to savour came against an opponent who he has often struggled to find his best form against.

A pair of mistakes leading to Son Heung-min strikes led to City going out of the 2018-19 Champions League on away goals, while a shaky display at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier this term preceded John Stones replacing him as Guardiola's first-choice partner for Ruben Dias.

The trend threatened to continue when Laporte was booked for a cynical first-half foul on Lucas Moura, having been incredibly fortunate to escape punishment for an earlier challenge on the same player.

"It's hard. I was thinking a lot about that. We know that a little mistake can cost you a lot," Laporte said.

"I've been careful in the second half and tried not to commit fouls."

Laporte was not penalised for another foul after the Lucas booking and made no tackles or interceptions during the game – statistics that speak of both City's dominance and his necessarily more reserved approach in the second half.

Long-serving City midfielder Fernandinho claimed a sixth winners' medal in the EFL Cup, having also won two under Manuel Pellegrini.

It was the first time the veteran Brazilian lifted the trophy as captain, however, and it was unquestionably a proud moment.

"My first time lifting a trophy at City as captain is an amazing sensation," he told Sky Sports.

"I think we deserved to win that game because we went from the first minute trying to score goals and created chances.

"At the end the game has been decided by a set piece.

"I am happy for myself, my team-mates, the staff, all the group. We have to enjoy this."

Fernandinho added: "I'm really proud. To win six trophies in this competition is an amazing feeling. I'm grateful for this club and the fans – I was so happy to see them back in the stadium. Congratulations to everyone."

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    Mane has scored 23 goals in 50 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions this term, helping Klopp's team to win the EFL Cup and FA Cup trophies, while the Reds could yet add the Champions League when they face Real Madrid in Saturday's final in Paris.

    The 30-year-old scored when Liverpool faced Madrid in the 2018 final in Kyiv, though substitute Gareth Bale netted a brace to condemn Klopp's side to a 3-1 defeat.

    Liverpool are bidding to win their seventh European crown at the Stade de France, and Mane has been touted as a potential Ballon d'Or contender after also firing Senegal to their first Africa Cup of Nations title earlier this year.

    However, things could have been very different for Mane, who said he had the chance to join Liverpool's rivals United when he departed Southampton in 2016.

    Speaking to former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher in an interview for the Telegraph, Mane recalled how a phone call from Klopp, who had attempted to sign him for former club Borussia Dortmund on a previous occasion, saw his head turn.

    "I have to say, I was really close to going to Manchester United," Mane said. "I had the contract there. I had it all agreed. 

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    The Egypt international scored a hat-trick as Liverpool demolished Manchester United 5-0, becoming the first away player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford for over 18 years, since Ronaldo did so for Real Madrid back in April 2003 in the Champions League.

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    He had 23 goals in all competitions to his name by the time he left to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations in early January, where he helped Egypt reach the final in Cameroon.

    It was heartbreak for Salah and The Pharaohs though, losing on penalties to Senegal, before experiencing exactly the same outcome against the same opposition in their World Cup qualifying play-off almost two months later.

    Salah returned to score crucial goals against Inter in the Champions League last 16 and Norwich City in the Premier League, but after that went 11 games in all competitions without scoring a goal in open play, before bagging another two against United in a 4-0 win at Anfield.

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    Like Salah, Mane had an impressive start to the season as he scored in nine of his team's first 16 games in all competitions, though had a drier period just before the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring just once in 10 outings.

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    Mane then took the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he slammed home the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Egypt in the final.

    By the time he returned to club action with Salah, Luis Diaz had arrived at Anfield and already taken up residence in Mane's usual position on the left of the front three.

    It wasn't a problem, though, as Mane simply reinvented himself as a central striker, scoring a vital winner against West Ham before repeating the trick of scoring a pressure penalty against Egypt to send Senegal to this year's World Cup.

    Mane really started to motor as Liverpool looked to win an unprecedented quadruple, scoring nine goals in his last 13 games, including in both the league draw and FA Cup semi-final win against Man City, and then in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

    His numbers still might not quite match up to Salah or Benzema, with 23 goals and two assists in 50 appearances in all competitions at club level, but he did only score two fewer non-penalty goals than Salah (25).

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    Calling Benzema the man for the big occasion still doesn't feel like it quite does him justice. The 34-year-old is in the form of his life, showing that age really is just a number.

    Benzema has made headlines throughout the season, mostly for his uncanny ability to come up with important goals in the Champions League, and he is without doubt the main reason Madrid made it past the last 16, let alone all the way to the final.

    Five goals in the group stages from Benzema helped Los Blancos to a last 16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain, with Kylian Mbappe and company taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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    Though Madrid struggled in the second leg at home, Benzema's extra-time strike sent them into the semis, where Man City awaited.

    Two more goals from Benzema in the 4-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium gave them a fighting chance, and though it was Rodrygo who caused all the drama in the closing stages of normal time of the second leg, it was Benzema from the penalty spot who ultimately took his team to the final.

    As this year's Ballon d'Or takes into account the whole season, you would have to assume that includes the 2020-21 Nations League, which Benzema and France won in October, with his goals in the semi-final win against Belgium and the final success against Spain seeing Les Bleus lift the trophy.

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