EPL

Manchester City 6-3 Leicester City: Premier League leaders move six points clear after Foxes thriller

By Sports Desk December 26, 2021

Manchester City survived a spirited Leicester City fightback to prevail 6-3 winners in a thrilling Boxing Day encounter at the Etihad Stadium.

Though pegged back to 4-3 from 4-0 up, Pep Guardiola's men moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League table following a ninth successive victory.

Kevin De Bruyne scored the first of four goals for the hosts inside the opening 25 minutes, while a pair of penalties from Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling sandwiched Ilkay Gundogan's strike.

The Foxes came roaring back after the break as James Maddison, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho threatened the most unlikely comeback, but Aymeric Laporte and Sterling got the Citizens back on track and secured the points.

Man City took the lead in the fifth minute following neat interplay as De Bruyne controlled Fernandinho’s lofted pass into the box before sweeping past Kasper Schmeichel.

The hosts doubled the advantage with Mahrez, who had lost in all five of his previous Premier League appearances on Boxing Day, firing home from 12 yards after Youri Tielemans bundled over Laporte.

Gundogan made it 3-0 after another lovely exchange of passes culminated in Schmeichel parrying Joao Cancelo's low cross straight to the Germany international, who made no mistake from close range.

Three became four soon after, with Tielemans the offender again as he brought down Sterling, who picked himself up and emphatically swept his penalty into the top corner.

Nevertheless, Leicester responded brilliantly after the break. The visitors halved the deficit by the hour mark with a couple of quickfire counters resulting in Iheanacho well-timed throughballs for Maddison and Lookman to finish.

Former Man City forward Iheanacho then got in on the act to reduce the arrears to a single goal, but the hosts pulled clear from two Mahrez corners, with Laporte and Sterling profiting. 

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    Zlatko Dalic was sorry to see Belgium lose a "great coach" in Roberto Martinez as his departure was confirmed with Thursday's World Cup exit.

    Dalic's Croatia held Belgium to a goalless draw at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, following Morocco through to the last 16 in Group F.

    Martinez, who was out of contract after six years as Red Devils coach, announced he would be leaving his role in his post-match news conference.

    "I think Belgium have lost a great coach," said Dalic. "I'm sorry he resigned."

    Discussing his own future, the Croatia boss added: "My project is Euro 2024 and the Nations League Finals. When I finish these projects, then I'll think about how to proceed."

    Although the 2018 finalists themselves missed out on topping the group, Dalic hailed the performance of his team.

    "It would be selfish for me to single out individuals," he said. "They all gave everything of themselves."

    Full-backs Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa were more open to picking out individuals, each lauding 37-year-old player of the match Luka Modric.

    Asked if the Real Madrid man was still one of the world's best, Juranovic replied: "Yes – [that answer] is short enough. He is the best midfielder ever."

    Sosa added: "Of course, it's easy [to play with Modric]. The better players you have in your team, the easier it is to play.

    "With Luka, one of the best players in the history of the sport, it is very easy."

  • Martinez rues 'huge disappointment' after Belgium crash out of World Cup Martinez rues 'huge disappointment' after Belgium crash out of World Cup

    Departing Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez revealed his "huge disappointment" after the Red Devils crashed out of the World Cup.

    The world's second-ranked side suffered a surprise elimination in Qatar after finishing third in Group F following a goalless draw with Croatia.

    It brought the curtain down on a poor tournament for 2018 semi-finalists Belgium, who struggled past Canada in their opening game before suffering a shock defeat by eventual group winners Morocco.

    The Croatia stalemate also spelt the end for Martinez, who confirmed his departure as Belgium head coach after six years in the role.

    "We were ourselves today," he reflected. "We had very good performances and frustrated Croatia in the first half, but couldn't take chances in the second half.

    "We got in very good positions, but didn't execute them well. Second half, we looked strong and probably created more clear-cut chances than in 2018.

    "We showed heart, and we saw a group that really cares, which we missed in previous two games - we weren't ourselves [in the first two games].

    "Due to quality and experience, we won the first game [against Canada], but we were not ourselves. Today was completely different.

    "Morocco was disappointing, and we're out of the World Cup because margins are small - there's no margin for error. Morocco took their chances and Croatia now rightly progress through. It's a huge disappointment for us."

    Martinez also explained his reasons for Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, who was only introduced in the 87th minute at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, starting Belgium's must-win showdown on the bench.

    It came after a tumultuous week, in which he dismissed reports of a rift within the camp as "fake news" at his pre-match news conference.

    "Lukaku couldn't play the 90. We saw in the second half, he lacked physicality," Martinez said. 

    "We used him where there were bigger gaps and got him in the box. He moved well and got in good positions, but missed chances.

    "I'm happy with the way we planned for this game. The players that started gave us what we wanted, and then we could have scored three goals in second half, and it would have been a different story.

    "We were here for seven games and couldn't take a risk on players, it would not have been responsible to play [Lukaku] from the start, same with Eden Hazard."

    Much of the discussion surrounding Belgium's underwhelming campaign in Qatar has focused on the ageing of a so-called 'golden generation' of players, with Kevin De Bruyne stating the Red Devils' squad was "too old" ahead of the finals.

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    "I think as a team, you have to take the responsibility," he added. "I think we played a very good game. We could have won.

    "I think we lost the qualification in the last game against Morocco. If we didn't lose this game, it was a total different game. This is the reality. It hurts.

    "It's not every year that there's a tournament. We'll see what everyone is doing, but I think it's too close to the last game to decide.

    "Everyone goes home now, goes to their club and decides what they're going to do. This hurts, it's normal, but decisions are not made after the game."

  • Cameroon v Brazil: Much-changed Selecao pursuing group-stage perfection Cameroon v Brazil: Much-changed Selecao pursuing group-stage perfection

    Tite will rotate his Brazil squad for their final Group G match, but opponents Cameroon still face an uphill battle to make the last 16 of the World Cup.

    Brazil are already through to the knockout stage and will top the pool unless they lose and Switzerland win with a significant goal swing.

    Opponents Cameroon have plenty still to play for, on the other hand, as they must win to have any hope of reaching the second round for the first time since 1990.

    They have never won their final group game at a finals, however, while Brazil are unbeaten at this stage in a record 17 matches.

    And the Selecao have their own goals in mind, looking to take nine points from a possible nine for the first time since 2006.

    "Being first is always the goal, regardless of who the opponent is in the next match," said Fabinho, one of the men set to come into the XI.

    "Our focus is always to win the games, try to earn nine points and give our best. 

    "Whoever will play will have the opportunity to wear the shirt of the Brazilian national team in a World Cup, so the thought of a winning team has to always be this, to enter, give the best, win and be the first."

    Tite's first-choice stars have set a high standard, winning both games without conceding or even facing a single shot on target. They are the first team not to face a shot on target in their first two games at a World Cup since France in 1998.

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    Cameroon have lost only two World Cup matches to South American teams, but both have been in their two meetings with Brazil, who have won all seven of their finals clashes with African opposition, scoring 20 goals and conceding just two.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Cameroon – Vincent Aboubakar

    Aboubakar has twice appeared from the bench, yet he could hardly have done more to earn a starting berth. Against Serbia, he became the first substitute to both score and assist a goal in a World Cup match for an African nation, bringing Cameroon back from 3-1 down to 3-3 within 11 minutes of his introduction.

    Brazil – Vinicius Junior

    The Selecao may not need to risk playing Vinicius, with Neymar already injured, but it must be tough not to pick a man in this form. Only Kylian Mbappe (23) was involved in more open play sequences that ended with a shot than the winger (15) through two matchdays. Only Mbappe and Ismaila Sarr (four) created more chances following a carry (three).

    PREDICTION

    Even with the potential for changes in the Brazil XI, the supercomputer has no doubts about this one. Tite's men are massive 72.7 per cent favourites.

    Cameroon must win but are given only a 10.6 per cent chance, with a draw that would confirm Brazil as group winners rated at 16.7 per cent.

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