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Manuel Akanji makes Man City vow as he targets starting spot

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Manuel Akanji has declared himself ready for the challenge of becoming a regular for Manchester City following his move from Borussia Dortmund.

The Premier League champions moved for the centre back following an injury to Nathan Ake, with him arriving in a £15.1m deal on deadline day. Man City also have injury concerns at the moment about Kyle Walker and John Stones, while Aymeric Laporte is out until October at the earliest.

That led to an unexpectedly early debut for Akanji against Sevilla in the Champions League, and he says he hasn’t come to the club to simply make up the numbers.

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“I feel like it’s big news [back in Switzerland],” Akanji told the Manchester Evening News. “I have not been there yet since the signing, but Man City is one of the biggest clubs in the world.

“I also want to show I did not come here to be just a random player. I want to be on this team and play as much as possible. Some people might still have doubts about it and I need to prove to them I can do it, and that’s why I’m here.

“Some people might think I came here just as another defender to play some time. I don’t really know what everyone thinks as I don’t read all the newspapers but there are always some doubts on everyone. Even Erling [Haaland] when he came, there were questions over if he could do here the same. Of course, he’s proving them wrong.

“I want to prove myself. I know I am capable of doing it, but I need to show it. That’s all that matters: what you do on the pitch and if you’re ready to cope with it.”

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Scott SaundersGraeme Bailey and Toby Cudworth bring you a brand new episode of Talking Transfers. The team discuss the fallout from the summer transfer window, Gavi’s contract situation at Barcelona, Chelsea’s midfield issues, Antony’s suitability at Man Utd and more. Available on all audio platforms and the 90min YouTube channel.

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download the episode in full!

City boss Pep Guardiola has one of the most talented squads in world football from which to choose when everyone is available. While it was an injury crisis that handed Akanji his chance, he knows that sooner or later the established defenders will return.

However, when he arrived from Dortmund, he revealed he was given assurances that the team will be picked on merit, not reputation.

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“They told me that we don’t have a number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 choice — we’re all players in that position and the guys who train best and play the best are going to play,” the Switzerland international explained. “Obviously Guardiola will make changes because if he plays the same team every game there will be problems because your body just can’t do it.

“It might not be easy and I can’t expect to play every game but we have so many games coming up and we have injuries, suspensions, whatever but I’m trying to show the coach in every training session that I want to play. That is my goal.”





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France defeated by Denmark; Poland edge past relegated Wales

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Matchday six of the Nations League group stages got underway on Sunday evening as we learned of the first teams to qualify for next summer’s finals.

10 fixtures were played out across the competition as the group stage section comes to a close, with storylines being wrapped up and the script edging closer to completion. June’s mini-tournament began to take shape with two sides confirming their place in the final four.

Without further ado, here’s what went on in the biggest fixtures of the evening.

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Nations League A, Group 1

France ended a difficult Nations League campaign as defending champions on a sour note as they were outclassed by Denmark.

A bright start fizzled out and Kasper Dolberg was alive in the box to pounce on a low ball to the near post from Mikkel Damsgaard to fire Denmark ahead. One quickly turned into two as they piled on the pressure from corners, allowing Andreas Skov Olsen to double the lead on the half-volley.

Changes at half-time failed to give Les Bleus the hold on the game they desired, and despite being able to test Kasper Schmeichel on a few occasions through Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, they never looked capable of mounting a comeback.

Didier Deschamps’ side have now won just one of their last four fixtures and need to find their stride ahead of the World Cup, where they meet Denmark again in the group stages.

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Croatia headed into their game against Austria knowing a win would secure them a spot in next summer’s finals, regardless of other scores. Luka Modric firing them ahead after just six minutes was the perfect start.

That perfect start came crashing down three minutes later, with Christoph Baumgartner responding by heading in a cross from Marcel Sabitzer for 1-1. The equaliser took the sting out of the visitors, who now sat second in the group and out of the finals as things stood, with Denmark ahead against France.

However, they perked up later on and Marko Livaja headed in with little over to 20 minutes to play, putting them back in the driving seat once again. A quickfire third from Dejan Lovren just three minutes after the second took the wind of out Austria, securing the win and the place in the finals for Croatia.

Nations League A, Group 4

Louis van Gaal’s side booked their place in the competition’s final four for the second time, having reached the final in the inaugural tournament in 2019.

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Belgium were on the front foot early on in the game and had chances to take the lead through Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi, but the lack of a clinical edge in front of goal kept proceedings level heading into the break.

A slumbered first half turned into a more energetic second half for the Netherlands, who approached with more aggression and pressed to take the lead. Things became end-to-end and the stalemate could’ve been anyone’s game, but it was Virgil van Dijk’s header in the 73rd minute that was the difference.

That was until the post denied Belgium’s Dodi Lukebakio from a sublime overhead kick effort at the death. The acrobatics meant nothing, though, as the Oranje extended their unbeaten run to 15 games.

Wales suffered relegation to League B thanks to a winning goal from Karol Swiderski, falling to defeat in their final game before the World Cup.

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They had their chances, though, particularly in the first half as they cut through Poland’s spells of possession, but couldn’t make it count in front of goal. Daniel James found himself clear through on goal, but spurned the opportunity instead of testing Wojciech Szczesny or putting it on a plate for Brennan Johnson.

A moment of madness in the first half saw Wayne Hennessey almost let a pass from Joe Rodon slip into the back of the net for an own-goal, but both players’ blushes were spared. It summed up Wales’ night though as Poland looked more comfortable and made it count just before the hour mark, with Swiderski dispatching following a smart assist from Robert Lewandowski.

Gareth Bale’s header rattled the woodwork in injury time which denied Rob Page’s side of a late draw, but all focus now goes to Qatar in November.

Nations League C, Group 1

Turkey’s run of five games unbeaten came to an end as the Faroe Islands got revenge for a 4-0 defeat they suffered in matchday one’s reverse fixture.

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Quickfire goals early on in the second half saw the hosts command a 2-0 lead after an hour, leaving group leaders Turkey shell-shocked and in search of a way back into the game.

They couldn’t find it, though, and had to settle for an 89th minute consolation via Serdar Gurler. Defeat is frustrating, but didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things as they still finished top of the group.



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Swiderski winner sends hosts to Nations League relegation ahead of World Cup

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Robert Lewandowski’s excellent assist for Karol Swiderski condemned Wales to Nations League relegation on Sunday night in Cardiff, as the hosts signed off for their trip to the World Cup with a defeat.

Wales have ended their Nations League campaign with one point from six games in a group which also contained the Netherlands and Belgium, with valuable experience given to a number of youngsters as qualification for Qatar took priority for the most part in this group.

They started their final game before the tournament without the absent midfield pair of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen in central midfield, but an early high press and plenty of energy set the wheels in motion. A fan in front of the press box fancied getting involved too, trying his damnedest to head the ball back onto the pitch following a block by Brennan Johnson. He actually managed it too.

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The first half was perhaps shaded by Poland in terms of territory and control, but Wales saw the better opportunities. Daniel James spurned the best chance of the opening 45 after a clearance fell into his path, and when it’s James in a foot race there’s usually only one winner.

He carried the ball into the box but could only hit his attempt at Wojciech Szczesny, when perhaps rolling the ball across to Brennan Johnson was the better option.

Johnson himself nearly scored towards the end of the first half when an attempt of his trickled agonisingly wide of the post. The closest Poland came to scoring came from Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who nearly allowed Joe Rodon’s back pass to roll through him and over the line. He just about spared his own blushes.

Poland rolled into the lead just before the hour mark after one piece of rare quality in the match carved Wales open – unsurprisingly courtesy of Lewandowski. His one touch flick in behind played through Swiderski who slotted home.

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Wales brought on Kieffer Moore and switched systems in immediate reaction, and carried more of a threat with Gareth Bale dropping into the hole in behind. Johnson was heavily involved in their attacking play from wide on the right, and again saw another attempt fall just wide. James on the opposite flank provided more of a threat for the final 25 minutes too, often beating his defender.

The hosts piled on the pressure in the closing stages and a Bale header hit the crossbar in injury time, but Wales will need to pull out better performances than this in Qatar.

Brennan Johnson

Johnson was one of Wales’ few bright sparks / Matthew Ashton – AMA/GettyImages

GK: Wayne Hennessey – 6/10 – Would have been quite something if he hadn’t have managed to retrieve the back pass that nearly trickled over the goal-line because of his mis-control. Could do nothing about the goal.

RCB: Ben Cabango – 6/10 – Wanted to write that he kept Lewandowski in his pocket, but that would be a lie.

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CB: Joe Rodon – 6/10 – Not his finest hour tonight.

LCB: Rhys Norrington-Davies – 6/10 – Carried the ball out of defence well and looked comfortable on the whole. Substituted right after Poland scored.

RWB: Connor Roberts – 6/10 – Good energy throughout the night as ever – in both directions – but no telling contributions in an attacking sense.

CM: Joe Morrell – 6/10 – Industrious but passing left a little to be desired.

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CM: Dylan Levitt – 6/10 – Tough night for the two midfielders who struggled for control against the opposition. Replaced by Colwill.

LWB: Neco Williams – 7/10 – Always carries a threat with his ability to beat opposition players. Not his best night but one of Wales’ better showings.

RW: Brennan Johnson – 8/10 – There’s just such excitement whenever he gets the ball. Unpredictable and quick with brilliant technique, but as evidenced at times, can make better decisions. Unlucky not to score in both halves.

FW: Gareth Bale – 6/10 – Largely ineffectual through the middle but far more involved when dropping into the 10 role following Moore’s introduction. Unfortunately that only came about when Wales fell behind. Came close to an equaliser in injury time as his header hit the bar.

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LW: Daniel James – 6/10 – Did the Dan James thing where he runs clean through on goal & shot straight at the keeper just after the half hour. Came close in the second after a teasing cross nearly found its way past Szczesny. Much more of a threat after Wales switched systems.

SUBSTITUTES

SUB: Kieffer Moore – 5/10 – Booked for being tall, as is tradition.

SUB: Rubin Colwill – 6/10 – Not a central midfielder but offered more of a threat than Levitt in the centre as you’d expect as Wales chased the game.

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SUB: Sorba Thomas – 6/10 – Cross in injury time nearly led to an equaliser for Bale.



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Player ratings as Les Bleus’ Nations League campaign ends in defeat

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A 2-0 victory over reigning champions France wasn’t enough to see Denmark book their spot in next summer’s Nations League finals.

For all their possession and such a bright start, France failed to break the deadlock and were punished as the hosts worked their way into the game, deservedly pulling ahead after half an hour and doubling their lead shortly after.

Kasper Hjulmand’s side put in a professional display to control the game after the break, dealing with the waves of French pressure and enjoying spells of possession themselves. Croatia being locked in a stalemate with Austria had Denmark top of the group and going through for most of the evening, but it wasn’t to be as they bounced back to keep a hold of top spot.

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France started at an electric pace and their desperation for an early goal showed, with Kylian Mbappe getting in behind Denmark’s backline regularly. For all their intent, though, Kasper Schmeichel showed his class and kept things goalless.

Denmark looked a threat from set-pieces thanks to Eriksen’s deliveries and, after surviving France’s early, possession-based flurry, brought the game to Didier Deschamps’ side. Andreas Skov Olsen came close after 20 minutes, but his touch saw the ball get stuck under his feet in front of goal.

Crucially, the hosts made their pressure count, punishing France by taking the lead after 34 minutes. Eriksen’s diagonal ball released Mikkel Damsgaard out wide, who crossed low for Kasper Dolberg to poke in at the near post.

Proceedings quickly went from bad to worse for France as Denmark doubled their lead five minutes later. Eriksen’s corners caused France another problem in the box and Olsen fired a half-volley past Alphonse Areola, sending the hosts into half-time with a deserved lead and putting them top of Group 1 as things stood.

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Changes at the interval brought France back in charge of possession, and the break did help them to ask more questions of Denmark’s defence. Olivier Giroud bought a free-kick in a dangerous area after 51 minutes, but Antoine Griezmann’s effort was saved smartly by Schmeichel.

Denmark looked stretched on occasion, but never looked too panicked and were still seeing more than enough of the ball as the game grew on. Schmeichel did bail them out after 67 minutes with a fine stop to deny Mbappe, following a sublime pass behind the defence from Griezmann.

France seemed to run out of steam in the game’s closing stages, though, with the substitutes failing to provide any hope of a comeback. Denmark saw things out comfortably to secure second in the group, with Croatia emerging victorious in Austria.

FBL-EUR-NATIONS-DEN-FRA

Denmark were clinical / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages

GK: Kasper Schmeichel (c) – 8/10 – Bailed Denmark out after a slow start with a catalogue of important stops. Down well to deny Griezmann early on in the second half.

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RB: Rasmus Kristensen – 6/10 – Didn’t add much attacking thrust but kept things tidy and, crucially, kept Mendy very quiet.

CB: Joachim Andersen – 7/10 – Grew into the game as the pressure mounted and occupied France’s forward players well.

CB: Andreas Christensen – 7/10 – Key in bringing composure in possession to Denmark’s defence. Made the correct passing decisions and was positionally disciplined.

LB: Joakim Maehle – 7/10 – Ought to have scored with the rebound from Olsen’s saved shot in the first half. A positive influence from deep.

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CM: Thomas Delaney – 7/10 – Combative and composed. His experience showed throughout the evening.

CM: Christian Eriksen – 8/10 – Plays football with his slippers on. His range of pass is a joke. Completely dictated the game in midfield.

CM: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – 6/10 – Let his midfield colleagues do the heavy lifting when it came to passing, but an important presence regardless.

RW: Andreas Skov Olsen – 8/10 – What a delight of a footballer Olsen looks to be. Sharp touches and brilliant movement, finished off with an exquisite strike.

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ST: Kasper Dolberg – 7/10 – Proper poacher’s goal to open the scoring. More of that, please.

LW: Mikkel Damsgaard – 6/10 – Seemed to dip in and out of the game, but also had Pavard’s number when in possession.

SUB: Jesper Lindstrom (60′ for Damsgaard) – 6/10

SUB: Rasmus Hojlund (60′ for Dolberg) – 6/10
SUB: Simon Kjaer (72′ for Delaney) – N/A

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SUB: Martin Braithwaite (72′ for Olsen) – N/A
SUB: Alexander Bah (90′ for Kristensen) – N/A

FBL-EUR-NATIONS-DEN-FRA

Mbappe was wasteful / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages

GK: Alphonse Areola – 6/10 – Made some solid stops, but was clearly troubled by Eriksen’s crossing abilities. Not helped by his defenders.

CB: Dayot Upamecano – 5/10 – Lost his bearings when trying to defend for Denmark’s opener. Should’ve dealt with the cross.

CB: William Saliba – 4/10 – For someone so tall and imposing, Saliba should’ve taken the lead at the back. An underwhelming display.

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CB: Benoit Badiashile – 5/10 – Also sub-par on a poor night for France’s defence.

RWB: Benjamin Pavard – 6/10 – Went to sleep on occasion when tracking runs from out wide, but tidier after the initial error.

CM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 5/10 – A mediocre display for a typically exciting young talent. Wasn’t productive enough in possession.

CM: Eduardo Camavinga – 4/10 – Swallowed up by Denmark’s industrious midfield three. Hooked at half-time.

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LWB: Ferland Mendy – 5/10 – Wasn’t involved enough and made defending too easy for Denmark. Given the run around by Olsen.

AM: Antoine Griezmann (c) – 6/10 – He tried to impose himself and played nice passes when found in space, but simply didn’t see the ball enough to be able to really put his stamp on things.

ST: Olivier Giroud – 5/10 – A victim of the aimless, French possession. Marked out of the game, too.

ST: Kylian Mbappe – 6/10 – Bright in patches, but lacked service and – crucially – composure. Got to take his chances with more quality.

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SUB: Jonathan Clauss (45′ for Saliba) – 6/10

SUB: Youssouf Fofana (45′ for Camavinga) – 6/10
SUB: Christopher Nkunku (65′ for Giroud) – N/A

SUB: Adrien Truffert (65′ for Mendy) – N/A

SUB: Randal Kolo-Muani (81′ for Griezmann) – N/A

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