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Player ratings as Messi’s World Cup dream continues

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Argentina edged past the Netherlands to reach the World Cup semi-finals and keep Lionel Messi’s hopes of a crowning glory alive, but only after throwing away a 2-0 lead and winning a penalty shootout.

Messi got the ball rolling in the shootout, while Emiliano Martinez saved the first two Dutch penalties. Enzo Fernandez missed the chance to win it with his effort but that opportunity came back around for Lautaro Martinez to send La Albiceleste through.

Messi and Nahuel Molina had given Argentina their lead in normal time, only to see a remarkable late Netherlands comeback spearheaded by Wout Weghorst off the bench.

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Although two of the most popular and talented teams at this tournament, it was a very cagey start to the game from both sides, with neither creating anything at all of note in the opening 20 minutes. With half an hour played, only shots well off target from Messi and Steven Bergwijn were of note.

When the first shot on target did come, it was a team effort from Rodrigo de Paul and an easy save for cult hero Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert. But it seemed to mark a change in the game nonetheless because Molina’s opener came almost straight after.

The goal was made by Messi, who picked the ball up in midfield, suddenly changed his pace and then picked a through pass to Molina that defied logic as to how he’d seen the run from the wing-back. The Atletico Madrid player just instinctively poked it over the onrushing Noppert.

The remainder of the first half threatened to get a little tetchy as tempers flared and yellow cards were dished out at will by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, even to Weghorst on the bench.

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Louis van Gaal was aware enough that things weren’t working for his team in the first half – Frenkie de Jong needed to be much further up the pitch to make the right impact – that he made a double change at half-time to try and get it moving.

Aside from his stunning assist, Messi’s impact on the game and on Argentina’s hopes at this World Cup was summed up in a passage of play just after the hour mark. He jostled for the ball in his own half, drove forward before receiving it back and then winning a free-kick off a frustrated Virgil van Dijk. The 35-year-old struck the set-piece himself and rippled the roof of the net as it just missed.

A disappointing Dutch side still weren’t creating much and Argentina got the breathing room that they were craving with around 20 minutes to go. Denzel Dumfries was suckered into sweeping the legs of advancing wing-back Marcos Acuna and it was left to Messi to whip the ball into the side netting well beyond the reach of the motionless Noppert.

From that point it looked as though La Albiceleste would cruise through to the semi-finals, but Van Gaal and the Netherlands had other ideas when he sent the giant Weghorst on to join fellow sub and similar target man Luuk de Jong already on the pitch.

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Weghorst set up the late Dutch onslaught after connecting with a wonderful Steven Berghuis cross, powering a low header past Martinez. Plenty of fans inside the stadium then thought there had been a quickfire equaliser when an effort was thrashed into the side netting.

As Argentina suddenly looked to cling on and the Dutch route-one game bypassed Messi completely, tempers again flared as substitute Leandro Paredes booted the ball in the direction the Netherlands bench. Cue a melee as Dutch subs piled onto the pitch and pushing and shoving ensued.

The last gasp equaliser to force extra-time was an incredible piece of dead ball ingenuity. Teun Koopmeiners shaped to lash a free-kick at goal, but instead played a deft pass to Weghorst by the side of the defensive wall. Argentina weren’t expecting it and couldn’t react in time to his finish.

The final whistle at the end of the 90 sparked more flare-ups at the side of the pitch. Yet the first period of extra-time was then very flat from both sides, perhaps suddenly more concerned about not losing than keep pushing for the win.

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Argentina finished the stronger of the sides in extra-time, with Van Dijk making a crucial late block to deny Lautaro Martinez and then Enzo Fernandez almost beating Noppert unconventionally after his shot was deflected agonisingly over the cross bar. Martinez also forced Noppert into a save in the dying moments, while Fernandez cracked one off the base of the post.

Van Dijk and Berghuis both had penalties saved by Martinez in the shootout, with Messi, Paredes and Gonzalo Montiel all converting for Argentina. Koopmeiners and Weghorst each scored theirs. After Fernandez missed the chance to win it, Luuk de Jong kept Netherlands alive, before Lautaro Martinez calmly won it with the last kick.

Wout Weghorst's brace sent the game to extra-time

Wout Weghorst’s brace sent the game to extra-time / ANP/GettyImages

GK: Andries Noppert – 6/10 – Beaten twice but made a few saves towards the end of extra-time

CB: Jurrien Timber – 6/10 – Took a needless yellow card when he shoved Acuna after play had already stopped. Committed a lot of fouls overall.

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CB: Virgil van Dijk (c) – 7/10 – Made a big block in extra-time.

CB: Nathan Ake – 7/10 – Moved out to left-back in the second half and did it justice.

RWB: Denzel Dumfries – 5/10 – Spent a lot of time playing high up the pitch, but couldn’t repeat his heroics of the last 16. Gave away what proved to be the decisive penalty.

CM: Marten de Roon – 4/10 – Didn’t really imprint himself on the game and was disappointing in the tackle. Didn’t return for the second half.

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CM: Frenkie de Jong – 5/10 – Kept having to come deep to try and get on the ball. Saw a lot of it and passed accurately but it didn’t exactly influence the game in a positive way for his team.

LWB: Daley Blind – 5/10 – Couldn’t keep up with Molina when the breakthough goal came.

AM: Cody Gakpo – 6/10 – Not involved much for most of the initial 90 minutes and a lot of what he did try didn’t work. Sparked into life towards the very end or normal time.

ST: Steven Bergwijn – 4/10 – Didn’t see much of the ball and had one shot that went well wide before being subbed off at half-time.

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ST: Memphis Depay – 5/10 – Not his day in the end. Off the pitch before the fightback began.

Substitutes

Teun Koopmeiners (46′ for De Roon) – 8/10

Steven Berghuis (46′ for Bergwijn) – 7/10

Luuk de Jong (65′ for Blind) – 6/10

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Wout Weghorst (78′ for Depay) – 8/10

Noa Lang (113′ for Gakpo) – 6/10

Manager

Louis van Gaal – 9/10 – Ignoring the fact that his team initially went 2-0 down, he recognised where his team weren’t getting it right, made changes and switched focus to balls into the box. The late equaliser was also clearly something that had been worked on in training.

Nahuel Molina was all-action for Argentina

Nahuel Molina was all-action for Argentina / ANP/GettyImages

GK: Emiliano Martinez – 7/10 – Might have expected to do better with the Dutch goal. His hands were close enough to it. Hadn’t been tested before that but made himself a shootout hero.

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CB: Cristian Romero – 6/10 – Defended well and the Dutch didn’t get a sniff from him when he was on the pitch.

CB: Nicolas Otamendi – 6/10 – Repelled the high balls into the box, despite lacking height compared to the Dutch giants. But that wasn’t how the 101st minute equaliser came.

CB: Lisandro Martinez – 6/10 – Like Otamendi, but more so.

RWB: Nahuel Molina – 8/10 – Often looked keen to get forward and was rewarded when Messi somehow saw his surging run forward.

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CM: Rodrigo de Paul – 6/10 – Gave a decent performance in the middle but forced off slightly prematurely with an injury problem.

CM: Enzo Fernandez – 6/10 – Not enough opportunity to do things with the ball in meaningful areas until changes in the second half. Made much more impact in extra-time.

CM: Alexis Mac Allister – 6/10 – Battled hard and did both sides of the game in midfield.

LWB: Marcos Acuna – 8/10 – Yellow carded for a nasty challenge on Dumfries and got in Dutch faces. But also gave a top performance and the game was won at the moment he went off.

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ST: Lionel Messi (c) – 8/10 – Argentina’s switch of system didn’t seem to suit him at first, but he changed the game in an instant 35 minutes in when he made Molina’s goal. Scored a penalty too, yet when Netherlands went long ball later on, he disappeared from the game.

ST: Julian Alvarez – 6/10 – Put in a hard shift without the glory this time.

Substitutes

Leandro Paredes (66′ for De Paul) – 6/10

Nicolas Tagliafico (78′ for Acuna) – 5/10

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German Pezzella (78′ for Romero) – 5/10

Lautaro Martinez (82′ for Alvarez) – 7/10

Gonzalo Montiel (106′ for Molina) – 6/10

Angel Di Maria (112′ for Li. Martinez) – 7/10

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Manager

Lionel Scaloni – 6/10 – His wing-back really did a great job in deciding this game, but one questions how much impact the boss actually has when Messi is so decisive.

Player of the match – Lionel Messi (Argentina)



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EPL

Moises Caicedo appears to post farewell message to Brighton

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Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo appeared to post a farewell message to the club on Friday night, only hours after Arsenal had a £60m bid rejected.

The Seagulls, who are sixth in the Premier League, have no interest in selling Caicedo this month and 90min has reported they are not looking to entertain further bids.

Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi seemed to suggest on at his Friday press conference that Caicedo’s preference would be to leave but that he and the club are trying to persuade him otherwise.

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“I spoke with him on Wednesday and I told him my opinion. It is always difficult to change during the season. For our way, it is important for him to stay a few more months,” De Zerbi explained.

“He is relaxed. I spoke with him like a father, not a coach. I understand when one player has the possibility to change to a very big team. But my work is to give the style of play but also advice for his career and his life.”

Speaking about his own future recently, Caicedo had said that his focus is on Brighton.

“I am here, I’m playing every day. Things from outside don’t trouble me, nor does it take that focus away because I’m focussed only on here,” he commented.

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Yet taking to social media now, Caicedo made clear a desire to leave Brighton and speaking of his pride at being able to bring in a huge fee in what came across as an attempt to force the club’s hand.

“I am grateful to Mr. Bloom and Brighton for giving me the chance to come to the Premier League and I feel I have always done my best for them. I always play football with a smile and with heart. I am the youngest of 10 siblings from a poor upbringing in Santa Domingo in Ecuador,” he posted.

“My dream always to be the most decorated player in the history of Ecuador. I am proud to be able to bring in a record transfer fee for Brighton which would allow them to reinvest it and help the club continue to be successful.

“The fans have taken me into their hearts and they will always be in my heart so I hope they can understand why I want to take up this magnificent opportunity.”

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On this edition of TCOAG, Harry Symeou is joined by Arsenal presenter Nicole Holliday to preview Man City vs Arsenal in the FA Cup, discuss the transfer window, our midfield needs, Leandro Trossard & more! A more informal preview show than usual but it was plenty of fun! If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!



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Everything you need to know about the Hollywood-backed club

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Wrexham are gearing up for one of the biggest games in their club history when they face Sheffield United in the FA Cup.

The Welsh side have grown exponentially in recent years following the arrival of Hollywood players Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, with a documentary series also raising the profile of the club.

There has been plenty of on-pitch progress too, with some big signings being made in the past couple of season.

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Here’s what you need to know about the club.

Wrexham host Sheffield United in the fourth round of the 2022/23 FA Cup with both sides in brilliant form. Wrexham are top of the National League as they target promotion back to the Football League, while the Blades are second in the Championship.

It’s the first time Wrexham have reached the fourth round since 1997. The two teams last met in 2014 when United edged a five-goal thriller – Phil Jagielka was among the scorers that day.

Phil Parkinson is the current manager at Wrexham, having taken charge of the club back in 2021. He began his managerial career with Colchester United and had roles with Hull and Charlton before a five-year spell with Bradford.

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City achieved promotion as League Two play-off winners in 2012/13, also unexpectedly reaching the League Cup final at Wembley that season.

Parkinson then managed over 150 games for Bolton before resigning in August 2019. He was snapped up by Sunderland a few months later but lasted little more than a year before leaving.

He arrived at Wrexham in July 2021 and took the Welsh side to the FA Trophy final where they were defeated by Bromley in May 2022. The were imminently knocked out of the play-offs by Grimsby at the semi-final stage.

Paul Mullin in undoubtedly Wrexham’s main danger in attack. After boshing in the goals for Cambridge United, the striker dropped down the pyramid to sign for the Robins and has delivered goal after goal.

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The physical Ollie Palmer is dangerous up front, too, with 13 league goals this season, while Ben Tozer and goalkeeper Mark Howard are important players in their defence.

Ryan Reynolds is a Canadian-American actor renowned for roles in films like Deadpool, Free Guy and Red Notice.

He is thought to have a net worth of around $150m. He has a stake Aviation Gin though unclear how big, having sold the company recently for $610m, and co-founded Maximum Effort Productions and Maximum Effort Marketing.

He’s also involved in Mint Mobile.

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Rob McElhenney is an American actor, writer and producer most well known for the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which he co-created alongside Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.

What is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an American sitcom that centres around a group of narcissitic and self-obsessed friends who run an Irish pub in south Philadelphia. McElhenney is known for playing Ronald “Mac” McDonald.

It stars the aforementioned McElhenney, Howerton and Day as well as Kaitlin Olson, who McElhenney married in 2008, and acting legend Danny DeVito.

Rob McElhenney’s fascination with Wrexham began with Mythic Quest writer Humphrey Ker, who revealed he got the actor into the spot during lunch breaks.

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“I’m laying claim to the fact (Rob’s) interest in football derives from several years of teasing me for watching football during our lunch breaks at work. Until eventually, just by pure osmosis, I got him interested in the game to the degree that he decides to buy a football team,” Ker said.

Wrexham had been fan owned since 2011 but the supporters’ trust voted McElhenney and Reynolds’ takeover bid through with 98% in favour.

The pair took total control through RR McReynolds Company LLC and made an initial £2m investment under the terms of the deal in early 2021.

Wrexham is a Welsh town close to the Welsh/English border. The club is well renowned for being one of the oldest professional teams in world football. They nearly folded as recently as 2011, though fan action kept the institution afloat.

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The place is known for being a mining town and was previously a rock-solid seat in United Kingdom political elections for Labour, but in 2019 a Conservative MP was voted in.

Welcome to Wrexham is available exclusively on Disney+ in the United Kingdom, while viewers in the United States can view the show through streaming platform Hulu.

When is the next series?

Wrexham owners Reynolds and McElhenney confirmed on social media the show would return for a second series. It will likely come after the 2022/23 football season finishes.

The biggest result in Wrexham’s history came in the FA Cup in 1992 when they upset First Division Championship winners Arsenal at the Racecourse.

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Alan Smith’s opener was cancelled out by Mickey Thomas’ awesome free kick before Steve Watkin slid in the winner.

They reached the first round of the FA Cup in 2021/22, while the year before they were dumped out in the fourth qualifying round by Solihull Moors.

Wrexham’s ground is the Racecourse Ground. It’s the world’s oldest international football stadium that still hosts international matches and the fifth largest stadium in Wales. It has a current capacity of 10,771, though in 1957, 34,445 spectators watched as Wrexham faced Manchester United.

It was first opened in 1807 and has been Wrexham’s home since 1864.

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Player ratings as single Ake goals knocks Gunners out of FA Cup

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Manchester City knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium as the fourth round kicked off on Friday night, with Nathan Ake the unexpected star of the show with the only goal.

The Gunners made a bright start and right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu stung the palms of City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega after only a few minutes. Leandro Trossard was the architect of a few moves down the left in those early stages, exposing City’s preference to have right-back Rico Lewis operate as an auxiliary central midfielder.

The hosts caught their first sight of goal courtesy of a loose ball that threatened to let Erling Haaland in. Matt Turner was quick to rush out, but as the ball popped up into the air, Haaland attempted the acrobatic – think Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs England in 2012 – but Tomiyasu dropped back onto the line.

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Midway through the first half, Ortega’s strong left hand stopped Trossard putting Arsenal ahead after the £27m Belgian drove in-field from his flank. City had their own chance from a Belgian soon after when Kevin De Bruyne whipped a left-footed shot just wide of the far post.

Trossard made another Arsenal chance when he put a teasing cross into Eddie Nketiah at the near post, with the in-form striker sending his flick just wide. It didn’t really feel like an action-packed first half, yet the opportunities kept coming as Haaland missed the target under pressure from Gabriel.

Trossard aside, none of the big players on either side had particularly stood out in the first 45 – the likes of Haaland, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bukayo Saka had all be disappointingly quiet.

Given that, it was perhaps fitting that the eventual breakthrough came from an unlikely source. Substitute Julian Alvarez changed things by taking on a shot from distance that rebounded off the post. Jack Grealish recycled it and found left-back Ake, who passed the ball into the far corner of the goal like a seasoned striker.

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Both managers made numerous changes to try and shift the balance of the game in their favour as the minutes ticked away. It achieved little as far as the spectacle was concerned, breaking up any potential for a bit of rhythm or momentum.

City dug in in the closing stages, squeezing Arsenal out whenever the Gunners threatened to make something happen in or around the box – in particular Ortega made a couple of vital smothers when Arsenal sub Gabriel Martinelli injected some pace for the hosts.

Stefan Ortega

Stefan Ortega was the busier goalkeeper in the first half / Michael Regan/GettyImages

GK: Stefan Ortega – 8/10 – Needed to make saves from the start, keeping City in it when Arsenal were arguably stronger in the first half. Stayed strong throughout and never looked as though he was going to be beaten.

RB: Rico Lewis – 6/10 – Spent a lot of time in the middle of the pitch as per instructions from his manager. Clearly a good player but it gave Trossard too much space, albeit not his fault.

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CB: John Stones – 5/10 – Often looked vulnerable because of how Lewis was playing. A suspected hamstring injury then ended his night before half-time.

CB: Manuel Akanji – 7/10 – Had to switch positions after Stones was taken off but put in a dominant performance regardless.

LB: Nathan Ake – 8/10 – Finished with great composure to put his team ahead and put in a solid defensive shift as well, with Saka hardly given a sniff.

CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 5/10 – Narrowly missed with a great curling effort in the first half and slightly improved after half-time but was far from his best.

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CM: Rodri – 5/10 – Unusually sloppy with the ball by his standards.

CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 6/10 – Did both sides of the ball pretty well but not always on the same page as the forwards ahead of him.

RW: Riyad Mahrez – 4/10 – Not really himself. Didn’t have enough of the ball to make any real impact and was withdrawn before an hour had passed.

ST: Erling Haaland – 5/10 – Attempted the spectacular early on and also took a whack to the back of the head before half-time. Didn’t get his usual quality service.

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LW: Jack Grealish – 6/10 – Gets an assist for his layoff to Ake and City’s best forward on the night.

Substitutes

SUB: Aymeric Laporte (45+4′ for Stones) – 7/10

SUB: Julian Alvarez (58′ for Mahrez) – 7/10

SUB: Kyle Walker (58′ for Lewis) – 7/10

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SUB: Bernardo Silva (75′ for De Bruyne) – 6/10

Manager

Pep Guardiola – 7/10 – The way he set up the team didn’t make sense when Trossard kept causing problems down City’s right. Changed shape early in the second half and the substitutes definitely did make a positive impact overall.

Bukayo Saka; Rodri

Bukayo Saka saw precious little of the ball / Michael Regan/GettyImages

GK: Matt Turner – 6/10 – Stood little chance with the only goal. Always keen to come for crosses or rush off his line.

RB: Takehiro Tomiyasu – 6/10 – Had the first early chance with a good foray forward.

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CB: Rob Holding – 5/10 – Got physical with Haaland and took a yellow card for it with 50 minutes still left to play. The danger of getting another saw him removed at half-time.

CB: Gabriel – 6/10 – Did enough to put Haaland off in a key moment.

LB: Kieran Tierney – 6/10 – Would have expected a tougher test from Mahrez. Didn’t offer much going forward to take advantage of that.

CM: Fabio Vieira – 5/10 – Had one shot that missed the target and didn’t do enough otherwise.

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CM: Thomas Partey – 5/10 – Didn’t stand out and was surprisingly replaced at half-time.

CM: Granit Xhaka – 6/10 – Successful in stopping City play their usual sparkling game, although a couple of hesitations in key moments were almost costly.

RW: Bukayo Saka – 4/10 – Just 23 touches of the ball tells its own story.

ST: Eddie Nketiah – 5/10 – Couldn’t find the target with a chance in thef first half. The service wasn’t there for him and he touched the ball only slightly more than Saka.

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LW: Leandro Trossard – 7/10 – Gave City real trouble from the start and created a number of chances in the first half. Much quieter after the break.

Substitutes

SUB: William Saliba (46′ for Holding) – 6/10

SUB: Albert Sambi Lokonga (46′ for Partey) – 6/10

SUB: Gabriel Martinelli (66′ for Trossard) – 7/10

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SUB: Oleksandr Zinchenko (66′ for Tierney) – 6/10

SUB: Martin Odegaard (74′ for Saka) – 5/10

Manager

Mikel Arteta – 6/10 – Took no risks with Holding on a yellow card and later responded to going behind by making chances immediately. Couldn’t get one over on his old mentor.

Player of the match – Nathan Ake (Man City)



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