EPL

Ronaldo and Rashford absent for Man Utd's clash at Villa

By Sports Desk January 15, 2022

Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford were notable absentees from Manchester United's squad for Saturday's clash with Aston Villa.

Ronaldo missed the FA Cup third-round tie between the sides on Monday due to injury and the 36-year-old was not fit enough to feature at Villa Park, despite Ralf Rangnick's hopes on Friday that he would have the striker available.

Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho missed United's 1-0 victory over Villa, but both returned to United's bench for the Premier League clash.

However, there was no place among the substitutes for England international Rashford, who endured a difficult night at Old Trafford at the start of the week and has struggled for form all season.

The forward has netted just two Premier League goals in 11 appearances this term, starting only seven times in the top flight.

With Ronaldo and Rashford absent, and Anthony Martial not in the picture, Anthony Elanga was handed a full league debut, with Edinson Cavani leading the line.

Villa boss Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, handed a debut to new signing Lucas Digne, who arrived in a reported £25million deal from Everton in the week.

Gerrard's other new acquisition – his former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho – took a place on Villa's bench.

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  • Vinicius hopes to 'keep making history for a long time' after Champions League winner Vinicius hopes to 'keep making history for a long time' after Champions League winner

    Vinicius Junior hopes he has won the first of many Champions League titles after helping Real Madrid become European champions for a 14th time, defeating Liverpool 1-0.

    Vinicius was the sole goalscorer in Saturday's final in Paris, left with a simple tap-in after Luka Modric's pass cut Liverpool open and released Federico Valverde to drill in a cross in the 59th minute.

    Another victory clinched a double for Madrid after they claimed the LaLiga title with four games to spare in April.

    This was special for Vinicius, though, as his breakthrough Champions League triumph, and he was struggling to come to terms with his achievement as he spoke to Movistar afterwards.

    "Inexplicable. I have no idea what I have done today," he said. "Now to celebrate and have a lot of fun. We have enjoyed what we have done, getting here and winning... there is nothing better than winning with this shirt.

    "It was a dream for me. To have scored in the final is the best thing a player can have. It's the first. I want to keep winning and keep making history here for a long time."

    While Vinicius was new to this stage, 36-year-old Modric was not.

    Much like in the 2018 final against Liverpool in Kyiv, Modric was at decisive best as the match progressed, riding out the initial waves of Reds energy to ultimately nullify their pressing.

    A pivotal figure in the club's run in the knockout stages to make the Champions League final, and with a contract extension on the horizon, Modric also intends to stick around and keep winning.

    "We're still letting what we've done sink in," he told Movistar. "This club is without doubt the greatest in the history of football. We always say that, and we have to repeat it – there’s nothing like Real Madrid.

    "Character, never giving up, believing right to the end. We did that today. Five Champions Leagues were impossible to imagine. But now I have five, and hopefully there'll be more."

  • Klopp claims Courtois performance proved final was 'going wrong' for Madrid Klopp claims Courtois performance proved final was 'going wrong' for Madrid

    Jurgen Klopp congratulated Real Madrid on their Champions League final win but highlighted the number of statistics in Liverpool's favour as they came up just short in Paris.

    Indeed, Klopp claimed a historic performance from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could only be possible if "something is going wrong" for victors Madrid.

    Courtois made nine saves against Liverpool to preserve a clean sheet, capping one of the great individual Champions League campaigns.

    He finished top of the competition's charts for saves (59), save percentage (80.6, minimum five saves) and goals prevented according to expected goals on target data (4.7).

    Courtois capped his terrific European run in style at the Stade de France, as his save tallies for both the final and the campaign as a whole were highs for any single Champions League season since Opta records began in 2003-04.

    His heroics also contributed to Liverpool setting a new record for the most shots attempted in a final without scoring (24).

    Despite this profligacy, with Vinicius Junior putting away one of just four Madrid attempts in a 1-0 success, Klopp put forward Liverpool's case for winning the match and pinpointed Courtois' display as a concern for their opponents.

    "After the game, when I saw the stats, it was 50-50 possession," he told a news conference. "We had a lot more shots, a lot more shots on target, but the most decisive stat is absolutely on Madrid's side.

    "Just to make sure that nobody thinks I wouldn't congratulate Real Madrid, I do that now, but I [also] congratulated everybody present and involved outside personally.

    "They scored a goal, we didn't – that's the easiest explanation in the world of football, and it's hard, harsh to get anyway, [but we] respect that of course.

    "When the goalkeeper is man of the match then something is going wrong for the other team, so we had, I think, three really big chances where Courtois made incredible saves. I would have loved to have had a few more of this calibre."

    This was Liverpool's 63rd game of a long season, in which they played three finals and took the Premier League title race to the wire, and Klopp acknowledged fatigue could have been a factor while still believing the Reds did enough to go home with the trophy.

    "Let me say, [the number of matches] doesn't help, but I don't think it was the reason," he added.

    "We all know, the chances we had, when the player shoots a ball, the ball going in or is on the foot actually only an inch, that's all. Nothing to do with being at the peak of your physical things or not.

    "We had these situations, the chance in the one-on-one situation from close range from Mo [Salah]; we know how often Mo scored in these situations. It was just an outstanding save from Courtois, we have to respect that as well.

    "I think Madrid had one shot on target, is that right? And that was a goal.

    "But, look, I understand 100 per cent and I respect 100 per cent the reason for playing football and having these kinds of competitions is to win the game, and whatever you do – as long as it's in the rules – it's allowed and you can do it. It's completely fine."

  • Robertson: Liverpool players 'devastated' after Champions League final defeat Robertson: Liverpool players 'devastated' after Champions League final defeat

    Andrew Robertson described Liverpool's players as "devastated" by their Champions League final loss to Real Madrid, as Vinicius Junior's winner condemned the Reds to a heartbreaking reverse in Paris.

    The Brazil winger's 59th-minute goal ensured Madrid repeated their 2018 final win over Liverpool to earn their 14th European crown, while only Juventus (five) have now lost more Champions League finals than the Reds (three).

    Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp has now lost more finals in the competition than any other coach (three), and despite winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup after penalty shoot-outs, Liverpool have failed to score a single goal in five and a half hours of football in major finals this term.

    Having threatened a quadruple after embarking on a brilliant four-front trophy hunt this season, Liverpool only have the domestic cups to show for their efforts after also missing out on the Premier League title to Manchester City.

    Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Robertson said the Liverpool dressing room was a sombre place following the narrow reverse, admitting his side had not reached their highest level at the Stade de France.

    The Scotland international also hailed Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after he put in a remarkable performance to keep out the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

    "Obviously it's quiet, devastated – that's what happens when you come to finals and don't win," Robertson said of the atmosphere among the Liverpool ranks.

    "We had chances, we came up against an unbelievable goalie tonight, he pulled off some unbelievable saves. But if we're being honest as well, I think we could have played a bit better, especially in the second half. 

    "I thought first half we played well, we were in control, we were the ones pushing. Second half, we didn't start great, they started getting a hold of the game a bit more. 

    "When you come up against an experienced team, they know how to win finals. Once they got their noses in front, they showed that."

    Liverpool dominated for long periods in the French capital, attempting 24 shots across the contest.

    That tally is the most a team have mustered without scoring in a Champions League final since records began (in 2003-04), and Liverpool were punished for their failure to break the deadlock when Vinicius turned home from Federico Valverde's cross.

    Robertson was left to rue Madrid's counter-attacking excellence after the loss, also praising the LaLiga champions for their ability to see out the lead.

    "We're a pressing team, we try to press from the front, and it's worked so much for us this season," he added. 

    "We were trying to win the ball high up, and obviously they've ended up breaking, and then we've been caught at the back post, and next minute it's in the back of your net. That's football for you, and you have to deal with that. 

    "Obviously it's hard to get back into the game when you're playing against a very experienced team in these finals, they know exactly how to see out a game. 

    "We had our chances, but it just wasn't meant to be."

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