Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear has heavily criticised the "self-proclaimed big six" in the Premier League for their involvement in a breakaway European competition, branding the "deeply cynical" plan a betrayal of every true football supporter.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham were all part of a 12-club group that launched the Super League last Sunday.

The proposal included the agreement that the six English clubs, as well as fellow founding members Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, Milan and Real Madrid, would qualify each year for the competition, regardless of performances in their domestic leagues.

However, a widespread backlash led to the collapse of the competition inside 48 hours of the initial announcement. The Premier League contingent all withdrew on Tuesday, though UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has made clear there will still be consequences for getting involved.

Ahead of hosting Manchester United at Elland Road on Sunday, Kinnear lambasted Leeds' domestic rivals in his programme notes.

"The fact that the whole Leeds fan-base has been united by the brilliantly impassioned words of Gary Neville illustrates how desperate the plight of European football became this week," Kinnear wrote.

"A fortnight ago we left the Etihad with an instinct that Manchester City didn't take well to being humbled by lowly Leeds United, but we could never have predicted that it would be the catalyst for them creating their own league where they would never have to be inconvenienced with the spectre of on-pitch failure again.

"The audacity of a resurgent Leeds United, an ambitious Aston Villa, a brilliantly managed Leicester City, a Champions League-bound West Ham United and an Everton with bold stadium plans have clearly overwhelmed the self-proclaimed 'big six'.

"The timing of their plan combined with the turmoil of a global pandemic was not coincidental, it was deeply cynical, and the clandestine plotting of fellow Premier League shareholders made it all the more seditious.

"Whether the collective intent was a genuine move to breakaway or the act of playground bullies seeking negotiating leverage at European and domestic level by threatening to take their ball home is irrelevant. The result was a betrayal of every true football supporter. However, this astonishing ingordigiousness has been the unexpected catalyst of creating a furious unity across nations, leagues, players, owners and fans.

"I was proud to see Leeds United and Liverpool supporters stand shoulder to shoulder in protest before a game which once again showed we are already in a Super League and making it all the more bizarre that, in the world envisioned by Liverpool's ownership, the same fixture would have been a meaningless dead rubber."

Fans protested outside Elland Road on Monday ahead of Leeds' home fixture with Liverpool – a game that finished 1-1 after Diego Llorente dented the visitors' top-four hopes with a late equaliser.

The hosts had warmed up prior to the game wearing shirts that read "Earn it" – in reference to the Reds' bid to qualify for the Champions League – and "Football is for the fans". There was also a sign saying the same stationed behind one of the goals inside the stadium.

Speculation is beginning to grow around the vacant Tottenham coaching position after Jose Mourinho's exit last week.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is on the hunt as Spurs try to return to England's top echelon.

Spurs appear set to miss out on Champions League football for the second straight season.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS PLOT RODGERS SWOOP

Tottenham are planning a move to recruit Brendan Rodgers from Leicester City as their new head coach this off-season according to The Sun.

Levy is a long-time admirer of the former Liverpool coach although he reportedly needs to convince his fellow Spurs board executives after disparaging comments Rodgers made about the club years ago.

Rodgers has been in charge of Leicester since 2019 with the Foxes firmly in the hunt for a top four finish this term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Borussia Monchengladbach forward Alassane Plea is being tracked by Premier League pair Arsenal and Manchester United claims the Mail.

- Inter Milan are interested in outgoing Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, but Barcelona remain favourites to land him reports Tuttosport.

- The Sun reports Manchester United could make a surprise move for 35-year-old goalkeeper Tom Heaton who spent time with the club as a youngster and is currently back-up at Aston Villa.

- Ajax are ready to sell full-back Nicolas Tagliafico as his admirers circle, including Leeds United, Inter Milan and Manchester City according to the Mail.

Chatter rippled quickly across the Wembley press room, a buzz of excitement quickly following. It was the first thing most people looking at hot-off-the-press team sheets mentioned.

"Foden's starting."

Since describing the playmaker as "a gift" in the aftermath of his maiden senior outing for Manchester City against Manchester United in the 2017 International Champions Cup, Pep Guardiola persistently had his use of Foden questioned.

The teenager wasn't playing enough, then he wasn't starting enough, then he wasn't starting enough meaningful games. Guardiola maintained he had a plan and it absolutely did not include Foden going out on loan.

But there he was in the first XI for a major cup final. He responded by turning in a man-of-the-match display as City beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win a third consecutive EFL Cup.

They will look to make it four in a row against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and, in the interim period, Foden has scarcely looked back.

A serious player

His outing in the 2020 final was Foden's 61st appearance for City, going back to a competitive debut from the bench against Feyenoord in the Champions League in November 2017.

Those initial steps of his career saw him make 24 starts and play 2,439 minutes. His knockdown for Sergio Aguero to open the scoring against Villa was a 10th assist to sit alongside 10 goals.

In a little over a year since, Foden has almost doubled his appearances with 56 and 38 starts contribute to a major leap of 3,598 minutes played.

The returns those appearances have yielded do much to explain his status as a one of Guardiola's go-to men, to the extent it is possible he will be afforded the luxury of a rest against Spurs, given City have a Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain on the horizon and a Premier League title to wrap up.

That might not be the most advisable course of action, given City's record of won 26, drawn three, lost one when Foden starts this season. The sole defeat came in the second Premier League game of the season against Leicester City in September.

That win percentage of 86.7 per cent drops to 68.2 (W15 D3 L4) when Guardiola opts to take Foden out of the firing line.

"His influence in our game is massive right now," the City manager told Sky Sports after another man-of-the-match showing at Villa's expense in midweek, where Foden netted a first-half equaliser in a 2-1 win before his twinkling feet mercilessly goaded opposition right-back Matty Cash into a red card.

"He is becoming a serious player for us," Guardiola added.

Pep's most prolific youngster

Last season's EFL Cup final was played out in front of a capacity Wembley crowd, for whom the Super League was a rugby league competition. It truly was a different world.

Whatever this disorientating reality is, Foden is making it his own.

In the period since he has scored 19 and laid on a further 11 in all competitions, with his minutes-per-goal figure down from 244 to 189 and shot conversion up from 13 to 16.5 per cent.

Such sharp shooting saw him score the winner in both legs of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund, the latter rasping strike leading to a cathartic and emotional embrace with Guardiola.

Unsurprisingly, Foden is far outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 11.8 since the 2020 EFL Cup final, while an xG 9.8 aligned almost exactly with his 10 goals beforehand.

This higher output is because, much to the profound discomfort of Cash and others, Foden has evolved from the scheming midfielder of his youth to an explosive and versatile wide attacker.

Only Kevin De Bruyne with 24 has been directly involved in more City goals than Foden's 23 this season, thanks to his 14 goals and nine assists.

Looking further back across a career where Guardiola has worked with some of the finest young talent in the game, Foden's overall 29 goals and 21 assists give him 50 goal involvements – more than any other player before turning 21 under the former Barcelona Bayern Munich boss.

The England international's 29 goals are also unmatched among that age group, with Bojan Krkic also scoring the same number for Guardiola's Barcelona.

This weekend is unlikely to be the last time Foden graces Wembley this year, as a starring role with England at Euro 2020 surely awaits – the 20-year-old having taken to international football effortlessly.

From boy to main man

"He was a boy when I arrived, at 17 years old he trained every day with these guys and played more minutes," Guardiola said on Friday.

"Now he is stronger with his physicality, but it is normal. He is still at an age to get stronger, play more minutes and have more experience.

"He has the ability to play in different positions. That's why he is a better player but still, like every player, he can be better. It depends on him."

In this week of all weeks, as he hauled his boyhood team to a vital win, there was something delightful about watching Foden's star continue its unchecked and rapid ascent since that surprise cup final call.

When the modern City began stacking up trophies almost a decade ago, he cheered them on from pitchside as a ballboy. Now, he plays a pivotal role in everything they achieve.

Given his employers' involvement in the tawdry Super League debacle, it will be an incredibly long time until any vaguely romantic notions can be pinned to Manchester City as an organisation.

But Foden's story, that of a young man living out his childhood fantasy every week, playing the football from all of our wildest dreams, is one any fan can cherish. Its appeal is something the suited goons and hedge fund cretins will never understand.

When Foden plays, in those moments of velvet first touches, darting dribbles and thumping finishes, all the nonsense melts away in the face of pure footballing talent. Guardiola was right, he really is a gift.

Kevin De Bruyne could return to action for Manchester City in Sunday's EFL Cup final against Tottenham after his ankle injury proved not to be as serious as first feared.

De Bruyne limped off early in the second half of last weekend's 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, with City manager Pep Guardiola saying the damage "doesn't look good".

The Belgium international was absent as his team-mates came from a goal down and endured a red card for John Stones to beat Aston Villa 2-1 and go 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Appearing visibly relieved before the match in the aftermath of the European Super League collapse, Guardiola reported further good news afterwards when De Bruyne's fitness was raised.

"It [the injury] was less than we expected, yesterday he felt much, much better," he said.

"Today I didn't speak to him but we'll see tomorrow in training."

After attempting to win a fourth consecutive EFL Cup on Sunday, City turn their attentions towards the first leg of a Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain.

"I think if he's not ready for the final, maybe he will be ready for the semi-final of the Champions League," Guardiola said.

Before Wednesday's game, an email attributed to City chief executive Ferran Soriano was sent to club members to apologise for signing up to the swiftly aborted Super League.

Guardiola lambasted the plans as "not sport" before anyone from his club had gone on the record, although he insisted his relationship with Soriano – which goes back to the pair's time together at Barcelona – is not in need of repair.

"I know the guys [on the board] and they don't need to apologise," he said.

"My chairman [Khaldoon Al-Mubarak] and CEO, I know who they are, this is most important. I understand the statement but it's a closed chapter, it's over."

The same might now be said for the Premier League title race, even if John McGinn's goal after 20 seconds threatened to let second-place Manchester Untied back into the hunt.

"It would have been dangeorus if we'd lost, Manchester United are in top form, but we deserve it for what we've done this season," Guardiola added, with man of the match Phil Foden equalising before Rodri headed the decisive goal.

"How incredible they were in the locker room, committed after two defeats. We knew how important it was as preparation for the final and the Champions League.

"It's close in the most difficult season of our lives. We have to finish this chapter, three games and we are champions."

Phil Foden made the difference for Manchester City once again at Aston Villa, with Pep Guardiola feeling the England international is coming of age.

Having lost their previous Premier League game at home to 10-man Leeds United and slumped to 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, City emerged from the whirlwind of the European Super League debacle to go behind after 20 seconds to John McGinn's strike at Villa Park.

But Foden excelled, crowning a fine team move to equalise before Rodri headed home Bernardo Silva's cross to seal a 2-1 win before half-time.

There were further twists, as City ended the opening period with 10 men after John Stones clattered into Jacob Ramsey.

It was 10-a-side before the hour, though, as Foden tormented Villa right-back Matty Cash into a pair of yellow cards.

Overall, it was a supreme display from the England international, following on from his goals in each leg of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.

"He's growing, this guy is growing. He is making steps forward every time," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"His influence in our game is massive right now. He scored a goal, provoked the two yellow cards, in the final third he ran a lot and he is so aggressive without the ball.

"He is becoming a serious player."

Foden's 14 goals and nine assists mean only Kevin De Bruyne (24) among his team-mates has more than his 23 goal involvements this season and he is second to Ilkay Gundogan (16) in City's scoring charts.

Whether the 20-year-old is ahead of where he was expected to be in terms of development is not something that overly concerns Guardiola when the returns he is producing right now are so good.

"There are guys at 19 and 20 years old who are unstoppable, at 29 and 30 they are not," he said.

"The players dictate who they are. Right now for the last games, Phil is becoming such an important player

"Against Dortmund he scored an important goal, the cross for the penalty, the final goal in the last minute against Dortmund at home.

"He can play inside, outside, he is so aggressive with the ball."

It was not such a pleasing outing for Foden's international team-mate Stones.

Guardiola was initially infuriated by the decision after referee Peter Bankes consulted the pitchside monitor and elected to upgrade his initial booking.

Villa boss Dean Smith also felt Stones was harshly done by, but the City manager feels the centre-back's woes should serve to sharpen minds in his squad ahead of Sunday's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and the Champions League semi-final showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

"He is late but the intention is not bad. He wanted to get the ball," Guardiola said.

"We are happy. If we lost we would be angry, but okay.

"It is a good lesson for the final on Sunday. You play a final 10 v 11, you have no chance. And especially then against PSG."

Manchester City's players were universally against the European Super League project, according to captain Fernandinho. 

The 12-team breakaway competition was only revealed on Sunday, yet the universal backlash quickly led to the 'big six' from the Premier League all withdrawing from the proposal.

City were the first to reveal their decision to pull out, with Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United then releasing simultaneous statements ending their association.

Chelsea had been the first English club reported to be making a Super League U-turn and the Blues confirmed as much after the 0-0 home draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday.

Speaking after City's 2-1 Premier League win over Aston Villa on Wednesday – a result that moved them 11 points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table, having played a game more – Fernandinho expressed his relief that the tournament had collapsed. 

"It's been crazy," he told Sky Sports. "After the Chelsea defeat in the FA Cup semi-final the guys were a little bit down and then on Monday this Super League came out.

"We were a little bit surprised. We didn't expect that but in the end I think the good sense was the right thing to do. Everyone throughout football didn't support this Super League, including our players.

"We are so happy now because everything has turned around. For sure, it was a big surprise for everyone.

"It's a tough situation, [we had] to find out from the people at the top of the club to see the reason they are there together with the other clubs.

"In the end, of course we wanted to come out to say we were against that. We had a chat with the players and waited for the club for the statement.

"We are happy because in the end football wins."

Victory at Villa Park for Pep Guardiola's men meant City became the first team to win 10 away games in a row in the competition on more than one occasion. 

Manchester City moved closer to the Premier League title with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa in their first match since the remarkable European Super League fiasco. 

City were among 12 elite clubs signed up to play in a controversial new continental competition until its spectacular collapse on Tuesday. 

They appeared to be suffering a hangover from the affair as John McGinn gave Villa the lead inside the first minute, though the impressive Phil Foden and Rodri ensured Pep Guardiola's men went in at the interval ahead. 

City's hopes of victory appeared to suffer a blow when John Stones was dismissed before half-time, but Matty Cash saw red before the hour to level things up as the leaders sealed a win that moved them 11 points clear of Manchester United, having played a game more than their neighbours.

City got off to a dismal start, conceding their second quickest Premier League goal after just 20 seconds.

Stones failed to cut out Matt Targett's ball over the top, allowing Ollie Watkins to tee up McGinn for a low finish past Ederson from 10 yards.

The visitors pulled level after 22 minutes, Foden guiding home a controlled volley from eight yards after a sumptuous team move in which the England international played an integral role.

Bernardo Silva was the provider for Foden and the Portugal playmaker also laid on City's second five minutes before the interval, his lofted cross from the right headed past a flapping Emiliano Martinez by Rodri.

Villa were handed a lifeline a few moments later, though, Stones receiving his first Premier League red card for an ugly challenge on Jacob Ramsey, given after referee Peter Bankes had been encouraged to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Numerical parity was restored in the 57th minute, however, when Cash received a second yellow card for a wild lunge on Foden. 

Villa rarely looked like scoring an equaliser after that blow as City became the first team to secure 10 Premier League away wins in a row on more than one occasion, Guardiola’s side winning 11 consecutive games on their travels in 2017.
 

Jose Mourinho has been out of work less than 48 hours but speculation of his next job is already mounting.

The Portuguese has already declared he is "ready to go again", despite a sizeable pay-out from Tottenham.

Tottenham sacked Mourinho on Monday with Spurs sitting seventh in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – MOURINHO ENTERS CELTIC COACHING RACE

Mourinho is in the mix to be the new coach of Scottish powerhouse Celtic according to The Sun.

Former Bournemouth coach Eddie Howe is the favourite to be appointed Neil Lennon's replacement at Celtic Park.

But 'The Special One' is in contention, despite his hefty wage demands and line of suitors.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich's David Alaba has agreed a five-year deal with Real Madrid with the contract to be signed in the coming weeks according to Sky Sports.

- Departing Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero has been offered a two-year contract by Barcelona according to TyC Sports.

- Football Insider reports Aston Villa may enter the race for Jesse Lingard who has enjoyed a super loan spell at West Ham United from Manchester United.

- Manchester United defender Eric Bailly is wanted by Spanish LaLiga club Real Betis claims The Sun.

- Julian Draxler is ready to leave PSG with a return to his homeland to join Bayern Munich his preference reports Foot Mercato.

Pep Guardiola told UEFA to face up to its own failure after the European Super League project left football on the brink of disaster.

Manchester City were the first club to confirm their withdrawal from the ill-conceived breakaway project on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the announcement of the tournament provoked widespread fury.

Players, coaches, rival clubs, national federations, FIFA, UEFA and national governments lined up to condemn the closed-shop format of the competition, where the Premier League's 'big six' were set to be founder members alongside Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Milan.

Chelsea had also reportedly reached a decision to leave by the time City issued a brief, one-paragraph statement to confirm they would step away, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all doing likewise in a flurry of late-night activity in England.

After City's announcement, UEFA issued a release from its president Aleksander Ceferin, praising the Premier League leaders for showing "great intelligence" and "courage" for admitting to their mistake.

In remarks made before those pleasantries, Guardiola was far less complimentary about European football's governing body.

"UEFA has to know: if this [Super League] has happened, it's because it's too late," he said.

"Something will happen. Always they fail. UEFA fails.

"Some important clubs have created this important situation. Why? Why? Tell me why?"

City clashed with UEFA over recent years, culminating in a two-year ban from the organisation's competitions for contravening Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules that was subsequently quashed on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last July.

But Guardiola's ire appeared to be focused upon the drive to squeeze more matches out of top clubs – an element the newly expanded Champions League format has in common with the now doomed Super League.

The Premier League, another organisation to have emerged with significant credit over a tumultuous couple of days, were also in his crosshairs.

"We spoke at the beginning of the season, about how many games there were. We spoke about the Premier League and the clubs – not the players – and instead of reducing the competition, we played more," he said.

"You think it's normal that all the clubs fight for 10 months, when they have spent a huge amount of money for these players and staff, to put the players out for three games [a week]? And then injuries and their seasons are over.

"What is the problem for UEFA? Zero. 'Why don't you finish the season, play for the national teams, play the European Championship? Why not?'.

"They don’t care. They play for their own business."

Greed has been an accusation understandably thrown at City and the other clubs to have dabbled with the Super League project and this was not something Guardiola disputed.

Indeed, ahead of his team's packed schedule continuing at Aston Villa on Wednesday, he stated the aims of the boardroom being realised have already been to the detriment of his players.

"Of course it's getting worse, but who cares? It's business, it's money. Just for this six [Premier League] teams? No, no. For everyone," he added.

"FIFA as well. The World Cup: we started with 16 and it went up and up and we're going to play with 50 countries. Ah, but it's okay. UEFA? More games.

"And the clubs. Do they listen to what the managers or the footballers said? When the season finished, we have two-three weeks off and then start again, start again. You demand.

"What about the problems about injuries? Absolutely nothing. Pick another player. The show must go on.

"Then maybe they think of something that maybe they don't like, then they react."

Pep Guardiola expressed huge reservations over any closed-shop competitions that remove the relationship "between effort and success" after plans for a European Super League were announced on Sunday.

The Manchester City boss insisted he needed more information about the tournament before making a full judgement, but admitted he was against the concept of a format that involved hand-picked clubs and no open means of qualification for other teams.

City are one of the six Premier League teams to have signed up to the continental breakaway league, which has attracted a deluge of criticism from across the sport and beyond.

Speaking ahead of City's top-flight clash with Aston Villa on Wednesday, Guardiola faced questioning over a development that has dominated the headlines since being made public.

"Sport is not a sport when the relation between the effort and reward doesn't exist," he said. 

"It's not sport when success is guaranteed, when it doesn't matter if you lose. I want the best competitions as strong as possible. In this statement, it's what I feel. This is not sport."

Jurgen Klopp does not want to continue the debate surrounding Trent Alexander-Arnold's England hopes after the right-back again wrote himself into the headlines, this time in front of Gareth Southgate.

Alexander-Arnold was controversially left out of the latest Three Lions squad by Southgate last month, the team's final gathering before a group for Euro 2020 is named.

Liverpool manager Klopp defended his player and said Alexander-Arnold's form - widely questioned this season - "cannot be the reason" for his omission.

The 22-year-old has since turned in an influential display at Arsenal, assisting the first goal in a 3-0 win, before his error let Marco Asensio in for one of three Real Madrid goals in the Champions League in midweek.

Back in Premier League action on Saturday, Alexander-Arnold was a talking point again for the right reasons.

His superb 91st-minute strike clinched a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, Liverpool's first Anfield success of 2021.

The academy graduate wrote on Twitter: "Are you not entertained!?"

Alexander-Arnold had a game-high 102 touches and no Reds player created more chances than his three. Crucially, he also made a joint-high three tackles.

A balance between attack and defence has been identified as key, and this was the first time all season Alexander-Arnold had three key passes and three tackles in the same league match.

Klopp was again asked about his star performer post-match but hopes the topic of conversation can finally now change.

"He wants to be in the [England] squad - that is clear - so we don't have to talk too much about it," Klopp said. "He is a wonderful player.

"I think Gareth agrees that he is a really wonderful player, then there is a manager who has to make a decision.

"I respect that, I really respect that. Trent respects that, I respect that.

"To be in the England squad, you have to play outstanding football. Trent did this very, very often at a very young age. So there's nothing to talk about.

"There will be tough decisions, not only at that position, too, for Gareth. I have to make tough decisions every day – that's normal in the job.

"But we don't have to talk about it; just leave the boy playing football, which he's pretty good at, and don't talk any more about it."

Although Alexander-Arnold lost possession 35 times and was dribbled past twice, there were no errors leading to shots to add to the two against Madrid - one of which Asensio punished.

Prior to the trip to Spain, Alexander-Arnold had only made one such error all season across all competitions.

"Life is like this, football is like this," Klopp said, hailing the defender's character.

"He played an exceptional game against Arsenal, a top game today, and in Real Madrid, we don't have to hide that, he was involved in the second goal they scored. That's how it is.

"I don't think Trent is in a situation where he has to prove himself constantly at this level; he has to play good football.

"As a young player, you have to develop, and you only do that if you challenge yourself in specific moments.

"If he's not playing well, it's not that he's not bothered or doesn't care, it's the opposite."

Jurgen Klopp feared Liverpool were living the "same old story" against Aston Villa, but hopes his side's response to falling behind can help them against Real Madrid in the Champions League.

The Reds finally recorded a first home win in the Premier League in 2021, though the champions had to rally from a goal down at half-time following Ollie Watkins' opener at Anfield.

Mohamed Salah drew Liverpool level before Trent Alexander-Arnold struck a superb stoppage-time winner, the full-back's goal coming with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on inside the stadium.

Klopp was particularly pleased with the spirit shown by his players, with Liverpool ending a six-game losing streak at Anfield in the league. The 2-1 triumph aids their hopes of a top-four finish this season, while it also offers a timely boost ahead of hosting Madrid in midweek.

"Obviously, the other game [against Arsenal] was really, really good, but today seemed to be the same old story, if you like," the Liverpool boss said.

"We played well but we made one mistake – which is not the biggest mistake in the world – to give them the opportunity to score, and they do. We score an equaliser, which was a great goal – a great pass, great link-up play, all these kinds of things – and then you get the information it is offside.

"We go in at half-time and it's a little bit like the same story again. But it was decided long ago and we have accepted that it’s going to be a bumpy season for us, we have to strike back again, and again, and again.

"The boys did. It took a while until we scored, but we scored a really nice goal. Then, in our situation, we had to increase a little bit the risk, took off a centre-back [Ozan Kabak] for [Xherdan] Shaqiri.

"Then we scored this wonderful goal for 2-1. It was the best goal for ages, emotionally. I'm really happy for the three points."

Liverpool ended an eight-match winless run in the Premier League at their own ground. In doing so, they scored as many goals against Villa as they did across that shocking streak.

Klopp said in his media conference: "It's no secret that it's quite a bumpy season for us. We have to fight through and if, in the end, we finish in a Champions League spot, then great.

"But it's tricky. I'm not surprised any more when things like the first half happen, I'm interested in the reaction. I liked the reaction. If we didn't turn the situation around previously, that's why we lost six games in a row at home, which should not happen - but it happened."

Next up is the return fixture in the quarter-final tie with Madrid, who triumphed 3-1 in the opening leg on Spanish soil.

While making clear his players will give it their all in attempting to turn the situation around, Klopp appreciates they face a tall order against opponents who were so clinical in the first meeting.

"We need a perfect performance on Wednesday if we want to have a chance – just a chance," Klopp said.

"I really think that with the way we played – and the way Real Madrid played there – it doesn't look very promising, but the good thing is we can play better.

"Real Madrid doesn't come here and think they are already through. It's going to be a tough one, but we will give it a try, I can promise.

"This helps, of course. When you are in the moment and win everything, you don't feel the intensity, you just want to play the next game – you would play the next day if you could. 

"Obviously, for us in the moment, it's not that easy. We have to work really hard. We have to create five chances to score a goal, or 10 to score. You have go through that, you cannot change it just because you want to. You have to work for it. We did that against a strong opponent, a very important three points.

"Whatever it gives us for Wednesday, we will use."

Liverpool left it late to secure a first Premier League win at home in 2021, with Trent Alexander-Arnold's superb stoppage-time strike downing Aston Villa 2-1 at Anfield.

The Reds rallied from a goal down to secure three crucial points in terms of the top-four battle, while the result is also a timely boost with a Champions League second leg against Real Madrid coming up in midweek.

Ollie Watkins – who scored a hat-trick in a stunning 7-2 win for his side when Liverpool visited Villa Park early in the season - gave the visitors a half-time advantage on Merseyside, his left-footed shot squeezing underneath Alisson.

Roberto Firmino had a potential equaliser ruled out by the video assistant referee before the interval, but Mohamed Salah scored the Reds' first home goal from open play in the league in 765 minutes to level early in the second half.

Liverpool had a let-off when Trezeguet hit the post but, with England boss Gareth Southgate watching on, Alexander-Arnold collected a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and curled in a late winner.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has suggested players should cut out social media use to minimise the impact of would-be online abusers.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita were all sent racist comments after Liverpool were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final.

The club condemned the abuse as "abhorrent" and "utterly unacceptable" and called on platforms to introduce "the strongest possible preventative measures".

Rangers, managed by former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, joined Swansea City and Birmingham City this week in boycotting social media as part of a challenge to companies to do more to prevent abuse.

Klopp is not active on social media but believes the best way to deprive abusers of the "forum" they crave is to "cut them off".

He told reporters: "With social media in general, we obviously have the problem that people can hide behind whatever account and say what they want to say. That's a problem that really has to get sorted on this planet as quick as possible.

"I got criticised quite a lot in my life, and not only recently. And the advice I would give is that people you don't know, people who are not really interested in you, people who don't want to help you with criticism, don't listen [to them]. Don't listen. 

"They need a forum. They need people to read it and take these kinds of things seriously. That's how bullying works, that's how blaming works, that's how shouting works, how harsh criticism works. If you cut that side off, then it's already helped a lot and it cannot harm you.

"That's my advice to the players. The rest, I don't really understand enough the need for social media. I know there are some good things for sure, but a lot of things are just not important, and for you, as a person, if you can cut them off then it's already a step in the right direction."

Liverpool face Aston Villa on Saturday looking to avenge their remarkable 7-2 defeat last October while also putting pressure on the teams in the Premier League top four.

Klopp sees the Villa clash and the second leg against Madrid as a chance to show they deserve to be in the Champions League, both this season and next.

"There is no opportunity without pressure," he said. "We are at the highest level of professional football, we want to fight for the Champions League, both qualifying for next year and being a part of it still for this year.

"A week ago we, spoke about a wonderful game we played against Arsenal, a great game of football. A few days later we played pretty much the opposite of a great game against Real Madrid, but this game shouldn't have any influence on the Aston Villa game."

Klopp admitted it was difficult to move on from their thrashing by Villa in the previous meeting, in which the champions conceded seven goals for the first time since April 1963.

"You cannot put a game like this one aside immediately," he said. "We had to work with it. A lot of problems showed up in that game. Some of the problems we had before, some we never had before.

"You work with results. The higher or more strange a result is, it doesn't mean it gets more necessary to work with it, but for sure we spoke about it quite frequently. 

"It differs, how long it takes me to get over a game. Usually, especially after a win, my mind is immediately at the next game, but we still have to reflect on the last game. I watch these games, and then I know better what happened in the game. I just try to understand why things happen."

Jack Grealish has suffered a setback in his injury recovery and will be absent for another "few weeks", Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has confirmed.

Attacking midfielder Grealish has missed Villa's last seven matches due to a shin complaint, with Smith's side winning only two of those games.

The Villa captain will now sit out the clash with Liverpool at Anfield this weekend and is likely to remain a doubt for when they next play, against Manchester City on April 21.

"Myself and Jack were quite optimistic to get him back a bit sooner than he probably should and he's had a setback that will probably put him back a couple of weeks," Smith said.

"He was really good in training, but he couldn't tolerate the loading. It's a loading injury and we have to de-load him over the next few weeks and get him back from there.

"We know it's not a long-term injury and he will be back. We all, Jack included, probably pushed him back a little bit too quickly. We wanted him to get back and he had a little setback."

Only three players have more Premier League assists than Grealish's 10 this term, while he ranks second behind Bruno Fernandes for chances created (75) and joint-third for Opta-defined 'big' chances (14).

Grealish's injury meant he missed out on England selection for the recent World Cup qualifiers, but Smith is optimistic the absence will not damage his player's chances of making Gareth Southgate's squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020.

"He's proved himself already, but the one thing for certain is he will be back before the end of the season, and then Gareth [Southgate] has to make a decision whether he thinks he's right for that," Smith said.

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