Without Ibrahimovic, PSG can’t beat nine-man Stade Rennes

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If you were looking to catch Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action after his mid-week spectacle, you were out of luck. ‘Ibra’ was suspended on for Paris Saint-Germain’s Saturday match against Stade Rennes.

Yes, I was also surprised to learn this wasn’t legal:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcRGelH3-Xc]

I guess you can only get away with that in a World Cup final.

Ibra got a two-match ban, the first game illustrating just how important he’s become to his new team. PSG struggled to a 1-1 draw with 14th place Montpellier, and result that looked worlds better after the Parisians’ performance on Saturday.

MORE: Ibra? Or … Michael Bradley?

Hosting surging Rennes, PSG was given an early gift. After the teams had traded early goals, goalkeeper Benoit Costil saw red for taking down Jeremy Menez (who later had to leave with a leg injury). Returning the favor, PSG set up a terrible wall on a 34th minute free kick, allowing Rennes’ Julian Féret to curve his shot around the wall and past Salvatore Sirigu.

Given the Parisians’ talents, the 2-1 halftime deficit seemed a minor inconvenience, particularly with Rennes determined to have the last laugh in the teams’ battle of stupid offenses. Early in the second, midfielder Jean Makoun’s ill-advised foul on Nene (going through the back of the PSG attacker) drew a second yellow card, leaving Rennes to play out the final 40 minutes with nine men. Surely, even an Ibrahimovic-less PSG – a team that had Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Nene, Guillaume Hoarau and Kevin Gamiero on the field at match’s end – could find a way to get two goals against nine men.

They didn’t even get one, allowing a nine-man Rennes to take three points from the Parc de Princes, extended PSG’s winless streak to three. Now wins from any of Marseille, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Valenciennes or Bordeaux will cost PSG Ligue 1’s top spot. If the planets align, Carlo Ancelotti’s team will be in fifth come Monday morning.

All of which brings us back to Ibrahimovic. Ibra has 10 goals in as many league appearances since moving to France, but the rest of the team’s only scored nine goals despite play three games without him. With all the money PSG’s spent over the last two years, who would have thought they’d end up a one-man team?

MORE: You can win Ibra’s four-goal boots.

When Ibra’s out, however, PSG’s a zero man team, one incapable of besting a nine-man side at home. It makes you wonder what would become of PSG’s season is the 31-year-old Swede got hurt.

Fortunately for the Parisians, Ibrahimovic has been very durable. Since moving from the Dutch league to Italy in 2004, Ibrahimovic has averaged 31 league games per year, never appearing in fewer than 26.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.