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Ancelotti may need more than win over Lyon to stay on at PSG

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As with all things, the French tend to be philosophical about their sport. Though it would be a mistake to paint the entire population with the same broad brush, you’re more likely to get the larger perspective out of a French soccer fan after results that might lead others to claims of “famous” wins or states of “crisis”. For some, the approach explains why draws seem to be more palatable around Ligue 1. One match’s results are too little to get excited about, especially when the score’s inconclusive.

Carlo Ancelloti, however, has begun to draw conclusions from philosophers. The Milan legend who won the Premier League at Chelsea is nearing his one year anniversary at Paris Saint-Germain. When he took over for Antoine Kombouaré on Dec. 30, 2011, PSG had just used a win over Saint-Etienne to move into first place, a spot they’ve infrequently held since. After falling at Nancy on March 31, PSG lost their lead and eventually the title to Montpellier. They have not led the league at the end of a round since.

That Ancelotti has not faced the same scrutiny that befell Kombouaré seems incongruous until you remember who hired him. Leonardo, brought in last season to serve as PSG’s director of football, chose Ancelotti, his first coaching hired in Paris. The Brazilian inherited Kombouaré, a circumstance that left the coach’s job the source of constant speculation throughout the first half of last season. Ancelotti has already gotten leeway the former PSG defender never saw.

The expectations on Ancelotti, however, are higher, part of the reason the two-time Champions League winner’s viability is starting to be questioned. Paris Saint-Germain enter Sunday’s match against league-leading Olympique Lyonnais three points back despite another huge round of summer investment from their Qatari owners. Most notably, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not only purchased but has dominated the league, scoring a league-leading 17 times in his first 14 appearances. Add in talents of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Veratti, Thiago Silva and Gregory Van Der Wiel – all added over the summer – and concern over Ancelotti’s results becomes understandable.

But if the coach is to be believed, the influx of new talent may actually be a hinderance. The burdens of expectation may not be something PSG’s new players feel, according to Ancelotti:

“As coach, I have to take my share of responsibility, but the players have to do the same,” Ancelotti said, per ESPNFC. “I get the impression the players feel the club’s project and the problems in the team’s play don’t concern them.

“My players don’t make a team. They’re still a group of individuals. We still don’t have any consistency in our game. It’s neither solid nor unified. The work of a coach is to find a solution very quickly.”

Hinting a solution’s been found, PSG have won three in a row, a stretch that’s included impressive wins over Porto (in Champions League) and at Valenciennes (0-4). Unfortunately a preceding stretch of only three victories in eight games has created a bottom line feel around the team. They may have won three on the trot, but these are the results the team was supposed to be producing all along. Why is PSG in second place? Why are they trailing Lyon?

Part of that is PSG’s regression (they’re on pace for fewer points than last year’s second place campaign), but it would be unfair to not give some credit to Rémi Garde. After the Lyon coach suffered through his own first year struggles (OL failing to claim a Champions League spot for the first time in 14 years), the former Gones sweeper has his team on top of the league despite the club’s continued overhaul. The only imports have been cast offs — Steed Malbranque finding a home at Stade Gerland, Milan Bisevac slotting into defense after becoming surplus at (ironically) PSG — but given the litany of names Garde has lost, Lyon was expected to be fringe contenders at best. Those are the expectations when a team that finished 18 points off the lead loses their No. 1. keeper (Hugo Lloris, to Tottenham), a midfield linchpin (Kim Kallstrom, to Spartak Moscow), their starting left back (Aly Cissokho, to Valencia), and their long-serving defensive leader (Cris, to Galatasaray).

Youth served

With the summer departures of Hugo Lloris, Cris, Kim Kallstrom and Aly Cissokho, Lyon has fully embraced their youth movement:

2012-13 Career
Player Age Pos. GP G GP G
Maxime Gonalons 23 M 16 2 89 4
Dejan Lovren 23 D 7 1 61 2
Alexandre Lacazette 21 A 15 1 54 7
Clement Grenier 21 M 11 1 42 1
Guieda Fofana 21 M 12 0 30 0
Rachid Ghezzal 20 M 4 0 4 0
Samuel Umtiti 19 D 8 0 20 0
Yassine Benzia 18 A 8 0 9 0

They were expectations Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas set when he hired the inexperienced Garde, and although missing Champions League was a huge disappointment for a club that dominated France not so long ago, Lyon is consciously and successfully undergoing a youth movement. Of Garde’s starters for Nov. 28’s 4-1 Classique victory at Marseille, five were Lyon products age 23 or younger: defender Samuel Umtiti; midfielders Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons; and attackers Alexandre Lacazette and Rachid Ghezzal. Add in the contributions of defender Dejan Lovren (bought from Dinamo Zagreb), midfielder Gueida Fofana (Le Havrea) and attacker Yassine Benzia and you have the largest and most deliberate youth movement among Europe’s major clubs.

It’s a point of literary irony that it’s a build from within, cut costs, shun the benefits of big buys philosophy that’s proved an obstacle Paris Saint-Germain’s ambition. While Lyon still has names Lisandro Lopez, Michel Bastos, and Bafetimbi Gomis among their ranks, this was once a team that had the likes of Karim Benzema, Michael Essien, and Florent Malouda. It’s not quite the talent currently patrolling the Parc de Princes, but there was a time that OL’s talent lapped the Ligue 1 field, one of the main reasons the club won seven straight titles through 2008. For the last two years, the talent advantage has lied with the Parisians, yet they lost last year’s race to an undermanned Montpellier and trail a reconfiguring Lyon as we approach this year’s break. (Aulus recently conceded all of Lopez, Basots, and Gomis could still go as the team looks to further reduce payroll.)

But Lyon’s reconfiguring has gone beyond mere roster turnover. On the field, Garde has settled into the 4-2-3-1 formation that never took hold last season. In the past it would have seemed a counter-intuitive approach, a setup that isolates OL’s best player (Lopez) out left, but given Lopez’s fitness concerns and the depth and variety of talent Garde has in midfielders and wider attackers, it’s been the team’s best approach. The resulting system has gotten the most out of Gomis, one of two double-digit scorers in France, while promoting a possession game that’s helped drastically reduce the team’s goals allowed (Lyon’s conceded 16 in 17 games after allowing 51 last season).

source: Getty ImagesIt’s all part of a year’s worth of hard-earned lessons for Garde (right), who has no head coaching experience before being appointed by Aulus. But seeing how Garde’s grown after one year on the job,  it’s worth asking whether Ancelotti could do the same. But the PSG boss has always enjoyed strong starts at his previous stops, something that makes his PSG experience all the more concerning. And the Parisians aren’t a side in the middle of scaling back a once dominant operation. They’re building to not only win in France but to compete at a level which will make them a global brand. Ancelotti was hired to bring immediate success, not implement a process.

This is why, as Andy Brassell points out today in The Independent, the French media has started to be brash about a post-Ancelotti future. L’Equipe, France’s sports daily, has reported PSG’s management has already sounded out Pep Guardiola, with long-time link Arsène Wenger and Real Madrid’s José Mourinho also in frame. The recent, thin support of PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi (“Today, Carlo is here” he said after the Porto win) left little doubt the Italian’s future is being evaluated.

Consider the implications if Paris Saint-Germain lose on Sunday. They’ll trail going into winter break, six points back of Lyon. There’ll be no three-match winning streak to assuage doubts. Worse for Ancelotti, there’ll be a two week break that will allow the Qataris to ask the question normally reserved for presidential elections: Are we better off than we were before?

Even if PSG draw, it’s hard to see that answer coming back as yes. Despite far more talent, the Parisians aren’t getting noticeably better results. Perhaps ownership will fall back on Ancelotti’s Champions League success as reason to retain him through the European season, but where their evaluation of his predecessor was clinical and cold, Ancelotti would be fortunate to survive the holiday season without a win over Lyon.

One game’s results might be harder to get worked up about in France than other cultures, but there’s little doubt Ancelotti needs to win on Sunday. But if we look back on the circumstances of Antoine Kombouaré’s dismissal, even that may not be enough to avoid change in Paris.

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League schedule, Week 22

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Week 22 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Liverpool host Swansea City (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Anfield looking to grab a win which would close the gap on leaders Chelsea, while Swansea are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table.

Stoke City host Manchester United (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s men aiming to extend their unbeaten run to 13 games in the Premier League. At the same time Crystal Palace host Everton (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as Sam Allardyce looks to grab his first win as Palace boss in the PL against the in-form Toffees.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

Rounding off Saturday is a big game at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur (12:30 p.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Pep Guardiola has already conceded the title but Spurs have a real chance of Chelsea as Maurico Pochettino’s side are chasing a seventh-straight PL win.

On Sunday, Leicester visit Southampton (7 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both the Foxes and Saints in real danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. Then Arsenal welcome Burnley to the Emirates Stadium (9:15 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with the Gunners hoping to stay in the title hunt, while the Clarets seek a first away win of the season.

Rounding off Week 22, leaders Chelsea welcome Hull City to Stamford Bridge (11:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Antonio Conte had Diego Costa back fit and available but the Blues will be wary of new Hull boss Marco Silva after a positive start to his spell at the KCOM Stadium.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Everton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Hull City – NBCSN [STREAM

Guardiola has “said goodbye to title”; praises Spurs, Pochettino

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Ahead of Manchester City’s home game against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Pep Guardiola has no hopes of his team winning the Premier League title this season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

Guardiola, 46, looked dejected after City’s 4-0 defeat at Everton last weekend — his heaviest league defeat as a manager — and with City losing five games already this season and trailing league leaders Chelsea by 10 points, he reiterated his belief that any title chances are over.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium

Speaking to the media against of the clash with Mauricio Pochettino‘s in-form Spurs, Guardiola has given up on winning the PL trophy.

“We already said goodbye to the title. I expect it to be similar to the first game against them,” Guardiola said.

So what are Spurs’ biggest strengths under Pochettino?

“Tottenham are a good team,” Guardila said. “They are really playing good. As a fan of football, I love to see them. They are brilliant. It is the third season there; they play how he wants. His positional game is really good. It is quite similar to Chelsea but they have some different movements. They move a little bit more sometimes – Mousa Dembele goes left. The players are in good positions; the ball goes there.

“It is a really good team – strong physically, with good build-up and good quality between the lines with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. They can use long balls with Harry Kane. They are strong enough but they have the quality.”

That quality has seen Spurs win six games on the spin in the Premier League and they haven’t won seven league games on the spin since May 1967.

With the criticism coming Pep’s way, he deflected the attention away from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who continues to have a tough debut season in England. Guardiola instead said both he and his players need to improve if they’re at least going to finish in the top four of the Premier League.

In the big games this season City have steeped up for their manager, beating Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League, plus Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League. However, they were easily beaten 2-0 by Tottenham back in October at White Hart Lane and Pep is under no illusion that Saturday’s clash will be one of City’s toughest of an increasingly tough season.

Confidence is not high at the Etihad but City certainly has the quality to beat any team on their day, especially if they can eradicate the defensive mistakes which have cost them dear in recent weeks.

Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Tottenham

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  • Spurs aiming to win seven-straight PL games
  • Man City 10 points off leaders Chelsea
  • Tottenham beat City 2-0 in October

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur takes place on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

Pep Guardiola has all but conceded the Premier League title following City’s humbling 4-0 defeat at Everton last time out, but Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino are on a roll with six-straight PL wins under their belt and are seven points off leaders Chelsea.

Guardiola and Pochettino clashed as both players and managers during their time living and playing in Barcelona (Guardiola at FC Barcelona and Pochettino at Espanyol) and after Guardiola’s dominance in Spain and Germany as a coach, it is Pochettino who goes into this game as the favorite with Harry Kane and Dele Alli in superb form for in-form Spurs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium

In team news City will be without the suspended Fernandinho but Gabriel Jesus could make his debut, while Spurs will be without the injured duo of Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs’ improvement since he took charge: “It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

Guardiola on Tottenham’s style of play: “Tottenham dominate really high and are one of the best teams in the Premier League. They are quite similar to Chelsea but they move a little bit more. They know exactly where the other players are. They have the quality to move in small spaces.”

Prediction

Somehow I just think Man City will come out flying after all of the recent criticism and put in a big performance. In the big games this season they’ve stood up, beating Manchester United and Arsenal and leading against Chelsea before collapsing in the second half. Call me crazy, but I think Pep’s men will bag a big 2-0 win to momentarily close the gap to Chelsea to seven points.

Klopp says Liverpool have “had things harder” than title rivals

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Jurgen Klopp is happy with the resilience shown by his Liverpool side as they’ve won just once in five games in all competitions so far in 2017.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Klopp’s men have drawn two Premier League encounters, while a weakened Reds side also drew with lower league Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round (before beating them in a replay) and lost at Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal.

Ahead of their clash with Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Klopp believes his team are battling through well after having four games in 10 days.

“In recent weeks we’ve had things harder than any of the other top teams and I’m really pleased with how my team has coped,” Klopp said. “We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Klopp has come under criticism for fielding weakened teams against Plymouth and Southampton in the cup competitions, but surely Liverpool’s focus has to be on the Premier League and challenging for the title? If they beat bottom of the table Swansea on Saturday then Klopp’s side will momentarily go four points behind leaders Chelsea who play against Hull City on Sunday.

Still, Klopp complaining about the amount of games Liverpool has to play is nothing compared to what the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal will face in the coming weeks. With European action starting back next month, plus all four of the aforementioned sides still in the FA Cup (Manchester United are also in the EFL Cup too), Liverpool won’t be the club complaining about a fixture backlog.

The Reds may be struggling to stay on top of things right now but this time next month Klopp can have no complaints as Liverpool’s competitors battle with severe fixture congestion. That said, there are plenty of theorists out there suggesting that Klopp’s Gegenpressing methods often leave his teams tired towards the end of the campaign. If that is the case then Liverpool must get as many points on the board as soon as possible, starting with what looks like an easy home win against Swansea on Saturday.

There is never an easy game in the Premier League and it seems like Klopp knows his players are feeling the strain after a busy few weeks.