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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.

UCL AT HALF: Man City, Celtic in thriller; Walcott driving Arsenal

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  David Silva of Manchester City runs with the ball uner pressure from Nir Bitton of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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The goals have been flying in around Europe, as the UEFA Champions League treks on through the group stage with an octet of Wednesday games.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Celtic 2-2 Manchester City

The Scots have opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho has one for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things in a thriller at Celtic Park.

Arsenal 2-0 Basel

A Theo Walcott brace has the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 Barcelona

Well, well, well… the middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, had staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot.

Elsewhere
Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 PSG — Matuidi nabs equalizer
Napoli 1-0 Benfica — Hamsik scores for hosts
Besiktas 1-0 Dynamo Kyiv — Quaresma the scorer
FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven — Two for Dmitri Poloz

LIVE, UCL group stage: Celtic-Man City, Arsenal-Basel, Atletico-Bayern

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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We have another packed slate of UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday as Groups A through D are in action across Europe.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Manchester City head to Celtic and Pep Guardiola‘s boy can expect a cauldron of noise at Celtic Park, while Arsenal host Basel at the Emirates. Elsewhere a mouthwatering clashing takes place in the Spanish capital where Atletico Madrid host German giants Bayern Munich.

City will be hoping to avoid an upset ahead of their next two UCL games against Pep’s old side, Barcelona, while Arsene Wenger will look to build on Arsenal’s solid draw away at PSG in their Group A opener two weeks ago.

All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.

Wednesday UCL schedule

Celtic vs. Manchester City
Arsenal vs. Basel
Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Barcelona
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Benfica
Besiktas vs. Dynamo Kyiv
FC Rostov vs. PSV Eindhoven

Men In Blazers podcast: Arsene Wenger on 20 years at Arsenal

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Roger Bennett
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Rog talks with Arsene Wenger about his 20 years as manager of Arsenal Football Club, the Premier League’s changing landscape, and what motivates him to continue.

Rog’s film, “Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger,” airs on NBCSN Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Vieira embracing life in New York City as NYCFC continue to flourish

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Patrick Vieira is making the most of life in New York City as he team continue to become a major player in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Born in Dakar, Senegal, Vieira explores New York in his spare time and often visits Harlem to eat in authentic African restaurants as he enjoys the rich cultural offerings of the Big Apple.

In his debut season as a head coach at the senior level, Vieria, 40, has already enjoyed plenty of success, leading New York City FC to the playoffs in Major League Soccer in just their second season as a franchise. His star is rising as a coach.

With impressive performances on the pitch from star names Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, plus youngsters Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton and Steven Mendoza emerging, all is well at Yankee Stadium as Vieira and NYCFC prepare for the postseason.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a community event to promote healthy eating among children in Harlem, which Vieira attended alongside NYCFC’s Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, defender Jason Hernandez and Lampard, the former French national team captain revealed just how much importance he places on his team being an integral part of the NYC community.

“It is really important for us because we have some responsibility in the community as well,” Vieira said. “These kids are New York City FC fans and to get the chance to meet some of the players, to come to this event, it is really important and we know that New York is a big city with the five boroughs so it is important for the supporters to be involved in all of the five boroughs.”

As a second-year team, NYCFC has continued its impressive attendance records in MLS with an average crowd of over 26,000 in the Bronx making them the fourth best supported team in the league. They are always trying to find new ways to connect with the vibrant community they’ve only recently become a huge part of.

Speaking passionately about how he wants his team to not only win games but represent NYC in an authentic manner through their play on the pitch, it is clear Vieira feels at home in the hustle and bustle of the USA’s largest city.

“That is the aim. That is what we try to do, to represent New York City. I strongly believe that the city is really dynamic city, 24 hours a day there is something to do and this is how we want to represent the city,” Vieira said. “We want to be really offensive, really dynamic and play with a lot of energy. Of course it is not going to be easy but we need to find a way to do it because we want to represent the city.”

But how exactly does that mantra manifest itself on the pitch in their style of play?

“It is about attacking football, an attacking way of playing, it is scoring goals and I think at times we have done it quite while,” Vieira admitted. “It is also to play with a lot of energy, passion and for the players to give 100 percent. You can win the game, you can lose the game… but what is important is that when the players are on the field, they give everything.”

The pace and passion with which Vieira talks represents the city too. It is full of life and fast.

Vieira was speaking from Ginny’s Supper Club, located in Harlem, as esteemed chef Marcus Samuelsson hosted a “Healthy Hat Trick Cooking Class” for kids from East Harlem’s Lexington Academy. The aim of the event was to teach the children how to cook healthy meals for themselves and Vieira was enthused to connect with a future generation of NYCFC supporters.

“I believe we are in one of the most important places in New York, in Harlem. It is a really authentic place with authentic restaurants and authentic chef, one of the biggest chefs in the world. When you know his story to get to where he is now, for myself and the football club to be here is really important,” Vieira said. “When you look at the kids who are here, they love the game, of course, but I think it is important to explain to them that it is not only football. You can be a chef like Marcus who has been really successful and the interaction between the players, Marcus and the kids has been really good.”

Of course, the main reason Vieira is in New York is to continue his coaching education after excelling as a the leading man for Manchester City’s development squad from 2011-15. The former Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan and Man City midfielder who won the World Cup and European Championships with France is quietly going about his job and is not losing any focus on why he’s taken on a completely new challenge in MLS.

With a steely focus, he is eager to continue to get better each and every day.

“I’m visiting different places [in NYC] but I am here because of my job,” Vieira said. “My number one priority is to do well with the team and to be a better coach every single day. When I have a day off there is a few places I go to visit and of course Harlem is one of them. But I know why I am in New York. It is my priority to be a better coach.”

From the coaching side of things, his opening season in MLS couldn’t have been much better. Sure there’s been some speed bumps along the way but despite making the playoffs by beating the Chicago Fire last Friday in front of their home fans at Yankee Stadium and currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, Vieira wants more. Much more.

“We are in a really good period. We had some ups and downs during the season but to qualify for the playoffs was just a small step to what we want to do as a football club. We want to be successful. We want to win silverware. Of course being in the playoffs is a step up but it is just a small one compared to what we want to achieve.”

With New York City FC the top goalscorers in MLS with 55 through 31 regular season games, going into the pivotal final few matches of the regular season with the Conference title on the line, plus with the playoffs lurking, Vieira wants his side to stay true to their playing style despite some criticism about their defensive play this season.

Will the pressure situation of playoff soccer impact that outlook at all?

“What is important is to believe in ourselves. We managed to play some games really well to get to the playoffs but the playoffs is of course, win and you keep going, lose and you’re out. I want us to really focus on what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season,” Vieira said. “I think we’ve had a clear philosophy of how we want to play and we have to stick to that philosophy and not try to do something that we didn’t try already and which didn’t work. I think our togetherness has helped us to be there and we just have to believe in that.”

Veterans Lampard, Villa and Pirlo will play a key role in the postseason and Vieira is counting on them to led the team.

“They have a lot of experience on the field and off the field, so that’s why they will help and be really important in the playoff time,” Vieira added. “I am really quite pleased because I have a really good mix between young players and experienced players and I think if we manage that well, we will give ourselves some more chances.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In his debut season in MLS, there’s been widespread chatter about how impressive Vieira has seamlessly handled the challenge of moving to a new country, plus coaching in a new league while he is still developing himself as a coach.

When it comes to what Vieira expected of MLS, he has been pleasant surprised be all that he’s experienced in NYC, so far.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived but I am happily surprised because there are a lot of good players, it is really competitive and the atmosphere in the stadiums is really good. I have really enjoyed my experiences, so far.”