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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.

VIDEO: Post-match melee breaks out between Spurs and Chelsea

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Tensions boiled over on the touchline after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham as players had to be separated while heading down the tunnel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

A testy match that saw referee Mark Clattenburg issue 12 yellow cards, the battle continued after the final whistle as a melee erupted in front of the benches.

It is unclear as to what caused the disruption, but it was not the first skirmish of the night. Earlier in the match, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino found himself on the pitch in the middle of a shoving match between players.

[ VIDEO: Leicester pubs erupt as Foxes clinch Premier League title ]

Seen in the video above, Spurs’ backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm seemed to be in the middle of things with who else but Diego Costa. Harry Kane and John Terry tried to quiet things down, but to little avail.

There are only two matches left in the Premier League season, but the FA will certainly be reviewing video of this incident and sanctions could come down on players or the clubs.

Emotional Ranieri thanks former club Chelsea; set for incredible return

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LONDON — Am emotional Claudio Ranieri called Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink after their 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday which sealed the title for Leicester City.

Ranieri, 64, was manager of Chelsea from 2000-4 and was a fan favorite at Stamford Bridge despite never winning a trophy. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho in 2004 but has remained in the hearts of Chelsea’s fans ever since.

[ MORE: Latest Leicester news after PL win ]  

On Monday that was clear.

The amiable Italian is a charming individual, a grandfather figure to most, and one Chelsea fan held up a sign which simply said: “Do it for Ranieri” and Chelsea fans sung his name and “Leicester, Champions!” as they reveled in Tottenham’s demise at the final whistle.

They won the league for Ranieri, as Chelsea rallied from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Eden Hazard‘s stunning late goal sealing the title for Leicester.

Chelsea’s old boss flew back to Italy on Monday to spend time with his 96-year-old mother and on his return to Leicester and England he will lauded as a hero. His team will go down in history and so will he. Calls continue for him to be knighted by the Queen of England. It is highly likely he will be. He deserved it after masterminding the greatest Cinderella story in sporting history.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL ]

Here’s what Hiddink had to say on his phone call with Ranieri.

“I got a call from Claudio Ranieri and he thanked us, especially for the second half,” Hiddink revealed. “I congratulated him on being champion. His voice was trembling.”

Ranieri is an emotional man who has been welling up after recent wins and as the momentum continued. The tears will be flowing in the coming days and weeks as what he and his team have achieved starts to sink in.

In his first season as Leicester manager he has turned a 5000-1 shot and heavy favorite for relegation into the champions of the Premier League. Ranieri was the bookies’ favorite to get be the first PL manager to be fired at the start of the season.

Now he’s the manager who delivered the PL trophy in the most remarkable fashion imaginable. With, of course, a little help from his old club.

Want to know what makes this even better? Ranieri returns to his old club Chelsea on the final day and the Foxes will receive a guard of honor from last seasons champions, Chelsea.

Chelsea let him go in 2004 as owner Roman Arbamovich didn’t believe he could win the west London club the title.

Yeah, about that…

From League One to PL champion: Andy King has seen it all

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion at The King Power Stadium on March 1, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Andy King has been through it all, and now he’s a Premier League champion.

With more than 300 appearances for Leicester, King never could have imagined being champions of England when he was playing with the Foxes in the third division just a few years ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

King joined Leicester City’s academy as a 15-year-old, climbing the ladder from League One to the top of the Premier League.

Speaking to the BBC after clinching the title, an emotional King reflected on this achievement.

I thought I’d seen everything with this club, but I never thought I’d see this. It’s difficult to put into words. The players deserve it, the gaffer and the staff deserve it, and the fans deserve it. It’s been an unbelievable season.

The story of where this team has come from to get to this point has been all over the world recently and I think the lads deserve great credit for the way they’ve taken it in their stride, stayed focused and kept delivering results – especially with a great side like Spurs chasing us so hard. We’ve been so consistent and just determined not to let the opportunity pass us by. We deserve this.

King has only managed seven league starts this season, stuck behind standout performers N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. However, he has been an important player off the bench and a veteran presence in the dressing room, despite still being just 27-years-old.

King is the first player to win the League One, Championship, and Premier League titles all with the same club.

How Twitter reacted to Leicester City winning the Premier League title

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The party has started in the East Midlands as Leicester City are officially your 2015-16 Barclays Premier League Champions.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

As the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge to signal Leicester’s title, Twitter lit up with celebrations and congratulations from all over the world.

After 30 years in management, this is Claudio Ranieri‘s first top-flight title. While Ranieri celebrated in England, his former clubs from throughout Europe sent their congratulations to the manager and his team.

Roberto Mancini knows a thing or two about winning a Premier League title…

Even other Premier League clubs showed their respect for Leicester and their historic season.