Joe Hart, Robert Mancini failings on display against Sunderland

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This space has occasionally made light of England the English media’s quest to anoint Joe Hart the best keeper in the world, but until this year, the cause had always been excessive excitement about a player who, while clearly a small step behind the world’s elite, gave his home country plenty of reasons to be proud.

But this year, the Manchester City keeper is in the middle of bad season, a series of misreads and outright gaffs undermining his countrymen’s campaign. The most famous of these mistakes may have come in a meaningless game, but the fame of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal rightly brought attention to the fact Hart hasn’t been very good.

Today wasn’t the first time this season Hart may have cost City points. It was just the more egregious.

Tied 0-0 in the second half against an impotent Sunderland, Hart was challenged from long and wide by a speculative Adam Johnson shot. Only the challenge wasn’t very strong. Headed for the bottom right corner, the ball should have been caught. Or blocked. Or generally prevented from becoming the game-deciding goal, provided any degree of goalkeeping competency.

But Hart’s competency had left him by the time Johnson let go of his shot. Badly out of position, Hart needed a quick leap to have a chance. But allowing himself to be screened, the England international reacted too late. Johnson’s shot curled down and into the corner, giving Sunderland the goal they needed to hand Manchester City an embarrassing defeat.

It was Johnson’s first game against the team that sold him this summer, his goal proving manager Roberto Mancini was wrong to assume he wasn’t needed. Though Johnson would have been unlikely to get time on the wing, he would have done to stop that type of shot. Most players would have.

But Hart wasn’t Manchester City’s only Wednesday failing. In front of him, the team continues to play uninspired soccer, showing little of the drive that shot them out of last year’s gates and toward their first Premier League title.

source: Getty ImagesThe squad has the look of a team that needs shaking up, their lethargy and disinterest agonizingly apparent as they offered no resistance at Dortmund, fell behind early to Manchester United, needed a swallowed whistle to get full points from Reading, and lost on the road to a bad Sunderland team. That’s four of their last five meetings.

MORE: Manchester United: Flawed and fabulous

Most discouraging for City may be the merely mortal performance of Yaya Touré, though to say he’s been a Hart-level disappointment would be an exaggeration. The Ivorian has simply failed to carry the team as he did down the stretch last season, forcing us to ask whether City can challenge for a title when Touré is not playing like the best player in England. Because it may not be fair to ask for such consistent greatness from any player, particularly when they’ll spend half the winter in at the Africa Cup of Nations.

At every point of comparison, Manchester City is worse than they were last year. In league, they’re six points off last year’s pace (and seven behind United). In Europe, they failed to even qualify for Europa. To the eye, they seem more talented but less capable than the team that tracked down the Red Devils last May. They’re adrift, if not in the standings then in spirit. This is not title-contending form.

Then there’s Mancini’s continued fascination with a 3-5-2 formation, something he never used during last year’s better times. That comparison is important because at no point this season has City looked as good as they did when they tinkered instead of overhauled. The choice to start with three at the back at Sunderland reeked of the same desperation we saw last week from José Mourinho.

And just as Real’s loss at Málaga forced us to consider Mourinho’s viability at El Real, so does Mancini’s defeat at Sunderland compel consideration of his future. Only unlike Mourinho, these doubts are not new. Ever since Mancini failed to prepare his team for Ajax in Champions League, his suitability for City should have been in doubt. Now, as Manchester United seems ready to stumble into their typical winter surge, City management must ask if Mancini can keep up.

With a squad that looks desperate to be shaken up, almost anybody else will do. And City has the virtue of being able to lure elite managerial candidates.

Unless the thinking around Eastlands is Chelsea-esque uncertainty might scare Pep Guardiola (or José Mourinho) away, there seems little to endear Mancini for this job. With his capabilities laid bare three years into the job, Mancini must improve results before Sheikh Mansour makes a move.

Liverpool bosses Roma, opens door late

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  • Ex-Roma star Salah bags 42nd, 43rd of season
  • Picks up two assists as well
  • Firmino also has two and two

Liverpool’s trident impaled its visitors again and again, as the Premier League side took a 5-2 first leg lead over AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League semifinal at Anfield on Tuesday.

Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino braces bookended a Sadio Mane marker as the front three ran riot on Roma ahead of May 2’s second leg in Italy.

Roma’s only consolation comes in the form of two goals in the final 10 minutes; The first was an Edin Dzeko marker in the final 10 minutes. The second a penalty given for a James Milner handball that Diego Perotti converted for a second away goal.

[ MORE: Full box score and statistics ]

Roma will carry the same hopeful message as it did in the first leg against Barcelona, down three but this time with a pair of away markers.

Salah scored the first two goals, and the opener was a precise finish for the Egyptian wonder.

An offside but uncalled Salah worked a 1-2 with Firmino to add to his total before finding Mane to make it 3-0 with a tap-in.

Trent-Alexander Arnold sent Salah down the right side for the fourth goal, his 62nd minute pass reaching Firmino for an attempt he’ll finish 95 times out of 100.

It was simply calamity off a corner for the fifth goal, a disheartened Roma offering little as Firmino completed his brace.

WORLD CUP: Uruguay striker Suarez seeking redemption

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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) Uruguay’s priority will be keeping Luiz Suarez tamed at this year’s World Cup.

After the striker was expelled from the 2014 tournament in disgrace for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, Uruguay was eliminated by Colombia in the round of 16.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

Suarez promises he is a reformed character and will be better behaved in Russia than in Brazil, where he scored twice before being banned.

“It was my mistake,” Suarez said. “So I have a debt to repay to myself and Uruguay, to try to show a good image.”

Things were already starting to look brighter for two-time World Cup champion Uruguay, based on qualifying at least.

After enduring four consecutive World Cup playoffs and only reaching three of the tournaments, Uruguay secured an automatic place in Russia by finishing second behind Brazil in qualifying.

Here’s a closer look at the Uruguay team:

COACH

Oscar Tabarez will lead Uruguay into his fourth World Cup after a first trip in 1990 followed by 2010 and 2014. A Tabarez team has always made it out of the group stage, including a semifinal appearance in South Africa eight years ago.

A former school teacher and professional player, Tabarez led Uruguay to the Copa America title in 2011. As a club coach, he led Penarol to the Copa Libertadores title in 1987 and Boca Juniors to an Argentine league title in 1992.

The 71-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016.

GOALKEEPERS

There is little doubt Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will be between the posts for his third World Cup.

DEFENSE

The Atletico Madrid partnership of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez also anchor the heart of Uruguay’s defense. Godin has made more than 100 appearances since his debut in 2005 and scored at his third World Cup with a header against Italy in 2014. The 23-year-old Gimenez offers a solid companion to a player nine years his senior and already has one World Cup under his belt.

Versatile Lazio wingback Martin Caceres should also be sure of a starting spot unless there is a recurrence of one of his frequent injuries.

MIDFIELDERS

Tabarez has always had doubts about his midfield’s attacking qualities. While the unit has usually been capable of defending well, the midfielders have often struggled to generate chances for the forwards.

During qualifying, Tabarez called up several young players who improved in this area: Federico Valverde (19), Nahitan Nandez (22) and Rodrigo Bentancur (20).

FORWARDS

Uruguay shouldn’t be short of goals. The strikers are the team’s greatest strength.

Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 50 goals and is coming off the back of a strong season with Barcelona. Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani is next on the list with 41, including a continent-leading 10 goals in 18 matches in South American qualifying.

GROUP GAMES

Uruguay, which will be based in Nizhny Novgorod, will face Egypt in its first match on June 15. That will be followed by matches against Saudi Arabia on June 20 and Russia on June 25.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

LIVE, UCL semifinal: Liverpool v. Roma at Anfield

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Liverpool host AS Roma at Anfield in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men aim to get off to another fast start in a first leg to have one foot in the final.

Tuesday promises to be yet another memorable European night at Anfield.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

With Mohamed Salah leading the goalscoring charts in the Premier League with 31 goals and scoring 42 goals in all competitions this season, Klopp will hope the Egyptian wizard can blow away his former team.

As for Roma, they are similarly set up to attack and their main man is Edin Dzeko who helped the Italian giants overcome Barcelona in the quarterfinals following an incredible comeback from 4-1 down in the first leg to reach the final four.

Both Liverpool and Roma are admired for their attacking play and both are considered the underdogs to win the UCL with Bayern Munich facing Real Madrid in the other semifinal.

That said, when these two teams get hot, nobody can stop them.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis from the clash at Anfield right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Here’s a look at the top 20 players in the Premier League right now.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City dominate our latest rankings after a busy seven days in the PL with midweek games and a funky schedule due to the FA Cup semifinal.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list. Simple.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
  3. David Silva (Man City) – Up 8
  4. Ashley Barnes (Burnley) – New entry
  5. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – New entry
  6. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 3
  7. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Down 4
  8. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – New entry
  9. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Down 3
  10. David De Gea (Man United) – Down 3
  11. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – Down 3
  12. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – New entry
  13. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – Down 9
  14. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Down 4
  15. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 3
  16. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 3
  17. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle United) – Down 12
  18. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Down 3
  19. Salomon Rondon (West Brom) – New entry
  20. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) – New entry