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.

LIVE – Premier League big boys enter League Cup

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Buckle up. 11 League Cup games are coming your way on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Latest League Cup scores ] 

The third round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship purposes) sees the seven Premier League teams in European competitions enter the tournament.

Three all-Premier League ties have been set up with Leicester hosting Liverpool, Crystal Palace clashing with Huddersfield and Bournemouth having another South Coast derby against Brighton just a few days after their first-ever top-flight meeting.

Four Premier League teams face teams from the Championship as West Ham host second-tier strugglers Bolton, Burnley welcome Championship leaders Leeds United, Swansea head to Reading and Stoke City head to second-tier Bristol City in some potential banana skin ties for PL clubs.

Five more League Cup games take place on Wednesday with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all hosting lower-league opponents.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s League Cup games with all games kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s League Cup schedule

Bournemouth vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough
Brentford vs. Norwich City
Bristol City vs. Stoke City
Burnley vs. Leeds United
Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town
Leicester City vs. Liverpool
West Ham United vs. Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Bristol Rovers

Reading vs. Swansea City – 3 p.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Barnsley – 3 p.m. ET

Ramos extends US deal as youth director, U20 coach

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Tab Ramos is one of the most influential people for U.S. Soccer.

It will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Ramos, 50, has been in charge of the U.S. U-20 national team since Oct. 2011 and has held his role as the youth technical director since Nov. 2013.

In that time the U.S. has seen plenty of promising youngsters (Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Morris to name a few) graduate to the USMNT and Ramos’ leadership has been integral to that pathway.

Speaking to U.S. Soccer about his decision to sign a new deal as both the youth technical director and the U-20 coach, Ramos believes he can now help to accelerate the development of youth players.

“I am very excited to continue my work at U.S. Soccer as Youth Technical Director and U-20 Men’s National Team head coach,” Ramos said. “I am pleased with the historic results we have achieved on the field over the last few years as we continue pushing to set higher standards. We have provided great experiences to players who are now beginning to make room for themselves on the Senior National Team. My Youth Technical Director role gives me the opportunity to continue the integration of all our Youth National Teams as well as helping with the implementation of our Player Development Initiatives nationwide which will help our youth players develop at a much faster rate for years to come.”

With the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Brooks Lennon, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent all impressing for the U-20 side in both the CONCACAF Championship (which the U.S. won) and the U-20 World Cup (the U.S. reached the quarters) earlier this summer, it seems like Ramos is ready to push on the next crop of youngsters who can push for spot in Bruce Arena’s full national team.

Ramos’ resume as a player and coach is not only impressive but garners respect from every single person connected with U.S. Soccer. He played at three World Cups in a 13-year stint for the USMNT and was part of the coaching staff at the 2014 World Cup as well as leading numerous youth teams to their respective World Cups.

Very smart move from Sunil Gulati and Co.

Ander Herrera piles the pressure on Manchester City

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Ah, just five games into the Premier League season and the mind games have already started.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Manchester United’s midfield terrier Ander Herrera has been speaking about the pressure facing crosstown rivals Manchester City who are the Premier League favorites.

Herrera, United’s Player of the Season in 2016-17 as they won the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League, believes that spending over $240 million means Pep Guardiola‘s side are “obligated” to deliver trophies this season.

“Man City have spent the biggest amount in the Premier League so they are the principle contenders for the title,” Herrera said. “We will try to be there as well, we have quality as well, and we will fight for every title. But I think because of the money they have spent they are the favorites. We will try to be there but they have spent the biggest money in the league.

“There is always pressure when you spend a lot but there is also pressure on us because we are the biggest club in England. We won three titles last season and City didn’t win anything. They are under pressure. They are obligated to win titles. We won three last season so they have more obligation than us. But you know when you play for Man United wining is an expectation and an obligation but I like that obligation to be honest.”

Does he have a point?

Last season City’s failure to win a trophy was put down to the “process” under Pep as they lost in the FA Cup semifinals, were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 and finished a distant third in the Premier League.

This season no silverware and a finish below second place in the table would constitute a massive disappointment for Guardiola’s side and pressure would perhaps start to build on the Spanish coach.

With City and United the only two teams in the Premier League who remain unbeaten (they have identical records with points, goals scored, goals against and points) the growing notion that the PL trophy will be in Manchester next May seems spot on.

Between now and then every single way United or City can gain an advantage over their rivals, that will take it.

Herrera has started the mind games ridiculously early and perhaps that shows just how scared United are of City as Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva rip teams apart and the deadly strike-partnership of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus deliver the goals.

Mark this date in your calendar: Manchester United vs. Manchester City on Dec. 9.

FIFA hopes for big increase in TV viewers at Women’s World Cup

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PARIS (AP) FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants the next edition of the Women’s World Cup to draw a billion TV viewers across the world.

Infantino, who attended the official launch of the tournament that will be organized in France in 2019, said on Tuesday that the previous edition in Canada in 2015 was watched by 750 million viewers.

Speaking alongside French federation president Noel Le Graet and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, Infantino said “our goal is to reach one billion in France in 2019.”

The tournament, which will run from June 7 to July 7, will gather 24 teams in six groups.

France will kick off the event at Parc des Princes in Paris, with the semifinals and finals in Lyon.

“It will be magnificent,” Infantino said. “France is a great football nation for both men and women.”