READING, ENGLAND – JANUARY 12: Romelu Lukaka of West Bromwich Albion battles with Adrian Mariappa of Reading during the Barclays Premier League match between Reading and West Ham United at the Madejski Stadium on January 12, 2013 in Reading, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Pep Guardiola faces his first serious bout of adversity as head of Manchester City as they host Southampton at the Etihad live at 8:30am E.T. on NBCSN, or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts will look to buck a streak of four winless matches across all competitions, two in the Premier League and two in the Champions League.
Who does the storied Spaniard turn back to? The man he benched the last two times out, Sergio Aguero. With rumors suddenly swirling that the Argentinian ace isn’t part of the long-term future of the club – rumors which Guardiola shrugged off – Aguero is suddenly the man Guardiola needs the most.
Also in the lineup is Vincent Kompany, making his first Premier League start since April and just his sixth Premier League start of the calendar year back from yet another injury problem. Kompany’s return will be welcome, as the club is without a clean sheet since September 17th when they blanked Bournemouth.
In the absence of the injured Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta, Guardiola has selected to play with a back three, but a more attacking variety with no full-backs to track back and support. He could have started Aleksandar Kolarov on the right and Gael Clichy on the left, but instead chooses to include Kolarov as one of the three, and keep Clichy on the bench.
On the other side, Southampton is unbeaten in league play since early September, a run of five matches, but they fell midweek in the Europa League to Inter Milan, failing to score in the process. They lost Shane Long to a hamstring injury in the process, and Charlie Austin remains the starter up front with Jay Rodriguez on the bench to back him up. Ryan Bertrand also misses out with an injury, as 21-year-old Sam McQueen comes in for the first Premier League start of his career.
Southampton have slumped to six straight defeats at the Etihad Stadium, last winning at City in April of 2004.
Southampton: Forster; Martina, Van Dijk, Fonte, McQueen; Clasie, Romeu; Davis, Tadić, Redmond; Austin.
Subs: McCarthy, Yoshida, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse, Boufal, Hojbjerg, Stephens.
Antonio Conte knows what he’s doing — he’s playing the game made popular the world over by his predecessor and Sunday opponent, Jose Mourinho, and so many others who went before him.
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Where other managers shy away from the controversy and the spotlight brought upon themselves by the psychological warfare waged by so many of the giants of the managerial profession, Conte has embraced the added attention he’ll now face when Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
While Mourinho hasn’t been quiet in the build-up to his return to Stamford Bridge — how could he, given the considerable demand for comment? — he has mostly kept the cheap shots to himself and attempted to treat the affair like any other. Of course, it’s not that for him; for the Chelsea fans; for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who made the decision to fire Mourinho 10 months ago; and now, for Conte, who’s suddenly thrust onto the other side of the battlefield ahead of Mourinho’s grudge match — quotes from Goal.com:
“No, I think it is always right to play for a win. I try to transfer these thoughts to my players always. If you play at home or away, it must be the same.
“You must start the game with only one target: to win. Not to play for a draw. I don’t like this. It is not football. I don’t like this.”
“I think it is important to win, but for me also, it is important to win in the right way. Because, sometimes, it happened to me. I won in the past with other clubs, but I wasn’t satisfied with the performance.
“When you win is important, but it is important to also play good football, to play with a good intensity, to show always the will to win, the passion. For me, that’s important.”
The obvious inference here is that Mourinho’s teams have always been set out to play in a defensive manner — often times aiming for, or, at the very least, achieving 0-0 draws — something the Portuguese did earlier this week, away to Liverpool.
Conte didn’t ask to be the anti-Mourinho when he was named Chelsea’s new boss — not directly so, at least — but it comes as part of the territory when taking over from a mountain of a manager like Mourinho. Cool as ever, Conte is relishing his new role.
MOSCOW (AP) Russia has chosen a cocky wolf wearing sporty goggles as the mascot for the 2018 football World Cup.
The wolf was chosen in online voting over two other mascot candidates — a cat and a tiger wearing a space suit.
The announcement was made early Saturday at the end of an hour-long broadcast on state Channel One television. More than 1 million Russians voted in the contest, according to the broadcast.
World Cup matches are to take place in 11 cities in June and July 2018. The venues are in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg.
MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City’s spine of goalkeeper Joe Hart, center back Vincent Kompany, midfielder Yaya Toure and striker Sergio Aguero has anchored the team since 2011 in the most decorated period in its history.
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One by one, it is being dismantled by Pep Guardiola.
Hart has been sent out on loan to Italy.
The injury-hampered Kompany no longer appears first choice.
Toure has been ostracized.
And the seemingly unthinkable is happening: Aguero is coming under pressure for his place.
Aguero started on the bench for the English Premier League game against Everton on Saturday after playing two matches for Argentina during the international break. More surprisingly, he stayed among the substitutes for the Champions League match at Barcelona on Wednesday, when Guardiola preferred to play midfielder Kevin De Bruyne up front.
Aguero has been untouchable, a guaranteed starter since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2011. Suddenly, possibly the most popular player among City fans – and a scorer of 102 league goals in his first five seasons at the club – is vulnerable and seemingly dispensable, even if he is likely to regain his place for the Premier League match against Southampton on Sunday.
When asked if Aguero was being phased out, Guardiola said on Friday the player’s future was at City.
“When Sergio decides to leave Manchester City, it will be his decision,” Guardiola said. Then, echoing comments he made about Hart in August before allowing him to leave, Guardiola added: “I appreciate him (as) a football player. I appreciate (as) a man what he did here.”
It’s not just the recent selection decisions that hint at a sense of unease between Guardiola and Aguero.
Guardiola has said publicly on at least two occasions this season that he wants more from Aguero than just goals, just like he wanted more from Hart than simply making saves. After Aguero’s hat trick in the Champions League win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, Guardiola said: “I cannot teach him (about his talent in the penalty box) but he has to know that behind, the rest of the team wants to help him and that is what I want to convince him.”
While on international duty with Argentina this month, Aguero was quoted as telling Argentine media that Guardiola “is very picky about everything, (and) it’s good.
“The good thing is that I’m getting used to him and automatically going straight into pressing the centre backs.”
Aguero, who is contracted to City until 2020, has 11 goals in 10 appearances this season, and 19 in his last 20 dating to last season. There are few better, attainable strikers around and it will be intriguing to see how the situation pans out, especially with Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus due to arrive in December to provide competition up front.
Guardiola said on Friday he had no regrets about his decision to drop Aguero for the Barcelona game, which City lost 4-0 after having goalkeeper Claudio Bravo red-carded. That made it four games without a win for Guardiola, and a failure to beat Southampton would equal the longest streak without a victory in his coaching career.
In an answer that lasted more than 6 1/2 minutes on Friday, he defended his tactics at Camp Nou and praised the personality of his young players like John Stones and De Bruyne.
Guardiola repeated he will not change his style.
“I think about that, yes,” he said. “But after that, the solution is not better than what I believe. So I cannot. Do you know why as well? Because in seven years (at Barcelona and Bayern Munich), I won 21 titles. … So it’s three titles per year playing in that way.
“No, no, I’m not going to change. First, it’s going to happen that (if) it’s not going well in the future, next season isn’t going well in that way, I will go home.”