Death rattle of Manchester City’s title defense goes quiet at Southampton

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Given the miraculous way Manchester City won last year’s title, we’ve been cautious about calling the English Premier League race, but at some point we have to stop living in the past. Last year’s Manchester City team was capable of tracking down Manchester United and finding a stoppage time title winner on the season’s last day, but this team bares little resemblance to them. Most of the names are the same, and the general (squint your eyes) style of play is identical, but as full-time blew on Southampton’s 3-1 win over the visiting Citizens, the defending champions looked incapable of defending their title.

Now the math’s become daunting. The Citizens came into the day nine points back of league-leading United, who host Everton tomorrow. It’s the same lead Barcelona holds over second place Atletico Madrid in Spain, a race few consider viable. If the Red Devils get a result tomorrow, only Bayern Munich will have a larger lead among Europe’s top five leagues. The Premier League race may not be truly mathematically over, but in the parlance of the sport, it is done and dusted. If City makes this a race, they’ll be rising from the dead.

(MORE: Bale double downs Newcastle.)

The holders were second best from the opening kickoff, with Saints taking advantage of an early Gareth Barry giveaway and some slack defending to go up in the seventh minute. James Puncheon punched Southampton in front. Steven Davis doubled Saints’ lead in the 22nd before Edin Dzeko gave City momentary life, scoring in the 39th.

Then Barry, capping an uncharacteristically poor performance, provided a perfect finish to Ricky Lambert’s 48th minute cross, beating Joe Hart to put Southampton up 3-1 and deal his team a demoralizing blow.

Southamption is a better team than their 15th-place record suggests, and with a progressive style of play that challenges teams expecting reverence from their opponents, you can see why they gave City trouble. Still, a more ready reason for City’s failures rests with the men from Manchester. They are just nowhere near as good as they were last year. The strength and constant imposition that defined last year’s squad as been replaced with a dependence on resilience and ingenuity, a dependance that’s failed to carry then through the season. They’re a different team, a worse team, and a squad that’s not going to replicate last year’s miracles.

(MORE: Chelsea back into the win column | Arsenal hold on at Sunderland.)

Out of Europe, too far behind Manchester United, and in no danger of falling out of the top four, all that’s left is for City to reclaim the FA Cup. They travel to Elland Road to face Leeds United next weekend. After that, they enter the ennui-laden state of a disappointing squad forced to cast their eyes to next year four months too soon.

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Manchester United

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  • Southampton has 3 clean sheets in 5 PL games this season
  • 8 players have scored for MUFC, the most in the PL
  • Saints have lost to MUFC 24 times, more than any other PL team

Manchester United can equal its club record best start to a Premier League season if they defeat Southampton at St. Mary’s Saturday morning (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

The Red Devils, as they were all of last season, have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League, conceding just two goals through five matches, joint-best alongside Manchester City.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

The Southampton defense, however, will be most hyped in this match as Virgil Van Dijk is likely to make his first start for the Saints since January. The Dutchman has been out of action after holding out of preseason and the start of the campaign over transfer rumors, but is back with the club after returning as a substitute last time out.

Southampton has conceded just four goals in five games without their most coveted defender, but they have also scored just four goals on their way to eight points thus far, which leaves them in ninth position.

On the other side, Manchester United will be missing Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo, but otherwise have a clean bill of health as they look to at the least keep stride with their cross-town rivals atop the league table. Jose Mourinho has six away fixtures over the next four weeks across all competitions, and will likely look to rotate the squad at some point during that stretch.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Southampton: “Southampton to be fair, I played them in my second spell in England, I played them and they had Mauricio [Pochettino], and then [Ronald] Koeman, and then [Claude] Puel and now Mauricio [Pellegrino] – and I don’t see many changes. It’s the kind of club where they are very stable in the way they play, the way they think (about) football, the qualities of their players. It’s a good team to be a manager. Honestly, it’s a very good club to be a manager and I see the match as a very difficult match.”

Pellegrino on Manchester United: “When we play against the biggest team in the world, it allows us to draw some conclusions about how we are. This is for me the nice challenge and we have to strive for this. Playing against Manchester United is one of the most beautiful things. I will live this opportunity, I will live this game, and now we have to try to enjoy this game.”

Prediction

This could be a difficult match for Manchester United. Southampton’s defense is very stout, and the Red Devils could potentially find themselves frustrated should they find themselves goalless through the first 60 minutes. Ultimately, the smartest play here is a close 1-0 win for Manchester United with a late goal, but a similar result in the other direction wouldn’t be the most shocking thing.

PSG’s Neymar out with foot injury

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain says Neymar will miss Saturday’s French league match at Montpellier because of a right foot injury.

The 25-year-old Neymar has scored four goals and delivered four assists in five games with PSG since he joined from Barcelona in a world-record transfer worth 222 million euros ($262 million). It’s the first game the Brazil international will miss with PSG since he was authorized to play.

PSG travels to Montpellier aiming to extend its perfect league record this season to seven matches.

It is unclear whether Neymar will have recovered in time for next week’s Champions League game against Bayern Munich.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, previews

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The big games just keep coming in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Arsenal vs. West Brom – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

West Ham vs. Tottenham – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Southampton vs. Manchester United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Stoke City vs. Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM

Burnley vs. Huddersfield Town – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Brighton vs. Newcastle United – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]  

Swansea City vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

http://imgur.com/SF8MzIP

Everton vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Leicester City vs. Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]