Do Premier League clubs play too soft against Manchester United?

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Do Premier League clubs play too soft against Manchester United? That’s the theory Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini explained before today’s Derby at Old Trafford.

Heading into the match United hold a 15-point lead over their second place neighbors. It’s a difference that Mancini believes is not so much due to his team’s inconsistency and suspect defending but rather the fact that too many other clubs roll over when playing United.

The Italian’s decision to condemn the rest of the Premier League is an interesting play, to say the least. When asked for his thoughts on Sunderland’s performance against United in their last match before today’s Derby, Mancini answered, “[n]o one plays well against United because they only play with fear.”

Mancini went on to explain how it comes down to a team’s mentality when playing United. “United are strong now because of their importance as a team, their importance as a club. Every team that plays against United plays very soft because they think the game is difficult, that they can’t beat them. It is not true.

“If they play strong against United, they can beat them like they can beat us. This is normal, this is football, because United have been a strong team for a long time. For the other teams they play against it is difficult. I’m not saying they don’t play 100% but their mentality is poor in that game. They think they can do nothing but … I don’t think that is true. If you play with a good mentality, in football you can beat every team.”

Teams around the league are unlikely to take kindly to Mancini’s backhanded compliment that they are good enough to beat United if they can only manage to grow mentally tougher. While Mancini has yet to produce evidence of his theory it seems justified that clubs may be intimidated by United’s success. Facing a club that has won 19 league titles, 11 FA Cups, four league cups, 19 Community Shields and three European Cups/Champions League titles can be a bit intimidating. Factor in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 plus years of experience at the club and Old Trafford’s 75,765 fans and it only ramps up the nerves.

But more than intimidation, most players and managers poised to face Manchester United routinely speak about their excitement in doing so. Slaying Goliath is something every David looks forward to. Which raises another point concerning Mancini’s belief that teams facing United have an inferiority complex – perhaps if those clubs had City’s resources they’d be less intimidated.

Figures from the 2011-12 season show that City spent $306/£200m on wages whereas six Premier League clubs (West Brom, Norwich, Southampton, Wigan, Reading and Swansea) spent less $77/£50m on their wage bill and an additional nine clubs (Tottenham, Aston Villa, QPR, Sunderland, Newcastle, Everton, Stoke, Fulham, West Ham) doled out less than $153/£100m in salaries. When 15 of the 20 Premier League clubs can only afford to spend half the amount on wages that City can spend, those club’s players tend to be of slightly less talent and possess confidence of slightly less swagger.

The world will see whether Mancini has instilled his side with enough confidence today when the Manchester Derby kicks off at 3:00pm EST on ESPN. If the Citizens pull off the win they will join Tottenham, Everton and Norwich as the only Premier League clubs to defeat United this season.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”