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.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET