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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.

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.