Manchester City fans let their voices be heard: Mancini, not Pellegrini

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Just after Abide With Me was done, the anthem was finished, and the FA Cup Final had kicked off, the 31,000 Manchester City fans occupying the club’s section at Wembley let their voice be heard. Their targets were Friday reports that Roberto Mancini, who had managed City to their second FA Cup Final in three years, would be replaced after the season with Málaga’s Manuel Pellegrini. And suffice to say, a sentimental and appreciative fan base attached to the man who has delivered a Premier League title was none too thrilled with those reports.

We went into the case for the change earlier today. As was the case at Inter Milan, Mancini’s success at City requires some context. While he’s taken the club to unprecedented heights, he’s not the only man who could get the job done. Most would say the financial backing of Sheikh Mansour’s group mandates more.

Tell that to City fans, for many of whom memories of lower division soccer are still fresh in the mind. As expressed by Saturday’s songs, there’s little desire among supporters for the club to turn their back on man who has brought results in the name of a hypothetical upgrade:

So if you’re Sheikh Mansour and his family, what do you do? The supporters made their feelings known loud and clear. At the same time, they’re not the first fan base to develop sentiment for a coach. Should Liverpool bring Rafa Benítez back just because the Kop overlooks the Reds’ Benítez-orchestrated dive out of Champions League? Definitely not.

These are the difficult decisions for ownership – how to balance the club of the present against the club you want to build. When a team’s yet to accomplish anything, it’s easy to let ambition win out, but when you’re working at the margins — looking to squeeze that final three or four percent out of your squad – the decisions become more difficult. Is it worth antagonizing your supporters to make a move when, playing at the extremes of European soccer, improvement might not necessarily equate to results? It all depends on what the Skeikh sees the club: Still growing, or at the point to expect results commensurate with the outlay.

Does anybody really believe City should view themselves as a still-building club?

I tend to be higher on Pellegrini than most, so I’d make the move. Where a new coach will likely have to improve on Mancini’s record to be accepted as his replacement, I think Manuel Pellegrini highly likely to do so. His Champions League record is much better, and with Pellegrini, I believe City could have challenged for this year’s Premier League title. There’s never been a point where Pellegrini’s results haven’t matched his talent, whereas with Mancini, that’s a constant question.

But with the fans voicing their opinions, City’s owners will have to be as high on Pellegrini as I am for a move to make sense. While you always want to make the right decisions over the popular ones, the uncertainty that comes with a coaching change at this level of the game is enough to justify caution.

Now if City loses today’s final (0-0 at 25′ as I write)? Then you can ignore those chants.

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.