Manchester City's manager Mancini listens to questions during a news conference at the club's Carrington training complex in Manchester

On what’s shaping up to be a bittersweet Saturday for Roberto Mancini

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Logic says we should feel sorry for Roberto Mancini in the same way our strings would be tugged by anybody who’s about to be done wrong. But then you remember he’s a grown man. He’s had a hugely successful playing career. Between Inter Milan and Manchester City, he’s had the fortune to manage some incredibly funded and wildly talented teams. And, of course, with his possible exit from Manchester City, he’s brought this upon himself. If Mancini leaves Manchester City, he won’t be done wrong.

Late yesterday, Spanish outlet AS reported Manuel Pellegrini is set to leave Málaga for Manchester, a move that makes sense on a lot of levels. Pellegrini’s been successful almost everywhere he’s gone, including with Champions League-level clubs at Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Málaga. With the Andalusians in financial trouble, Pellegrini’s already hinted he’ll leave, and with Mancini failing to mount a title challenge, a well-respected coach like Pellegrini – one who has never failed to get the most of his talent – would be a boon for an already contending club.

All of which seems harsh on Mancini, especially with reports breaking on the eve of the FA Cup final. If City defeat Wigan (as is expected), Mancini will have produced three trophies in just over three seasons. The club’s now firmly entrenched in Champions League, and with the ability to draw talent like Sergio Aguero, the team has established a certain reputation in world soccer. Mancini’s taken City from a Mark Hughes-level aspirant to a being a major factor.

That, unfortunately, is not enough. City isn’t funded to be merely a major factor, and with the Citizens having failed to mound a meaningful defense of their first Premier League title, other failures come into focus. Mancini has not only failed to make headway in Champions League; their inept performance forces us to look back European struggles at Inter and ask if he’ll ever be able to move the Citizens forward in Europe. Indicting their boss, few players of his players have played their best this season. His tactics are often unduly reactionary, and his new ideas (this year’s early dalliance with a three-man back) have sometimes fallen flat. Combined with a transfer policy that used this year’s resources on the likes of Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, and Maicon, there are enough criticisms to put Mancini’s future in doubt.

Were we talking about somebody other than a Pellegrini – somebody with a well-rounded, practically unimpeachable managerial record – perhaps you could ask whether the grass would actually be greener with a new guy. But now he’s being compared to a man who took Villarreal to a Champions League semifinal and a top two finish in Spain. He has the best winning percentage in Real Madrid history. He had Málaga within seconds of beating Borussia Dortmund. Compared to that, Mancini looks second best.

Sheikh Mansour has proved patient at Manchester City, giving Mark Hughes a long rope before letting Mancini try to make something out of this season. And with a win today, Mancini just might. But a second FA Cup isn’t enough. Manchester United raced away with the league title, City finished fourth in their Champions League group, while the club’s ownership continues to make Manchester City the most well-funded team in England.

If Mancini had kept up with United, perhaps you could make the argument. If they’d better-competed with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid (and even Ajax) in their Champions League group, you could argue they just had a tough draw. If the money that could have helped defend their Premier League crown wasn’t wasted on Garcia and Rodwell, you wouldn’t have poor decisions underlying their fall. And if Mancini have a better history with his ultra-talented teams, we wouldn’t be seeing a trend, one that forces us to look at Manchester United’s collapse and the state of calciopoli-ravaged Italy when explaining his successes.

For City fans, there is a sentimental attachment to a man that’s on the verge of a third trophy. But he’s not the only man who could have produced these results. And ultimately, he’s not the best man Manchester City could get. The only reason to feel sorry for Mancini is our discussing this an hour before kickoff.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.