Roberto Mancini did himself no favors in City’s FA Cup flop


Manchester City’s manager bears a large portion of the blame for what happened today at Wembley, and with speculation about his job hitting a fever pitch prior to kickoff against Wigan, his team’s 0-1 upset loss may be the last chapter for Roberto Mancini on City’s sidelines. On a day that started with fans chanting support, denouncing the idea of replacing him with Manuel Pellegrini, Mancini did nothing to justify their faith.

His team came out flat, as if not grasping the occasion. To a certain extent, that happened two years ago, too, when a second half goal from Yaya Touré gave City a 1-0 FA Cup final win over Stoke City. But Touré, City’s hero over the last two years, hasn’t donned the cape year, and without that kind of mistake-erasing presence, the margins were always going to be thinner. Mancini should have used the last final’s lesson as a reason to have his team primed to play.

In the face of a Wigan team already setup to exploit the City, the lack of preparedness could have sent Mancini’s side down early. With Shaun Maloney falling back onto Touré and neither Samir Nasri nor David Silva positioned to help on Wigan’s wide man, City were always going to be exploited down the flanks. Add in a lack of energy from most of the team, and fullbacks Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy were always going to have trouble, especially once Wigan left wingback Roger Espinoza showed so much aggression charging up his flank. Keep more of the ball, work harder when you lose it, and yes, City could have offset the tactics. But they weren’t of the mindset to do so.

City survived until halftime, when it seemed like Mancini would make a change. With James Milner warming up during intermission, it looked like Clichy would get some help containing MacManaman, who was having his way down the right. But when Milner came on for Samir Nasri, he was deployed on the opposite flank, and while City also needed to give more consideration to Koné, Milner was cast above Zabaleta. Clichy was in serious need of help.

That Milner wasn’t in the starting lineup to begin with hints Mancini didn’t grasp the Latics’ threat. That, or though his faith in Samir Nasri, he is so intent on salvaging what’s been a poor season from his starting winger that he let the French international try to redeem himself with silverware on the line. Instead of playing Milner – his best wide defender and one player you could count on to bring the right intensity from minute one – Nasri was again given the starting nod.

The next sub, midway through the half, also displayed a degree of stubbornness. Just as he was willing to stay with Nasri despite a lackluster campaign, Mancini defaulted to his favorite tactical trick: His continued dalliance with a three-man defense. Jack Rodwell was on and Carlos Tévez, of all people, was brought off. Never mind that score was still 0-0, and never mind Tévez has the ability to take any ball sent out of the back and make it into a goal. And disregard the fact Marcini was, in moving to a scheme that’s had marginal success this year, positioning his side to start going almost like-for-like against Wigan. Tevez was still making way for Rodwell.

Given that dissonance, it’s perhaps appropriate that Rodwell was beaten for the goal, with Ben Watson cutting in front of him at the near post before flicking past Joe Hart. One of a slew of offseason signings that never worked out (along with Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair, Maicon), it was poetic justice that the man bought on to enable the three-at-the-back dream was beaten to complete Mancini’s nightmare.

That nightmare started yesterday, when reporting in Spain linked Pellegrini with Mancini’s job. It will continue over the next seven days, with the final week of Mancini’s season sure to be dominated by news of a possible departure. With nothing to play for next week, Mancini could sleep walk through the turmoil with no effect on his squad. He could also crack, as he did before leaving Inter Milan, where at one point in 2008 he hastily announced his eventual departure, decided to stay on, and was fired three months later.

On Saturday, City played like a team overwhelmed by the gossip, but it’s a manager’s prepare a squad that isn’t derailed by tabloid headlines and boardroom shenanigans. And if the speculation about Mancini’s job wasn’t a factor in City’s performance, there are even fewer excused for why one of the world’s most expensive squads lost a major title to a relegation candidate.

Manchester City fans sang their support of Mancini during the final’s opening moments, but after a tepid display on one of the biggest stages, you wonder if they’ll change their tune. And if those fans don’t think another man could do better after watching today’s loss, will they ever concede their team’s made for more than this?

FOLLOW LIVE: UEFA Champions League Wednesday fixtures

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - NOVEMBER 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden celebrates after the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Denmark and Sweden at Parken Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yesterday’s Champions League slate brought us the return of Lionel Messi to the field, and he exploded back onto the scene in only a way that Messi can. Today features another return, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes home.

PSG heads to Sweden as Zlatan comes back to his boyhood, hometown club of Malmo, kicking at 2:45 P.M. ET. Zlatan isn’t one to dish out compliments to opponents very often, but he had nothing but gushing praise for the club that kickstarted his career.

“I have become who I am because of Malmo,” Zlatan told the Malmo official website. “Everything started in Malmo and I feel like a Malmo lad. I move in a Malmo way and I think I talk in a Malmo way. Everything is Malmo for me.” He also hopes to score a hat-trick and have the home fans chant his name.

[ FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League Wednesday fixtures ]

A win for PSG along with a Shakhtar Donetsk loss would progress both Real Madrid and the French club into the knockout stages.

Elsewhere, Manchester City travels to Juventus looking to solidify their hold on the top spot in Group D. City has been unlucky with their group stage draws in recent years, but they could snatch the top spot in the group this year should they win today. The Italians are just a point behind, and could go top of the group with a win of their own.

The aforementioned Blancos of Real Madrid travels to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk. Real Madrid is already guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds, but a win would secure them the top spot in the group with PSG three points behind.

Manchester United welcomes PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford with the Group B still entirely in flux. A win for Wolfsburg earlier today over CSKA Moscow put them ahead, but the Red Devils could snatch that top spot back with a win. Should Louis Van Gaal and company falter, they would drop out of a knockout stage spot, as PSV sits just one point back of them in third.

Finally, Atletico Madrid hosts Galatasaray in a very important match in the middle of Group C. Sevilla tops the group with 10 points, but with Atletico behind them at seven points and Galatasaray on four, Atletico could secure themselves a knockout round berth with the three points, while a win for the Turks would leave things totally up for grabs.

One more final score from earlier today, Benfica drew Astana 2-2 in Kazakhstan, leaving them just three points ahead of Atletico Madrid atop Group C.

VIDEO: Watch hilarious Liverpool boss Klopp practice scouse accent

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Will Jurgen Klopp be “giving it bifters” anytime soon?

Well, he’s probably already been doing that after Liverpool brushed aside Manchester City last weekend: “boss tha.”

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make UCL last 16? ]

If you are wondering what the heck is going on, take a look at the video above as a young Liverpool fan — nine-year-old Issac — gave the German coach a scouse lesson as Klopp has now been in charge of the Reds for over seven weeks.

The video was shot before Liverpool’s big win at Man City, and Klopp promised Issac he would sneak “boss tha” into his press conference if they won.

During his pre-match press conference on Wednesday before Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Bordeaux, Klopp was true to his word.

Is your “head chocka” yet?

Click play on the video above to see the hilarious interview in full, as Klopp learns plenty of useful scouse phrases and, of course, there are plenty of hugs and laughs.

Mauricio Pochettino wants Premier League to work schedule around Europa League

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at White Hart Lane on November 22, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino won’t be the first to make these requests, nor will he be the last. Nonetheless, every time someone brings up this point, it’s noteworthy.

The Spurs boss said it’s “not fair” that Chelsea has two days extra to recover from their midweek Champions League game, while his side has a Thursday affair in Europa League play, giving them just two days off before their Premier League meeting on Sunday.

“To be fair, you need to compete in every competition with the same conditions as the opponent,” Pochettino pleaded to Sky Sports prior to Spurs’ trip to Azerbaijan to take on FC Qarabag. “I am not complaining. I only want to translate our feeling. I only want to bring attention to the conditions, that it’s not fair to have two days less recovery than the opponent.”

“My question is; why not be attentive and careful to try to help the team who needs to compete in Europe? It’s difficult because we need to manage a lot of things. We need to be clinical in how we assess our players because the jet lag is very important.”

The idea that the Europa League is more detrimental than it is an asset for teams that make it in. For Spurs, it can sap the team of energy as they push for a top four league spot and an in to the Champions League. For some mid-table sides who make it into the earlier rounds thanks to Cup wins or Fair Play berths, it can be a massive hurdle as the clubs focus on maintaining their Premier League status.

Pochettino isn’t asking for much from the Premier League, just even a few extra hours.

“Why not play on the Monday, or 4pm on Sunday, instead of 12pm?” Pochettino said. “It’s not much of a gap but in four hours you can rest a little bit more, you can sleep and recover after the long flight. Chelsea has two days more to recover. They play Tuesday, we play Thursday, and I think Jose Mourinho will agree that he has a little advantage to prepare for the game. But it’s not an excuse not to compete on Sunday and try to win the game.”

Daniel Sturridge could return for Liverpool against Bordeaux

X during Liverpool FC training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 30, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it’s possible that Daniel Sturridge could return to the Liverpool lineup when the Reds host Bordeaux in Europa League action on Thursday.

Sturridge has made just three Premier League appearances this season due to multiple injuries, and has not played since a full 90 minutes against Everton on October 4. He is back in training, however, and was an unused substitute in the 4-1 win over Manchester City on the weekend.

“The best news at the moment is Daniel is getting closer and closer,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He can train seven or eight times in a row which is the longest period since I’ve been here.”

Klopp was faced with a striker injury crisis at the start of his tenure at Anfield, but the options have slowly improved. The German was first forced to use Divock Origi in his first match in charge. He employed Roberto Firmino up front against Manchester City with great results, but said in his interview with the NBC Sports crew after the match that he had to continually remind Firmino to push forward into a striker role before the Brazilian eventually scored.

Christian Benteke was also among the substitutes against City, and now it appears Sturridge could be close to a return. Klopp said he will be a game-time decision tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, whether he starts or not.

“My decision you will see but it is closer and that is very good,” Klopp said.