Di Canio offered to sacrifice himself but Sunderland owner refused

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Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has revealed that following the outrage that ensued over his appointent as manager of the Black Cats, he offered to walk away from the Stadium of Light.

As most will recall, Di Canio’s political alignments – and in particular his alleged affinity for fascism – were all the rage following his appointment by chairman Elliot Short. Things got so heavy that the Italian manager told Short, in his own special ‘Di Canio speak’, that he was happy to part ways if that’s what the owner wanted.

“I told him, ‘Tell me what I have to do. Bye bye. No problem, because I do not want to be a problem for the club’,” Di Canio told the Independent on Sunday. “If I don’t represent a problem for you I am okay, I am ready to handle the pressure. It is no pressure for me.

“All day rubbish me, I don’t care. It is my life, but if you think ‘mmm, probably yeah, I let you be free’, I don’t want nothing and I go’.

“He said, ‘Absolutely, you have to stay. You are our man.’

“That for me was enough. Refocus. I will never forget what he did. He gave me a big chance of my dream to become manager at the top level. . . . In this moment, he did not give up, he gave me 100 per cent, 200 per cent support. He convinced me to stay because he said you are our man. He is the owner, he picked me. I can’t forget for the rest of my life, no matter what happens in the future.”

Retaining Di Canio has proven to be a good decision by Short as the manager has taken seven of a possible 12 points since arriving at the Stadium of Light. In his very first match as boss, Di Canio let his presence be known as he jumped, dance, chest-banged, knee-slid and fist-pumped his way to a 3-0 shellacking of rivals Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Di Canio’s antics and inspiration erased the crippling lack of confidence that draped the Black Cats during the final days of Martin O’Neill’s reign. If the win wasn’t enough to convince Mackems of his personality and ideals, his post-match comments concerning his mother, who passed away exactly one year before the win, endeared him to the Sunderland faithful. “Before the kick-off, I saw the face of my Mama smiling. . . . Mama was special today, so my dedication goes to her today, to my Mam.”

Following the derby win Di Canio kept the good times rolling with a deserved 1-0 victory over Everton. It was a match that set off raucous celebrations at the Stadium of Light and sealed the Toffees fate of not qualifying for Champions League. Perhaps high on confidence, the Black Cats were stung by Villa 6-1 the following week before coming from behind to snag a point last Monday night against Stoke.

With two matches left to play in the 2012-13 season, Sunderland are still in the thick of a relegation battle. Three points above the drop on 38 points, a home victory today against Southampton would secure the Black Cats a spot in next year’s Premier League.

And with a difficult final match away at Tottenham, Di Canio’s side will be hard-pressed to take all three points today.

If Sunderland are unable to stay up Di Canio could find himself right back on the hot-seat. But if so, he’ll remain dedicated to the Sunderland cause. “Next year I hope I can be here. You never know what is going on in life.”

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

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.

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