Roberto Mancini out as manager at Manchester City

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This certainly had the feel of “foregone conclusion,” didn’t it?

Roberto Mancini is out as Manchester City manager – to the surprise of absolutely no one.

A meager title defense, an early Champions League crash and Saturday’s FA Cup waste was too much for City’s Abu Dhabi owners.

Mancini had lately been hurt that club officials more or less refused to knock down the stories of his imminent dismissal – which began circulating in force the morning of Saturday’s FA Cup final. If there was already so much “smoke,” so to speak, the “fire” was definitely going to arrive once Wigan somehow pulled off the Wembley smash and grab on Saturday, leaving City officials with no titles for the year, and with little apparent doubt that Mancini was no longer the right man for the job.

Sure enough, the ax swung late Monday.

The statement from club management was quite to the point, emphasizing that the Italian manager “had failed to achieve any of the club’s targets, with the exception of qualification for next season’s Champions League.”

Well, there was that English Premier League title a year back, City’s only crown in England’s top tier for the last 44 years. Oh, and that FA Cup in 2011. But, details, details.

City’s championship defense in 2012-13 did sometimes look like weak sauce of the meek, pretty much kaput by February. Meanwhile, crosstown rival United attacked the task of reclaiming EPL glory with the fierce determination of wounded animals. Then again, Mancini’s men will finish second or perhaps third in the world’s most ballyhooed league; it’s not like they were stuffed back in coach class with Southampton and Sunderland and the like.

Mancini certainly brought some of this on himself. Given the wealth of talent and a year for settling into the Champions League groove (the 2011-12 campaign), finishing dead last in the group stage of the world’s most prestigious club tournament was surely quite an embarrassment for Sheikh Mansour, whose oil money seemed in almost limitless supply.

Or it did to some of us. Not so much to Mancini, who damaged his standing with ownership by publicly and repeatedly suggesting that he was somehow fighting with the shorter stick – a truly absurd and perhaps even entitled suggestion. There are 17 or 18 EPL clubs that would do anything to have City’s collection of talent, top to bottom on the roster.

Nor did Mancini assist his cause with his media interactions, which ranged from cumbersome (often due to his English language limitations) to downright bizarre.

In the end, City fans, players around the Etihad and members of the chattering class may judge this as “unfair,” and the cold calculation of his dismissal may not bathe the oil-moneyed owners in most flattering light. But backlash will be minimal, if there is any at all, because Mancini hardly comes across as a sympathetic character.

The speculation has centered on Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini as Mancini’s replacement at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Check back for more on this at ProSoccerTalk.

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.

Report: Frank De Boer accepts Crystal Palace job

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Frank de Boer is widely expected to be named new Crystal Palace manager this week, as he has reportedly accepted the job after having been offered the position this week.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The 47-year-old Dutchman has been out of work since he was fired by Inter Milan in November. He lasted just 84 days at the San Siro, where he managed to win just five of 14 games. Inter Milan is Inter Milan, though, and that’s something worth remembering when critiquing Palace’s impending appointment of De Boer.

Palace are also widely expected to back De Boer in the transfer market this summer, in a big way. Kelechi Iheanacho is the biggest name linked with a move to Selhurst Park, as the 20-year-old Nigerian striker is reportedly unwanted by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.