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Manchester City justified to fire Mancini?

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As the news broke of Roberto Mancini’s firing from Manchester City on Monday evening, mixed reviews split opinion across the soccer community.

City’s ownership group cited Mancini had failed to “develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the club” and had not reached “stated targets.”

But in their statement announcing the decision to show Mancini the door, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak also stated his thanks to the Italian for delivering the club’s first league title in 35 years.

So what more could Mancini have done in his three and a half years at the club? Not that much.

Yes they should have beaten Wigan and won the FA Cup on Saturday, but that was hardly the determining factor in the decision to sack the former Sampdoria and Lazio forward.

He delivered trophies, winning the 2011-12 Premier League and the FA Cup in 2011. He bought well in some cases and played attacking, expansive soccer on the way to winning the title.

But that wasn’t enough.

Several spats with big name players, such as Joe Hart, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez has punctuated his time in charge of City. It has often been stated that Mancini had a poor relationship with the majority of his squad and he liked to distance himself from the group.

In many ways that was his greatest feature. Often he would take a look from afar at his squad, make subtle changes that worked and he seemed to know when to alter formations, drop certain players and buy the likes of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to spearhead his squad of incredibly talented players.

(More: The Mancini Era, top five signings)

But the lack of youth in Man City’s squad didn’t sit well with their billionaire owners. With new UEFA regulations regarding financial fair play and the multi-million dollar academy and training complex they are building next to the Etihad Stadium, City are planning to become a team that is sustainable and full of homegrown youngsters. Former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain, he joined City in 2012. The new emphasis is clearly on youth development.

Mancini just didn’t fit the bill.

The Italian brought joy and happiness to many City fans, who accepted the decision to get rid of Mancini was inevitable, but struggled to comprehend it at the same time. They still think of Mancini as the arrogant Italian standing on the edge of the technical area in a beautifully crafted suit, with his arms crossed. A blue and white Man City scarf was often wrapped around his neck and every now and then, a stylish stroke of his right-hand through his wavy hair would signal everything is okay. City are playing well. Mancini is chilled. The future is looking good.

That was then. This is now.

There will be no more Mancini on the sidelines. No more fiery bust ups in training splashed across the front pages of the British tabloids. No more “Robby Manc” as he was known locally. He won 61.65 percent of his EPL games in charge, ranking fourth all-time in managers who’ve be in charge for 20+ games.

How much more could he have really done?

Manchester City’s fans are amongst the most loyal in the land. They regularly sold out their old Maine Road ground while their side languished in England’s third-tier in 1998. They will support the new manager just as vehemently as they supported Mancini. But it will take time.

(More: Is Manuel Pellegrini the right man for Manchester City?)

After spending almost $500 million on players in his time in charge, not making the Champions League knockout stages was his biggest failure. But at least he had success. City fans will remember it. Mancini will move on with a huge severance pay and everything will settle down for a while.

But I for one would love to see Mancini return to soccer, sooner rather than later.

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.