Why there’s so much difficulty understanding Mancini, Benitez’s plights

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If there’s a commonality between Manchester City’s FA Cup failure and Chelsea’s Europa League success, it’s the empty, futile call to support managers who clearly not longer (or never did) fit their clubs – the appeal for stability in the wake of modest accomplishment, an argument that rest more on nostalgia than the realities of the modern soccer world.

When news broke of Roberto Mancini’s impending dismissal at City, the general reaction was surprise that a man, one year removed from winning a Premier League title, were to be let go. Manchester City needed stability, the chorus sang as Txiki Begiristain affixed the brooches. And with Rafa Benítez, the addition of another major trophy has already lead to main stream coverage’s reflections on whether the former Liverpool man has earned the permanent job at Stamford Bridge.

There’s a strange element of contrarianism in both these views, as on the surface, it seems pretty clear why both Chelsea and City would be willing to move on. Or, put another way, it’s unclear why either Mancini or Benítez would be good bets to meet their clubs’ 2013-14 ambitions, whether you judge their capabilities on current or historic results. Going back to Inter, Mancini’s results have always been those of a well-supported man who can win when things when fortune broke his way. Benítez, at both Valencia and Liverpool, proved capable of challenging for big things, but he’s so far removed from those accomplishments, it’s almost as if the current visage is completely different coach – an insecure performer unable to adapt after a crowd figures out his only trick.

The commonality between the pro-Mancini and pro-Benítez views is an inability to come to grips with modern-day soccer – a state of play in which, much to the chagrin of many who follow the game, players, managers, and executives are held to a standard commensurate with the outlay of their owners. Perhaps supporters of Benítez and Mancini see a world where absolute accomplishments are sufficient, in which case a second place Premier League finish and a Europa League trophy are good enough for any manager. But Sheikh Mansour didn’t this so much money into City to see the Citizens fail to threaten Manchester United. And Roman Abramovich’s ambitions need no explanation. Their managers will always be evaluated relative to their owners’ ambitions, and in that respect, there’s little wonder why Manuel Pellegrini will be hired by City, just as José Mourinho will rejoin Chelsea.

At some point, people who follow (and cover) Chelsea, City – or, for that matter, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, or any team who can keep up with the world’s other huge spenders – need to adjust their world views. When you’re spending enough to have one of the most talent teams in the world, it’s nowhere near good enough when your team doesn’t perform to that level. ‘Why didn’t you compete for the league title? Why didn’t you go better in Europe?’ If there aren’t good answers to these questions, you’re likely gone.

And rightfully so. It’s not that you need to win everything. No owner’s that naïve. But you need to have the squad performing to its capabilities. You need to have trophies taken from you, not given them away. So when City’s boardroom sees their squad never threaten Manchester United, or Abramovich sees his team fighting to stay in the top four rather than threatening for first, they can’t help but wonder: Could somebody else do better?

Pellegrini? He probably can. Mourinho? He’s proven he will.

But this isn’t about comparing managers or the tough decisions boardrooms have to make. It’s about the narratives sounding these managers. The reality is that both Benítez and Mancini, despite their accomplishments at their jobs, have failed to get their immense talent to perform commensurate with expectations. They knew the expectations doing into their jobs, and as they Eastland and Stamford Bridge, their heart of heart will know they’ve failed to meet their chairmans’ goals. And just as acutely, they’ll know other coaches with better resumes are ready to take over their jobs.

If they want, pundits can go on and on about stability and the need to give a manager time, but Pep Guardiola won Champions League in his first season at Barça. Mourinho won in his second year at Inter. Roberto Di Matteo was an interim when he won Champions League, and Jupp Heynckes is only in his second season at Bayern.

At some point, everybody needs to accept the realities of the modern world are not motivated by nostalgia. If I’m paying for a title contender and you say you can give it to me, you’re damn right you’re going to be fired if you come up short.

STREAM LIVE: Leaders Chelsea host Southampton

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Chelsea look to extend their lead atop the Premier League to seven points as they host Southampton on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s men can momentarily pull further away from second-place Tottenham, who play on Wednesday at Crystal Palace, and following their FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs at Wembley on Saturday it would be another huge psychological boost in the title race for the west London club.

As for Southampton, well, they are pushing hard to finish in eighth place and secure a fourth-straight season in the top eight of the PL. Claude Puel‘s men have the quality to cause a big upset and could be tough to break down.

In team news Chelsea have Gary Cahill back from fitness, while Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas all come back into the starting lineup.

Southampton bring back Oriol Romeu from suspension and he replaces Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, wile Sofiane Boufal comes in for Nathan Redmond out wide.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Fabregas, Hazard, Costa. Subs: Begovic, Ake, Terry, Willian, Pedro, Chalobah, Batshuayi

Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Boufal; Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Caceres, Clasie, Hojbjerg, Redmond, Long, Rodriguez

Premier League Playback: Projecting the top four

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You should’ve seen my face when I worked out the points totals for the four teams in the running for the two remaining UEFA Champions League spots…

Mind. Blown.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Let’s make an outrageous assumption (it’s basically fact at this point) that Chelsea and Tottenham will finish in the top two places in the Premier League and that Everton, who have played up to three more games than their nearest contenders, are out of this battle for the top four.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule

So it’s down to Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal for the final two places and it could not be tighter as we enter the final weeks of the season.

Judging by the projection below, it could all go down to the final day of the season and none of the four teams below are playing each other. Say no more.


LIVERPOOL
The Reds are wobbling again. Following the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, their first defeat in eight games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are under intense pressure in their final four games of the season. They’ve played two more than Man City and Man United below them but the gap to United is now just three points. Without Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, this ridiculously easy run-in is looking arduous. Liverpool have four cup finals to win and hope for the best. All season long they’ve struggled against the smaller teams and that could cost them dear in the final weeks with bitter rivals United in form.

Toughest game remaining: vs. Southampton (May 7)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)

MAN CITY
It’s all about this Thursday for Man City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing to Arsenal after extra time in the FA Cup semifinal. After the derby against Man United (who sit one point and one place below City) they finish with three home games in their final five and face teams in eighth or below. Should be easy for City but Guardiola’s men have made life more difficult for themselves than it should be. Expect them to win four of their final six games to seal UCL action next season.

Toughest games remaining: vs. Manchester United (Thursday)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (3rd place finish)

MAN UNITED
Ander Herrera is right when he said that the Manchester derby was the “game of the season” on Thursday. It is a match which United have to win and if they do then their destiny is in their own hands. With long-term injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, plus so many other injury issues as the toll of a run to the Europa League semifinal hits home, Mourinho’s men have surprised everyone to get their top four hopes back on track. If they lose at City then United may just focus on winning the Europa League to get their Champions League spot next season. United have the toughest remaining schedule in the top four battle but it will be close between themselves and Liverpool for the final spot. Having a 23-game unbeaten run in the PL is no mean feat.

Toughest games remaining: at Manchester City (Thursday), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (4th place finish, on goal difference)

ARSENAL
The Gunners will get plenty of confidence from that FA Cup semifinal win over Man City and it will also give their players plenty to play for in the final weeks of the season as they aim to be in the starting lineup at Wembley. With a trip to Tottenham followed by a home game against Man United in the space of a week, their season will come down to those two games. They have seven matches to play, more than any other team in the PL, and Arsene Wenger may be feeling confident of sneaking into the top four.

Toughest games remaining: at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish, on goal difference)


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Prince-Wright’s midweek Premier League picks

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Five games are coming your way in the Premier League over the next three days.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 2-0 Leicester City – (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-3 Tottenham – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Middlesbrough 1-1 Sunderland – (Wednesday,  2:45 p.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]  

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Chelsea 1-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man City 1-2 Man United – (Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Full Premier League schedule for midweek

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Five games are on the way in the Premier League in midweek as the makeup games kick off.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Kicking things off on Tuesday league leaders Chelsea host Southampton (Watch live, 2:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Stamford Bridge fresh from their FA Cup semifinal victory against Tottenham. Can Antonio Conte‘s men extend their lead to seven points?

On Wednesday the attention shifts to Tottenham who make the trip across London to in-form Crystal Palace (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Can the Eagles put a huge dent in Spurs’ title bid at Selhurst Park?

Then comes the big one on Thursday as Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with so much at stake. City are in fourth place heading into the Manchester derby but Pep Guardiola‘s side are just one point and place above Jose Mourinho’s men and will

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

The full TV schedule for this week is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Wednesday
3 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Thursday
3 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]