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.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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Liverpool, Leicester City headline Premier League Asia Trophy

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The Premier League is coming this summer to Hong Kong.

The territory in Southeast China will host the 2017 Premier League Asia Trophy, featuring Liverpool, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. The tournament will take place from July 19-22, with all games taking place at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.

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“We are very excited to be returning to Hong Kong this summer for the Premier League Asia Trophy,” Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore said in a statement. “We know from previous visits that fans in Hong Kong, and across the region, are passionate supporters of our clubs.”

This summer’s edition of the biennial tournament is the first to feature four Premier League teams. In the past, an Asian All-Star XI or a local club would be the fourth team to take part. By bringing a fourth team over, the Premier League is increasing the opportunity for Premier League fans to have a chance to see more of the league’s stars up close and in person.

For Liverpool, it will be the start of a busy season that will include UEFA Champions League action for the first time since 2015.