ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS

Premier League coaches may face loyalty test in face of Paris Saint-Germain

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Everybody at the highest levels of the soccer world knows the nature of the game, so your manager if one-year gets a call from one of Europe’s elite clubs, there’s no use begging for loyalty. There’s no laying on a sob story where hopes and dreams become weights and expectations. If you’re at Everton and Manchester United come calling for your coach, you sigh, hand over the phone, and go find Roberto Martínez.

Paris Saint-Germain isn’t Manchester United, but there are few clubs in world soccer that offer a better job. A spectacular city, strong league, good talent base, Champions League soccer and an AmEx black card with “WHOEVER WE WANT TO BE” below the number? What more could you ask for, especially given the patience they showed Carlo Ancelotti over the past season-plus?

Thus it’s no surprise names like André Villas-Boas, Michael Laudrup, and (of course) Guus Hiddink have been linked with the position at the Parc de Princes. Hiddink’s also said to be close to a contract extension with Anzhi Makhachkala, so the Dutch vagabond may be merely be leveraging his Qatari friends to get more money. There is, after all, a reason he ended up in Dagestan in the first place. Add in Hiddink’s recent failures with the Russian and Turkish national teams, and he looks like the contractor you hire after a last minute cancellation.

Laudrup is a more intriguing proposition. The Danish playing icon has becomes a bit of a wanderer himself, having coached in four places in the last six years. His current position at Swansea City saw him lead the club to the League Cup, an unexpected honor that will see the Wales-based English Premier League side into Europe next season.  Of course, Swansea faded in the season’s last months, finishing with more losses than wins and a negative difference. Added to his larger body of work, and PSG looks like a huge step up for Laudrup.

That’s not meant to demean the Swansea boss. PSG is just a very high standard. They’re capable of luring coaches like Carlo Ancelotti. When you’re working at those heights, you don’t need to accept unnecessary risk. The Parisians could go from Jurgen Klopp to Antonio Conte to Vitor Pereira, offering their job to every hot and accomplished coach in Europe. There’s a long list of bosses sitting near the top of their leagues that would listen to PSG’s call.

All of which brings us to André Villas-Boas, who just finished his first year at Spurs. Although Tottenham failed to replicate their top-four finish, they claimed more points in 2012-13 then they did the previous season. Given the obstacles Villas-Boas overcame (namely, losing Luka Modric), few would have blamed him if Spurs let the top four drift away.

Given his age, his experience at Porto, and our new context on his Chelsea struggles, “AVB” seems a fine choice for Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, if they were targeting a man to enact a long-term vision, there may be no better candidate. At 35, Villas-Boas still has youth’s blind ambition, a passion that match’s PSG’s potential.

The bigger question, one that also applies to Laudrup, is whether Villas-Boas would want to leave his new job after only one season. For each man, it’s not an uncommon thing, with Villas-Boas leaving Porto and Chelsea before seeing year two while Laudrup’s Swansea tenure is tied for his longest since leaving Brondby in 2006. Both men have ambitiously climbed the coaching ladder, and with each experiencing recent failures (Chelsea for Villas-Boas, Spartak Moscow for Laudrup), there new club’s faith wasn’t necessarily a given.

Turning your back on that type of job — a Premier League post, where recent success has eliminated initial doubts — is no frivolity, especially after you’ve settled in. And after their 2012-13 seasons, both Villas-Boas and Laudrup have settled in. Neither persist in an evaluation phase. Their clubs are pushing into 2013-14 with confidence.

To turn their backs on that would take a special offer, one that would have to be handled with care lest any bridges be burned. Even then, there will still be a question of loyalty. Do you give your current club one, maybe two more years in appreciation for the opportunity? Or do you expect them to understand, as Villas-Boas did with Porto two years ago, that a club level of club only comes knocking every so often?

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.