Which EPL managers are under pressure already?

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The beach towels are packed away, the running shoes have somehow found their way out of the closet and the brand new stopwatches are ready to roll.

Preseason is here. Welcome to a soccer players nightmare.

Most English Premier League sides returned to training this week as managers, players and the coaching staff are preparing themselves for the long, hard slog between now and the end of the season in May 2014.

But it is perhaps, surprisingly, some of the managers who are already beginning to feel the strain of life in England’s top flight.

This may be crazy to talk about six weeks before the season even begins, but the odds are already out on which managers will be fired first in the EPL.

Preseason has just begun. But so has the dreaded sack race.

With the new bumper TV deal landing EPL clubs a cash windfall, last season saw intense pressure heaped upon the shoulders of managers. Some chairman actually resisted the urge to fire managers as they didn’t want too much upheaval leading to relegation.

But the upheaval has been immense since the last ball of the 2012-13 season was kicked on May 19, 2013. Of the current 20 EPL managers, 10 weren’t in charge of their current sides for the start of the 2012-13 EPL campaign.

So they’ve had their settling in period or summer of bedding in. The honeymoon is over and plenty of head coaches will be sweating in the English sun when August 17 arrives.

Let’s see who the contenders are to win the dreaded EPL ‘sack race.’

Steve Bruce (Hull City)

Yes, he just got Hull City promoted. But Bruce’s squad is in need of a major overhaul to compete in the EPL. They were the surprise package of the Championship last term and if things go pear shaped early on, expect Bruce to make a sharp exit.

Paolo Di Canio (Sunderland)

The eccentric Italian manager could guide Sunderland to the top six… or they could crash and burn. Di Canio has overhauled the squad and isn’t making many friends with the playing squad previous manager Martin O’Neill assembled. Di Canio has until Christmas to turning the Black Cats into a top ten team.

Alan Pardew (Newcastle United)

Newcastle United’s controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football has left Pardew in an incredibly tough position. Couple that with the Geordies relegation threatened season last-time out, and Pardew could be packing his bags by November. Plenty of new signings didn’t perform from January onwards, Pardew needs them to improve or his it out.

 Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton)

This is a bit of a long shot but the Argentine manager knows he must deliver a top ten finish for the St. Mary’s outfit. Southampton are planning to splash the cash between now and August and their ambitious chairman wants to kick on and challenge for a European spot. If they falter after a relatively easy start to the campaign, Pochettino could be packing his bags.

Martin Jol (Fulham)

Last season was a peculiar one at Craven Cottage. At times Martin Jol’s Fulham side looked like world-beaters but on other occasions they were reminiscent of an average League Two outfit at best. Jol is walking a tight-rope as fans are getting restless with the lack of progress on the banks of the River Thames.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.