Manuel Pellegrini piles the pressure on Manchester City ‘keeper Joe Hart

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Following Manchester City’s 3-2 defeat to Cardiff City last Sunday, new manager Manuel Pellegrini hasn’t been pointing the finger of blame at his players.

But ahead of City’s clash with Hull City on Saturday, (7:45am ET, watch live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra) he has been speaking about City’s goalkeeper Joe Hart.

England’s no. 1 has had a shaky few weeks for his country and for City, with noticeable mistakes creeping into the 26-year-old ‘keepers play. So at a time like this you would expect the full support of your manager to help you get through that sticky patch… right?

Not so much.

“For the moment Joe will continue being our goalkeeper,” Pellegrini said. “But I know and I spoke with him and he knows he must be quickly in the best shape again – his top form. I think he is a top goalkeeper. I’m sure that he will do it again.”

So, not exactly a rousing seal of approval from the 59-year-old Chilean manager. But with the former Real Madrid, Malaga, River Plate and Villarreal manager still trying to establish himself as the authority figure at City, what did you expect?

Hart should have done better with Fraizer Campbell’s first goal that put Cardiff 2-1 up last Sunday, he misjudged a corner that allowed the Cardiff striker to score at the back post. And just over a week before that he was at fault for Scotland’s opener at Wembley as James Morrison’s routine shot squirmed underneath him.

(MORE: Expect Joe Hart to get more scrutiny after his performance against Cardiff City)

This alarming trend has continued for quite some time now, and Hart’s slump is entering months rather than weeks. This season is Hart’s seventh as a regular in the Premier League and Pellegrini has perhaps found a reason why he’s been struggling of late.

“He is a young goalkeeper who has arrived at the top maybe too young. He needs to improve a lot and Xabier Mancisidor [City’s new goalkeeping coach] will improve it,” Pellegrini said. “For a goalkeeper 22 or 23 is young [Hart’s age when he established himself]. But he has the quality to do it. That’s why he’s the No1 in England. We have all the trust in him and he will also be critical of what he’s doing and he will improve.”

Pellegrini is confident Hart will regain his best form and these comments are nothing but a subtle kick up the backside to help the England international reach the top once again. Hart will be doing that himself, often the camera pans to him during the game to reveal plenty of sour expressions emblazoned across his face.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Even though Hart has suffered some high-profile errors of late he still made an incredible double save from a Ronaldinho penalty during a friendly last February, as England sealed their first win over Brazil in 23 years and Hart was lauded for his performance. He’s young for an international goalkeeper but struggles like the mini-slump he’s going through at the moment will more than likely make him a better ‘keeper.

But the most important factor to come out of Pellegrini’s comments on Hart is that he’s working under a new goalkeeping coach. Many will know that for a ‘keeper, familiarity breeds success. Having your routine changed and altered after years of working with the same coach can, at first, have a negative effect as you adapt to new training methods. But in the long run it should make Hart even better.

City and England hope so.

LVG would only return to club football to get at Man Utd

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Leave it to The Daily Mirror to find that last bit of juice when it comes to Manchester United and former manager Louis Van Gaal.

Well, probably the last bit.

The Dutch manager said he does not expect to return to club football, unless one of the big boys in the Premier League offered him the chance to take a run at United. The Red Devils, of course, fired him shortly after an FA Cup title in order to hire Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

From The Mirror, quoting LVG at a Sunday night function in Rotterdam.

“I will probably not manage a club anymore,” Van Gaal said. “I would make one exception: If a big English club comes for me, than I would do it. Because then I can get the chance to get one over on Manchester United.’’

Could you see him getting a run at any of the Top Four contenders, even on a caretaker basis? Could Liverpool come calling if they tired of Jurgen Klopp one season, or might Arsenal or even Everton need a stopgap (should the Toffees spending come good)?

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.