Premier League Playback: Pellegrini perfect for City, Guzan on fire, sexy soccer returns

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PELLEGRINI PLAYS IT COOL, AS CITY DOMINATE

“Today we had a very good day, and that allowed our superiority against Manchester United. Maybe they [United] couldn’t play better, because we played very well.” – Manuel Pellegrini following Man City’s 4-1 win over arch-rivals United

As Sergio Aguero tapped home Man City’s third goal on Sunday, putting them 3-0 just 62 seconds after the interval, manager Pellegrini wheeled away and threw a punch of delight towards the ground. He knew his side had won, but he celebrated in a relaxed and controlled manner. The docile Chilean was magnanimous in victory and that nature emanates spectacularly when he’s carefully marshaling the sideline. After the convincing win, many slated Manchester United’s display, but Pellegrini alluded to it, City were just too good and blew their neighbors out of the water. His high-pressure tactics forced United back from, and they couldn’t handle the pace and relentless pressure Pellegrini’s men possessed, he loved his teams performance, and so did the fans. City’s new manager suits the club’s hard-nosed, attacking mentality perfectly, and he’s got a jump start on Moyes’s rebuild at United.

The 60-year-old exudes an air of self-confidence and belief, without even saying a word. And in the first half he didn’t have to say much, as his team, lead by the individual brilliance of Aguero, Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo, tore Untied apart down the flanks. Those three were a constant thorn in United’s side, I wrote about City’s awesome attacking trio, live from the Etihad.

In the second half Pellegrini appeared slightly agitated, losing his suavely cool persona on a few isolated occasions. The former Villarreal revolutionary has managed in the intense pressure of the Argentine, Chilean and Spanish leagues, and he looked at ease in the heat of the Manchester Derby on Sunday. And so did his team. But the man from Santiago, he wants more.

“We must improve every day,” Pellegrini said. “The way we play, I think we are just starting another style to play.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 5

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Man City 4-1 Man Utd Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-3 Hull City Recap and watch here
Norwich City 0-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Brom 3-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Ham 2-3 Everton Recap and watch here

TOP PERFORMERS

As aforementioned, Nasri and Agueo stole the show in City’s dominant win, with the Frenchman cutting in from the left to cause havoc, and Aguero bullying United’s defense with his clever, darting runs in behind the full backs. In Everton’s 3-2 win over West Ham, left back Leighton Baines curled home two magnificent free kicks that left Jussi Jaaskelainen helpless. Speaking of ‘keepers, more on this next, but Brad Guzan had himself a doozy of a game at Carrow Road. And finally, the scary Samba boy, Paulinho, was Spurs’ game-winner with an audacious finish right at the death to seal all three points vs. Cardiff. Mágico.

GUZAN’S THE MAN

Following his terrific first half penalty stop (okay, we know he was a couple yards off the line, but FIFA don’t seem to care about that rule anymore) Aston Villa’s Guzan showed once again why he should be considered for a starting spot with the USMNT. Norwich battered Villa for large spells in the second half, but Guzan made some fine fingertip saves and was cool and calm when collecting numerous crosses, to preserve the 1-0 win. Just watch below. With Tim Howard performing okay, but not great, how long will it be before Guzan dons the no. 1 jersey for the USA?

DI CANIO OUT

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Sergio Aguero (Man City) 2 goals, superb movement
2. Samir Nasri (Man City) 1 goal, mesmeric dribbling
3. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) Clean sheet, PK save
4. Leighton Baines (Everton) 2 stunning free kicks from LB
5. Paulinho (Tottenham) 1 goal, powerful CM display

After five games of the season, Paolo Di Canio won the dreaded ‘sack race’ as Sunderland gave their Italian manager his marching orders. Apparently he was accused of ‘systemically destroying the players’ as many argued he built a regime, instead of a family. The Black Cats picked up just one point from a possible 15. Di Canio was living a charmed life. And coupled with his strange confrontation of Sunderland’s fans after the 3-0 loss to West Brom on Saturday, and an abrasive team meeting on Sunday, he went out with a bang. But after he brought in 14 new players over the summer, what did Chairman Ellis Short and the directors really expect him to deliver, just over a month into the season? The Premier League will be a poorer, and less crazed, place without Di Canio. Who will manage Sunderland next? Gustavo Poyet and Roberto Di Matteo are the bookies favorites… good luck, guys.

SAINTS BEAT LIVERPOOL, SHOULD WE BE SHOCKED?

Liverpool weren’t at the races on Saturday, as they lost their first-game of the season. But Southampton were really good. Many treated Saints’ win on Saturday  at Anfield (watch above) as a shock of epic proportions. But the Saints have had the Reds’ number for quite some time now. Southampton have won five of their last seven games against Liverpool, so the smart money was on the away win. It seems as though Southampton are Liverpool’s ‘bogey team’ and Mauricio Pochettino’s men deserved the win and it could’ve been more than 1-0. Many neutrals picked Saints as their ‘surprise package’ this season, a team that battled relegation last year but will make the top 10 in 2013-14. With their high-pressing style (another team benefiting from the risky style of play, a la Man City) working for young English players and a talented manager, can the South Coast club shock everyone and challenge for the top six?

SLUGFEST IN MANCHESTER

Did anyone else enjoy that beautifully bruising battle between Vincent Kompany and Wayne Rooney on Sunday? My word, it was like we’d been sucked into a time capsule and sent back to the early 1990’s, as elbows, knees and carefully placed shoulders flew everywhere. Kompany was immaculate, intercepting slightly loose forward passes with remarkable ease. He didn’t break a sweat, and helped City start off numerous attacks with his impeccable reading of the game. As for Rooney, he could rightly feel aggrieved to not win the Man of the Match award, such was the nature of his domineering display. He curled in a spectacular late free kick, just to cap it off, but Kompany had landed the heavyweight punches all afternoon, despite Rooney’s late ‘Haymaker.’

If someone tells you a gruesome battle between a center half and center forward can’t be a thing of beauty, they’re wrong. Kompany vs. Rooney was like poetry in motion at the Etihad. Perfectly timed tackles, grit and determination replaced wonderfully constructed stanzas and beautifully flowing verses.

THE RETURN OF SEXY FOOTBALL – SPURS AND CITY STYLE

Samir Nasri bamboozled Chris Smalling with his step overs, left, then right, then left, while Aleksander Kolarov edged up from left back unmarked to whip in a perfect cross that Aguero deftly volleyed home with a swiveling flick of his left foot. The Etihad erupted. City had their breakthrough, and it was a thing of beauty. Elsewhere on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur battled Cardiff City for vast swathes in the Welsh capital, but just when it seemed to be heading for a 0-0 stalemate, up popped Paulinho. The Brazilian midfielder ghosted into the box as the ball went wide to Erik Lamela, before timing his run perfectly to backheel the cross into the net. Cue a massive man hug in the far corner.  ‘Sexy football,’ made famous by the Dutch national team in the 1980s, showcased itself in the Premier League on Sunday. Good god, we’ve missed that. 29 goals in 10 games over the weekend saw us just under the magic 3.0 goals per game barrier. Safe to say, we needed a few big scores to get the goals flowing after a tense opening four weeks. Check out the best goals below.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?