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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.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]