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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.

FIFA prosecutors want life ban for Webb in bribery case

Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA
Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA ethics prosecutors want a life ban imposed on former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the United States.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee says it opened proceedings against Webb and will consider a verdict.

The ethics committee says it got a final investigation report last week from FIFA prosecutors.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

In November, Webb admitted to taking bribes worth millions of dollars linked to commercial rights for international soccer tournaments.

The former Cayman Islands banker should be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn next month. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Webb was president of the CONCACAF soccer body when he was arrested on May 27 at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

English striker Joe Cole heading to NASL side Tampa Bay

SWINDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Joe Cole of Coventry City during the Sky Bet League One match between Swindon Town and Coventry City at The County Ground on October 24, 2015 in Swindon, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
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Joe Cole left Aston Villa for Coventry City earlier this year, and now the 56-times capped England man is coming to the North American Soccer League (NASL).

[ MORE: Chatting with NASL commish Peterson ]

Cole has two goals and six assists in 22 games for the Sky Blues since arriving this season, and the 34-year-old would be the latest World Cup veteran to head to the NASL.

The striker had 10 goals for England, and has also played for West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Lille and West Ham United.

Here’s Coventry City manager Tony Mowbray, courtesy the BBC:

“I would have liked to have kept Joe,” said City boss Tony Mowbray. “He has proved his fitness and worth to the team

“He’s a fantastic character. No airs and graces, not looking for favours or extra days off and has shown his football ability.

“He can help us control matches but he’s made his decision for his family, and we wish him well. It might happen pretty quickly if he can get international clearance.”

Tampa is 3-2-2 to start the NASL season, and boasts a roster with Darwin Espinal, Eric Avila, Georgi Hristov and Freddy Adu.

Pellegrini looks to road record before UCL second leg at the Bernabeu

during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Academy Training Ground on May 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Gael Clichy says Manchester City wants to make history on the road at the Bernabeu, and his manager is hoping to rely on a shorter-term vision of the past to guide them there.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

Manuel Pellegrini and his club enter Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu with an impressive road mark in the UEFA Champions League and the advantage of not having allowed a road goal in a 0-0 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

From MCFC.com:

“This team in three seasons has done very well away – last season we beat Roma in Rome and Bayern away,” Manuel said.

“This season, especially in the quarters we had a very good draw against PSG and we continued. We beat Sevilla, Kyiv and Borussia Monchengladbach.”

Yaya Toure returns and has plenty of familiarity with Real Madrid, having won two La Liga titles and a Champions League title with Barcelona between 2007-10.

David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta are out for City.

Premier League Playback: What does Leicester’s title win mean for PL’s future?

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They did it. They actually did it.

Leicester City, the 5000-1 shots to win the Premier League, won the 2015-16 title on Monday and it’s been one big party in the Midlands city ever since.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Following the initial euphoria questions such as “what does this mean for the future of the Premier League?” have now arisen. Was this a fluke, a one off we will never see again? Was it down to so many big boys going through transitional periods at the same time and creating a “perfect storm” for somebody else to prevail? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, this Cinderella story is reinforcing the growing parity levels in the PL.

Up until recently many journalists and pundits (including myself) here in England didn’t believe Leicester could get this done. The established giants getting over the line time and time again have meant that there’s hasn’t been a first-time top-flight winner since 1978 when Nottingham Forest prevailed. Logic told everyone that Leicester couldn’t do this.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]  

Now, though, it’s all changing. Everyone is being forced to rethink what is believable. What Leicester has done has given belief to the rest of the Premier League that they can challenge the big boys.For the time being the perennial powerhouses have lost their fear factor, that indestructible aura which held them in such good stead for so long.

It shall return, right? Hang on. What if doesn’t? Those are the kind of questions Leicester’s success has produced.

Certain bookmakers will no longer be offering odds of more than 1,000-1 for teams to win the PL title. Newly promoted Burnley were listed at 5000-1 on Monday after being promoted but now their odds have been slashed to 1000-1 and given the events of this season there will be plenty who will put a fiver on that. Why not? Lightning can struck twice…

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

It has, briefly, in the past as Nottingham Forest and Derby County — ironically very similar sized cities located very close to Leicester in England’s East Midlands — both pulled off remarkable title wins in the 1970s. One manager, Brian Clough, masterminded those triumphs and even though you had giants of the game in Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal around then, this was before the days of the mega-rich clubs owned by wealthy foreign investors.

The achievements of Derby and Forest were fantastic and are widely lauded to this day, especially as Forest went on to win the European Cup, twice, during that purple patch.
Will Leicester follow suit? Can they even dare to dream of that?

Manager Claudio Ranieri has only set a top 10 target for next season and doesn’t believe his team will repeat their title win. Then again, this is the bloke who was talking about only focusing on survival when Leicester was clear at the top of the PL in January…

“We want to continue to build,” he told Sky Sports’ Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.”

They’ve reached the UCL and won the PL in his first season in charge. The goalposts have moved considerably.

We will watch on with intrigue this summer as the big boys dust themselves off, ready their check books and aim to blast the less powerful clubs to one side once and for all. The real difference now is that even if they spend big, it won’t be easy to widen the gap once more. The PL is without financial restrictions a la the salary cap we see in American sports and even with financial fair play rules limiting the expenditure on wages, the big boys can still pretty much spend whatever they want.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL

The problem is, they’ve been spending money lazily and they seem to have given up on recruiting talent from lower levels and giving younger players or second chancers, a chance. Leicester, and others, have been smart in how they’ve spent their money and the Foxes’ squad cost just $79 million to assemble in transfer fees. Manchester City’s squad cost $606 million to put together in transfer fees alone. Not to mention that Leicester is in the bottom five of wages paid, their success has proven that it’s not all about money. Which is hugely refreshing with plenty of cynics out there believing only the “super clubs” can succeed.

Premier League Schedule – Week 36

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Recap, watch here
Everton 2-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Man Utd 1-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Palace Recap, watch here
Saints 4-2 Man City Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-1 S’land Recap, watch here
Swansea 3-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Watford 3-2 A. Villa Recap, watch here
WBA 0-3 West Ham Recap, watch here

Leicester will net a cash windfall from the PL alone of $36 million in a merit payment for winning the title. On top of the equal share of TV money, $81 million, and facility fees, $21 million, the Foxes will bring in $150 million from TV money and award fees alone this season.

Next season their revenue will continue skyrocket with UCL money, commercial revenue, sponsorship and increased TV revenue from being among Europe’s elite. In 2014-15 English clubs made $38 million each despite not advancing past the UCL’s Round of 16 and Deloitte, which ranks the top 20 richest teams in the world based on their revenue in their rich list, believes Leicester will be among their top 20 clubs next year.

The Foxes are now with the big boys, just 12 months after it seemed like they were going to be relegated from the PL. It is a remarkable story.

[ MORE: The day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

This huge cash injection — as Ranieri has stated numerous time recently — means that they don’t need to sell their best players to be financially sound. The same can be said for the other small to medium teams in the PL. They can afford to pay higher wages to their players and in Leicester’s case, their owner is a Thai billionaire who can pump plenty more money in. That’s the game changer here. Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante will be chased by bigger, wealthier clubs this summer but if Leicester doesn’t want to sell, they don’t need to.

In an era where other PL clubs are only starting to begin to explore the force of their improved financial strength, Leicester rolls up and does this. They’ve made the most of a season of struggle for the big boys and given everyone else hope that maybe this season isn’t just a one off. Maybe the landscape of the Premier League really is changing.

Fans of the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Stoke, Crystal Palace, Everton and West Ham will be publicly lauding Leicester’s achievements and rightly so. Most of those teams are of a comparable size or if not bigger in terms of fanbase, resources and historical stature. But behind closed doors many fans of those teams will be saying: “damn, that could’ve been us.”

Chairmen of those clubs will be downplaying their answers when asked “well, can you ‘do a Leicester next season?'” because it would be foolish to suggest anything like this will happen again. However, don’t overlook a glint of envy in their eyes. Every PL club will now be hoping they can ‘pull off a Leicester.’

It’s not only in the PL that the rise of the underdog is being talked about. Top European teams in leagues which aren’t as competitive from top to bottom are getting worried, very worried, about the strength of the PL. The president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, recently shared his concern at the upcoming TV cash windfall for PL clubs for the next three-year cycle.

He believes “the Premier League could become the NBA of football” and a league where all the best players automatically flock to, leaving giants such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich scrambling for the rest. We are a long way off Barca and Swansea battling for the same players but it’s getting closer than you think. Take Stoke for example. Bojan? Shaqiri? Afellay? What are they doing there?

Recently I spoke with Stoke’s CEO Tony Scholes about how the PL is changing.

“What Leicester has shown this year is how great this league is,” Scholes said. “On any given day in the Premier League either team can beat the other one. Everyone knows that. That is what makes this league unique. What Leicester have done of course, people were saying that is wasn’t possible anymore, for anyone other than the big six clubs to win the league. Well Leicester have shown it is possible.

“Even West Ham this year have had a great season and might end up in a Champions League place. In many ways West Ham might be more of an indicator of what’s to come in the next few years than Leicester. Next year a few of the bigger clubs will strengthen. We know that. But there’s a great chance that one of the rest of us gets into the Champions League places.”

The signs are there that the playing field is leveling out in the PL.

You can point to Leicester’s title win being lucky or inspired by a greater power at work – many are pointing to 14 one-goal wins as proof of that — but overall it’s not hard to see that the gap between the top and bottom clubs in the PL is closing at a rate of knots

New TV deals kick in next season with domestic and international contracts bringing in roughly $13 billion between 2016-19. The gap will continue to grow smaller as the majority of that money is dished out evenly to each PL club.

That’s the most exciting thing about this. The big boys don’t just seem scared; they’re already on the hunt for who could be the next Leicester.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.