Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Everton

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  • Manchester City have won just two of their last 12 Premier League meetings with Everton, losing nine
  • Everton have the same record (W3, D3) after six games as they did in 1986-87, their last title winning season 
  • Manchester City have scored eight goals from crosses in the Premier League this season; twice as many as the next best side

Everton makes its way to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City this Saturday (7:45 am ET on NBCSN, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra) with the Toffees aiming to extend their strong recent Premier League record against City and Manuel Pellegrini’s side looking to stop a two match skid.

For Everton, they enter the match on the heels of an impressive 3-2 victory over Newcastle. The Monday night match saw the Blues jump out to a 3-0 lead at halftime behind a Romelu Lukaku brace and Ross Barkley’s second goal of the season.

Roberto Martinez’ men took their foot off the gas in the second half of play and were punished for their arrogance, as Newcastle made it a match by finding the net twice in the second half. It was the third league victory in a row for Everton, having also defeated West Ham United and Chelsea after beginning the season with three straight draws (Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City).

source: Reuters
David Silva’s return from injury will be a major boost to City.

For Manchester City, Saturday’s match represents the opportunity to change the tides after dropping all three points at Aston Villa last weekend and losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich in Tuesday night’s Champions League action. Lapses in defense continue to plague the Citizens, with the center-back combination of Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic no longer looking as impressive as it did last year.

The Villa and Munich loses came on the heels of an impressive Manchester Derby victory, where Pellegrini’s men had the look of champions. They pounded their rivals with four goals, bringing their league unbeaten streak to three games after drawing 0-0 with Stoke City and beating Hull City 2-0 . That streak followed a shock 3-2 defeat at Cardiff City after an impressive 4-0 victory over Newcastle in the season opener.

Coming into the season many Evertonians worried the club would suffer under the possession-based attacking style of play of Martinez. The general consensus was that the Toffees would need 6-12 months to adjust from the conservative, defensive style David Moyes implemented at the club during his 11 year tenure. But the recent unbeaten streak has removed the fear and made believers out of the Everton faithful, who are all too happy to see their side keep the lion’s share of the ball.

The new recruits into Goodison Park are impressing as well. With James McCarthy and Gareth Barry in the holding role Everton are confident defensively and creative on the bounce. Bringing in Romelu Lukaku to lead the line was a stroke of genius and his connection with fellow countryman and winger Kevin Mirallas is one that opponents would do well to not take lightly. With Ross Barkley in the holding role and Leon Osman or Steven Pienaar on the wing, the Blues’ attack is one with pace, creativity and bite.

Manchester City is undergoing a similar metamorphosis under Pellegrini. Some matches (against Newcastle and Manchester United) they’ve looked like world beaters and others (Cardiff City, Stoke City and Aston Villa) they’ve struggled. Having dropped points in all three road matches, it’s easy to say that City struggle on the road but one can’t discount the impact of a new manager trying to excel both domestically and in Europe.

For City, it’s about shoring up a leaky defense. Kompany needs to continue asserting himself on the pitch and a second center-back, whether Nastasic or Joleon Lescott, needs to step up and prove himself. Improvements also have to be made between the sticks where the blunders of Joe Hart continue to plague the side, leading some to believe Costel Pantilimon deserves a shot.

City will welcome the league return of David Silva after being sidelined with injury while Martin Demichelis (knee) and former Everton man Jack Rodwell (muscle problem) remain out. The loan deal between Everton and City will prevent Barry from featuring and the Toffees will hope Darron Gibson (knee) can replace him. Everton will await to see whether Kevin Mirallas (ankle) can go while Pienaar (hamstring) is likely out.

The match, guaranteed to be an entertaining affair, kicks-off this Saturday, at 7:45 am ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What They’re Saying 

City manager Manuel Pellgrini on players over tactics: “It is important to have players with a high level of technical qualities if you want to win titles. But added to this high level of technical qualities you need to put together a tactical system, so everything functions well within the team on the pitch. You need to defend and attack as a team and not defend or attack with individual players.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on City’s loss to Bayern: “I don’t think it was one of those games [versus Bayern Munich] which you can feel hurt by because the quality of the opposition was clear to see. That’s why they are European champions. I don’t think there is any shame to lose against a side like Bayern Munich. . . . You feel like they [Manchester City] will want to respond and get back to winning ways so that’s why we will need to be perfect in many ways. We need to be prepared for a real reaction from Manchester City.”

Everton midfielder Gareth Barry on strategy against his parent club: “The lads will know enough about the team [Manchester City] without my input but if anybody needs advice they can ask me…. They [Everton] have always been tough to beat when I was on the other end of it. If the manager [Martinez] sets the team up as hard to play against but try and create problems for them at the other end then I’m sure we are capable of getting a result there. The manager won’t be too defensive – he will go there and want the lads to play their normal game and create problems [for Manchester City].”

Prediction

Beaten at home by Bayern Munich following a shocking loss to Aston Villa will have City revved to go. But the Toffees have long been City’s bogey club and if Mirallas is healthy to play, his connection with Lukaku could give Pellegrini’s side major headaches. City is heavily favored (20/33) but I think this one ends in a share of the points.

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

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Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

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Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.