Malaga's coach Pellegrini is pictured before Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match against Borussia Dortmund in Dortmund

Manuel Pellegrini slams pitch ahead of Manchester City’s Champions League clash with CSKA Moscow

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Ahead of a tricky trip to Russia on Wednesday to face CSKA Moscow (12pm ET, reaction to come on ProSoccerTalk) in a pivotal Champions League tie, Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini isn’t happy with the playing surface.

Not at all.

The 62-year-old Chilean manager, whose side were humbled at home 3-1 by Bayern Munich in their last Champions League outing, believes the grass pitch heavily doused with sand in the Russian capital is unplayable and hampers his sides chances of success.

“I have just seen the pitch and I think it is unbelievable that the most important cup competition in the world is allowed to stage a game on such a surface,” Pellegrini said. “We must pray on Wednesday that it is not raining because if it is it will be impossible to play on this pitch. I honestly believe it could be called off if we get more rain.”

(MORE: Champions League Preview – Elite’s meet in Madrid, City’s big group stage test)

So far on Wednesday rain has not threatened the game further, however Pellegrini still strongly asserts his belief that the issues with the pitch must be addressed.

“Of course I am surprised it is going ahead, especially as they were not allowed to play their other game here against Plzen and had to switch it to St Petersburg,” Pellegrini said. “I think the people from UEFA who reviewed the pitch should have said without hesitation that it was not acceptable.”

Injuries to his players was at the forefront of Pellegrini’s mind, but he does believe the poor surface will ruin the spectacle, especially as City prefer to caress the call around with panache, rather than a long ball approach they’ll have to take more often than not on Wednesday.

“As long as it is not raining there will be no risk of injury for the players but the fact is it is not a grass pitch. When I saw it I didn’t believe my eyes. This is the most important competition in the world and the people watching, as well as the two teams, deserve something better.”

City, who looked slick and back to their best during their 3-1 demolition of West Ham on Saturday, know back-to-back wins against CSKA will seem them almost guarantee a spot in the UCL knockout stages, something Roberto Mancini failed to do in the last two seasons.

Yet the tricky surface will make City’s task of picking up three points even more difficult. With the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri et al. preferring to play on a smooth surface and knock the ball about, you can understand Pellegrini being irked.

A long midweek trip East to Moscow, sandwiched in between tough league games against West Ham and Chelsea, isn’t exactly ideal in the first place.

Pellegrini’s anger about the pitch is intriguing and it certainly hits home how reliant modern teams, and especially City, are on having a nice pitch to play on. But given his mind games at the weekend, more on that in the latest Premier League Playback, is the Citizens’ boss simply setting up excuses if his team fail to bring back the win from Moscow?

I fear Pellegrini is protecting his players against a potentially damaging defeat, but using the pitch as an excuse really shouldn’t cut it with City’s supporters.

Success in the Champions League is long overdue. Dodgy pitch or not, Pellegrini’s side need to get their heads down and do the business.

Lets see how this one goes…

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.