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…

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.