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…

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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