Manuel Pellegrini holds cards tight on Joe Hart’s status as Manchester City’s #1

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Following a sound if not rudimentary performance by Costel Pantilimon in Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Newcastle in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday, the uncertainty surrounding Joe Hart’s status as the club’s #1 goalkeeper continues.

Pantilimon, the 6’8″ Romanian giant, was up to the task when he needed to be, thwarting Shola Ameobi’s first half effort wide and leaving his line to deny Papiss Cisse an injury time effort to keep the score locked at 0-0.

The Cisse block was key to taking the Magpies into extra time where goals by Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko pushed City on to the quarter-finals where they will face Leicester City at King Power Stadium during the week of December 16th.

Deputizing for the much maligned Joe Hart, Pantilimon is a player who many feel manager Manuel Pellegrini may soon make his top man. “Pantilimon has always had my trust and that of the team. He is a good player, that’s why he is here. He may not have played too much because Joe Hart plays last year and this year but I trust him to play.”

Trust. Few words are more important when it comes to goalkeepers. And following his most recent blunder last Sunday against Chelsea, no one knows this better than Hart.

Does he still have the trust of City fans? Of Pellegrini? Of England?

The question is one that sharply divides opinion and the first in line to make his voice heard on the subject will be Pellegrini. Whereas playing Pantilimon in the Capital One Cup was mere rotation – he was getting that call regardless of Hart’s form – which keeper plays against Norwich City this weekend will be determinative of where, exactly, Pellegrini comes down on the controversy.

For now, the Chilean gaffer is remaining tight lipped. “This was a very important match for [Pantilimon]. But I will start to think about the game against Norwich on Thursday. Today I was just thinking about winning this match.

“I think that we will talk tomorrow (about the team selection). One goalkeeper can play but the other will have our full support. We will think about it.”

When pressed for further details about Hart’s standing, Pellegrini was blunt: “I have just told you I will think about that [Thursday].”

So, just how big is the decision before Pellegrini?

Potentially huge. Hart has been City’s #1 since 2007 and was a major factor in guiding the club to its first Premier League championship in 2012. Over the past year Hart’s form has waned, which many feel is due to the fact that he’s never truly been challenged for his spot at City.

It goes without saying that losing his spot would be a blow to his confidence and could have ramifications well beyond City as he is also England’s top netminder heading into the 2014 World Cup, which is just eight months away.

But such is life in professional football and, well, in life. The lessons are simple – step up your game or get passed by. Get passed by and either cower and fold or show the guts it takes to reclaim what was once yours.

If Hart does lose his spot it’s difficult to imagine him failing to come back stronger. Those close to the player describe him as the glue that holds City together, a light-hearted jokester who is competitive and dedicated to his craft. So perhaps a poke in the ribs is exactly what he needs.

We’ll see this weekend.

Brighton 0-4 Chelsea: Magic Hazard runs the show

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  • Chelsea snap run of five-straight draws
  • Brighton have one win in last 13 PL games
  • Hazard scores twice, rips Brighton apart
  • Chelsea have won 11 of last 16 games

Chelsea beat Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 at the Amex Stadium on Saturday as Eden Hazard scored twice and tore the Seagulls apart.

Two goals in the opening six minutes from Hazard and Willian set Chelsea on their way to victory, then Hazard capped the win off with a fine individual goal late on and Victor Moses added a fourth.

Brighton battled hard and hit the woodwork and had penalty shouts but Chris Hughton‘s men were outclassed by Hazard in dazzling form.

Without the suspended duo of Alvaro Morata and Pedro, plus injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea deserved the win and moved level on 50 points with second-place Manchester United, while the Seagulls are just three points above the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Less than three minutes into the game Chelsea took the lead as Moses’ cross from the right deflected into Hazard’s path and the Belgian took a touch to settle himself before he rifled home.

It got worse soon after for Brighton as Chelsea pounced to double their lead via Willian. The Brazilian surged forward, played the ball into Eden Hazard and he then flicked the ball into Michy Batshuayi with the back of his heel and Batshuayi followed suit to play in Willian who fired home. 2-0 with six minutes on the clock.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Brighton responded well and should have had a penalty kick as Willy Caballero rushed off his line and appeared to catch Ezequiel Schelotto, but no penalty kick was given and Chelsea cleared the danger. Moments later a high ball into the box caused Cabellero problems again as he flapped at a cross but his defense bailed him out.

On the break Batshuayi had an effort stopped by Mat Ryan as Hazard ran riot, while at the other end Caballero then made a superb save to deny Tomer Hemed and Shane Duffy nodded wide as Brighton had their chances in a action-packed first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

In the second half, Brighton continued to push for a goal back and Davy Propper‘s header hit the post and came out. Andreas Christensen was then forced off after being involved in a nasty clash of heads as David Luiz came on.

At the other end Willian had his free kick pushed onto the post by Ryan as Chelsea looked to end any hope of a Brighton comeback.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hazard (who else?) did just that in the closing stages as he sauntered towards goal and send Ryan the wrong way with a fine finish to make it 3-0.

Charly Musonda then made a great impression as he jumped off the bench and clipped a fine ball forward for Moses who controlled and finished for Chelsea’s four goal to hammer the final nail in Brighton’s coffin.

Report: Arsenal bid $61 million for Aubameyang

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It has begun.

According to German outlet Kicker, Arsenal have made an opening offer of $61 million to Borussia Dortmund for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Dortmund’s star striker, 28, has been left out of their last two matchday squads amid discpilinary problems and question marks over his future at the Westfalenstadion.

The leading goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season (31 goals in 32 games) has been linked with a move to Arsenal over the past week as they get ready to sell Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United. Reports linking Aubamyenag to Arsenal have seen Dortmund’s sporting director hit out at Arsene Wenger and called the Gunners’ behavior disrespectful.

Talking of disrespect…

Aubameyang was spotted playing five-a-side with friends in Dortmund on Friday while his teammates drew 1-1 with Hertha Berlin (something his manager Peter Stoeger had a less than positive reaction to) as the Gabonese striker wore a BVB shirt with Ousmane Dembele’s name on the back. Dembele was suspended by the club back in the summer as he tried to force through his move to Barcelona, which eventually happened for a fee of $130 million.

I’m sure the Dortmund hierarchy were pleased about that…

When it comes to Aubameyang and where he would fit in at Arsenal, this would be a great fit. He’d be the target forward they’ve needed for some time and imagine Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang in tandem, plus Mesut Ozil and maybe his former teammate at Dortmund, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, (if his move from Man United goes through) threading through balls.

Aubameyang is prolific and has scored 141 goals in 212 games for Dortmund over the past five seasons, including 21 goals in 23 games in all competitions this season.

Olivier Giroud was said to be offered as part of the deal, but his name isn’t mentioned in this report and the Frenchman is said to want to stay at Arsenal at least until the end of the season.

It’s likely Arsenal will have to pay closer to $70 million for a player who has three years left on his current contract, but his goal output is certainly worth that amount, even if his off-pitch antics and somewhat disruptive nature could be an issue for Wenger. At this point, Arsenal need all the help they can get to finish off games they dominate.

Barcelona issue statement on Antoine Griezmann

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Hmm, this is an interesting tactic from Barcelona.

On Saturday the Catalan club released a statement about Atletico Madrid and France striker Antoine Griezmann.

The forward has long been linked with a move to Barca and media reports in Spain have gone into overdrive regarding a move to the Nou Camp for the 26-year-old.

Below is the statement from Barca in full.

FC Barcelona strongly denies the information that has appeared over the course of the last few hours in different media regarding Atletico Madrid player, Antoine Griezmann, and an alleged deal with our club.

FC Barcelona expresses its objections in the face of these events and reiterates its full respect for the institution of Atletico Madrid.

This feels very similar to the situation with Virgil Van Dijk between Liverpool and Southampton.

Media speculation reached incredible levels back in June 2017 that VVD had agreed to sign for Liverpool, but the Anfield club then issued a public apology to Saints and ended their pursuit of Van Dijk. He then signed for Liverpool in January in a $100 million move.

With Atletico said to be incredibly unhappy that Griezmann continues to be linked with a move to Barca, plus reports suggesting the Madrid club want to report Barcelona to FIFA for an alleged approach for their star striker, it’s not too surprising to see Barca take this very unusual approach to try and calm the situation down.

Will it work? Who knows. Is it likely Griezmann will end up at Barcelona anyway? This statement suggests that the two clubs are in dialogue and Barcelona are trying to patch up their relationship to try and move for Griezmann in the summer.

Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see this.

VIDEO: Chelsea score stunning team goal

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Take a bow, Chelsea.

Willian put the Blues 2-0 up at Brighton early on Saturday and the goal was a thing of beauty.

Latching onto an error from Brighton, Chelsea surged forward through Willian who played the ball into Eden Hazard.

The Belgian played a delicious back heel to Michy Batshuayi and the forward then followed suit to flick the ball into Willian’s path who fired home.

Take a look at the stunning goal in the video above.