Humiliation or redemption? League Cup final vs. Manchester City could save Manchester United’s season

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On Wednesday night Manchester United need to overturn a 2-1 deficit to reach David Moyes’ first major cup final in charge of the Red Devils.

Sunderland stand in United’s way at Old Trafford in the League Cup semifinal second leg, kick off at 2:45pm ET live on BeIN Sports in the USA, with 9,000 away fans expected to create quite a racket at one end of the famous stadium. Moyes and United hope the Black Cats fans won’t have much to cheer about.

If United do overturn the narrow first-leg defeat, which many including myself expect, then they will face fierce neighbors Manchester City at Wembley on March 2 in the Capital One Cup final.

Do fans of Manchester United really want that?

City just blew away West Ham 9-0 on aggregate in the other League Cup semifinal and they’ve already passed the 100 goal mark in their 35 outings so far in 2013-14.

United were pummeled, and I mean absolutely obliterated, at the Etihad back in September by their noisy neighbors in a damaging 4-1 loss that portrayed how much City had moved ahead of their rivals.

(MORE: League Cup semifinal – Three goals see Manchester City to 9-0, two-legged romp past West Ham)

It’s not untrue to say that most United fans are hoping they don’t beat Sunderland on Wednesday, to avoid the embarrassment of having their bottoms smacked in front of 90,000 at Wembley and billions watching across the world. One humiliation from City is about as much as United’s fans can handle for one season. If they make the League Cup final, it could happen three in a season (given the likelihood that City will stroll into Old Trafford and have their wicked way with United for the third season running).

But, and this is a big but, what if United made the final against City and won the trophy?

Surely it would be worth the chance of getting humiliated by your nearest and heavily despised rivals? The Charity Shielf aside, it would allow Moyes to lift his first meaningful trophy as United boss too.

A piece of silverware in his first season in charge would be more than Sir Alex Ferguson managed and it would clam everyone down about the rebuilding project the Scot has on his hands. Moyes’ dynasty would officially be off the ground and United could kick on for the final three months of the season with a renewed vigor and sense of belief that they can make the top four of the PL and make a deep run in the Champions League.

I say, why not?

Yes, City are blowing every team they play out of the water of late, heck even Barcelona are shuddering at the thought of visiting the Etihad in their last 16 UEFA Champions League tie and dealing with Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany et al, but they have to lose sometime.

I’d hazard a guess that City wouldn’t fancy having all the pressure and weight of expectancy piled upon them as the favorites in a big cup final against their biggest rivals. Fans of the Citizens would be expecting a mauling of epic proportions. That air of optimism and self-confidence could be their own worst enemy and United may pounce to put one over on their nearest rivals. Remember the FA Cup final last season when Robert Mancini’s City crumbled and lost to massive underdogs Wigan at Wembley? They are a different team now, but the core of that side remains. The weight of expectancy in a big cup final was too much for some of City’s players to handle.

Is making the League Cup final an opportunity United can pass up? Or one they can’t afford to not take advantage of?

Maybe, just maybe, a League Cup trophy could be the catalyst for United’s woes to evaporate and see the Red Devils kick on for the remainder of the Premier League season.

Madrid beats Leganes 3-1 in game postponed from December

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid overcame the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and other regular starters Wednesday, coming from behind to defeat Leganes 3-1 Wednesday in a Spanish league match postponed from last year.

The result allowed the defending champions to regain third place from Valencia, but it did little to put Zinedine Zidane’s team back in the title race as it still trails leader Barcelona by 14 points after 24 matches. Madrid is seven points behind second-place Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Messi defies Conte’s successful tactics ]

Less than a month ago, Leganes jolted Madrid into a crisis by eliminating the Spanish powerhouse from the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

The hosts from southern Madrid went ahead less than 10 minutes into the match on Wednesday, but Madrid answered with first-half goals by Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro. Sergio Ramos sealed the victory by converting a 90th-minute penalty kick.

The league match was rescheduled from the 16th round because of Madrid’s participation in the Club World Cup in December, a competition it won.

Only in its second season in the first division, Leganes had a promising start to the campaign but has struggled recently. It hasn’t won in six matches and has lost four straight, dropping to 13th with 29 points.

Madrid has won four in a row, including 3-1 against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League last week.

Ronaldo, who scored twice against PSG and has 10 goals in his last six matches, was rested on Wednesday along with goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are trying to recover from injuries in time for next month’s return match against PSG in Paris.

Leganes opened the scoring with a goal by Unai Bustinza six minutes into the match at Butarque Stadium. The defender dived in front of the ball as Madrid left back Theo Hernandez tried to clear it from near the goal line. The ball ricocheted off Bustinza’s head and shoulder and went into the net.

Madrid equalized five minutes later with Vazquez’s low shot into the far corner from inside the area after a through ball by Casemiro, and 20 minutes later it was the Brazilian defensive midfielder who found the net from close range after a pass by Vazquez.

Ramos scored from the penalty spot after Mateo Kovacic was pushed inside the area in the closing minutes.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE, UCL – Sevilla vs. Man United, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

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Jose Mourinho has created a splash this morning by benching Paul Pogba despite utilizing a 3-man central midfield formation as Manchester United heads to Spain to take on Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg meeting.

Pogba was left out of Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup due to illness, but having made the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad, it seems his omission is instead due to tactical reasons. 21-year-old academy product Scott McTominay starts in Pogba’s place alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, with the Frenchman on the bench among the substitutes.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The decision is surprising given Manchester United’s 16-point deficit in the Premier League table as they trail runaway favorites Manchester City, leaving the Champions League as the best competition remaining that the Red Devils have a shot to win.

Up front for Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez carries the creative load along with Juan Mata, with both supporting Romelu Lukaku at the striker position. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof continue to work as the central defensive partnership, while Antonio Valencia captains the side as full-back, mirrored by Ashley Young on the other edge.

In the other matchup, Roma heads to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk, who finished 2nd in Group F three points behind Manchester City. The Ukranian side has only just returned from its winter break, with just a single game played since December 10th.

Roma, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of a rut just in time for the return of Champions League play, with three straight Serie A wins coming on the heels of a five-match winless run. They have scored eight goals over those three wins, with a pair of road clean sheets among the group. 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under is on fire over the win streak, scoring four goals over that span.


Today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Sevilla vs. Manchester United – 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma – 2:45 p.m. ET

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.