BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: The travelling Burton fans enjoy the game during the FA Cup Third Round match between AFC Bournemouth and Burton Albion at the Goldsands Stadium on January 14, 2014 in Bournemouth, England.

FA Cup: Five to Watch

Leave a comment

The Premier League has the weekend off due to FA Cup action, with many first-division sides involved in the fourth round of England’s top domestic tournament. But, with twelve games today, and the majority of those taking place at the same time, how to choose which to watch?

Bournemouth vs. Liverpool (7:45 a.m. ET)
The day’s FA Cup action kicks off in Bournemouth, where the Cherries  have a massive game ahead of them. They’re currently 16th in the Championship, but Bournemouth aren’t used to such dizzying heights, having climbed to the second tier of English football just once before. Now, the financial crisis that saw them fall out of the Football League has been stymied by investment from Russian owner Maxim Demin, but manager Eddie Howe wants glory as well. 30 years ago, Bournemouth beat cup-holders Manchester United in Round 3. Now the side is looking to go down in history once more – but they might have to stop the likes of Luis Suárez to do so. Sure, Liverpool’s star will probably be on the bench, but should things not be going the visitors’ way, he’ll be available to crush the hope out of the Cherries.

Manchester City vs. Watford (10 a.m. ET)
Fans of the popular Twitter game #WheresJoJo might be excited for this matchup – Stevan Jovetić, an expensive purchase for Manchester City in the summer but barely seen since – made a rare appearance for City against West Ham in the League Cup, and there’s no reason he won’t be spotted again today. Unless he’s already hurt again, that is. While it’s always fun to watch City’s “B Squad” and realize just how good this side is, taking a chance to watch Watford isn’t such a bad proposition. They’re an intriguing side: basically a Championship club where players from Serie A club Udinese are shipped off on loan. They’re managed by Italian Beppe Sannino and have some familiar faces amongst their ranks, including goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and venerable defender Marco Cassetti.

Port Vale vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (10 a.m. ET)
Two sides competing for promotion meet in Burslem on Saturday, in what just might be an interesting matchup. You probably can’t find a way to watch this one, so keep an eye out for live updates at the least. The hosts are pushing for promotion from League One, the Seagulls up to the Premier League, and both, of course, want to make it to the next round of the FA Cup. It’s the visitors that are favored, thanks to their Championship position, but it will be tough to take out the hosts at Vale Park, where they haven’t lost a game since November.

Sunderland vs. Kidderminster Harriers (10 a.m. ET)
79 places separate these two opponents – and with Sunderland still in the bottom three in the Premier League, you can just imagine where Kidderminster fall in the pecking order. They’re the only non-league side left in the tournament, and they travel to the Stadium of Light with just one goal: find a way of knocking out the Black Cats. But with Sunderland still on a high after knocking Manchester United out of the League Cup midweek, will it be possible to overtake the hosts? Perhaps Andy Thorn should instruct his team to just hang on and make it to penalties. After seeing the ones Sunderland put in against United, he’s got to fancy his teams chances in that area. Thorn, though, might be boosted by his own FA Cup experience, as the manager was part of the Wimbledon side that surprised the country in 1988 by defeating Liverpool in the final. Will Sunderland, too, find a Thorn in their side?

Stevenage vs. Everton (12:30 p.m. ET)
The day winds down with the Toffees making a visit to Hertfordshire, taking on League One side Stevenage. The hosts have experience lifting trophies; specifically, the FA Trophy. Don’t let that confuse you, as this particular trophy is hosted by the winner of non-league competition. As for the FA Cup, should Stevenage pull this off it would truly be a cup-set. They’re dead last in the table and have won just one league game in the past two months. They managed to beat struggling Championship side Doncaster away to get to the tie with Everton, but it’s hard to see the Premier League side, even saddled with injuries and using its reserves, having much trouble at Stevenage.

Report: Clattenburg returning to Premier League

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Referee Mark Clattenburg during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road on December 26, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Four days later…

It has not been long since Mark Clattenburg last officiated a Premier League match, instead opting to take a job in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the move was a power play, because “Clatts” looks set to work his new job and return to his old stamping grounds.

The Sun’s Neil Ashton threw out this Tweet on Monday.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

All refs have detractors, but Clattenburg has a solid record in the PL and was awarded with spots officiating the finals of the UEFA Champions League, EURO 2016, and the FA Cup.

Maybe Riley and PGMOL didn’t expect Clattenburg to follow through with his threats to leave town, and it’s fair to presume he’s been rewarded handsomely.

Bielsa returning to French league to take charge of Lille

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - AUGUST 01:  Olympique de Marseille head coach Marcelo Bielsa watches the action during the preseason friendly match between Olympique de Marseille and Juventus FC at Stade Velodrome on August 1, 2015 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Controversial coach Marcelo Bielsa will take charge of ambitious Lille for next season, signaling his return to French football after a chaotic end to his spell with Marseille.

Lille said in a statement on Sunday that Bielsa will replace interim coach Franck Passi on July 1 and has been given a two-year deal.

“Marcelo Bielsa is without a doubt one of the most respected and influential coaches in the world and it’s a huge satisfaction for Lille,” said Marc Ingla, a club director. “It also proves the ambition of our club.”

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

A former Argentina manager, Bielsa is highly rated as an innovative, attack-minded leader who brings the best out of his players.

With Lille hiring Bielsa, Lyon already settled into a new stadium, Marseille recruiting aggressively under new American ownership and Monaco challenging Paris Saint-Germain strongly, next season promises to be an even more competitive one in France.

A more entertaining one, too, now that Bielsa is back and likely to give the French media plenty of headlines.

Bielsa stunned fans and the club’s directors when he quit Marseille last season, after just one game of the new campaign. The 61-year-old Argentine was taking charge of his second season and was a fan favorite when he suddenly quit.

[ MORE: Wenger treatment “unacceptable,” says Pep ]

He was out of contract but had struck a verbal agreement with the president to extend his tenure.

Then, just before putting pen to paper on his new deal, he changed his mind, alleging that Marseille officials amended the terms of the agreement at the last minute. He had previously publicly criticized Marseille’s president in a vitriolic outburst during a news conference because he was angry at the club’s transfer policy, saying it had signed players over his head.

Controversy seems to follow Bielsa, who in football circles earned the nickname “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa), due to his driven personality, single-mindedness, tough talking and relentless determination to do things only on his terms.

In the summer of last year, he quit as coach of Italian side Lazio – just two days after the Italian club announced it had signed him.

In football terms, Bielsa made much of his reputation more than a decade ago.

At club level, he won three Argentinian titles with Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield – reaching the South American Copa Libertadores final with Newell’s in 2002. Later on, he also guided Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League and Spanish Cup finals in 2012.

[ MORE: Bernardo to Chelsea? Blues reportedly bid first ]

With Argentina, he won gold at the 2004 Olympic Games and led Argentina to the Copa America final the same year.

Lille’s new owner Gerard Lopez, the president of the finance group Genii Capital and former president of the Lotus Formula One team, previously spoke about Bielsa in glowing terms.

Lopez recently took over from Michel Seydoux – a French businessman and film producer who was club president since 2002 – and Lopez is keen on rebuilding Lille with talented young players in the same way Monaco has done.

Athletic Bilbao's coach Marcelo Bielsa (
(Photo credit should read RAFA RIVAS/AFP/GettyImages)

On the final day of the transfer window last month, Lille signed six players aged 23 or under. Dutch forward Anwar El Ghazi, who joined from Ajax, scored his first goal for the club on Saturday.

The club’s scouting network is also likely to be very strong in South America, with Bielsa working closely alongside Luis Campos – who is an advisor to Lopez.

Campos previously worked with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and then for three years as a technical director with Monaco.

The well-connected Campos oversaw the arrival of several promising young players at Monaco – including highly rated attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva – and they have blossomed so much that Monaco is top of the league and has scored more than 100 goals overall this season.

Lille is playing catch up.

Although Lille qualified six times for the Champions League during Seydoux’s tenure and clinched the league and cup double in 2011, results have dropped and the northern French club is currently in 14th place.

The club’s youth system – which produced players such as Chelsea star Eden Hazard – has not been so successful in recent years and this will also be an area for Bielsa to improve.

Guardiola: Treatment of Wenger “unacceptable”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City (R) shake hands prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has been battered by many in the wake of Arsenal’s 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the sides’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie last week.

One guy who’s not feeling it? Pep Guardiola.

The Manchester City boss says he gets the criticism of player selection, but bristles at the extent and severity of the post-match vitriol being served up to Wenger.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

Guardiola was asked about making eight changes to his lineup for Man City’s draw against Huddersfield Town, which caused an FA Cup replay.

Here’s his answer, from Sky Sports:

“My friend, I take the decisions, you analyze my decisions. You have to take a decision before [the game], to the best solution. It was what I did. If you don’t agree, you can write it.

“What I hear in the last 10 days, about how people, ex-players, journalists, treat Arsene Wenger is unacceptable.”

This not a particularly kind stretch for Wenger’s Arsenal, and the Gunners do look set for a seventh-straight exit from the UCL at the Round of 16. Still, Guardiola does have a point when accounting for the fact that Jurgen Klopp, Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho have all seen poor stretches this season.

Yes, Wenger has been at Arsenal much longer than his peers in the Premier League, but the cyclical criticism of the French boss is exhausting and exhaustive. Two decades in one location provides enough data to call someone a legend or brand him a disappointment. It’s a downtime right now, and perhaps the right time to change bosses. But people seem particularly happy to burn Wenger.

Champions League Tuesday: Man City hosts Monaco; Red-hot Chicharito

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Man City's Manager Pep Guardiola celebrates the teams win with Yaya Toure after the whistle during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on November 19, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola gets his next chance at European success when Monaco visits the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with Utd’s attitude ]

It’s one of two Tuesday first legs, with big names like Fernando Torres, Javier Hernandez, and Antoine Griezmann all set to feature in the other.

Manchester City vs. Monaco

How they got here: Man City finished second to Barcelona in Group C, winning two of six matches, while Monaco won Group E over Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, and CSKA Moscow.

History: Tuesday will be the first meeting of Man City and Monaco.

The plot: Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich saw him bounced at the semifinals of three-straight UCL tournaments, and his last final came in 2011.

The subplot: Will Yaya Toure’s City resurgence extend into Europe? How about Radamel Falcao getting some PL revenge? And watch out for Premier League rumor mill men Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Moutinho.


Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 17: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid leaps over the challenge from Emir Spahic of Bayer Leverkusen during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Vicente Calderon Stadium on March 17, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid leaps over the challenge from Emir Spahic of Bayer Leverkusen (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

How they got here: Bayer finished second to Monaco in Group E, and Atletico won five of six group stage matches in summiting Group D.

History: The clubs swapped home wins in the 2015 UCL — Atleti progressed after penalties — and drew a pair of UEL matches in 2010.

The plot: Neither side is tempting its usual spot on its domestic table, and both Diego Simeone and Roger Schmidt would be thrilled to progress in Europe.

The subplot: Simeone has won the Europa League, and is chasing his third UCL final in four seasons. … Bayer attacker Chicharito is hot again, with five goals in his last three Bundesliga matches, after waving off MLS rumors.