Manuel Pellegrini: “I don’t have any fear about facing Barcelona”

1 Comment

There are a lot of reasons to worry about an era of modern soccer where a handful of elite teams make title races as common as runaway champions. Within the context of Champions League, however, that means more contenders, the increased likelihood of strong groups (like the one the featured Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli this fall), and some semifinal-quality match ups in the Round of 16.

Last year, Real Madrid drew Manchester United, a tie that saw Nani’s controversial second leg red card sway the outcome. This year, the  Round of 16 draw has paired the two greatest threats to Bayern Munich’s crown, with Barcelona and Manchester City kicking off the knockout round on Tuesday at the Etihad.

It’s a testament to how far City’s come that each club can claim to be favorites, depending on to whom you listen. For Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, however, any suggestion his club should feel remiss about drawing a team with the Blaugrana’s recent success misses the point. If City, a team that’s never made it to this round of the competition, wants to be considered amongst Europe’s best, they have to play the best.

From The Guardian:

“I don’t have any fear about playing Barcelona, because this team has got to continue to develop the mentality to play against important, important teams …

“It’s impossible to avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich if you want to continue in the Champions League. So in one moment you must play against them. We play them in the last 16, so let’s see what we can do.”

What they’re capable will depend on health. Samir Nasri returned in the team’s 2-0 win over Chelsea, solving one of the squad’s injury concerns, but two other starters are doubts ahead of Tueday’s kickoff at the Etihad. Sergio Agüero, recovering from a hamstring problem, has an outside chance of playing on Tuesday, while Fernandinho, whose injury before the first Chelsea game precipitated City’s February struggles, may also feature, but only if he’s at full strength.

“If there is any risk, they will not play.” Pellegrini said. “They have to be 100% … It’s my opinion that [for] Agüero it is very difficult.”

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP
Leave a comment

South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.