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Fernandinho’s return could give Man City huge boost ahead of Barcelona clash

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He may not be the most glamorous player adorning Manchester City’s star-studded roster, but many would argue he’s the most important.

Defensive midfielder Fernandinho has been badly missed from the heart of City’s midfield since he was injured back in January. The 28-year-old suffered a thigh injury, and has missed the last three games which has seen City go on a bit of a wobble.

But on Monday the former Shakhtar Donetsk star trained with the rest of City’s squad at the Etihad Stadium, ahead of Tuesday’s massive UEFA Champions League clash against Barcelona and he will be in the squad of 18 for the home tie against City’s Spanish opponents.

If Fernandinho does start in the first leg of the eagerly-anticipated last 16 tie, City’s chances of progressing could increase considerably.

(MORE: Pellegrini: “I don’t have any fear about facing Barcelona”)

When the Brazilian midfielder has been missing this season, City have failed to score in four of five PL games as 64 of City’s 68 goals have come in his 20 starts. His absence isn’t the only reason City have failed to score in their last two PL games, but he does play a massive part in the City machine, as Fernandinho breaks up play and tidies up the midfield with ease as his terrific engine allows him to motor around the center of the pitch and win back possession for Manuel Pellegrini’s team.

That will be key against Barca’s midfield trio of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Sergio Busquets who often dominate possession and are allowed to feed the likes Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro. If Fernandinho does return to City’s lineup on Tuesday, his main job will be to cut off that supply line and win the ball back so City can attack.

(MORE: Convincing results show La Liga trio ready for UEFA Champions League)

He is unselfish and does the dirty work that allows the likes of Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Alvaro  Negredo, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to pile forward and score the shed load of goals which City have done to devastating effect this season. They are already way past the 100 marker and counting, and despite not scoring many Fernandinho is key to that.

Against Barcelona on Tuesday, City will be missing their top goalscorer Aguero. But having Fernandinho back fit and ready to roll is arguably even more important than having Aguero on the pitch. That’s saying something.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.