Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace - npower Championship Play Off Semi Final: Second Leg

Capital One Cup Final: Sunderland tries to end 40-year drought against favored Manchester City

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Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, and Middlesbrough have all had to deal with Sunderland’s dilemma. All three recently won cups (Wigan claiming last year’s FA Cup; Birmingham City winning the 2010 League Cup; while Boro snared the same honor in 2004). All three went down at the end of their seasons, leaving clubs to balance the glory of silverware against the pain of relegation from the Premier League.

Sunderland is the latest club to sit under this Sword of Damocles. While blessed with a spot in a Sunday’s Carling Cup final, the Black Cats also sit 18th in the Premier League, their push up the first division standings recently blunted by a 4-1 loss at Arsenal. Once again, relegation is a pressing concern, but if given the choice between success on Sunday and staying alive in the Premier League, Sunderland boss Gus Poyet would gladly raise the cup.

“The feeling of winning something is far beyond going down, spending two years in the Championship,” Poyet told The Guardian, the Uruguayan coach previously serving with Brighton & Hove Albion in the second division. Having replaced former Black Cats’ boss Paolo Di Canio earlier this season, Poyet has come to appreciate the plight of a supporter base whose club hasn’t claimed a major honor since 1973.

“You need to be here for 20 years and feel it like them, or not reach a final for 15 years, or not win one for more than 40,” Poyet said. “Only the people who have been here in the city supporting the club for so long really know. They have the feeling, not me. Me, I can say it but I can’t feel it. You need to listen to them and that’s why it’s an incredible opportunity.”

That opportunity is still seen as long-shot by most, with Manchester City set to lineup against Sunderland on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. Boasting one of the most talented teams in Europe, the Citizens are in fourth place in the Premier League, with their two games in hand on league-leading Chelsea making them most likely team to keep the Blues from a second title in four years. But they’re also a team Sunderland hasn’t lost to all season, with the Black Cats pulling an upset in City’s league visit to the Stadium of Light.

“It is always dangerous playing against any team,” Pellegrini said in the lead up to the game, downplaying the gap in quality the Premier League standings imply. “Sunderland have a lot of motivation to win this cup, the same as any team.

“I am sure we are the favourites but we cannot forget that Sunderland eliminated Chelsea and Manchester United – big teams.”

source: AP
Yaya Touré, who has scored 13 Premier League goals this season from midfield, is one of the world-class talents Manchester City will bring to Wembley Stadium for Sunday’s Carling Cup Final. (Source: AP.)

While nobody will forget Sunderland’s rout to Wembley (or their place in the FA Cup’s quarterfinals), equally unforgettable will be the power at Pellegrini’s disposal. Whereas the Black Cats may rely on U.S. international Jozy Altidore up top, Manchester City will likely have Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo, a duo that has combined for 24 Premier League goals (Altidore: 1). Yaya Touré and Fernandinho form one of the best midfield duos in England, a pair that’s complemented by David Silva and Samir Nasri’s quality wide. Central defender Vincent Kompany and right back Pablo Zabaleta provide world-class options, while veterans Wes Brown and John O’Shea anchor the Sunderland back line. Against a team staving off a trip to the second division, City have an embarrassment of riches.

“The pressure is always exactly the same for all the teams,” Pellegrini said, speaking of expectations to deliver his first trophy with City. “The pressure is a personal pressure – for managers, players, all of us. I think we have the same pressure to win.”

All of which is coach-speak, of course. As last year’s FA Cup final showed, the pressure on City is much much greater than what’s put on an underdog. After the Citizens lost that final to the eventually relegated Wigan, Roberto Mancini was fired. While Pellegrini’s in no danger of meeting the same fate, his team is still expect to claim Sunday’s honors.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.