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With Agüero, Negredo removed, should we point the finger at Pellegrini?

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Manchester City came back to avoid complete embarrassment against Sunderland, getting help from Vito Mannone to register the late goal that allowed it to salvage a 2-2 draw against the league’s last place team. For the five previous minutes, however, the Citizens looked destined to complete their remarkable come from ahead loss with the teams’ two biggest weapons on the bench. Why weren’t Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo on the field?

The team was already missing arguably it’s two most valuable players. Yaya Touré is out after suffering an injury this weekend at Anfield, while David Silva failed to make Manuel Pellegrini’s 18. Early in the second half, up 1-0, the City boss pulled Agüero. By the 69th minute, Negredo had given way to Edin Dzeko. Why, with a one-goal lead and a suspect defense, was Pellegrini pulling off his most capable goal scorers?

(MORE, Manchester City 2-2 Sunderland: Two Wickham goals, late Nasri equalizer leave sides even)

There may be reasonable excuses for each move. Early in the second half, Wes Brown put the bottom of his shoe into Agüero’s ankle. Maybe, with a one-goal lead, the Argentine was being removed as a precaution. As for Negredo’s substitution, it’s unclear the Spaniard really is a more capable goal scorer then Dzeko. Negredo is averaging a league goal ever 193 minutes. Dzeko scores every 141. Though there may be reasons for that (level of competition they’re selected against), implying Negredo is more capable than Dzeko may be an exaggeration.

Still, there was an air of arrogance in the circumstances around the move, one heightened by the fact Dzeko wasn’t the first man off the bench. Instead, it was Stevan Jovetic – a talented player who has failed to make an impact this season in Manchester. A versatile Montenegrin capable of playing in support of a lead striker, Jovetic could be seen as a slightly conservative, more possession-based move. He certainly is not as dangerous as Sergio Agüero.

That Dzeko was the next move gave the changes a conservative feel – of using the one-goal lead as reason to pull the starters. Given the lack of intensity the team had showed since their second minute opener, the plan made sense. At least, it was consistent. There was never a push to get that second, game-sealing goal.

After the match, NBCSN studio analyst Robbie Mustoe speculated this could be the result of Pellegrini’s inexperience in England – underestimating the dangers present in the teams at the bottom of the table. This could also be a tactical issue, with Pellegrini failing to instill a more aggressive approach. It could also be about preparation or failures in managing the squad. If fatigue or rest was a consideration in bringing on Jovetic for Agüero, Pellegrini may have poorly evaluated risks and rewards.

Regardless, there are a number of questions that can be asked of Pellegrini, who faces a harsh bottom line tonight. In a game his team should have approached with the urgency of a must-win, the more talented side, playing at home, against a team riding a five-match losing streak needed some late fortune to salvage a point.

For skeptics who’ve spent all season noting Pellegrini never won a major European title, the Sunderland result provides new fuel. Like his players, Pellegrini has plenty of questions to answer after Wednesday’s disappointment.

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.

Gotze out indefinitely with metabolism disorder

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Goetze (R) and Ann-Kathrin Broemmel attend the MTV Europe Music Awards 2016 on November 6, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
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Mario Gotze’s last few seasons have not fulfilled the expectations thrust about the World Cup-winning attacker.

Gotze, 24, scored the 113th minute goal that lifted Germany past Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, but has endured successive disappointing seasons between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

With just two goals this season, Gotze has played just 24 minutes since BVB came back from winter break. On Monday, the club revealed why: a metabolism disorder that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. From Sky Sports:

“We are glad to know the reasons for Mario’s complaints and we are convinced that after recovering he will give us extra quality with his exceptional abilities,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.

“Mario gets the full backing and maximum support from all of us at Borussia Dortmund on his way back.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gotze at his best, and here’s hoping this problem is both curable and the reason for his struggles.

Liverpool hires EA Sports executive as new CEO

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Liverpool has named Peter Moore as the successor to chief executive office Ian Ayre.

Ayre, 53, is off to 1860 Munich this summer, and has stepped down early to allow Moore to take over.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

A Liverpool-born executive, Moore was the chief operating officer at EA Sports and has also worked with Microsoft and SEGA.

The move “completes a transitional phase” which saw several new names join the fray. From The Liverpool Echo:

The appointment completes a transition plan by FSG which included appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director while Billy Hogan was promoted to the role of managing director and chief commercial officer.