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.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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