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.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man City steps towards the title, Merseyside recap

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect Derby Day, where Man City set the Premier League single season all time consecutive winning streak against rivals Man United, Jurgen Klopp had a bad day at the office against the blue half of Merseyside and Arsenal stutter again away from home.

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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Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga & Serie A: Suarez, Messi pace Barca; AC Milan tops Bologna

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 0-2 Barcelona

The visitors struggled to break down Villareal’s back line throughout the opening 45 minutes, but the Blaugrana were aided by Raba’s second-half dismissal on Sunday. From there, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez helped Barca pick up its 12th win of the season and restore the club’s five-point lead over Valencia.

Messi’s goal — his 525th for the club — matched Gerd Muller’s Barca record on Sunday, while the finish was his 18th in all competitions this season.

Real Betis 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Saul Niguez scored his second goal of the La Liga season to help give Atletico an important road victory against Real Betis. Atleti now sits third in Spain’s top flight, but remains six points behind league leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 0-2 Malaga
Levante 1-2 Athletic Bilbao


AC Milan 2-1 Bologna

Giacomo Bonaventura scored twice on Sunday to give AC Milan a victory at the San Siro. The midfielder opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, before Simone Verdi’s finish in the 23rd minute leveled the match for Bologna. Bonaventura tabbed his second goal of the day in the 76th minute to give the Rossoneri a win and keep the team inside the top seven. Milan currently sits on 24 points through 16 matches.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Chievo Verona 0-0 Roma
Napoli 0-0 Fiorentina
SPAL 2-2 Hellas Verona
Udinese 2-0 Benevento
Sassuolo 2-1 Crotone

Second-half burst gives Ajax big win over Dutch leaders PSV

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For only the second time this season, Dutch Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven have lost a league match.

Ajax stormed back for a 3-0 victory over PSV on Sunday in Der Topper, the long-standing rivalry between the two Dutch powerhouses.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from the Manchester Derby ]

The victory moves Ajax up to third place on 32 points this season, while PSV remains atop the league table on 39 points.

David Neres, Lasse Schöne and Donny van de Beek each scored in a span of 11 minutes after the halftime break to five the hosts a comfortable result.

Neres broke the deadlock in the 61st minute when he stunned PSV with a long-distance volley that couldn’t be dealt with by goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet.

Schone then found the back of the net three minutes later, while Van de Beek capped off the outing with the dagger in the 72 minute.

Sunday’s win also gives Ajax a slim advantage over their rival in the all-time Eredivisie series, 54-24-53.

Stanford knocks off Indiana to capture third consecutive NCAA title

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Prior to this weekend, only one team in NCAA men’s soccer history had won three or more titles in consecutive years. Now, you can add Stanford to that list.

The Cardinal knocked off the Indiana Hoosiers, 1-0, on Sunday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium behind Sam Werner’s extra-time winner.

[ MORE: Kamara, Zimmerman amongst biggest MLS trade moves on Sunday ]

Werner, who also scored the second goal for the Cardinal in Friday night’s 2-0 victory against the Akron Zips, provided the finish in the second overtime after powering a shot over Hoosiers goalkeeper Trey Muse.

On the cold day in Chester, PA, both sides struggled to come up with chances on goal, with the Hoosiers managing just one shot on target in the match.

Prior to 2015, Stanford had never won a College Cup in school history, however, the Cardinal are now tied for sixth in NCAA history with their third championship.

The University of St. Louis has captured the most titles in men’s soccer, with 10, while Indiana’s eight championships rank second.