Manuel Pellegrini reflects after Manchester City help him claim his first European title

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Today’s achievement had to win them over. When Manuel Pellegrini was hired at Manchester City, detractors noted Pellegrini’s résumé was suspicious devoid of European honors. After today’s win over West Ham United completed City’s Premier League-Lague Cup double, Pellegrini finally has silverware to match his reputation – that of one of the better managers in Europe.

“I think that I manage a great group of players, a great institution and great fans,” said Pellegrini, who made is name in Europe leading a much smaller club, Villarreal, to second in Spain and the Champions League semifinals. He also had relative success in his three seasons at Malaga, but the line item critics has previously focused on was his spell at another big club: his one season at Real Madrid.

In 2009-10, Pellegrini was hired to lead a team that had recently acquired Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Karim Benzema. The Merengues finished second in Spain, setting a club record for points in a league season with 96. Unfortunately for the Chilean, his time at the Santiago Bernabéu coincided with the apex of Pep Guardiola’s at Barcelona. Fans of Pellegrini noted his record season, but as he made way for José Mourinho, detractors noted it wasn’t enough.

This season had the potential to play out similarly, though there was no Barcelona juggernaut to serve as an excuse. Manchester City was one of the Premier League’s two preseason favorites, and as the season went on, it became clear: Pellegrini’s was the best squad in the league. That City didn’t run away from the league after its midseason spell of omnipotence only emboldened suspicions that Pellegrini was title-less in Europe for a reason.

source: AP
Sunday’s victory gives Manuel Pellegrini his fourth league title in three different countries: Ecuador (LDU Quito), Argentina (San Lorenzo, River Plate), and England (Manchester City). (Photo: AP)

“We didn’t start (the season) very well, but I think the most important thing we did this year is when we finished playing our sixth game away, we had one point from 18 and I told the players we had to make a change,” Pellegrini said, reflecting on his first games in charge. “They believed in me and I think from then until now we are the team with the most points away.”

Perhaps that belief is why, even as City stumbled late against Liverpool and Sunderland, there were no prolonged dips. There were no slumps. There were no spells that forced them to become desperate. Even as City were relying on Chelsea to get the result at Anfield that would pull the team back into the driver’s seat, there was no panic. Throughout the 2013-14 season, City never went more than two games without a win.

“I must be calm during the game to take decisions but when you achieve the title,” Pellegrini explained, describing an in-match demeanor that mirrored his off-pitch approach. Where Mourinho used the press for mind games and Brendan Rodgers’ words reflected his teams impassioned charge, Pellegrini approached the race with the quantitative cool of a civil engineer – a man confident in the probabilities.

The attitude reflected a belief in his talent. Like the rest of us, Pellegrini knew he had the best team in the league.

“I think the whole year comes from in to out and shows a lot of work we did at difficult moments … I think this is the best team in the league.”

That’s not always enough. Even in City’s case, as Chelsea and Liverpool gave away points, some will say the man with the best team cut things too close.

But as he learned at Real Madrid, many skip to the bottom line, forgetting the context. After Sunday, Pellegrini owns that bottom line.

That got there his way, by utilizing the same philosophy, attitude, and process that underscored his previous successes, makes the victory sweeter.

“[The players] always believed what I told them about how I wanted to play,” Pellegrini reflected, “and how I think football should be.”

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.

VIDEO: Chicharito talks West Ham signing, opener at Manchester United

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.

The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:

“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”

Hear more from the latest West Ham buy below: