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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.”

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.

Man United captain Rooney raises $1.5m from charity game

FILE - A Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney leaving the field after the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) for charity from a friendly game against former club Everton last year. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) from a friendly game against former club Everton last year.

That represents the profits, after operational costs, from August’s sellout match at Old Trafford and goes toward the Wayne Rooney Foundation’s target of raising 5 million pounds for children’s charities.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

Rooney said: “I’d like to thank all the fans who came to the testimonial and made it such a special night. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for children who are disadvantaged and it will make a real difference to their lives.”

Rooney is one goal from breaking Manchester United’s scoring record, with the striker currently tied with Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.

Rooney joined United from Everton in 2004.

WATCH: Lewandowski’s juggling stoppage time winner

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the German soccer Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Bayern Munich in Freiburg, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Patrick Seeger/dpa via AP)
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Robert Lewandowski picked up where he left off.

The Polish striker scored twice for Bayern Munich, once in stoppage time, as the Bavarians improved their Bundesliga lead to six points after toppling Freiburg 2-1 on Friday.

[ MORE: Bundesliga second half preview ]

And what a winner it was, Lewandowski taking a Douglas Costa cross with two juggling touches before hitting an offspeed bouncer inside the post.

It was the league’s first match following the winter/holiday break, giving Bayern a cushion before RB Leipzig takes the pitch against Eintracht Frankfurt in a Top Five tilt on Saturday.

Lewandowski moves closer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the goal scoring chart. His 13th and 14th goals have him two back of Borussia Dortmund’s striker, as Lewandowski pursues a third Golden Boot in four seasons.

Full Weekend Schedule
Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — Friday
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim — Saturday
Schalke vs. Ingolstadt — Saturday
Darmstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — Saturday
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV — Saturday
RB Leipzig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — Sunday