Manuel Pellegrini talks title ambitions, Manchester City vs. AC Milan, US tour

1 Comment

Going into his second season as a manger in the Premier League, Manchester City’s boss Manuel Pellegrini is preparing his squad for back-to-back titles by spending preseason in the USA. In his debut campaign in England, the 60-year-old Chilean delivered a League Cup and a PL title as he stamped his mark on English soccer in style.

[RELATED: Full U.S. tour schedule]

This summer City are Stateside, as they continue to promote their new team in Major League Soccer, New York City FC, plus get themselves ready for the new PL season which begins on August 16. On Wednesday City hammered Sporting Kansas City 4-1 at Sporting Park, as a mixture of stars and youngsters beat the reigning MLS Cup champions to lift the “Champions Shield.”

Pellegrini and his squad have been training in New Jersey before traveling to Pittsburgh to face Italian giants AC Milan in the Steel City on Sunday. City’s preseason preparations will then continue to be cranked up a notch as they face Liverpool at Yankee Stadium on July 30, then Olympiakos in Minneapolis on August 2 before potentially playing in the final of the International Champions Cup in Miami on August 4.

Speaking to reporters via a conference call on Saturday, Pellegrini had the following to say on the Citizens’ U.S. tour so far, how he plans to approach Sunday’s match, title ambitions and much more.

On how the tour has been so far…

I am very happy. We are working very well here, first in Kansas and now in New Jersey. The game against Sporting Kansas was very useful and tomorrow against AC Milan we hope to continue the same way we have so far.

On the importance of playing a top quality opponent like AC Milan…

Both teams are in preseason but it is an important match because we are in the International Champions Cup. I think it is most important to continue what we are doing. In this program we have a friendly match against AC Milan. We know they have a new manager and they are perhaps starting a new way of playing. I hope the game tomorrow will be a good game for both teams.

source: Getty Images
Pellegrini believes his side have a great chance of winning the PL title once again.

On the importance of winning vs. giving players minutes and chance to impress…

It is always important to win. When we start the game tomorrow our minds will be focused on winning that game. I think the preparation around the game is important but it is important for us to win.

On how huge this preseason is for Stevan Jovetic…

Stevan is a very important player for our team. There have been a lot of rumors about him leaving our team but nothing is there.

On the young players coming through at Man City…

We have a lot of young players here and the likes of Scott Sinclair and Kelechi Iheanacho played well against Kansas City. It is a very important chance for them to show what they can do in our squad. This moment is their moment because we just had five players arrive back from the World Cup yesterday, we have another five or six players who have not arrived yet. The young players are working very hard and they must take their chance when it arrives.

On the likes of Man United, Chelsea strengthening over the summer…

I think every year you have five or six teams in the Premier League who are very strong. This year Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are bringing in new players but I think we have a strong squad and we are having a good preseason. We also need three or four players to improve our squad so we will see throughout the year which teams are better but I continue to think we have a very strong squad and have a great opportunity to win the title again.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea will set up a clash with Jose Mourinho.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists) and the Frenchman is proving to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense, will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.