Manchester projects stutter for Guardiola, Mourinho

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MANCHESTER — The struggle in Manchester is real.

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When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived last summer amid much fanfare the soccer world expected a rivalry rivaling Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in England’s northern powerhouse.

Yeah. About that…

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Guardiola’s Manchester City sit in fourth place with five games to go, one place and one point ahead of Manchester United. They were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League and lost in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend.

Pep’s “total football” approach has hit more than a few snags.

These two teams were supposed to challenge for the title this season but after spending a combined total of almost $400 million on new players they have one trophy between them (United won the EFL Cup) and are scrambling to qualify for the Champions League.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

Both managers are big enough names that they will be given plenty more time, and plenty more money, to solve their problems. But if they don’t start the 2017-18 season well then the pressure will mount quickly. Even for these two managerial heavyweights.

When it comes to Pep’s revolution at City he knows the teething problems have been present throughout the season. City have blown teams away when everything clicks but so often, especially at home, it hasn’t. City have drawn seven games at home this season and only United (9) have drawn more in front of their own fans.

Both managers are building bases tentatively but needed extra impetus to help the missing pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

Speaking to the media after the game, Guardiola was downbeat despite his team seemingly in the driving seat for a top four finish ahead of their crosstown rivals.

“We have tried not just today but all of the season to monopolize the ball. Maybe it is a little bit of a Latin style. I don’t know what it is here in England but we tried to have the ball and attack,” Guardiola said. “Of course you can not expect against a team which is 23 games in a row unbeaten. That means they are good in defense and offensive and create not a thousand, million chances but 15 shots but not on target. It was not enough. We played to win the game. We tried. But again we are not able and we have to look why we were not able to win again. It is one point. The big fight will be until the Watford game.”

Between now and City’s final game of the season they will dominate possession in most, if not all, games but lacking that killer instinct has been their main problem. Gabriel Jesus‘ arrival at the end of this game provides Guardiola hope that the Brazilian teenager can provide a spark. City are arguably further along in their project than Untied but with fit again Vincent Kompany helping to improve Guardiola’s defense in recent weeks, in attack both have struggled.

City and United are the lowest scorers in the top six and United have scored just 50 times this season.

That said, the main problem for United in recent weeks has been injuries (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo out for the season, joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the sidelines) which have compounded their own ability to not finish teams off as a league-high 13 draws has Mourinho wondering what if.

United’s run to the Europa League semifinals has provided Mourinho with a “get out of jail free” card as they’re favorites to win Europe’s second-tier tournament and qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the backdoor. Fans of the Red Devils sing about Jose making them play “the United way” but the chant has become halfhearted and hollow recently.

United are 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League, the longest run in Europe’s top five leagues and they’ve equaled their longest ever unbeaten run in a top-flight campaign.

It doesn’t feel like it though.

Mourinho’s men recorded just 30.8 percent possession on Thursday, their lowest total since Opta started recording that metric in 2003. United are not a fun team to watch right now but they’re grinding out results until Mourinho can find a long-term solution to have them back among the elite. Until then he has the huge number of games they’ve played this season and their long injury list to blame.

“We will fight until the end – today we lost two more players – Timothy Fosu-Mensah had an important injury in the last action of the game and Fellani is suspended,” Mourinho said. “We are going down in terms of the number of players. It is very difficult for us but the character is amazing and I’m very proud of the boys.”

The feel-good factor wasn’t there on both sides of the Manchester divide at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite their pedigree Guardiola and Mourinho have plenty to prove to both sets of supporters as the two most successful and talented managers of their generation are finding that Manchester is not their heaven.

Not yet anyway.

These projects are very much a work in progress and when they next meet in July in preseason in the USA both clubs will have new players, a fresh start and more sky-high targets to reach.

The managers of City and United will be the same next season but they’ll both be under that much more pressure after a stuttering start to life in what was supposed to be a new era of Manchester becoming the soccer Mecca of the world.

Guardiola and Mourinho leave close to each other and this week Guardiola revealed the duo say hello and share pleasantries when they meet on the street.

They shouldn’t expect the same niceties from the general public in Manchester for much longer if trophies and title challenges don’t materialize.

What would Gold Cup win mean for Bruce Arena’s future?

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The U.S. face Jamaica in the 2017 Gold Cup final in Santa Clara, Calif. on Wednesday and winning this competition would be very significant for the USMNT and head coach Bruce Arena.

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This is much more than a second-tier tournament for the U.S.

Arena arrived in November 2016, just days after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as USMNT head coach following five years of ups and downs which yielded one Gold Cup (2013) a Round of 16 spot at the 2014 World Cup and a semifinal appearance at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The downs were too numerous to mention.

In his 13 games so far, Arena has yet to lose in his second spell in charge of the USMNT.

Sure, plenty of those games have been friendlies, winnable World Cup qualifiers (points on the road in Honduras and Mexico were huge) and Gold Cup group games, but he’s still managed his squad exceptionally well and has put both himself and his players in a much more positive frame of mind heading into a big 12 months.

If Arena leads the U.S. to Gold Cup glory on Wednesday, it would not doubt prove U.S. Soccer correct in hiring him and turning around the fortunes of the program which seemed riddled with infighting and anguish under Klinsmann.

Arena is a straight talker, we all know that, and the Brooklyn native is feeding off his vast experience in MLS and from his first stint in charge of the the U.S. from 1998-2006. The 65-year-old is a consummate man-manager, the Sir Alex Ferguson of the U.S. soccer scene if you will, and Arena has already fostered a strong team spirit despite having a huge player pool and almost three separate squads to juggle over the past seven months.

Sure, the European contingent from the U.S is missing for the Gold Cup and so are plenty of stars from Mexico, Costa Rica and other nations but on home soil the U.S. has got by shaky defensive displays to breeze into the final. The USMNT was in a similar situation in the last Gold Cup and didn’t handle it well.

Arena has juggled the demands of his senior players, promising youngster and certain situations (think of the tactical and personnel switches at the Azteca in June) admirably but he knows his strongest team and sticks to it when crunch time arrives.

The U.S. are the heavy favorites against the Reggae Boyz but we all know what Jamaica is capable of after they beat Klinsmann’s U.S. side 2-1 in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinal to hammer another considerable nail into his fast assembling U.S. Soccer coffin.

Arena has a contract through the end of the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer and although the U.S. still has to qualify for the tournament, if these positive results continue then maybe Arena is the long-term answer for Sunil Gulati and Co.

First up, he has to win the Gold Cup. Secondly, he has to guide the U.S. to the World Cup. And then if he excels in Russia next summer (another Round of 16 berth, or better, would be a great success) then who knows what’s next for Arena?

Everyone agreed he was the smart hire with the USMNT in turmoil back in November but nobody saw it going this smoothly.

Kudos to Arena for his understated, straight-forward approach which is exactly what the USMNT need right now, and possibly for many years to come.

Bayern defender Juan Bernat out weeks after ankle surgery

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich defender Juan Bernat has been ruled out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his left ankle.

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Bayern says the 24-year-old Bernat suffered the injury last Saturday in a friendly game against Milan in Shanghai, and that he underwent surgery in Munich on Monday.

Bernat, who joined Bayern from Valencia in 2014, has played in 65 Bundesliga games for the side, winning the league in each of his three seasons. He has made seven appearances for Spain.

 

Jose Mourinho gives Manchester United transfer update

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Jose Mourinho has been speaking about which players he wants to add in the final weeks of the summer transfer window.

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Ahead of United’s International Champions Cup clash with Barcelona in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Mourinho has been speaking to the media and earmarked the two positions where he wants to sign new players.

Via the Manchester Evening News, here’s what he had to say.

“I’m happy with my squad but I would like to have two more players, I never hide that,” Mourinho confirmed. “One player would be a midfield player that gives me more options and balance to the team and our needs. Another one an attacking player, especially that can play through the wings to give me also more attacking options. But I never speak about players that belong to other teams, I don’t like if any manager comes now and would say he would like one of my players, that’s not correct. I would like two more players but probably I only get one.”

So, there you have it.

With United linked with moves for central midfielders Eric Dier, Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, plus wingers Ivan Perisic and Marco Asensio for much of the summer, Mourinho has made it clear that time of speculation isn’t too far off the mark.

United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward flew to the USA this week and Mourinho was coy when asked if the main negotiator at Old Trafford had any transfer updates for him.

“I don’t know, honestly,” Mourinho admitted. “Ed is in control, he did Lindelof and Lukaku, he knows that I would like two more players, but he also knows that I have balance, I understand the situation, I understand the market, and if my club is unable to do two players and just one, I will accept that as a consequence of the market now. Our relation is good and I just wait for good news, and he knows for me the good news is to have the players, maybe just the player as soon as possible because to work together with the team is really, really important. But I’m calm, I like my players, I like my squad, I trust them, so I’m calm and that’s important.”

After adding Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof for a combined total of $135 million this summer, Mourinho addressed his main needs in central defense and up top.

Adding a holding midfielder would seem to be the smart play and is by far the weaker area compared to bringing in another wide player, with Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick the only two true defensive midfielders in their squad.

Out wide United have a host of options including Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.

If United, as Mourinho states, can only bring in one player then they should make signing Matic, Dier or Nainggolan a priority.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Coutinho to Barca; Sanchez to Man City

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Barcelona will make an improved bid for Philippe Coutinho according to Sky Sports.

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Liverpool have reportedly turned down a $93.9 million bid for the Brazilian playmaker but the Reds are said to be expecting an improved offer from the Spanish giants.

Coutinho, 25, only signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool in January but as he continues to score stunning goals on the way to leading Jurgen Klopp‘s men back to the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s biggest clubs have stepped up their interest in the diminutive playmaker.

Neymar, a close friend and Brazil teammate of Coutinho, may have a big say in this deal. If he leaves for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record deal, Barca will obviously have plenty of cash to spend, but perhaps linking up Coutinho with Neymar at the Nou Camp will convince Brazil’s skipper to stay?

Coutinho’s record in recent seasons speaks for itself after he’s scored 26 goals in 79 PL appearances with many long-range beauties and curling, dipping free kicks among them. He has also added 12 assists over the past two seasons and he sets the tempo for Liverpool’s play in the attacking third. Coutinho would be a perfect replacement for Barca legend Andres Iniesta who is coming to the end of his career.

Klopp has already stated that he had a chat with Coutinho last week and insists he is not going anywhere. That said, Luis Suarez’s move to Barca in the summer of 2014 didn’t seem too likely either. Coutinho isn’t quite at a Suarez-esque level of importance for Liverpool yet, but we all know how that Barca pursuit ended.


The Independent claims Alexis Sanchez prefers a move to Manchester City.

With Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich all said to be offering Sanchez more than City in wages, it appears the Chilean forward would take less money to join Man City from Arsenal this summer.

Arsene Wenger has said multiple times that Sanchez will not be sold but with just one year left on his current deal can the Gunners really turn down a big offer from Man City if it came in?

Of course, Pep Guardiola‘s side being a main PL rival for Arsenal is the big spanner in the works of this deal but with Guardiola working with Sanchez at Barcelona in the past, the duo get along and Sanchez would obviously add even more dynamism to City’s ridiculously stacked forward line.

Where would he fit in at the Etihad Stadium? Well, that’s anybody guess but what we do know is that if you have Sanchez on your squad, he’s playing. The 28-year-old scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the PL for Arsenal last season and City could slot him in to a fluid front three of Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, then have Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling around too.

Quite why City needs Sanchez is a mystery, but reports continue to state both parties are interested and Man City will surely challenge for the Champions League title, something Sanchez has stated he wants to do.