Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Emery under pressure again after PSG’s first losses of season

Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Less than halfway through the season, speculation has already started as to who might replace Unai Emery as Paris Saint-Germain coach.

Two straight losses brought PSG’s unbeaten run to a sudden halt and heaped the pressure onto Emery — the man hired to turn PSG from European also-rans into Champions League winners.

Since Qatari investors QSI invested hundreds of millions after taking over in June 2011, PSG has never been beyond the European Cup quarterfinals.

This was supposed the season when PSG, after spending record amounts during the offseason, was supposed to reach the next level. But five coaches were touted as possible replacements in a critical article of Emery in Thursday’s edition of sports daily L’Equipe.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who has openly flirted with a move to PSG in the past, and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte were among the big names.

Emery has been on slippery ground before, notably last season when PSG failed to make the Champions League quarterfinals after losing 6-1 at Barcelona following a 4-0 victory at home in the first leg.

PSG also lost the league title but Emery — hand-picked by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after guiding Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles — kept his job.

Furthermore, he was given huge funds to buy the so-called missing ingredients for European success.

Brazil forward Neymar and rising teen star Kylian Mbappe arrived for a combined $474 million dollars — making them the world’s two most expensive players.

But last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at promoted Strasbourg — a team that spiraled into obscurity after going into liquidation six years ago — was followed by Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Bayern Munich.

Both games exposed the same flaws as last season.

PSG looks to be a top-heavy side overly slanted toward attack and highly vulnerable in defense. Against Bayern, Mbappe did well but Neymar drifted in and out and they did not look like a partnership.

Mbappe and Neymar hardly tracked back and PSG’s fullbacks were easily exposed by the pace of Bayern’s wide players, and when the ball was played behind them.

While PSG arguably needed one of the two forwards, buying both appears to be a waste of funds that could have been invested into weaker areas. Given that PSG’s problem has never been scoring goals, over-loading the attack seems futile.

When Thiago Motta is not protecting the back four as a defensive midfielder, there is little cover from the other midfielders. Adrien Rabiot can play the holding role but has openly expressed a preference to play a more attacking midfield game.

PSG also lacks a commanding goalkeeper.

Alphonse Areola is promising, but the 24-year-old Frenchman is largely untested at the highest level and is not yet vocal enough to command his back four with authority.

Within moments of losing to Bayern, Al-Khelaifi was responding to questions on French television.

“We hope this loss will help the team in the Champions League,” he said, looking ahead to the last 16. “We need to prepare well. We need to learn this lesson.”

Al-Khelaifi said much the same after last season’s loss to Barcelona. His constant media presence increases the pressure by casting a shadow over Emery’s methods.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell who’s running the team, and there appears to be a lack of unity when things become difficult. Against Bayern, the players became passive after the German team took control.

While Emery said, inaccurately, that PSG did not deserve to lose against Bayern, his president was firmly critical of the team’s performance. So were some players.

“We played too much like individuals. We didn’t play together enough as a team,” Rabiot said. “For the time being we’re not able to. When we try to do things by ourselves, it doesn’t work.”

Big victories over Celtic and Anderlecht padded out PSG’s goal tally during the group stage to a whopping 25 goals in six games. But those easy wins might have instilled a false sense of security.

“It’s very important to wake up now,” Al-Khelaifi said. “It’s not too late.”

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

Twitter/@brfootball
Leave a comment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

Twitter/@GGFN_
Leave a comment

With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

Twitter/@ManCity
Leave a comment

The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

Twitter/@MLSCentral_
Leave a comment

New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.