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How do Man City compare to Guardiola’s best Barca team?

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With Manchester City on the cusp of winning the Premier League title in the fastest-ever time in English top-flight history (a win against Manchester United on Saturday seals the deal) it’s worth contemplating just how good this masterpiece built by Pep Guardiola is.

Is this current City better than his best team at Barcelona?

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First up, let’s define his best team at Barca. We have plenty of epic teams to choose from but the double winning team of 2010/11 is widely regarded as the best team he coached, and perhaps the greatest team in soccer history, as they were only denied the treble by an extra time goal in the Spanish cup final by Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.

Barca lost five of their 60 games in all competitions that season. Scored 147 goals and conceded just 36. This season City are on track to break Premier League records for goals, points and wins.

We’re talking a young Lionel Messi up top with David Villa. Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xavi in their prime in midfield. Dani Alves, Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique as solid as a rock in defense.

This was a Barca team at the height of Tiki-Taka as their players not only dominated the club scene but also the international stage with three-straight major titles in the 2008 and 2012 European championships and then the 2010 World Cup for good measure. Therefore, it is tough to compare any team of any generation to the greatness of the team Guardiola was able to create in his third season at Barca.

That 2010/11 season Pep’s boys lost just one of their 13 games in the Champions League en route to absolutely smashing Manchester United 3-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium as Sir Alex Ferguson looked on in wonderment.

“They do mesmerize you with the way they pass it,” Ferguson said . “I expected us to do better, particularly after half-time, but it wasn’t to be. Great teams do go in cycles and they’re at the peak of the cycle they’re in at the moment. They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way.

“No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football. But how long it lasts … whether they can replace that team at some point … they certainly have the right philosophy, but it’s always difficult to find players like Xavi [Hernandez], [Andres] Iniesta and [Lionel] Messi all the time. But they’re enjoying the moment that they have just now. We never controlled Lionel Messi, but many people have had to say that over the years.”

Now, Man City do not have Lionel Messi.

In Guardiola’s own words Messi is a “one-off” and the best player he will ever see. Messi scored 53 goals in all competitions that season, with Pedro scoring 22 and Villa scoring 23. It was both an attacking powerhouse and a steady defensive unit. The balance was near perfect and orchestrated by Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta in midfield.

Yet the Messi factor aside, there was also a similarity to this City side as Guardiola ousted plenty of big names who were getting on. Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were all at least 27 years old and many had questioned Guardiola for getting rid of them. The same can be said for the way he has handled Toure, Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Kolarov since he arrived at City but there’s a clear plan and ideology that he prefers younger players who are quicker and more flexible in terms of formations.

Last season it looked like his methods may not have been possible in England but after just over 18 months in charge he is proving he can emulate what he created at Barcelona, and to a lesser extent at Bayern.

This City side may not emulate Pep’s Barca teams in terms of their league and European Cup double due to their 3-0 deficit from the first leg of their UCL quarterfinal at Liverpool, but there are a lot of similarities.

David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho are in the exact same mold as Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. The former two are perhaps having the greatest seasons of their careers, reinvented as a deeper central midfield duo who have the freedom to attack the space which opens up between center backs and full backs when Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling drag defenders out wide.

Up top, Sergio Aguero isn’t scoring at the same rate his close friend Messi did in 2010/11 but he is still a monster, when fit, and has adapted to Pep’s methods. The entire back line has too and you could argue that Ederson is an upgrade in goal over Victor Valdes while Vincent Kompany would have surely got into that epic Barca side at his peak.

At full back is where both of these teams stand out. Dani Alves and Kyle Walker. Eric Abidal and Benjamin Mendy. The latter has been out for most of this season with a serious knee injury but if he had been fit, he would’ve added even greater balance to this City side. The ability of Walker, and back then Alves, to slot inside and almost act as an inside center back or holding midfielder who could spring attacks and create overloads is eerily similar.

It’s harsh to say this City side is a cheap imitation of his team at Barcelona. It’s accurate to say they are from the same blueprint as the greatest team the world has ever seen. When you have spent over $400 million, it’s easy to understand why Pep has built a machine at Man City but as we saw last season, he needed to clear out veterans who didn’t fit into his plans and invest in young, quick, flexible players who did.

City could perhaps emulate Barcelona in years to come, or even this season if they turn their UCL second leg against Liverpool around, but there’s no doubt that this team is up there with his greatest Barca side.

That Barca team was better and their greatness has so far stood the test of time. This City side may only be truly appreciated in years to come too but right now it feels like they’re at the levels of the 2008/09 Barca side (Pep’s first, which won the treble) but not far off the 2010/11 side who will always be the benchmark.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.