Ancelotti may need more than win over Lyon to stay on at PSG

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As with all things, the French tend to be philosophical about their sport. Though it would be a mistake to paint the entire population with the same broad brush, you’re more likely to get the larger perspective out of a French soccer fan after results that might lead others to claims of “famous” wins or states of “crisis”. For some, the approach explains why draws seem to be more palatable around Ligue 1. One match’s results are too little to get excited about, especially when the score’s inconclusive.

Carlo Ancelloti, however, has begun to draw conclusions from philosophers. The Milan legend who won the Premier League at Chelsea is nearing his one year anniversary at Paris Saint-Germain. When he took over for Antoine Kombouaré on Dec. 30, 2011, PSG had just used a win over Saint-Etienne to move into first place, a spot they’ve infrequently held since. After falling at Nancy on March 31, PSG lost their lead and eventually the title to Montpellier. They have not led the league at the end of a round since.

That Ancelotti has not faced the same scrutiny that befell Kombouaré seems incongruous until you remember who hired him. Leonardo, brought in last season to serve as PSG’s director of football, chose Ancelotti, his first coaching hired in Paris. The Brazilian inherited Kombouaré, a circumstance that left the coach’s job the source of constant speculation throughout the first half of last season. Ancelotti has already gotten leeway the former PSG defender never saw.

The expectations on Ancelotti, however, are higher, part of the reason the two-time Champions League winner’s viability is starting to be questioned. Paris Saint-Germain enter Sunday’s match against league-leading Olympique Lyonnais three points back despite another huge round of summer investment from their Qatari owners. Most notably, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not only purchased but has dominated the league, scoring a league-leading 17 times in his first 14 appearances. Add in talents of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Veratti, Thiago Silva and Gregory Van Der Wiel – all added over the summer – and concern over Ancelotti’s results becomes understandable.

But if the coach is to be believed, the influx of new talent may actually be a hinderance. The burdens of expectation may not be something PSG’s new players feel, according to Ancelotti:

“As coach, I have to take my share of responsibility, but the players have to do the same,” Ancelotti said, per ESPNFC. “I get the impression the players feel the club’s project and the problems in the team’s play don’t concern them.

“My players don’t make a team. They’re still a group of individuals. We still don’t have any consistency in our game. It’s neither solid nor unified. The work of a coach is to find a solution very quickly.”

Hinting a solution’s been found, PSG have won three in a row, a stretch that’s included impressive wins over Porto (in Champions League) and at Valenciennes (0-4). Unfortunately a preceding stretch of only three victories in eight games has created a bottom line feel around the team. They may have won three on the trot, but these are the results the team was supposed to be producing all along. Why is PSG in second place? Why are they trailing Lyon?

Part of that is PSG’s regression (they’re on pace for fewer points than last year’s second place campaign), but it would be unfair to not give some credit to Rémi Garde. After the Lyon coach suffered through his own first year struggles (OL failing to claim a Champions League spot for the first time in 14 years), the former Gones sweeper has his team on top of the league despite the club’s continued overhaul. The only imports have been cast offs — Steed Malbranque finding a home at Stade Gerland, Milan Bisevac slotting into defense after becoming surplus at (ironically) PSG — but given the litany of names Garde has lost, Lyon was expected to be fringe contenders at best. Those are the expectations when a team that finished 18 points off the lead loses their No. 1. keeper (Hugo Lloris, to Tottenham), a midfield linchpin (Kim Kallstrom, to Spartak Moscow), their starting left back (Aly Cissokho, to Valencia), and their long-serving defensive leader (Cris, to Galatasaray).

Youth served

With the summer departures of Hugo Lloris, Cris, Kim Kallstrom and Aly Cissokho, Lyon has fully embraced their youth movement:

2012-13 Career
Player Age Pos. GP G GP G
Maxime Gonalons 23 M 16 2 89 4
Dejan Lovren 23 D 7 1 61 2
Alexandre Lacazette 21 A 15 1 54 7
Clement Grenier 21 M 11 1 42 1
Guieda Fofana 21 M 12 0 30 0
Rachid Ghezzal 20 M 4 0 4 0
Samuel Umtiti 19 D 8 0 20 0
Yassine Benzia 18 A 8 0 9 0

They were expectations Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas set when he hired the inexperienced Garde, and although missing Champions League was a huge disappointment for a club that dominated France not so long ago, Lyon is consciously and successfully undergoing a youth movement. Of Garde’s starters for Nov. 28’s 4-1 Classique victory at Marseille, five were Lyon products age 23 or younger: defender Samuel Umtiti; midfielders Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons; and attackers Alexandre Lacazette and Rachid Ghezzal. Add in the contributions of defender Dejan Lovren (bought from Dinamo Zagreb), midfielder Gueida Fofana (Le Havrea) and attacker Yassine Benzia and you have the largest and most deliberate youth movement among Europe’s major clubs.

It’s a point of literary irony that it’s a build from within, cut costs, shun the benefits of big buys philosophy that’s proved an obstacle Paris Saint-Germain’s ambition. While Lyon still has names Lisandro Lopez, Michel Bastos, and Bafetimbi Gomis among their ranks, this was once a team that had the likes of Karim Benzema, Michael Essien, and Florent Malouda. It’s not quite the talent currently patrolling the Parc de Princes, but there was a time that OL’s talent lapped the Ligue 1 field, one of the main reasons the club won seven straight titles through 2008. For the last two years, the talent advantage has lied with the Parisians, yet they lost last year’s race to an undermanned Montpellier and trail a reconfiguring Lyon as we approach this year’s break. (Aulus recently conceded all of Lopez, Basots, and Gomis could still go as the team looks to further reduce payroll.)

But Lyon’s reconfiguring has gone beyond mere roster turnover. On the field, Garde has settled into the 4-2-3-1 formation that never took hold last season. In the past it would have seemed a counter-intuitive approach, a setup that isolates OL’s best player (Lopez) out left, but given Lopez’s fitness concerns and the depth and variety of talent Garde has in midfielders and wider attackers, it’s been the team’s best approach. The resulting system has gotten the most out of Gomis, one of two double-digit scorers in France, while promoting a possession game that’s helped drastically reduce the team’s goals allowed (Lyon’s conceded 16 in 17 games after allowing 51 last season).

source: Getty ImagesIt’s all part of a year’s worth of hard-earned lessons for Garde (right), who has no head coaching experience before being appointed by Aulus. But seeing how Garde’s grown after one year on the job,  it’s worth asking whether Ancelotti could do the same. But the PSG boss has always enjoyed strong starts at his previous stops, something that makes his PSG experience all the more concerning. And the Parisians aren’t a side in the middle of scaling back a once dominant operation. They’re building to not only win in France but to compete at a level which will make them a global brand. Ancelotti was hired to bring immediate success, not implement a process.

This is why, as Andy Brassell points out today in The Independent, the French media has started to be brash about a post-Ancelotti future. L’Equipe, France’s sports daily, has reported PSG’s management has already sounded out Pep Guardiola, with long-time link Arsène Wenger and Real Madrid’s José Mourinho also in frame. The recent, thin support of PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi (“Today, Carlo is here” he said after the Porto win) left little doubt the Italian’s future is being evaluated.

Consider the implications if Paris Saint-Germain lose on Sunday. They’ll trail going into winter break, six points back of Lyon. There’ll be no three-match winning streak to assuage doubts. Worse for Ancelotti, there’ll be a two week break that will allow the Qataris to ask the question normally reserved for presidential elections: Are we better off than we were before?

Even if PSG draw, it’s hard to see that answer coming back as yes. Despite far more talent, the Parisians aren’t getting noticeably better results. Perhaps ownership will fall back on Ancelotti’s Champions League success as reason to retain him through the European season, but where their evaluation of his predecessor was clinical and cold, Ancelotti would be fortunate to survive the holiday season without a win over Lyon.

One game’s results might be harder to get worked up about in France than other cultures, but there’s little doubt Ancelotti needs to win on Sunday. But if we look back on the circumstances of Antoine Kombouaré’s dismissal, even that may not be enough to avoid change in Paris.

Bournemouth – Tottenham, Everton – Southampton: Stream, how to watch

Bournemouth - Tottenham
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Bournemouth – Tottenham and Everton – Southampton take place on Thursday as the Cherries need the win to try and save themselves from relegation, while Spurs need to stay in the top four hunt. (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been awful since the restart, losing all four games, and are in deep trouble in the bottom three with a very tough run of games to end the season.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham beat Everton 1-0 last time out and they are still in the hunt to finish in fifth place, which could be a Champions League spot.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

EVERTON – SOUTHAMPTON STREAM LIVE

As for the other early game on Thursday, Everton host Southampton with just one point and one place between them. Everton sit in 11th on 44 points, while Saints are in 12th on 43 points after their shock win against Man City last weekend.

Here’s a look at the team news for the two games at 1pm ET.


Team news

Bournemouth bring back Callum Wilson as he returns from suspension, while Dan Gosling comes back into the midfield.

Tottenham bring Jan Vertonghen into central defense to replace the injured Dier, while Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela come into the starting lineup with Heung-min Son on the bench.

Everton bring Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina into the team with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench and Mason Holgate out injured.

Ralph Hasenhuttl names the same Southampton team which beat Manchester City on Sunday, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is fit enough for a place on the bench.


 

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings have Tottenham (-157) as the heavy favorites at Bournemouth (+425) with the tie at +310. Anything other than a big Spurs win would be surprising but we all know the Cherries have a few shocks up their sleeves.

As for the game at Goodison, Everton have a great all-time home record against Southampton and the Toffees are the favorites (+100) but Southampton (+270) have been in sensational form away from home for most of this season. The draw at +255 looks very interesting.


How to watch Bournemouth – Tottenham stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

How to watch all Premier League games

Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS: Black Lives Matter protests; Nashville out due to COVID; Orlando, Philly win

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The MLS is Back tournament kicked off in Orlando, Florida over the last 24 hours and the headlines have been centered around the moving Blacks Lives Matter protests, Nashville SC leaving due to COVID-19 cases and wins for Orlando and Philadelphia.

[ MORE: MLS is Back schedule, how to watch ]

First up, the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday evening before the Orlando City SC v. Inter Miami CF game lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

That was the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Players from all teams got together to lead the protests, as the Black Players for Change in MLS group organized the show of solidarity for the movement.

The other main headline off the pitch is that first-year MLS team Nashville SC is heading home after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports had surfaced from The Athletic about multiple cases within the squad ahead of their arrival in Orlando and MLS commissioner Don Garber said late Wednesday a decision would be made on Nashville’s involvement in the tournament.

Sources have told ProSoccerTalk that Nashville are out of the tournament, although official confirmation has yet to arrive. If confirmed, as expected, then the tournament will now consist of 24 teams after FC Dallas were also unable to compete. Chicago would move from Group A to Group B so that all groups have four teams for the tournament.

On the pitch, the first-ever meeting between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami saw the tournament hosts win 2-1 thanks to a late winner from captain Nani. Juan Agudelo had given Miami the lead but Chris Mueller equalized off Nani’s cross before the Portuguese legend secured the win.

The first early morning game took place on Thursday as the Philadelphia Union beat New York City FC 1-0 thanks to a fine strike from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a string of fine saves to deny NYCFC.

Before the game the Union players all wore the names of Black people who have been killed by police on the back of their jerseys rather than their own surnames as a moving tribute to their memory.

Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ozil to MLS

Kai Havertz to Chelsea
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In the latest transfer news the latest update on Kai Havertz to Chelsea has arrived, while Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in west London, Kai Havertz, 21, has reportedly said he wants to join Chelsea and has handed in a transfer request to Bayer Leverkusen.

The German attacker is valued at $113 million by Leverkusen and although that transfer fee may be a little high for Chelsea, it is clear that Havertz will be worth it.

Per multiple reports, Havertz wants to join new signings Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech in reshaping the Chelsea attack and is ready to hand in a transfer request to make it happen.

Frank Lampard has revealed his admiration for Havertz and if Chelsea can pull this deal off, their attack is set. The big problem for Chelsea is in defense as they continue to make silly mistakes at the back but with Werner and Ziyech arriving, plus Havertz on the way and Christian Pulisic in fine form, this Chelsea attack will be lethal next season.

Mesut Ozil to MLS
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Heading to north London, Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS according to a report from The Sun.

Ozil, 31, has one year left on his huge contract at Arsenal but continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Mikel Arteta’s plans.

According to the report, Ozil will see out the remaining year of his contract at Arsenal and will then move to either MLS or Turkey. He has told close friends those are the two places he wants to play next.

Could we see Ozil in MLS next summer? I could.

His talent is undoubted but his career is fizzling out at Arsenal and in the Premier League. He earns over $440,000 per week and can’t even get off the bench for the Gunners.

Premier League will be part of Peacock’s July 15 launch

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The Premier League will air on July 15 as part of the launch of Peacock, as NBCUniversal’s new streaming service will arrive with plenty of PL action.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule

Premier League action on Wednesday, July 15 will be free to all fans with our studio shows, games and analysis being aired commercial free. How about that!?

The marquee game on July 15 is Arsenal hosting Liverpool (start time, 3:15pm ET) and we will be on air from 12-6pm ET with four games, reaction, analysis and much more.

ACCESS PEACOCK FOR FREE

Our studio host Rebecca Lowe explains exactly how it will all work and how you can sign up, with more details about Peacock on the link above.

Here are more details on how it will all go down on July 15:


On July 15, Peacock will be the exclusive home for all free NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage featuring four matches – including newly-crowned champions Liverpool visiting Arsenal at 3:15 p.m. ET – and the full complement of studio programming including prematch, halftime and postgame.

In addition, NBC Sports’ six hours of coverage, beginning at Noon ET, on July 15 will be presented without commercial interruption.

To get fans ready, Peacock will celebrate “Premier League Day” across social channels tomorrow, Thursday, July 9. Follow Peacock on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for top plays, celebrations and games for fans.

Following is the July 15 schedule for free NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage on Peacock (all times ET, subject to change):

Date Time (ET) Match
Wed., July 15 Noon Premier League Live
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Burnley v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Manchester City v. Bournemouth
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Newcastle v. Tottenham
Wed., July 15 3:15 p.m. Arsenal v. Liverpool
Wed., July 15 5:15 p.m. Goal Zone