Roberto Mancini did himself no favors in City’s FA Cup flop

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Manchester City’s manager bears a large portion of the blame for what happened today at Wembley, and with speculation about his job hitting a fever pitch prior to kickoff against Wigan, his team’s 0-1 upset loss may be the last chapter for Roberto Mancini on City’s sidelines. On a day that started with fans chanting support, denouncing the idea of replacing him with Manuel Pellegrini, Mancini did nothing to justify their faith.

His team came out flat, as if not grasping the occasion. To a certain extent, that happened two years ago, too, when a second half goal from Yaya Touré gave City a 1-0 FA Cup final win over Stoke City. But Touré, City’s hero over the last two years, hasn’t donned the cape year, and without that kind of mistake-erasing presence, the margins were always going to be thinner. Mancini should have used the last final’s lesson as a reason to have his team primed to play.

In the face of a Wigan team already setup to exploit the City, the lack of preparedness could have sent Mancini’s side down early. With Shaun Maloney falling back onto Touré and neither Samir Nasri nor David Silva positioned to help on Wigan’s wide man, City were always going to be exploited down the flanks. Add in a lack of energy from most of the team, and fullbacks Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy were always going to have trouble, especially once Wigan left wingback Roger Espinoza showed so much aggression charging up his flank. Keep more of the ball, work harder when you lose it, and yes, City could have offset the tactics. But they weren’t of the mindset to do so.

City survived until halftime, when it seemed like Mancini would make a change. With James Milner warming up during intermission, it looked like Clichy would get some help containing MacManaman, who was having his way down the right. But when Milner came on for Samir Nasri, he was deployed on the opposite flank, and while City also needed to give more consideration to Koné, Milner was cast above Zabaleta. Clichy was in serious need of help.

That Milner wasn’t in the starting lineup to begin with hints Mancini didn’t grasp the Latics’ threat. That, or though his faith in Samir Nasri, he is so intent on salvaging what’s been a poor season from his starting winger that he let the French international try to redeem himself with silverware on the line. Instead of playing Milner – his best wide defender and one player you could count on to bring the right intensity from minute one – Nasri was again given the starting nod.

The next sub, midway through the half, also displayed a degree of stubbornness. Just as he was willing to stay with Nasri despite a lackluster campaign, Mancini defaulted to his favorite tactical trick: His continued dalliance with a three-man defense. Jack Rodwell was on and Carlos Tévez, of all people, was brought off. Never mind that score was still 0-0, and never mind Tévez has the ability to take any ball sent out of the back and make it into a goal. And disregard the fact Marcini was, in moving to a scheme that’s had marginal success this year, positioning his side to start going almost like-for-like against Wigan. Tevez was still making way for Rodwell.

Given that dissonance, it’s perhaps appropriate that Rodwell was beaten for the goal, with Ben Watson cutting in front of him at the near post before flicking past Joe Hart. One of a slew of offseason signings that never worked out (along with Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair, Maicon), it was poetic justice that the man bought on to enable the three-at-the-back dream was beaten to complete Mancini’s nightmare.

That nightmare started yesterday, when reporting in Spain linked Pellegrini with Mancini’s job. It will continue over the next seven days, with the final week of Mancini’s season sure to be dominated by news of a possible departure. With nothing to play for next week, Mancini could sleep walk through the turmoil with no effect on his squad. He could also crack, as he did before leaving Inter Milan, where at one point in 2008 he hastily announced his eventual departure, decided to stay on, and was fired three months later.

On Saturday, City played like a team overwhelmed by the gossip, but it’s a manager’s prepare a squad that isn’t derailed by tabloid headlines and boardroom shenanigans. And if the speculation about Mancini’s job wasn’t a factor in City’s performance, there are even fewer excused for why one of the world’s most expensive squads lost a major title to a relegation candidate.

Manchester City fans sang their support of Mancini during the final’s opening moments, but after a tepid display on one of the biggest stages, you wonder if they’ll change their tune. And if those fans don’t think another man could do better after watching today’s loss, will they ever concede their team’s made for more than this?

La Liga: Real Madrid disappoint in home draw with Valladolid

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Real Madrid 1-1 Real Valladolid

With Barcelona losing on the season’s opening day, and now Real Madrid dropping points on Saturday to the side that finished 16th last season, the 2019 La Liga title race appears to be wide open.

Karim Benzema put Real Madrid 1-0 up after 82 minutes, and Los Blancos appeared to have avoided a disappointing start to their home campaign. However, Sergi Guardiola (no relation to Pep) had other ideas when he bagged an unlikely equalizer in the 88th minute.

Eden Hazard remained out with a thigh injury and the $113-million Belgian isn’t expected to make his Madrid debut until after the season’s international break which takes place the first full weekend of September. James Rodriguez made his return to Real Madrid after two seasons on loan to Bayern Munich, but the Colombian was subbed off after 57 minutes to be replaced by Vinicius Junior.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-0 Valencia
Getafe 1-1 Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna 0-0 Eibar

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Mallorca v. Real Sociedad — 11 a.m. ET
Alaves v. Espanyol — 11 a.m. ET
Leganes v. Atletico Madrid — 1 p.m. ET
Barcelona v. Real Betis — 3 p.m. ET

Serie A: Juventus edge past Parma; Napoli-Fiorentina thriller (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Parma 0-1 Juventus

Juventus’ quest to win a ninth straight Serie A title began with a win away to Parma on Saturday, but only just barely. Giorgio Chiellini scored the game’s only goal in the 21st minute, redirecting Alex Sandro’s half-volley past the goalkeeper after a corner kick wasn’t fully cleared. The victory sets Maurizio Sarri‘s side (Sarri wasn’t in charge of the team on Saturday as he continues to recover from pneumonia) on its way in a season that figures to feature multiple challengers to the throne, with Napoli and Inter Milan each strengthening their squads considerably in the summer. Sarri will also miss out on next weekend’s heavyweight clash between Juve and last season’s runners-up Napoli at Allianz Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal taken off the board after the video-assistant referee picked up on the narrowest of offside calls.

$85-million center back Matthijs de Ligt was named to the bench, where he remained for the entirety of 90 minutes, with veterans Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci preferred to the 20-year-old. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon joined De Ligt on the bench in his return to Juve after spending last season at Paris Saint-Germain.

Fiorentina 3-4 Napoli

Napoli’s 4-3 victory over Fiorentina was a truly wild ride. There is no other way to describe it.

Napoli went from a goal down inside the first 10 minutes, to 2-1 up just before halftime, level at 2-2 in the 52nd minute, 3-2 ahead just four minutes later, level at 3-3 in the 65th, and finally 4-3 ahead just two minutes later.

Dries Mertens (38th), Lorenzo Insigne (43rd and 67th) and Jose Callejon (56th) got the goals for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

Hirving Lozano, who joined Napoli for $44 million on Friday, wasn’t yet available to make his debut but will only add another level of quality to what has proven to be an already impressive attacking unit.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Udinese v. AC Milan — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Lazio — 2:45 p.m. ET
Cagliari v. Brescia — 2:45 p.m. ET
Verona v. Bologna — 2:45 p.m. ET
SPAL v. Atalanta — 2:45 p.m. ET
Torino v. Sassuolo — 2:45 p.m. ET

Messi to miss Barcelona’s next game; Suarez, Dembele also out

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona’s squad to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Messi returned to training this week after recovering from a right calf injury picked up in preseason, but the Argentina star was not included in the list of players available for the team’s home opener at Camp Nou Stadium.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener last weekend.

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also without forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele because of injuries.

Klopp preens after Liverpool win: ‘Our identity is intensity’

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Liverpool and Arsenal entertained on Saturday, with the Reds earning a deserved 3-1 win and keeping the Gunners off-kilter for most of the day.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds pushed the tempo for much of the match and overcame some wobbly moments at the back to cruise to the win.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

They were tough, fiery, and deserved every bit of the win. And Klopp knows it, and knows that you know it. From the BBC:

“Our identity is intensity, and we showed that today. … We were a bit surprised by their system. We couldn’t know that they would play a diamond, but we switched things around and coped very well.

“The last 10 minutes I saw the possession – 53 to 47 or something like that – but over 80 minutes it must have been completely different. For 80 minutes we were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second.”

This guy is an absolute beauty. Even those who despise him have to admit that we are lucky to have him.

Klopp’s men lapsed late and allowed a Lucas Torreira goal. The defense has been wobbly over the first three weeks of the season, and preseason was just as rough. Klopp would’ve loved a clean sheet for the first time since the first week of preseason, but he’s happy with the performance.

“I would have loved to have it, but things can happen. They’re a quality side, Arsenal. I didn’t see that many chances, but we were really in charge today and completely deserved the win.”

Liverpool is off to Burnley next, and then will enjoy the international break.