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

2 Comments

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?

Fulham fire Jokanovic, hire Ranieri as new manager

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bottom of the Premier League table and leaking goals galore, something had to change at Fulham.

It was the manager.

Slavisa Jokanovic became the first Premier League manager fired in the 2018-19 season and the Cottagers sprung quite a surprise by hiring former Chelsea and Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri as his replacement. In a strange coincidence, Jokanovic was actually Ranieri’s first signing as Chelsea manager back in 2000.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Ranieri last coached in England with Leicester as he led them to an incredible Premier League title win in his only full season in charge in 2015-16.

The following season he was fired in February 2017 with the Foxes in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and since then Ranieri coached at Nantes in France for the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign.

Ranieri, who coached Fulham’s west London rivals Chelsea in 2003-05, has been without a job for the past few months, but the well-traveled manager — formerly of AS Monaco, Roma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Greece among many others — is now back in the thick of things as he aims to lead American-owned club out of relegation trouble.

Speaking about his arrival at Fulham, the lovable Italian coach is eager to work with his squad over the international break to plan for his first game in charge against Southampton on Nov. 24.

“It is an honor to accept Mr. Khan’s invitation and opportunity to lead Fulham, a fantastic club with tradition and history,” Ranieri said. “The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League. We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances, which we will work on straight away as we prepare for Southampton at the Cottage.”

Fulham went on to say that Tony Khan, Vice Chairman and Director of Football Operations, “considered and spoke with a number of potential candidates within the past week” and that Ranieri was the “mutual and obvious choice.”

The club added that Tony Khan “will continue to oversee first team player recruitment and contractual agreements” and Ranieri will work closely with him on that.

What does Ranieri have to sort out at Fulham? In short, a lot.

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion via the playoffs last season (after they reached the playoffs the season before too) and over the summer the club spent big, splashing out over $130 million on new players as Khan aimed to solidify the club in the Premier League.

Things didn’t go as planned over the opening months of the season with Fulham’s defense the leakiest in the PL and Jokanovic chopping and changing his team, especially his defense, most weeks. Over recent weeks Khan backed Jokanovic to turn things around, but they’ve acted swiftly with Fulham at risk of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

Ranieri will first do what he does best, make Fulham difficult to beat, but there’s no denying that his defensive philosophy is totally different to the free-flowing play Jokanovic preferred.

That attractive, attacking style of play led to the recruitment of most of the current squad under Khan and Jokanovic, so asking them to play in a solid 4-4-2 and to take no risks at the back will be a total culture shift for Fulham’s players.

This will be very interesting, and Ranieri will face his two former clubs in his first three games in charge. After hosting Saints, Fulham head to Chelsea for a west London derby on Dec. 2, then host Leicester on Dec. 5.

Fulham have acted quicker than they did in 2013-14 when they were last in the Premier League and were ultimately relegated after having Martin Jol in charge until December, then ene Meulensteen and Felix Magath were in charge later that season.

West Ham playmaker Arnautovic admits he’s playing hurt

Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Ham playmaker Marko Arnautovic is in his second season with the Hammers, and while leading West Ham with five goals on the season, he’s definitely not 100%. Still, his team needs him – both club and country – and so he’ll keep suiting up even through the pain.

Arnautovic, on international duty with Austria, admitted to hometown media that he needs regular medical treatment to stay on the pitch this season.

“I can not say if I’ll get an injection on Thursday,” Arnautovic said. “In my knee, fluid accumulates again and again. Of course, there are people who say they should rest themselves and do nothing for a week, but it’s just difficult.”

Arnautovic would not elaborate on the type of injection he is receiving, but it’s likely a steroid or other anti-inflammatory injection to keep the swelling in his knee to a minimum. He also may be having his knee drained, a painful process that involves physically removing fluid buildup through a syringe.

The 29-year-old was originally injured in a 3-1 win over Everton in mid-September, the club’s first win of the season. He was withdrawn from that match in the 64th minute after scoring a goal and assisting another, and missed the subsequent Premier League match against Chelsea. He returned to play 83 minutes against Manchester United the next time out, and has missed only one match since, playing the full 90 minutes in the other three.

To keep his knee as healthy as possible, Arnautovic told Sky Sports earlier last month that he was avoiding training too much. “The knee is not the best but I am fit and I can play,” Arnautovic said. “I’m not training a lot at West Ham to try and my knee calm.”

“After a game I need some rest for about two or three days. By the middle of the week I am training normally with the team, training in full. And on the weekend I can play, that is the most important thing. Obviously you can’t do anything on this bone bruise.”

Report: Jadon Sancho to start for England vs United States

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic are teenage teammates for Borussia Dortmund, a shining light for the growing generation of young internationals. Now, they will face each other on the field as international opponents on Friday as the United States and England clash at Wembley.

According to a report by Sky Sports, Sancho is set for his full international debut as Gareth Southgate will include Sancho in his starting lineup. It will be Sancho’s second cap after earning his first against Croatia in October.

That means it’s likely that the two will both be included from the opening whistle, as Pulisic is as guaranteed a starter as they come on the United States, barring injury.

Sancho has been white hot at the club level this season, scoring four goals and assisting five while earning a starting role with his form. One of his main teammates affected with diminished minutes as a result of Sancho’s form is Pulisic, who has not started in any of the last five Bundesliga matches and has just 64 minutes in that span.

Pulisic started against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on October 24, and eventually saw Sancho replace him in the 79th minute, with the young English international scoring in the 4-0 win. The two then started opposite each other against Atletico in the reverse fixture a week ago in a 2-0 loss.

Sancho will get the opportunity to prove his worth with a critical match against Croatia is on the horizon, as England has the chance to secure a spot in the Nations League semi-finals with a win. This will come alongside Wayne Rooney, who will be included in the squad and get the opportunity to play in a farewell match. Sancho was just two years old when Rooney made his England debut.

2018 MLS awards: Tata wins Coach, Zlatan wins Goal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer announced a number of its regular season awards on Tuesday, and a pair of the league’s international stars were at the forefront of the achievements.

Outgoing Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino won Coach of the Year, while LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the league’s Goal of the Year award for his incredible long-distance strike against rivals LAFC back in late March.

Martino, in his second year in charge as Atlanta United’s first and only manager in franchise history, came just a point from securing the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in just its second year of existence. The club just won its first playoff series in club history as well, beating NYFC over two legs to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Argentine has announced he will depart the club at the end of the season, with reports pinning him to a job with the Mexican national team.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley finished second in the Coach of the Year award, having led the first-year club to a third-place finish in the Western Conference and a playoff spot before being dumped by Real Salt Lake in the knockout round.

Ibrahimovic won Goal of the Year with his audacious half-volleyed strike from almost 40 yards out that chipped LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller and leveled the score. It was Ibrahimovic’s first MLS goal after moving to the Galaxy in the offseason from Manchester United. He scored again that match, a stoppage-time winner in the brand new derby.

Other awards were handed out during the hour-long awards ceremony on Periscope, including the Save of the Year, which went to Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for ranging across his net to stop Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi.

Skill Play of the Year went to Portland’s Samuel Armenteros for an incredible dink past Colorado defender Danny Wilson just before scoring the game’s first goal. The Celebration of the Year went to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the aftermath of his 100th MLS goal where he proceeded to remove his jersey to reveal another underneath with the number 100.