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?

PL AT HALF: Stars shining across six 10 a.m. ET kickoffs

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We’ve seen goals, goals, goals across five of six Premier League matches which kicked off at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

[ MORE: Fulham draw Watford ]

There’s a lone nil-nil in the bunch, and that one’s offered promise of finish as well.

Manchester United 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers

A sensational first touch pass from Paul Pogba (see above) and a low drive from Fred have the Red Devils leading at Old Trafford.

Leicester City 1-1 Huddersfield Town

The struggling Terriers took a surprising early lead, but Kelechi Iheanacho had the score line before the break.

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

The Saints were unable to use Liverpool loanee Danny Ings, and the attack is struggling to do anything while the Reds have goals from a Xherdan Shaqiri-prodded own goal for Wesley Hoedt and a follow-up marker from center back Joel Matip.

Mohamed Salah scored in stoppage time after a Liverpool free kick rang off the cross bar and bounced on the goal line for the Egyptian to deposit in the goal.

Cardiff City 0-3 Manchester City

Moments after Cardiff nearly found a shocking way into the champions’ goal, it was Sergio Aguero who restored order for Manchester City. Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan added goals before halftime.

Crystal Palace 0-0 Newcastle United

Chances for both sides at Selhurst Park, though the Eagles are holding control of it.

Burnley 2-0 Bournemouth

Matej Vydra and Aaron Lennon score two minutes apart to give Turf Moor a delightful halftime break.

Watch Live: Man United, Man City, Liverpool in action at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Let’s see if the big boys can rotate their squads expertly after UEFA Champions League action a few days ago.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Cardiff City vs. Manchester City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Fulham fight back to draw with Watford

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  • Gray put Watford ahead after 87 seconds
  • Mitrovic equalized in second half
  • Serbian striker has scored 17 league goals in 2018
  • Fulham have worst defensive record in PL, conceding 13 

A game of two halves saw Fulham and Watford draw 1-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday in the Premier League.

Andre Gray fired Watford into an early lead but Aleksandar Mitrovic equalized in the second half and almost won it late on but he headed against the crossbar.

With the point Fulham move on to five for the season, while Watford have 13 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Watford had the perfect start to the game as Gray slotted home with less than 90 seconds on the clock following busy work from Will Hughes.

The chances kept coming for the Hornets, as Christian Kabasele somehow failed to convert a header from close range and then Gray was superbly denied by Marcus Bettinelli after Alfie Mawson‘s huge error.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

At the other end Mitrovic had a shout for a penalty kick waved away after he looked to be bundled over by Kabasele but Watford looked far more dangerous as Roberto Pereyera curled just wide of the far post in a first half the Hornets dominated.

Fosu-Mensah was lucky to be on the pitch after a high challenge on Troy Deeney as Fulham had a woeful first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

At half time Denis Odoi and Floyd Ayite came on for Fulham as Jokanovic switched things up, and at the start of the second half Andre Schurrle clipped in a great cross for Mitrovic but the Serbian striker nodded over.

Mitrovic went close soon after and was a real handful for Watford’s defense as the Hornets tried to protect their lead. They couldn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Mitrovic punished Watford for all of their missed chances as he flicked home Luciano Vietto‘s cross at the near post to equalize as his fine 2018 continued.

Deeney squared late on when he should have had a shot on goal and Issac Success went close for Watford as they regained their composure.

However it was Mitrovic who forced Ben Foster into a fine late save and then from the resulting corner he hit the crossbar with a header, as Watford held on for a point.

USMNT legend Clint Dempsey honored by Fulham

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Fulhamerica is still going strong.

After announcing his retirement in August, U.S. men’s national team legend Clint Dempsey has been lauded for his contribution to the game.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Fulham Football Club were the latest to celebrate the Nacogdoches, Texas native, with Dempsey, 35, coming onto the pitch at half time of their Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday.

Dempsey played for the Cottagers from 2007-12 and scored 60 in 232 appearances in all competitions. He led Fulham to the final of the UEFA Europa League in 2009-10 where they lost to Atletico Madrid after extra time. Dempsey scored more Premier League goals than any other Fulham player and any other American in PL history.

His status as a Fulham legend remains, with their current American owner, Shahid Khan, cementing the American connection, plus Tim Ream and Luca De La Torre in the first team squad continue the strong U.S. link for the Cottagers.

The forward was appreciative of the welcome he received back in west London. Take a look at the scene as Dempsey was celebrated at the Cottage.