Roberto Mancini out as manager at Manchester City

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This certainly had the feel of “foregone conclusion,” didn’t it?

Roberto Mancini is out as Manchester City manager – to the surprise of absolutely no one.

A meager title defense, an early Champions League crash and Saturday’s FA Cup waste was too much for City’s Abu Dhabi owners.

Mancini had lately been hurt that club officials more or less refused to knock down the stories of his imminent dismissal – which began circulating in force the morning of Saturday’s FA Cup final. If there was already so much “smoke,” so to speak, the “fire” was definitely going to arrive once Wigan somehow pulled off the Wembley smash and grab on Saturday, leaving City officials with no titles for the year, and with little apparent doubt that Mancini was no longer the right man for the job.

Sure enough, the ax swung late Monday.

The statement from club management was quite to the point, emphasizing that the Italian manager “had failed to achieve any of the club’s targets, with the exception of qualification for next season’s Champions League.”

Well, there was that English Premier League title a year back, City’s only crown in England’s top tier for the last 44 years. Oh, and that FA Cup in 2011. But, details, details.

City’s championship defense in 2012-13 did sometimes look like weak sauce of the meek, pretty much kaput by February. Meanwhile, crosstown rival United attacked the task of reclaiming EPL glory with the fierce determination of wounded animals. Then again, Mancini’s men will finish second or perhaps third in the world’s most ballyhooed league; it’s not like they were stuffed back in coach class with Southampton and Sunderland and the like.

Mancini certainly brought some of this on himself. Given the wealth of talent and a year for settling into the Champions League groove (the 2011-12 campaign), finishing dead last in the group stage of the world’s most prestigious club tournament was surely quite an embarrassment for Sheikh Mansour, whose oil money seemed in almost limitless supply.

Or it did to some of us. Not so much to Mancini, who damaged his standing with ownership by publicly and repeatedly suggesting that he was somehow fighting with the shorter stick – a truly absurd and perhaps even entitled suggestion. There are 17 or 18 EPL clubs that would do anything to have City’s collection of talent, top to bottom on the roster.

Nor did Mancini assist his cause with his media interactions, which ranged from cumbersome (often due to his English language limitations) to downright bizarre.

In the end, City fans, players around the Etihad and members of the chattering class may judge this as “unfair,” and the cold calculation of his dismissal may not bathe the oil-moneyed owners in most flattering light. But backlash will be minimal, if there is any at all, because Mancini hardly comes across as a sympathetic character.

The speculation has centered on Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini as Mancini’s replacement at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Check back for more on this at ProSoccerTalk.

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).

Dalic: In one day, Croatia went from lucky to unlucky

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Ante Cacic’s Croatia was on pace to miss out on the World Cup.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia rallied the troops to second place in their qualifying group, a playoff defeat of Greece, and a run to the World Cup Final.

Pretty decent stuff.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

And surely the 51-year-old will reflect on that, probably even this evening, but he’s more focused on a letdown after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to highly-favored France.

Key to the match was a penalty awarded to France when a partially-obscured Mario Mandzukic handled a ball inside the 18, leading to Antoine Griezmann’s pivotal goal.

The PK was awarded via VAR, and France went up 2-1 en route to a three-goal lead. From the AFP:

“I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“It in no way diminishes France’s win. We were a bit unlucky. Maybe in the first six games we were favored by luck and today we weren’t.

“I have to congratulate my players. Maybe today we played our best game at these championships. Against such a strong side as France you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we must also be proud of what we’ve done.”

Croatia had two-thirds of the ball and doubled France’s shot attempts, and Dalic isn’t the least bit controversial in wondering whether the match is much different if that penalty goes unawarded by referee Nestor Pitana.

Atlanta comes back to draw 10-man Seattle (video)

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A scrappy if not downright venomous affair between the lowly Seattle Sounders and high-flying Atlanta United ended in a 1-1 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

The Sounders went ahead through a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick, awarded via VAR a la this morning’s World Cup Final, but Atlanta leveled the score with a highlight which show every bit of the game story.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Just check Josef Martinez’s barking at Stefan Frei, who made an uncharacteristic error on the play, after his 19th goal of the season (Nice cross, Julian Gressel).

Martinez needs nine more goals to break the MLS single season record, and he has 13 games to score them.

Jordan McCrary was sent off for Seattle in the 63rd minute for a second yellow, but Seattle navigated the final half hour or so to scoop up an unlikely point.

Atlanta still sits first with its earned point but opens the door for New York City FC to reach the top of the table when it plays its match-in-hand, while Seattle is now 11 points back of the West’s final playoff spot.

Anderson arrives: Can Pellegrini unlock West Ham’s potential?

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West Ham United has sealed another impressive deal, adding $48 million winger Felipe Anderson from Lazio.

It’s a club record deal from the Irons, whose ambitions have been short-circuited in recent seasons by stop-start play under Slaven Bilic and David Moyes.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Now Manuel Pellegrini is in charge, and has made a series of purchases including Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Issa Diop, and Jack Wilshere amongst others.

Anderson was fantastic for Lazio last season, though he was part of a loaded attack with Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, and Sergej Malinkovic-Savic.

Now the challenge is gelling quickly inside a short window. As we’ve seen in the past with markedly changed mid-table sides — see: Everton’s 2017-18 season — hitting the ground running is key.

Players have been convinced of West Ham’s ambition. Here’s the latest, Anderson, from WHUFC.com:

“West Ham is a club with a lot of tradition, lots of great players have played here, like Bobby Moore, Carlos Tevez and Di Canio. They were great players and idols here, and I’m aiming big, who knows, maybe I could hit their heights and be a legend here too.”

But turning that into on-field success and in-room culture has been a challenge. The move to London Stadium didn’t help, and managerial instability has been anything but a boon to the Irons. There have been plenty of self-inflicted wounds, too.

West Ham’s lineup could be frightening, even in the face of injuries to Andy Carroll (surprise!) and Winston Reid. But managing egos new and old is a challenge, which is why the Pellegrini hire could be a masterstroke.

Consider this possible XI from Pellegrini, who largely operated his Manchester City with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with two holding/defensive/deep-lying center midfielders (There have been rumors West Ham could sell Cheikhou Kouyate).

There are a lot of options for Pellegrini’s front four. Anderson and Yarmolenko both prefer right wing, while Arnautovic likes the left but has proven adept as a center forward if Pellegrini becomes the latest manager to eschew the idea of Javier Hernandez up top. Manuel Lanzini‘s injury does seem to put Wilshere in the No. 10 role.

Fabianski

Fredericks — Diop — Balbuena — Masuaku

Obiang — Kouyate

Anderson — Wilshere — Yarmolenko

Arnautovic

So the ingredients are there, with Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Zabaleta, and Jordan Hugill joining Chicharito in keeping training competitive.

But Pellegrini will have to navigate a culture that saw a seedy finish to the season, with protests and ugly incidents amongst supporters and players on the field in London.

And he does seem the man for the job. But if he can’t do it… well, stay tuned.