Jovetic, Negredo still in sights for Manchester City’s striker-thin squad

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For one day in South Africa, fears the Jesus Navas purchase would cost Samir Nasri playing time seemed ill-placed, with the French international starting up top with Edin Dzeko as Manchester City lost Manuel Pellegrini’s Sunday debut, 2-0 to Supersport United. Of course, Nasri is not a forward and is not going to be a forward, but with only Sergio Agüero joining Dzeko among Pellegrini’s current striking options, Nasri was pressed into action for City’s match in Pretoria.

It’s a situation that should be rectified very soon, with the problem so pressing that Pellegrini’s willing to speak publicly about City’s obvious needs:

“It’s difficult to say a date, but before July finishes I think we will have more players,” he said after the loss . “We are not in a hurry to bring them in now but we are clear that we need two or three more players. I said before we came to South Africa that we needed to play for each position and I’m sure that we will have it.”

In terms of actual targets, that means the Álvaro Negredo connection may still be alive and well, but as The Guardian reported today, that also means a player like Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic (pictured) could also make his way to Eastlands. And just like Negredo, the 23-year-old Montenegrin possesses a unique profile which means he’ll be able to mesh well with both of Manchester City’s incumbent forwards.

Jovetic has the ability to be effective across the with of the defense, one who can thrive underneath Agüero, Dzeko or Negredo, serving as a playmaking presence the likes of David Silva, Navas, Fernandinho and Yaya Touré can play to while Jovetic’s partner plays closer to goal. Because he can be effective cutting in from wide, he’s not somebody who will clash when Agüero or Negredo wants to drop, and with his skill on the counter, Jovetic will allow Pellegrini to play an opportunistic style he at times prefers in big games.

With that kind of profile, it’s no wonder prices around Jovetic were around $45 million in late spring, when he was linked with Arsenal. Since then, the summer’s proved to be more of a seller’s market than originally anticipated. If Fiorentina ever wants to maximize their return on Jovetic, there’s no better time than now, particularly after Mario Gomez’s arrival.

For City, those type of prices are unlikely to dissuade them. Instead, the priority will be getting their new boss the pieces he’s requested. If the Citizens end the summer with Agüero, Dzeko, Jovetic, and Negredo, Pellegrini can have no complaints.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”