Premier League Playback: Why Manchester City are throwing away the title

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PELLEGRINI’S PERSISTENCE WITH 4-4-2 ALL BUT ENDS TITLE CHARGE

Manchester City’s players stood on the pitch at the final whistle at Anfield on Sunday scratching their heads and looking to the heavens.

They had just lost 2-1 to Liverpool, as they look likely to slip eight-points behind Chelsea in the title race with  just 11 games to go. Sergio Aguero and Co. will probably be asking themselves the same questions many of us will be trying to answer on Monday: how can a team dripping with wonderfully talented players continue to stutter through games?

[ RELATED: Pellegrini gets tactics wrong vs. Barca ]

One explanation, and perhaps the most critical one, is that Manuel Pellegrini’s insistence to go with a 4-4-2 formation and leave his team short in midfield areas is causing so many issues. Against Barcelona last Tuesday, I watched on in amazement as Pellegrini went with two up front against one of the best possession based sides in world soccer and gave them an extra man in the middle to dictate the tempo of the game. Pellegrini then did the same against Liverpool on Sunday, another team who love to keep the ball and have defenders like Emre Can stepping into midfield to create overloaded situations. Playmakers Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were dragging City’s center backs Vincent Kompany (who again looked shaky) and Eliaquim Mangala all over the place as they didn’t have the numbers in midfield to quell Liverpool’s rapid attacks.

In the first half City coped with their numerical disadvantage in the middle relatively well, as Yaya Toure marauded forward and Fernandinho fought fires in front of City’s back four. But Fernandinho got tired and with Toure not pulling his weight defensively, along with Samir Nasri and David Silva in the second half, Liverpool pressed, pushed and harassed City (look at those numbers from Opta, above) until a moment of genius from Coutinho arrived to seal the win. Pellegrini argued after the match that two “beautiful goals” were the difference, yet his side recorded just one shot on goal (Edin Dzeko’s first half goal) which was there lowest total in any game so far this season. Liverpool’s strikes from Jordan Henderson and Coutinho were sublime, there’s no two ways about it. But the way Pellegrini is setting up his team against big sides who are able to keep the ball and punish slack play is bordering on naivety.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Playing two up front against teams like Newcastle, who City beat 5-0 last weekend, will often work. But against the top teams in the Premier League it does not work with the players they are using in the system. Nasri, Silva and Toure are all great going forward but won’t provide balance, defensively. Just look at City’s record against the top five this season. 1-1 draws home and away against Chelsea. A 2-0 defeat at home to Arsenal and a 2-2 draw away, beating 10-man Manchester United 1-0 at home and now splitting victories with Liverpool. A 4-3-3 formation with Silva given a free role in-behind Aguero is their best formation, and having one of James Milner or Jesus Navas on the wing means they will get at least one attacker willing to work back and help out defensively.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

When all is said and done at the end of the season, City’s fans, players and Pellegrini may have a horrible feeling of ‘what might have been.’ Chelsea have hardly been in sensational form of late, but City have failed to take advantage of that due to their own tactical naivety. Whether or not they have progressed since winning the title last season remains to be seen, but Pellegrini’s persistence to play two up front means he is piling unnecessary pressure on himself as Sheikh Mansour and the directors at City will have a big decision to make this summer as to who will be their manager next season.

Premier League Schedule – Week 27

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Everton Recap and watch here
Burnley 0-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Liverpool 2-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Man United 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Stoke 1-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-0 Saints Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here

CHELSEA CLINCH LEAGUE CUP BY SHUTTING DOWN SPURS

After City’s damaging defeat, it was a really good weekend for Chelsea even though they didn’t play in a PL match. The Blues now know they can go eight points clear of City in the title race by winning their game in hand, and on Sunday they lifted the first piece of silverware on offer in England for the 2014-15 season.

Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at Wembley to win the League Cup as Jose Mourinho celebrated the first trophy of his second spell in charge of Chelsea. It’s safe to say he thoroughly enjoyed this one, as it was his third League Cup success in charge of Chelsea and his first major title since he won La Liga with Real Madrid in 2012.

[ RELATED: Mourinho hails Zouma ]

Spurs started brighter with Christian Eriksen hitting the crossbar, but then the Blues ground out a typically resolute display with John Terry prodding home a goal right on half time and Diego Costa’s deflected shot just before the hour mark sealed the victory. As the rain poured down at Wembley Stadium in the second half, Spurs had the life sucked out of them by a Chelsea squad who often resemble ‘Dementors’ from the Harry Potters series. Mauricio Pochettino’s side dropped points at West Ham last Sunday, were knocked out of the Europa League by Fiorentina last Thursday and then succumbed to an oppressive Chelsea outfit.

Mourinho’s decision to replace suspended central midfielder Nemanja Matic with young French center back Kurt Zouma raised plenty of eyebrows. But it was a masterstroke. Zouma clogged up the area in front of Chelsea’s back four, stopping Harry Kane dropping deep and Eriksen getting on the ball. Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanvoic and Cesar Azpilicueta put in another assured defensive display but Mourinho reserved special praise for Zouma after the match, calling him “our Marcel Desailly” after the former Chelsea and French international star. High praise indeed, as Mourinho and his squad lifted the first of what should be many trophies this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Premier League title seems all but assured after City continue to stumble, but can the “Special One” deliver the Champions League to Stamford Bridge this season? That’s the next big challenge for his squad, as they will be buoyed by a victory parade around Wembley on Sunday and all the good vibes that brings. Plus, judging by the video above taken during the second half of the League Cup final, Mourinho seems pretty relaxed about everything…

LIVERPOOL’S “LITTLE MAGICIAN” CRUCIAL TO TOP FOUR HOPES

For the second Sunday running Coutinho delivered a stunning strike to set Liverpool on their way. The Reds are now unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches and have gone on a remarkable run since losing 3-0 to arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford back on December 14.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win ]

Now they are in fifth place, two points behind the Red Devils and just three points behind Arsenal in third. Liverpool looks unstoppable and Coutinho gives them the ‘X-factor” they have been lacking for most of the season. The 22-year-old Brazilian signed a new long-term deal last month and his incisive runs, trickery on the ball and sublime vision in and around the box means that although Luis Suarez is long gone, the Reds now look capable of carving open teams clinically with Daniel Sturridge back fit and Sterling also firing on all cylinders.

[ RELATED: Rodgers says top four is real possibility ]

Liverpool have the momentum and are the team to beat with eight wins from their last 10 matches. Just like last season, they are hitting peak form at the perfect time. They came up short in their pursuit of the title in 2013-14, but right now you’d be a brave man to bet against them finishing in the top this season. After their victory against Manchester City on Sunday, manager Brendan Rodgers claimed that if Liverpool finished fourth this season it would be a better achievement than finishing second last season.

It’s hard to argue with that, as Jordan Henderson smashed in a beauty to show he can ease the blow of Steven Gerrard’s impending departure, while Adam Lallana had the following to say about the crucial win.

“It’s a massive win for us, we’ve got momentum,” Lallana told Sky Sports afterwards. “They [Man City] are the champions and I thought we thoroughly deserved it today. They came back into it but the lads have got fighting spirit and the little magician [Coutinho] at the end coming up with another wonderful goal. With players like that, we are going to go far.”

MIDWEEK MADNESS – ARE YOU READY?

Above is the video recap from the eight games in Week 27 and on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, you will get pretty distracted during your afternoon’s at work as a full slate of PL matches is coming your way. It’s okay, I’m sure your boss will understand. After all, it’s the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every game via Live Extra ]

Above is the link to stream every game live online or on the app via Live Extra, and here’s five storylines to keep an eye on as the midweek madness ensues…

1. Can the Hammers bring Chelsea back down to earth?

2. Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United all face tough tests as top four race heats up

3. Will Saints snap back into life at home to Crystal Palace?

4. Relegation battles, local pride – Aston Villa vs. West Brom, Hull vs. Sunderland

5. USMNT battle at the Britannia – Geoff Cameron vs. Tim Howard

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

FA Cup: Manchester City edge out Arsenal in first meeting of season

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Nathan Ake scored the only goal in a tight, cagey affair as Manchester City edged out Arsenal to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Friday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The two sides, who currently sit 1st (Arsenal – 50 points) and 2nd (Manchester City – 45 points) in the Premier League table, are yet to face another amid their ongoing title race. Friday’s cup tie was merely a table-setter for the main course(s) still to come over the PL’s final four months, but an instructive table-setter, for sure.

Premier League clash no. 1 is set for Wednesday, Feb. 15 at Emirates Stadium in north London, with the return fixture at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, April 26.

As for the FA Cup tie, there was precious little to separate the sides aside from a single touch off the inside of Ake’s right foot in the 64th minute.

Manchester City will return to Premier League action when they visit Tottenham next Sunday (Feb. 5, 11:30 am ET), more than 24 hours after Arsenal visit Everton on Saturday (7:30 am ET). The Gunners can go eight points clear before the two-time defending champions next take the field.

Manchester City vs Arsenal
Photo: FotMob.com

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

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Manchester City vs Arsenal, FA Cup fourth round: How to watch live, stream link

Kick off: 3pm ET, Friday
TV Channel: ESPN+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & in-form players to watch 

The main storyline is easy: this is the first time we’ll see red-hot Arsenal test its mettle against the Premier League’s gold, er, silverware standard.

Arsenal will have a chance to run at Man City’s back line with Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah, and more, though there’s be even more juice in this match-up if Gabriel Jesus was healthy. Ex-City man Oleksandr Zinchenko may be ready for this reunion, too.

City’s won four-straight match-ups with Arsenal, but the last Gunners win came in… the 2019-20 FA Cup, when Arsenal knocked off the holders. That’s a top, top recent memory for the club, a North London outfit who will hope its a harbinger of what’s to come later this season. Plus, there’s silverware in play here, too, you know?!?

Will Pep Guardiola start Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne? Man City’s next game isn’t until Feb. 5 versus Tottenham, but Guardiola may not want to give Mikel Arteta’s men a taste of the duo with a huge Premier League encounter looming Feb. 15 at the Emirates Stadium.


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

Man City is pretty healthy and should be able to deploy whoever Pep Guardiola wants to see against Arsenal, though we know the Catalan wizard is sometimes careful with what he does in cup competitions against Premier League rivals.

Arsenal team news, injuries, lineup options

Gabriel Jesus will not be available to compete against his former club, while Reiss Nelson and Mohamed Elneny are unlikely to play.

2024 Copa America to be played in USA

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The United States will host the 2024 Copa America, which will once again feature six guest nations as part of a new “strategic collaboration agreement” announced by CONMEBOL and CONCACAF on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Christian Pulisic wanted by AC Milan ]

Copa America last came to the U.S., in the summer of 2016 for Copa America Centenario, the 100-year celebration of the South American championship.

Back in 2016, the USMNT and Mexico were not required to qualify for the tournament, but the CONCACAF giants will not be given an automatic bid to Copa America 2024. They will also be forced to qualify as one of six CONCACAF through the 2023-24 Nations League. Previously, the other four bids from CONCACAF were awarded via various regional tournaments and and qualifying playoffs.

[ MORE: USMNT falls to Serbia in 2023 opener ]

The CONMEBOL-CONCACAF partnership also extends to the women’s game, where the Gold Cup is being revamped.

2024 CONCACAF W[omen’s] Gold Cup will include eight CONCACAF women’s national teams and four CONMEBOL guests

For women’s national teams, CONCACAF has invited the top four CONMEBOL national teams to participate in the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The inaugural edition of this 12-team tournament, which is a key part of CONCACAF’s new women’s national team ecosystem, will be played in the United States.

The two Concacaf teams that will participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics (United States and Jamaica or Canada) will qualify directly for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. The remaining six Concacaf teams will be determined through the 2023 Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup.


2024 Copa America: What does it mean for USMNT?

First things first, it means playing more high-level, competitive games between World Cups. The USMNT has faced the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other South American nations in friendlies over the years, but as things stand their only competitive fixtures come against CONCACAF competition — the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.

The timing of the tournament is beneficial for all national teams involved as well, at the halfway point to the 2026 World Cup — also set to be hosted in the United States (and Mexico and Canada) — just as EURO 2024 is the halfway marker for European nations. The 2023 Gold Cup is still on the schedule for this summer, with the final to be played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Only time will tell if the combined Copa America will become the new norm in the Americas, but given what we know about the profitability of international soccer, there will certainly be a “cross your fingers and hope all goes well” vibe in 2024.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Report: Everton to appoint Sean Dyche as next manager

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Sean Dyche is set to be appointed as the new manager at Everton, replacing Frank Lampard, as the Toffees prepare for a potential relegation battle for the second straight season.

[ MORE: Report: Everton put up for sale by Farhad Moshiri, asking $615 million ]

An official announcement is expected from the club on Friday. The former Burnley boss has been out of work since the Clarets fired Dyche after nearly 10 years last April. Burnley were, of course, relegated from the Premier League anyway.

Marcelo Bielsa was reportedly the first manager contacted by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri, who’s looking to sell the club now as well, but the former Leeds boss declined the opportunity to wade into a relegation battle with a club currently unable to further invest in the first-team squad, whether that be this January or in the summer.

[ MORE: Premier League scheduleMidseason grades ]

After 20 of 38 games played this season, Everton (15 points) sit 19th in the Premier League table, ahead of last-place Southampton by five goals in the goal difference column. The good news: two points is all that separates them from safety in 17th place (Wolves). Furthermore, three points is all that stands in between Everton and 14th-place Leicester.


When did things begin to go wrong for Everton?

At the time of Rafa Benitez’s appointment in the summer of 2021, you had to go back to nearly the turn of the millennium to find a manager who 1) managed Everton for more than 40 games (all competitions), and 2) had a win percentage below 40 percent. David Moyes (42.05), Roberto Martinez (42.86), Ronaldo Koeman (41.38), Marco Silva (40.00) and Carlo Ancelotti (46.27) all matched or eclipsed the mark between the spring of 2002 and Benitez’s arrival.

Benitez’s tenure was generally viewed as an unmitigated disaster by Everton fans who were unhappy at the former Liverpool manager being hired in the first place. His win percentage (in just 22 games) was 31.82, a steep drop from his predecessors.

Lampard went a few points better worse than Benitez, checking in at 27.91. Going all the way back to the founding of the Football League in 1888, only one manager has produced a lower win percentage than Lampard in at least 40 games managed. Howard Kendall, like Lampard, lasted less than a full year from 1997-98, with a 26.19 win percentage.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

FA Cup fourth round schedule, how to watch live, predictions

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The FA Cup always delivers shocks and plenty of Premier League clubs have tricky tasks facing them in the fourth round.

After Aston Villa, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth were all knocked out by lower league opponents in round three, plus Everton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Brentford knocked out by fellow Premier League sides, there are only 11 top-flight teams left in the last 32.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores, updates ]

The fourth-round draw’s already been conducted and Arsenal will tangle with Manchester City in a tantalizing tie, while Brighton against Liverpool has the makings of a classic and Manchester United will be on upset alert against Reading and so too will West Ham as they face a tough trip to third-tier Derby County.

Read on for FA Cup stream info, fixtures, and predictions.


FA Cup live scores, schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Fourth round (January 27-30)
Times: Below
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: ESPN+


FA Cup fourth round schedule

All games 10am ET unless otherwise stated

Friday
Man City vs Arsenal – 3pm ET

Saturday
Accrington Stanley vs Leeds United – 7:30am ET
Walsall vs Leicester City – 7:30am ET
Fulham vs Sunderland
Bristol City vs West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers vs Birmingham City
Luton Town vs Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town vs Burnley
Southampton vs Blackpool
Preston North End vs Tottenham Hotspur – 1pm ET
Manchester United vs Reading – 3pm ET

Sunday
Brighton vs Liverpool – 8:30am ET
Stoke City vs Stevenage – 9am ET
Wrexham vs Sheffield United – 11:30am ET

Monday
Derby County vs West Ham – 2:45pm ET


FA Cup fourth round predictions – By Joe Prince-Wright

Friday
Man City 2-1 Arsenal

Saturday
Accrington Stanley 1-3 Leeds United
Walsall 1-2 Leicester City
Fulham 1-2 Sunderland
Bristol City 1-2 West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Birmingham City
Luton Town 3-1 Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town 1-3 Burnley
Southampton 2-0 Blackpool
Preston North End 1-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United 2-1 Reading

Sunday
Brighton 2-2 Liverpool
Stoke City 2-1 Stevenage
Wrexham 1-2 Sheffield United

Monday
Derby County 1-1 West Ham


FA Cup third round replays

Tuesday 

Swansea City 1-2 (AET) Bristol City
Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Birmingham City (original tie postponed due to waterlogged pitch)
Wigan 1-2 Luton
Wolves 0-1 Liverpool
West Brom 4-0 Chesterfield

Wednesday

Leeds United 5-2 Cardiff City

Tuesday, January 24

Accrington Stanley vs Boreham Wood


FA Cup third round results

Friday

Manchester United 3-1 Everton

Saturday

Preston North End 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Reading 2-0 Watford
Tottenham 1-0 Portsmouth
Gillingham 0-1 Leicester City
Forest Green Rovers vs Birmingham City — PPD
Crystal Palace 1-2 Southampton
Hull City 0-2 Fulham
Middlesbrough 1-5 Brighton
Fleetwood Town 2-1 QPR
Ipswich Town 4-1 Rotherham
Bournemouth 2-4 Burnley
Blackpool 4-1 Nottingham Forest
Chesterfield 3-3 West Brom
Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United
Boreham Wood 1-1 Accrington Stanley
Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Sunderland
Brentford 0-1 West Ham
Coventry City 3-4 Wrexham
Luton Town 1-1 Wigan
Grimsby Town 1-0 Burton Albion
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-2 Wolves

Sunday

Bristol City 1-1 Swansea City
Derby County 3-0 Barnsley
Cardiff City 2-2 Leeds
Stockport 1-2 Walsall
Hartlepool 0-3 Stoke City
Norwich 0-1 Blackpool
Aston Villa 1-2 Stevenage
Man City 4-0 Chelsea

Monday

Oxford United 0-3 Arsenal