Manchester City’s title hopes all but over. Where has it gone wrong?

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Manchester City will not win the Premier League in 2014-15. There. I’ve said it.

[ RECAP – Palace 2-1 City ]

The reigning PL champions have crumbled from being two points behind Chelsea after 21 games of the season in early January, to being nine points behind and having played an extra match in the first week of April.

[ PLAYBACK: Wonder goals, 2015-16 title race ]

Just a year after winning the PL title, Manuel Pellegrini is on the chopping block after UEFA Champions League failure and the Citizens currently sit in fourth place after three defeats from their last five matches.

Here’s a look at why their title defense has fallen by the wayside this season.

Yaya Toure’s demise

Okay, he scored a beauty against Crystal Palace on Monday but his struggles have continued throughout the campaign as Toure simply looks like he doesn’t want to be there. Last season he finished as City’s top scorer in the PL with 20 goals but this campaign the Ivory Coast international has scored just seven goals in the PL and his demeanor reflects his reduced productivity. Toure doesn’t want to be around and at the age of 31, those rumors linking him with a move to Inter Milan this summer seem to be making sense. The highlight of his season was success at the African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast. Mentally, it appears that Toure has checked out as his and City’s season has been one to forget.

Pellegrini’s insistence to play 4-4-2

Another reason for City’s stumbling performances since January has been down to Pellegrini’s insistence to play 4-4-2 and start Sergio Aguero up top with Edin Dzeko. So often City have been outnumbered in midfield and that was the case once again on Monday as Crystal Palace used Joe Ledley, James McArthur and Jason Puncheon to overload Fernandinho and Toure in the middle.

Samir Nasri and Frank Lampard were on the bench against Palace and as so often has been the case in the past few weeks, why would you starve Aguero of chances when the Argentine is one of the most predatory forwards in the game? Maybe because he’s been injured for large chunks of the second half of the season and has been struggling, as the stat above suggests…

Kompany, Aguero’s rustiness since injury

In the final months of the season Aguero and Vincent Kompany haven’t been themselves. It is clear for everyone to see. After Aguero injured his knee in December, he hasn’t quite emerged as the same player as he has failed to score in his last five games for City after scoring 23 goals this season before that. As for Kompany, his steely leadership in the center of defense has been missing since he suffered a hamstring and calf injuries from December to January, as City have succumbed to Burnley and Crystal Palace away from home in two of their last three matches.

That resolve is missing from City’s side, as two of their leading men have failed to come up with the goods when their side has really needed it. City has now lost away at Liverpool, Burnley and Palace in their last three away matches and their ability for Kompany to come up with a big stop — he seems to have lost a yard of pace and sharpness since his injuries — and Aguero to find a finish late on, has dissipated. How much you can put that down to a month out from December to January is questionable, but their sharpness hasn’t quite been there as both guys are leaders and lynch-pins of the Citizens. A confusing incident occurred in the second half of City’s clash which summed it all up. Pellegrini was ready to sub off Kompany as the Belgian international seemed to be struggling with yet another injury, however he then waved away his Chilean boss and carried on. Kompany hasn’t been fully fit or at his best for quite some time and it has hurt City, badly.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola