Why Guardiola’s arrival means Man City will join the elite

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The biggest secret in the soccer world is out.

Pep Guardiola, 45, will be Manchester City’s head coach for the 2016-17 Premier League season with the Spanish coach signing a three-year deal.

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The news broke on Monday, as Transfer Deadline Day was dominated first by the rather nonchalant and typically classy announcement from Manuel Pellegrini that he would leave City at the end of this season and moments later Guardiola was named as City’s new boss.

Already an aura of invincibility is surrounding City with the appointment of the former Barcelona and current Bayern Munich confirmed.

Before we get in to the nuts and bolts of how and why Pep will push City into the elite of European and World soccer, a word must be reserved for Pellegrini. A banner has been held up by Man City fans of a smiling Pellegrini under the words “This Charming Man” which is a reference to The Smiths and their song of the same name.

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Pellegrini, 62, is charming and has been a breath of fresh air in the PL over the last two-and-a-half-years. The Chilean boss arrived from Malaga with plenty to prove but delivered a PL title and a League Cup in his debut season in England, finished second last season and City has a real chance of completing a quadruple this campaign. All three seasons they have made it into the UEFA Champions League knockout stages — something they’d never achieved before — and when we look back at his time in charge, his class, grace and ability to manufacture a team who play silky, attractive soccer will be at the forefront of our minds. He won’t find it hard to get a top job this summer.

When Guardiola takes over from Pellegrini in July, he will be taking charge of a team in very good shape thanks to the astute Chilean coach and his staff. The likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are all approaching or are years away from their prime and the man who made his name at Barca is well known for producing teams who press high up the pitch and pass the opposition to death.

That ideology fits in very well with the players City possess — it will need some tweaking, here and there — and if Vincent Kompany can stay fit and a few defensive additions can arrive, City will not only thrive in the PL under Pep but also in Europe. City have won two PL titles in the last three years but conquering Europe is the main aim and employing a man who has dominated in Spain and Germany during his coaching career makes perfect sense.

There’s no secret that getting Guardiola to the Etihad Stadium has been City’s long-term plan to do just that. Getting Guardiola on board is a once in a generation opportunity.

Pep Guardiola , Philipp Lahm

Back in 2012 the Abu Dhabi-based owners placed Catalan duo Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain in charge of the soccer side of the club as directors mainly due to their close links with Guardiola whom they worked with at Barcelona. That factor was a huge bonus in fending off interest in Pep from Manchester United and Chelsea who are both now looking over their shoulder enviously towards the Etihad.

In the actual news release on Monday, City confirmed negotiations with Pep were well under way back in 2012 before he decided to take a sabbatical and then join Bayern Munich. Getting Guardiola on board was part of the master plan and he can take them to the next level. Make no mistake, the initial deal may be for three years but we are now talking about a man that City want to be the figurehead of one of the greatest soccer dynasties the world has ever seen.

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They have the facilties at their world class City Football Academy and the Etihad, they have the huge financial input from Sheikh Mansour and now they have the best coach on the planet.

What is perhaps the most exciting aspect of luring Pep to the Premier League is not only how he will nurture and get the best out of City’s hugely talented current squad, but who else he may entice to join him. Lionel Messi flourished under Guardiola and if the Argentina superstar ever fancies a move away from the Nou Camp then it would be to link up with his old boss at City. Sure, it would be the most expensive deal in history but it could happen with Guardiola in charge.

Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are other names from Guardiola’s dominant Barca teams who could arrive, and then there’s the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Phillip Lahm at Bayern Munich. His work as a coach doesn’t suit every player and he’s known to be demanding and controlling but boy, does it get results. In his six-and-a-half campaigns as a coach Guardiola has won 19 of the 30 competitions he’s challenged for. That’s an incredible 63 percent success rate.

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He has delivered trophies wherever he has coached and now he has the chance to deliver a glut of titles to a club who have been desperately building up to this moment and now aim to dominate the global game with not only their financial power off the pitch but their play on nit.

No player in the world wouldn’t want to work with Pep. City can afford pretty much every player in the world. And sooner rather than later they will become one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Pep meshes everything together and the announcement he’s arriving comes after years of hard ground work being laid to finally get their man.

City have been close to joining the elite clubs on the planet for some time. With Guardiola’s arrival, they’ve finally done it.

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

‘I’m very happy for this’: Jimenez becomes Wolves all-time leading PL goalscorer

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Raul Jimenez has carved his name in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ history books.

“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, to the staff, to the coach, because without all of them, I can’t achieve this goal,” Jimenez said following Wolves’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Southampton on Saturday.

Just minutes earlier, in front of a fervent stand of Wolves supporters at St. Mary’s Stadium, Jimenez scored his 23rd Premier League goal for Midlands side, becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League era. The Mexican surpasses Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals, which stood since 2012.

“I’m very happy for this, and I want to keep scoring,” he added.

With Wolves disputing Europa League qualifying matches in August, the 28-year-old began to build early on what is now a monstrous campaign – 19 goals and 9 assist in throughout all competitions. Half a year down the road, there are no signs of Jimenez’s magic running out. In fact, his brace against the Saints is clearest indicator of why that’s the case.

With his divine hold up play, well-calculated pressing and hunger for redemption, Jimenez emotionally inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side comeback. And in the 65th minute, his trademark penalty overturned a two-goal deficit, turning emotional to physical inspiration.

“[Coming back] was very important for us after a very bad first half,” he told Wolves reporters following the match.

Jimenez was full of praise for his team’s collective grit. He lauded his team’s “fantastic” second half – full of pressing and chances created. The tactic alterations implemented by Nuno Espirito Santo influenced Adama Traore’s run that led to Jimenez’s third and winning goal.

“In the end, we know that it depends on us – what we want to do, what we want to achieve. So, we need to keep going until the last minute. Keep trying to score, keep going with our football that makes us Wolves.”

We now know that Jimenez is Wolves’ all-time Premier League goalscorer, too.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

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The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”