Manchester projects stutter for Guardiola, Mourinho

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MANCHESTER — The struggle in Manchester is real.

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When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived last summer amid much fanfare the soccer world expected a rivalry rivaling Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in England’s northern powerhouse.

Yeah. About that…

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Guardiola’s Manchester City sit in fourth place with five games to go, one place and one point ahead of Manchester United. They were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League and lost in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend.

Pep’s “total football” approach has hit more than a few snags.

These two teams were supposed to challenge for the title this season but after spending a combined total of almost $400 million on new players they have one trophy between them (United won the EFL Cup) and are scrambling to qualify for the Champions League.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

Both managers are big enough names that they will be given plenty more time, and plenty more money, to solve their problems. But if they don’t start the 2017-18 season well then the pressure will mount quickly. Even for these two managerial heavyweights.

When it comes to Pep’s revolution at City he knows the teething problems have been present throughout the season. City have blown teams away when everything clicks but so often, especially at home, it hasn’t. City have drawn seven games at home this season and only United (9) have drawn more in front of their own fans.

Both managers are building bases tentatively but needed extra impetus to help the missing pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

Speaking to the media after the game, Guardiola was downbeat despite his team seemingly in the driving seat for a top four finish ahead of their crosstown rivals.

“We have tried not just today but all of the season to monopolize the ball. Maybe it is a little bit of a Latin style. I don’t know what it is here in England but we tried to have the ball and attack,” Guardiola said. “Of course you can not expect against a team which is 23 games in a row unbeaten. That means they are good in defense and offensive and create not a thousand, million chances but 15 shots but not on target. It was not enough. We played to win the game. We tried. But again we are not able and we have to look why we were not able to win again. It is one point. The big fight will be until the Watford game.”

Between now and City’s final game of the season they will dominate possession in most, if not all, games but lacking that killer instinct has been their main problem. Gabriel Jesus‘ arrival at the end of this game provides Guardiola hope that the Brazilian teenager can provide a spark. City are arguably further along in their project than Untied but with fit again Vincent Kompany helping to improve Guardiola’s defense in recent weeks, in attack both have struggled.

City and United are the lowest scorers in the top six and United have scored just 50 times this season.

That said, the main problem for United in recent weeks has been injuries (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo out for the season, joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the sidelines) which have compounded their own ability to not finish teams off as a league-high 13 draws has Mourinho wondering what if.

United’s run to the Europa League semifinals has provided Mourinho with a “get out of jail free” card as they’re favorites to win Europe’s second-tier tournament and qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the backdoor. Fans of the Red Devils sing about Jose making them play “the United way” but the chant has become halfhearted and hollow recently.

United are 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League, the longest run in Europe’s top five leagues and they’ve equaled their longest ever unbeaten run in a top-flight campaign.

It doesn’t feel like it though.

Mourinho’s men recorded just 30.8 percent possession on Thursday, their lowest total since Opta started recording that metric in 2003. United are not a fun team to watch right now but they’re grinding out results until Mourinho can find a long-term solution to have them back among the elite. Until then he has the huge number of games they’ve played this season and their long injury list to blame.

“We will fight until the end – today we lost two more players – Timothy Fosu-Mensah had an important injury in the last action of the game and Fellani is suspended,” Mourinho said. “We are going down in terms of the number of players. It is very difficult for us but the character is amazing and I’m very proud of the boys.”

The feel-good factor wasn’t there on both sides of the Manchester divide at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite their pedigree Guardiola and Mourinho have plenty to prove to both sets of supporters as the two most successful and talented managers of their generation are finding that Manchester is not their heaven.

Not yet anyway.

These projects are very much a work in progress and when they next meet in July in preseason in the USA both clubs will have new players, a fresh start and more sky-high targets to reach.

The managers of City and United will be the same next season but they’ll both be under that much more pressure after a stuttering start to life in what was supposed to be a new era of Manchester becoming the soccer Mecca of the world.

Guardiola and Mourinho leave close to each other and this week Guardiola revealed the duo say hello and share pleasantries when they meet on the street.

They shouldn’t expect the same niceties from the general public in Manchester for much longer if trophies and title challenges don’t materialize.

Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny to have offseason knee surgery

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Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will undergo knee surgery this offseason, but he will be available for the final match of the season against Sampdoria, manager Massimiliano Allegri confirmed on Saturday.

The Polish international has been the first-choice goalkeeper for much of the year for Juve, but has occasionally ceded time to 26-year-old Mattia Perin.

Allegri said that Szczesny will need “keyhole surgery,” likely another term for an arthroscopy, lending belief that he is either struggling with a torn meniscus or just generally needs his knee cleaned out. Given that speculation, it’s unlikely the surgery will cause him to miss any time at the start of next season. The 29-year-old has been a warrior for most of his career, staying clear of serious injuries throughout his time with both Arsenal and Juventus.

Juve has already confirmed its ninth straight Serie A title, but the club has limped down the stretch of the season, without a win over its last four matches. Prior to the late-season slide, Szczesny had been the goalkeeper to secure the best results, with Perin between the sticks for both of Juve’s two losses on the year and Szczesny dropping just four points all season, but the Polish international has been the one in goal for the four-game slide that includes three draws and a loss.

Allegri also announced that Cristiano Ronaldo will be held out of the season finale on Sunday and will not make the trip with the squad for the road game, instead resting for international duty this summer. “It is right for others to play now,” Allegri said.

“After that, we can all go to the beach, I’ve been told to put sun cream on my head. Now let’s go for a drink,” Allegri said, joking about his extremely short hair to end the press conference.

PSG extends manager Thomas Tuchel through 2021

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No wonder Thomas Tuchel was in such a jovial mood regarding his job security yesterday.

Paris Saint-Germain announced on Saturday that it has handed manager Thomas Tuchel a one-year contract extension, pushing the expiration of his contract to the summer of 2021. The addition extends his initial two-year deal he signed last summer when he joined the club after leaving Borussia Dortmund.

The news is somewhat surprising given that Tuchel had come under fire for PSG’s struggles down the stretch of the season, first with the club’s elimination from the Champions League in the Round of 16, and then for the failures down the stretch of the domestic campaign. It took weeks to formally clinch the league title as the team skidded through April, and the club fell to Stade Rennes in the final of the Coupe de France. Still, according to a number of reports, the deal was signed back in March making the end to the season irrelevant.

The German boss was able to joke about his future after PSG’s season-ending defeat to Stade de Reims on Friday, laughing at reporters who asked about his job security heading into the summer, “Honestly, I am worried… I get the impression that everybody knows something that I do not!”

Less than 24 hours later, news of his extension was official. “The entire Paris Saint-Germain family is delighted to see Thomas Tuchel extend his contract ,” said PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. “For a year now, Thomas has been bringing fantastic energy every day, not only to players, but to the entire club.”

Ultimately, PSG won the Ligue 1 crown handily, ending the season with a 16-point cushion. The first half of the season was an unmitigated success, starting the league season on a 14-match winning streak and not suffering a single loss until early February. They also performed well in the Champions League, losing just once in a very difficult Group C that featured Liverpool, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade. The costly slip came against Manchester United where they fell 3-1 in the second leg at home despite a 2-1 first-leg advantage.

Tuchel’s extension also comes with its head-scratchers, as the German was critical of club hierarchy after Friday’s defeat. He hit out at the front office for allowing Neymar to leave the club early to join up with the Brazilian national team, with the 27-year-old suspended for the final match of the year. “No, Neymar has not been released,” Tuchel said when asked about Neymar’s absence from the squad. “In any case, he has not by me. It is not a sporting thing, so I do not know. You will have to ask the club.”

“Correct, this season has had its problems,” Tuchel continued later. “The goal moving forward has to be to stay more focused. That goes for the team, as well as the club. We must be stricter and pull in the same direction to achieve our goals.”

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

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Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

LA Galaxy moves third in West with 1-0 win over Orlando

Associated Press
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A Jonathan dos Santos howitzer was enough to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 win over Orlando City at home to move them into third place in the Western Conference standings.

The win not only boosted the Galaxy back up the standings but also stopped a brutal four-game losing skid that had threatened to erase the fabulous winning start to the season. It marks the club’s first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Minnesota United in late April.

The winner came in the 19th minute, a blast for his second goal of the season and first since mid March.

The clean sheet did not come easily. Dave Bingham stopped a Nani penalty in the 32nd minute after dos Santos tackled Sebastian Mendez in the area. Perry Kitchen – off the bench for his 2019 debut – was on hand to clear off the line after Bingham whiffed on a 68th minute Sacha Kljestan cross, while Bingham came up big three minutes later to stop a header by Chris Mueller off a corner.

Los Angeles’s victory moves them to 25 points, one behind Seattle who has a game in hand, and two ahead of Houston who has played three fewer games. For Orlando, they remain on 15 points, good for 10th in the East.