Man City make statement, rip Sarri-ball apart

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MANCHESTER — This is exactly why Manchester City hired Pep Guardiola.

This is not why Chelsea hired Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Two coaches revered for their fluid, attacking philosophies squared off and both would rather quit the game than alter their playing styles. One of them may have to do that very soon, and it’s not Guardiola…

Guardiola didn’t get a handshake from Sarri at the final whistle as the Italian coach, someone who Guardiola respects greatly, had his trousers pulled down and was thoroughly embarrassed. He later explained he didn’t see Guardiola because he wanted to get down the tunnel as quick as he could.

As swashbuckling as City’s display was, Chelsea’s defensive ineptitude could lead to time being called swiftly on Sarri-ball at Stamford Bridge. City’s fans sung “You need Mourinho!” to taunt Chelsea. It’s not that bad, but it’s getting there.

Guardiola’s City set the tone from the first second, as Raheem Sterling‘s opener arrived with less than four minutes on the clock and you could feel a hammering was on. City are now top of the Premier League table and have a +10 goal differential compared to Liverpool. City have played one more game than Liverpool, but the latter’s game in hand is away at Manchester United on Feb. 24.

“The players who make a good performance continue, and the players who don’t rest,” Guardiola said. “That is the only way we can assure we maintain the level. We cannot deny we are competing against Tottenham and Liverpool, and they have made their best start ever in their own history. Liverpool have a trophy room which is a little bit bigger, not a little bit, much bigger than us. This is their best start and we are still in there. That means a lot for all of us.”

Guardiola believes the title race will go down to the final game of the season, and has hinted at City frustrating Liverpool by still being in the hunt.

“We are there, we are leaders but Liverpool has one more game. My feeling is it is going to finish on the last games. After what we have done last season, being there, that is where I am proud and most satisfied. Normally the people drop, fall down after what we have done last season. Still we are there, and that is nice. Really nice.”

City were sensational, but nobody expected Chelsea to be this bad and their players so disinterested.

The same pattern is emerging at Chelsea as it did under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, with the players clearly downing tools. This time it has happened just six months into Sarri’s debut season.

The core of this squad won the league under Mourinhho and Conte, but in Sarri’s first year they look totally disinterested in playing his style and it is tough to see how they can come back from this drubbing.

Some days you have to hold your hands up and applaud City’s brilliance, but the way Chelsea imploded suggests there are huge problems behind-the-scenes. It also suggests that Manchester United and Arsenal have the edge in the top four battle as Chelsea’s previous goal difference advantage has evaporated and they are now one point off the top four.

“I am worried about my team, I am worried about the performance. My job is always at risk,” Sarri chuckled when asked my the media if he worries about being fired. “I am not worried about the club, you have to ask them about that.”

The bookmakers slashed odds on Sarri being the next Premier League manager to be sacked after Chelsea’s worst-ever defeat in the Premier League era.

“I think the big difference between the two teams was the intensity of pressing. They pressed really well and we were not able to do it,” Sarri explained to Sky Sports. “We were not able to react in the right way. We were not able to stay in the match. At the moment we have a big problem away. The beginning of the season we were better away than at home. But everything has changed in the last month. We need to understand.”

Sarri was asked if he should be under pressure after the manner of Chelsea’s defeat.

“It is right. I am in charge of the team so it is right [that he faces pressure]. You will have to ask the club [if there will be discussions about his future],” Sarri said.

Guardiola had sympathy with Sarri’s situation in his first season at Chelsea, as he too had struggles at City in his debut campaign in the Premier League.

He pointed to the main problem Sarri has: convincing those who appointed him that he’s the right man to lead Chelsea moving forward.

“I know exactly what he wants to do. This kind of person with this type of game, it always helps to make our football better,” Guardiola said. “He wants to try to do it. They beat us there in Stamford Bridge, against Napoli last season they were tight games and moments in the game they were better than us. I said many times, people don’t understand how difficult it is. My first year was so difficult too. My first year you could play good in the way we play now, but not as consistent. The people expect when one manager arrives and you buy players, immediately it comes. It needs time. It depends on the believers, the owners or the people who are in charge and if they really believe in that.”

After this embarrassing defeat, does Sarri now believe that his style of football will not work at Chelsea?

“No because today I didn’t see my football. No, no because at the beginning it worked,” Sarri said. “Now we need only to understand the reason why at the moment, it isn’t working. We need to understand the reason. It is not easy… At the moment I am not able to see the reason but I have to work for this. My target is to play my football. It is not to change to another football. At the moment we are playing another football.”

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).