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.”

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

(more…)

De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.

Cameroon fire Seedorf, Kluivert

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Upset with how the national team was bounced from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the Cameroon Football Federation has taken a drastic and surprising measure.

[READ: Reports: Trippier set to join Atletico Madrid]

The Cameroon FF (FECAFOOT) announced on Tuesday that it had dismissed head coach Clarence Seedorf and his coaching staff, which includes Seedorf’s former Netherlands and Ajax teammate Patrick Kluivert. Seedorf and Cameroon were defeated 3-2 by Nigeria in the Round of 16, knocking The Indomitable Lions out of the tournament.

Cameroon had won the last AFCON tournament and were set to host again, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) removed the tournament from Cameroon due to the anglophone political crisis.

Seedorf signed a four-year contract last August, bringing Kluivert along with him in his first attempt to coach international soccer. However, it appears that the bosses in FECAFOOT expected more from Cameroon at the AFCON, and the results have embarrassed the federation enough to sack a promising coach.

The news should be a boost to club teams across Europe, which could pick up two of the top young coaches with a ton of playing experience, both of whom are free agents.