There is no escaping the fact that Manchester City’s loss on Tuesday evening felt like the beginning of the end for Manuel Pellegrini. Roberto Mancini was sacked for finishing second in the Premier League, exiting the Champions League in the group stage and reaching the FA Cup final. Unless Pellegrini can manufacture a Camp Nou miracle, the Premier League remains his only hope of redemption.
There are valid questions over Pellegrini’s improvement at City. He took over a side with recent domestic success, which he has continued, but was also appointed by a club hoping to make its mark in Europe. After over £180m transfer spending in four transfer windows, do two last-16 exits to the same club constitute sufficient enough progress to please Sheikh Mansour?
Last weekend’s victory over Newcastle was formidable, but it is not on such days that Pellegrini will be judged. Sunday’s trip to Anfield may well go a long way to determining City’s propensity for a title fight, but a defeat may also seal their manager’s fate come the end of the season. The vultures are circling above the Etihad.
It’s only taken seven months, so reckon that philosophy of yours could stretch to a performance and result at home to Sunderland, Louis?
Patience is starting to wear thin with Manchester United’s manager. Scoring four goals would be hugely appreciated, adding a gloss and swagger to victory. United haven’t done that in any competition for 27 matches – they did so six times under David Moyes.
“When you talk about a guy to play in your place, you feel offended because it is your place,” said Giroud before the calamity against Monaco. “I hear them saying: ‘They have Giroud and Welbeck but they need a world-class attacker’. It is like saying, we are not world-class attackers.
“Does it upset me? No but it stings. Recently there was a buzz around Jackson Martinez (Porto). The coach said nice things about him, the player said he would like to come. I heard that just before the Middlesbrough game. It gave me extra motivation. I was very pleased to score two goals. After that, there are some things said which really p*** me off. It is human. I don’t have an inferiority complex. I don’t have their names but, on the stats level, I am just behind Costa and Aguero.”
It really didn’t go well. Giroud has scored crucial goals for Arsenal and we love him, but his performance on Wednesday created a case file of evidence for the prosecution and wrapped it up in red ribbon.
Arsene Wenger admitted in his post-match press conference that substituting Giroud after less than an hour was not a difficult decision. “It was more heart than brain,” Wenger said – “Easy chances” was the reason for his withdrawal. Giroud cannot atone fully for his six missed chances against Everton on Sunday, but his biggest concern must be that he may not get the chance, dropped for his midweek disaster.
You could make a wonderful flickbook from Sam Allardyce’s facial expressions from White Hart Lane last weekend. West Ham’s manager was the personification of smugness as his side’s second goal went in, transformed into venomous anger when Harry Kane scored his rebounded penalty. Big Sam’s assessment that the referee should have blown the final whistle before Kane had a chance to rebound his penalty at least provided some light post-match entertainment.
The immediate future looks grim for Allardyce. His side have won two of their 13 matches since Christmas, and it seems that the club are preparing for his summer departure. The next three months may act like an extended public CV, determining where and at what level he will return to management. It’s actually more difficult than you think to choose a fit to suit both parties.
Be careful out there, Anthony. You might think this is a prestigious occasion for you, refereeing in a cup final at Wembley, but you should be on your guard. Jose Mourinho will be watching you, and he will be waiting for you to err.
As luck would have it, Taylor is also the referee who booked Cesc Fabregas for diving in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in December. That was the incident that sparked Mourinho’s “campaign” comments, and began this irritating sideshow. You’ve got yourselves a back story.
Mauricio Pochettino has made great strides as Tottenham manager, but will be acutely aware his season now sits on the brink between success and failure in the eyes of many, no matter how harsh that may feel.
“The problem is the decision you take is always about the result you get,” Pochettino said before Thursday’s Europa League defeat to Fiorentina. “If tomorrow you make the rotation and after on Sunday you win, you are a genius. Sunday you may rest some players and play others and win the final – genius. If you lose tomorrow and the final, you are a bad manager and coach.”
He’s right of course: The lines really are that thin. Pochettino chose to start Roberto Soldado in Florence and the Spaniard repaid that faith with an abysmal one-on-one effort and another scoreless match. Spurs exited the Europa League with a whimper in Italy. Pressure raised.
Three weeks ago Spurs were buoyant, level on points with the top four after beating Arsenal in the north London derby. Just four games later they are seventh in the Premier League, out of Europe and with their eggs increasingly placed in the COC basket. They will start as underdogs, but must strain on the leash to repeat their stunning league victory over Jose Mourinho’s side on New Year’s Day.
Spurs’ last major honour came in this competition against Chelsea. They have won just three trophies in 33 years and two in 24 years – these chances don’t come around very often. Pochettino will know that his task is far from complete whatever the result on Sunday, but it would certainly generate a great deal of goodwill.
‘Opposition supporters using terms as a form of identity is no excuse for abusive chanting or behaviour,’ read the official Chelsea statement. ‘The club asks that all supporters realise such actions cause huge offence to those around them. If we receive evidence supporters have engaged in antisemitic or any other form of discriminatory chanting or behaviour, we will take the strongest possible action, including supporting criminal prosecution.’
This feels like a notable weekend for Chelsea’s support. Following incidents of accused racism in both Paris and London’s St Pancras station in the last fortnight, the club face Spurs at Wembley. Chelsea’s statement makes no exact reference to particular words, but one can assume that ‘terms as a form of identity’ refers to the word ‘Yid’. A video emerged of West Ham fans allegedly chanting an anti-Semitic song on their way to last weekend’s game against Tottenham.
It is clear that all eyes will be on Chelsea fans, the authorities looking for any further evidence of unacceptable behaviour. One hopes that the ignorant minority do not again spoil it for the majority.
After a season of wonder, a chance for Harry Kane to add the fairytale ending. The 21-year-old has scored 24 goals in all competitions this season and is certain to be a part of Roy Hodgson’s next England squad. Adding a goal on his Wembley debut would only add further evidence to suggest that he is in fact a super hero called Hurricane, his name pronounced in a cockney accent to create the confusion.
Having been in the top four for 19 of the season’s first 25 gameweeks, Southampton dropped out of the Champions League places for the first time since Boxing Day after the loss against Liverpool.
Southampton’s biggest issue is their difficulty in scoring goals, largely due to the alarmingly regressed Graziano Pelle. They scored 23 goals in their first ten matches of the season, but have failed to match that total in their last 21 games. Jay Rodriguez’s delay from long-term injury has exacerbated the problem, as has Koeman’s inability to add to his strikeforce in January. A misfiring Pelle, Shane Long and Emmanuel Mayuka do not a top four bid make.
Koeman needs an improvement in front of goal, but his side face a tough test at the Hawthorns on Saturday. Tony Pulis’ side have not conceded for 328 minutes, with the Welshman once again demonstrating his ability to add defensive resolve to almost any squad.
Without wanting to hyperbolise, there are significant reasons for Southampton needing to avoid the wheels falling off from their season. Nathaniel Clyne’s proposed summer move to Manchester United is already being discussed at length in the country’s gossip columns, whilst the future of Ronald Koeman must also be in doubt.
They will not be alone, with Morgan Schneiderlin, James Ward-Prowse, Toby Alderweireld and Rodriguez all likely to be linked with a move this summer if Southampton fail to make the Champions League. This feels like the perfect storm for the club to achieve the unthinkable.