Manchester City Champions League masterclass shows all not well for unsettled Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

Man City’s head coach Pep Guardiola, left, and PSG’s head coach Mauricio Pochettino at the end of the Champions League game at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 25 November 2021
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Manchester City Champions League masterclass shows all not well for unsettled Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

  • A move to Manchester United for the Argentine, to be replaced by Zinedine Zidane in Paris, could well be the best solution for all concerned
  • Revered and respected by his peers, Zidane could revitalise PSG and allow Pochettino the opportunity to rebuild a United side that is underachieving

LONDON: For all the will, and ambition, of a manager, sometimes the fit of a club is not quite right.

No matter how much Mauricio Pochettino insists he is happy at Paris Saint-Germain, the speculation of a move to Manchester United will not go away.

Not now - even with the surprise appointment on Thursday of Ralf Rangnick as the Old Trafford club’s interim manager until the end of the season - and not until someone is eventually chosen as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s permanent replacement.

Pochettino remains a leading candidate for that role.

And despite his belief that his PSG players won’t be distracted by what happens over the next six months, footballing history has often shown that commitment and quality don’t always come to the fore when there are rumours about a manager’s position, whether positive or negative.

Midfielder Ander Herrera, who ironically joined PSG from United on a free transfer in 2019 after five years at Old Trafford, said: “We are convinced…we know he is focused on the season and our club and to try to get the best from the team. 

“We are not distracted at all [by the situation]. Since the first day I came here, everyone loves to talk about that, everyone loves to make rumours about that. That doesn’t affect us at all.”

That is up for debate given their insipid and disjointed display in the 2-1 loss at Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

It was a result that saw Pep Guardiola’s side top the group and the French side finish runners-up and facing a potential tougher last-16 opponent.

City had the balletic attacking brilliance and cultured ball players that Lionel Messi and Neymar once had alongside them during their heyday at Barcelona. 

Now they were merely passengers, observers to a Guardiola masterclass that deserved a greater margin of victory for the English Premier League champions.

Based on his success during five years at Tottenham Hotspur, Pochettino forged a reputation of building sides with a strong work and team ethic. That is not visible in a PSG outfit that seems unbalanced, unconvincing and needs to earn their victories.

In the first half they had just three touches in the opposition's box, compared to City’s 23.

Blessed with enviable individual talent, and despite taking a fortunate lead through Kylian Mbappe, they were often unravelled by a City team missing the injured Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and £100 million signing Jack Grealish.

In Bernardo Silva, the hosts had a player described by Gabriel Jesus - who scored the winning goal after a Raheem Sterling equaliser - as “one of the best players in the world right now”. The Brazil striker also said "nobody is selfish" in the City team.

The hashtag #PochOUT! was soon trending on Twitter after the defeat, with Pochettino criticised for being too defensive, lacking creative ideas and unable to get more out of a frontline of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe that was laboured rather than lethal.

Pochettino felt PSG “suffered” against City, while Herrera said Guardiola’s side had the quality to “kill you”.

But captain Marquinhos offered an insight into his own side’s failings as he added: “The Champions League, it’s that you’ve got to know how to play against the big teams.”

Right now, PSG are unable to do that.

With the Champions League coveted by their Qatari owners, this does not bode well for the rest of the campaign, nor Pochettino’s future.

Just two seasons ago Thomas Tuchel led them to the Champions League final, where they were edged 1-0 by Bayern Munich. Four months later he was dismissed with the best win percentage in Ligue 1 history.

PSG should be ready to challenge for the trophy now, but look a level below their European rivals.

Pochettino has to address that. Results will determine whether he remains in Paris or that, when United make their decision at the end of the season, the Argentine is their first and best choice.

While PSG have decided not to let Pochettino leave mid-season, he will also be aware that Zinedine Zidane had been discussed as a replacement - and would prove popular with fans and the owners.

A decade ago, when Qatar was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, they brought on board a raft of stellar names to raise their profile and enhance their chances.

Guardiola and Saudi Arabia’s superstar Sami Al-Jaber were among them. But it was the signing of Zidane that was seen as the pivotal moment in helping them succeed against all odds.

The Frenchman is often named the footballing hero for many of those at the forefront of sporting change in the Middle East.

As a gifted player for clubs such as Juventus and Real Madrid and his national team, Zidane was iconic and inspirational, a legend.

But he was admired in the Gulf too because of his Arab roots - a Muslim of Algerian Kabyle descent.

Zidane would be the prestige signing for the Qataris a la Messi - or Guardiola in coaching terms when he took over at City and transformed them with style and success.

With 11 trophies in his first managerial job at Real Madrid - across two spells and five years - he would also be the biggest winner since Carlo Ancelotti had a 16-month spell in 2012.

In lifting three successive Champions League titles, Zidane managed to get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to show he could handle big names, and the challenge and expectation of managing a big club.

By adopting a more aggressive and attacking approach, imagine what he could do with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe if he was persuaded to stay?

While Madrid still seem favourites to lure French striker Mbappe when his contract runs out next summer, perhaps having Zidane in charge could sway him to remain for just a little longer.

As he admitted previously: “If you're a boy and you're French, your idol is Zidane.”

Mbappe, 22, will also have seen how Benzema flourished under Zidane’s tutelage to become one of the world’s best strikers again at 33.

Revered and respected by his peers with tough demands, Zidane could revitalise PSG - and allow Pochettino the opportunity to rebuild a United side that is under-achieving, but still has so much potential. Eventually, this would appear a perfect fit - and a fait accompli.


UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024

Updated 5 sec ago
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UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024

The HNS published a statement on its website saying that it will have to pay a fine of $29,900
The Croatian federation was fined 87,875 euros

ZAGREB: UEFA have fined the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) for the incidents that occurred in the stands during Croatia’s 2-2 draw with Albania at Euro 2024, the national federation said on Saturday.
The HNS published a statement on its website saying that it will have to pay a fine of 28,000 euros ($29,900) due to the “lighting of flares and throwing of objects by some Croatian fans during the match played on June 19 in Hamburg.”
“The Croatian Football Federation thanks the Croatian fans for their excellent support and once again calls on them to refrain from lighting and throwing flares,” the statement said.
The HNS was also fined after Croatia’s first match in Group B, which they lost 3-0 to Spain.
The Croatian federation was fined 87,875 euros for fans throwing plastic cups onto the pitch and lighting flares.
Croatia are in danger of a group-stage exit from Euro 2024 after defeat to Spain and Wednesday’s thrilling 2-2 draw in which Albania’s Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equalizer.
Croatia, World Cup semifinalists in 2022, will now likely need to win their final Group B match against holders Italy on Monday to have any hope of reaching the knockout phase of a fifth straight major tournament.

Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

Updated 22 June 2024
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Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

  • Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship
  • Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship

DORTMUND: Portugal swept into the last 16 of Euro 2024 on Saturday after comfortably seeing off Turkiye 3-0 and guaranteeing first place in Group F.
Bernardo Silva’s fine finish in the 21st minute, a comical Samet Akaydin own goal shortly afterwards and Bruno Fernandes’s second-half tap-in gave Portugal a straightforward win in front of swathes of passionate Turkish fans in Dortmund.
Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship after triumphing in 2016, their star-studded line-up easily dealing with Vincenzo Montella’s enthusiastic but limited Turkiye team.
Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship as Martinez said on Friday that the 39-year-old is in the right shape to play every four days.
It was Ronaldo who unselfishly set up Fernandes for a simple goal in the 56th minute after springing through Turkiye’s offside trap, and he then had time to pose for a selfie with a child fan who invaded the pitch midway through the second half.
Martinez’s side, on a perfect six points, will face one of the four best third-place finishers in the next round and go into their final group game against Georgia without any pressure for a result.
The same cannot be said for Turkiye who need a draw against the Czech Republic on Wednesday to ensure second place.
Turkiye’s passionate support again flocked to the Westfalenstadion in huge numbers, with long tailbacks on the roads leading to the ground several hours before the 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) kick-off.
Some fans sat on the top of cars leading chants among the thousands of supporters who crawled toward their destination.
Once inside what was effectively a home crowd let out a deafening chorus of whistles and jeers when Portugal jogged out for their pre-match warm-up.
However, once the match got underway there was a clear gap in class between the two sides and Portugal went deservedly ahead through Silva as the Manchester City midfielder confidently smashed in Nuno Mendes’s deflected low cross.
Soon after, Akaydin gifted Portugal a two-goal lead with his sloppy backpass which turned into an own goal as Zeki Celik and goalkeeper Altay Bayindir tried in vain to prevent the ball crossing the line.
Those two goals and the dominance of the Portuguese players quietened down the partisan crowd and the result was sealed when Fernandes stroked home his former Manchester United teammate Ronaldo’s present of a pass.
The Portugal fans then turned up the volume to celebrate their country reaching the last 16.
And cheers then rang around the ground from both sets of supporters as a pint-sized fan ran onto the pitch midway through the second half, just as the game was stopped to allow Nelson Semedo to replace Joao Cancelo for Portugal.
The youngster was cool enough to grab an amused Ronaldo for a photo and then dashed off on a mazy run his hero would have been proud of, dropping his shoulder on security staff before eventually being carted away from the pitch.
Ronaldo was less amused when five much larger fans then made copycat bids for selfies, only to be showered with boos and refused a photo before annoyed stewards reached them.


Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

Updated 22 June 2024
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Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

  • After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days”
  • former England captain Gary Lineker said: “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...”

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Gareth Southgate said he knew it was coming. He was right.
Negativity surrounds the England team — despite leading their group after two games at Euro 2024 and likely to advance to the knockout phase.
After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days.”
Indeed, it has fueled concern among fans, English media and former players.
“We have to reflect the mood of the nation,” former England captain Gary Lineker said on his podcast, The Rest is Football. “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...
“You can think of all sorts of words and expletives if you like,” he added, before using one himself.
Lineker’s political opinions have upset the UK government in the recent past — now he has delivered a brutal assessment of the England team.
His comments about England appear to have summed up the mood of many fans.
Southgate’s team were a pre-tournament favorite and beaten finalists at the last Euros.
BBC pundit Alan Shearer described the second half against Denmark as “awful.”
Southgate’s handling of a squad that includes Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden has been brought into question.
“We have world class players so it’s the manager’s job to get the best out of those players,” said Shearer, a former England striker.
Southgate has transformed England’s fortunes since he was appointed in 2016 — leading the country to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.
England missed out on a first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup when they lost on penalties to Italy in the final of the last Euros three years ago.
The 2022 World Cup was England’s worst performance under Southgate when they lost to defending champion France in the quarterfinals.
England were unconvincing in their opener — a 1-0 win over Serbia — and have a few days off before their final Group C game Tuesday against Slovenia.
So, what has gone wrong in Germany?
Expectation
It has been a longstanding complaint that too much is expected of England at international tournaments. Despite having the most popular league in the world — the Premier League — and some of the most successful clubs, England’s sole success on the international stage remains the World Cup it won in 1966. The last Euros was England’s best performance at any tournament since then when finishing runner-up.
Southgate
Ahead of the tournament, Southgate said this would likely be his last in charge of England if he failed to deliver a trophy.
“I’ve been here for almost eight years now and we’ve come close. So, I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point people will lose faith in your message,” he said before the Euros began.
No left side
The England team are looking unbalanced because they essentially have no left side. Luke Shaw is the only designated left back in the squad, but he is still not fully fit after a long-term injury, leaving Kieran Trippier — a right back — to play on the left. Foden is playing as a nominal left winger, but he prefers to drift inside. England are essentially attacking down the right or down the middle, hugely restricting their options and making the team easier to defend against.
Midfield dilemma
England’s longtime midfield issue has not gone away. In fact, it might be worse than ever. Southgate has admitted to doing an “experiment” by selecting right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder alongside Declan Rice. Alexander-Arnold was substituted early in both games. Quite apart from the oddness of Southgate experimenting in such a key position at a major tournament, he is also overlooking three midfielders who finished the English domestic season strongly — Kobbie Mainoo, Adam Wharton and Conor Gallagher.


Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

Updated 22 June 2024
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Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

  • Georgia took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec
  • The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest

HAMBURG: Georgia earned their first-ever point at a major tournament in a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at Euro 2024 on Saturday. It was nearly a win.
Midfielder Saba Lobjanidze fired his shot narrowly over the bar with the last kick of the game as Georgia’s promising three-on-one counterattack came to nothing.
Lobjanidze — who plays for Atlanta United in the US state of Georgia — seemed to be in tears after the final whistle and was comforted by coach Willy Sagnol.
Earlier, video reviews were in the spotlight.
The Czech team dominated the opening stages and celebrated the opening goal in the 23rd minute when Adam Hlozek bundled the ball into the net at the far post off a long throw.
Replays, however, showed Hlozek’s shot had bounced back off goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili and in off the Czech forward’s face and arm.
The situation was reversed when Georgia defender Guram Kashia shot straight at the goalkeeper just before halftime. Georgia’s fans rued the missed chance but celebrated when a video review found the ball had come off Czech defender Robin Hranac’s arm a couple of seconds earlier.
Georgia, the only team making their debut at Euro 2024, then took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec.
The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest for his sixth career goal at the European Championships, ranking him joint-sixth on the all-time list.
Schick limped off soon after and applied ice to his calf, potentially a major concern for the Czech Republic given the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s importance to the team and his long record of previous injuries.
VAR didn’t intervene later in the game when the Czech team appealed for players being pushed by Georgian defenders in the penalty area, perhaps because the contact on both occasions was relatively slight.
The draw means that both teams almost certainly require a win in their last group games to qualify for the knockout stages.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F. They play later Saturday.


Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

Updated 22 June 2024
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Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

  • Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell
  • Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice

BARCELONA: Lando Norris brushed aside the drama of his McLaren team’s hospitality unit catching fire to produce “the best lap of my life” and deprive Max Verstappen of pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in qualifying on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell.
Verstappen looked sure to set off for Sunday’s 10th round of the season from the front of the grid.
But in the last throw of the top-10 shoot-out Norris denied the Red Bull ace by a mere two hundredths of a second.
“Today was the perfect lap,” said Norris after only his second career pole.
“My best lap by a long way, I knew I had to do something perfect, it was probably my best lap ever.”
Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one staff member had to go to hospital but had been discharged, adding: “Happy to report everyone is fine.”
“I lost my shoes. It’s all been a bit messy,” said Norris.
“I like to listen to my music loud beforehand, but didn’t have that this time. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to complain about it.”
Turning back to a vintage qualifying session, Norris, whose only other pole came in Russia in 2021, reflected: “It’s been a while since Sochi!
“Max seemed a bit stronger today, but we made some changes,” added the Briton who won his maiden Grand Prix in May in Miami.
“I’m super happy to be on pole, it’s going to be tough but we’re here to win!“
Verstappen, targeting a fourth straight world title, leads the championship by 56 points from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who starts Sunday’s race in fifth, with Norris seven points back in third.
“I think the whole of qualifying was better than practice for me,” said Verstappen, who won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2016 and is on a hat-trick after wins in Catalonia in 2022 and 2023.
“It all clicked much better. The other teams are catching up, we need to bring more performance to the car.”
Ferrari-bound Hamilton was happy to be toward the front of the grid as he out-qualified his teammate Russell for only the second time this year.
“It’s good to be back up here, great to see we are progressing,” he said.
“We are slowly climbing closer to the guys in front, it’s really on a knife edge.
“I’m really happy to be in P3 with that long straight to turn one.”
Joining Leclerc on the third row will be his Ferrari teammate and home favorite Carlos Sainz.
Next came the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who has a three-place grid penalty from Canada, Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
After only a tenth of a second had covered the top four in final practice earlier the stage was set for an intriguing pole battle.
Complicating matters was a sizeable drop in temperature, with morning sunshine giving way to heavy cloud cover with the wind picking up.
The action on track though was anything but cool, as drivers scrambled to eke out every last ounce of performance for a Grand Prix won from pole in 24 of 33 races run at the circuit.
After clipping the McLaren of Norris at the end of final practice Leclerc tuned up for qualifying with a trip to the FIA’s headmaster’s study as the race stewards investigated the incident.
Leclerc was arguably fortunate to escape with only a reprimand rather than a grid penalty, announced just before qualifying got under way.
Hamilton grabbed the honors in the first qualifying run, jumping from 14th to first, with Verstappen leading the Mercedes duo after the second session.
Verstappen came alive when it counted most — after a quietish time in the three practice sessions he led Q3 after the first flurry of laps.
All the drivers pitted to prepare for one last attempt at depriving the Red Bull ace from Sunday’s pole, with Norris nailing it to end a trying day on a high.
This is the 10th round of the 24-race season and the first of a triple header with Austria and Silverstone coming up over the next two weekends.