Preview: Desperate times require new measures for Barcelona against Chelsea

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It would be difficult to imagine a team with both Xavi Hernández and Juan Roman Riquelme losing three in a row if it hadn’t happened nine years ago. That’s the last time Barcelona was on a losing streak as long, falling to Valencia, Celta Vigo and Atlético Madrid in the middle of a five-game winless run that cost then-manager Louis Van Gaal his job, leaving a team featuring countrymen Patrick Kluivert, Philipp Cocu, Frank de Boar and Marc Overmars behind at Camp Nou.

Tuesday, Pep Guardiola’s squad is on the cusp of the same result, carrying losses against Chelsea and Real Madrid into the second leg of their Champions League semifinal. Only once in Guardiola’s three previous seasons had Barcelona even lost consecutive matches – end of year irrelevancies at the close of the former captain’s first title as manager (2009). Though it is again the end of a season, their second leg with Chelsea is anything but an irrelevancy, the defending European champions carrying a 1-0 deficit into the second leg of their Champions League semifinal.

While Barcelona are considered the favorites by most, their recent history against English sides at the Nou Camp sides has been problematic. Against Arsenal – a team that, for the most part, has been willing to ry and match them like-for-like – they have been fine, winning their last two meetings in Spain by a combined score of 7-2. Against other English opponents (Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United), Barcelona has four draws and a loss since defeating Chelsea in February 2005. In back-to-back semifinal first legs against United and Chelsea in 2008 and 2009, Barcelona was held to scoreless draws.

Leaving Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Barcelona looked as impotent as those manhandled sides. There was no distinct plan for how to deal with a physical, disciplined, patient side who valued its defensive shape above taking the ball off their opponents. Back then, the debate raged as to how long the English sides’ luck could last given the extent to which they were supposedly dominated by Barça. Now, there is a greater awareness that the problem is Barcelona’s. They have to find a solution, not wait for their opposition’s perceived luck to run out.

The scary part for Cules: Guardiola doesn’t appear to have a solution; or, at least, if defender Gerard Piqué is considered an antidote to a goal shortage, the problem’s not being properly tackled. The big Barcelona center back will give Guardiola an option at the end of matches, but reportedly benched due to a dip in form (before injuries slowed a return), he may afford Chelsea a route to kill off the tie before Barcelona can snag an equalizer. At the point where Piqué’s size would be utilized in an attacking role, Didier Drogba (presumed healthy for Tuesday after missing Saturday’s match with Arsenal) would be back, augmenting Chelsea’s height in defense.

Before then, Barcelona has few choices but to find a new, ingenious way to use their current, homogenous personnel. Even the channel between Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic that presented so many first leg options is likely to be closed by a Chelsea defense that, protecting a lead, can set up deeper and more compact than in the opening moments in London.

Chelsea can always make mistakes. We could see a penalty call, a freak own goal. We could see another Andrés Iniesta blast from distance push tactics aside.

But we could also see this play out the same way it did the last time Chelsea went to Catalunya, and while that wouldn’t hand Barcelona a third straight loss, it would put them out of Champions League.

As was the case last week, Pro Soccer Talk will be bringing out all the stops for this one. Play-by-play with will start around 2:00 p.m. ET, with post-match analysis and reaction to follow. On Wednesday, we’ll do it all over again as Real Madrid tries to stay on course for a double against Bayern Munich.

Portugal considers resting Ronaldo ahead of group stage finale

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Portugal is on the verge of reaching the semifinals at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup, and the reigning European champions could be set to rest their biggest star ahead of their group stage finale on Saturday.

[ MORE: Confed Cup scenarios before final group stage matches ]

The team currently sits tied on four points with Group A leaders Mexico through two matches, and with New Zealand — who is already eliminated from advancing — left on the docket for Portugal, manager Fernando Santos is prepared to rest Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Everybody wants to watch Cristiano Ronaldo, even I want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo,” Santos said on Friday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play with Cristiano or without Cristiano. Obviously, rotation will take place, that I can tell you.”

Portugal will be playing its third match in a seven-day span on Saturday, which certainly warrants a rest for Ronaldo and possibly some others for Santos’ side.

Hosts Russia sit one point behind Mexico and Portugal though, so it would be a bit of a gamble for Ronaldo to miss the New Zealand match, which will be played at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.

Reports: Arsenal nearing deal for Lyon striker Lacazette

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Arsenal appears to be on the verge of adding another French international striker, but the Gunners will have to pay up in order to secure the goalscoring specialist.

Various reports have linked the Premier League side with Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette since last summer, but now, Arsenal is nearing a deal for the 26-year-old.

L’Equipe is reporting that Arsene Wenger‘s team is willing to pay over $67 million for Lacazette, who is coming off of a 28-goal season for Lyon in Ligue 1.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports confirmed the report, stating that the Gunners are in open talks with Lyon as the London side attempts to acquire the highly-touted forward.

Over the last four seasons, Lacazette has tallied over 20 goals in all competitions for the French club. The Lyon native had a career year in 2016/17, tallying 37 goals in all comps.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 17: East leads the way at the top

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The Western Conference has dominated MLS Cup for the better part of a decade, but it’s the East that continues to shine bright as this MLS season hits the midway point.

Here are PST’s latest MLS Power Rankings as we head into another busy weekend:

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TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)
 

22 (21)

21 (22)

 

20 (20)

Real Salt Lake: A win over Minnesota in their last outing was solid but the Claret and Cobalt still remain just one point above bottom out West.

D.C. United: A nice comeback win over Atlanta helped D.C.’s stock slightly, and apparently they’re one of the few clubs that has figured out how to have success against Tata Martino’s group.

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids were brought back down to earth after their three-match win streak. Despite that run, Pablo Mastroeni and Co. remain last in all of MLS.

19 (16) New England Revolution: Jay Heap’s group were flying high after a big win against Toronto, but another strong Eastern Conference side (the Chicago Fire) reminded the Revs how talented the East is.
18 (15) Philadelphia Union: Three straight losses have the Union back to where they were early in the season… at the bottom of the East.
17 (18) Minnesota United: There’s no doubt the Loons picked up their most exciting win thus far on Wednesday night against Portland. Adrian Heath and Co. will attempt to do something they haven’t accomplished yet in MLS; win back-to-back games.
16 (16) Montreal Impact: The Impact are unbeaten in four, but the Canadian side still has the fewest wins in MLS (4) through 14 matches played.
15 (19) Seattle Sounders: Rough conditions at Yankee Stadium shouldn’t have been anything the Sounders weren’t used to but the reigning champions couldn’t get it done against NYCFC before following it up with a solid draw against Orlando.

 

14 (14) Vancouver Whitecaps: A solid result against FC Dallas has the Whitecaps sitting in the final playoff spot out west.
 

13 (11) San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes are winless in three and have scored just twice in the process. The club is hoping new signing “Vako” will be the DP spark the team needs.
12 (8) Columbus Crew: Greg Berhalter’s men have proven to be one of the better home sides in MLS. They’ll welcome a hungry Impact side on Saturday.

 

11 (13) Atlanta United: D.C. appears to be this club’s kryptonite. Atlanta will host last-place Colorado this weekend.
10 (10) Portland Timbers: It was an ugly match against Minnesota, but despite back-to-back losses the Timbers still sit third in the West.
 

9 (12) Orlando City: The Lions continue to show signs of improvement from their first two seasons in MLS. They’re late equalizer against the Sounders was the latest showing.
8 (9)  New York Red Bulls: 6-1 is the Red Bulls record against NYCFC. Even better for the Harrison side is that they haven’t lost at home to their New York rivals.
7 (7) LA Galaxy: Props to the Galaxy for their turnaround, but Curt Onalfo’s men need to clean things up at home. The Galaxy currently boast the worst home record in all of MLS at 1-3-3.
6 (5) FC Dallas: The defending Supporters’ Shield holders have a brutal schedule upcoming, which begins with another Texas Derby on Saturday.

 

 

5 (3) Houston Dynamo: This team keeps quietly going about its business, and despite it’s poor road record (0-6-2) the Dynamo sit second out West.
4 (6)  New York City FC: A big win over the Sounders should have Patrick Vieira’s men buzzing heading into their second Hudson River Derby in a span of 10 days.
3 (5) Sporting KC: Peter Vermes and Co. will face one of their biggest challenges to date when they head west to take on the surging Galaxy.
2 (2) Chicago Fire: The Fire are now unbeaten in eight, and it’s very fair to say that this club is pushing hard for the top spot in the East and the Supporters’ Shield.
1 (1) Toronto FC: Unbeaten in nine of their last 10, Toronto is still the odds-on favorite to win MLS Cup this season.

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.