Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Chelsea 2 (3), at Barcelona 2 (2)

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Man of the Match: Nothing against Ramires, who gave a man of the match performance with his first half goal and stellar defending, but Petr Cech needs some recognition. He only had five saves (after 11 last week), but three of them were point blank chances that nobody would have faulted him for conceding. Over the course of two legs, Chelsea would have been embarrassed without him. But that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, and that’s why some insist he’s still amongst the world’s best at his position.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • If anybody tells you Chelsea got lucky, print this out post out, crumple it up, and invite them to consume it. Chelsea saw their right center back leave early and their left center back (and captain) commit a random act of stupidity to get excused. They played an hour down a man, found two goals within that span, and deservedly go on to Munich.
  • In addition to Ramires and Cech, Frank Lampard again stood out. Another assist (on the Ramires goal), impeccable positioning, and he always found another gear to get up and provide a ball for a counter, even though he was often dropping to be the deepest  midfielder.
  • John Terry embarrassed himself today. I’m sure he won’t see it any differently. His knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez should have cost his team the game. He deservedly misses the final. Surely, he knows he let his team down. Thankfully the hurdle he erected only accentuates the brilliance of this teammates’ performances.
  • Didier Drogba again worked himself into the ground. He couldn’t make it to 90 this week, but throughout the second half he was perpetually tracking deep into Chelsea’s third, be it to help dig balls out of the corners or to provide help in the air. If he wasn’t so willing to get back up top when Chelsea were trying to come out of their end, he might have lasted longer.
  • But for all of Chelsea’s virtues, this was still Barcelona’s game to win. They played up a man for two-thirds of it and managed to generate two goals. However, their defense failed them again on the Ramires’ goal. Pep Guardiola is left to wonder if re-inverting the pyramid cost him a chance to defend Barça’s European title.
  • Chelsea’s biggest battle might have been won before the match when they convinced somebody to step into Lionel Messi’s boots and pose as the all-world attacker. The Messi we saw on Tuesday missed a number of chances we’ve seen the real Messi convert time and time again throughout this record-setting year. Most are going to remember the penalty kick Messi put off the bar early in the second half, but there were other chances, particularly in the first, that he could have converted.
  • That is not to say Messi was terrible. He assisted on the second goal and forced Cech into two incredible stops (one on each side of half). However, his decision-making in the final 15 minutes was really poor. He always played one too many passes, invariably giving Chelsea that extra split-second to catch up to the play. The only time he ventured a speculative shot on goal, he found the post.
  • But that advice could have been given to the entire Barcelona team: Just shoot the ball, already.
  • Gerard Piqué, reinserted into the lineup after sitting on the bench in London, left early and was taken to a local hospital for tests after an early collision with Victor Valdes. He reportedly is fine, but Barcelona definitely could have used him at the end of the today’s game.
  • Barcelona couldn’t have asked for anything more from this game. Penalty kick, man advantage, and plenty of good chances – they wasted it all. Now, they’re left with the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Even if they win it, this year will not be remember for what wasn’t. The team desperately needs to find some other options if they’re to meet their expectations.
  • For Chelsea, what looked like a throwaway season after the sacking of André Villas-Boas now has Roman Abramovich within 90 minutes of his biggest prize. They’ll face either a home team (Bayern Munich) or the man who has defined their team (Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid). They’ll need to get Gary Cahill and David Luiz healthy, because John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are going to be suspended (along with Raul Meireles and Ramires).
  • Want to re-live the fun? Here’s PST’s play-by-play. Just ignore that part of the first half where Chrome locked up on my and I had to dust off Firefox.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.