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.
WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.
Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.
It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.
Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.
Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.
Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.
Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.
Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”
However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.
That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.
“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”
Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.
All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.
La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.
[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]
That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.
The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.
Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.
Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.
In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.
[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]
“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”
Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”
The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.