Germany Soccer Champions League Final

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League final: Chelsea 1 (4-3 on kicks), Bayern Munich 1

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Man of the Match: Didier Drogba was nearly the goat, taking down Franck Ribéry four minutes into extra time, just minutes after his blistering header off Chelsea’s first corner pushed the match to extra time. With the post kick, Arjen Robben blasted the potential winner into Petr Cech’s stomach, setting the stage for Drogba’s second moment of glory. With the final kick of the shootout, Drogba slotted his kick into the lower left-hand corner fo Manuel Neuer’s goal, giving Chelsea their first European Cup.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The story was so obvious, we mentioned it in our preview. John Terry and Frank Lampard are more readily associated with Chelsea FC, but Drogba has been the Blues’ most important man in the Roman Abramovich era. Playing what might be his last match with the club (his contract up), this game always seemed destined to revolve around Didier Drogba.
  • And once his kick decided it, this match became one of the more compelling individual dramas in recent memory. With his global stature, recent resurgence, contract situation and Moscow antics (getting sent off in the 2008 final when he would have been the fifth penalty kick-taker) as prologue, Drogba was hard-pressed to produce a night that didn’t undermine the plot. But he did it. The 88th minute goal was exactly what you’re expect if you were fabricating the night’s drama. The 94th minute mistake, giving up a penalty kick? Merely raising the stakes. Converting the winning kick in the shootout? The only way it could end.
  • Surely, Drogba must be re-signed at this point, right? He wants a two-year deal. Give it to him. At this point in their history, Chelsea is not Chelsea without Didier Drogba.
  • When it comes to penalty shootouts, each hero has a corresponding goat. That goat is (surprisingly) Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Bayern’s last kick, their all-world midfielder went off the right post, the hesitation he offered in his run up to the ball betraying the moment. The cool he showed in sealing the shootout in Madrid had abandoned him, and unlike John Terry, Schweinsteiger can’t point to the turf as a reason he missed his try.
  • Perhaps somebody less enthralled by the Drogba narrative might have picked Petr Cech as man of the match. A great save on Robben early, the penalty save late, command of his box throughout the match, and diving the right way on all five shootout kicks – if he’s not man of the match, he’s a close second.
  • Of note on the shootout: Neither Arjen Robben nor Fernando Torres took kicks. With Robben’s miss so late in the match, his exclusion was understandable. Torres was caught on camera talking to Roberto Di Matteo, who seemed to ask him if he wanted to be on the sheet. Torres, finally said yes after being asked a couple of times. It seems Di Matteo decided better of it.
  • Despite the result, it doesn’t appear Di Matteo will be back. With this win, however, he can walk into most jobs in the world. Given the distinct tactical changes Di Matteo employed after taking over for André Villas-Boas, the former MK Dons and West Brom boss has reason to feel himself an integral part of Chelsea’s triumph.
  • Though they let Bayern control most of the match, Chelsea’s night was defined by a serious of strong individual performances. Cech’s night was made easier by the stellar shifts from his fullbacks, Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa. John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard were impenetrable in the middle. Juan Mata, when given a chance to turn and run with the ball, often produced at least a half-chance for Chelsea (and delivered a great ball on the first goal). And Ryan Bertrand, making his European debut, gave a relentless performance before being brought off after 74 minutes.
  • Bayern can’t say the same. Manuel Neuer was good in the shootout, scoring a goal and stopping Mata’s try. Still, some will say his hands should have been stronger on Drogba’s goal. Philipp Lahm provided good support for the midfield and, late, tried to push Bayern to a winning goal. Franck Ribery was Bayern’s best player until leaving in the 94th minute. Aside from those three, no Bayern player performed to the best of his abilities.
  • Mario Gomez missed four chances that he might have converted another day. Arjen Robben continuously put 24-yard shots toward goal that had no confidence behind them. Thomas Müller scored in the 82nd minute but also found himself lost on the right for long spans of the match. The double pivot of Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos failed to force holes in the Chelsea defense despite having the freedom to play at the edge of the final third for much of the match.
  • That was a function of Chelsea’s tactics, very similar to what we saw against Barcelona. The team sad very deep, possibly to protect their returning central defenders (David Luiz and Gary Cahill). While you could say the approach paid off, the Blues were down after 82 minutes and may not have won had Bayern not made a very important change.
  • That change: Taking off Müller, moments after scoring (replacing him with Daniel van Buyten), conceding control of the match to Chelsea. It’s not an uncommon approach – bring on an extra defender to see out the match – but the way Bayern was dominating the ball, they could have kept Müller on and bled out the clock. Jupp Heynckes went with the more conservative option, and after Chelsea equalized, he was left to play out the match with his more defensive lineup.
  • Detractors will point to that as yet another break Chelsea got on their way to the title. Those detractors will look at the way Chelsea won their semifinal the final and note all the “luck” the Blues needed to claim their first Champions League. But in a tournament like this one, everybody winner needs some luck to claim the title. There are just too many matches against too many good teams to expect your side to emerge victorious without getting breaks along the way.
  • And when you consider the John Terry red card at Barça, Chelsea’s three other suspensions, Drogba giving up two crucial penalty kicks (over the last two rounds) and having to play the final on the road with two just-returning center halves, it’s unclear Chelsea has received more luck than your average UEFA Champions League winner.
  • Very shortly, people are going to forget about all these ancillary concerns. Even the qualms about the tactics will dissipate in time. All that UEFA will write in their record books is the name of the victor. Chelsea FC are winners of 2011-12’s UEFA Champions League – the crowning achievement for one of the more memorable club teams of our lifetime.

PHOTO: Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand

New Juventus FC logo (Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen)
Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen
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Minimalism — noun — a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Less is undoubtedly more in 2017 — according to marketing whizzes — as minimalistic design and branding grows more prevalent by the day. That goes for the sports world, too, where a number of teams — in all sports, it doesn’t matter — around the world have opted to rebrand in a simpler, minimalist fashion in recent years.

Enter Juventus, the defending five-time Serie A champions, who on Monday unveiled the club’s brand new logo.

If the logo itself doesn’t do anything for you, you’ll surely be captivated by some of the brilliant identity marketing built around the new-look logo, including the following video.

Chinese authorities to halt “irrational investments” in players

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 06:  Carlos Tevez of Juventus reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion on June 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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BEIJING (AP) The governing body of Chinese soccer plans a series of measures in response to what is termed “irrational” spending by clubs on transfer fees and player salaries, amid concerns that foreign stars are crowding out local talent and harming the country’s goal of becoming a global force in the sport.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Chinese Football Association said in a statement Monday the steps will target the “operations and management” of teams in the top-tier China Super League and the China Premier League, one step below it.

The measures will address “recent irrational investments by clubs, high-figure transfer fees and salaries paid to domestic and international athletes and other issues,” the CFA said in a statement.

Spending by Chinese clubs on players such as Argentina’s Carlos Tevez has drawn global attention, raising fears among some that domestic players will be denied opportunities. That could stifle the government’s attempts to produce talent capable of achieving its stated goal of winning the World Cup by 2050, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s push to make soccer success a national priority.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

Other rules announced by the CFA appeared firmly aimed at addressing the lack of opportunities for Chinese players. They reduce the number of foreigners who can appear at any given time for a club from four to three and require each team’s starting lineup include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

Shanghai Shenhua said it paid an $11 million transfer fee to Argentina’s Boca Juniors for Teves. Oscar was purchased from Chelsea, and Brazilians Hulk, Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi also joined the league.

Chinese Super League clubs are thought to have spent close to $300 million in the winter transfer window.

Brian Rowe replaces injured Stefan Frei on USMNT roster

PASADENA, CA - JULY 21:  Goalkeeper Brian Rowe #12 of the Los Angeles Galaxy stops a shot against FC Barcelona in the International Champions Cup 2015 at Rose Bowl on July 21, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) LA Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe has replaced Seattle’s Stefan Frei on the U.S. training camp roster leading to exhibitions against Serbia and Jamaica.

[ MORE: US January camp schedule ]

Frei has a sprained right ankle. Rowe has never played for the U.S. national team. Coach Bruce Arena left the Galaxy in November to start his second stint with the Americans.

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was dropped last Tuesday because of a knee injury. Three other goalies are in camp: San Jose’s David Bingham, Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and the New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles.

Colorado’s Tim Howard is recovering from leg surgery and Brad Guzan is in England with Middlesbrough.

The change was announced Saturday. The U.S. plays Serbia on Jan. 29 at San Diego and Jamaica on Feb. 3 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

PL Playback: One from six; who are the title favorites?

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MINI-LEAGUES EMERGING

We saw yet another weekend of dominance for the big boys in the Premier League (except for Manchester City) and the gap is growing bigger between the top six and the rest of the league.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Throughout the entire league there are now three “mini-leagues” which are taking shape in a six-eight-six formation.

Here’s a look at what I’m talking about…

  1. Chelsea – 52 points
  2. Tottenham – 45
  3. Liverpool – 45
  4. Arsenal – 44
  5. Man City – 42
  6. Man United – 40
  7. Everton – 33
  8. West Brom – 29 
  9. Stoke – 27
  10. Burnley- 26
  11. Bournemouth – 25
  12. West Ham – 25
  13. Southampton – 24
  14. Watford – 23
  15. Leicester City – 21
  16. Middlesbrough – 20
  17. Crystal Palace – 16
  18. Hull City – 16
  19. Sunderland – 15
  20. Swansea City – 15

The top six will, obviously, get plenty of the focus from here on out.

Apart from Chelsea still feeding off that incredible 13-game win streak there is little to separate the rest with just five points between second-place Tottenham and sixth-place Manchester United. The middle eight teams are all having “meh” seasons, apart from Burnley who are overachieving, while the bottom six all look destined for a relegation scrap in the closing four months of the campaign with Leicester City struggling to claw themselves away from danger.

This season it seems like the overachieving and underachieving is at a minimum. Things are almost back to normal, especially with the perennial powers, after the madness of the 2015-16 campaign.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Yes, the title battle will be intense as Chelsea will, inevitably, drop points along the way and Diego Costa‘s situation has given their title rivals a boost. However, the more intriguing factor could be which two teams miss out on the top four and qualification for the UEFA Champions League.

If Man City’s struggles continue and Pep Guardiola misses out, or if Jose Mourinho and Manchester United don’t push into the top four in the coming months, then those will be huge stories. Yet, it is tough to see any of the current top six dropping many points between now and the end of the season.

It will be a long, hard slog and with UEFA Champions League and Europa League action to kick off next month, along with FA Cup action for all of the top six, the games will come thick and fast.

Who can handle all of this and stay in the hunt?


Chelsea
Position: 1st
Points: 52
Biggest strength: No European action to contend with, 3-4-3 and a strong defensive unit. Antonio Conte has been here before with Juventus and has been influential in their rise to the top.
Biggest weakness: Temperamental stars (I’m looking at you Diego Costa) could go missing either figuratively or literally at any moment. Chelsea need to add a new striker in January to stop that from curtailing their title bid.

Tottenham Hotspur
Position: 2nd
Points: 45
Biggest strength: Harry Kane and Dele Alli are on another level right now but when you look across Spurs’ team, everyone is hitting form at the right time. Walker and Rose at wing-back is a great option to. This team has learned from their title challenge faltering last season and they are without doubt the biggest threat to Chelsea right now.
Biggest weakness: Europa League and injuries. Mauricio Pochettino has said he will go for Europa League success but if injuries start cropping up (Vertonghen could be out long-term) then he will change his mind.

Liverpool
Position: 3rd
Points: 45
Biggest strength: No European action. Plus, Philippe Coutinho has been out injured for almost two months and now looks ready to roll and re-energized. The front four have been so good all season.
Biggest weakness: Fatigue. Even with no added European action, EFL Cup and FA Cup games in recent weeks have shown Klopp’s methods could be too much. Remember how much Liverpool tired last season?

Arsenal
Position: 4th
Points: 44
Biggest strength: Endless talent in attack with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and even Olivier Giroud now in top form. Skhodran Mustafi has been a huge boost in defense too.
Biggest weakness: Being Arsenal. Logic suggests that a slump is coming up in the second half of the season. Just because, Arsenal. Across the board there are few weaknesses though.

Manchester City
Position: 5th
Points: 42
Biggest strength: Star-studded attackers who can get them out of any mess. It is now time for Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to turn up. Massive numbers in his squad also helps.
Biggest weakness: Defense. Claudio Bravo has had a nightmare in goal and City’s defense has been far from inspiring as Pep’s masterplan has stalled significantly. Bravo’s struggles has in-turn led to John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and others crumbling. Pep will never change his philosophy and the way he wants to play. That could mean City pay a big price and finish outside the top four unless they improve drastically in defense.

Manchester United
Position: 6th
Points: 40
Biggest strength: Superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, plus Mourinho’s experience at grinding out wins.
Biggest weakness: Not finishing teams off and, again, the Europa League. Mourinho has and will continue to cut some deadwood from his squad. That means he will use plenty of the same players for EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League games. Can he balance this out to help United get right back in the top four mix? A title push seems out of the question now as they’re 10 points, but with nine wins on the spin in all competitions before the last game against Liverpool, they are in form and arguably have a better chance than Man City of overhauling that deficit.


KLOPP NOT CORRECT TO CALL OUT LONG BALL

Following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Sunday, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp took exception to United’s direct approach in the final 20 minutes of the game.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned on United vs. Liverpool ]

Let’s call it what it was. Mourinho went direct for the entire second half. Eventually it paid off when substitute Marouane Fellaini hit the post with a header and Zlatan Ibrahimovic stooped to head home the equalizer in the 84th minute, even if Antonio Valencia was slightly offside when the initial cross came in.

[ MORE: Player ratings – United vs. Liverpool ]

Klopp looked agitated, frustrated and annoyed afterwards as he told multiple news outlets that Liverpool “were the better team who had the better plan” plus kept slamming United for using long balls late on. He was probably also still smarting a little over the Joel Matip situation as he could be out for another month and Liverpool missed him once again at the heart of their defense. Matip’s height would’ve helped Klopp significantly with United’s direct approach late in the game.

[ MORE: Klopp slams “long ball” United ]

Klopp won the tactical battle to start with as Liverpool lined up with a diamond formation in midfield and nullified the impact of Michael Carrick and Paul Pogba, but Mourinho changed things up and went direct, not allowing Liverpool’s high-press to catch out his defenders as they bypassed midfield. Mourinho did what he had to do to get a draw, just like he did at Anfield.

United actually played 89 long balls against Liverpool, more than any other team in any PL games in Week 21. Guess what? It worked. It wasn’t the best United will ever play but they now look much harder to beat even if Paul Pogba had a nightmare and their front three were largely kept quiet.

After the draw, Klopp was most likely just trying to make a point that although his side have not won any of their last four games in all competitions, they should still be admired. They should. The progress Liverpool has made under him in just over a year has been huge but United and Mourinho reminded him that there is more ways to score goals and get points than relying on Gegenpressing.

Zlatan summed it up best when describing how United got back into the game as a big derby ended honors even and both managers were upset with dropping points as Chelsea’s gap at the top grew.


WHAT NOW FOR GUARDIOLA?

Pep Guardiola has all but given up hope of winning the Premier League title in his first season in England.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Guardiola, 45, looked 10 years older when speaking post-game at Everton on Sunday as his side were hammered 4-0 by the Toffees in an inept display which showcased all of their weaknesses.

The much-lauded coach was supposed to turn City into not only the champions of England but also Europe. It’s not going to plan, at all, and especially in defense.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

After he suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager, plus City’s heaviest league defeat since 2008, Pep was asked if their title bid was over.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

Although it may seem like too early for City — don’t forget, they were the preseason favorites who won their first 10 games in all competitions under Pep to start the season — to concede the title, it is perhaps telling that Guardiola is already looking resigned to just challenging for the top four.

He knows that if he stays with his passing philosophy out of the back that his team will be susceptible to fast, strong, counter-attacking teams like Everton. There are plenty of teams who deploy those tactics in the PL — Tottenham, Chelsea, Leicester to name a few — and have had great success doing it against City. Guardiola will never play like that and his style is something which led Barcelona and Bayern Munich to glory and often eviscerating English teams in the Champions League.

Guardiola’s team isn’t eviscerating anyone on a weekly basis in the PL right now. Right now, it’s the other way round.

When it clicks their style of play looks beautiful but City is too inconsistent and as soon as they go a goal behind they are lacking in confidence and crumble. Make no mistake about it, this is Pep’s biggest challenge of his managerial career but a country mile. He knows it. You can see it in his eyes. He knows he doesn’t possess the players, in defense at least, to carry out his style and he can’t do too much about it. He will never change his ideals no matter the intense criticism coming his way.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

Right now, many would say he’s failing in the PL and at City. Big time. Yet, let’s give him until the end of the season because an appearance in the UCL semifinals and a runners up spot really wouldn’t be too disastrous. Yet with defending like this and Bravo conceding almost every shot which goes on target right now, those targets seem rather lofty and a long way off for this talented yet tainted City outfit.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.