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

3 Comments

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.

Allardyce not interested in Leicester City, Dyche the early favorite

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Amid plenty of calls for Leicester City to shoot for the moon as they search for a new manager, a more realistic name has emerged as an early frontrunner.

Craig Shakespeare, the man rumored to have engineered the downfall of Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City to take the reigns himself, was canned after just 26 games in charge. That has left a managerial opening at a club that to this point nobody can quite figure out how attractive a position it truly is.

There are calls for a run at top managerial names without a job, such as Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc, but instead the choice could come from within the current Premier League ranks.

Journeyman Sam Allardyce has ruled himself out of the running, saying on Talksport, “As big a club and as much as I would love to manage Leicester I don’t think it is time for me to manage yet. I’m not ready I don’t think. Having been in the game so long and done it so long, and looking at how I felt at the end of last season, I feel I am enjoying my life too much. Yes, it would have interested me and yes, I would take the Leicester job, but not at this time.”

Those quotes should also do much quell rumors of a USMNT stint for Allardyce as well.

Next in line for the Leicester opening is Burnley boss Sean Dyche, who according to the Daily Mail is “interested” in the position, whatever that means. However, the catch is that due to his current post at Turf Moor, the Foxes would owe Burnley $3.4 million should he break his contract and move positions, a number which comes along with Dyche’s new Burnley contract signed this past summer.

Other names mentioned include the likes of former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel, Huddersfield Town’s David Wagner, and Wales boss Chris Coleman. Tuchel would be a stretch with the German likely looking for a bigger name, while Wagner would be tough to pry from Huddersfield after their solid start to the Premier League season plus likely competition from the United States national team. Coleman seems the most likely of the bunch, with his time in charge of Wales proving rocky in the recent past, especially as they narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification.

Chelsea facing lineup nightmare as they limp into Champions League play

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2017-18 campaign just two months old, Chelsea has been rocked by injuries, potentially ruining Antonio Conte‘s ability to piece together his famed 3-5-2 lineup that saw the Blues storm to the Premier League title last season.

N'Golo Kante‘s absence thanks to a hamstring injury has seen his midfield torn apart at times, including against lowly Crystal Palace as Chelsea slumped to defeat to the then-pointless Eagles. Fellow former Fox Danny Drinkwater also sits, having yet to make his Chelsea debut with a calf injury vexing the England international thus far.

Wing-back Victor Moses, who has become a star at a position nobody could have seen him excelling at, is also sidelined with a bum hamstring and must be replaced. The Italian boss could call in deadline day signing Davide Zappacosta to fill the role, but it’s not that simple.

[ WRAP: A complete rundown of Tuesday’s Champions League action ]

Complicating matters greatly, Conte has the opposite situation to navigate along his back line. A pair of poor performances in league play has his defense suddenly under fire, thanks to the good form of his replacements who are pushing for more time on the field. With both Antonio Rudiger and young Andreas Christensen putting in solid performances when called upon, there is suddenly increasing chatter that they should be given starts ahead of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Thankfully for Conte, he can once again call upon the services of talisman striker Alvaro Morata, not worrying about the poor form of Michy Batshuayi who had such a bright start to the season.

[ PREVIEW: A full look at Wednesday’s Champions League slate ]

So, his options are thus: he could either call in Davide Zappacosta to fill Victor Moses’s role without changing the base 3-5-2 with Morata and Pedro up high, leaving Rudiger and Christensen on the bench while hoping that Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas can manage in midfield better than against Crystal Palace. Or, he could shuffle the deck completely and shift to another formation.

Another option presented is a 3-4-3, with Morata by himself in the middle flanked by Willian and Pedro, leaving the central midfield pairing even more exposed. However, that option allows the possibility of patching that midfield by pushing David Luiz or even Rudiger forward, allowing another defender to see the field likely in place of Fabregas. That puts more creative duties on Bakayoko’s plate, or sees the Frenchman fall to the bench, although swapping the defensive midfielder for a central defender seems to have little benefit.

These lineup choices are of the utmost importance as Chelsea meets AS Roma in Champions League play on Wednesday, because a victory would give them a perfect nine points out of nine, leaving them with tons of wiggle-room with three matches remaining. That five-point cushion would present the Blues with the ability to rotate the squad moving forward, a luxury so desperately needed with the injury problems and questions to sort out at the back. That could be invaluable not only to Chelsea’s Champions League standing but also their increasingly questionable Premier League health as the Manchester clubs continue to show stunning form at the top of the table.

Watch Live: Ghana and Niger meet, Brazil takes on Honduras in U-17 World Cup

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The United States has made its way through the U-17 World Cup Round of 16 in triumphant fashion, but there’s still plenty more to be decided.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Mali is already through to the quarterfinals, and they await the winner of another all-African matchup in Ghana and Niger. Ghana topped a hotly-contested Group A with the United States and Colombia, while Niger made it through via the third-place table after finishing behind both Spain and Brazil in Group D.

The Brazilians won that group, and they face Honduras who finished third in Group E but advanced, collecting enough points behind France and Japan. Brazil went a perfect 3-0 in the group stage, conceding just one goal while scoring six.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Ghana vs. Niger – 7:30 a.m. ET
Brazil vs. Honduras – 7:30 a.m. ET

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

@NASLOfficial @USL
1 Comment

The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.