Offshore drilling, England: Chelsea 2, at Arsenal 1

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Man of the Match: It wasn’t quite his old self, but  Fernando Torres flashed a little bit of his peak Liverpool form with a creative finish around Laurent Koscielny in the 20th minute, giving Chelsea the lead. But despite the goal and some good play with the ball at his feet, Torres’s main contributions came when Chelsea wasn’t in possession, the Blues’ striker proving a pest tracking back to disrupt Arsenal, particularly when the Gunners were hogging the ball in the second half.

NBC Sports: Chelsea wins 2-1 at Arsenal to stay top of EPL

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The teams matched up in near-identical formations: lone strikers up top; four at the back; two deep midfielders. With Ramires and John Obi Mikel set to sit deep in Chelsea’s midfield, Arsenal wasn’t going to enjoy the same advantages they did against Manchester City.
  • Of note, given this was Chelsea’s first big Premier League match of the year: Frank Lampard was on the bench (though he did start against Juventus in Champions League).
  • One of Arsenal’s advantages against City was in possession, but on Saturday, it was Chelsea who controlled most of the play early. The Gunners would even the numbers by half, but over the first 45 minutes, this wasn’t your typical Arsenal match. Arséne Wenger’s side wasn’t able to dominate the ball.
  • The home side was dealt a blow early with Abou Diaby had to come off, the midfielder straining his left hip after a 12th minute shot on goal. Wenger brought on Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, pushing Aaron Ramsey to the middle.
  • It’s the story of Diaby’s career: injuries. The frequency with which he’s hurt in matches has to be a tactical concern. Even if Diaby’s healthy, you can’t start him if you don’t have a substitute to spare.
  • Chelsea broke through fist, with Torres wrapping his right leg around Laurent Koscielny to redirect a Juan Mata restart past Vito Mannone at the left (far) post. For those hoping Torres can somebody (after all this time) find his old self, it was a very encouraging goal, one set up after a touch from the Chelsea striker helped draw the original foul, Thomas Vermaelen caught diving in for a ball perfectly laid off for Eden Hazard.
  • Even after the goal, it took Arsenal some time to get going. Ramsey was slowing down play through the middle, getting caught on the ball, while Oxlade Chamberlain still hadn’t found a rhythm. It was only after the Gunners started pestering Oscar, himself caught on the ball multiple times near the end of the half, that Arsenal came into the game.
  • That was also the same time that Santi Cazorla started popping up everywhere. After being relatively quiet for the first third of the match, Cazorla started coming a little deeper for the ball, making some runs to the right that he wasn’t making before – generally trying to get more involved.
  • Near the 40th minute, Cazorla’s work helped create a chance down the right, the Spaniard putting a shot out of play off a pass from Carl Jenkinson. Although nothing came from it, the movement exposed two things about Chelsea’s defense that would come into play a few minutes later. First, Ashley Cole was playing very narrow on the left, giving Jenkinson or Oxlade Chamberlain all the room they wanted down the attack’s right. Second, Chelsea’s line was collapsing far too deep – right to the edge of Petr Cech’s six-yard box.
  • In the 43rd minute, those factors conspired to give Arsenal their equalizer. Jenkinson played a ball wide to Chamberlain, whose cross found Gervinho open near the spot, set up in front of the defense but behind the midfield two. The Ivorian was able to trap, turn and fire the equalizer past Cech.
  • The second half opened with Arsenal in firm control, something that worked against them when a 52nd minute Mikel Arteta giveaway allowed Chelsea to catch the Gunners on the counter. A fifty-fifty ball won by Ramires forced Vermaelen to take down Torres 35 yards for goal, a textbook professional foul (for which he saw yellow).
  • Mata put the ensuing restart at the far post, Mannone frozen when a ball grazed off Koscielny’s left shin and in.
  • From there, Chelsea showed what’s becoming a trademark pragmatism under Roberto Di Matteo. They didn’t threaten Mannone again, but they didn’t need to. Staunchly maintaining their shape while getting good work from Ramires and Torres, Chelsea made their good fortune hold up.
  • In doing so, they also created a match that played to Arsenal’s reputation. No doubt Gooners will insist they outplayed Chelsea, a debatable assertion. Even if you grant it, Saturday’s game adds to a long list of Arsenal results that betray their on-field play. It’s still unclear when they will award trophies for finishing with the most style points.
  • They do award trophies for finishing first, which is where Chelsea stay with three points at the Emirates. The result also alleviated the biggest qualm about Chelsea’s start: A weak schedule. Their first big win of the season may have announced the Blues as title contenders.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.