Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Milan 3, at Zenit St. Petersburg 2

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Man of the Match: Of Milan’s three goals, Stephan El Shaawary’s stands out. It was the one that didn’t need major help from a Zenit player to find nylon. El Shaawary’s goal didn’t need help from his own players, either. The Milan attacker took a pass on the left wing, and dribbled through Zenit’s defense before slotting the Rossoneri’s second goal just inside the right post.

It was the 19 year old’s first Champions League goal, part of a day where he continuously created trouble for Zenit defenders. With Milan spending most of the match defending a lead, El Shaawary played as much as a conventional wide midfielder as attacker. But when he went forward, he created huge problems for Zenit.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • What do you get when two struggling but talented teams meet? Add the stakes of Champions League, and you get an unbalanced game with wild swings, a form of soccer chaos. Large swathes of this match were characterized by one team’s control meeting the other’s failings. There was never a time where both teams were at their best, and while that produced a compelling match, neither team was actually that good.
  • The sides began with near-identical setups – four man defenses, three-man midfields, two wingers flanking a central forward – but only one team showed up at the opening whistle.
  • Milan started strong, their energy allowing them to move quickly into attack, usually down left side worked by Stephan El Shaawary and, coming from the middle, Bojan Krkic. Attacking midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng was staying so high (right behind Krkic) and came back so little, Milan’s formation played like a 4-2-4.
  • In the 13th minute, Milan’s ambition met a little luck. Zenit had just started coming into the match when midfielder Viktor Fayzulin committed a ill-advised foul on Urby Emanuelson, the Milan attacker cutting into the middle from his wide right position. Emanuelson’s restart from 24 yards out got mostly wall but still deflected up and toward goal, with goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev unable to get back from his move to the left to prevent a fortunate opener.
  • Malafeev really should have stopped it. After hitting the wall, the ball seemed to hang in the air and briefly looked like it would go well wide. But the spin sent the ball diving back toward goal. Malafeev was slow to react, his momentum toward the opposite post leaving him off-balance.
  • Four minutes later, Milan doubled their lead, with El Shaawary dribbling in from the left, beating Fayzulin and defender Nicolas Lombaerts before putting the Rossoneri’s second goal inside Malafeev’s left post.
  • That wasn’t the first time El Shaawary had done damage. Minutes earlier, the 19-year-old was given too much space to run at Zenit right back Aleksandr Anyukov. He was able to cut in and, although Anyukov got a foot to the ball, create a chance for Krkic. Eventually, Luciano Spalletti would have to switch Hulk away from that flank, getting his more defensively responsible winger, Vladimir Bystrov, onto El Shaawary’s side.
  • It was an absolutely inept start from Zenit. Milan was the better side at the opening whistle, but they weren’t executing anything so remarkable that Zenit couldn’t have held out. The first goal was fortunate, but it was one that came from Milan control drawing a bad foul. On the second goal, defenders just blindly went into tackles, come up with nothing, and couldn’t stop a run that was inelegant if successful.
  • It wasn’t until the 22nd minute, six minutes after Milan’s second goal, that Zenit started to pick up their energy. By then, you could see Milan already adjusting. El Shaawary and Emanuelson were sitting deeper on the flanks. When Zenit set up in the final third, Milan’s highest man (Krkic) was playing off the last midfielder instead of the defense.
  • That approach looked set to preserve Milan’s two-goal lead into half before a breakdown in the second minute of injury time. Ignazio Abate was drawn away from his place at right back, opening up too much room to the left of Cristián Zapata. Roman Shirokov found Hulk in the channel, the Brazilian’s left-footed shot beating Christian Abbati for Zenit’s opener.
  • What a huge difference a goal makes. Without Hulk’s score, Zenit goes into half time with nothing positive to take from the first 45 minutes. Down only one, Zenit goes into the locker room on a positive note. They don’t have to start the second half in panic mode.
  • Four minutes into the second half, Zenit was even. Shirokov beat his mark, Riccardo Montolivo, on a corner. Hulk’s ball swung in perfectly, drawing Abbiati off his line, giving Shirokov the entire goal to finish his equalizer.
  • Zenit would dominate the next 20 minutes, forcing Max Allegri into a change. Early in the half he had brought on Giampaolo Pazzini for Krkic – a like for like – but on the verge of conceding a go-ahead goal, he changed the shape. Emanuelson was off and Antonio Nocerino, a central midfielder, was in. He’d play on the one side of a diamond-esque midfield. El Shaawary played high on the other side, Montolivo above Nigel de Jong in the middle.
  • The change worked. Almost immediately, Milan started seeing more of the ball, able to possess for meaningful periods of time and not have to play in their own end.
  • The move almost worked too well. Spalletti immediately responded. In the 72nd minute, Bystov made way for a central midfielder, Konstantin Zyryanov.
  • The change never had time to take effect. In the 75th minute, sloppy play from Zenit coming out of their own end let to a turnover. Milan swung the ball ahead of a Montolivo cross. Pazzini’s attempted redirect went off defender Tomas Hubocan’s left arm and into Malafeev’s net. It was the second huge piece of luck Milan’d gotten, the difference between being down one and up 3-2.
  • As you’d expect, Spelletti immediately changed again, bringing on a forward (Maksim Kanunnikov) for a midfielder (Fayzulni). Allegri responded by bringing in a third central defender, Mario Yepes coming on for Boateng.
  • Allegri’s change killed off the match. Any time Zenit set up in attack, they’d see a box crowded with red and black between them and goal. Attempts to play in from wide almost never got past the first man. That match was over.
  • It’s a huge win for Milan, if a very lucky one. There’s no arguing that they got two goals out of pure fortune. Both the first and third game from otherwise innocuous plays. Milan gets three points, but it’s hard to say if they earned or stumbled into them.
  • The Rossoneri do deserve credit for the energy they brought from the get-go. In the preview, we talked about the morose aura that’s enveloped the team. None of that was evident tonight. There was no self pity, only effort.
  • For Zenit, it’s a crushing loss, but they did little to win this match. They never led, only played well for a 30 minute span in the middle, and needed a first half wakeup call to even get in the match. Against a Milan team that hasn’t been that good, they allowed the game to be taken from them

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Argentina closes in on Sampaoli, according to FA boss

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The Argentinian FA is hoping to convince Jorge Sampaoli to abandon Sevilla and take the opening in his home nation.

President Claudio Tapia confirmed that Sampaoli is their top target, calling the 57-year-old their “chosen one” in an interview with ESPN.

“We have chosen a coach that has a contract,” Tapia told ESPN. “We want to be respectful and wait because he has a release clause which is once the tournament ends. We will communicate it to the club and we will sit down and negotiate his departure and release clause. We want things to go well in the final games he has left.”

Argentina dismissed coach Edgardo Bauza after the country fell to fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification following defeats to Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile over the past six months.

Sampaoli is under contract with Sevilla until the summer of 2018, but has a $1.6 million release clause, to which Tapia was referring. Sevilla sits in fourth position in the La Liga table, level on points with Atletico Madrid but behind significantly on goal differential. The club finishes its league season on May 21st against Osasuna, and Argentina’s next game is a friendly on June 9th at home against Brazil. The next World Cup qualifier is in August against Uruguay.

Samapoli has been with Sevilla since since last summer in his first European club job, but the Argentinian has ample experience to take over for his home country. He managed Chile for four years, winning the 2015 Copa America in Chile. He resigned in early 2016 due to a contract dispute, paying a heavy price to do so as he gave up bonuses to wriggle free of his contract.

Argentina’s desire to secure Sampaoli as coach is nothing new, as the man himself confirmed an offer for the job a week ago, but said he would not consider it until the end of the season. It appears now that a deal is likely, and he will have a very short turnaround to get his first look at the team against a fierce continental rival.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 8: FC Dallas back on top

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FC Dallas relinquished the top spot in the Power Rankings last week. Their response? To beat the team that jumped them.

A number of teams grabbed much needed wins, including Seattle, Toronto, and Orlando City. The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake slipped up. See below where each team sits going into Week 8.

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[ MORE: Last week’s MLS Power Rankings ]

TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

22 (22)

 

21 (20)

 

20 (19)

Philadelphia Union: After Montreal’s 3-goal comeback, Alejandro Bedoya said it’s “hard to stomach” what feels like another loss. It’s only April, and the aura is already discouraging.

Colorado Rapids: Since beating New England, they’ve scored four goals in their last five. Losing to Minnesota is painful.

Montreal Impact: A crazy comeback and a rescinded red card have netted Montreal four points over their last two, but the big picture still screams struggles.


19 (21) Minnesota United: It came against hapless Colorado, but a win is a win is a win. Seven points in the last four. A solid defensive record. A chance to build further comes against San Jose.
18 (15) LA Galaxy: The transition away from Bruce Arena is an obvious excuse for a truly bad start, but the squad also looks porous. Questions may be asked soon.
17 (13) Vancouver Whitecaps: With a tough immediate schedule ahead, Vancouver could be headed for a second-half fightback just to make the playoffs. Can’t dig too deep a hole.
16 (17) New England Revolution: This team’s all over the place. A lot like DC United in that they seem to have good moments and bad moments each week.
15 (16) DC United: Positives and negatives taken from the draw with New England. Sums up the season so far.
14 (14) San Jose Earthquakes: No matter the home form, winless in five is very concerning.
13 (18) Seattle Sounders: Well. They certainly needed that. Soundly trouncing the Galaxy is promising, and games against New England and Toronto are a huge chance to truly turn the poor start around.
12 (9) Real Salt Lake: Oops. Maybe last week’s leap of faith was slightly premature. Falling in to Atlanta’s fantastic start isn’t the end of the world, but losing momentum from a 2-game winning streak hurts.
11 (11) Houston Dynamo: Great at home. Not a single road point. Will we learn anything more about Houston when they visit Toronto? They’re still hard to gauge, but seem more dangerous than not.
10 (6) Columbus Crew: Road travels are tough no matter where you go in MLS play, but the Crew cannot turn two straight road losses into a bigger habit.
9 (12) New York Red Bulls: Soundly beating Columbus means they get to jump the Crew on this list, and a win over Chicago next time out would see them climb further up the Top 10.
8 (10) Toronto FC: Their table position is still slightly unnerving given the team’s talent, but a win Friday over defensively challenged Houston would give Toronto a much more deserved location.
7 (7) New York City FC: All 3 of NYCFC’s losses have come by 1 goal. It’s early, and those are correctable. Moving up after a loss is rare, but this team is well-managed and dangerous.
6 (5) Chicago Fire: There’s little shame in losing to a pair of Giovinco goals on the road, but the manner of the loss is somewhat startling. Outpossessed Toronto, yet obliterated 9-1 in shots on target.
5 (8) Atlanta United: After forever on the road, Atlanta returns home in fantastic position. The one concern has to be discipline – they picked up four more yellows in the RSL win.
4 (4) Portland Timbers: A home win over a Cascadia rival goes a long way towards putting a bad four-game stretch to bed.
3 (1) Sporting KC: A lack of goals has been mitigated this season by a fantastic defensive unit, but that proved their downfall against FC Dallas, and could be an issue going forward against better attacking teams.
2 (3) Orlando City: Jason Kreis emphatically put to bed the thought that Orlando City couldn’t win on the road. Cyle Larin is absurdly good. But can they survive shouldering the entire goalscoring responsibility on one man?
1 (2) FC Dallas: After dropping to #2 last week due to a lack of marquee results, they promptly went out and became the first team to beat Sporting KC this year. Welcome back to the top spot.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Burnley

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  • Palace unbeaten in 10 vs Burnley at home
  • Burnley has 1 goal from open play in last 6
  • Burnley has just 4 points on road all season

The old 40 point target is within grasp.

One more win for Crystal Palace would put them over the cusp, as Sam Allardyce leads his Eagles into battle against Burnley at Selhurst Park on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Palace’s recent form suggests they’ll do just that, with a massive surge of six wins in their last nine to boost them out of the relegation zone and into a push towards the table’s top half. Their last three wins have come against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. However, they’re depleted in central defense, with Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann, and James Tomkins all out injured.

Burnley, meanwhile, could get to 39 points with a win, a big boost in their bid to outrun those below them in the table. The Clarets are looking to buck the league’s worst road record, with just a single win and a single draw away from Turf Moor. They’ll be without Joey Barton, whose career could be over after an 18-month suspension for gambling. That’s a big miss for the Clarets, as Barton has played all but 10 minutes of their last 12 matches. Scott Arfield could be a candidate to replace Barton, with the 28-year-old a regular in the side before Barton’s arrival midseason.

What they’re saying

Allardyce on Burnley“I think he has built a very good football club from top to bottom on stability that he has brought to Burnley, he has made Burnley’s owners and directors look at the financial side of their club and they now see one that is financially secure. That money has been brought to the club by him getting them promoted to the Premier League, evolving at a nice, steady pace and as a club they have not panicked and been patient, which is a word that doesn’t happen in football anymore. If you look at the football dictionary, the word patient you can’t find anymore because there is none. But there is at Burnley.”

Burnley manager on survival“We have more points than we did ever in the Premier League and it’s now about taking it all the way. It’s now about everything we’ve learned over the season and delivering performances in these last four games. We, as a club, without a shadow of a doubt are in really good shape going into this last bunch of games. But we aren’t naïve enough to think it takes care of itself, because it doesn’t. We have to go and step on and take care of what we need to.”

Prediction

Burnley has been horrid away from home this season, and while they should stay up given the poor squads below them, Crystal Palace is playing too well to fall to lesser opposition at Selhurst Park. Christian Benteke will continue to feast as the Eagles win.