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

“Normal one” Klopp dazzles on Liverpool unveiling

Jurgen Klopp at Anfield is unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC during a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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LIVERPOOL – Jurgen Klopp strode into the room with the confidence of a man who believes he can turn this great club into something special again.

[ MORE: Klopp’s arrival announced ]

The German coach, 48, was unveiled as Liverpool’s new manager at a packed out “Reds Lounge” deep in the Centenary Stand at Anfield on Friday, as the former Borussia Dortmund coach signed a three-year deal reportedly making him the richest manager in Liverpool’s illustrious history with a salary of over $10 million per season.

His appointment is more than just a soccer-related decision. It’s about uniting everyone at the club and Klopp’s arrival is key to slotting everything together. The German manager is under no illusion as to how difficult this job will be, but is relishing the challenge.

“I am back in the race, it is the biggest honor I can imagine to be here,” Klopp said. “One of the biggest clubs in the world. I will try to help in a situation that is not as difficult as people in this room feel. It is a good moment here and I feel proud. The intensity of the football, of how the people live football in Liverpool, all Liverpool fans around the world. It is not a usual club, it is a special club. I had two very, very special clubs with Mainz and Dortmund. It is the perfect next step for me to be here and try and help.”

[ MORE: Klopp’s 10 best quotes ]

Holding court for almost half an hour with over 100 members of the British, German and worldwide media, Klopp was asked by a journalist if he could perhaps compare himself to Jose Mourinho, who announced himself as “The Special One” when he arrived in English soccer. Klopp paused and then delivered the following.

“I don’t want to describe myself. Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy. I come from Black Forest. I am the normal one maybe,” Klopp said. “I was a very average player, became a manager in Germany at a special club, Mainz, then I had a great opportunity to take Dortmund, a special club for seven years. For both parties it was best to leave and now I am here. I hope to enjoy my work. All the people tell me about the British press so it is up to you to show me they are all liars.”

Cue roars of laughter from the media, as Klopp’s first box office moment in England had arrived.

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Not since 2004, when Rafael Benitez arrived from La Liga champions Valencia to lead Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory in 2006, has the arrival of a Liverpool manager been as heralded as Herr Klopp’s. The German realizes the pressure on his shoulders after 25 years without a league title for, but has called for a new era.

“Twenty-five years ago [since the last league title] is a long time,” Klopp said. “History is only the base for us, [we shouldn’t] keep the history in our backpack all day. I want to see the first step next week and not always compare with other times. This is a great club with big potential. Everything is there. Let’s try to start a new way. Everything is different – I don’t know it all but I’m a pretty good listener.”

Even though he says he doesn’t know it all, Klopp did say that he hopes to deliver the title in the next four years at Anfield.

“When I left Dortmund, my last sentence was it was not so important what people think when you come in, it is more important what they think what you leave. Please give us time to work on it. If we want, this could be a really special day,” Klopp said. “We could start in a very difficult league but in a special Liverpool way we can be successful. We can’t wait for it, I don’t want to say we can wait 20 years. If we sit here in four years, I think we win one title. I’m pretty sure. If not the next one, maybe in Switzerland.”

Cue laughter again, as Klopp impressed with his forthright nature and ability to bring humor to what was a hugely important moment as he announced himself to the world as Liverpool’s manager for the first time. In his seven years at Dortmund, Klopp took a beleaguered powerhouse of German soccer to new levels. He won back-to-back Bundesliga titles. He reached a Champions League final. He worked miracles on a shoe-string budget compared to Dortmund’s illustrious neighbors at home and abroad.

Plus, perhaps most importantly, he became a man of the people, a coach who helped bring the fans closer to the club. Dortmund’s famous Westfalenstadion was full to the brim for every home game. Much of that was also to due to the style of play Klopp instrumented, with the two-time German manager of the year admitting he likes “heavy metal” and believes his team play in such a manner compared to the “silent song” and “orchestra” of an Arsenal or a Barcelona who prefer to stroke the ball around.

“I am not here to today to speak too much about our football. First I want to talk to my team about the football. Everyone knows me, I don’t change in four months,” Klopp said. “It is emotion inside, it is speed, it is transition game so you will see this. All the things make football interesting for me, I want to see on the pitch. We have to see how much time we need. In this time we have to win, to make points, that is true but it is not the day to promise a style of football.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Klopp stepped away from Dortmund in the summer. He left on his own terms and was revered by fans, players and officials at the German club. It has always been expected he would go on to bigger things. The truth is, had there been a vacancy at a big club across Europe over the past three months, at Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or either of the Manchester clubs, Klopp would have been one of the first names on the list. Liverpool landing him is a coup and the euphoria of fans upon his arrival on Merseyside is palpable. Excitement levels are on the rise with a $165 million redevelopment of the Main Stand underway to help take Liverpool into a new era with more fans, revenue and a charismatic manager leading the way.

In the crowded press conference we asked Klopp if he can compare the situation he found himself in at Dortmund, to the job he has on his hands at Liverpool.

“We did in Dortmund what we had to do, to improve the players, to work for a common idea of play. That is what we did and its the same thing we want to do here. They are not the same players of course,” Klopp told NBC Sports ProSocerTalk. “These players from Liverpool are better, more experienced in some ways and younger in other cases. Everything is okay, I am here. I am not here only because LFC was calling. I believe in the potential of this team. Four or five strikers you can work with when they are not injured, midfielders is really good, defenders experienced and very young, goalkeeper is really good. Everything is there.

“Now we have to work. The problem in football is that you can be as good as you want but you always have to play against other teams. You have no influence on how good they are before the game. But in the game, if they are better, you have to bring them to your level. On your level you can kill every team. If they are not so good, you have to win. That is football.”

Liverpool’s much-maligned American owners, the Fenway Sports Group (FGS), have finally got their marquee manager as they approach their fifth anniversary at the club on Oct. 15, 2015. The decision to fire Brendan Rodgers last Sunday seemed inevitable, as they gambled on a young manager who was unproven at the elite level and failed to deliver trophies but came agonizingly close to winning the Premier League title in the 2013-14 season. Now, they have a man who can help transform their talented, yet drastically under-performing squad which was assembled by Rodgers and Liverpool’s much talked about transfer committee, into contenders for at least a top four spot going forward.

That transfer committee which many blamed for the demise of Rodgers is not an issue, as some had anticipated, for Klopp.

“This is a really crazy discussion because it was not a problem for (even) 10 seconds,” Klopp said. “We talked about it before. It’s enough for me to have the first and last word. We only want to discuss about very good players and discussing on the highest level and I hope that’s what we do. I’m not a genius, I don’t know more than the rest of the world. I need these people.”

Klopp’s first media appearance on UK soil as Liverpool’s boss ticked all the boxes fans could hope for, as the “Normal One” showed signs he is capable of being far from a normal personality, or manager, in the Premier League.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.