Iker Casillas, Lionel Messi

Offshore drilling, Spain: at Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 2

Leave a comment

Man of the match: It’s hard to separate the match’s two biggest stars, each posting braces, but Cristiano Ronaldo got his goals on the road, helping his team to a valuable point at their arch rivals.

In the 23rd minute, Ronaldo blasted a left-footed shot into the small, near-post window he was generously given at Victor Valdes, staking Real and early lead. Then, with his team down 2-1 in the second half, a burst from the left wing sent him past Martin Montoya and behind Barcelona’s defense, where he put a Mesut Özil pass behind Victor Valdes for the point-winning goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Real Madrid played as well as they have at the Nou Camp during the post-Frank Rijkaard era. They were clearly the better side for over the first half hour. Although Barcelona was still controlling the ball, the decisiveness of Real’s play left the Catalans looking less confident than normal.
  • And perhaps they had reason to worry, given who Tito Vilanova was forced to start at the back. Carles Puyol was out. So was Gerard Piqué, which make the decision to start Alex Song on the bench even more surprising. Instead, Vilanova dropped Sergio Busquets into central defense to play along side Javier Mascherano.
  • Well, kinda. In the defensive phase, Busquets would drop into a back four. In transition and attack, Barcelona’s normal defensive midfielder was playing in front of the line, even occasionally venturing into attack. When Barcelona scored their equalizer in the 31st minute, it was Busquets’ presence in the box that helped create chaos.
  • By the second half, Busquets was staying out of the defense. Adriano (on the left) and Montoya (right) were flanking Mascherano in a back three.
  • Its hard to say whether Barcelona’s defensive tactics contributed to the first goal. Daniel Alves (who started at right back but quickly came off) was playing far more narrow than we’re used to seeing him, perhaps trying to maintain a narrow back three until Busquets made up the numbers. Alves came into the middle to help on Karim Benzema, leaving Ronaldo alone after Benzema fed a ball into the left of the box.
  • Real’s second goal could have also been a product of the makeshift defense. Was Montoya’s slow reaction and Mascherano’s inability to cover a product of the ad hoc tactics?
  • When you dominate possession, you can take more chances in defense. The opposition’s going to have less time to exploit you. Today, Real Madrid only had 30 percent of the ball.
  • That would have ben enough if José Mourinho’s team was executing their counters with their usual efficiency. Something was off today, though. They lacked their usual sharpness. None of their attackers were getting the ball in dangerous spots. Ángel Di María had a very quiet day.
  • Benzema, however, did not. Real’s No. 9 had two very good chances in the first half, one of which went off the post. Given Real’s strong start and Benzema;s opportunities, Los Merengues should have been up two when Messi equalized.
  • That equalizer came in the 31st minute, when poor defending on a Pedro Rodríguez cross left Lionel Messi with an easy finish from inside the six-yard box. The most notable gaff: Pepe elevating only to lose his balance and fall to the ground as the deflected cross dropped right to Messi.
  • Early in the second half, Messi completed Barcelona’s turnaround, drawing a foul just above the arc before beating Iker Casillas with a beautiful dipping shot.
  • The culprit on the play was Xabi Alonso, who never seems to have an impact in these matches. His lunging tackle on Messi was always destined to draw a whistle.
  • Alonso lacks the foot speed to keep up with Messi and Andres Iniesta (who had a great game, also). In the game for his passing, Alonso’s only contributions seem to be bad fouls and yellow cards. Mourinho would have been better served by Michael Essien or Luka Modric.
  • Even though Ronaldo would find an equalizer, Barcelona controlled the second half. They were finally able to bring Messi into the match, building trough him throughout the match’s final 35 minutes. This led to numerous chances where Messi’s dribbling would push back the defense before he played it left to Iniesta, who would then go wide to Jordi Alba (playing as a left winger) for try to hit a runner through Real’s line.
  • After bringing Essien on for Di María late, Real’s defense was able to hold out, the big moment of danger coming when Pedro tested the cross bar.
  • Overall it was a great Clasico, with only a late winner keeping it from being one of the series’ best.
  • As it concerns the standings, the draw may serve Barcelona well, having carried an eight-point lead on Real Madrid into this match. With only seven rounds gone, however, it’s too early to tell the significance of Barça’s lead. If Real Madrid wins at the Bernabeu, today’s result will look like points lost.

Burnley’s Andre Gray charged by FA over Twitter posts from 2012

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Andre Gray of Burnley during the Premier League match between Burnley and Cardiff City at Turf Moor on  August 13, 2016 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images
2 Comments

A Premier League player is set to be punished by English football authorities for discriminatory comments he made on social media more than four years ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The comments made by Burnley striker Andre Gray between Jan. 9 and March 11, 2012 appeared anti-gay. They came to light on Saturday, when they were retweeted by other people after he scored his first Premier League goal for Burnley in the team’s 2-0 win over Liverpool. Gray released a public apology after the match.

Gray was charged with misconduct on Tuesday by the Football Association, which said the alleged comments “were abusive and/or insulting and/or improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

Gray said in his apology “the tweets were posted four years ago when I was a completely different person to the man I am now.”

“I have experienced a lot over the past four years and have had to take responsibility for a number of things in my life which has enabled me to mature and grow as a person since that time,” the 25-year-old Gray said.

“I have a lot of regrets regarding a number of things I’ve done in the past and realize I have made some big mistakes, none more so than these tweets, but I would like to stress that I’ve worked incredibly hard to completely transform my life since that time.”

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

Gray said he wanted to clarify that he was “absolutely not homophobic” and to “ask for forgiveness to anyone I offended.”

The FA said Gray had until Aug. 31 to respond to the charge.

“He has moved a long way in life,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said Tuesday. “He’s made that clear with an apology and also to remind the club, `It’s four years ago, I’m a different person.’

“A lot has gone on in his life to get him where he’s got to, I think he made that clear. It was authentic what he said (in the apology).”

Gray was the top scorer in the second-tier League Championship last season, helping Burnley achieve an immediate return to the Premier League.

Arsenal, Stoke target Jones part of Mourinho’s plans, will stay at Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Wes Hoolahan of Norwich City and Phil Jones of Manchester United compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Norwich City at Old Trafford on December 19, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Other Premier League clubs might be interested in Phil Jones, but Jose Mourinho has no intentions of letting the 24-year-old future England captain Manchester United center back leave anytime soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Mourinho and Man United have received multiple approaches for Jones this summer, but never entertained the idea of selling, according to the Guardian. Arsenal were said to have been interested earlier in the summer, while Stoke City are presently trying to pry the Blackburn Rovers academy product away from Old Trafford, as confirmed by Mark Hughes’ assistant, Mark Bowen, earlier this week.

Jones moved to Man United in the summer of 2011 for a fee believed to be north of $20 million. While he’s endured his share of hard times in his five seasons at the club, Jones would easily be a 30-$35 million player giving fees paid for comparable center backs in recent transfer windows.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

While Jones is yet to see the field early in the 2016-17 season, he remains a viable option, along with Chris Smalling, behind $40-million summer signing Eric Bailly and midfielder-turned-defender Daley Blind. Over the course of a 38-game PL season, the UEFA Champions League Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, a busy schedule and injuries will provide plenty of chances to impress the new manager and reclaim a regular place in the first team.

MLS preview: Galaxy, Sounders, Toronto FC hit the road midweek

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
Leave a comment

Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer on Wednesday…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

Quick quiz: Which is the hottest team in MLS right now? Answer: It’s TFC, who are unbeaten in their last six games, a stretch which includes five wins and an aggregate score of 16-4. OK, so how are they doing it? Don’t ask silly questions. In those six games, Sebastian Giovinco, who’s again running away in the MVP race and will become the first back-to-back winner in league history (only Preki has ever been a two-time winner), has scored eight goals and notched four assists. He’s been even better this year than he was in 2015. His 2016 season tally currently stands at 16 and 11. He’ll likely be the first player in MLS history to notch multiple 20-goal seasons, if Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has 15 this season, doesn’t get there first.

It’s not only Giovinco, though, but the return Jozy Altidore which has allowed the Italian superstar the freedom, the space, and the hold-up play to thrive as he’s done. Giovinco has been given a free role by head coach Greg Vanney, and Altidore’s ability to occupy two center backs at once, along with his ability to hold the ball up and draw the opposing defense toward him, has resulted in Giovinco scoring a number of easy chances no player of his quality should ever be allowed to see. It’s amazing what happens when you build a team and system around your best player, rather than try to make that player fit into something predetermined. Three points on Wednesday would vault the Reds into first place in the Eastern Conference having finally pulled level on games played with New York City FC.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Jack Harrison on meteoric rise — “It can only get better” ]

Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy — 8:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

After rattling off four straight wins over the majority of July, the Galaxy are suddenly winless winless in their last four, though they’ve managed to salvage three points during that period. During the current four-game stretch, the attacking trio of Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes have combined to contribute just one goal and three assists, all but one assist of which have come from GdS.

No team in the Western Conference has won more points away from home (14) than the Galaxy this season, while no team in MLS has won fewer home points (17 — or points, period, 22) than the Fire. All signs point toward a Galaxy victory, but this is a Fire side that has steadily improved bit by bit in recent weeks, culminating in their first road victory in 25 months last weekend. The Vancouver Whitecaps await the Galaxy on the weekend — can you say, “trap game?”

[ MORE: U.S. teen skipping college, heading to La Liga ]

Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

If TFC are the hottest team in MLS, the Sounders are the second-hottest and without a doubt the hottest team in the West. Since firing Sigi Schmid four weeks ago, the bunch in Rave Green are unbeaten in four games, now having won three straight. The signing of Nicolas Lodeiro has been the spark that breathed life into a dying season, but one could reasonably argue that Cristian Roldan’s emergence deep in midfield has meant just as much to a Sounders side that, for the first time all season, has found a strong base between the attack and defense.

Osvaldo Alonso is no longer being ask to play the box-to-box role in which he thrived for a half-decade, instead acting as the organizer and director in front of the backline, with Roldan, the 21-year-old with many miles left in his legs, covering large swaths of space in midfield. The biggest difference between Roldan and your typical defensive midfield in MLS? He can see a pass in the final third, and he can hit it when it’s on. Lodeiro creates plenty of space for Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey with his unbelievable range of passing, and that’s been a huge part of the eight goals the Sounders have scored in those three wins, but Roldan’s presence alongside Alonso has been just as important in allowing just four goals in four games.

EFL Cup roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool advance; Watford, WBA lose to League 1 sides

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  Michy Batshuayi of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal during the EFL Cup second round match between Chelsea and Bristol Rovers at Stamford Bridge on August 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images )
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Watford and West Bromwich Albion were beaten by third-tier opposition in the English League Cup on Tuesday, while fellow Premier League sides Liverpool and Everton enjoyed big wins in the second round.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Chelsea was pushed hard by third-tier Bristol Rovers before also advancing to the third round with a 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge.

Watford lost 2-1 to Gillingham after extra time and West Brom was beaten 4-3 on penalties by Northampton after they finished 2-2 after 120 minutes.

Northampton famously ousted Liverpool in the 2010-11 competition, but the Reds easily avoided a so-called “giant-killing” this time round by thrashing Burton Albion 5-0. Daniel Sturridge came off the bench to score two goals and wrap up victory over the second-tier side managed by former Liverpool forward Nigel Clough.

Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino also scored for a full-strength Liverpool team, and there was an own goal.

“Very serious, very professional performance by my side,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, who added that second-half injuries to Emre Can and Origi were not serious.

Everton also had a substitute striker scoring a late double, with Arouna Kone’s goals sealing a 4-0 home win over fourth-tier Yeovil.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte‘s decision to field a team largely made up of reserve players nearly backfired. Belgium striker BatshuayiMichy Batshuayi scored two first-half goals as Chelsea took a 3-1 lead into halftime, before Rovers scored a 48th-minute penalty and struck the crossbar as they went in search of an equalizer.

Devoid of European football this season, Liverpool and Chelsea will likely take the League Cup seriously. They are two of the most successful clubs in the competition’s history, having won it 13 times between them.

Stoke, Swansea, Hull and Crystal Palace were the other Premier League teams to progress to the third round, when clubs involved in Europe enter the draw that takes place Wednesday.

Peter Crouch scored a hat trick – including one goal from a scissor kick – in Stoke’s 4-0 win at Stevenage, Oliver McBurnie scored twice on his debut for Swansea in a 3-1 win at Peterborough, Hull beat Exeter 3-1 away and Palace was a 2-0 winner at home to Blackpool.

Palace gave a debut to new record-signing Christian Benteke, who played the first half before being substituted.

Derby beat Carlisle 14-13 on penalties to equal the most goals scored in a shootout in the competition’s history.