Offshore drilling, England: Chelsea 4, at Tottenham 2

1 Comment

Man of the Match: In one of the season’s best games, Juan Mata gave one of the campaign’s best individual performances. Two nice second half finishes turned a 2-1 Blues deficit into a 3-2 lead, with a great individual effort to strip Kyle Walker and set up Daniel Sturridge producing the match’s final goal. On a night where Chelsea’s other attackers failed to make their mark, Mata led his team to big derby victory.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Coming off another impressive London derby performance, Chelsea provided more proof that last season’s sixth place finish was an aberration (not part of a trend). They were exactly as good as the final score. Their vulnerability in defense combined with a potency going forward that led to great Saturday morning entertainment.
  • How much John Terry’s absence had to do with that vulnerability will be debated (or, perhaps overshadowed by the four goals). The captain started his four-game suspension today, with Gary Cahill sliding into the starting XI. By now, he and partner David Luiz are familiar with each other, which makes it more difficult to explain why Spurs looked to capable of moving through them at any time in the second half.
  • In the first half, though, Chelsea was able to dictate how the game was played, getting an early goal from Cahill to take a 1-0 lead into intermission. Though most of the first period, Chelsea held a three-to-two possession advantage.
  • Their only goal, however, came on a mistake by William Gallas, whose weak clearance fell right to Cahill just above the circle. The England international volleyed into the top of the goal, giving Brad Friedel (back in the starting XI) no chance to prevent the opener.
  • The game changed at halftime. Spurs came out a different team. They dominated play, getting goals from Gallas and Jermain Defoe within nine minutes of the whistle. Though those would be their final goals of the match, they’d go on to outshoot Chelsea 15-6 over the game’s final 45 minutes.
  • For Chelsea, however, it was all about execution, converting on three of their last six shots. More accurately, it was all about Juan Mata’s execution. The Spaniard’s equalizer camw off another terrible clearance for Gallas, while the game winning goal featured a nice near-post finish of an Eden Hazard pass, Mata making a good run to get behind Gallas.
  • Those defensive breakdowns are going to obscure the fact that Spurs performed relatively well, particularly with Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembélé unavailable. He both men been at Andre Villas-Boas’s disposal, Spurs may have been able to keep up in a shootout. On Saturday, however, they needed one more threat. Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson provided minimal contributions.
  • Without it, Spurs fell victim to what’s becoming Chelsea’s modus operandi – being carried by one of their attackers. Early in the season, it was Eden Hazard. We saw Oscar do it against Juventus. Today, it was Mata. At any point, one of those players can step up, control a game, and lead Chelsea to victory, even when they’re facing the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham.
  • Spurs need to get their defense back. They need Younes Kaboul healthy. They need Benoit Assou-Ekotto healthy. They need the ability to bench Gallas or Kyle Walker.
  • The only concerns for Chelsea: Their defense and their inability to prove more dangerous with the possession they had in the first half. Will this team always be at its best on the counter, when they can play a game that protects that defense? And if so, will they always be in danger of replicating the Juventus game?

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
Leave a comment

Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.