Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Chelsea 2

4 Comments

Man of the MatchJuan Mata provided another entrancing display, fulling validating a week’s worth of media hype anointing him the season’s best player. From an amazingly curled free kick goal in the 44th, to his cross in the buildup to Chelsea’s 53rd minute equalizer, to his constant stressing of Manchester United’s defense, Mata turned around what initially looked destined to be a lopsided affair.

Mata’s October contributions may have finally surpassed Eden Hazard’s early season results. Even if he’s still playing catchup, Chelsea has the Premier League’s two best performers of the (still young) 2012-13 season. 

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Two huge Sunday matches, two games overshadowed by the officiating. Whereas the Everton-Liverpool match saw one late call determine the result, Mark Clattenburg and crew provided two talking points for us content-hungry keyboard jockeys.
  • With Chelsea already down a man (Branislav Ivanovic uncontroversially shown red in the 63rd after running through a goal-bound Ashley Young), Fernando Torres was given a second yellow card (68′) for exaggerating a foul by Jonny Evans. At the time, the score was 2-2.
  • Two interpretations of the play – where Torres appears to be brought down after playing a ball behind Evans – with most people critical of Clattenburg.
    • The first: There was contact, it was a foul, so Torres shouldn’t have been carded. Clattenburg ARRRRGGGH!
    • The second: Foul or not, Torres was guilty of simulation, exaggerating the effect of the contact.
  • There’s no doubt Torres did just that. The problem: Evans wasn’t whistled, Torres was shown off, and onlookers were left to wonder what Clattenburg was thinking.
  • There is a huge, hypocritical tension here. There are constant complains about diving, and without a doubt, Torres dived to one degree or another. He exaggerated for the purpose of drawing a foul. Yet there’s general consternation over Clattenburg’s call, mostly because Evans made some contact with Torres. But if the problem with diving is the ethics behind it – the deceit, exaggeration, simulation of it all – then Torres should have been booked. No doubt, no debate under that standard. So which way do we want it? Because when decisions a binary and Clattenburg has to give a yes-no, it can’t go both ways.
  • Fine print: Don’t dive when you’re carrying a yellow card!
  • Three minutes after Torres left, Javier Hernández (having just been brought on for Tom Cleverley) put home a pass from Rafael from an offside position. The play stood, and Manchester United had their first win in 10 years at Stamford Bridge.
  • Before Blues started being dismissed, the match was split into two halves: Thirty minutes of United dominance followed by a half-hour of Chelsea control.
  • Manchester United played the best soccer of the Premier League season over the first third. Their passing was impeccable, their attacks were decisive and destroyed Chelsea’s defense, and we finally saw the devastating effect the speed of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young can have with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney through the middle. Who knows how potent this team can be when Shingi Kagawa returns?
  • The first goal was a perfect example. Van Perise and Young had switched, leaving “RVP” wide left. A turnover on Chelsea’s left allowed Young to burst between Chelsea defenders before Rooney hit him at the edge of the attacking third. Young laid it of for Rooney, pulled the defense with him as he ran toward goal, leaving an open area for van Persie. Rooney found him, RVP putting his shot off the post and David Luiz for a fourth minute goal.
  • The second goal, nine minutes later, was very similar. Rafael and Valencia blew through their right thanks to a poor read from Ashley Cole. The United winger was able to hit van Persie as his teammate dropped back from the defense, a right-footed shot into the middle of goal giving United a 2-0 lead.
  • As is there tendency, United let up, willing to let Chelsea control the game. Based on the first half hour, this should have been fine. United’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape gave them a line across midfield that prevented Chelsea from connecting with their Eden Hazard-Oscar-Juan Mata level.
  • United look vulnerable on crosses, however, with Gary Cahill missing a chance off a corner. With the control Chelsea had over the game, it was a matter of time before the home side broke through.
  • Rooney helped him out. A misguided takedown of Hazard at the edge of the arc gave Mata too much of David de Gea’s goal. When the United keeper took a step left before Mata aimed to his right, he had no chance to stop a shot put into the side-netting. Minutes before halftime, Chelsea had got United’s lead in half.
  • Coming out the break, Chelsea made a crucial adjustment, having Oscar drop behind Manchester United’s midfielders to pick up the ball from Ramires and John Obi Mikel. As a result, Chelsea dominated the opening of the second half, exploiting United’s fullbacks, eventually creating a goal after crosses from Mata to Oscar to the goal-scorer, Ramires.
  • Ten minutes later, the match changed again. Ivanovic was off, and Chelsea was on their way to their first loss of the season.
  • For each team, it was a very mixed performance. Put the last 30, chaotic minutes aside and look at the first two-thirds. Over the first half hour, United looked like the best team in England. Through the middle third, Chelsea made the beginning seem a fluke. While Chelsea’s defense showed an alarming vulnerability, United again displayed a willingness to concede control of a match they should dominate.
  • Despite the loss, Chelsea maintains the lead in England. One point behind them: the Manchesters.

Fan dies after falling off football stadium in Brazil

Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) A Brazilian football fan has died after falling 25 meters from the top of Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo onto a parking lot.

The height is equivalent to an eight-story building.

Bruno Pereira da Silva, aged 23, suffered head injuries and died upon arrival at a local hospital on Sunday.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He and other fans were attempting to jump to a section of the stadium where they could get a better view of the Sao Paulo state championship match between Sao Paulo and archrival Corinthians. The game ended 1-1.

Friends of da Silva told Brazilian media Silva was attending his first football match.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers: CRC, Honduras get off the mat

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The two traditional CONCACAF powers are riding high following Friday’s round of World Cup qualifiers, while the two other sides to qualify for Brazil 2014 are licking their wounds.

Honduras and Costa Rica both found themselves on the wrong side of shutout losses to the United States and Mexico, while Trinidad and Tobago injected itself into the discussion with a home win over Panama.

[ WATCH: CONCACAF qualifiers on Telemundo ]

What’s cooking for Tuesday? Read on:

Honduras vs. Costa Rica — 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Two sides which love to play physical, on-the-edge soccer meet on the heels of Friday losses. Expect Jorge Luis Pinto’s Catrachos to adapt after a 6-0 beatdown at the hands of the U.S., but they’ll have to do much, much better at home.

The dates at Estadio Morazan have to be the key for Honduras to climb into the Top Three, and it’ll be buoyed by memories of its 3-1 win over T&T two rounds ago. As for Costa Rica, Los Ticos aim to respond from conceding their first two goals of the Hex.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico — 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Kevin Molino’s strike gave T&T its first three points of qualifying, but its odds of getting a result against visiting Mexico aren’t nearly as good. The Soca Warriors desperation will be easy to see, as June’s qualifiers include trips to the U.S. and Costa Rica.

El Tri now has wins in two of its trickier Hex matches after adding Friday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica to its upset of the Yanks in Columbus. Ten points through four matches would be exemplary; A draw or loss leaves the door open for Costa Rica to summit the Hex table.

United States vs. Panama — 10:05 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Read our extensive preview here, but the upshot is this: The United States can rise into the Top Three by beating Panama, while Los Canaleros will be happy to scoop a draw to stem any bleeding cause by Molino and T&T.

Argentina feels World Cup pressure; Brazil set to party

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) Argentina was the runner-up in the last World Cup. This time it’s under rising pressure just to qualify.

That pressure will be felt even more in its match Tuesday against Bolivia in the thin air of La Paz, which is located in the Andes at 3,650 meters (11,900 feet) altitude.

Argentina has not won a match there since 2005, upping the stakes a bit more.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

Meanwhile, South American rival Brazil will gear up for possible early qualification if it beats Paraguay in Sao Paulo. To advance, the South American group leader needs a victory and a few other results to fall its way. But win or lose, Brazil is heading for the World Cup in Russia with five rounds of qualifying remaining.

Argentina cannot be so confident.

Second-placed Uruguay faces a winnable match at lowly Peru, and fourth-placed Colombia has a real test at fifth-placed Ecuador. Sixth-placed Chile welcomes last-placed Venezuela in Santiago, hoping to climb back into qualifying position.

With five rounds to go, Brazil has 30 points – more than enough to secure a spot in previous World Cups. Uruguay has 23 and Argentina 22.

With Brazil almost sure to advance – and Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru struggling at the bottom – that leaves six teams fighting for the three remaining automatic spots for Russia. Another South American team could also advance in a playoff.

[ MORE: Wood looks ahead to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann ]

—-

ARGENTINA

Argentina put on a poor performance on Thursday, but managed to beat Chile 1-0 in Buenos Aires after a controversial penalty was conceded and converted by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

The visitors will miss suspended Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano, which is making coach Edgardo Bauza think of dramatic changes to the team.

Before the win against Chile and the loss of Mascherano, Bauza was considering a defensive 5-4-1 formation in La Paz, hoping to save his players’ energy and capitalize on the ball-holding Mascherano. Now he may be forced into a more offensive formation that relies less on counterattacking.

Bolivian coach Mauricio Soria, who spared some of his main players in the 1-0 defeat at Colombia on Thursday, said his team will not be intimidated by the Argentine stars and should push hard against them. His team will be rested and in familiar surroundings.

“We hope we can make them feel a lot of their fears,” Soria said.

—-

BRAZIL

After the impressive thrashing of Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo, Brazil is so close to the World Cup spot that many players are already looking for new challenges as Brazil chases it sixth World Cup title.

For the spot to be assured, Brazil needs to beat Paraguay and see Venezuela overcome Chile in Santiago. Also, Colombia needs to get its first win at Ecuador in 20 years.

Even if the “official” qualification doesn’t come, there will surely be a party at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

Coach Tite, who has won seven straight games in qualifiers since he took over in September, had his best days at Corinthians. He won two Brazilian championships, one Copa Libertadores, and the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup title after a 1-0 victory over England’s Chelsea in Japan.

Defender Fagner, also a Corinthians player, will replace suspended Dani Alves.

“I feel no pressure, I want to enjoy every moment of this,” Fagner told reporters.

If he doesn’t do well, Tite has already brought Sevilla’s Mariano for a test.

—-

COLOMBIA

The Colombia vs. Ecuador match could be key to the aspirations of both teams: Colombia has 21 points, and Ecuador has 20.

The disappointing performance in the 1-0 victory over Bolivia on Thursday is making Colombia fans worry that their team might not qualify for the World Cup. The game in Quito promises to be even more complicated now that coach Jose Pekerman’s side has lost its best striker to injury. Luis Muriel had a right-leg injury and will likely be replaced by Miguel Borja or Carlos Bacca.

History does not favor Colombia: it has been 20 years since Colombia last beat Ecuador at the Atahualpa stadium.

Ecuador also has problems for the key clash. Striker Miller Bolanos and midfielder Christian Noboa will be out and their replacements are not yet set.

Bobby Wood looks forward to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.

Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.

[ MORE: Complete USMNT-Panama preview ]

But the 24-year-old Hawaii-born striker saved his fondest words for ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann, essentially calling him a career-saver. From HSV live (translated from German):

He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.

That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.

Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.

That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.