Chelsea's Moses celebrates with team mates Cahill and Juan Mata after scoring a goal during their Champions League Group E soccer match against Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge in London

Offshore drilling, Champions League: at Chelsea 3, Shakhtar Donetsk 2

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Two Shakhtar Donetsk gifts an a 94th minute winner from substitute Victor Moses took three points for Chelsea on Wednesday, the defending champions pulling even with the Ukrainians at the top of UEFA Champions League’s Group E.

Seconds away from being relegated to third place in a group that also includes Juventus, Moses headed a corner kick into the upper-right hand corner of Andriy Pyatov’s goal giving the hosts their third lead of the game.

But Chelsea would have never been in position to steal the point had it not been for two Shakhtar errors you’d rarely see in at college level. In the sixth minute, a poor backpass from defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy left Pyatov little recourse but to blast an attempted clearance off the leaping Fernando Torres, the resulting ricochet settling in the back of Shakhtar’s net.

In the 40th minute, after Willian had pulled Shakhtar even, Pyatov’s ill-placed header left him standing outside his area as Oscar put an 40-yard shot into an empty goal.

Man of the Match: It’s rare that this honor goes to a player on the losing team, but when that team has to fight back from two aberrational goals, you’re likely to see a number of superior individual performances from the team left empty-handed. On Wednesday, Fernandinho put in another great performance in Shakhtar’s midfield, Darijo Srna constantly stressed the left side of Chelsea’s defense, and Willian, our Man of the Match, gave the Blues more reason to regret not buying him this summer.

Then, the Brazilian winger was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, though the rumor never became more than a vague link between player and club. His continued presence in Donetsk helped Shakhtar carry an unbeaten record into today’s game, a mark his two middle-of-the-area finishes nearly preserved.

In the ninth minute, Willian opened his right foot on a ball from Fernandinho, the resulting shot beaingt Petr Cech into the right side of goal. In the second half, a near identical play (this time, the ball from the right coming from Darijo Srna) gave Willian his second goal of the night.

Threesome of Knowledge: What we learned

Chelsea’s come back down to earth.

The Blues’ high-flying start to the Premier League season has long past, not only in terms of results but also form. They were second best today but, to their credit, managed to get full points. Still, Wednesday’s performance falls in line with a series of discouraging results the Premier League’s former leaders have accumulated over the last month: losing at Shakhtar; losing at home to Manchester United; drawing at Swansea City.

As they did under Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, and Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea started the season strong. And as has been the case over recent seasons, they’ve regressed.

Resiliency rounds out Shakhtar’s contender’s resumé.

At this point, nobody questions whether Shakhtar are capable of competing in Europe. At least, on the fringes. Are they going to compete for Champions League? No, but they’re going to give somebody a lot of trouble in the quarterfinals, if not beyond.

At those levels, talent isn’t always decisive. A series of extra-athletic factors distinguish teams from each other, one of which is the ability to respond to the inevitable adversity you’ll face during a long tournament.

Today, Shakhtar demonstrated that trait, twice coming from behind on the road at the tournament’s holders, coming within minutes of salvaging a result they’d nearly given away (twice). Moses’s last gasp goal took a point out of their hands, but based on what we saw on Wednesday, time was the only thing that kept them from again responding to adversity.

Chelsea’s defense needs help.

The ease of Shakhtar’s responses has to concern Roberto Di Matteo. Except for Moses’ goal, each time Chelsea scored, Shakhtar quickly responded, basic buildup down their right leading to simple goals from Willian. Is that all it takes to breakdown a Chelsea defense these days?

The last time Chelsea kept a clean sheet was Oct. 2 at Nordsjaelland. In the five games that followed, they’ve conceded 11 goals. Handed three leads on Wednesday, they conceded two.

Giving up goals is one thing, but giving up leads is slightly different. Today, Chelsea had two chances to do as they did during last year’s run and lock down a match. That they couldn’t do so at home in an important game is more concerning than the increasingly ugly numbers.

Packaged for takeaway

  • John Terry started on the bench and was working on a stationary bike at one point during the match; however, the Chelsea captain didn’t play.
  • Ryan Bertrand got the call in place of Ashley Cole at left back, combining with Eden Hazard to create a very vulnerable left flank. Shakhtar right back Darijo Srna had his most influential match of the tournament.
  • Despite their effort, Chelsea’s midfield of John Obi Mikel and Ramires had trouble covering the space demanded of them by Shakhtar’s passing. They needed help, but with Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata in front of them, there was little to be had. In the second half, Oscar started dropping to Ramires’s level, the team forming a 4-1-4-1 shape with Mikel in front of the defense.
  • On an otherwise quiet day, Luiz Adriano provided some nice holdup play for Shakhtar, who resorted to using their No. 9 more as Chelsea pushed for a late goal.
  • If there were Player of the Group awards, Fernandinho would be the heavy favorite to win Group E’s.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.