Offshore drilling, England: at Chelsea 0, Manchester City 0

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Changes will have to come later for Chelsea, who saw the debut of their new manager fail to yield any correction of course. With no significant changes to personnel, formation, or style, Chelsea saw no significant changes to their results, drawn at home on Sunday by Manchester City, 0-0.

Both teams will be content with the result, though each have reason to think they should have gotten more. Manchester City controlled much of a match in which, against a struggling opponent, they could have pushed harder for a winning goal. Instead, they seemed content to adopt a more level posture, an approach that has cost them first in the Premier League.

Chelsea can assuage themselves with having held the defending champions at arm’s length, though there was a time not so long ago when any points dropped at Stamford Bridge would have been seen as a failure. Given the talent in this squad, there’s no reason that attitude should change. Instead, Chelsea’s fall swoon continues, with new manager Rafa Benítez’s Chelsea tenure beginning on a mixed note.

Man of the Match: As in most Manchester City matches, Yaya Touré was the game’s best player, though on a day when there were few good chances on goal, neither side saw enough offensive excellent or defensive failures to provide much distinction between players. Touré, however, was his typically dependable self in defense while providing the orchestrating presence high in attack that helped City maintain a majority of possession.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Neither team wanted it more – Years ago, when former Giants, Cowboys, and Jets head coach Bill Parcells had a seat on ESPN’s Sunday NFL pregame show, he was asked to pick a winner in one of the day’s games. Almost dismissively, he offered “usually the team that wants it more wins the game.” Particularly in these middle-of-the-seasons, low stakes affairs, it’s the team that can muster some will that takes a result.

On Sunday, neither Chelsea nor Manchester City wanted more than they got, and it showed. Chelsea’s only good chance came in the 61st minute when Fernando Torres skied a shot over the bar from 12 yards. City’s best opportunity was a first half counterattack started and finished by Pablo Zabaleta, who drilled a 14-yard shot right at Joe Hart.

Manchester City was happy with a road point, while Chelsea seemed content to draw during this transition phase. Add that to the predilections of the two managers involved, and we should have known to bet heavily on 0-0 the moment Benítez was appointed.

Too soon for changes at Chelsea – Benítez only had three days to prepare – a little more than a day since he was formally announced on Friday – so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Sunday’s team looked identical to one Roberto Di Matteo would have selected. It’s going to take a little more time on the training ground for Benítez to develop any firm personnel preferences. The formation (4-2-3-1) is likely to stay the same, regardless.

If there’s anything to infer from Benítez’s choices, it’s that Gary Cahill might lose some time (Cesar Azpilicueta’s start pushing Branislav Ivanovic into central defense) and Fernando Torres will keep getting chances to justify his purchase (the Spaniard back into the starting XI after missing out mid-week). But Di Matteo could have just as easily made those selections. Chelsea’s defense has a been rotating all season, and Torres was always likely to come back for today’s match.

So much skill, so little danger – The teams combined for six shots on target (five from Manchester City), though that number slightly exaggerates the drama. Though the match had a nice flow over the last 30 minutes (Chelsea counterattacks becoming the game’s only threat), Petr Cech and Joe Hart were left with little to do. City, pushing Chelsea’s defense back into their comfortable, deep posture, was left to make the best of half-chances, while Chelsea’s counterattacks always lost steam as they approached City’s penalty area (frequently, at the point Fernando Torres became involved).

Packaged for takeaway

  • For the second match in a row, David Luiz had a strong, mistake-free day, though he almost opened himself up for criticism in the 92nd minute when he put a shoulder into a charging Mario Balotelli, taking him down 19 yards from goal. Somewhat inexplicably, referee Chris Foy produced a yellow card for Balotelli, presumably saying the clear contact was exaggerated by the City attacker.
  • At the other end, Vincent Kompany was man of the match-caliber (he earned Gary Neville’s honors) three days after leaving the Etihad on crutches after City’s draw with Real Madrid.
  • James Milner got the start on the left instead of Samir Nasri, who dressed but never appeared. Predictably, Milner gave a steady performance that failed to alter the game. Whereas Nasri might have won the game for Roberto Mancini, at least Milner didn’t lose it.
  • Edin Dzeko got a rare league start, a reward for his recent substitute’s heroics. Unfortunately for the Bosnian attacker, he did little to suggest he should get more of Carlos Tévez’s playing time.
  • Chelsea’s only official shot on goal was a 30-plus-yard direct kick from David Luiz that had no chance of beating Joe Hart.
  • The result gives Manchester United first place in the Premier League. City sits second with West Brom allowed to stay third place ahead of Chelsea.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —