Premier League roundup: Chelsea’s Dr. Jekyll, Reading’s big comeback

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There’s no explaining this Chelsea team. The ups and downs are too extreme, too often. In the last month, they’ve lost to Corinthians, Queens Park Rangers, and Swansea (the last two at home) while beating Aston Villa and Southampton by a combined 13-1.

Today was more of the latter, though they got some help. Two own goals from Jon Walters staked the Blues to a 2-0 lead. Sprinkle in insurance  via Frank Lampard (from the spot) and Eden Hazard and Chelsea was back in the win column. Combined with Spurs’ draw at Loftus Road, the 4-0 result vaulted the Blues back into third place.

The scoreline was deceiving, though. Chelsea weren’t that good. Through most of the first half they looked the better team in talent but not in execution. The match was playing out as a game Stoke could steal via defensive mistake or a set piece.

But fortune went the other way, starting in first half stoppage time. Walters headed a cross into his own net to send Chelsea into halftime up 1-0. A second own goal in the 63rd minute and Lampard’s 194th goal for Chelsea (second on the club’s all-time list) two minutes later eliminated all doubt. Hazard’s tally was pure icing.

It’s the type of result that will obscure the fact Chelsea are still performing nowhere near their capabilities. People will see the lopsided score and make positive inferences, but it’s unclear this team is making progress. They may be within four points of second place Manchester City, but Chelsea are still more third/fourth place battlers than title contenders.

Which, incidentally, is right where most predicted them to land at the beginning of the season.

Mid-week, I rolled out the trite Dr. Jerkll and Mr. Hide analog (though I used it incorrectly). It’s cliché, but it’s an apt shorthand for Chelsea’s schizophrenia behavior, especially if you’re trying to avoid too many mental illness metaphors.

You really can’t predict which Chelsea team is going to show up. Today, the good one got three points at the Britannia.

source: Getty ImagesEight minutes, three goals, three points for Reading

When QPR drew this morning, we talked about the importance of going for three at home, especially if you’re fighting relegation. One point is nice, but at this juncture of the season, holding serve is not enough.

Through 80 minutes on Saturday, Reading weren’t even in frame for a draw. Nineteenth and 69th minute goals from Romelu Lukaku gave West Brom a 2-0 lead at the Madejski Stadium. The Baggies were on their way to snapping a two-match losing streak.

Then came the onslaught. Jimmy Kebe broke through in the 82nd minute, with mid-week hero Adam Le Fondre equalizing from the spot two minutes later. Not content with the lesser comeback, Reading got a winner from Pavel Progrebnyak in stoppage time to claim their third win in 22 games.

With neither Aston Villa nor Wigan winning, the three points loom particularly large. Not only did the Royals vault out of the basement, they’re now within three  of both the Villans and Latics. Plus, Brian McDermott’s team holds the goal difference advantage on each.

The comeback underscores the importance of full points. QPR walked off the pitch at Loftus Road feeling good about their 0-0 with Tottenham, but after the result at Reading, Rangers are worse off than they were before the day’s opening whistle.

Elsewhere in England

Aston Villa 0-1 Southampton – Ricky Lambert’s first half penalty conversion holds up to move Saints into 15th place. Villa drops into the relegation zone. Make a list of the potential reasons you should replace a coach mid-stream then ask yourself whether Villa should move on from Paul Lambert. Given their recent managerial history, is easier said than done, but it’s hard to see how, based on what he’s done at Villa, Lambert’s the man to keep them up.

Everton 0-0 Swansea – Swansea hasn’t lost since a 1-0 at White Hart Lane on Dec. 16. In that respect, this is an understandable result for Everton, though for a team chasing a Champions League spot, this looks like points dropped.

Fulham 1-1 Wigan Athletic – A 71st minute Franco Di Santo goal gets the Latics a valuable road point, temporarily pulling them out of the drop. Fulham started all of Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Bryan Ruiz but were unable to snare a crucial second goal before Martin Jol started changing things just after the hour.

Norwich City 0-0 Newcastle – Everything I said about Paul Lambert, above? Apply them to Alan Pardew. Newcastle snaps a three-match losing streak (in league) but are only two points above the drop.

Sunderland 3-0 West Ham United – It’s the kind of result that makes you wonder if West Ham’s hat a wall. You can point to the absence of midfielder Mohamed Diamé, but it takes more than one man’s absence to explain conceding three times to Sunderland. Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson, and James McClean scored for a Black Cats side who’ve taken nine points from their last five games.

West Bromwich rejects latest bid from Man City for Evans

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Manchester City’s latest transfer target is a Premier League veteran, but he’s not going without a fight.

West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis confirmed that the club had rejected a transfer bid for former Manchester United centerback Jonny Evans from Manchester City. It’s reported that the transfer bid was worth $23.2 million and that Man City are willing to up it to around $28.3 million, though Pulis isn’t budging.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“We have turned down an offer for Jonny,” Pulis said. “We do not want to sell Jonny and we do not need to sell him. It would have to be a very, very good offer.

“Jonny understands the situation and where everything is. Jonny is happy here and wants to get on with his football. He is one of our best players. We all understand where we are.”

Evans has made 61 starts over the past two seasons for West Bromwich but it’s a question as to whether he’d be first choice at Manchester City, with Vincent Kompany, John Stones and even Nicolas Otamendi ahead of Evans in the pecking order.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t make sense for West Bromwich to sign one of its top players at this point in the transfer window, with less than a month to find a replacement in both the dressing room and on the field.

For all the talk about needing to improve defensively over the offseason, Man City manager Pep Guardiola has so far only been able to bring in new fullbacks, but perhaps his 3-5-2 formation displayed in the opening match of the season can provide more defensive stability for the team, even if Kompany misses extensive time with injury like in the past.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.