Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at AC Milan 2, Barcelona 0

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If you think today’s result will just be a one-off, your memory’s short. This is how Chelsea did it last year. This is how Manchester United did it in 2008 and how Chelsea nearly derailed them a year later. This is how Barcelona goes out, but unlike recent years that saw opponents get a goal and hold out, Milan got two. And now one of the tournament favorites is on the brink of leaving UEFA Champions League before they’ve even managed to threaten their opponent’s goal.

That’s how surprisingly lopsided today’s match was, though that imbalance won’t be reflected in the possession stat. At 73 percent, Barcelona held even more of the ball than they’re used to. Yet paradoxically, their attack was far more feeble, only putting one shot on Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Barça never showed the will or ability to solve what’s becoming a surprisingly reliable formula.

That formula: Defend. It’s not complicated. Just keep defending to the extreme and wait for your chances, no matter how long it takes. If you stay focused, camp behind the ball, and force Barcelona to move through you, they can be beat. All you need is one moment – one good bounce, one swift movement – and you can derail one of the best teams in the world.

“The result is definitely unexpected,” Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo conceded after his team’s 2-0 victory. “We faced the best team in the world.”

Milan’s first moment came in the 57th minute, the first real chance of a game that had been chance-less. Off a restart near the edge of their attacking third, Milan let midfielder  Montolivo try from distance. His shot from 30 yards out hit a Barcelona player, went off the hand of Cristian Zapata, and fell for Kevin Prince-Boateng. The Milan attacker turned on his left foot and fired with his right from just inside the box, the bang-bang action leaving Victor Valdés flat-footed as the game’s winning goal flexed the right side of his net.

It was a stroke of bad luck for the Catalans, but sauntering through their road leg with the intensity of camel, Barça was ripe to be caught. It nearly happened in the 11th minute, when Milan broke with numbers after a corner kick. It almost happened in the 16th minute, when a poor touch from Stephan El Shaarawy is all that prevented a point-blank chance on goal. Thanks to long passes from Montolivo and the constant threat of El Shaarawy getting behind right back Dani Alves, Milan was always one movement away from taking the lead.

“We couldn’t create chances, Milan was well-organized,” Alves said before conceding, “We could have competed a bit better.”

Lightning stuck for a second time in the 80th minute when a ball chipped forward M’Baye Niang allowed the French teenager to find El Shaarawy in the box. The young Italian lifted a ball over the right side of Barça’s defense for an oncoming Sulley Muntari, whose finish back across goal put Barcelona on the edge of elimination.

“It was the most important goal of my career,” Muntari said afterward.

No doubt Barcelona controlled the match, but their command was passive, their assured but serene possession playing into Milan’s hands. With three compact midfielders, wingers tracking deep, and a defensive so far back they rarely had to worry about anything behind them, the Rossoneri willing ceded a control that never mattered. They may have only held 27 percent possession, but putting three shots on goal to Barcelona’s one, Milan were the more dangerous side.

“This is a very negative result,” Iniesta said after the match. “When you don’t show up for the game, this can happen.”

With their 2-0 victory, Milan proved more than opportunistic. They were the better side, one that leaves Barcelona needing two goals to have a chance of survival. But even before worry about converting chances, Barça needs to figure out who to create some.

source:  Man of the Match: Montolivo and El Shaarawy were key to how Milan set up, but Kevin Prince Boateng’s finish is what set Milan on their way. Not everybody would have gotten that shot on goal, let alone hit a ball so well that the opposition keeper was left flat-footed. Reflexively shooting as he turned on the ball, Prince allowed Milan to reap the rewards of an extreme but highly successful approach.

And the former Ghanian international did his part on the other end, too, coming back from his right wing position to set up in the area normally patrolled by Andrés Iniesta. The Barça star had a quiet day, and although it was unclear Boateng was the cause of that, his positioning and willingness certainly helped, particularly when he was called on to track Jordi Alba’s runs (as he memorably did to win a ball behind Milan’s line in the 43rd minute).

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Allegri, Milan have come a long way – In the wake of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Thiago Silva sale, Milan got off to a terrible start to the season. They fell to the bottom half of the Serie A table while struggling to get through their Champions League group.

Now the team sits third and have a path into the Champions League quarterfinals. What happened?

Massimiliano Allegri was given time to figure his new team out, something that didn’t look certain to happen as the Rossoneri stumbled out of the gate. But slowly Allegri determined El Shaarawy was capable of carrying the scoring burden. He incorporated Montolivo, tweaked Prince’s role, and forged a viable central defense from Philippe Mexes, Cristian Zapata, and Mario Yepes.

Along the way, he moved away from Alexandre Pato. Robinho is no longer a major part of this team. Antonio Nocerino, a find last season, isn’t a vital cog in midfield.

Six months after fans were calling for his ouster, Allegri took apart Barcelona. That’s how far his team has come.

source: Getty ImagesWhere did Lionel Messi go? – The best player in the world was a complete non-factor. Milan was tight and compact through the middle, giving Messi no space to work, but even when the Balon d’Or winner started going wide right in an attempt to find room to work, he failed to have an impact on the game. Aside from a 29th  flash when he beat left back Kevin Constant, Messi might as well have been on the sidelines.

For only the second time this season, Messi was held without a shot on goal.

It’s not like Barcelona’s other stars were much better. Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta played a bigger part in the game, but that’s to be expected. Milan wasn’t crowding the areas were they operate. Cesc Fábregas and Pedro Rodríguez? Their names were rarely called.

Messi, however, usually finds a way to break through. Even when he’s off, he’s capable of finding a moment of brilliance. Tonight, he wasn’t even close.

A portable approach – Milan’s tactics weren’t complicated. They weren’t dependent on anything specific to the San Siro, and as we’ve seen in recent years, other teams have been able to execute this approach on the road. There’s no reason why Milan can’t replicate this performance in Spain. Carrying two goals out of the San Siro, they even have license to be more extreme.

Barcelona may be able to break through in Spain, but odds are they’ll lose if they don’t change things up. They know their recent history. They know they need a Plan B. They can’t just assume dogma will win out.

The question is whether they can change. Do they have enough diversity of talent within the team to make the necessary changes? Is there even enough familiarity with a different approach to make those tweaks viable? Is there the will to try?

Barcelona’s in big trouble, and their problems transcend the score. They’re not a team well equipped to address this kind of challenge. They may be left with no recourse but to play their normal style and hope this time it wins out.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Victor Valdés actually had a good day, particularly in the first half where a couple of aggressive reads helped him snuff out changes before they developed. But there was little he could have done to prevent either goal.
  • The matchup between El Shaarawy and Alves was a particularly interesting one, with the young Italian tasked with tracking the Barcelona wingback. Early, it became evident Milan was going to try and exploit Alves’s want to push forward, with Montolivo constantly firing diagonals behind the Barça right back. Though the matchup never really bore fruit, it still helped define how Milan set up.
  • Mario Balotelli is cup-tied, having appeared in the competition with Manchester City. He was seen celebrating on the sidelines during the match’s final moments.
  • Looking at Barcelona’s bench, it’s unclear how they could have significantly changed their team. Alexis Sanchez came on, and Javier Mascherano eventually replaced a cut Carles Puyol, but the rest of the team represents a series of more-or-less like-for-like options: Alexander Song, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya, and Thiago Alcantera.

Stay with us throughout Wednesday as we take a look at the day’s other match, Turkish champions Galatasaray hosting Germans Schalke 04.

Wenger’s fiery response to Deeny comments: “You can’t question our character”

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Arsene Wenger was none too pleased at Troy Deeney‘s comments question whether Arsenal had the “cajones” to compete at the top of the Premier League.

The Arsenal boss blasted back at the Watford striker, telling reporters “you can’t question our character.”

Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League match at Red Star Belgrade, Wenger launched into an attack of his own. “People try and put us down, they always have. Those comments aren’t justified. Everyone is entitled to talk. We don’t listen to what people say – we try to analyze or own game. I love my players and I trust their strength of character to respond quickly. I know who my players really are.”

[ MORE: Everton boss Koeman cracks joke, “Maybe I am in the crisis” ]

When asked if Deeney’s comments hurt, Wenger replied, “Yes but I know who my players really are. In the last seven games we had six wins and one draw. ‘Comments are part of the modern game. I love my players and I trust their strength of character to respond.”

The Frenchman was responding to comments by Deeney following Watford’s 2-1 comeback victory over Arsenal. The 29-year-old was told that Wenger disagreed with the penalty that allowed the Hornets to draw level, and he responded by saying, “There’s a reason they lost and is wasn’t because of one penalty. I have to watch what I say but… having a bit of cojones, I think the word is. Having a bit of nuts. ‘Whenever I play Arsenal and this is just personal, I go up and I think let me whack the first one, let’s see who wants it. ‘I came on today, I jumped up with [Per] Mertesacker, didn’t even have to jump actually, nod it down, the crowd gets up, and they all just backed off.’

As Everton struggles continue, Koeman jests: “Maybe I’m in the crisis”

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Ronald Koeman may be joking, but Everton’s table position does not appear to be humorous.

The Dutch boss, under fire for the Toffees poor start to the season that sees them in 16th through the first eight matches of the season, has done little to endear himself to Everton fans. His latest stunt won’t help his cause.

Koeman, hoping to make light of his dire situation, joked at Everton’s pre-match press conference ahead of their Europa League match against Lyon on Thursday. When asked if he is four matches away from a crisis, Koeman answered, “Maybe I’m in the crisis.”

The comment came with a wry smile and a chuckle, clearly making light of the situation. However, the words were far more ominous. The question made reference to comments former Leicester City boss Craig Shakespeare made just a day before his recent sacking, saying “It’s the reality, we all understand that you can draw four games on the trot and the spin becomes that you haven’t won for four games.” He was fired the next day.

Koeman was pressed on his job status further, and he responded with a more level-headed answer. “Everybody knows in football the manager’s job is a really difficult job because things change really fast,” Koeman said Wednesday. “Most of the time, the manager doesn’t get time to improve the team.”

The Dutchman confirmed he met with Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri on Friday while his boss was in town, and that he received their backing verbally. “We spoke about football,” Koeman said. “There was not really a message but the feeling is that they (the board) are behind the team, they are behind the manager. Everybody knows in football that’s a nice thing but in football always, finally, it’s all about results. Until now it’s full, total support from the board, yes.”

Not only does Everton rest just two points above the relegation zone, but they also sit bottom of their Europa League group with a single point through two matches.

Man City’s Ederson: “I was born to play with my feet”

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MANCHESTER — The gray skies over the City Football Academy would have produced a grimace from most, but a towering Brazilian goalkeeper was smiling from ear to ear.

Ederson Santana de Moraes strode into the room with a wink and a smile to imitate the smiley face emoji tattooed just behind his left ear.

The boy from Sao Paulo feels at home in Manchester after his $46 million move from Benfica in the summer (which made him the most expensive goalkeeper on the planet) and just over a week since he made his debut for the Brazilian national team he is being lauded by fans and pundits across the world.

Siting back in his chair as he looked out at the dour Manchester sky and the meeting room lights glistened off the braces on his teeth, the 24-year-old is a long way from Lisbon or Sao Paulo.

“It has been a really positive experience so far,” Ederson said, via a translator. “Obviously the cities are a little different. Lisbon is more tropical, here it is more cold and rainy. But I am settled in well, I like life here and I am ready and prepare for any circumstances. I am settling in here very well.”

Ederson played the hero for Man City less than 24 hours earlier as he saved a penalty kick in their hugely important UEFA Champions League win against Napoli. Today he was back at the training ground and was taking part in a SkillsCity app challenge in conjunction with the club launching its first-ever US SkillCity final this December in California.

The competition (presented by Nexen) is open until November 19 for young players aged 5-14 across the U.S. who can submit their best skills, following guidance from City’s coaches, via the app ahead of the final in California where eight winners will be announced from 32 players selected from across the USA. It’s a novel idea and the prize will be a VIP trip to Manchester in 2018 to see a game, stay at the CFA and more.

“I remember when I was a kid I couldn’t watch much on TV because the games were not on,” Ederson explained. “Having these kind of apps these days help a lot to develop skills and help the kids to practice, to improve and test their skills. It is really positive.”

Ederson’s skills have certainly been positive since he arrived at City as the Brazilian has been hailed as the missing piece of the jigsaw in Guardiola’s side.

His composure with the ball at his feet and ability to come charging out of his goal has provided plenty of confidence to City’s defense.

“I was born with those skills, being able to play with my feet. When I started playing as a player I was playing as a defender or a full back. That helped me with my adaptation to play with my feet. Through time I have developed those skills and even now I keep training with my feet because it is very important,” Ederson said. “In the past maybe I didn’t spend so much time training with the players that were in front of me. Now we are more involved and maybe that is why I can now show my qualities with the football.”

Ederson’s confidence in coming off his line saw him injured in City’s 5-0 win against Liverpool earlier this season as he was clattered by Sadio Mane and suffered a deep gash on his face which required several stitches.

That resulted in Mane being sent off and Ederson being carried off but his quick recovery impressed City’s fans and enhanced his growing reputation as a steely competitor who is a formidable last line of defense.

“It has been a good start for me here at City. It has been a very positive experience for me so far and the fans help me a lot and their support is very important for me. What happened in the Liverpool game with Sadio Mane, those things can happen in football,” Ederson said. “I got injured and I could have continued playing but the cut was quite big so they wouldn’t let me continue.”

Ederson’s speedy recovery saw him play a few days later at Feyenoord and the improvement in City’s defense has been stark since his arrival with just four goals conceded in eight games in the PL so far.

“I think I am a calm goalkeeper and a calm person as well and I try to give calm to my teammates,” Ederson said. “I help a lot in the build up and the long balls as well. But mainly I would say a goalkeeper must be a calm person to cope with the pressure to handle when you make a mistake. I think that’s really important and it helps you a lot to develop your skills.

“I think modern football has evolved a lot. Goalkeepers do several things during the game. They help in the build up. That is very important, to play with your feet, it is very important to know how to read the game and obviously save balls and also handle the pressure when it comes to the crunch time.”

Where does Ederson’s extreme ability and composure with the ball at his feet come from?

Look no further than the club where he came through the ranks and who he supported as a kid, Sao Paulo, to find his idol.

“Rogerio Ceni who played for Sao Paulo. He was my idol. He was the guy I looked up to and he played for the same club, Sao Paulo, for 25 years. He won a lot of trophies and had a lot of chances to leave the club but he stayed there. He became the main idol of the club. All the skills I have now, I would say that’s because I saw him,” Ederson smiled. “He played well with his feet and was good in the build up and he was even a goalscorer with penalty kicks and free kicks. He made history at the club and he was my main idol.”

A revelation with his feet in the Premier League so far, will Ederson, like his hero, be coming up to take penalties and free kicks anytime soon?

“No free kicks… but if there is a chance to ever take a penalty I am going to ask the manager and I would do it!” Ederson laughs.

Pointing to the tattoos all over his body and explaining their significance, including a passage from the bible on the back of his left calf and other markings to honor his family, it is easy to forgot how far Ederson has come in such a short space of time.

He moved to Benfica from Brazil as a 16-year-old and then dropped down to the third division with Ribeirao on loan before moving to Rio Ave where he made his name playing regularly, before heading back to Benfica and taking his chance after an injury to the regular starter.

Discussing his hometown of Osasco, Ederson revealed he has no plans to return to Brazil when his playing days are over.

“I left my hometown very early. I cannot remember much. I have friends and family there so when I have holidays I try to go there to my home village. It is very calm but because I left very early I don’t miss it that much,” Ederson said. “To be honest, I am not planning to go back and live there when I retire. The plan is to stay here in Europe with my family because it is calm and safer so in my future, my family and I are thinking about when I retire we will move to Portugal because of the language and the lifestyle.”

When asked what he and his teammates can achieve this season after winning seven of their opening eight PL matches and all three of their UEFA Champions League group games, Ederson is confident Pep Guardiola has built a side who can dominate now and for many years to come.

“I think Man City has built a really great team, a really young team both for the present and the future. I think we are ready to fight for everything,” Ederson said.” The Premier League, the cups, the Champions League. If we keep doing the good work we are doing, we will have a lot of chances to win one, two or three trophies. We must keep working hard and focus on the targets.”

Ederson achieved one of his long-term targets last week by making his first start for Brazil in their World Cup qualifying win against Chile.

He is dreaming of being on the Selecao’s plane to Russia next summer.

“I was very happy to play my first game with Brazil and also that it was in my city, Sao Paulo, with my family watching at the stadium. We won and we got a clean sheet, so it was perfect,” Ederson smiled. “I’m following this path towards looking at the World Cup on the horizon and I would be very happy if I was chosen in the final list. But we have to wait because the season is long but it would be a dream come true to play in the World Cup because I have been working so hard in the last years to be able to be there.”

“My Brazilian teammates [Gabriel Jesus, Danilo, Fernandinho] helped me a lot here to adapt and settle in. I knew them before from the national team, so obviously they make my life easier here.”

Ederson’s confident and commanding displays are making City’s chances of winning it all a lot easier this season.

Pep seems to have finally found the playmaking goalkeeper he has craved since he arrived in Manchester.

Cavani on Neymar: “We do not need to be friends”

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Paris Saint-Germain has been rocked by rumblings of locker room discontent ever since Edinson Cavani and Neymar were involved in an on-field spat regarding who would take a penalty in a 2-0 win against Lyon.

The two have done their best to quiet the noise, but the populous understandably continues to dissect their words piece by piece. Ahead of their Champions League game against Anderlecht in Group B play on Wednesday, Cavani was again asked about the situation, and again put his best foot forward to dispel any internal issues, but may have only ignited them further.

“The penalty business, it is in the past,” Cavani told reporters in the pre-game press conference. “These things happen in football. The important thing now is to find a solution together and to operate as a team. Ultimately, this is what enables you to achieve great things.”

“We need to be a competitive team, we do not need to all be friends or like a family. The most important thing is that everybody is professional on the pitch and gives 100 percent. Outside of that, everybody has their own life, their own way of being and their own way of thinking.”

Players talk all the time about being a “family” or being close-knit, but here Cavani attempts to ease any fears of locker room discontent by proclaiming the team is anything but family or friends. An interesting choice of words for sure.

In other interviews, Cavani has claimed the penalty business was resolved in-house, and that it will stay in-house.