Didier Drogba

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Galatasaray 1, Schalke 1

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It’s going to take more than two of the world’s biggest soccer stars to make Galatasaray a true threat in Champions League, with a Schalke 04 side that’s fallen flat in Germany showing the additions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder may not be enough to get the Turkish champions out of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. Having opened with a 1-1 in their tie with Schalke, Gala faces the daunting task of winning or turning around the away goal in Gelsenkirchen to make their big January signings pay off.

Sneijder, a 2010 Champions League winner, moved to Istanbul from Inter Milan in the January window. Drogba, who won this competition last year with Chelsea, soon followed, ending his short stint with Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua.

Combined with the relatively fortunate draw of Schalke in the knockout round, the signings had many speculating how fair the Super Lïg leaders could go in Europe. After a day where the duo were relatively quiet, Schalke (who sit ninth in the German Bundesliga) are a step closer to their second quarterfinal appearance in three years.

The match started as Gala would have liked, with quick transition from their defensive third offsetting Schalke’s control. Those transitions payed off in the 12th minute when Schalke defender Benedikt Höwedes failed to clear a speculative pass from midfielder Selcuk Inan. The ball came down to Burak Yilmaz, the competition’s leading scorer, who finished high into the left of net from 16 yards, giving Gala the early lead.

When Hamit Altintop rattled the post minutes later, Galatasaray seemed prime to build on their lead. Yilmaz would later push a shot wide after being put through on goal, another sign the Turks were likely to win the day.

But a misplay by central defender Dany Nounkeu on a ball launched out of Schalke’s third led to the visitors’ only goal. The Cameroonian’s failure to control the ball allowed Jermaine Jones to spring Jefferson Farfan on a counterattack. When the Farfan drew the defense before playing a ball back across the box for Jones, Schalke had their road goal.

It was another example of the often perverse importance of road goals. Given the de facto lead, Schalke used their huge possession advantage (57 percent) to control the second half. Galatasaray were still the more dangerous side, their direct play stressing Schalke’s shakey central defense, but they were never able to craft that vital go-ahead goal. Schalke, given the lead via the road goals tiebreaker, could be content waiting for the final whistle.

As a result, the team of Drogba and Sneijder inched closer to a Champions League exit, in the process answering the questions that underscored their stars’ January acquisitions. It’s going to take more than two big names to make Galatasaray a threat in Champions League.

source:  Man of the Match: This is what Jurgen Klinsmann sees in Jermaine Jones. The U.S. international was a beast in midfield for Schalke, providing the needed muscle at the back while still jumping forward to serve as the team’s connection to their attack. Finishing and creating his team’s only goal, Jones played the most important part in winning a lead ahead of the second leg.

Unfortunately, it’s a second leg he’ll miss. A first half yellow card means Jones sits the Germany match having accumulated too may cautions.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

The Türk Telecom pitch needs a lot of work – By the end of the day’s game, Gala’s field was as chewed up as an old MLS pitch after a college football game. Divits throughout led to a choppy, uneven finish, with neither team able to muster a cohesive attack around the field’s ruts.

Excuse me for being too obvious, but shouldn’t a team that can afford Drogba and Sneijder be able to maintain a better field? Granted, Istanbul averages about two-and-a-half inches of rain each February, but it’s not the only place in the world that has to deal with winter precipitation.

I’m sure there’s a good reason why the pitch was destroyed by the end of the night, but was still destroyed.

Gala didn’t set up to Wesley Sneijder’s strengths, either – During the half he was on the pitch, Wesley Sneijder spent part of his time out left, part of his time playing behind the strikers, with Galatasaray shifting formations. It was a curious deployment for a player who has never been able to display his talents when a team isn’t build around him.

That was one of the problems during his last days at Inter, but moving to Galatasaray, it was assumed Fatih Terim would play to Sneijder’s strengths. That’s not what happened on Wednesday.

You want these teams in the quarterfinals – Whichever team makes it through this tie, the other seven quarterfinalists will be hoping to draw them. Neither team performed like a side that could threaten in the Round of 8, and while you never know how teams might improve between now and the next round, the rest of the competition would gladly take their chances against Schalke and Gala.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Drogba enabled Terim’s formational flexibility. At the start of the match, the Ivorian played up top with Yilmaz in a 4-4-2, but when Terim brough Sneijder in, Drogba played wide in the defensive phase, with Gala assuming a 4-2-3-1.
  • For a convereted midfielder, Albert Reira held up reasonably well at left back for Gala. Granted, there were times when Jefferson Farfan made him look slow, but Jefferson Farfan does that to anybody. Against a Schalke team that tended to favor their right side, Reira didn’t cost his team anything.
  • Because of that right lean, you can see why Michel Bastos was a particularly good fit for Schalke. The former Lyon man, deployed on the left of the formation, has license to blindly attack when given the ball.

Atlanta United: From scratch to the pitch

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  (L-R) MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank and former professional soccer player Darren Eales attend the MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta
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Darren Eales needs to get himself some game time.

Atlanta United’s president hasn’t watched his side play a league match yet, and it’s a solid 17 months since he left Tottenham Hotspur to help Arthur Blank start his MLS expansion team.

Even training Eales a touch emotional.

[ MORE: High praise for Yedlin ]

“Last Thursday in practice, I was welling up to see the guys in Atlanta training tops with Tata coaching them,” Eales told PST earlier this month. “I’ve had over two years without any games. I hadn’t experienced the highs and lows of why we’re all in this game. Come the fifth of March, it’s going to be a quite an emotional time.”

Not just for Eales, but for an Atlanta market which has proven quite rabid for the sport. United has sold almost 30,000 season tickets, a record for an expansion team.

The excitement isn’t simply a matter of a shiny new toy for sports fans in Georgia. Eales, along with technical director Carlos Bocanegra and manager Tata Martino, have constructed what, at least on paper, could be a monster.

There’s the Designated Player trio of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba, young guys Miles Robinson and Andrew Carleton, MLS mainstays Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears, and Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  Darren Eales speaks onstage during MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)

None of those assets were there when Eales, 44, bought into owner Arthur Blank’s vision in September 2014. And that’s what gave the gig its allure.

[ MORE: Wenger treatment “unacceptable,” says Pep ]

“You talk about soccer being a global game, and it’s very rare you get a chance to start a whole new club from scratch,” Eales said. “To do it with an owner like Arthur Blank who is committed to the City of Atlanta, committed to the community, and committed to a winning team just made it an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Eales wasn’t a stranger to America, a former Ivy League Player of the Year from his playing days at Brown University. He later went home to England where he became a director at West Bromwich Albion en route to his executive job at White Hart Lane.

So, yes, the acumen is there. And Eales’ admiration for MLS is a lot higher than many American critics suspect.

“I dealt with MLS from the other side of the fence with Robbie Keane to LA, Jermain Defoe to Toronto, and Clint Dempsey to Seattle,” Eales said. “Fresh perspective when you come from the outside, you look at how teams have built their teams and you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

“The one thing I was clear on from the start, was I felt MLS, globally outside of America, it almost gets more respect from other countries than it does in America. I’ve seen that with players like Simon Dawkins. When I was at Tottenham, we loaned him to San Jose, he developed as a player and we were able to sell him off to Derby. It’s a global league, the standard of football is getting better all the time. I really felt the time was right where you could try to get players in their prime and sell it to them as career development, not a dead end.”

Blank contacted Eales, and convinced him that Atlanta United wasn’t a vanity play. The soccer team wasn’t going to be the Atlanta Falcons’ “little brother”, but a major part of the community.

Plus, time was on their side.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

“Building a roster, putting in the academy, building a training ground, an affiliation with the Charleston Battery, all of these things can’t happen overnight,” Eales said. “There’s been a lot of thoughts and strategy that’s gone into building the roster.”

Not to mention time zones, travel, surfaces, calendar, salary cap, the popularity of other leagues… Eales wanted to find a technical director with both positive vision and MLS wisdom. Enter Carlos Bocanegra, the USMNT captain who had started and finished his playing career in MLS before performing well overseas with Fulham, Rangers, and Rennes.

“What I didn’t want to do was come in from the Premier League and say, ‘Everything European is the way we should do it and Americans don’t know anything about soccer.’ Clearly that’s not the case and I knew that.”

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 06:  Tottenham Hotspur director of football administration Darren Eales (R) after the UEFA Champions League play-off draw on August 6, 2010 in Nyon, Switzerland. The play-offs are played over two legs on 17/18 and 24/25 August. The ten play-off winners will join the 22 automatic entrants in the UEFA Champions League group stage, the draw for which will be held in Monaco on 26 August 26, 2010. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
(Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EuroFootball/Getty Images)

Eales said Bocanegra is a good friend in addition to the perfect man for the job. He added that both men didn’t take long to embrace the city, and that the Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl didn’t hurt sports fever in the Peach State.

Now Georgia will turn its attention to the red and black of Atlanta United, a team brimming with talent and experience. One of the early bets for Eales and Bocanegra was that it wouldn’t be about older big names. When asked about the successes of Sebastian Giovinco at Toronto and Nicolas Lodeiro in Seattle, Eales almost bristles at the thought that the moves inspired him. Young and fast was already entrenched in his model.

[ MORE: Clattenburg’s PL time not over ]

“It’s been a long time planning,” Eales said. “We were already going down this model. Lodeiro has been fantastic in Seattle and Giovinco is by far and away the best player in the league. He was that first one where someone was taken not over 30 and it showed, despite what the Italian national team manager said at the time, you could come here, play your game and get your career back on track.

“We felt we could go even further was to get those younger players. We’ve got Miguel at 22, Hector at 22, and Josef at 23. You’ll see increasingly now it will be a chance for us as a whole league to bring in top players and get bigger and better, year on year.”

While Eales has not had the fun of match day and won’t really have that experience until March 5’s visit from the Red Bulls, he’s had fun keeping an eye on his last two Premier League clubs and their top half success.

“I have to laugh because I still talk to a lot of my colleagues back at Tottenham and when they say ‘We’re doing well since you left’ I tell them it’s all about building the foundation,” Eales said.

“Chelsea have had a great season but Tottenham with the young squad they’ve got and the manager they’ve got in Mauricio Pochettino, they are going to be titlists in the near future. And West Brom, I love West Brom. It’s a great family club and it’s really exciting to see them solid in the top half of the table. It’s a testament to the guys, Tony Pulis and the team, how they built with a plan year on year to become a solid Premier League club. They have a strategy and they stuck to it.”

So, too, does Eales and United. The roster he’s assembled and his legendary manager combine to give the look of an instant playoff contender.

Yet Eales, like MLS, is going to have to see it. The difference is that United’s president already believes it. Bring on the chills.

“Killers in the box” – Guardiola prepares to face Monaco (video)

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Radamel Falcao (L) the captain of Monaco leads his team onto the field during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola has a lot of admiration for the latest obstacle in Manchester City’s path to the UEFA Champions League final.

The club begins its Round of 16 on Tuesday with a visit from Monaco, and Guardiola will match wits with Leonardo Jardim.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

The Premier League boss loves the way Monaco plays, but doesn’t adore the idea of staring them down.

From ManCity.com:

“As a spectator it’s so nice to see them. I’m really impressed how good they are.

“Their fullbacks play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders. Their strikers are fighters, Falcao, Germain, they are killers in the box. Both holding midfielders are intelligent, physical, strong. They arrive to the box.

“A complete team. The most successful team in Europe in terms of scoring goals. It’s a tough draw.”

Center back Vincent Kompany is out for the home tie vs. Monaco, and Guardiola has not decided who will start between the sticks.

The manager also praised the hiring of Marcelo Bielsa at Lille, calling the veteran manager “the best in the world”.

Scouting report gives high praise for USMNT, Newcastle back Yedlin

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07:  A detail of the neck tattoo of Newcastle player Deandre Yedlin during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Birmingham City and Newcastle United at St Andrews (stadium) on January 7, 2017 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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You may remember Danny Higginbotham from his time as a defender at Sunderland, Stoke City, Derby County, and Southampton, but these days he makes his dough as an analyst.

You almost certainly remember USMNT right back and speed merchant DeAndre Yedlin, though perhaps not seeing him on your television has limited your intake on his progress since leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Newcastle United.

[ MORE: Wenger treatment “unacceptable,” says Pep ]

Yedlin’s been very decent for the Magpies, making 23 appearances while providing a goal and five assists. Higginbotham has been impressed, and devoted a good portion of his prematch notes on Newcastle-Aston Villa to the American.

From Sky Sports:

Yedlin plays almost as a right winger at times. He’s the one that gives the width on that side, and he has been a standout player in recent games.

He is so quick, so he can get back with his recovery runs, but it’s what he does with the ball as well. We see him controlling the whole of the right-hand side. He has been so key for Newcastle and he gives them such an attacking threat.

Newcastle will move back atop the Championship with a win over Aston Villa on Monday, and have a five-point lead on third-place Huddersfield Town in the race for an automatic promotion place. Brighton and Hove Albion is first, two points clear of the Magpies.

Report: Clattenburg returning to Premier League

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Referee Mark Clattenburg during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road on December 26, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
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Four days later…

It has not been long since Mark Clattenburg last officiated a Premier League match, instead opting to take a job in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the move was a power play, because “Clatts” looks set to work his new job and return to his old stamping grounds for a minimum of four games.

The Sun’s Neil Ashton threw out this Tweet on Monday.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

All refs have detractors, but Clattenburg has a solid record in the PL and was awarded with spots officiating the finals of the UEFA Champions League, EURO 2016, and the FA Cup.

Maybe Riley and PGMOL didn’t expect Clattenburg to follow through with his threats to leave town, and it’s fair to presume he’s been rewarded handsomely.