Morgan scores, Thorns win, but Portland’s crowd steals the show

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Thorns FC came good on their home debut, dominating Cascadia neighbors Seattle Reign FC during a 2-1 win Saturday afternoon. Goals from Marian Dougherty and Alex Morgan gave the home team their first NWSL victory, but amid the post-match reflections the same, transcending theme kept emerging: The atmosphere made the match.

An NWSL record 16,479 people came out to what’s normally the Portland Timbers’ home field, and while record attendance in a two-week old league deserves a skeptical context, broader descriptions prove even more laudatory of the Portland’s support.

Saturday’s crowd out-drew any match from the three years of Women’s Professional Soccer, the professional league that preceded the NWSL. You have to go back to the Women’s United Soccer Association to find a women’s professional match that drew more people, and while a handful of crowds in WUSA bested the Thorns’ support, it’s been 10 years since that league played its final game.

“This was awesome,” was Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone’s reaction after her first professional victory. A veteran of 158 caps during her time with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Parlow Cone has perspective on big games, experience that came in handy while trying to describe Sunday’s environment.

“I was walking around the field with Rachel Buehler and we looked at each other and she’s like, ‘This is like the World Cup.’ That’s what it felt like … It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”

Packed into seats normally occupied by the Timbers’ Army, the Rose City Riveters were able to replicate most of the environment that makes JELD-WEN Field one of the more notable destinations in MLS. The crowd was noticeably different – a bit smaller, and more skewed toward a family demographic that’s stronger in the women’s game – but outdrawing the combined attendance for the league’s four opening weekend matches, Portland still created a landmark event.

“Over the past few weeks we’ve heard about the number of tickets being sold, but I don’t think any of us expected that,” Thorns captain Christine Sinclair said after the match. “It was just incredible.”

The numbers alone were impressive, but for the few international stars on the field – U.S. internationals Alex Morgan and Rachel Buehler, in particular – they’re numbers they’d see multiple times each year playing for their national team. What made Sunday different was the type (and depth) of supporter culture that’s been hard to come by in the women’s game.

“It was a great Portland vibe,” was how Morgan described it. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but right from when we went out (for) warmups until game time, you hear the fans loud. I think every team that comes to Portland will not want to play us because they will be intimidated by the atmosphere.”

Sinclair echoed the sentiment. If the Rose City Riveters can replicate Sunday’s performance, Thorns FC will have a distinct home field advantage.

“This is going to be the only city that gets this type of crowd,” Sinclair explained. “When you haven’t been here before, it can be intimidating. Hopefully you can punish teams in the first half before they get used to it.”

On Sunday, Thorns FC took their first lead of the season, a late first half goal that did the punishing Sinclair described. With momentum coming out of halftime, Portland put the game away with an early second half goal.

If that becomes a formula for success, the value of Portland’s crowd will transcend these opening day headlines. It will become something that matters on the field.

Mourinho praises Chelsea, his defense after Man Utd win

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Jose Mourinho had a better game plan, better substitutions, and perhaps most critically the better of luck as Manchester United came back to defeat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

Romelu Lukaku had a goal and an assist, and both Jesse Lingard and Eric Bailly were good off the bench in the win.

United reaped the rewards of a razor-thin offside call denying a late Cesc Fabregas goal as well as Alvaro Morata blasting the ball off the cross bar early and Andreas Christensen‘s head injury going unseen by the official in the lead-up to the Lukaku goal.

But make no mistake: after coming back from a slow start against an in-form opponent, United deserves the three points that split the season series.

Mourinho deferred to his players for the performance, mostly, and was effusive in his praise of Chelsea.

“They started very well. It’s as simple as that. When they hit the post, I was looking to my players and I was thinking, “What can we do? Who can I blame?” It was so well-played, so beautifully played, there is nothing to say. They have a very good team. They have a fantastic dynamic. I was trying to find a way for my players to be dangerous in the interior because through the sides they are very strong, so we found a way to play against them where we didn’t concede much.”

He did, however, note that the Red Devils had Eden Hazard in his their pocket for a second-straight match:

“We had control of Eden. Willian, of course, is an amazing player and in that action he killed us but with the production of the game we had more and more control of the game. That’s the way I was expecting the game (to go).”

Considering the way Hazard disappeared in Mourinho’s final year at Stamford Bridge, it’s little surprise the ex-Chelsea boss relishes the opportunity to dismiss the player in a quote.

United moves five points clear of fifth place Chelsea.

Three things from Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea

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Antonio Conte‘s was outdone by Jose Mourinho, only just, as the artist formerly known as “The Special One” had the plan and got the required bounces for a big Premier League win on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea ]

Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford, and here are our main takeaways.

Mourinho turns back the hands of tactical time

Manchester United’s boss has rightly been judged for his tactical acumen and organization this year, and not just for perceived parking of proverbial buses.

But Mourinho outfoxed his old nemesis Sunday with a series of changes that weren’t always about the flow of the game as much as keeping Conte’s Chelsea off balance.

Already prepared to play more than usual, United showed inspired work through the middle of the pitch and Paul Pogba was given a bit more freedom and responded by doing a lot of little things right.

The Jesse Lingard sub obviously worked out for the best as the Englishman scored the go-ahead goal, and the introduction of Eric Bailly for his first extended run since Halloween turned out to be an inspired risk.

Lukaku delivers (and delivers)

The big Belgian striker had a dozen goals but none against the Top Six sides of the Premier League before Sunday’s match at Old Trafford.

Lukaku started and finished the equalizer, and then worked well down the right flank before hitting a pinpoint cross for Lingard to head home. That was the one, really, that turned the story line in his favor.

That it came against his old club will feel wonderful.

It’s worth noting that Lukaku did have an assist against Spurs and a goal against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, but he entered the match with just those numbers and a 2-2-2 record against Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal.

Conte unlucky, not rewarded by Morata

Spanish forward Alvaro Morata got the start in place of in-form Pedro, as Antonio Conte decided against the so-called “false 9” which has served his club well in recent week.

It has to be said: Morata’s hard early volley off the cross bar makes Conte’s choice look better if it gets the Charlie Conway “quarter of an inch the other way” treatment, but Hollywood wasn’t on the scene here.

Pedro did provide some love off the bench, but it was not enough as Manchester United’s big man ultimately delivered what Chelsea’s target man could not.

Some of Conte’s choices did work out fine: Antonio Rudiger had some key moments, and who knows what happens had play been stopped when Andreas Christensen went head-to-head with Lukaku ahead of the Belgian’s goal.

And it’s worth noting that Conte’s sub of Fabregas had a chance to match Mourinho’s perceived brilliance with Lingard but was ruled just offside.

Conte didn’t necessarily lose this game of inches, but Mourinho made the moves that won it. It could simply be that some matches are just not to be.

LIVE, League Cup final: Arsenal v. Man City

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Arsenal and Manchester City clash at Wembley on Sunday (kick off, 11:30 a.m. ET) for the League Cup trophy — known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons — as Arsene Wenger looks to win the tournament for the first time, while Pep Guardiola is aiming to secure his first piece of silverware as City’s manager.

[ LIVE: Updates from Wembely

The Gunners lost won this trophy in 1993, while Man City have been in this final in three of the last five years, winning it in 2014 and 2016.

In team news Arsenal start with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front in a 3-4-3 formation with Mesut Ozil supporting Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey returning from injury to start.

[ LIVE: League Cup final stats ]

Man City start with Claudio Bravo in goal, while Vincent Kompany starts in central defense alongside Nicolas Otamendi. Gabriel Jesus returns to the bench after a long spell out with injury.

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we are on site at Wembley to provide you with analysis and reaction from what promises to be a classic encounter.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey; Ozil, Aubameyang. Subs: Cech, Mertesacker, Kolasinac, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Welbeck

Manchester City: Bravo; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Danilo; Fernandinho, Silva, Gundogan; De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Ederson, Stones, Laporte, Bernardo, Zinchenko, Foden, Jesus

Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea: Lukaku on point

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  • Lukaku the star
  • Assists Lingard winner
  • Willian gave Chelsea lead
  • Sides split season series

Romelu Lukaku scored and set up Jesse Lingard for the winner as Manchester United came back to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Willian scored the Blues’ opener.

The win moves Manchester United back into second place with 59 points. Chelsea now sits fifth with 54 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The visitors were nearly in front when Morata belted Marcos Alonso‘s cross off the bar, and the rebound popped over the goal.

The 10th minute saw Paul Pogba win a free kick off Morata at the corner of the 18.

Anthony Martial broke up a long spell of Chelsea possession with a dribble and cross that failed to meet a receiver in the 25th minute.

Antonio Rudiger blocked a Lukaku chance moments later, then Courtois stopped Alexis Sanchez.

A yellow card came N'Golo Kante‘s way after the Frenchman chopped down countryman Pogba following a nifty move in the 30th minute.

Willian broke up a cross and then was there at the other end to finish his move and start the scoring. There was a rare David De Gea mistake on the finish, but Willian hammered his effort.

Lukaku then defied critics of his big match record in starting and finishing a terrific team goal with Nemanja Matic, Sanchez, and Martial.

Andreas Christensen was stunned after head-to-head contact with Lukaku just before the goal, but play was not stopped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A slow first stanza of the second half hoped for change with Jesse Lingard’s entry for Martial.

Courtois made a fantastic tip save of a Lukaku side volley in the 68th, off a Sanchez cross.

Lukaku did his best Lingard in a role reversal with the wide man, working the right to send a cross inside for the Englishman to head home.

Willian tried to answer back within a minute, but De Gea went low to collect the shot.

Fabregas was offside by a razor-thin margin when his clean finish slid inside the far post with five minutes to play.

Lukaku effectively killed the game with a 60-yard dribble and shot, blocked out for a throw, deep into stoppage time.