Chelsea add Egyptian winger Mohammed Salah.

Europa League Preview: FC Basel v. Chelsea

Leave a comment

When Chelsea head to St. Jakob’s Park to take on FC Basel in the first-leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, it will mark the first competitive encounter between the two clubs.

How They Got There

Basel made it to the semi-final stage after eliminating Tottenham 4-1 on penalties after a second leg 2-2 draw left the teams locked 4-4 on aggregate. The feat took the Swiss side’s record against English clubs to three wins, seven draws and eight loses, with all three victories coming on home soil. And it’s no secret that home fixtures are where the RotBlau thrive. Since the start of the group stage Basel have gone unbeaten in their last six Europa League contests at St. Jakob’s Park.

Chelsea qualified for the last four with a 5-4 aggregate win over Rubin Kazan. The Blues only previous encounter with Swiss opponents was a loss at the hands of FC St. Gallen in the first round of the 2000-01 UEFA Cup. After Chelsea managed a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, the Blues couldn’t handle the rigors of Zurich’s Hardturm Stadium and lost 2-0. This season, the road has been equally unkind to Rafa Benitez’ men who have lost four of their past five European away games.

What’s On The Line

Having entered the competition in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, Basel has played more European matches this season (18) than any other remaining club. With a win on Thursday, Murat Yakin’s side, who have won three straight domestic titles, will become the first Swiss club to reach a European final.

Along with Benfica, Chelsea are the only side left in the Europa League that entered the competition after crashing out of the Champions League group stage. A win on Thursday will be a key step in Chelsea’s bid to become the first side to win the Champions League and Europa League in reverse order in consecutive seasons.

Key Matchups

The first matchup likely to have an affect on the outcome is between Chelsea striker Fernando Torres and Basel center-back Alexander Dragovic.

Torres, along with Basel’s Marco Streller and Benfica’s Óscar Cardozo, leads the competition in goals scored with four apiece. The Chelsea hitman has scored three goals in his last two Europa League competitions, the second being a dominant brace emblematic of the Spaniard’s new found confidence. Since donning the black face protector – which Torres claims is very uncomfortable – the striker has looked lighter on his feet, been more decisive in his decision making and shown an aerial dominance for which he is not typically known.

It’s a combination that Dragovic will be tasked to contain. The 6′ 1″ center-back is well known for his powerful style, which should make for a good physical battle with Torres. The Spaniard is never afraid to get his socks dirty but will likely be more inclined to use his pace to get around Dragovic, rather than blasting through him. While physically imposing, Dragovic is hardly a brute as he possesses a slick range of passes that has attracted the likes of various Premier League clubs including Arsenal. The Austrian previously displayed his talents to Manchester United in last season’s Champions League where his Basel side defeated the Red Devils, preventing them from advancing out of the group stage.

The second matchup set to decide matters will feature Basel’s Mohamed Salah (pictured) and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole.

Salah is a right winger with blazing speed, cat-like balance and a slick touch. So far this term the Egyptian international has run Zenit and Tottenham ragged and also managed to score the crucial 27th minute leveler in the 2-2 draw with Spurs that sent Basel through to the semi-finals. The goal was an important feat for Salah who has been criticized for not being clinical enough in front of goal. But with more assists than any player in the competition (four), Salah possesses a wide array of weapons with which to terrorize opponents.

Cole will be the target of Salah’s trickery. The Chelsea full-back is expected to start after recovering from injury and he’ll be hoping for a clean bill of health if he is to put the clamps on the Basel winger. Whereas William Gallas and Benoît Assou-Ekotto were unable to cope with Salah, Cole is faster and smarter than both Spurs defenders. Further, Cole is a creator who is capable of getting forward and providing opportunities for his teammates. Salah, not known for his desire to get back on defense, could be in for a stamina battle if Cole decides to push hard up the flank.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
Associated Press
1 Comment

Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

Chilwell
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.