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Beyond the pomp, Europa League’s problems on display in Amsterdam

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Many of Europa League’s problems were laid bare on Wednesday, and while moments after the tournament’s high point seem an ill-opportune time to address those concerns, there aren’t many other points on the calendar when we’re willing to consider Europa. For many teams in the competition – small clubs in top-heavy leagues that have little chance of ever making Champions League — it’s a great tournament, one that gives them opportunities, opponents, and exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have. And UEFA tosses in some money, too. For other teams, however, the tournament is a conciliatory obligation, one in which they’re used as a pawn to enhance the competition’s spurious legitimacy.

Thus was have today’s final. Chelsea was only in it because they flamed out of Champions League. Same with Benfica, who didn’t have Chelsea’s excuse of having played in a difficult group. They failed to beat out Celtic for the knockout round spot from their Champions League group. Why would anybody create a competition where two of fall’s underachievers are competing for honors in the spring?

If you’re reading this site, that’s probably not news to you, but as you see the likes of John Terry and Rafa Benítez celebrate today’s win, keep their accomplishment in perspective. Today was a battle between two teams for whom Europa League will never be a preseason goal. This, as the abused yet accurate metaphor explains, is to European soccer what the National Invitational Tournament is to NCAA basketball. Since everybody – from the fans, to the coaches, to the players – knows it’s “the other tournament,” the stakes are never going to justify the pomp.

That attitude was apparent through most of today’s match. Yes, it was very entertaining at the end – 10 minutes of back-and-forth action that almost talked you into an extra 30 – but for most of the day, the match was drab. Benfica’s midfield controlled much of it. Chelsea didn’t care. A goal off a long ball; a penalty kick – it wasn’t exactly captivating stuff. Though the tactical battle in the midfield added a somewhat cerebral (or, philosophical) element to the game, that intrigue was undermined by a lack of intensity. Call it cagey, if you want, but it was still a problem, one that was only corrected in the final moments.

All of which goes back to the competition’s main problems. Not enough teams that care about it, especially those which are relegated to it from Champions League. And when those teams enter the competition in the Round of 32, they are often superior to those competing in group stage, creating a continuity issue that begs potential viewers to discard the tournament’s initial rounds and only invest once the apathy.

Those favorites aren’t apathetic forever. Eventually, they convince themselves there’s something in winning a trophy. They delude themselves into believing an honor they didn’t care about six months earlier is worth the champagne and theatrics. I still don’t understand the psychosis behind this.

If Chelsea and Benfica weren’t today’s finalists, we might have seen a more spirited game – a contest between two sides that didn’t have to come to terms with their newly deflated status. If Europa League were left to those teams who could really use the competition – those who aren’t in Champions League and aren’t likely to get their any time soon – we could see sides that treat this match like an honor.

So give this tournament to the teams that want it. No more Champions League back doors, and no more looking toward the occasional big name entrant as a way to raise the competition’s profile. It’s more important to have compelling matches in a tournament with competitive integrity. While that means we might not have a club of Chelsea’s profile in the final, we may, in the long run, end up with a competition capable of earning a profile of its own.

Man City beat Dortmund on PKs after Pulisic scores late goal

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 28:  Kelechi Iheanacho (R) of Manchester City contests the ball against Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on July 28, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund on penalty kicks at Shenzhen Longgang Stadium in China as Pep Guardiola picked up his first win as City’s manager and both teams completed their 2016 International Champions Cup campaigns with a 1-1 draw in regulation.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]

On a pitch which cut up badly, Dortmund started brightly but after a raft of changes at half time City were the better team in the second half as Guardiola gave plenty of his more experienced players a run out.

One of those players grabbed the goal as Sergio Aguero tapped home a flowing move 12 minutes from time to hand City their first goal of preseason but right at the death 17-year-old U.S. international Christian Pulisic — who came on at half time and impressed on the right flank — slotted home to make it 1-1 and send the game to penalty kicks.

Young goalkeeper Angus Gunn saved three spot kicks as City eventually won 7-6 on penalties.

City now have just one more preseason game before they being Guardiola’s debut season in the Premier League, as they play Arsenal in a friendly in Sweden on Aug. 7.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in Chelsea’s win over Liverpool ]

A shaky start for City saw goalkeeper Willy Caballero give the ball away and Ousmane Dembele was clean through but Nicolas Otamendi blocked his shot brilliantly.

Jesus Navas then raced up the other end and picked out Fabian Delph but he scuffed his shot wide. Emre Mor curled a shot just wide and Dembele blasted an effort miles over the bar after another bad giveaway by City as Dortmund’s high-pressing was catching out their defense.

During a first half water break Guardiola barked orders at several of his players including Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Zinchenko who looked bright in spots. Despite looking more dangerous, Dortmund couldn’t break through and right on half time Kelechi Iheanacho had a great chance after good build up play but Roman Burki saved well from close range.

Wholesale changes took place at half time with U.S. national team starlet Christian Pulisic coming on for Dortmund who made a host of changes. Man City brought on Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva at half time with some of their big-hitters getting some minutes under their belts.

With all the changes the game was disjointed but City looked the more likely to take the lead.

Wilfried Bony, another half time sub, looked bright as he turned and hit a shot on goal which was saved and then cleared. Aguero then smashed an effort over the bar as City pushed hard for their first win, and goal, of preseason so far.

Silva then set up Bony on the edge of the box but he smashed another effort just over the bar, while late on Gonzalo Castro went clean through but drilled his effort over.

Aguero’s goal then arrived and it was a beautifully worked team goal.

Young center back Tosin Adarabioyo sprayed a long ball out to former New York City FC left back Bersant Celina and then Aleix Garcia combined with Silva on the edge of the box and the latter slotted the ball across to Aguero to tap home.

Dortmund had a strong shout for a penalty kick in stoppage time as Shinji Kagawa went down but then Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

In penalty kicks Gunn was the hero as he saved three penalty kicks.

VIDEO: USMNT’s Pulisic nets late equalizer for Dortmund vs. Man City

Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, left, celebrates with Felix Passlack, right, after scoring the opening goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic is making quite a name for himself.

The 17-year-old U.S. international came on at half time of Borussia Dortmund’s International Champions Cup game against Manchester City in Shenzhen, China on Thursday.

[ MORE: City beat Dortmund on PKs ]

He looked bright on the right flank, giving Jason Denayer plenty of problems, and he saved his best moment until last.

Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

He also scored his spot kick in the shootout but Dortmund ended up losing to City on penalty kicks 6-5.

Watch the goal below as Pulisic popped up at the right time to squeeze the ball home.

 

VIDEO: Man United’s Jesse Lingard sets up “Dab University”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Jesse Lingard of Manchester United celebrates with Wayne Rooney of Manchester United after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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We all know Jesse Lingard loves a good dab celebration after scoring and now the Manchester United winger is trying to teach others his supreme technique.

Lingard, 23, had a breakout season for United in 2015-16, scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace in extra time in the FA Cup final and he became a regular for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Rooney won’t dab ]

The English winger also broke out “the dab” after scoring a beauty against Chelsea in the Premier League too and along with Paul Pogba and many others it has become their celebration of choice.

Cam Newton, you’re a pioneer.

In the video below Lingard sets up “Dab University” with his United teammates and it turns out Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has some moves.

Click play to see Professor Lingard break it down.

Fabregas sent off as Chelsea beat Liverpool in fiery friendly

PASADENA, CA - JULY 27:  Cesc Fabregas #4 of Chelsea receives a red card from referee Baldomero Toledo after a hard challenge to Ragnar Klavan #17 of Liverpool in the second half during the 2016 International Champions Cup at Rose Bowl on July 27, 2016 in Pasadena, California. Chelsea defeated Liverpool 1-0. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Liverpool vs. Chelsea is never a friendly encounter.

That was proved correct on Wednesday as Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in their opening 2016 International Champions Cup clash.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]  

The lone goal of a feisty match came in the first half as Gary Cahill headed home Cesc Fabregas’ corner, but the latter was sent off in the second half for an awful lunging tackle on Ragnar Klavan.

There were six yellow cards — five to Liverpool players — dished out in the game in front of 53,117 in California.

Fabregas apologized to Liverpool after the game for his 70th minute tackle (see video below) according to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp,

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Both Klopp and Antonio Conte acknowledged this game was more combative than most friendlies and given the recent history between the two clubs you can understand why.

Chelsea’s new manager was pleased with the reaction of his side when they went down to 10-men but urged his team to play more

“I saw a lot of positive things about the defensive situation but we must improve when we have the ball because I love to play the ball, but we are improving,” Conte said.

Liverpool’s biggest concern was an injury to Marko Grujic who clashed heads with Bertrand Traore and was taken to hospital.

“The biggest problem for me in this moment is that Marko Grujic is in hospital, because he can’t remember anything. That’s not too cool,” Klopp told the media. “Hopefully it’s not too serious. Injuries after games like this in pre-season is the biggest problem obviously.”

Liverpool now head to Santa Clara, Calif. to play against AC Milan on Saturday before flying to St. Louis and playing AS Roma on Aug. 1 on their way back to England. Chelsea will fly to Michigan as they take on Real Madrid at “The Big House” on Saturday.