Four talking points from Manchester City v. Chelsea

1 Comment

BRONX, NEW YORK – It was another celebratory evening in the world of international soccer exhibitions as Manchester City outscored and Chelsea 5-3 to secure their second straight victory over the Blues in the last three days. Here are four talking points from Saturday’s match.

More of a showcase than a match

Heading into the match it was inherently obvious that both teams would rather be elsewhere. How could they not? It was only one week earlier that they finished a long and hard Premiership season and to make matters worse, they had to play to scrimmages in America while most of their peers relaxed on the beach (or, played in the Champions League final).

But credit to the players of both teams, they put smiles on their faces and provided an entertaining performance. It was a contest that resembled an NBA All-Star match as defending took a back seat to high-octane offense.

Playing on a pitch that couldn’t have been larger than 95 x 55 yards (international pitches are between 110-120 x 70-80), the players spent 95% of the match playing up the spine of the pitch. This made for plenty of 1-2 passes and slip throughs, which, in turn meant goals galore.

It was enjoyable but to classify this as a “soccer exhibition match” seems a bit rich. Perhaps “soccer showcase” would be more appropriate.

Oscar delivers the fluff

Chelsea have some incredibly talented midfielders but perhaps none moreso than Oscar, the 21 year old Brazilian the Blues signed for £25m from Internacional last summer.

The thin playmaker slipped his way throughout the midfield last night, finding whatever space he could to terrorize the City defense. While most players preferred standing on Route 1, Oscar operated in the acres of space on the wings. With devastating foot-skills he repeatedly ran at Pablo Zabaleta and Maicon, forcing the South Americans to back-track into the box to avoid looking silly (which, Maicon frequently did).

Before he was subbed out by Yossi Benayoun in the 67th minute, nearly all of Chelsea’s attacks came through Oscar. He put Fernando Torres through on goal in the 6th minute, provided perfect aerial service to the Spaniard in the 30th, nearly curled in a corner kick in the 34th minute (Joe Hart had to tip it off the bar to prevent it from going in) and swerved one directly onto Demba Ba’s head in the 52nd minute.

And every time Oscar provided service his teammates didn’t need to move or caress the ball because the pass was perfect in every way possible. Forget silver-platter service, Oscar’s delivery is so soft it’s positively fluffy.

Samir Nasri enjoyed himself

Samir Nasri gets a (somewhat deserved) bad rap as both a player and a person.

Part of this stems from his decision to abruptly depart Arsenal and the nurturing hand of Arsene Wenger in favor of the big dollars of Manchester City. Part of this is due to his wildly inconsistent performances for Manchester City. And part of this because Nasri just always has that pissed off French-guy look on his face.

But the fact of the matter is, Nasri is a phenomenal talent and seemingly not half as bad a person as he comes off.

If there were a man-of-the-match on Saturday it would have to be Nasri. The Frenchman danced on the ball and slipped through defenders with childlike delight. His efforts resulted in a brilliant brace that had everyone in attendance picking up their jaw. Both goals were nearly identical cut-ins from the wings that drew Chelsea’s Henrique Hilario off his line, only to be duped by a stabbed back-spinning shot to the far post.

After the match most players, no doubt sick of the same old song and dance walked by journalists without a word. A few did stop to chat (Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Gareth Barry, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell) but no one gave more time than Nasri. The winger spoke to French media for 10-15 minutes, glowing over the match and his recent naming to the French National Team’s roster after a nearly one year hiatus.

Who knows how long it will last, but it was good to see Nasri once again enjoying himself.

Nathan Ake looked like the real deal

Although his side did concede five goals, Nathan Ake looks like he could be the real deal for Chelsea. The 18 year old went the full 90 for Rafa Benitez’ squad, spending the first half as a left-back before moving into a center-back role in the second stanza.

The Dutchman was one of the few players who kept his focus through the entire 90 minutes. Defensively, he was quite sharp, cutting out numerous through-passes and crosses while making a number of stunning tackles including a second minute thump of Carlos Tevez that stopped the Argentine truck dead in his tracks. Ake got involved offensively as well, getting off two shots of note – one, a 19th minute effort that blazed just wide and the second, a 25 yard rip that skimmed off the top of the bar to end the first half of play.

Given the lax nature of the match, making hard-and-fast predictions would be a mistake but don’t be surprised if, from time-to-time, Ake slides into Chelsea’s back four in 2013-14.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)

MLS Snapshot: FCD’s winless skid hits 10 in loss to MNUFC

Photo credit: Minnesota United / @MNUFC
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): Just when FC Dallas think they’ve hit rock-bottom, the fall a little bit farther. Oscar Pareja’s side saw its winless skid hit 10 games on Saturday, with a 4-1 loss away to Minnesota United, a side themselves with all of three wins from their last dozen games. Gone now are the games in hand that buoyed FCD’s hopes just a few weeks ago, as they’re now level on games played with many of the sides presently ahead of them in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot, save for Real Salt Lake (level on points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (one point ahead). Following their sixth loss in 10 games, FCD remain eighth in the West, a point behind the Houston Dynamo for the sixth and final playoff place (RSL play later on Saturday with a chance to go fifth themselves. Minnesota, meanwhile, distance themselves from the 10th-place LA Galaxy and sit just six points behind FCD, having rebounded nicely after an appalling start to their expansion season.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

14′ — Akindele arrives late, slams home for 1-0 — Tesho Akindele waltzed through the penalty area, unnoticed and unmarked, before arriving at the top of the six-yard box just in time to meet Michael Barrios’ cross.

24′ — Ramirez finishes after a beautiful through ball sets him up — Kevin Molino picked the right pass, and played it perfectly (with a bit of help from Walker Zimmerman), and Christian Ramirez made no mistake with the finish.

35′ — Ibarra volleys past Gonzalez to make it 2-1 — Ramirez turned provider on Minnesota’s second goal, lofting the ball into the penalty area for Miguel Ibarra, whose first-time take beat Jesse Gonzalez to put the home side ahead.

68′ — Shuttleworth denies Diaz from the spot — Two games, two saves from the penalty spot for Bobby Shuttleworth.

71′ — Finlay finishes some fancy build-up for 3-1 — Heartbreak on one end of the field, heartbreak on the other end of the field. Anything and everything that could go wrong for FCD, continues to go wrong for FCD.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Christian Ramirez

Goalscorers: Akindele (14′), Ramirez (24′), Ibarra (35′), Finlay (71′), Danladi (88′)

MLS Snapshot: Fire lose again, continue slide into KO round

Photo credit: MLS / @MLS
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The Chicago Fire’s slide toward the mean — some might call it regression, indicating maybe, just maybe, they overachieved during the first half of the season — continued on Saturday, following a brief reprieve to begin the month. Veljko Paunovic’s side lost its seventh game in 11 outings, falling 3-1 away to the Philadelphia Union. Bastian Schweinsteiger remains sidelined with a calf injury, but the rest of Chicago’s key figures — Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, David Accam and Matt Polster remain in place. Chris Pontius did the majority of the damage on Saturday, bagging Philadelphia’s first two goals, followed by CJ Sapong for the third. Luis Solignac grabbed a consolation goal inside the final 25 minutes, but the damage had been done. The result means Chicago (48 points) remain third in the Eastern Conference, still four points back of New York City FC and just two points clear of Atlanta United, who have two games in hand.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

10′ — Pontius heads the cross home for 1-0 — Keegan Rosenberry cut inside and delivered a delicate, left-footed cross into the box. Pontius got away from his man and met the ball with his head at the top of the six-yard box.

55′ — Pontius again, this time on the rebound — Fafa Picault’s shot was saved by Matt Lampson, but no one followed up to boot the rebound clear. Pontius reacted quickest, and the lead was two.

64′ — Sapong pokes it home for 3-0 — This is Sapong’s 14th of the season, tying Sebastien Le Toux’s club record (2010), and reminded me once again the Peter Vermes insisted on playing Sapong as a winger for multiple seasons before trading him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Chris Pontius

Goalscorers: Pontius (10′, 55′), Sapong (64′), Solignac (67′)

Serie A: Dybala scores two more, Juve win 4-0; Napoli perfect, too

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Paulo Dybala continued his astonishing start to the season as he netted twice to help Juventus beat 10-man Torino 4-0 in a Serie A derby on Saturday.

Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro scored the others after Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli was sent off after 24 minutes of the Derby della Mole.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Dybala took his tally to 10 goals in the opening six league matches, just one less than he scored in the whole of the last campaign.

Juventus stayed perfect in Serie A, as did Napoli which won at Spal 3-2 earlier.

Roma, which has played a match less, remained six points behind after beating Udinese 3-1.

Torino shot itself in the foot early on, first by gifting Juventus the lead as Baselli and Tomas Rincon gave away possession and Dybala drilled into the bottom right corner from the edge of the area.

Matters grew worse for Torino eight minutes later when Baselli, who had already been booked, clumsily clattered into Pjanic and he was shown a second yellow card and dismissed.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

“I was too eager for the derby, I cared too much about this game. I made a mistake. I apologise to my teammates, our fans, the club,” Baselli wrote on Twitter.

Pjanic doubled Juve’s lead shortly before halftime, curling into the left side of the net after Juan Cuadrado cut back a cross.

Sandro headed in a corner in the 57th and it could have been more for Juventus but Torino goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu pulled off some fine saves, and Mario Mandzukic hit the post.

In stoppage time, Dybala dinked the ball over Sirigu after good linkup play between Pjanic and substitute Gonzalo Higuain.

Algeria left back Faouzi Ghoulam was the unlikely match-winner for Napoli seven minutes from time, with a run from the halfway line.

[ MORE: Mauricio Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“If Spal plays like this all year, this will be a difficult place,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said.

“We don’t feel we’re the `anti Juve,’ we’re a team which is getting a lot of points and we have improved in comparison to the past years: We are more able to withstand negative moments of matches.

“We have had a good start, that gives us confidence and enthusiasm to continue working.”

Spal lost its previous three matches but took a surprise lead early when Mirco Antenucci rolled the ball across for Pasquale Schiattarella, who is from Naples, to smash it into the bottom left corner.

The home side’s lead lasted only 77 seconds. Lorenzo Insigne curled an effort inside the near post.

Spal was causing Napoli problems but it was the visitors who led in the 71st when Jose Callejon headed in Ghoulam’s cross.

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

Federico Viviani put Spal back on level terms seven minutes later with a free kick but Ghoulam scored what was to be the winner shortly after.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored twice to keep up the pressure on Napoli and Juventus.

All the Roma goals came in the first half, with El Shaarawy pouncing after Edin Dzeko‘s opener.

Capital side Roma has played a match less than most Serie A teams coming into the weekend, as its fixture at Sampdoria was postponed because of bad weather.

Dzeko seems determined to retain the Serie A top goalscorer award he won last year and he opened the scoring with his fifth goal in three matches.