Manchester City v Chelsea

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.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.