Four talking points from Manchester City v. Chelsea

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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.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.