Football Focus, Everton-Chelsea: Mourinho’s men lack final product

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source:  Chelsea might have played conservatively in a 0-0 tie at Manchester United on Aug. 26, but manager José Mourinho’s team went for all three points against Everton on Saturday, even after going down a goal. Everton ended up winning, 1-0, but Chelsea clearly dominated the game.

Mourinho has shown a willingness to adapt to unique game situations as they present themselves, changing his team’s approach as the timeline progresses. On Saturday, that meant moving from a central-focused passing strategy in a 4-2-3-1 in the first half to a more width-based 3-5-2 when Chelsea chased the game late.

Partly as a result of Everton dropping in to defend a one-goal lead, Chelsea attempted and connected more passes in the attacking third in the second half, going 70 out of 101 compared to 37 out of 56 in the first 45 minutes.

Creating central overloads, wide isolation

Throughout the game, Chelsea won the midfield battle. It completed 228 of 255 passes in the middle third, compared to Everton’s 122 of 157. In the first half in particular, it concentrated its possession in the middle of the field.

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With Andre Schürrle pinching in from the right side, Chelsea had numerical superiority in the middle of the field at all times. Even when Everton withdrew its wingers to defend, it left space to complete short passes in the middle of the field. Chelsea used five or six players at a time to crowd out Everton’s 4-3-3 in the middle and find space to move the ball.

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In turn, that created isolation in wide areas that Chelsea was unable to really exploit in the first half. Eden Hazard stayed wider than Schürrle, and while Branislav Ivanović overlapped Schürrle, Ashley Cole played more conservatively. Even center backs John Terry and David Luiz picked their moments to go forward.

Comfortable defending vs. getting stretched

Defensively, Chelsea dropped into a disciplined 4-4-2 when Everton possessed the ball in its back half.

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Drawing a line of confrontation around the top half of the center circle, Chelsea always had numbers behind the ball when Everton looked to build slowly out of the back, which is manager Roberto Martínez’s preferred style. The danger came when Chelsea had the ball, threw numbers forward and got hit on the counter-attack.

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Again, only the center backs stayed home consistently (and even that depended on the situation). In this early instance above, both Cole and Ivanović have advanced, and John Obi Mikel and Ramires are too far away from the back line to effectively act as a shield.

The gaps between defenders are massive. The team is stretched. Ivanović and Cole recover in time to help Terry and David Luiz clear the danger, but Chelsea is perhaps only saved by the fact that Everton’s wingers are so far withdrawn to help the defensive cause.

Only right winger Steven Naismith and target man Nikica Jelavić are in dangerous positions when Everton wins the ball.

Falling flat in late-game 3-5-2

source:  Down a goal late in the game, tactics often go out the window, and teams start forcing long balls to get opponents on the back foot and create mistakes. However, although Chelsea’s approach changed when Fernando Torres entered and Cole exited the game in the 69th minute, it did not move to long-ball tactics per se.

The remaining defenders pinched in centrally, with David Luiz moving to the left side to allow Terry to anchor a back three. The Brazilian still found moments to get forward, and Mikel and Ramires dropped back to support a numerically smaller defensive line.

From that point, the idea was to get the ball wide in attack, with Ramires and Hazard now running the wings. Striker Samuel Eto’o pulled lower than Torres and worked his way from flank to flank to support movements.

After the 69th-minute sub, despite now having two center forwards, they received only one pass inside the penalty area between the two of them, and Chelsea completed none of its eight attempted crosses, with Everton blocking two. So while the focus in attack changed, the success rate did not.

Chelsea threatened all game long, passing well through the middle of the field and having opportunities to penetrate. But in the end, the final movement lacked.

José Mourinho: ‘If you don’t score a goal, what you create means nothing’

Mourinho summed it up in his post-game comments (via BBC):

If you don’t score a goal, what you create means nothing. It is a simple story. You have to put the ball in the net. Artistic football without goals is no good. We didn’t have killer instinct. … We didn’t deserve to lose because we were the best team, because we played the best football, dominated the whole game, because we had 21 shots and we risked everything we could. In that sense, it is fair to say we deserved to win the game. The other way to look at it is that a team that has 21 shots, some of them easy shots and easy situations to score and then don’t score, and makes a mistake in the last minute of the first half — maybe with that, I should say we deserve to lose.

Playing proper possession soccer is difficult, especially in the final third. The combination of team movement and individual brilliance needed to score goals in that type of system eludes most coaches in the world. Mourinho’s teams have proven to have that ability more times than not, but it usually takes more than four games in a season to be able to do it against top opposition.

Just as Tottenham Hotspur seemed to have found its spark last weekend, Chelsea will likely do the same. If possession is a patient game, waiting for the payoff to possession requires even more perseverance. Most managers don’t get time in the modern game, but as Mourinho has proven his worth, he will get the time to make it right.

And he will make it work.

Watford appoint Marco Silva as new manager

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Watford have appointed Portuguese coach Marco Silva as their new manager.

The 39-year-old has signed a two-year deal at Vicarage Road.

Walter Mazarri was fired by Watford before their final game of the season as a dramatic slump in the second half of the season saw them finish one place above the relegation zone.

Silva left Hull City earlier this week, exercising a clause in his 18-month contact that he could leave the Tigers if they were relegated from the Premier League.

After successful stints at Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos, Silva arrived at Hull in January for his first job in England and made sweeping changes to their squad and almost kept the Tigers up against all the odds.

In a statement on Watford’s website Chairman and CEO Scott Duxbury revealed his excitement at Silva’s arrival.

“Marco was one of the most sought after Head Coaches in the Premier League,” Duxbury said. “His pedigree and promise speaks for itself with his achievements in top divisions elsewhere across Europe, as well as his work at Hull City last season.”

The managerial merry-go-round at Watford continues.

Why Southampton should consider keeping Claude Puel

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It has all gone quiet at Southampton. But for how long?

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Media speculation has been rampant over the past few weeks that Claude Puel, Southampton’s first-year manager, would be shown the exit door at St Mary’s this summer amid fan unrest about the style of play and their regression from a team challenging for the top six.

But, even in these times where fans demand instant success and patience is severely lacking, is that really the right answer?

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Puel, 55, delivered an eighth place finish, the fourth-straight season Southampton have finished eighth or higher, which is the first time they’ve achieved that feat in club history.

Yet many supporters point to the fact that Southampton finished just five points above Swansea City who finished in 15th place, plus they complain about Puel’s dull demeanor in his press conference as he struggles to express himself in English. He is a figure which truly divides the fanbase between those wanting him fired and those wiling to give him another chance.

Saints are a club who finished in a higher league position in seven-straight seasons before this campaign, so perhaps the vast majority of the fanbase have become too accustomed to overachieving and this reality check was always on the horizon.

A top 10 finish and a cup run should always be a superb season for a club of Southampton’s size but fans want more. With talk of a potential Chinese takeover this summer, they want to dream that they can push for a top six finish and qualify for Europe each season and aren’t sure Puel is the right man to deliver it.

That’s fair enough, but when you dissect the entire season and the key stats which came from it, getting rid of Puel seems incredibly hasty. He had many unfortunate obstacles to overcome in his first season in England and it’s unlikely he’ll have so much to deal with next season, and possibly beyond.

Club captain Jose Fonte was sold midway through the season after a disagreement with directors, while leading scorer Charlie Austin (yes, he was out since December but still finished top scorer, with nine) was injured for five months in early December and star center back Virgil Van Dijk was also injured in January as it ended his season. Along with all of this Puel had to deal with Saints’ first-ever Europa League group stage campaign and the agony of missing out on the knockout stages by one goal.

The constant chopping and changing of the team dominated Puel’s reign in the early months as he made 97 lineup changes throughout the season. Only Manchester City and Manchester United made more in the PL in 2016-17. Perhaps one of the major criticisms was that he tinkered too much to try and keep his squad fresh as they pushed to qualify for the Europa League knockout stage, with the previous high-tempo style of play impossible to replicate across a 53 game season.

Hence the slower pace of play which frustrated many fans and perhaps failed to get the best out of a team built by Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to play a fast, high-pressing style, which in turn led to reports of many senior players unhappy at the tactics deployed by the Frenchman.

Another big factor of the rotation was reaching the EFL Cup final where Saints, again, agonizingly came up short as they lost 3-2 to Manchester United at Wembley in a game which they should have won.

In the Premier League his team scored just 17 goals in 19 home games with no goals in any of their final five home games of the season which led to fans booing and plenty calling for Puel to be fired. But if you look a little deeper, the chances are being created but with Austin out, Manolo Gabbiadini‘s hot streak over after his initial burst and the duo of Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez failing to step up, Saints’ shot conversion rate was the lowest in the PL.

That’s right, Southampton converted just 7.47 percent of the 549 shots that had at goal, which was the seventh-highest number of shot attempts in the PL. Saints created chances but could Puel really do much about his players not converting them? It sounds simplistic, but think about it. With Austin back fit next season, plus Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal acclimatized to life in England, will this shot conversion rate really be this low again?

Saints also had two players in the PL’s top 18 in terms of chances created, Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond, and away from home they had the seventh best record but had the 17th best record at home, suggesting their prowess as a counter-attacking team. Had Saints scored penalty kicks against Hull City and Manchester United in two of their final three home games then they would have finished more comfortably in eighth place and had a much better home record.

Small margins.

Southampton also had the second youngest starting XI in the PL at 26 years and 169 days, with Redmond and James Ward-Prowse making their full England debuts, plus no PL club had more than Saints’ seven players in the full and U-21 England teams when they were announced at the end of the season.

As well as English talent like Sam McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Redmond and Jack Stephena improving drastically, Puel helped the likes of Oriol Romeu, Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares reach new heights too. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom and Puel is a man who can deliver steady progression at a club which lost its past two managers, Pochettino and Koeman, to bigger teams in the PL just when it appeared they were on the verge of great things at St Mary’s.

Another reason to keep the faith, for at least another season, is the fact that wherever Puel has been he has delivered improved results beyond his first season. There’s a hope he can do that at Southampton, especially without the extra rigors of European action next season.

He took charge of AS Monaco in January 1999 and they won the French title in May 2000. He took charge of Lille in 2002 and improved them from 14th to 10th to 2nd place finishes in his first three seasons at the club. Puel spent six seasons at Lille and helped the likes of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye break into the team.

In 2008 he took charge of Lyon and in his second full season he took the French outfit to the UEFA Champions League semifinal for just the first time in club history, plus Hugo Lloris and others broke through under his guidance. In 2012 he took charge of Nice and in his first season he led them to fourth in Ligue 1 (their highest Ligue 1 finish since 1976), then did it once again in 2015-16 with 17th and 11th place finishes in-between. The Nice team he left behind last season just finished third in Ligue 1.

All of this proves that Puel can improve teams given time.

What is Saints’ alternative to Puel? Some reports suggest Marco Silva would be the main man but he appears to be joining Watford after impressing at Hull City, while the names of Slavisa Jokanovic and Alan Pardew have also been mentioned as potential replacements.

Do Southampton really want to become a club know for hiring and firing managers after a season which presented plenty of challenges but still ended up with a top half finish, a decent run in Europe and a EFL Cup final appearance?

If Saints put faith in Puel, he may just surprise everyone. Of course, like every manager, he needs a bit of luck to drop his way but fans calling for his head should think closely about what the alternative would be.

Antoine Griezmann dismisses Man United reports

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Antoine Griezmann isn’t saying he is close to signing for Manchester United, but he isn’t saying he isn’t close either…

[ MORE: United win Europa League

The French forward, 26, has been at the center of intense media speculation over the past few weeks that he will sign for United this summer as the Red Devils will likely meet his $110 million release clause.

Sending out a message via his Twitter account, Griezmann said the following regarding the rumors he has agreed a contract and reaffirmed his connection to Atleti.

“All the rumors are unfounded, I’m always Colchonero,” Griezmann said. “My direction will be established after discussion with my sports consultants.”

The man who scored 26 goals in 53 appearances for Atleti in 2016-17 is said to be at the top of United’s summer wishlist and it is not like the the PL giants can’t afford to sign any player they want. They proved that last summer by paying Juventus a world-record fee of $114 million for Paul Pogba, who just happens to be Griezmann’s good friend…

Jose Mourinho said after United’s Europa League final win on Wednesday, which secured them a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage for next season, that “Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners.”

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic recovering from a serious knee injury and out of contract at United this summer, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have chipped in with important goals in the past few months but United are lacking a talismanic striker. That’s where Griezmann comes in.

Alongside a star center back and a new left back, United’s main target is Griezmann.

Whether or not the Frenchman admits it now, United are chasing him hard and there only seems to be one outcome: Griezmann wearing the No.7 jersey at Old Trafford next season.

Toronto FC beats Crew 5-0 to extend unbeaten streak to 8

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TORONTO (AP) Victor Vazquez scored twice and Toronto FC routed the Columbus Crew 5-0 on Friday night to extend its unbeaten streak to a franchise record-matching eight games.

[ MORE: Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape ]

Toronto (8-1-5) is 7-0-1 since its lone league loss of the season, a 2-1 decision in Columbus on April 15. Columbus (6-7-1) has lost five of seven since topping Toronto.

Justin Morrow and substitutes Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton also scored for MLS-leading Toronto. The Canadian team also was unbeaten in eight games (4-0-4) from May 8 to July 10, 2010.

Toronto was reduced to 10 men in the 81st minute when midfielder Marky Delgado was red-carded for a studs-up tackle on Columbus captain Wil Trapp. Osorio and Hamilton then scored to pad the lead for Toronto in its sixth shutout of the season.

Toronto played without the starting forward tandem of Sebastian Giovinco (injured) and Jozy Altidore (suspended for yellow card accumulation). Defender Nick Hagglund also is injured.