Day: September 18, 2013


Another step forward for Arsenal as Gunners pass through Marseille (Video)

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Marseille missed Champions League last year, but Ligue 1‘s runners-up made the five previous tournaments. Twice they got out of group stage; no matter, though. They’re no longer one of Europe’s elites – the teams that you expected to make the Champions League’s second round year in, year out. So when a team like Arsenal (part of that in crowd) visits Stade Velodrome, we tend to understate the risk.

OM, however, are a more than capable side, something they showed throughout most of today’s match. At least, half their team showed it, the half that features Dimitri Payet, André Pierre-Gignac, André Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena. The attack, despite failing to score from open play, showed they’re capable of competing against the high-powered Gunners. They put seven shots on goal to their guest’s five.

But in the second half, defensive breakdowns cost them. Jérémy Morel’s inability to clear a Kieran Gibbs cross led to Theo Walcott’s 64th minute opener. Olivier Giroud’s 84th minute run through the defense drew both central defenders, allowing Aaron Ramsey a clear path to goal. Though they held Arsenal in check for one half, they wear worn down in the second.

It’s funny that what undid them was their defense – the facet of their game so reliable since Élie Baup took over last year. While challenging Paris Saint-Germain in France, l’OM conceded only 36 times in 38 games. This season, they’ve allowed four goals in five match. Perhaps the absence of veteran central defender Souleymane Diawara was a bigger loss than anticipated. He would have been occupying the spot Ramsey dribbled through.

Those goals came from the types of mistakes you see from teams who, unaccustomed to maintaining such high defensive intensity for 90 minutes, are pressured into breaking. A look at the passing numbers hints that may have been the case. Arsenal was the first team to eclipse 500 passes against Marseille this year (538). The next highest was Toulouse’s 468 on Saturday, another game Diawara missed. One other team broke 400 against Baup’s team (Evian, Aug. 17), while l’OM’s remaining three opponents were held under 400. The possession battle may have been 49-51 (Arsenal), but without the ball, l’OM’s defense was being worked.

In that sense, Arsenal certainly deserves a large amount of credit for today’s result, even if some will see the 2-1 win as obligatory. At times outplayed, at others ineffective, the Gunners still maintained enough of a presence to force a normally stalwart defense side into two game-defining mistakes. As a result, a team that’s still integrating its best player (Mesut Özil) and trying to get healthy won three valuable road points in Champions League.

source: Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey scored his sixth goal of the season today in Marseille. Counting his goal for Wales on Sept. 6, the 22-year-old has scored seven times in the last 27 days. (Photo: Getty Images.)

The holdovers deserve much of the credit. Walcott’s finish quelled doubts. Jack Wilshere played his second good game in a row. Kieran Gibbs put in another strong performance, while Giroud and Wojciech Szczesny made integral contributions. For as much publicity as Özil’s received, it’s the holdovers that are still driving the side.

Aaron Ramsey remains the biggest part. In the 93rd minute, he conceded a penalty, possibly the first mistake he’s made all year. Before that, his 84th minute romp through Marseille’s open defense culminated with the type of calm, confident finish you’d expect from an established star. Perhaps that’s what Ramsey’s become. With six goals this season, the Wales international’s been one of the best midfielders in England. If he maintains this level of play, it will be like Arsenal added two stars to the midfield this summer.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect him to score so many goals,” the Arsenal manager said (as reported by The Guardian). “He’s especially improved in his passing, his technical quality … For me the most important thing is the quality of his game. Aaron is playing well and that is most important, that he continues to improve.”

Even anecdotally, today’s game was telling. Where Arsenal at their best? Not particularly. At least, we can envision times when Arsenal will certainly have a better eye for goal. Through midfield, they could have been stronger, not allowing Mathieu Valbuena to see as much of the ball. And l’OM did finish with seven shots on target, a number that’s higher than Arsene Wenger would have wanted.

But Arsenal got three points. And for a team that lost in at Olympiacos and drew at Schalke in group stage last season, that’s encouraging. That’s progress. Getting three points where they could otherwise get one could end up the difference between another second place finish and being drawn out of the same pot as the other seeded teams.

And just like all their games in this six-match winning streak, that’s a step forward. That’s a sign Arsenal may be ready to move on from the last couple years’ doldrums. That’s another sign Arsenal may be ready to be Arsenal once more.

UEFA Champions League, Full-time Snapshot: The numbers after 90 minutes

Schalke 04's Hoeger and Draxler celebrate goal against Steaua Bucharest during their Champions League group E soccer match in Gelsenkirchen
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We tried something new at halftime today, giving you a quick, raw rundown of some key indicators for each of the day’s eight Champions League matches. We all know statistics can be mislead when used incorrectly, so given they were only racked up over 45 minutes of play, there was nothing to get too analytical about. Still, it’s always interesting to see which teams are piling up big edges in shots, possession, and other broad-stroke figures.

To redress the situation, here’s how all those numbers stood at full time:

Group Home-Road Score Shots Shots
on Goal
E Schalke-Steaua Bucharest 3-0 13-11 6-3 59-41
E Chelsea-Basel 1-2 12-6 4-3 57-43
F Napoli-Borussia Dortmund 2-1 15-17 7-6 59-41
F Marseille-Arsenal 1-2 17-9 7-5 49-51
G Atlético Madrid-Zenit St. Petersburg 3-1 18-10 6-3 46-54
G Austria Wein-Porto 0-1 13-10 2-2 33-67
H Milan-Celtic 2-0 22-12 7-1 56-44
H Barcelona-Ajax 4-0 16-9 7-7 57-43

All stats are from Opta.

Six of the teams that won the possession battle also won their game. The team with the most shots won four times. In the six games where somebody had an edge in shots on goal, the team with the most shots won four.

Compared the the numbers below, you see the biggest changes happened in the score. Some exceptions: Napoli’s possession number skyrocketed in the second half, to be expected playing up a man; both shots and shots on goal exploded in the second half at the Nou Camp, even more than you’d normally see in a second half; Milan turned a slight possession deficit into a positive figure as they pushed for their winning goal.

Here’s how the numbers looked after 45 minutes of play.


Group Home-Road Score Shots Shots
on Goal
E Schalke-Steaua Bucharest 0-0 6-6 2-2 59-41
E Chelsea-Basel 0-0 4-2 1-1 59-41
F Napoli-Borussia Dortmund 1-0 5-7 2-2 51-49
F Marseille-Arsenal 0-0 7-3 2-1 48-52
G Atlético Madrid-Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 9-2 3-0 50-50
G Austria Wein-Porto 0-0 9-4 1-1 34-66
H Milan-Celtic 0-0 11-4 5-0 49-51
H Barcelona-Ajax 1-0 3-0 2-0 60-40

Mourinho, Klopp react to Champions League losses

Klopp face
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If there is a looming, early crisis at Stamford Bridge, inimitable Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is hiding it pretty well.

Considering the last few days, and considering his odd, sometimes testy exchange with press before Wednesday’s Champions League contest with Basel … and considering that Chelsea lost to the heavy Swiss underdogs to begin Champions League group play, his post-game performance could have been epic.

This was Chelsea’s first loss at Stamford Bridge home in Champions League group play since 2003. And it comes just days after the Blues fell for the first time this year in Premier League play, dropping a 1-0 match to Everton. So, how is he feeling?

I am not in shock. Football is a game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I am not happy with the result. We had a lot of the ball but couldn’t create many chances.

“Emotionally this is not a very mature team. They responded with some heart but it was not enough. The same people that lost the match are the same people that need to react.”

Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp also sounded surprisingly subdued considering he very nearly became the first manager in the history of the world to actually, literally explode into brilliant flames right on the field.

Also in Champions League group play, Klopp was apoplectic that match officials declined to immediately allow defender Neven Subotic back on the field after treatment along the sideline. As Dortmund attempted to get Subotic back in, Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain scored … from the very area Subotic would have been patrolling.

If you haven’t seen Klopp, an animated character anyway, twisting off in the fourth official’s face, it’s below – and it is worth watching. Meanwhile, here’s what he had to say, according to the official UEFA site:

We definitely did not show our best today, but nothing is lost yet. We knew ahead of the game that Napoli were a very strong side. The second half performance was better and we managed to score a goal and hit the crossbar despite having a man less on the pitch. So not everything was bad today.”


UEFA Champions League Roundup: Messi lifts Barça, Chelsea issued wake up call (Video)

Referee Proenca shows red card to Borussia Dortmund's Weidenfeller during their Champions League Group F soccer match against Napoli in Naples
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Where Tuesday had a flurry of goals, Wednesday had talking points. A game-changing red card in Napoli. And own-goal decider late in Milan. Another Messi hat trick in Barcelona. And, of course, Chelsea being upset at home. It was those headline events that took the place of Tuesday’s glut of goals, helping to round out an encouraging start to UEFA’s marque tournament.

But whereas yesterday’s action was also defined by the imposing power of some of Europe’s elites, today’s most notable performances came from a trio of big clubs few would put among the Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds of the world: Napoli won the day’s big game, knocking off German leaders Borussia Dortmund; Schalke continued their resurgence with a three-goal win at home; while Atlético Madrid showed they may be Group G’s favorites.

[MORE: Tuesday UCL roundup: Upsets make way for goals.]

[MORE: Dortmund left to fight back down a player, coach.]

Here’s what else happened as Wednesday’s action rounded out match day one of UEFA Champions League:

Group E: Chelsea (England) 1-2 Basel (Switzerland) [RECAP]

In time, when Chelsea’s going through to the knockout round at the top of this group, we may see this result as the cold shower the Blues needed to awaken their season. Right now, however, it’s a reminder that talent alone does not win games. There was no question who had the better players, with Chelsea able to hold 57 percent of the ball while outshooting their opposition. But come the 71st minute, there were doubts as to who would win this game. When Marco Stellar’s winner built on Mohamed Salah’s opener, Basel had the competition’s first shock result.

[MORE: Basel records first major upset of Champions League season.]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 3-0 Steaua Bucharest (Romania)

The Romanian champions held out for 67 minutes before the reality of their situation became apparent. They are the underdogs in Group E, and against one of the two teams who will compete for second behind Chelsea (or, perhaps more after today’s result), Steaua saw how little margin for error they have. When their defense misjudged a cross with 23 minutes to play, Atsuto Uchida scored an unlikely opening goal.  Eleven minutes later, the threat of the Julian Draxler-Kevin Prince Boateng combination was made clear, as the young German set up Prince’s score. Then, in the 85th minute, Draxler added one of his own, completing Steaua’s rude awakening.

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [RECAP]

Napoli were deserved winners, using goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and Lorenzo Insigne to outweigh Juan Camilo Zuñiga’s late own goal, but this is a match the viewers may wish had played out differently. Near the end of a quality first half that saw only Higuaín’s 29th minute header separate the sides, Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller was sent off for a hand ball outside the box. The call was the correct one (Pedro Proença had to make it), but it still ruined what could have been the best match of the young European season.

[MORE: Napoli take full points from short-handed Dortmund.]

Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Arsenal (England)

A strong Arsenal start gave way to an even first half, with Marseille the slightly better side come halftime. The Gunners, however, found their stride in the second, Theo Walcott hammering home the opener after Jérémy Morel’s failed clearance before Aaron Ramsey notched his sixth goal of the season (seriously: six). The Welsh midfielder gave one back late, his penalty leading to Jordan Ayew’s 93rd minute conversation, but comfortably ahead by the time l’OM pulled one back, Arsenal posted an impressive opening round result.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 3-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

Subtly, this was a very impressive performance from Atlético, particularly since Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti employed a bit of a gambit to slow them down, surprisingly going three-at-the-back. The setup, however, seemed to overlook the fact Atlético, because of the suspension to Diego Costa, were unlikely to go 4-4-2, Diego Simeone conceding before the match that Adrían’s inclusion would change their formation. With only David Villa up top, Atlético were able to undo Spalletti’s plans, getting goals from Miranda, Koke, and Leo Bapistao en route to an impressive victory.

Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-1 FC Porto (Portugal)

Wein coach Nenad Bjelica spent the buildup to this match explaining a vast difference in the clubs’ resources means nothing once the match starts. And in the first half, he was right. Much like Chelsea-Basel, you could see which side had to more talented players, but Wein were generating all the opportunities despite only seeing 34 percent of the ball. Ten minutes into the second half, however, Lucho Gonzalez, a player the Austrians could not dream of affording, finished a Danil cross for the game’s only goal, one of only two shots the Portuguese champions managed on Heinz Lindner.

Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 4-0 Ajax (Netherlands) [RECAP]

Three more Champions League goals from Lionel Messi (and one for good measure from Gerard Piqué) gave Barcelona a result many would have predicted, especially after a penalty kick allowed the hosts to take an early lead. After that score, Ajax loosen up and gained a greater place in the match, forcing Victor Valdes into a number of good saves (including one from the spot). Ultimately, however, this was a pretty typical performance for Barcelona at home in Champions League.

From PST’s Steve Davis, on Barcelona and the team that inspired the Catalans’ style:

Indeed, they may be stylistic kindred spirits, having birthed their games through some of the same tactical DNA, but Barca and Ajax are hardly playing the same game these days. (Haven’t been for a while, in fact.) Ajax players, gifted as they are, just cannot match Barca’s technical aptitude nor the collective wit – especially not when playing as the visitors in Catalonia.

[MORE: Messi hat trick decides battle of kindred spirits]

[MORE: Looking at the updated Champions League scoring chart.]

Group H: Milan (Italy) 2-0 Celtic (Scotland)

Max Allegri’s team were the better side throughout, but against a team with Celtic’s well-established counter attacking prowess, the 0-0 halftime scoreline was a dangerous one. Eight minutes from time, when it looked like Celtic (who finished the match without a shot on goal) were going to salvage a draw, Emilio Izaguirre inadvertently undid his team’s hopes, deflecting a Cristián Zapata shot home for the game’s opening goal. Sulley Muntari would add insurance four minutes from time to give a depleted Milan a deserved three points.

Is Danny Williams re-inserting himself into the U.S. national team conversation?

Aiming for a leading role in the Gold Cup this summer, Williams is finally injury free.

Young Danny Williams took a tumble in 2013, falling way down Jurgen Klinsmann’s depth chart at holding midfielder.

Williams, 24, left Germany’s Hoffenheim in the summer, signing a four-year deal with Reading in England’s second tier. He needed some time to find his feet, but seems to be rolling now.

Williams started his first league match over the weekend, going all 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw with Brighton Hove & Albion.

Williams was back at it Wednesday, setting up the late game-winner in a big 1-0 win over visiting Leeds. That one moves Reading up the 7th in the 24-team table, although there is a long, long way to go.

Reading has a home undefeated streak of 13 games in league play. If Williams can keep at it, he still has time to find a place on Klinsmann’s 23-man roster for Brazil next summer. Remember, Williams was a U.S. starter at this time last year, but lost his place during the spring and summer, some of that due to injury.

Jermaine Jones remains the incumbent at holding midfielder. Kyle Beckerman, with another credible performance in last week’s 2-0 spot-clinching win over Mexico, has moved ahead of the German-American.

And while Williams struggled to regain his spot, Geoff Cameron showed he could fill the gap at holding midfielder, so he’s probably ahead of Williams now.