Chelsea 2-0 Fulham: Oscar and Mikel ease the pressure

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At times it was a nervy and unconvincing 2-0 win for Chelsea against Fulham on Saturday, but they needed it, as they momentarily returned to the top of the Premier League table.

After two-straight defeats over the past seven days, Jose Mourinho’s side ground out the victory against the West London rivals, courtesy of a Oscar goal just after half time and a late John Obi Mikel goal.

The diminutive Brazilian attacker was on hand to clean up in the six-yard box, after a goalmouth scramble played out following Andre Schurrle’s shot in the 51st minute. And Mikel added a second goal in the 83rd minute, as he hammered home a shot from close range to seal what was, in the end, a comfortable win for Chelsea.

A huge sigh of relief could be heard at the full time whistle from the home fans at Stamford Bridge, but something still isn’t quite ticking in Mourinho’s second-spell in charge at Chelsea. The Portuguese manager left both Juan Mata and David Luiz out of his squad, despite both stars players being fit. I’m sure we will hear more about that later.

Early on the Blues looked rusty, and could have easily gone behind after sloppy defensively play.

With less than 10 minutes gone, the entire backline was caught out with one straight through-ball and Darren Bent should have opened the scoring for the Cottagers. Bent, on loan from Premier League rivals Aston Villa, raced clear of John Terry and Gary Cahill and moved in on the Chelsea goal, but the striker hesitated before shooting and goalkeeper Petr Cech rushed out of his goal to smother the shot to safety.

source: Reuters
Oscar slots home the opener just after half time, as Chelsea edged towards victory.

That chance seemed to spark Chelsea into life, and for most of the first half they dominated possession, without really creating any problems for Fulham. Samuel Eto’o had a half chance at the back post, and Schurrle found Ramires’ clever run on the edge of the box just before half time, but the Brazilian midfielders shot was blocked by Fulham.

The teams went in level at the break, but soon after the interval Chelsea piled on the pressure with four straight corners from the right hand side. And eventually that proved too much for Fulham to handle, as Oscar tapped home from inside the six-yard box to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.

Fernando Torres came on in the second half, replacing Eto’o who is still searching for his first goal, and the Spaniard had a few half chances to double Chelsea’s lead.

Steve Sidwell missed a free header at the back post, as Fulham pressed for an equalizer.

But in the 83rd minute, Chelsea finally added a second after Mikel scored his first league goal in 185 games, slamming home a volley from close range following a corner.

The win ensured Chelsea’s fans, players and manager went home happy after a difficult week at Stamford Bridge.

With the victory Chelsea momentarily sit on top of the table with 10 points, as rivals Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham not playing until Sunday. Fulham drop down to 17th with four points from five games.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Schurrle (Lampard, 80) , Oscar, Hazard; Eto’o (Torres 64). Subs not used: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Essien, De Bruyne, Willian

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson; Duff (Taarabt, 64), Sidwell, Parker, Kačaniklić (Na Bangna, 72); Kasami; Bent. Subs not used: Etheridge, Senderos, Karagounis, , Rodallega, Zverotić,

Ajax reunion at Palace as De Boer signs center back

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Crystal Palace has added much needed depth and youth to its corps of center backs with 20-year-old Ajax man Jairo Riedewald.

The left back in Ajax’s UEFA Europa League loss to Manchester United, Riedewald completed better than 92 percent of his passes in Eredivisie play. He also nabbed 2.2 interceptions per match.

[ MORE: Russia’s straw stadium ]

Fellow Palace center backs James Tompkins, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney average age is 31.3.

Riedewald played for Palace boss Frank De Boer at Ajax. From Palace’s official site:

“He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”

Riedewald played the majority of his Eredivisie matches at center back, but has 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder and another 12 at left back.

He’s Palace’s second addition of this summer, the other being a loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.

Russian farmer’s straw stadium pokes fun at World Cup costs

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KRASNOYE, Russia (AP) Russia is desperate to control its spending on the 2018 World Cup, and a farmer might just have the answer – straw.

In a project straight out of the “Three Little Pigs” fairytale, Roman Ponomaryov has built a straw replica of the 43 billion ruble ($700 million) stadium in St. Petersburg which will host World Cup semifinals.

His arena made of 4,500 straw bales comes with tiered seating for 300 and flagpoles. It hosted its first tournament – for local teams only – last weekend using modified soccer rules.

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“It’s good to get people excited and create a sports atmosphere ahead of the World Cup,” Ponomaryov said in a recent interview.

The real St. Petersburg Stadium has drawn ire for its cost, corruption scandals, delays, and workers’ deaths.

Ponomaryov is a fan of the Zenit St. Petersburg club and says he modeled his straw stadium on Zenit’s new home in a gentle dig at the problems around the construction.

“It seemed pretty strange … how the cost of the stadium and its construction timeframe were increasing,” he said. Russia’s total World Cup budget is around $10.7 billion.

Zenit has accepted the straw stadium with good humor, offering Ponomaryov a ticket to a game at the real thing.

The harvest will keep him on the farm for the next few weeks, though, and he has in mind another project – organizing a Straw World Cup.

Spain’s sports court opens disciplinary procedure vs. Villar

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Spain’s administrative court for sport has initiated disciplinary procedures against Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar after he was arrested and jailed in a corruption probe.

The opening of the disciplinary procedure on Monday clears the way for Spain’s sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, to rule whether it will temporarily suspend Villar when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

The court’s decision had been expected since Thursday, when the Higher Council of Sport asked the court to act against Villar following his arrest.

Villar, his son Gorka, federation vice president Juan Padron, and Ramon Hernandez, the secretary of the regional football federation of Tenerife, were arrested last Tuesday when police raided the national federation’s headquarters and other properties.

The four were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz ordered last week that the Villars and Padron remain in jail without bail after questioning them. Hernandez’s bail was set at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

The elder Villar is FIFA’s senior vice president and also a vice president of UEFA. He’s been president of the Spanish federation since 1988.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation “at least since 2009.”

MLS rejected $4 billion deal which wanted promotion/relegation

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Major League Soccer has confirmed it brushed aside a $4 billion TV deal which insisted on promotion and relegation coming into place in North America’s top-flight.

A report from the Sports Business Journal stated that the owner of NASL side Miami FC Riccardo Silva gave a presentation to the league and owners on June 26, offering a 10-year deal for the domestic and international TV rights from 2023 with one clause: promotion and relegation had to become commonplace in MLS.

Of course, Silva, who founded the media company MP & Silva who put in the bid, would love for there to be promotion and relegation in MLS as his team cannot currently rise above the second-tier NASL.

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN has the following statement from Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.

“As was stated to Mr. Silva both in person and in a subsequent letter, Major League Soccer is prohibited contractually from engaging in discussions about our media rights with other distributors. We are not in a position, nor are we interested, in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal.”

“It is also important to note that since its inception, MLS, like the other North American leagues, has dealt directly with its domestic broadcast partners, rather than through agents and brokers. This ensures that the league and its partners can structure an agreement that addresses all elements, such as scheduling, marketing and digital distribution, that are required for a successful partnership.”

This deal would quadruple the current annual TV deal MLS has with Fox, ESPN and Univision, but it has been stated that no new deal can be discussed until at least 2021.

With cities across the U.S. and Canada lining up to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, league commission Don Garber has stated multiple times that promotion and relegation is not needed in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

With USL and NASL now both second-tier, the only way they can become a top-tier franchise is by buying into MLS with two markets set to be selected later this year from 12 current expansion bids, plus David Beckham’s franchise in Miami still pushing ahead with plans to join the league.