Two from Samuel Eto’o lead Chelsea past Schalke, to top of Champions League group

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Schalke seemed to be taking a chapter from Newcastle’s book, and approach that backfired with Timo Hildebrand’s 30th minute mistake. Although Chelsea had controlled the game’s first half hour, they had yet to create a clear chance before Hildebrand, hurried after putting the ball down ahead of a kick, saw his attempted clearance go off Samuel Eto’o and into his own net from the edge of his penalty area. Absolved of the need to pursue the match, Chelsea would go on to win the teams’ UEFA Champions League match, 3-0.

Thanks to second half goals from Eto’o and Demba Ba, Chelsea takes their first solo lead in their Champions League group, having lost on match day one at home to Basel. Winning their third group match in a row, Chelsea take a three-point lead on Schalke, whose lead over third-place Basel is down to one after the Swiss champions drew at home with Steaua Bucharest.

Schalke had started the match with a series of half-chances before ceding control to their hosts, who eventually started patiently using the possession they were given. Yet through the first 30 minutes, their only shot on goal came from a dead ball situation, a long free kick from Andre Schurrle forcing a diving if easy stop from Hildebrand.

Minutes later, Schalke were behind, a moment’s lapse from their goalkeeper conceding an embarrassing goal. Having put the ball down after his defense had pushed up, Hildenbrand took his time lining up a kick out of his own box. In the interim, Samuel Eto’o closed in seemingly unnoticed from the keeper’s right. By the time he was on Hildebrand’s radar, the Chelsea striker was able to get his leg in front of the ball, the resulting ricochet sending the block into Schalke’s net.

Eto’o second was more conventional, the Cameroonian international put behind the defense to the right of goal by fellow Anzhi Makhachkala escapee Willian. A precise far post finish doubled Chelsea’s lead nine minutes after half time.

Late, a ball lobbed into the penalty area by Frank Lampard saw Demba Ba get on the scoresheet, an athletic turn on his right leg allowing the Senegalese to hit a left-footed volley inside the left post, leaving Hildebrand helpless to defend the match’s final goal.

Coming off weekend disappointment against Newcastle, this was exactly the type of result José Mourinho would have wanted, though it’s difficult to ignore the nature of the opening goal. Eto’o deserves credit for the play, but it wasn’t one Chelsea would have expected from their game plan – a gift from Schalke more than a well-earned score.

If that goal doesn’t go in, does the game play out as it did over the first 30 minutes? With a lot of Blues possession leading to little on Schalke’s goal?

In that sense, the questions from this weekend may not be answered. Now, however, Chelsea gets to pursue solutions from a winning spot, and the top of their Champions League group.

Scoring

Chelsea: 31′, 54′ Samuel Eto’o, 83′ Demba Ba

Lineups

Chelsea: Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Ramires, John Obi Mikel; Willian, Oscar (81′ Frank Lampard), Andre Schurrle (78′ Kevin De Bruyne); Samuel Eto’o (77′ Demba Ba)

Unused subs: David Luiz, Ashley Cole, Mark Schwarzer, Juan Mata

Schalke: Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joel Matip, Denni Aogo; Jermaine Jones, Roman Neustädter; Julian Draxler (62′ Christian Clemens), Kevin Prince Boateng (77′ Sead Kolasinac), Christian Fuchs (67′ Max Meyer); Adám Szalai

Unused subs: Ralf Fährmann, Felipe Santana, Tim Hoogland, Kaan Ayhan

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.

LAFC confirms second DP signing with Uruguayan Diego Rossi

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It’s been a fast and furious few days for Los Angeles FC, and that continued on Thursday with the signing of the organization’s second Designated Player.

LAFC announced the addition of Penarol forward Diego Rossi, joining manager Bob Bradley and the club’s first DP — Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

Rossi, 19, became the second-youngest DP signing in Major League Soccer history upon completing his move from Uruguay’s first division, with only former FC Dallas attacker Fabian Castillo younger (18).

“Diego is a young and exciting attacking player,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “His experiences at Peñarol and his ability fit perfectly with our vision of the team we are building at LAFC. We believe Diego will mature into a top-class player.”

The expansion side’s current roster is now up to eight players, following a busy few days of MLS’ offseason. Rossi will join Vela, Egyptian international Omar Gaber, as well as Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, Tyler Miller, Latif Blessing, and Marco Ureña.