Demba Ba’s goal enough to give Chelsea 1-0 Champions League win, first place in Group E

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One way to solve your team’s problems in defense: Never concede the ball. And for much of today’s UEFA Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, that’s exactly what Chelsea did. It was only toward the end of Wednesday’s match that the Blues’ possession number dipped below 70 percent (69), but by that time, Chelsea were well on their way to protecting Demba Ba’s 10th minute goal, the team’s 1-0 win over visiting Steaua Bucharest giving them first place in Group E.

The Blues came into today’s game having allowed six goals in their last two Premier League games, but against a Steaua Bucharest side that failed to win a game in group play, Ba’s early goal was enough. With David Luiz returning to the team and Steaua unable to get the ball of their hosts, Mark Schwarzer was only tested twice, Petr Cech’s replacement keeping Chelsea’s first clean sheet in four games.

As a result, Chelsea finish group play with four wins in six, taking the group by two points over Schalke. Their two losses to Basel made for an uneven campaign, but after six games, José Mourinho’s team still ended up in the group winner’s pile for Dec. 16’s draw. They will be drawn against the tournament’s group runners-up (minus Schalke and fellow English sides Arsenal and Manchester City) for the Round of 16, with knockout round play set to start on Feb. 18.

Despite the close scoreline, Chelsea left little room for doubt on Wednesday, dominating the game from its opening moments. By the half-hour mark, the Blues had already forced 10 corner kicks, the sixth of which had the hosts on the scoresheet before the clock hit double digits.

From the right, Willian drilled his cross to one of the team’s least likely targets, Oscar having gotten open well outside the post. The Brazilian flicked his header perfectly toward the far upright, where Ba had beaten right back Daniel Georgievski. Originally credited as an own goal, the Senegalese striker was eventually put on the scoresheet for Chelsea’s early opener.

The Blues looked good for at least one more goal, Branislav Ivanovic going close in the 27th off a cross from Eden Hazard and Ba criminally missing from inside the six in the second half off a beautiful curling pass from Willian. But by the middle of the second half, Chelsea’s possession had become benign, with Hazard’s continued excellent form at the center of the Blues’ evermore sporadic threats.

If Chelsea’s threats were becoming less frequent, at least they had some. Steaua, playing with the urgency of a team that had nothing to gain , came close in the 13th minute when isolated John Terry was unable to track down Gabriel Iancu after a through ball. Schwarzer, however, rushed the midfielder into a shot just inside the penalty area, Steaua’s best chance of the day pushed wide of the right post.

Had that gone in, just three minutes after Ba’s goal, Chelsea may have become more ruthless. However, left to enjoy their one-goal margin, the Blues played out a predictable win, one that crystalized their spot atop Champions League’s Group E.


Goals

Chelsea: Demba Ba 10

Lineups

Chelsea: Mark Schwarzer; Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (Ramires 74); Willian (Kevin De Bruyne 80), Oscar (Andre Schürrle 67), Eden Hazard; Demba Ba

Unused Substitutes: Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Fernando Torres, Gary Cahill

Steaua Bucharest: Ciprian Tatarusanu; Daniel Georgievski, Lukasz Szukala, Florina Gardos, Iasmin Latovievici; Mihai Pintilii (Leandro Tatu 64); Alexandru Chipciu, Gabriel Iancu, Nicolae Stanciu (Andrei Prepelita 61), Paul Parvulescu; Pantelis Kapetanos (Federico Piovaccari 71)

Unused Substitutes: Florin Nita, Fernando Varela, Ionut Neagu, Adrian Cristea

Report: Man City adding Mendy to continue backline restoration

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Fresh off of completing a record deal to help bolster the club’s back line this summer, Manchester City is back at it with the Premier League season looming.

[ MORE: Alvaro Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

The Citizens are reportedly on the brink of signing Monaco left back Benjamin Mendy to yet another world-record fee — which will total over $67 million.

Confirmation of the deal has yet to be announced by either team, but L’Equipe is reporting that the Citizens are hot on the 23-year-old’s trail in adding to their pricy back four.

Manager Pep Guardiola and Man City have not been shy readjusting their defensive unit over the past year, adding expensive first-team choices John Stones and Kyle Walker.

Report: Alexis Sanchez meets with PSG ahead of proposed move

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Neymar has received a lot of the attention as PSG appears poised to open its checkbook to acquire the Brazilian, but another high-profile South American could very well be heading to France this summer.

[ MORE: Conte says Costa situation was was sorted out in January ]

Arsenal remains certain that it will be able to maintain the rights to Alexis Sanchez ahead of the 2017/18 Premier League season, but the Chilean and his representatives were reportedly in Paris on Friday meeting with the Parc des Princes side over a proposed move.

Goal is reporting that the 28-year-old and his team of representatives met with PSG officials for several hours on Friday as the second-place finishers from a season ago are set to offer over $58 million for Sanchez.

Sanchez has scored 72 goals across all competitions for the Gunners since joining the club in 2014 from Barcelona.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

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The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.