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

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

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They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.