What we learned from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Galatasaray in Istanbul

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There are plenty of mixed feelings swirling around Turk Telekom Arena after Chelsea’s first leg 1-1 Champions League draw against Galatasaray.

On one hand, the visitors secured both an away goal and a slight advantage heading home to Stamford Bridge, and still have to like their chances of advancing.

But it could have been so much more.

Chelsea exploited gobs of space in the Galatasaray back line early, and Fernando Torres’s opener in the ninth minute looked as if it could be the first of many.

Instead, Jose Mourinho chose to ease his foot off the gas pedal, and the game melted away into a 1-1 draw.

While the match wasn’t exactly riveting all the way through, there’s plenty to take away from this one involving Chelsea’s fortunes both within and beyond Europe’s top competition, plus some hints on if Galatasaray are legitimate threats to the fortunes of other Champions League hopefuls.

(MORE: Chelsea fails to kill off Galatasaray as home side earns a 1-1 draw)

1) Jose Mourinho has a solid defense, but his tactics occasionally backfire

While Mourinho doesn’t always grab a goal and then sit back, Chelsea under Jose Mourinho this year have certainly been more defensive than offensive. They have conceded a Premier League low 21 goals this league season, and the Portugese manager has made it a point of emphasis that solidity at the back is more important than attacking presence up front.

The addition of John Obi Mikel in the second half usually signals a parking of the van – not a full-on defensive tilt but a shutting of shop. Very often, it’s worked.

That substitution has many times spelled the beginning of the end for many a Premier League side this year.  Luckily for the Turks, they scored before Mourinho could get Mikel on the pitch.

While Galatasaray will find themselves hard pressed to grab a goal at Stamford Bridge in the second leg (Chelsea have conceded just 11 goals in all competitions at their London fortress), Chelsea remain human. Today’s mistake at the back came from the ever-solid Petr Cech, who should have collected the corner but froze instead, allowing Aurelien Chedjou to pounce.

The point here is that while shutting up shop with a lead usually sees Mourinho through, today it was his undoing. He should have chosen to kill off the game while he could, and it could prove costly.

(MORE: Jose Mourinho admits Chelsea were starstruck in Istanbul and have a “difficult” situation ahead)


source: AP
Didier Drogba is a key figure for Galatasaray, but he’ll need his teammates’ help to defeat his former club.

2) Galatasaray are legitimate Champions League contenders

The Turkish side showed today in a number of ways that they can be a serious threat.  In the recent past, Galatasaray have bowed out of the competition meekly, with many chalking up their constant appearances up to a weak Turkish league.

This year, however, Galatasaray has set out to prove the squad is not like those of the past. In the group stage, the Turks impressively took down an otherwise dominant Juventus side twice, proving to be possibly the upset of the Champions League at that point.

The squad is deep, with big names like Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder backed up by a host of workhorses such as Felipe Melo, Burak Yilmaz, and Selcuk Inan. They sport an aggressive yet experienced goalkeeper in Fernando Muslera. And to top it all off, Mancini can bring Umut Bulut off the bench, any manager’s delight.

Despite Chelsea’s away goal and staunch home record, expect the second leg to be a dogfight to the final whistle.

(MORE: Real Madrid sends Champions League message with 6-1 demolition of Schalke)

3) Chelsea’s strikers can still be threats, despite Mourinho’s candid

Jose Mourinho unintentionally called out his strikers the other day, but his comments are a bit wide of the mark. While, yes, the Chelsea strikers haven’t been at the top of their game this season, Mourinho’s system doesn’t exactly call for them to be either.

Eden Hazard and Oscar are just as much goal threats as they are creators, and if you’re at this point in the writeup you’ve most likely read the first point of emphasis where Chelsea are a defensive team first.

Since the initial striker drought, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres have done their jobs.  Despite Jose calling out his frontmen, their jobs aren’t necessarily to just pile up goals.  Their jobs equally are to run at the defenders, and open up spaces for the men behind them to slice apart, something they’ve done with a great deal of effectiveness the past few months.

And Torres can actually hit an open net now, as we saw today. Sorry Chelsea fans, that one was too easy.

4) Chelsea are peaking at the right time

At the beginning of the year, Jose Mourinho quietly (ok maybe not so quietly) went about their business.  They had a few hiccups along the way, as any team would under new management.  While Arsenal and Manchester City grabbed the headlines with their flurries of goals and attractive style of play, Chelsea sat and waited.

In third place for much of the first half of the Premier League season, Mourinho patiently waited for others to slip up, which they all eventually did.

Now, Mourinho makes his move.  As others like Arsenal, City, and Lvierpool all make mistakes, Chelsea aren’t.  Today’s performance wasn’t exactly dominating, but proves still that this team rarely makes deadly mistakes.  They still hold a relative advantage over the Turks heading back home for the second leg, and their stellar Premier League form has oozed over into other competitions.

Figures like Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini must beware, because a Chelsea club hitting their stride in late February is a dangerous one.  Galatasaray may not have found that out just yet, but Roberto Mancini better not rest on his laurels from a solid showing at home, because the second leg at Stamford Bridge is a Jose Mourinho special waiting to happen.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?

Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016; USMNT star “back on board”

Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Jozy Altidore‘s tumultuous year ended on an upswing, and expects it to continued into an important 2016.

The Toronto FC hitman had plenty of ups and downs for club, and just as many for country. Whether injuries or form, Altidore wasn’t often the player USMNT fans remember from years past.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But the recently-turned 26-year-old scored six times in his last nine games with TFC to give him 13 on the season, and Klinsmann seems to think his big striker is out of the woods.

From US Soccer:

“Everybody saw that 2015 for Jozy Altidore has been very difficult, a tricky year, but it has become a year toward the end of it where it got stronger and stronger. He had some injury issues and some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. Obviously we had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape he needed to be. In then towards July, August, September, he got more and more into the flow. He started to score goals for Toronto, and he got stronger and stronger for the national team as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Jozy back on board, to plan with Jozy into a very busy 2016, obviously the biggest highlight is the Copa America in June.”

It’s great for the coach to have faith in the United States’ fourth all-time leading scorer, who should catch Eric Wynalda for third this season. Whether Klinsmann will be rewarded for his faith in the striker is another thing altogether, especially in that pivotal, U.S. hosted tournament this summer.

The tricky thing for Altidore, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, will be for him to prove his merit if players like Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson and Jordan Morris continue their rises as scoring options.

Manchester City defeat a “cruel” reminder for Hull City’s Bruce

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Hull City Manager Steve Bruce during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Hull City at Ashton Gate on November 21, 2015 in Bristol, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
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For nearly 90 percent of Hull City’s League Cup quarterfinal against Manchester City, the Tigers hung tough.

A 1-0 deficit made dreams of an Etihad equalizer far from absurd, and Hull had to be thinking about the possibility of another extended Cup run after making it to the 2014 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

Then, the 80th minute hit Hull. Seven minutes later, it was 4-0 Man City. Boom. It finished 4-1.

From the BBC:

“If we needed a reminder how cruel it was to play against the big boys, we just had one.

“After 80 minutes we just had our best spell of the match and after 87 minutes it was 4-0. It was never a 4-1.”

Hull is three points off the lead in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. Their only loss since Sept. 12 came Saturday against Derby County, so the gifts of Man City were likely a surprise.

With loads of genuine respect to Bruce and complete understanding of what he’s inferring, it did feel more like a 4-1 than the 1-0 his Tigers faced for 68 minutes after Wilfried Bony‘s 12th minute tally.

What would it mean for MLS if Portland wins it all on Sunday?

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy Rasmussen
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It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Would there be an underlying thread, a lesson, or a copycat inspiration inside of Portland scoring a minor upset of Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday?

Here are some thoughts on the storylines from a post-Timbers title.

1) Stick with the boss

Caleb Porter’s reputation is rather “hate or love”, and people (including this “perhaps still bitter from the Olympics” writer) were expecting his days to be numbered after a rough start to this season.

In his first year in PDX, Porter engineered a 20-point upgrade to the West’s No. 1 slot, but Year Two featured no playoffs and it looked headed that way for much of this year.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But after leaping into control of its playoff destiny with a game to play, Porter now has a Conference Final and an MLS Cup Final (at least) on his resume inside of three seasons.

Where other teams have gone through coaches like candy, Portland keeps going with Porter. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, as in 102 games he’s posted 41 wins and 36 draws to go with just 25 losses (and he was missing Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for the critical moments of his bum season).

2) Spend* at the back, and spread it out

Portland spent the league’s 10th highest total dollars on players when including Designated Players, but that total leaps to sixth if you discount the big money guys (Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri).

You have to get to 19th on the list of top MLS salaries to find Portland’s first entrant (Ridgewell), and you don’t hit another until No. 33 (Fanendo Adi).

[ MLS: Impact to sign 96-times capped Ivorian defender? ]

But Portland has six players in the Top 100, compared to Columbus’ four. High-end spenders NYC (five players), Toronto (four), and L.A. (four) all don’t hit that figure inside of the Top 100 (and to be specific, Portland does in 98).

They also rank ninth in spending on forwards, 14th on midfielders, and third in defenders. Of the 15 players making more than 100k in base salary, four are defenders and one is goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

All numbers come from Spotrac*

3) Get Darlington Nagbe

This will be harder to copycat, seeing as there’s only one Darlington Nagbe, but the Timbers’ midfielder is versatile and helps Porter challenge opposing coaches because of the unpredictable nature of how he can be deployed on the pitch.

In fact, when you run numbers on advanced statistics site Squawka, you’ll see something quite interesting. Among players who hit the pitch in at least 2/3 of their teams’ games this season, Nagbe is fourth in MLS in combined score. More intriguing? Besides Michael Bradley, he’s the most complete contributor (offense, defense, possession) of any top scorer.

[ MORE:  Who is the favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Nagbe stats4) Parity continues to reign

For the same reason people barely celebrate the NHL’s Presidents Trophy, the MLS Supporters Shield is a bit of a fallback party for fan bases who fail to capitalize on a season’s worth of solid play.

In much of world soccer, the season-long title matter more than a tournament, but North America is about the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that only one team in MLS this season finished more than four wins out of a playoff spot (Chicago), and most teams that missed the playoffs by a bunch (New York City, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Houston), earned their gaps off the playoff pace by losing a lot once they were officially eliminated.

Even Chicago, who was awful, had a shot at the playoffs when August ended, only to lose seven of eight to finish the season. MLS, for better or worse, literally is anyone’s ball game at nearly any time.