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.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?