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

Leave a comment

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.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
2 Comments

Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
1 Comment

Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.