Three reasons why Chelsea can win the UEFA Champions League

1 Comment

Chelsea’s domineering display against Galatasaray on Tuesday night proved Jose Mourinho’s men are the real deal in the UEFA Champions League.

Relentless pressure in midfield, clever counter-attacks and clinical finishing all played out in front of a yet another stingy defensive display.

(MORE: Chelsea cruise past Galatasaray, as Blues make Champions League quarters with 2-0 win)

The West London club are likely to be the Premier League’s only representatives in the last eight of the UCL, (barring a valiant fightback from Manchester United against Olympiakos on Wednesday) so they’ll be flying the St. George’s flag in Europe for the rest of the season.

But how long will that be for? Here are three reasons why Chelsea can go all the way and lift the ‘big eared’ trophy in Lisbon on May 24.

  • Solid defense

Chelsea have only conceded four goals in eight UCL matches this season, and have kept five clean sheets. With John Terry and Gary Cahill marshaling central defense, Petr Cech racking up 100 appearances in the UCL, plus Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic steady and dependable at full back, many of Europe’s best offensive sides will struggle to break down the ‘Blue curtain’. We all know Mourinho loves a 1-0 win and to rub it in the faces of his opposition, there will be plenty of that as Terry and co. throw themselves in front of crosses and shots until their little hearts are content. Add in the fact that Chelsea have now conceded they won’t be an expansive, glitzy side just yet, and they will play to their strengths to beat Europe’s elite. Solid defense, with clinical finishing, that should be the plan.

  • Experienced players leading the way
source: AP
Chelsea’s veteran core are augmented by a stable of young stars. Can the Blues go all the way with Terry, Lampard and Cech leading the charge?

In any walk of life, experience goes a long way. As we mentioned, Cech has 100 UCL appearances to his name, Frank Lampard has 73, then John Terry has 99 and the list goes on and on. Against Galatasaray Samuel Eto’o scored his 30th Champions League goal, just the 14th player to reach that milestone, and all of this adds up to giving Chelsea the edge when it really matters.

LATEST UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE NEWS

Of course having too much experience (a.k.a. oldsters who are struggling to get around the pitch) won’t work, but the Blues have a great mix of youngsters who are contributing and learning from their veteran leaders. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian augment the experienced core around them, as most of these players have “been there, done that” in the UCL and lifted the trophy before. That counts for an awful lot in the last eight and beyond.

  • The ‘Mou factor’

Love him, hate him… we all know Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho is a born winner. The man who has already won two Champions League titles in two different countries (with FC Porto and Inter Milan) is eager to add a third to his collection, with many believing he’d prefer a UCL crown over the PL title. Regardless, Mourinho will set up his team to annoy opponents and pounce on the counter to devastating effect. This is the environment where the ‘Special One’ earns his corn and sets himself above the rest. With a large squad challenging for two titles, he will have to be a master of alternating lineups and using certain players only in Europe or the PL exclusively. Rallying calls aren’t really his thing anymore, so it would seem, and with a strong core of leaders Mourinho doesn’t have to give vast monologues of tactical instructions in the locker room to get his point across.

Instead it’s the finer details, as Jose knows better than anyone, which push you over the finishing line to win a UCL crown. Chelsea have a long way to go until a second UCL title arrives in West London, but with Jose on board, I like their odds of getting through two more rounds and at least reaching the final in Lisbon. In Jose’s homeland of Portugal, he may become the first manager in history to win the UEFA Champions League with three different teams from three different countries. That’s the ‘Mou factor’.

Report: Frank De Boer accepts Crystal Palace job

Photo by Pier Marco Tacca - Inter/Inter via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frank de Boer is widely expected to be named new Crystal Palace manager this week, as he has reportedly accepted the job after having been offered the position this week.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The 47-year-old Dutchman has been out of work since he was fired by Inter Milan in November. He lasted just 84 days at the San Siro, where he managed to win just five of 14 games. Inter Milan is Inter Milan, though, and that’s something worth remembering when critiquing Palace’s impending appointment of De Boer.

Palace are also widely expected to back De Boer in the transfer market this summer, in a big way. Kelechi Iheanacho is the biggest name linked with a move to Selhurst Park, as the 20-year-old Nigerian striker is reportedly unwanted by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

5th-place San Jose parts ways with Kinnear after 2.5 seasons

Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dominic Kinnear is out after two and a half seasons as head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, despite leading the club to a hugely improved standing 17 games into the 2017 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The move comes 17 hours after San Jose put to bed a three-game winless skid with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday, a result which propelled them into fifth place in the Western Conference, just two points off second place. After seventh- and ninth-place finishes in Kinnear’s first two seasons back in Northern California (he managed the club in 2004 and 2005 before the club was relocated to Houston, where he would remain for nine seasons, through the 2014 season), this year’s team seemed to be moving in a positive direction quicker than most had previously expected.

[ MORE: Accam scores a backheel (video) | Opara scores a CB bicycle ]

The club has named Chris Leitch head coach and Alex Covelo as assistant coach. Current assistant coach Steve Ralston and goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley will remain in their current roles.

“First and foremost, we would like to thank Dominic for his hard work, professionalism and contributions to this club over the years,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said in a release. “He worked hard this year and was a first-class person all the way. This decision was made after a lot of thought and evaluation. We decided that we wanted to go in a different direction as we continue to build the identity of this club.”

Kinnear is the second MLS coach to be relieved of his duties this season, suffering the same fate as RSL’s Jeff Cassar, who lasted just three games before being fired in March.

FIFA’s video-review system under scrutiny again in Russia

Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

OCHI, Russia (AP) FIFA’s new video review system is bringing turmoil to the Confederations Cup, with technology designed to deliver quick, clear decisions agitating players and leaving coaches and fans confused.

Perhaps even worse for FIFA, the latest controversy on Sunday – exactly one week after four goal reviews in that day’s two matches – made one of the world’s highest-rated referees look hesitant and wrong.

Wilmar Roldan sent off a Cameroon defender more than three minutes after a high tackle on a German opponent and only after his own case of mistaken identity.

The Colombian official arrived at what was arguably the correct decision following two visits to the touchline to consult video replays and first showing only a yellow card, then a red card, to the wrong Cameroon player.

“I think everyone is confused, including me,” Cameroon coach Hugo Broos said of referee Roldan after a 3-1 loss in Sochi that eliminated his team. “He and he alone can explain what happened there in that moment.”

Cameroon was also involved in two video decisions last Sunday, when possible Chile goals were reviewed for offside rulings. The first goal was disallowed, the second counted in Chile’s 2-0 victory.

Portugal had most to complain about one week ago when a potential opening goal in a 2-2 draw with Mexico was ruled out by an offside judged in an earlier phase of play.

FIFA stressed last week that all decisions proved ultimately correct, and the controversies were simply inevitable overreactions as world football gets used to a new system being put to its highest-profile tests.

Indeed, FIFA President Gianni Infantino felt confident to proclaim video review was “the future of football” and still on track to be approved by the guardians of the game’s laws before the 2018 World Cup.

Human error by Roldan seemed the biggest problem Sunday though it added to the perception that video review is capable of causing as much controversy as it solves.

FIFA has certainly pulled back from its prediction last year that game-changing decisions – goals scored, penalty kicks awarded, red cards, mistaken identity – could be reviewed and resolved in as few as six seconds.

Accuracy is more important than speed, has become the mantra in Russia.

Neither were in evidence Sunday in Sochi as Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka eventually left the field around three minutes after his boot connected with Emre Can of Germany.

Mabouka’s teammate Sebastien Siani had sarcastically applauded the referee when he was wrongly sent from the field. Eventually Siani’s slate was wiped clean and he completed the match.

Still, the image of a top referee being openly disrespected will not please FIFA.

Roldan arrived at the Confederations Cup trying to rebuild a reputation that was damaged at the 2014 World Cup. There, he was chosen for the second game of the tournament, and incorrectly ruled out two Mexico goals. FIFA did not pick him for another refereeing duty in Brazil.

To further damage Roldan’s standing, Germany coach Joachim Loew said neither he nor Can believed the tackle merited even a yellow card.

“I didn’t have the impression that it was a mean foul with the intent to hurt the opponent. It was not intentional,” Loew said through a translator at the post-match news conference.

Loew, whose Germany team will defend its World Cup title next year, still thinks video review can benefit the game – with one condition.

“I think it can be fine-tuned over time so that decisions can be made more quickly,” the German coach said. “That would be great.”

Mario Balotelli signs new Nice contract

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Italian striker Mario Balotelli has found himself the owner of a new contract after a successful season in Ligue 1 with French club OGC Nice.

Balotelli’s one-year deal was set to expire at the end of June, but he found a career revival in what many believed would be his last chance in major European soccer. The club officially announced his new contract on Sunday, and while they did not release the length of the deal, they confirmed that Balotelli turned down deals from other clubs to stay in France.

The 26-year-old scored 15 goals in 23 league appearances last year, helping Nice to a fabulous third-place finish in Ligue 1, earning them a Champions League playoff spot.

For a player who saw trouble follow him wherever he went, the only trouble he faced last season at Nice was an erratic bout with injury issues including calf and adductor problems. However, the spells on the sidelines didn’t douse Balotelli’s form. The Italian had an incredible start and finish to the season, scoring six goals in his first five appearances of the season and bagging six goals in the last eight games of the year.

The official release by Nice said that Balotelli made “considerable financial sacrifices and chose the sporting aspect with his heart” in re-signing with the French club.