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Champions League Preview: Mourinho, Chelsea stand in the way of PSG’s semifinal goal

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Implicit in Paris Saint-Germain’s quick ascent (and French soccer’s willingness to go along with it) is the idea that what’s good for PSG is good for Ligue 1. This doesn’t goes as far as clubs wanting the Parisians to win at their own expense, but if the aspiring super club is going to be one of the world’s big spenders, best they do as much as damage as possible in Europe while doing so.

More success in Champions League leads to more exposure, which leads to more commercial power for the French league – something that will helps the whole circuit in the long run. As PSG grows and can buy up players like Blaise Matuidi, Lucas Digne, and the since departed Kevin Gameiro, the money can trickle down. If Ligue 1 is every going to close the gap between itself and Europe’s biggest leagues, it would have to be on the back of PSG.

“It’s very exciting for a manager to be involved in this kind of project – just as it is for any player,” PSG head coach Laurent Blanc said on Tuesday, the day before the first-year boss hosts Chelsea in UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals. “Everything about our development is going very fast …”

(MORE, how PSG got here: Rout in Leverkusen | Close out in Paris)

That rapid rise helps explain France’s fixation on the Champions League semifinals. Since the season’s onset, French soccer has had that landmark in mind. After the Parisians forced away goals to be used to see them out of the quarterfinals last season, progress for the PSG project — and, by extension, French soccer — means making the final four. With PSG winning every other competition, Europe is now the only measuring stick.

“[I]n European competition we are among the least experienced clubs remaining,” Blanc cautions. “We will need time to be a regular player at the top level.”

But having drawn Chelsea (and not Bayern Munich, and to a certain extent Real Madrid), the Parisians are being expected to take the next step now, even if people like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured) are also being cautious. But in light of last year’s result, the measured tones of PSG’s stars and staff can’t temper expectations. Whereas last year the French champions were within inches of knocking out Barcelona, this year a stronger team faces a Blues squad that’s perceived to be an easier challenge. With players like Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos, and Yohan Cabaye added to a squad already build around Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Batuidi, why shouldn’t people expect the semifinals?

(MORE, Chelsea’s path: Draw in Istanbul | Cruise in London)

The most common answer to that question: José Mourinho. The Champions League winning coach with Porto and Inter Milan has also made the semifinals with Chelsea (during this first stint) and Real Madrid. His teams are not used to exiting the competition this early, and while that’s largely because Mourinho tends to have one the tournament’s most talented teams, the manager’s part can’t be overlooked. Each time Mourinho’s won Champions League, he did so with a team that wasn’t the tournament’s most talented.

source: AP“Paris has a team full of fantastic attacking players, not to mention the other ones,” Mourinho (right) explained. “I could speak for hours about Thiago [Motta]. The offensive players are what really make the difference at this level.”

In this matchup, there may be little question which team has more talent. Chelsea, certainly one of the most gifted teams in England, don’t have the depth of stars that PSG possesses. While they can claim Eden Hazard among the world’s elite, the Parisians have Ibrahimovic, Silva, and Edinson Cavani. A player like Matuidi would walk into Chelsea’s Wednesday XI, particularly considering winter signing Nemanja Matic is cup-tied. Throughout the rest of Laurent Blanc’s squad, Mourinho might also find the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Motta of use. Whereas Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea would have never met a French team that could outclass his talent, his return to Stamford Bridge comes within a much-changed Champions League world.

But to the extent there even is one, the talent gap isn’t so big that Mourinho couldn’t traverse it, particularly given the experience Chelsea’s core carries from their 2011-12 Champions League-winning campaign. Against a Paris Saint-Germain team likely to have a big possession advantage, those veterans can stay in their more comfortable, counter attacking posture, relying on the likes of Hazard, Óscar, and Willian to execute in transition against the PSG defense.

(MORE: Real Madrid looks to restore confidence against decimated Dortmund)

“I watch a lot of Paris matches, and Laurent Blanc has a clear philosophy,” Mourinho explained. “They keep the same philosophy, even when they change three midfielders, like against Bayer Leverkusen in the [round of 16] second leg. Same goes for us; we have a philosophy and we won’t change it. And we have faith in what we do.”

“Chelsea and Paris have very different styles of play,” Blanc agreed, “they’re more inclined to counterattack while we like to keep possession. Which is more effective? We’ll see after the two legs, but we’ll stay true to our beliefs.”

Particularly on the road, in leg one, Mourinho will have his team embrace that less expansive approach, remaining conservative while looking for a quick but crucial away goal. The question is whether Blanc, making his second trip to this level of the competition, can identify his own team’s weaknesses and protect them against that Blues’ assault.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.

Conte pleased with Hazard’s performance vs. Burnley

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s debut season at Chelsea couldn’t have started off brighter with three wins in as many matches, but Saturday’s victory against Burnley was certainly the most convincing yet.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves to 3-0 after convincing win vs. Burnley ]

The Premier League upstarts were never really a match for the Blues, but Conte’s group dominated from start to finish in their 3-0 win against the Clarets.

The Italian spoke about his pleasure with the team’s effort post-match while also praising Eden Hazard‘s work rate.

“I am pleased to see the team play well and create a lot of chances,” Conte said following the win. “After 13 games where we have conceded at home, we didn’t this time and that is very important. Now we must continue.

“I want Hazard to be decisive at the beginning and I am pleased because I saw this today. However we must continue with his work and the work of the whole team.

Hazard notched the game’s first goal after just nine minutes, but it was his organization and possession that helped pace the Blues throughout the entire contest.

Chelsea dominated the game’s share of the ball, particularly down the wings through Hazard and Willian, giving the home side a decisive advantage against their opponent.

While Conte has every right to be happy with the team’s progression through the opening month of the new season, the veteran manager stressed that the club continues to look to improve.

“I am pleased to work with these players but if we find a right solution, we want to improve this squad,” Conte said.

Petr Cech after Arsenal’s first win: “We want to win the title”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Petr Cech of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on March 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s goal for this season is clear: to win the Premier League title.

That’s according to goalkeeper Petr Cech following Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford on Saturday as the north London club aim to go one better than last season’s second place finish.

With manager Arsene Wenger entering the final year of his contract, the time is now got Arsenal.

Yes, Arsenal will have their work cut out with the two Manchester clubs strengthening massively this summer but on their day they can blow teams away.

Saturday was one of those days as the Gunners destroyed Watford in the first half, scoring there times through Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. It could’ve been more too.

Although Cech had to make two good saves in the second half and Roberto Pereyra pulled one back for Watford, the win was about as a routine as it comes in the PL.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Cech couldn’t help but mention Arsenal’s title aspirations when summing up the victory.

“The first half we did well, scored three goals and could have scored more. The second half they were 3-0 down and as a good Premier League side pushed for something and it was tougher,” Cech said. “Everybody has to do their bit to help the team get three points. I am not happy because we conceded but a win is a win. We needed to respond after the first two games and got the vital three points.

“There are 35 more games to play and we will fight to win every game and be in the mix in the last game. We want to win the title, there is no hiding in that and we will do our best.”

When Arsenal play like this they are unstoppable as Ozil and Sanchez ripped Watford apart with incisive runs, passing and clinical finishing.

There is a long way to go this season, as Cech acknowledged, but when everyone is back fit and new players arrive, Arsenal will be sniffing around the top four once again this season.

Whether or not they can do better than that remains to be seen but Cech seems confident and focused to deliver the elusive title Arsenal has been waiting 12 long years for.

One step at a time, Petr.

Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.