Chelsea suffer season-ending injuries, suspensions as old guard evaporates

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Away in Spain, Chelsea did a job on Atletico Madrid as the Blues returned to London with a 0-0 draw and a smile on their face.


Bad injuries to two of their most important players, plus suspensions for another two, leaves their lineup in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal with Atletico Madrid in need of a major reshuffle.

(MORE: Champions League –  Chelsea plays to type, holds Atlético Madrid to 0-0 draw in leg one)

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho confirmed to journalists afterwards that Petr Cech’s season is over after he dislocated his shoulder, while captain John Terry would face a race against time to be ready for the UCL final, if the Blues make it. To add insult to injury, literally, another two of Chelsea’s experienced campaigners will be missing for the return leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday as both Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel picked up yellow cards in the second half to rule them out.

Four experienced campaigners down, as Mourinho didn’t factor this absences into his masterplan.

That news put a sour taste on an otherwise controlled and professional display which saw Mourinho’s men suck the life out of Atletico like a masterful ‘Dementor’ from the fictional land of Harry Potter. Terry, before he hobbled off, and his center back partner Gary Cahill were Chelsea’s two best players. At the end of the game Cahill must’ve undone his back pocket and let Diego Costa jump out, because that was where Atletico’s main threat had been all night.

(MORE: Three things we learned from Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea)

Losing Terry for the second leg is a big blow. He’s the glue that holds the Blues’ defense together, yet David Luiz can slot back in and do a job or Branislav Ivanovic, who was suspended for the first leg, may come straight back into central defense with Cesar Azpilicueta at right back and Ashely Cole at left back.

Not having Cech in goal will be a blow but for all his rustiness veteran Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was composed and looked at ease in the pressure-cooker situation of the Vicente Calderon. However Chelsea’s biggest concern will be in the engine room. Losing both Lampard and Mikel is crucial, as Mourinho has often lent on those two in the UCL matches this season. Nemanja Matic is cup-tied after appearing for Benfica in the competition, so Mourinho has a dilemma in the center of midfield. What he could do is partner Ramires with David Luiz in the center, and then play Andre Schurrle and hopefully Eden Hazard on either wing. Mourinho will be praying that his Belgian superstar is fit, as Hazard could be the difference in what’s set to be yet another tight encounter in the second leg next week.

That’s the personnel factor covered, but that’s not the whole story.

At this stage of a UCL campaign, experience counts for a lot. The fact that Chelsea had the likes of Cech, Terry and Lampard on the pitch, that experienced core gives them a wealth of know-how and ability to overcome obstacles younger players can’t fathom. Losing players who’ve actually won the UCL and know what it takes to get over the line is a big blow for Mourinho.

Ahead of next weekend’s superbly poised second leg, Mr. Mourinho has some big decisions to make as he decides who will plug some gaping holes which have opened up.

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.