Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man City

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Chelsea beat Man City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday with Antonio Conte‘s men putting down a big marker in their title push.

[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ]

Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard scored Chelsea’s goal as the Blues have now won eight-straight games and in turn they put Pep Guardiola and City in their place.

Here’s what we learned from a gripping, absorbing encounter.


WING BACK BATTLE

Both teams opted for wing backs and the result was a bit chaotic.

For Man City they had attacking wingers in Jesus Navas and Leroy Sane in the wide position and they just looked so uncomfortable in those defensive positions. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses grew in stature as the game wore on, although they had plenty more defensive work in the first half than they’ve had in recent months since Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

Guardiola has switched between a three-man central defense and four at the back and it’s quite clear his players aren’t comfortable with either as of yet.

After making uncharacteristic mistakes in the first 50 minutes, Conte’s Chelsea looked very comfortable in the second half and Moses and Alonso both surged forward and looked much more adept defensively.

Guardiola’s gamble to match Chelsea’s wing backs backfired. Out of the four wing backs on the pitch, there’s no doubting that Chelsea’s two prevailed.


COSTA PUTS CHELSEA ON HIS BACK

With Chelsea trailing 1-0 at half time and barely having a sniff at goal in the first half, plus struggling defensively, it was time for Diego Costa to step up. He did. Big time.

The Spanish striker chased, harried and bullied his way into the game and Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones had no answer for his clever movement, persistent pressure and rambunctious behavior.

Costa has quality too.

The 28-year-old latched on to Cesc Fabregas’ perfect through ball (is this the 2014-15 season!?) and chested down before finishing to make it 1-1 and less than 10 minutes later he played in Willian to put Chelsea ahead. Costa has now scored 11 goals and added five assists this season as he continues to be Conte’s main man.

Late on Costa had to come off injured with what looked like an injured lower back and the Spanish international will be nursed back to fitness as his importance to Chelsea is clear.

If Costa goes down injured or gets suspended — he’s been on four bookings for quite some time and a fifth will mean a suspension, but he seems more controlled and mature this campaign — Chelsea will be struggling. If he stays fit and in form, they will continue to be favorites to win the league.


CITY NEED NEW CENTER BACKS

Quite simply, Man City were all over the place in defense.

With Otamendi, Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov pushed to play from the back by Guardiola, they never looked comfortable on Saturday and with two wingers playing at full back, they didn’t have the cover they needed when they pushed forward into midfield when on the ball.

Tactically, Chelsea got at City’s defense in the second half and with Otamendi on a yellow card for scything down Costa in the first half, he was walking a tightrope for the rest of the game. Stones was subbed out with 15 minutes to go and without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City couldn’t stop Chelsea flooding forward and getting in-behind them.

This game had everything. City could’ve scored more goals with Kevin De Bruyne somehow hitting the bar from four yards out and Sergio Aguero being denied by Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances, but the biggest issue for Guardiola is sorting his side out defensively.

With all of their spending on forwards and midfielders over the summer, it’s clear City need to spend big in January on a center back (or find a better solution from within) if they’re going to finish in the top four and challenge for the title. City are just four points off the top but they’ve lost to Tottenham and Chelsea this season in a very similar fashion.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.