Three things learned from Man City v. Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City continued their procession towards the Premier League title as Pep Guardiola‘s side beat Chelsea 1-0 to seal a 14th consecutive home league win and increase their lead atop the table to 18 points.

[ MORE: Conte defends Chelsea

The lone goal of the game came seconds in the second half with Bernardo Silva slotting home, as Antonio Conte‘s set his Chelsea side up in an ultra-defensive system and they never looked like getting anything from this game. The reigning champs were outclassed by the champions elect.

Here’s what we learned from the Etihad Stadium as City edged closer to the title.


With four more wins needed to secure the Premier League title, Man City can be excused for easing to the trophy.

Their 1-0 win against Chelsea should have been by a far more comfortable scoreline but Guardiola’s men didn’t need to force the issue as they cantered to their 25th win in 29 games. Just as they did at Arsenal on Thursday, City dispatched a top six side easily and at times in the second half they were at walking pace as the knocked the ball around and created chances whenever they wanted to.

City had 71 percent of the possession and 13 shots to Chelsea’s three and this was one of the easiest 1-0 victories you will ever see.

Guardiola’s side are in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday with their last 16 tie against FC Basel all but over after a 4-0 first leg win in Switzerland. That means City can rest players in midweek before they face Stoke City next Monday.

City want to get the PL title wrapped up as soon as possible and you feel as though they’re playing with the handbrake on. They’re that good they could stick the car in reverse and win at a canter.

At times Chelsea threatened on the counter in the second half, but any slackness from City was followed up an attack which nearly lead to a goal. City will be worthy champions when it is all confirmed, and once again they dominated a rival with incredible ease.


“Stay! Stay! Stay!” that was the word bellowed time and time again by Antonio Conte in the first half as he urged his Chelsea team to stay tight in what often resembled a 5-4-1 formation.

They didn’t muster a single shot on target during an awful display.

Much like their recent draw with Barcelona in the Champions League, Conte set Chelsea up not to lose as Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard were the three forwards and Hazard was particularly frustrated as the false nine.

Balls were hoofed up to Hazard time and time again, with the Belgian wizard looking to the heavens in disgust. In midfield the loss of N'Golo Kante through injury left Conte without a true defensive midfielder as Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas struggled to contain City’s fluid attack and provide a substantial shield for the back three.

In attack there were ironic cheers from City’s fans whenever Chelsea got a corner and they looked devoid of confidence on the ball with so many needless giveaways.

It appears that Chelsea’s players are checking out and Conte continues to underwhelm as the Blues have now lost four of their last five games in the Premier League. Five points off the top four with nine games to go, Chelsea only play two of the current top six (Tottenham and Liverpool) in the final months of the season and you wouldn’t bet against them going on a run which sees them creep back into the top four.

However, the manner of narrow defeats at Man United and Man City in the past two weekends has summed up just how far Conte’s side have regressed since they were crowned Champions of England last May. The Blues have won just once in five games away at the big six this season, while for the first time in 14 years they have lost four-straight games away from home in all competitions.

All of that adds up to an unhappy dressing room…


Eden Hazard trudged off the pitch as he was replaced by Alvaro Morata in the 90th minute on Sunday.

He didn’t shake hands with Conte and looked miserable in the pouring rain in Manchester. He looked that way all afternoon.

The Belgian forward did not look happy at being asked to play in a false nine position once again, with long balls lumped forward towards him and Hazard throwing his hands in the air whenever that happened.

A moment in the second half summed up how Hazard and his Chelsea teammates didn’t appear to enjoy playing in Conte’s defensive style.

Hazard tried a clever flick 40 yards from his own goal and gifted the ball straight back to Man City and his manager stood with his arms out as he questioned Hazard’s actions.

They’ve now got a mountain to climb just to finish in the top four, plus reach the last eight of the Champions League, and Hazard will continue to be linked with a move to Real Madrid as his attitude summed up the cloud hanging over Chelsea right now.

This all seems incredibly familiar to the way Hazard and Co. checked out when Jose Mourinho deployed extreme defensive tactics back in the 2015-16 season.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”