Offshore drilling, Champions League: at Chelsea 3, Shakhtar Donetsk 2

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Two Shakhtar Donetsk gifts an a 94th minute winner from substitute Victor Moses took three points for Chelsea on Wednesday, the defending champions pulling even with the Ukrainians at the top of UEFA Champions League’s Group E.

Seconds away from being relegated to third place in a group that also includes Juventus, Moses headed a corner kick into the upper-right hand corner of Andriy Pyatov’s goal giving the hosts their third lead of the game.

But Chelsea would have never been in position to steal the point had it not been for two Shakhtar errors you’d rarely see in at college level. In the sixth minute, a poor backpass from defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy left Pyatov little recourse but to blast an attempted clearance off the leaping Fernando Torres, the resulting ricochet settling in the back of Shakhtar’s net.

In the 40th minute, after Willian had pulled Shakhtar even, Pyatov’s ill-placed header left him standing outside his area as Oscar put an 40-yard shot into an empty goal.

Man of the Match: It’s rare that this honor goes to a player on the losing team, but when that team has to fight back from two aberrational goals, you’re likely to see a number of superior individual performances from the team left empty-handed. On Wednesday, Fernandinho put in another great performance in Shakhtar’s midfield, Darijo Srna constantly stressed the left side of Chelsea’s defense, and Willian, our Man of the Match, gave the Blues more reason to regret not buying him this summer.

Then, the Brazilian winger was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, though the rumor never became more than a vague link between player and club. His continued presence in Donetsk helped Shakhtar carry an unbeaten record into today’s game, a mark his two middle-of-the-area finishes nearly preserved.

In the ninth minute, Willian opened his right foot on a ball from Fernandinho, the resulting shot beaingt Petr Cech into the right side of goal. In the second half, a near identical play (this time, the ball from the right coming from Darijo Srna) gave Willian his second goal of the night.

Threesome of Knowledge: What we learned

Chelsea’s come back down to earth.

The Blues’ high-flying start to the Premier League season has long past, not only in terms of results but also form. They were second best today but, to their credit, managed to get full points. Still, Wednesday’s performance falls in line with a series of discouraging results the Premier League’s former leaders have accumulated over the last month: losing at Shakhtar; losing at home to Manchester United; drawing at Swansea City.

As they did under Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, and Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea started the season strong. And as has been the case over recent seasons, they’ve regressed.

Resiliency rounds out Shakhtar’s contender’s resumé.

At this point, nobody questions whether Shakhtar are capable of competing in Europe. At least, on the fringes. Are they going to compete for Champions League? No, but they’re going to give somebody a lot of trouble in the quarterfinals, if not beyond.

At those levels, talent isn’t always decisive. A series of extra-athletic factors distinguish teams from each other, one of which is the ability to respond to the inevitable adversity you’ll face during a long tournament.

Today, Shakhtar demonstrated that trait, twice coming from behind on the road at the tournament’s holders, coming within minutes of salvaging a result they’d nearly given away (twice). Moses’s last gasp goal took a point out of their hands, but based on what we saw on Wednesday, time was the only thing that kept them from again responding to adversity.

Chelsea’s defense needs help.

The ease of Shakhtar’s responses has to concern Roberto Di Matteo. Except for Moses’ goal, each time Chelsea scored, Shakhtar quickly responded, basic buildup down their right leading to simple goals from Willian. Is that all it takes to breakdown a Chelsea defense these days?

The last time Chelsea kept a clean sheet was Oct. 2 at Nordsjaelland. In the five games that followed, they’ve conceded 11 goals. Handed three leads on Wednesday, they conceded two.

Giving up goals is one thing, but giving up leads is slightly different. Today, Chelsea had two chances to do as they did during last year’s run and lock down a match. That they couldn’t do so at home in an important game is more concerning than the increasingly ugly numbers.

Packaged for takeaway

  • John Terry started on the bench and was working on a stationary bike at one point during the match; however, the Chelsea captain didn’t play.
  • Ryan Bertrand got the call in place of Ashley Cole at left back, combining with Eden Hazard to create a very vulnerable left flank. Shakhtar right back Darijo Srna had his most influential match of the tournament.
  • Despite their effort, Chelsea’s midfield of John Obi Mikel and Ramires had trouble covering the space demanded of them by Shakhtar’s passing. They needed help, but with Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata in front of them, there was little to be had. In the second half, Oscar started dropping to Ramires’s level, the team forming a 4-1-4-1 shape with Mikel in front of the defense.
  • On an otherwise quiet day, Luiz Adriano provided some nice holdup play for Shakhtar, who resorted to using their No. 9 more as Chelsea pushed for a late goal.
  • If there were Player of the Group awards, Fernandinho would be the heavy favorite to win Group E’s.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

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It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

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Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

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Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

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Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.