Mr. Hyde shows up as Chelsea falls at Newcastle

3 Comments

Newcastle may be much improved after spending their winter window hitting “Buy It Now” on French soccer Ebay, but it’s difficult to look beyond Chelsea when trying to explain today’s result. The Blues allowed themselves to go behind on a Jonas Gutierrez header before taking a 2-1 lead through Frank Lampard and Juan Mata just past the hour mark. Yet thanks to two goals from new midfielder Moussa Sissoko, Chelsea leaves St. James Park 3-2 losers and destined to be pulled back into a race for third.

The Blues came into this weekend action with a four-point lead on Spurs for fourth, but returning to London without a point, they’re dangerously close to being pulled into a second successive fight for Champions League. With a draw from Everton (against Aston Villa) and a win by Arsenal (over Stoke City), Chelsea’s now only four-points away from sixth.

Rafa Benitez has been terrible — we know this — but Chelsea’s a team that has always had a strong player leadership culture, one that was able to carry the likes of Avram Grant to a Champions League final. Didier Drogba is gone, but Frank Lampard, John Terry, and Petr Cech are not only still there, they were on the field when Chelsea gave up today’s lead. No matter what you think of Benitez, it’s hard to see how he got in the way of this win, particularly when a bench thinned by injury, suspension, and Cup of Nations left him with no meaningful way to tinker.

Beyond Benítez or the wane of Chelsea leadership, today’s issue is one pundits and followers have been harping on all season. As Moussa Sissoko scored a late double in his second Premier League match, you saw the type of drive, strength, and resolve that would bolster an underperforming Chelsea midfield. How do Spurs end up with a player like Sissoko when taking a flyer on him (or any other player like him) would cost Chelsea a fraction of their transfer budget?

Late in this match, as he became the most important player on the field, you couldn’t help but ask how he was allowed to do that? How can this player that had struggled of late for Toulouse be dropped into the league and, a week later, win matches against the European champion?

MORE: United’s flawed, fabulous season continues at Fulham

Obviously there are a lot of problems at Chelsea right now, but if that question even needs to be asked, those problems might run deeper than we had previously thought. Through most of this season Chelsea’s been a troubled if stably third place side, but while giving up today’s lead they showed the type of perpetual vulnerability that defined last year’s slide. Now it’s worth asking whether the Blues are much better than the team that finished sixth last season.

Of course, there is a big difference. Last year’s slide was make possible but Roberto Di Matteo putting all of the team’s eggs into the Champions League basket. What’s this year’s excuse?

There’s also the possibility Newcastle’s come together. They have Sissoko, Yoann Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy. Yoann Cabaye is healthy, as is Steven Taylor at the back. This team is better than a 15th place side, even if they’ve rarely looked it.

MORE, EPL Roundup: Fellaini England’s best?

But Chelsea was up 2-1. They are the more talented side. They have the players to close out that game. Chelsea should have taken full points.

For the last two months we’ve likened Chelsea to Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, but with the team falling back into a race for their Champions League lives, the pressure mounts to find a cure to their constant bipolar transformations. Why is Mr. Hyde showing up more often than Dr. Jeykll?

Red Bulls handle Atlético Pantoja to start CCL campaign (video)

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The New York Red Bulls didn’t need to leave it late (like DaMarcus Beasley and Houston), nor did the MLS side forget how to play (like Toronto FC).

[ MORE: Nashville gets its MLS logo ]

RBNY scooped up a 2-0 first leg defeat of Dominican Republic side Atlético Pantoja in CONCACAF Champions League play in Santo Domingo on Wednesday.

Daniel Royer inspired a first half Pantoja own goal, but it was Kaku’s looping assist to Royer that stole the show with an insurance marker in the 67th minute.

Academy product and former Wake Forest midfielder Omir Fernandez, 20, made his senior debut off the bench in the 75th minute.

Nashville SC to keep its name, unveils logo for MLS 2020

@NashvilleSC
Leave a comment

Nashville SC will remain Nashville SC when it moves into Major League Soccer next season, the USL club announced on Wednesday.

Nashville SC’s logo is an N wearing headphones — I apologize if I’m wrong here, but that’s what I see — as the Music City becomes a welcome addition to the United States’ top flight.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Stunningly The fans wanted to keep the name of the club they’ve been supporting for a few years, and former Liverpool executive Ian Ayre announced that the club will keep a color from its crest as well.

“Gold is our primary club color, and we need to own that color in the sport. As we grow as a team we want to be recognizable by our color, our name and our values as a club.”

What do you think? It certainly could’ve been worse! We look forward to the building up of a regional rivalry with FC Cincinnati, Atlanta United, Sporting KC, and maybe one day Saint Louis FC.

Sarri, Emery face 2nd leg challenges at home

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sevilla clinched the first Round of 16 spot with a Europa League win over Lazio on Wednesday, and the other 15 berths will be settled by late Thursday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

That includes home second legs with varying degrees of difficult for a pair of London sides from the Premier League.

Maurizio Sarri looks like he’ll need to win the Europa League in order to get Chelsea back into the Champions League, and Chelsea needs to bounce back from another poor showing while also preparing for a hardware tilt; The FA Cup loss to Manchester United was three days before Thursday’s match with Malmo, which is three days before the League Cup final against Man City.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead after one leg. From ChelseaFC.com:

“We have to solve a big problem because we stayed in the other half for 75 minutes out of 90, and we were not able to score. They played only 15 or 16 balls into our box and they scored two goals. We have to solve this problem. It is probably a problem of aggression, determination in both boxes.”

Arsenal has an even bigger fish to fry than recent form, down 1-0 after one leg in Belarus.

Unai Emery is hoping the North London faithful can be the difference.

“It is also very important to play in our stadium with our supporters, and we need their support for this match and I hope there is a big atmosphere for us. Together, with their support, I know our players can play and give their all. The supporters want to watch our team play with the best performance possible.

“For this reason, I think we need good feedback between the supporters and us. … We need to listen to them supporting us and the players must give them the best performance in our stadium.”

The full schedule is below.

Thursday’s Europa League second legs
All times ET

12:55 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. BATE Borisov (BATE leads 1-0)
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Shakhtar Donetsk (2-2)
Villarreal v. Sporting Lisbon (Villareal leads 1-0)
Dinamo Zagreb v. Viktoria Plzen (Plzen leads 2-1)
Zenit Saint-Petersburg v. Fenerbahce (Fener leads 1-0)
Red Bull Salzburg v. Club Brugge (Brugge leads 2-1)
Valencia v. Celtic (Valencia leads 2-0)
Napoli v. FC Zurich (Napoli leads 3-1)

3 p.m. ET
Chelsea v. Malmo (Chelsea leads 2-1)
Benfica v. Galatasaray (Benfica leads 2-1)
Rennes v. Real Betis (3-3)
Inter Milan v. Rapid Vienna (Inter leads 1-0)
Dynamo Kiev v. Olympiakos (2-2)
Bayer Leverkusen v. Krasnodar (0-0)
Racing Genk v. Prague (0-0)

Juve: ‘No use crying over spilt milk’ after ‘ugly’ first leg loss

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Leave a comment

Max Allegri and Juventus look set to fall short of a UEFA Champions League title again, and this time are staring down an exit before the quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The club has two things going for it after a 2-0 first leg loss to Atletico Madrid in Spain: The 90 minutes or more of the second leg, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The player has already made his feelings known by setting the second leg stage with a very Patrick Roy (for you hockey fans out there) title rip.

Allegri is a bit more diplomatic, ripping Juve’s “ugly” second half at the Wanda Metropolitano but also demanding the club move past it immediately. From Football-Italia.net:

“Now we have the chance to turn this around, we must have faith, we’ll have some players back and there’s no point crying over spilt milk. We knew it was going to be tough, that Atletico Madrid force you to play badly, with a slow tempo. We moved the ball quicker in the first half, but not in the second.

“We got the approach wrong in the second half. It’s that simple. These things can happen, there will be great disappointment after this 2-0, but we can turn it around. It won’t be easy, we need a great second leg, but it can be done and we must have faith.”

And there’s Ronaldo, Dybala, and a number of world class players on his side. An inspired, spiteful Ronaldo is one thing, but take into account the man clearly carries his legacy on his hip pocket and the Portuguese hero is going to be flying come March 12 in Turin.