Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Juventus 3, at Celtic 0

1 Comment

An early defensive blunder from center half Efe Ambrose gifted Juventus a third minute lead, leaving Celtic 87 minutes to try and salvage a result in the home leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Never able to breach goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Celtic were ultimately handed a humbling 3-0 deficit, with late goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic putting this tie to rest after only 90 minutes.

Celtic fans may be able to convince themselves they had the better of play for most of the night, but when you give up a goal to Juventus so early in the match, the game’s bound to look lopsided. Particularly in a competition where road goals are so valuable, Juventus is content to sit back and wait for you to over-extend.

After Alessandro Matri’s early goal, that’s exactly what Juve elected to do, a decision that proved prudent as the home side continuously failed to put a credible threat on Buffon. Lacking the ingenuity to match their industry, Celtic allowed Buffon to rack up seven saves without every truly being tested.

(MORE: PSG wins in Spain, loses Zlatan.)

Conversely, Juventus put only four shots on Frazier Forester. Three ended up in the back of his net, the product of a game that was destined to wage Juventus’s counter against Celtic’s creativity. It was never a fair fight.

So the Glaswegians were left to rue their early, match-defining mistake – a long ball out of Juve’s end from Federico Peluso that was misjudged by Ambrose. Forester compounded the mistake by putting himself in no man’s land on the resulting bouncer, with Matri able to get his shot just over the line before Kelvin Wilson could defend the empty net.

In the 77th minute, Matri set up Claudio Marchisio for Juventus’s final goal, his one-touch pass behind a tracking Scott Brown allowing the Italian international to cut back onto his right before doubling Juve’ s lead. Six minutes later, Vucinic capped the lopsided result.

The match was typical Juventus, a team whose success over the last two years has been predicated on taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Their ability to do makes them one of the best teams in Europe and in a different class from Celtic.

The Scottish champions knew about that disparity going into the match, yet their group stage success against Barcelona gave them reason to think their approach could neutralize better sides. On Tuesday, it didn’t come close.

(MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

Man of the Match: When you sit on your heels for most of the match, few players get a chance to give Man of the Match-caliber performances, but with some late, confident grabs of Charles Mulgrew and Kris Commons crosses, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon proved Juve’s most valuable player. While none of his seven saves were difficult, Buffon did well to prevent opportunities for followup shots. He also made some astute reads on shots that went just wide of goal, giving his team possession instead of conceding dangerous corner kicks.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Somebody needs to ask about Efe Ambrose – It’s too much to say Neil Lennon made a bad choice in going with Ambrose over sliding Charles Mulgrew into central defense (or starting Adam Matthews and moving Mikael Lustig in from right back). Ambrose played in Sunday’s Cup of Nations final. Asking him to report for 90 minutes in Glasgow 48 hours later may have been too much. But we don’t see Mulgrew and Matthews in training, nor do we know how Ambrose felt when he came back. All we can do is ask questions, but it’s possible Lennon deduced a sub-par Ambrose was still his best option.

Matri’s hard work pays off – The third minute confusion wasn’t the only time Alessandro Matri’s willingness to challenge Celtic defenders was a factor. Multiple times in the first half, Matri’s ability to match Ambrose physically allowed Juventus to play long balls out of the back while still challenging for possession. Given how much of the game Juve had given to Celtic (and how deep into their own end that had pushed them), the tactic proved a nice way to relieve pressure. Matri’s goal and assist may overshadow his more subtle efforts, but some of the Juve striker’s best contributions weren’t recorded on the scoresheet.

Celtic couldn’t play their game – In fairness, we don’t know that Celtic were going to approach this game the same way they did Barcelona. Juventus is a completely different team, one that doesn’t need possession to be effective. Yet there was still an assumption that the underlying philosophy would be the same: Defend, take few chances, and wait for opportunities. It’s a lot like Juventus’s approach, and since Celtic made the first mistake, we never got to see if their plan would have worked. It’s difficult to see how a conservative approach would have led to anything but a boring game, but down 1-0 in after three minutes, Celtic had to play into Juventus’s hands.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Because of the way this one played out, we didn’t learn much about Juventus. There are still questions about where, in the European pecking order, we should slot this Juve team, mostly because they didn’t compete in last year’s Champions League. After today’s result, we’re no closer to answers. Early goals make games aberrational.
  • Martin Caceras, in at left-central defender for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, was one of Juventus’s most effective players. Along with Buffon and Matri, he had a Man of the Match claim.
  • Celtic went with a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation that set up Commons, Gary Hooper and James Forrest to press Juve’s back three man-for-man. Unfortunately, because of the early goal, we didn’t get a chance to see how the approach would have worked. Still, it was a minor surprise from a Celtic team many assumed would play closer to a 4-5-1. It also casts doubts on whether Celtic was ever going to be as deferential and defensive as we saw against Barcelona.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
1 Comment

At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
1 Comment

The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.