Sunderland 3-4 Chelsea: Blues grab crucial away win as Hazard dazzles (video)

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Chelsea kept up the heat on league leaders Arsenal by sealing a dramatic 4-3 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday.

Eden Hazard scored twice in a fantastic display, while Frank Lampard added another and an own goal from Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley handed them the win. Sunderland had gone ahead through USMNT striker Jozy Altidore and pegged Chelsea back to 2-2 when captain John O’Shea scored in the second half but Bardsley cancelling out his own goal wasn’t enough to grab the Mackems anything.

With the pulsating win Chelsea stay hot on the heels of Arsenal and are in second and just four points behind the league leaders. As for Sunderland, Poyet’s men stay bottom of the league despite a display full of passionate and commitment.

Sunderland started the brighter of the two sides and pressed the Blues high up the pitch early on.

However it was Chelsea who had the first real effort as Juan Mata’s cross from the right almost found Hazard who rushed in at the back post but couldn’t get on the end of the delicious delivery.

After that Sunderland settled themselves and looked quite comfortable in possession and kept Chelsea at bay. Then the went ahead as Craig Gardner’s free kick pin-balled around the box and found its way to U.S. international Atlidore who turned his man superbly before rifling home his first Premier League goal for Sunderland.

The Black Cats were flying and pushed to try and double their lead, however Chelsea surged back and just six minutes later they were back on level terms. An over-hit cross from the right found left back Cesar Azpilicueta on the left and his delightful cross found Lampard unmarked in the six-yard box to head home his 208th goal for the Blues and make it 1-1.

After that equalizer the match ebbed and flowed but it was Chelsea who took the game by the scruff of the neck as Belgian international Eden Hazard made it 2-1 in the 36th minute. The tricky winger cut in from the left and took on two Sunderland defenders at pace before blasting an effort into the far corner to give put the West London side ahead.

source:
Jozy Altidore bagged his first PL goal for Sunderland but it wasn’t enough to get his side a point.

Hazard was a marked man after that terrific striker and Andreas Dossena put in a crunching tackle on the Chelsea youngster. He was limping around gingerly for a while but stayed on as the Blues saw out the half with a 2-1 lead.

Following the break Sunderland came roaring out of the traps as they pinned Chelsea back and made it 2-2. A set piece caused havoc in the box and as the Blues failed to clear Sunderland captain O’Shea slotted home as the Black Cats were back in business. Minutes later Chelsea should have been ahead after Hazard wriggled free and smashed a terrific effort in on goal that found Fernando Torres wide open by the Spaniard somehow smashed his effort over the bar.

Only five of Chelsea’s last 43 goals have come from their strikers… misses like that explain why.

But, it was that man Hazard again who came to Chelsea’s rescue as he jinxed in from the left and played the ball into Lampard. The English midfielder then played hazard in with a cheeky back heel and the Belgian side-stepped a few challenge before curling the ball home to make it 3-2.

Chelsea continued to push forward to try and kill the game off and Demba Ba went clean through and thought he’d been taken out by O’Shea as his shot went wide but referee Phil Dowd was having none of it. The Blues then looked to be home and dry as a cross from the right was needlessly knocked into his own net by Bardsley, however minutes later the Mackems right back made amends as he made it 4-3 and gave the Black Cats hope of a dramatic comeback.

In stoppage time Sunderland threw everything at Chelsea but couldn’t quite create an opening despite their best efforts as the Blues and Jose Mourinho hung on for the win.

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Dossena, O’Shea (C), Brown, Ki, Colback (Larsson, 57), Gardner (Fletcher, 80), Borini, Giaccherini (Johnson, 65), Altidore.

Goals: Altidore (14), O’Shea (50), Bardsley (86)

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Lampard; Willian (Schurrle, 90), Mata (Mikel, 81), Hazard; Torres (Ba, 65)

Goals: Lampard (17), Hazard (36 & 62), Bardsley OG (84)

Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier

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As expected, North Korea did not broadcast its World Cup second round qualifier against South Korea this week, making for an old school “wait and see” for fans back home in South Korea.

The match ended 0-0 in front of no fans in Pyongyang, with just police in the stands as Heung-Min Son and South Korea kept their group lead over the North Koreans on goal differential.

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Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, says it was an odd experience. From The Korea Herald:

“The opponents were pretty physical, and we exchanged some terse words,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “It might have been their strategy. They played it rough, and they took exception to our own physical play. …. Rather than focusing on the match, we started worrying about trying not to get hurt. It means a lot to have come out unscathed from a match like this.”

The few videos released by journalists show an eerie scene, and South Korea’s status as AFC powers probably played in North Korea’s lack of desire to broadcast a potential home loss. But you have to think that also lived in the home players heads a bit, too.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

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After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

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Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

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Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.