Demba Ba’s goal enough to give Chelsea 1-0 Champions League win, first place in Group E

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One way to solve your team’s problems in defense: Never concede the ball. And for much of today’s UEFA Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, that’s exactly what Chelsea did. It was only toward the end of Wednesday’s match that the Blues’ possession number dipped below 70 percent (69), but by that time, Chelsea were well on their way to protecting Demba Ba’s 10th minute goal, the team’s 1-0 win over visiting Steaua Bucharest giving them first place in Group E.

The Blues came into today’s game having allowed six goals in their last two Premier League games, but against a Steaua Bucharest side that failed to win a game in group play, Ba’s early goal was enough. With David Luiz returning to the team and Steaua unable to get the ball of their hosts, Mark Schwarzer was only tested twice, Petr Cech’s replacement keeping Chelsea’s first clean sheet in four games.

As a result, Chelsea finish group play with four wins in six, taking the group by two points over Schalke. Their two losses to Basel made for an uneven campaign, but after six games, José Mourinho’s team still ended up in the group winner’s pile for Dec. 16’s draw. They will be drawn against the tournament’s group runners-up (minus Schalke and fellow English sides Arsenal and Manchester City) for the Round of 16, with knockout round play set to start on Feb. 18.

Despite the close scoreline, Chelsea left little room for doubt on Wednesday, dominating the game from its opening moments. By the half-hour mark, the Blues had already forced 10 corner kicks, the sixth of which had the hosts on the scoresheet before the clock hit double digits.

From the right, Willian drilled his cross to one of the team’s least likely targets, Oscar having gotten open well outside the post. The Brazilian flicked his header perfectly toward the far upright, where Ba had beaten right back Daniel Georgievski. Originally credited as an own goal, the Senegalese striker was eventually put on the scoresheet for Chelsea’s early opener.

The Blues looked good for at least one more goal, Branislav Ivanovic going close in the 27th off a cross from Eden Hazard and Ba criminally missing from inside the six in the second half off a beautiful curling pass from Willian. But by the middle of the second half, Chelsea’s possession had become benign, with Hazard’s continued excellent form at the center of the Blues’ evermore sporadic threats.

If Chelsea’s threats were becoming less frequent, at least they had some. Steaua, playing with the urgency of a team that had nothing to gain , came close in the 13th minute when isolated John Terry was unable to track down Gabriel Iancu after a through ball. Schwarzer, however, rushed the midfielder into a shot just inside the penalty area, Steaua’s best chance of the day pushed wide of the right post.

Had that gone in, just three minutes after Ba’s goal, Chelsea may have become more ruthless. However, left to enjoy their one-goal margin, the Blues played out a predictable win, one that crystalized their spot atop Champions League’s Group E.


Goals

Chelsea: Demba Ba 10

Lineups

Chelsea: Mark Schwarzer; Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (Ramires 74); Willian (Kevin De Bruyne 80), Oscar (Andre Schürrle 67), Eden Hazard; Demba Ba

Unused Substitutes: Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Fernando Torres, Gary Cahill

Steaua Bucharest: Ciprian Tatarusanu; Daniel Georgievski, Lukasz Szukala, Florina Gardos, Iasmin Latovievici; Mihai Pintilii (Leandro Tatu 64); Alexandru Chipciu, Gabriel Iancu, Nicolae Stanciu (Andrei Prepelita 61), Paul Parvulescu; Pantelis Kapetanos (Federico Piovaccari 71)

Unused Substitutes: Florin Nita, Fernando Varela, Ionut Neagu, Adrian Cristea

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

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Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

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Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal field set

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is down to one non-MLS entrant after LAFC fought past Sacramento Republic’s dogged effort to make it two, twice equalizing en route to a 3-2 win.

[ MORE: TFC extends Bono ]

Louisville City won a battle of USL sides in Wednesday’s final day of fifth round action, knocking off Nashville SC by a 2-1 score.

Now attention turns to the quarterfinals, where USL champions Louisville City will face the Chicago Fire on July 18.

All four quarterfinals will be staged on that day, and the winner of Louisville-Chicago will face the winner of the duel between Philadelphia Union and Orlando City.

The other side of the bracket shows Houston Dynamo against Sporting KC, and LAFC against the Portland Timbers.

Chicago and KC have won the cup an MLS-best four times each, while Philadelphia has finished second twice.

The remaining quarterfinalists have not advanced to a USOC final.

Sprawling translated Emery interview talks PSG, Guardiola, more

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has given a sprawling interview, translated by France Football News, in which he discusses his history and his philosophies.

The interview was conducted after Emery was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain but before he was hired by the Gunners.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

It’s a fascinating read, with Emery going deep into his relationship with Neymar, the need for PSG to get an “A-ha” goal for its history books, and much, much more.

The interview is with Marti Perarnau, the author of “Pep Confidential,” and there are plenty of good nuggets regarding the Manchester City boss, as well as Rafa Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, PSG, Real Madrid, and Barcelona.

It’s fairly clear that Emery figured he’d be going to a new league, and he certainly seems like a guy fit for a project like succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. For one thing, he’s proud of his team’s style.

That’s something valued by the North London set, and Emery pointed out that Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Pep Guardiola at Man City had to fail before they succeeded.

Let me say this: PSG played well and won. Many people don’t value that enough and believe that it is easy. But what happened to us? We lacked competitiveness in important moments. Why? Because this team is not confronted with enough moments of adversity in the league. Being competitive also means being faced with adversity. One has to suffer like Simeone’s team to win. One has to suffer like Pep’s team to win in England.

My team had two basic principles: having possession and pressing. That was the basis. Having the ball, and winning it back as fast as possible. I should add a little nuance. I’m talking about having possession and not positioning because there are moments where you can win the ball through positioning, and others where moving out of position can surprise the opponent. And like Guardiola says, if you have to win with a long ball from the goalkeeper towards the striker and that the forward scores with his ass, then so be it! We work like that as well.

And here’s just a quick nugget on the importance of playmaking, and how good players make a coach look better.

During his first match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes, we get corner. Neymar takes it quickly and Kurzawa scores. We hadn’t worked that at all with him. Afterwards, I told Neymar, “My work is limited to your strokes of genius.”

Love it. Arsenal seems like it’s in good hands. Read the full interview here.