UEFA Champions League Preview: Mourinho controversy unlikely to diminish Chelsea’s chances against Galatasaray

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After six months of playing puppeteer with the English media, José Mourinho’s found himself in the unaccustomed position of having to legitimately explain himself. Earlier this week, French broadcast outlet Canal Plus posted a video Mourinho intended to be off the record, one in which he derides the quality of Chelsea’s strikers while flippantly hinting Samuel Eto’o may be three years older than his listed age. In response, Mourinho implicitly called on the rest of the media to summon outrage at their French peers. Too enthralled as Mourinho stood at the corners of irony and Schadenfreude, the European media’s fanned a story that’s overshadowed Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League match at Galatasaray.

“I think you should be embarrassed as a media professional,” Mourinho said, “because, from an ethical point of view, I don’t think you should be happy – not you, but a colleague – is able to record a private conversation and make it public. You should all be a bit embarrassed because it’s against the ethics you have in your work. From an ethical point of view, it’s a real disgrace.”

In a world where Canal Plus decides releasing an unauthorized video of off-the-record comments in inappropriate, Mourinho’s reunion with former talisman Didier Drogba dominates the headlines ahead of Wednesday’s Round of 16 match. The tacit conflict between a Champions League winner at Inter Milan and the man who was fired his European failures with the Nerazzurri for (Gala boss Roberto Mancini) would prompt a vintage Mourinho clash of egos. And with Chelsea sitting atop the Premier League, we’d be debating whether the Blues deserved to be mentioned alongside Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona among the tournament favorites.

This is where Mourinho’s controversy and Chelsea’s Champions League reality intersect. Mourinho may not have wanted to go on record chastising his strikers, but it’s something we see every weekend. Samuel Eto’o is willing but aging. Fernando Torres remains inexplicable and streaky. Demba Be remains a footnote. The team’s deficient striker position continues to evolve into a reason to study tapes of Rudi Garcia’s Lille to see how Eden Hazard was used through the middle. The Belgian is already the undisputed focal point of Chelsea’s attack.

(MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Surging Real Madrid takes 26-match run to Schalke)

It’s why Chelsea’s striker conundrum may end up a red herring. Their position is their biggest weakness, but every team has issues. Even Bayern’s trying to get by with Jerome Boateng in central defense. Chelsea’s trying to make do with Eto’o as their lead striker, but with Hazard playing at his current level, the Blues are more than able to make up for that deficiency. Between him, Willian, and Oscar in the band of three behind Chelsea’s forward, Mourinho has enough potential to make up for his lack of power. Perhaps it’s not a team that’s going to put up a gaudy number of goals, but it is a side that can exploit any opening you give them.

“They have really good, fantastic players who can influence the outcome of a match,” Mancini said on Tuesday. “I believe Chelsea have an 80 percent chance of going through in this competition.”

source: APWith defensive midfielder Felipe Melo trying to protect a defense that lacks elite talents, Chelsea’s sure to create holes, if they want to. On the road in the first leg of a Champions League tie, Mourinho may also employ a conservative approach, knowing his team’s more than capable of both keeping a clean sheet at Turk Telekom and preventing an away goal in London. With John Terry (right), Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta having moved on from their fall stumbles, Chelsea can afford to play for a 0-0 in Istanbul.

“We are going to play to win,” was Mourinho’s customary denial of a conservative approach, “but we know they are strong and have special attacking players – even on the bench they have dangerous players like [Umut] Bulut. They have lots of goalscorers and we know they will attack us.”

In theory, Drogba is one of those threats, as is Wesley Sneijder, who teamed with Eto’o to win Mourinho the Champions League while the three were in Milan. Burak Yilmaz, one of the more prolific scorers in last year’s tournament, also represents a danger, but if the Turkish champions are going to threaten for their second consecutive quarterfinal spot, we’re just as likely to see a random scorer come through on a set piece as we are to get a high-paid stars win one-on-one battles against Chelsea’s talents.

That’s the big risk of Chelsea’s approach. If they play it too close to the vest, they risk a Sneijder free kick beating Petr Cech. They risk one piece of set piece execution putting them on their heels. They risk Drogba doing to them what he did to Bayern Munich in May 2012. There is a reason why Gala, not Juventus, made it out of their group. They’re capable.

But there’s also a reason why Chelsea’s alive and not Juventus. The Blues are a better team, making Turkish champions decided underdogs. And while Mourinho’s fears about his lack of strikers may be distracting, the problem’s not enough to make Mancini wrong about Chelsea’s chances.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

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The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”

Bundesliga wrap: Adams, Leipzig star as Leipzig pads lead

Americans star in Bundesliga play
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The Bundesliga returned Saturday after its winter break, bringing a cavalcade of impactful American stories to the field.

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RB Leipzig 3-1 Union Berlin

The table leaders got two goals from Timo Werner and a goal and an assist from Marcel Sabitzer to open the second phase of the season with a bang.

Leipzig has a five-point lead on second-place Gladbach, though Bayern Munich can pull within four points with a win at Jurgen Klinsmann’s Hertha Berlin on Sunday morning.

American midfielder Tyler Adams had another strong day in the win, going 86 minutes and gathering over 100 touches while completing 84 percent of his passes. He registered two key passes and a shot on target to go with a clearance, blocked shot, interception, and tackle. Adams was fouled four times.

Augsburg 3-5 Borussia Dortmund

Erling Braut Haaland became the first Borussia Dortmund player to score a hat trick on debut since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as BVB came back from 2-0 and 3-1 holes to move onto 33 points.

Watch Haaland’s incredible day here. Jadon Sancho had a goal and an assist, while Julian Brandt also scored for BVB. Florian Niederlechner scored twice for Augsburg, with Marco Richter also finding the back of the net.

American teenager Giovanni Reyna also made his debut in the win, earning praise from manager Lucien Favre.

Hoffenheim 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt

That’s right wing Timmy Chandler to you.

After missing all but one match last season due to injuries and fitness, the 29-year-old former USMNT mainstay has his first Bundesliga goal since Feb. 19, 2018.

Chandler rose above the fray to power home a match-winning header to move Eintracht four points clear of the relegation places, surprising a Hoffenheim side with designs on a return to Europe.

Bas Dost scored Eintracht’s other goal, with Konstantinos Stafylidis equalizing just after halftime.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 0-1 Werder Bremen

American forward Josh Sargent made his return from injury, playing 86 minutes in a huge win for Bremen. The visitors climbed over the now 17th place hosts via a Florian Kastenmeier goal.

USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales played well over 71 minutes in the loss, while Zack Steffen missed out with a reported knee injury.

Elsewhere

Schalke 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach — Friday| RECAP
Koln 3-1 Wolfsburg
Mainz 1-2 Freiburg
Hertha Berlin v. Bayern Munich — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Paderborn v. Bayer Leverkusen — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 18 12 4 2 51 21 30 6-2-1 6-2-1 40
 Mönchengladbach 18 11 2 5 33 20 13 7-1-1 4-1-4 35
 Bayern Munich 17 10 3 4 46 22 24 6-1-2 4-2-2 33
 Borussia Dortmund 18 9 6 3 46 27 19 5-3-0 4-3-3 33
 FC Schalke 04 18 9 6 3 31 21 10 5-4-1 4-2-2 33
 SC Freiburg 18 8 5 5 29 24 5 4-2-2 4-3-3 29
 Bayer Leverkusen 17 8 4 5 23 21 2 3-4-2 5-0-3 28
 1899 Hoffenheim 18 8 3 7 26 30 -4 4-1-5 4-2-2 27
 VfL Wolfsburg 18 6 6 6 19 21 -2 3-4-2 3-2-4 24
 FC Augsburg 18 6 5 7 31 36 -5 4-2-3 2-3-4 23
 Eintracht Frankfurt 18 6 3 9 29 30 -1 4-3-2 2-0-7 21
 1. FC Union Berlin 18 6 2 10 21 27 -6 5-0-4 1-2-6 20
 1. FC Köln 18 6 2 10 22 33 -11 4-1-4 2-1-6 20
 Hertha BSC Berlin 17 5 4 8 22 29 -7 3-1-4 2-3-4 19
 FSV Mainz 05 18 6 0 12 26 41 -15 3-0-6 3-0-6 18
 Werder Bremen 18 4 5 9 24 41 -17 1-2-5 3-3-4 17
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 18 4 3 11 18 37 -19 3-1-5 1-2-6 15
 SC Paderborn 17 3 3 11 20 36 -16 2-1-6 1-2-5 12

Newcastle not apologizing after smash-and-grab win

Isaac Hayden on Newcastle's late winner
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Just how fortunate was Newcastle to beat Chelsea on Saturday?

Their stoppage time match-winner thought he was being subbed off minutes earlier, and wasn’t even supposed to be forward for the decisive set piece.

Isaac Hayden opened the day at center midfield and prepared to sub out of the match when he learned he was moving to right wing back for an exhausted Emil Krafth.

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“I thought I was coming off,” Hayden said, via the BBC. “I didn’t have a clue what was happening but he said just do a job for the team and I’m pleased to have done that.”

The former Arsenal and Hull City man, by the way, also hadn’t scored in about a year when he defied orders to join the fray for a stoppage-time corner kick.

That set piece was only partially cleared, but Hayden nodded in a wonderful Allan Saint-Maximin cross to win it for the Magpies.

“I wasn’t supposed to go up for the corner. I was supposed to stay back and be the last defender but I was on a yellow card so I couldn’t foul anyone so I thought I might as well go up.”

Newcastle was all grins after the match, with manager Steve Bruce having a dig at Matt Ritchie for doing a post-match television interview.

“It was a dreadful corner from Matt Ritchie and then he has the cheek to go on the telly,” Bruce said.

The manager said Newcastle is close to “one or two signings” and may have to add left back to its shopping list, saying Jetro Willems‘ in-game injury “looks serious.”

He also said their tough, packed-in approach on defense must now be joined by an uptick in quality.

Newcastle’s 29 points are seven clear of the Bottom Three and also four away from a Europa League spot. Bruce adds that the club is still in a race to avoid relegation rather than looking at higher goals.

“I’d love to give them a day off but we are in tomorrow. Always for a team in the bottom half, it’s always the accumulation of points over the year and let’s get to 40 points as soon as possible. I make no apology for that.”

Newcastle stuns misfiring Chelsea

Newcastle United stuns Chelsea
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Chelsea couldn’t find a clinical edge and Isaac Hayden scored in stoppage time as Newcastle United beat Chelsea 1-0 at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

The visitors had 70 percent of the ball and a massive edge in shots, but couldn’t capitalize on the few chances they found behind the back line.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Isaac Hayden powered a header home off a stoppage-time set piece to give the Magpies a shocking win and 29 points, seven clear of the Bottom Three.

Chelsea stays on 39 points, five ahead of fifth-place Manchester United. The Red Devils play Liverpool on Sunday.


Three things we learned

1. Fortunate Magpies get big payoff late: Hayden had not scored in a year and turned Saint-Maximin’s desperate cross of a poorly-cleared corner kick past Kepa Arrizabalaga. A solid if unspectacular midfielder, Hayden has dealt with a lot and might’ve left the Northeast due to family reasons. He’s stayed, Steve Bruce has him confident, and the Magpies have a win against all odds.

2. Newcastle’s low block heroics highlight Chelsea need: Frank Lampard‘s attackers were limited to shots from distance, as Steve Bruce’s men might be even better than they were under Rafa Benitez when asked to defend deep. A lot of this is due to spending on attackers who keep defenders honest, but that doesn’t excuse Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s inability to produce much. The former had Dubravka beaten but failed to find finish on the day.

The defense-first style can be boring to, well, everyone including the home fans and managers loathe when it’s employed against them. But Newcastle has now beaten Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United this year, also drawing Man City. The expected goals table says Newcastle is having one of the luckiest seasons on record, but don’t bother the Geordies with that right now.

3. Lampard waits for Abraham: Related to point No. 1, Lampard showed faith that his struggling striker would show up late. After all, the 22-year-old has 13 goals and three assists this year. Abraham got behind the Magpies back line twice and also flicked a ball off the bar, but it was the right move to get Michy Batshuayi out there. Alas, it probably should’ve come before the 80th minute.

Man of the Match: Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez were the key parts of the aforementioned low block, and we’d give the honors to Clark. But Hayden, man.


Newcastle loan star Jetro Willems are stretchered off the pitch with his head in his hands are an innocent play out wide, a new worry for the injury-ravaged Magpies.

Then Isaac Hayden pulled up lame after being stretched in a 50-50 with Mason Mount.

The best scoring chance of the early stages came in the 22nd minute, as Kepa Arrizabalaga may have got a finger to Joelinton‘s header off the bar.

Chelsea took hold of the match at the half-hour mark, an offside Tammy Abraham flicking off the bar before Martin Dubravka saved N’Golo Kante’s effort in the 34th.

Newcastle held firm against the attack through five minutes of stoppage time.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Magpies opened up a little bit in the second half, and Willian missed a chance to open the scoring in the 53rd.

Cesar Azpilicueta was lively in both halves, and hammered a shot to Dubravka in the 55th.

Newcastle’s physical and aggressive back line held firm, big challenges and clearances from Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez on show.

Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin teamed up to tee up Joelinton, but the Brazilian drove his 88th minute shot wide of the goal.

Soon after, Saint-Maximin sent a half-desperation, half-pinpoint cross to the back post for Hayden to turn past Arrizabalaga. Insane.