Champions League: Chelsea plays to type, holds Atlético Madrid to 0-0 draw in leg one

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For Chelsea fans hoping their team can recapture the magic of 2012, Tuesday’s performance may have inspired memories of that magical European Cup run. For the rest who took in the team’s UEFA Champions League semifinal opener against Atlético Madrid, the feeling is more likely one of frustration, having seen a reluctant and defensive Blues predictably hold out for a draw on the road.

Limiting the home side to four shots on target, the former champions were able to take a 0-0 result out of the Vicente Calderón, but not before suffering a set of setbacks that could come back to haunt the team next week. Already without the injured Eden Hazard, the visitors lost goalkeeper Petr Cech and central defender John Terry to injury, with Frank Lampard’s second half yellow card rendering the midfielder suspended for next Wednesdays return leg at Stamford Bridge (Gabi will be out for Atlético). Though José Mourinho’s team can look at the blank scoresheet as evidence of a mission accomplished, the team’s recovery over the next week will determine whether the Blues left Madrid better of than they started.

Over the course of Tuesday’s 90 minutes, however, Chelsea looked every bit as capable of stifling its opposition as it did two years ago. Ceding Atlético Madrid 62 percent of the match’s possession, the Blues were content to sacrifice control and ambition for organization and opportunism.

Atleti went nearly the entire first half without a shot on target. Come full-time, the home side held a mere 4-2 edge in shots on goal. When Gabi’s 76th minute long distance shot deflected of the Chelsea wall, Mark Schwarzer had his stiffest test of the match. A calm dive allowed Cech’s stand-in to push the ball wide of the left post, sending the teams back to London scoreless.

 MORE FROM SOCCERLY: Tactical match puts onus upon next week

With Cech only playing 18 minutes, Terry leaving in the 73rd, and Branislav Ivanovic missing out entirely, Chelsea’s back five had a makeshift feel comes the final moments, something which nearly allowed Arda Turan to head home a Juanfran cross at the left post in the 80th minute. When Atlético continued trying to match up players against Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole, the Colchoneros’ crosses drew a few late gasps from the crowd. When Jonas Eriksson blew his final whistle, however, Atlético was left in the shoes Barcelona and Bayern Munich vacated two years ago. Late in Champions League, Chelsea had receded into its shell, a stance that left it unharmed by one of the best teams in Europe.

With eight days between games, Atlético boss Diego Simeone will be tasked with figuring out a way to penetrate that defense. Though Chelsea could prove more ambitious at home, a slew of potential absences may leave José Mourinho playing the same game, hoping one moment of brilliance can overshadow 90 minutes in a bunker.

Besides, generating two shots on target of their own, the Blues weren’t completely devote of chances to break through. Next week may be less about Chelsea changing than Atlétco responding to the challenge.

PL Sunday preview: Man City get on without KDB; Brighton-Man Utd

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Manchester City’s Premier League title defense continues on Sunday, while last season’s second-place finishers and the grumpy, forgotten neighbors, Manchester United, are also in action amid the constant rumors over the future of Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Arsenal in thriller | Three things we learned ]

Man City vs. Huddersfield Town — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

City’s title defense began in fantastic fashion last week — a 2-0 victory away to Arsenal setting the tone as Pep Guardiola‘s side follows up its historically dominant season with more of the same — but it wasn’t without consequence, as Kevin De Bruyne suffered a knee injury that’ll keep him sidelined for as long as three months. The Belgian playmaker was instrumental during City’s romp to the title last season — arguably their best and/or most important player — which will up the degree of difficulty between now and November, but only slightly. The likes of David Silva and/or Bernardo Silva will be leaned upon more heavily to create chances from central areas — the former will be available on Sunday after missing the season opener following the birth of his prematurely born son — which should be more than enough to bridge the gap for as long as De Bruyne is away.

As for Huddersfield, only the Terriers and Arsenal can empathize with one another over identically brutal starts to the season: each will have faced City and Chelsea in their opening two fixtures, and will likely have a combined zero points to show for their efforts (Arsenal lost, 3-2, away to the Blues on Saturday; Huddersfield received a 3-0 hiding at home a week ago). The gulf in class between the two sides is far from lost on Huddersfield boss David Wagner, though he stubbornly backs his players against anyone.

“Everyone can see that we went for young, talented players under the age of 24 or free transfers where we didn’t have to pay a fee for them,” he said this week. “We have tried to strengthen our offensive line with speed and you can see from their ages that we have signed a lot of potential talent. … We have players who have shown their quality, not necessarily in the Premier League, but in good divisions such as France. We want to give them the platform to show what they are capable of here with us.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Danilo (ankle) | Huddersfield — OUT: Mathias Jorgensen (knock), Danny Williams (ankle), Jonathan Hogg (hip)

Burnley vs. Watford — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Burnley finished last season in a place which Watford aspired to reach following a blistering start to the 2015-16 campaign — their first back in the PL — before falling back to the pack and finishing 13th, 17th and 14th. 2018-19 started brightly for the Hornets, as they topped Brighton & Hove Albion — without allowing a single shot on target — on the opening day of the season. The Clarets, meanwhile, are enjoying their first taste of European competition (they advanced a round further in Europa League qualification on Thursday), but it will undoubtedly leave Sean Dyche‘s men with heavy legs by the time the second half rolls around at Turf Moor on Sunday.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Matej Vydra (fitness), Nick Pope (shoulder), Robbie Brady (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf) | Watford — OUT: Gerard Deulofeu (knock), Stefano Okaka (thigh), Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot)

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Man United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s no club filled with more drama this season — yes, already — than Man United, with the vast majority of thanks going to the man in charge, Mourinho. After spending the final days of the summer transfer window complaining about a lack of signings, Mourinho’s men went out and beat Leicester City on the opening day of the season, but then Paul Pogba, who starred in the win just hours earlier, made some eyebrow-raising comments which seemed to be aimed at his manager. Mourinho has since denied a rift exists between the two of them, but it’s an all too familiar story involving Mourinho and his star players, nonetheless. The Red Devils will likely be shorthanded once again, as a number of players work their way back from injuries and star forward Romelu Lukaku (reportedly) starts a second straight game on the bench.

Brighton, on the other hand, are devoid of drama, but also devoid of points following the season’s opening game. Still searching for their first shot on goal, it’s the other end of the field where the Seagulls will be without their star man and captain, Bruno, who will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury.

“Bruno is a very important player, and when he’s not playing, that’s not good for us,” fellow defender Bernardo said this week. “We need to improve, because if we play like that in our next matches, it won’t be an easy season. I have the impression that we didn’t give our best performance, but I’m sure we have the quality and mentality to correct things and have a good season. … With time and more games together, we will get better chemistry and play better matches.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Bruno Saltor (hamstring), Jason Steele (thigh) | Man United — OUT: Diogo Dalot (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Sergio Romero (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (fitness), Phil Jones (fitness)

Chelsea, Arsenal offer both hope and despair

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LONDON — Encounters like this are why we love this game. Joy. Agony. Hope. Despair. This had all of that wrapped into a neat 90-minute bundle in west London.

There was so much for both Chelsea and Arsenal to be happy about after their five-goal thriller in a London derby on Saturday.

There were also plenty of red flags for both Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery in their embryonic careers as Premier League managers.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

New eras have been ushered in at both clubs, with new playing styles and ideals for their players to both embrace and perfect. That produced Jekyll and Hyde moments from both teams at Stamford Bridge in a game which thrilled the neutral but had both sets of fans ecstatic one moment, then despairing the next.

Sarri’s side were the 3-2 winners and they have two wins from two to start the season and they are top of the league. But Sarri wasn’t in a celebratory mood after the game.

“I think we have done very well for 75 minutes. 15 minutes before half time was horrible,” Sarris said. “We lost distances. We were not able to recover the lost ball immediately. We were not able press in the other half as a team. Only one player or two players at the others too far. I think the players were very good in the second half. It was not easy to answer the final part of the first half from a mental point of view.”

The Italian boss wasn’t happy with the defensive display of his team, with his hallmark of pressing high up the pitch not working as well as they coughed up a 2-0 lead in the first half and could have conceded four goals. Arsenal’s direct play out way picked Chelsea’s defense apart and that will be concerning for the former Napoli boss.

After the game Sarri was asked if Chelsea are Premier League title contenders this season.

“No, not in this moment. We did very well in the last 25 minutes today. But we have to work and improve in the defensive phase. I am not talking about only the defenders. The defensive phase of all the team, all the players,” Sarri said. “If we press very high we are able to do well but in other moments when we are not able to press in the other half we are in trouble. We have to work and we need to improve.”

“We did a lot in 75 minutes but we need to continue to press, press and press the other half. Otherwise we are in trouble in the defensive phase. We need to improve and I hope we will be able to play 90 minutes like the first 25. We must.”

As for Arsenal, their boss was happy enough with their attacking play but he is also concerned with the defensive balance as they were twice opened up by long balls over the top in the first half as center backs Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis were woefully exposed.

“We spoke before the match about the need to improve. To be competitive. To learn in the match. I think today it was a very good reaction after 2-0,” Emery said. “In the first half we created more chances in the first half to score. We created more chances to score. The second half, we conceded to Chelsea more moments to score the third goal. For that we needed the balance and our result is like that. Our process is continuing, to improve things and to do more with the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. Today we finished the match with 22 years old Lucas and 19 years old Mateo. The process is clear for us. We have a big responsibility to win the match.” 

Arsenal’s manager saw his side squander several glorious chances in the first half as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of two huge misses and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had another, but they did cause Chelsea plenty of problems with their more direct style.

But old problems, especially defensive ones, remain the greatest problem for the Gunners.

“I have calm when I see my team creating chances. I want to do the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. I think we conceded a lot today for Chelsea,” Emery said. “In the second half we need to keep and hold the control in the match with the ball, with the positioning. In the second half we lost a little the positioning on the pitch and we were a little deep.”

Overall, Emery is pleased with the progress being made and is unperturbed by two defeats from two (albeit it against Man City and Chelsea) to begin his Premier League reign.

“I’m calm. I think we need to give the players calm and keep on working. I know we need to improve things. I know we need to push the players to work,” Emery said. “For me, there are many positive things in the first match against Manchester City. It is clear we are difference to them. Today the team competed well. Had chances in the match. For the young player it is a process, they are playing each match, growing up with us and the quality I am demanding.”

The new process for Chelsea and Arsenal will bring plenty of joy, and heartache, this season.

Hazard talks life as a sub after winning Chelsea assist

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Eden Hazard came off the Chelsea bench for the second-straight week under new manager Maurizio Sarri, though he’d rather not.

That’s likely a function with the possibility that the Belgian could yet leave Stamford Bridge before the end of the European transfer window, but doesn’t make it any easier for one of the world’s best attackers to start matches out of the Starting XI.

[ MORE: Recap | JPW’s 3 things from Stamford Bridge ]

“It is better to be on the pitch than watching on the bench,” he said. “But the boys when they are playing they did well so I am just happy for the win.”

Hazard found a marking mismatch on the left of the 18, expectedly shaking Alexandre Lacazette and driving toward the end line before cutting back for Marcos Alonso, who scored another memorable late goal for the Blues.

Whether Hazard stays in England or not, he’s enjoyed the Maurizio Sarri experience apart from coming off the subs’ bench. From the BBC:

“He is the kind of manager who wants the ball, to control the ball. I can’t say a wrong thing about that. I want to play and have the ball at my feet. We have players who can do something magic. He is a great manager, like we had before.”

Hazard admitted he might like to leave Chelsea in mid-July, though Sarri was said to be anxious to keep both he and Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois.

The latter didn’t come to fruition, with Sarri selling Courtois and buying Kepa Arrizabalaga, but there’s still time for Hazard to become a star for Sarri. Will it happen?

Alonso gets Chelsea past Arsenal in thriller

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  • Pedro, Morata put hosts up 2-0
  • Mkhitaryan, Iwobi level by half
  • Winner comes from Alson

Marcos Alonso buried Eden Hazard‘s 81st minute pass to lead Chelsea past Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata and Pedro helped the Blues build a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Unai Emery’s Gunners recovered to make it 2-2 at halftime.

Arsenal next hosts West Ham United, while Chelsea is off to Newcastle United.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

The hosts were up thanks to a left-sided barnstorming, with Willian starting the play with a with a lay-off inside his own half. The next move saw Marcos Alonso racing toward the edge of the 18 to pass across for Pedro to finish with calm.

Ross Barkley came close to doubling the advantage in the 13th minute.

It should’ve been level when Matteo Guendouzi fired Hector Bellerin through the right of the Chelsea back line, but the offside and uncalled Spaniard’s pull back was aired over the goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Moments later, it was 2-0 Chelsea through Morata. The Spanish striker ran from midfield and held off a Shkrodan Mustafi challenge before cutting to fire past Cech.

Arsenal blew a second well-worked chance over the frame, this time with Henrikh Mkhitaryan sending a point-blank offering into the stands. Woof.

Mkhitaryan redeemed himself with a powerful shot from outside the box. The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The chances did not dry up as the second half began in London, and a N'Golo Kante shot was blocked to the cries of handball from Chelsea’s players.

Jorginho‘s deflected 64th minute rip was collected by Cech after Chelsea introduced Eden Hazard off the bench.

Momentum swung Arsenal’s way as the match reached is final quarter-hour, as Kepa Arrizabalaga made a save and took a beating in the 77th minute.

Kante popped a header over the goal in the 79th minute after running in front of Sokratis.

Scoring defender extraordinaire Alonso put Chelsea back on top in the 81st, slapping Eden Hazard’s hopeful pullback beyond Cech.