Jose Mourinho, once again, wins tactical battle against Arsene Wenger

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LONDON — Arsene Wenger’s hoodoo against Jose Mourinho continued on Sunday, as it’s now 13 attempts against Mourinho’s Chelsea without a win for the Arsenal boss.

Wenger’s side huffed and puffed late on in the 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium but were reduced to just one shot on target by another defensive masterclass by Mourinho’s side, as the Gunners left it too late to launch an onslaught and send out a message to Chelsea that they will hope to challenge them for the Premier League title next season.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Towards the end of the game Chelsea’s persistent stifling of Arsenal’s attackers riled the home supporters and the Gunners faithful sang out in unison: “Boring, boring Chelsea.”

When asked about that in his post-game press conference, Mourinho had the following response.

“I think boring is 10 years without a title. That is very, very boring,” Mourinho said. “You support the club, you are waiting, waiting for so many years without the Premier League. I think that is very boring. Maybe they were not singing to us, because when you are at home and you want to win the game and you take out your number nine. Maybe for the home fans they want more. They want to play Giroud and Welbeck together up front to try and win the game in the last period. I think we have a very good performance and the “boring team” is the team with the second [highest] amount of goals in the Premier League and is the best team in goal difference.”

When asked about not winning, once again, against Mourinho, Wenger shrugged off his personal battle with Chelsea’s manager as he has now lost seven and drawn six of his matches when managing against his Portuguese counterpart.

“Look, it is about our club and our team. It is not about me,” Wenger said. “We wanted to win the game for the club. The rest is good for media talk but is less important [to me]. What is important is what happens on the football pitch.”

What happened on the football pitch on Sunday was that Chelsea put in another solid defensive display and looked lively in the first half by playing Oscar in a “false nine” position and having Eden Hazard, Ramires and Willian making runs underneath him.

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How did Oscar not win a penalty?

Three potential penalties which were waved away in the first half by referee Michael Oliver were the main talking points. Mourinho didn’t want to talk about them but confirmed that Oscar, who was clattered into by Arsenal’s goalkeeper David Ospina as a clear penalty kick was waved away, left the Emirates at half time and went to hospital after suffering a suspected concussion.

Mourinho set up his team to get in behind Arsenal in the first half — a formation and system nobody else was expecting before the match — which worked perfectly until Oscar’s injury and subsequent replacement at half time.

So, why did Chelsea start without a recognized striker?

“[Didier] Drogba didn’t work with us until yesterday. We were developing the game plan on the pitch the entire week without Drogba and we knew that with Oscar we would get behind them like we did so many times in the first half. Like, if you remember the three penalty appeals and Ramires’ situation in the face of the ‘keeper. In 45 minutes to be behind their defensive line four times, I think it was difficult for Mertesacker and Koscielny.”

Pragmatic and appreciative of his sides defensive display, Mourinho knows his side need five more points to secure the PL title and have gone about their business with ruthless, if not somewhat tedious, efficiency in the past two games after securing shutouts against Manchester United and Arsenal.

“We got what we got. I leave it to you to analyze but we performed very, very, very well,” Mourinho said. “Against a team in second place with nothing to lose and everything to win. The game was under our control.”

Wenger agreed that Chelsea defended well and that his side failed to create clear cut chances going forward, due to the way Mourinho set his side up.

“We performed well but we lacked something in the final third today,” Wenger said. That was maybe down to the quality of Chelsea’s defending as well, their experience at the back. Maybe we lacked a little bit of freedom in our expression to be really efficient. It is the first time we don’t score at home in 35 games so we are not used to that. That is why we are a bit frustrated.”

Mourinho was also extremely complimentary of John Terry’s performance at the heart of Chelsea’s defense, as the 34-year-old celebrated his inclusion in the PFA Team of the Season earlier on Sunday by putting in a towering display.

“I told John Terry in the dressing room that he made fantastic performances with me but this was his best,” Mourinho revealed. “It was the best JT has ever played. It was absolutely amazing.”

Terry himself perhaps summed up the afternoon perfectly as his side nullified the threat of Arsenal and proved that Mourinho, once again, has the upper hand over Wenger.

“It is a big step to where we want to go. Its not done mathematically but it’s a big step. Listen, Arsenal are a very good side and they have world-class players but we nullified them.”

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.