Three things we learned from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with PSG

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CHARLOTTE,  NC — The Blues struggled through a tough 90 minutes in Charlotte, largely dominated by a PSG side that looked more than ready to get the Ligue 1 season under way.

While we remember this is still just preseason – and like in nearly every sport on the planet, preseason play often foreshadows little about the coming season – there are still things we can take with us from Bank of America Stadium that could teach us what will come in the nearing Premier League season.

1. Chelsea remain dominant on set-pieces

One of the strengths of the Blues last year remains the same with a largely unchanged squad: don’t foul the Premier League champions. They can beat you on set-pieces, and in so many different ways. They nearly scored on a short free-kick pulled off the training ground in the opening 10 minutes, and proved dangerous on numerous corners throughout the match.

This day and age, it’s easy to tell when a team is playing for free-kicks and when they’re not. It was simple to see PSG was not. They had most of the possession in the first half, but very few tangible set-piece opportunities. They knew it was Chelsea’s strength, and elected to attempt to break down the Blues in open play instead.

There were few set-piece opportunities throughout the game as a result, but looking at the Chelsea goal, it too was eerily similar. A Cesc Fabregas flick from a stationary position played Victor Moses in at the back post, and it proved Chelsea’s movement is dangerous.

2. Their defensive shape is incredible, but still beatable

Zlatan tapped and slid the ball all around. Lucas Moura dribbled. Marco Verratti dodged and weaved. Serge Aurier bombed forward. None of it worked for PSG in the first 20 minutes as John Terry, Gary Cahill, and the rest of the Chelsea players held firm on defensive duty. If you want to teach young players about rigidity and organization, put on a tape of a Jose Mourinho-led Chelsea match. It’s wonderful to watch.

PSG tried so hard to flow through the middle, using Ibrahimovic in almost a box-to-box midfielder role and cutting Lucas Moura directly at defenders on the ball, but every time the attack was swallowed up. It looked as if it was going take a moment of brilliance for the French champions to break through. Instead, it took Zlatan.

With Chelsea suddenly under siege, they seemed as meek as a mid-table side, but weathered the storm until halftime without giving up another. They showed weaknesses against the New York Red Bulls as well, but the idea is clearly there. If the team gets back to top shape by the start of the Premier League season, good luck to the rest of England.

3. Gary Cahill and John Obi Mikel may be on a decline

We saw glimpses of this last season with Cahill, and he seemed to make the Premier League Team of the Season on name rather than performance. Today, he continued to show a possible decline. Cahill was slow to recover on numerous PSG breaks, and he left Branislav Ivanovic on an island against Jean-Kevin Augustin in the first half, leading to the Serbian getting worked by the young French attacker.

Should Cahill continue to struggle, it could see the end of a storied central defensive partnership between he and John Terry, and in turn would mean added playing time for 20-year-old Kurt Zouma, who looks as ready as ever to become and every-day central defender.

Meanwhile, Mikel was at fault for the goal and struggled to place a long-ball anywhere close to Diego Costa and the Chelsea attackers. For a player who is used to coming in and locking down a game late, his usefulness is clearly limited outside that role.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man United 1-1 Liverpool; Struggles in North London

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe review the key results from Matchweek 9 in the Premier League focusing on Manchester United and Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (0:50). The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s win at Crystal Palace (16:50), Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United (23:25), Tottenham’s draw at home to Watford (35:25) and debate who currently is the 3rd best team in the Premier League (42:05). Finally, the guys name their under-appreciated performances of the weekend (50:50).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

FA Cup qualifier to be replayed after team walks off for racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) The FA Cup qualifying match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town that was abandoned following racist abuse will be replayed next week.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

The Football Association said Monday that the match will be replayed from the start on Oct. 29 at Haringey’s home ground.

Saturday’s game saw the players walk off in the 64th minute, shortly after Yeovil had gone 1-0 up via a penalty. Haringey officials said after the game that its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat and defender Coby Rowe had both been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans.

London police said they had arrested two men, age 23 and 26, on Monday on suspicion of racially aggravated common assault in connection with the incident.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

The FA said: “Following the incident in the original tie and the two arrests already made, the FA’s investigation is ongoing. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities on our investigation into the matter.”

The winner of the game will advance to the first round of the FA Cup.