Three things we learned from Manchester City’s win vs. Chelsea

1 Comment

MANCHESTER — What. A. Game. Manchester City beat Chelsea 3-0 on Sunday at a raucous Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

And, in all honesty, it could have been more for the Citizens as their stars dazzled and blew a lackluster Chelsea away. Jose Mourinho’s side hung in there, but this will be a week to forget for the Portuguese boss after the now infamous medic-gate.

[ MORE: Mourinho says result was “fake” ]

Here are three things we learned from a feisty encounter at the Etihad Stadium between two title contenders.

AGUERO, AND CITY’S, CLASS DAZZLES

Among the home fans at the Etihad, there is an air of expectancy every time Sergio Aguero picks up the ball. After winning the Premier League’s golden boot last season, you can understand why. Last year the Argentine scored 26 times in 33 games and in his first start of the new season he could have had five goals in the first half. He had to settle for one. His personal duel with Chelsea’s N0. 2 goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (more on that below) was epic and Aguero looked to be coming out second best. However, in the 31st minute a moment of individual magic helped settle the match as Aguero controlled the ball in the box with Gary Cahill, John Terry and Nemanja Matic in close pursuit. He flicked the ball past Cahill delicately and rolled the ball home into the bottom corner and off the post in front of the newly renovated South Stand. The Etihad erupted to yet another moment of class from the tiny Argentine striker.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Other notable performers for City were Eliaquim Mangala who stood up to a fired-up Diego Costa and should have scored with a glancing header in the first half. Plus David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure were all full of running and caused Chelsea’s defense endless problems. Fernandinho was brilliant in roughing up Chelsea’s attackers and added a fine third goal to seal the win. Earlier this week, Vincent Kompany said City “have a point to prove” this season. Kompany headed home City’s second for his second in as many games this season and with two wins from two and two impressive performances under their belt, City’s stars are well on their way to proving that form is temporary but class is permanent. They are now the favorites to win the PL title this season. No doubt.

CHELSEA’S PROBLEMS GROW

In a week where Jose Mourinho had been hung, drawn and quartered by the world’s media for publicly criticizing and then demoting two members of his medical team, Chelsea’s problems worsened after a lackluster display at the Etihad saw them lose a game in August for the first time since 2006 and this damaging defeat equaled Mourinho’s worst-ever loss in charge of the Blues. Chelsea looked sluggish in midfield as Silva, Sterling and Toure ran rings around them, and they failed to find their rhythm in a rambunctious encounter.

A Man City fan dressed up as a doctor (see, above) sat next to Chelsea’s bench, as Mourinho was routinely booed by the home fans for his treatment of Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn after deciding they were not worthy of a place on his bench. At half time his captain John Terry was sat on the bench, as the 34-year-old center back felt his hamstring and was replaced by Kurt Zouma. Despite their defensive collapse, but the reigning Premier League champions were most disappointing in midfield as Ramires, Hazard and Willian floated around without purpose and Nemanja Matic raced around like the Tasmanian Devil trying to put out fires in the engine room. His usual partner in crime, Cesc Fabregas, was nowhere to be seen and this display reeked of a man low in confidence and unable to live with the cut and thrust of his powerful opponents.

Diego Costa’s struggles epitomized Chelsea’s afternoon. The Spanish international was booed by the home fans throughout, got in multiple battles with most of City’s team and on the stroke of half time he was clocked in the head by Fernandinho’s elbow. It was a nasty blow which required a bandage and lengthy treatment. As the teams went down the tunnel for half time soon after, the Brazilian-born forward went after his countryman Fernandinho and had to be held back by several of Chelsea’s players and staff. Costa set up Hazard for Chelsea’s best chance of the game, but the Belgian squandered it, shooting straight at Hart from 12-yards out and in stoppage time Costa hit the post. That summed Chelsea’s day up. For Mourinho, the pantomime atmosphere surrounding his demotion of two medics was complete when first Cahill needed treatment with an apparent broken nose and then Costa went down moments later with that nasty head injury. City’s medical staff rushed on to help Costa as the two young medics Mourinho had promoted to replace Carneiro and Fearn were still dealing with Cahill.

Chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning!” to the Chelsea medics from City’s fans and “Eva! Eva!” told Mourinho all he had to know about the public consensus regarding his decision to throw the duo under the bus. Chelsea is far from unraveling, but the situation certainly isn’t pretty for the reigning champs right now.

BEGOVIC MAKES HIS CLAIM

Before the game there was plenty of talk if Asmir Begovic could live up to the expectations placed on his shoulders in a huge early season matchup. Begovic, making his first competitive start for Chelsea with No. 1 goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois suspended due to a red card on the opening day, come out on top of an incredible personal duel with Aguero early on in the first half, stopping him three times inside the opening 15 minutes.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

AP Photo/Rui Vieira

30 seconds in, Aguero raced through after a defense-splitting pass from Silva. One-on-one with Begovic, the entire stadium rose expecting to see the ball nestle into the net… but the Bosnian goalkeeper came flying out and saved low. Any pre-match jitters he would have had quickly dissipated. Then in the space of 60 seconds Begovic made two superb stops down low from Aguero, both after rasping snapshots from the PL’s leading goalscorer last season. After the latter save, Aguero walked up to Begovic and gave him a high five. Respect. A few stray kicks here and there and a little bit of mis-communication at times showed Begovic was still getting used to life at his new club, but his manager Jose Mourinho made a point of applauding him after his stunning double-save in quick succession to deny Aguero.

There were question marks surrounding why Begovic would leave a spot as a PL regular with Stoke City to be a clear No. 2 behind Courtois. Even though he will likely be demoted back to the bench next week against West Bromwich Albion, there will now be question marks around whether or not Begovic can seriously challenge Courtois as the starter. In a day to forget for Chelsea, Begovic’s performance was perhaps the one bright spot as he could do nothing on all three goals. 

Bentaleb joins Newcastle; Blades sign Robinson; Campana to Wolves

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Premier League clubs made signings on Tuesday as Nabil Bentaleb has joined Newcastle United, Leonardo Campana has arrived at Wolves and Jack Robinson has signed for Sheffield United.

Bentaleb, 25, has initially joined Newcastle from Schalke on loan with an option to make the deal a permanent one at the end of the season.

The former Tottenham midfielder will add extra quality to the engine room as Steve Bruce‘s side continue to sit pretty in midtable despite a laundry list of injuries to deal with.

“I’m very happy to come back to the Premier League, especially with a club such as Newcastle,” Bentaleb said. “The project really interested me. I wanted absolutely to come back to the Premier League. The coach had some trust in me and the club also – I saw that straight away – and I think it’s the perfect move for me.”

Bentaleb has so much promise and showed that as a youngster for Spurs and for Algeria at the 2014 World Cup and he was a regular at Schalke over the past few seasons before falling out of favor during the 2019-20 campaign as he is yet to make an appearance due to suffering a torn meniscus in September.

Wolves have been trying to complete the deal for Campana for some time but everything is now sealed for the Ecuador international to arrive in the Premier League.

Campana, 19, has been a star for Ecuador at youth international level and he’s signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Wolves to become the understudy to Raul Jimenez. He rose to prominence at the South American U20 Championships last summer as the top goalscorer at the tournament as Ecuador won the title. He has already graduated to the full national team and he is ready to get going in England.

“I am excited about the work the team has achieved this season. I know they support each other, their relationship with the manager is a good one and I know all the players get along really well. That motivated me to come here and to be part of this big family,” Campana said.

As for Robinson, 26, he arrives on a two-and-a-half year contract from Forest for an undisclosed deal as Blades boss Chris Wilder revealed he tried to sign the left-sided center back when he previously played for QPR.

“It’s a big confidence boost coming somewhere you know you’re wanted,” Robinson said. “The gaffer has done an unbelievable job over the last 3 years and I’m really excited to play under him. It’s a privilege to sign here, excited to be back in the Premier League I’m ready to show the fans why the gaffer has signed me.” 

Robinson, a Liverpool academy product who made his debut for them as a 16-year-old, will be one of Wilder’s three center backs and is keen to perform the overlapping role in Sheffield United’s quirky but hugely effective system.

Both of the signings are fairly prudent ones but bolster squads which need it after fine starts to the season as both Wilder and Bruce need extra players as they aim to push for at least a top 10 finish in the Premier League.

Mourinho denies bust-up with Rose

Getty Images
1 Comment

Jose Mourinho has denied he has had a training ground bust-up with left back Danny Rose.

Reports had circulated that Rose and Mourinho were involved in a heated argument in training on Monday after the England left back was unhappy to be left out of the squad for the 0-0 draw at Watford on Saturday.

Mourinho had said that Rose was out injured with a back problem but the left back has since denied he wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets.

Speaking to the media ahead of Spurs’ home game against Norwich on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mourinho wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t know what you mean by tension in the air, I don’t have a problem with him,” Mourinho said. “On the Thursday before Watford late evening I got a call from my medical staff saying that Danny was calling them with a problem in his back and he wouldn’t train the next day. Friday it was a bit of a surprise to see him training, but even so I decided to play with (Japhet) Tanganga and have Ryan (Sessegnon) on the bench. That is the situation.”

Mourinho added that Rose’s display against Liverpool was “not phenomenal” and reading between the lines, he was dropped.

If there wasn’t an incident or at least some anger between Rose and Mourinho, why would reports of this nature surface?

With youngster Japhet Tanganga starting at left back for Tottenham, and doing a very good job as Mourinho praised him afterwards, it is understandable that Rose would have his nose put out of joint a little.

The England international has less than 18 months left on his current contract at Spurs and has already spoken publicly about his plans to run down that deal as chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t offered him a new deal.

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out as Tanganga now seems to be Spurs’ first choice left back and Rose will have to be happy with playing a bit-part role between now and the end of the season.

His experience and quality is undoubted but with Spurs’ defensive unit all over the place this season, Mourinho is well within his rights to mix things up with formations and personnel as he tries to make Tottenham tough to beat.

Solskjaer: United have made “strides forward”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer believes his Manchester United side have taken “strides forward” following their 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday.

United were outplayed for the vats majority of the game and were lucky to be only 1-0 down heading into the 90th minute but the grit and determination they showed impressed Solskjaer who lauded his young team.

Without the injured star duo of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba for the daunting trip to the Premier League leaders, United’s manager was in a positive mood ahead of their clash against Burnley on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“We lost to Liverpool. A team that you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball. For me, that’s strides forward,” Solskjaer said. “Of course we’re disappointed about losing the game. We don’t want to be behind them in the league. But there are signs there that we’re on the right track, definitely.”

Is Solskjaer’s positivity misplaced?

Some would argue that United were lucky that Liverpool’s finishing was lackluster and that is true but the Red Devils hung in there and should have equalized in the second half but Anthony Martial blazed over.

They were missing at least four or five players in key areas for the trip to United as Rashford, Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured and they badly need another attacking midfielder (ahem, Bruno Fernandes) to help with their play in the final third.

Solskjaer is right, there were positives for United. Fred played extremely well in midfield and both Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood tall defensively out wide. But the main takeaway from their trip to Liverpool was that United were delighted to not lose by three or four goals. The gulf in class between the two teams was clear for all to see and although United are trying to sort out their disjointed and confused squad by signing young, talented players, they are so far off Liverpool it is scary.

USMNT youngster Vassilev praised by Villa boss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

18-year-old USMNT youngster Indiana Vassilev has been praised by Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after making his Premier League debut at the weekend.

Vasillev came on for the final 25 minutes at Brighton and Hove Albion with Villa 1-0 down and helped them rescue a point as his run opened up the chance for Jack Grealish to score a late equalizer.

The lively attacking midfielder/forward has excelled in Villa’s reserve side after his arrival in England in the summer of 2018 following impressive displays for the U.S. youth national teams.

With Villa struggling with injuries up top after main striker Wesley went down with a season-ending injury early this month, Smith is clearly ready to put his faith in Vassilev.

“He is definitely ready to start,” Smith said. “The kid’s a bright spark, and we’ve seen that when he’s come on so far. He gave them (Brighton) problems on Saturday when he came on. It was a super ball from Douglas but, unless Indi makes that run down the side, he doesn’t drag Webster across, and Jack get in for the goal. He knows what he’s doing up there, he’s got a lot of pace, and he can run all day as well.”

Villa’s boss didn’t stop there though, as he also revealed that the young striker born in Savannah, Georgia has the backing of the senior players around him to go on and become a regular contributor in the Premier League.

“I’ve never been afraid to go and put young kids in if I feel they’re ready. I congratulated him after the game and said, ‘You’re a Premier League player now.’ He’s surprised me in a good way,” Smith added. “Sometimes when you give an opportunity to a young player they can sink or swim. He is certainly a swimmer. He has looked really good so far. You can always tell how the reaction is through the other players, in their relationships with them. You can see them all behind him. He goes in and puts a shift in for them. If you do that and have quality to add to it you will do alright in the dressing room. He’s got a goalscoring ability, he knows where the back of the net is, he knows what runs to make. Tactically he’s intelligent. Physically he’s impressive as well.”

Vassilev comes from a long line of soccer players and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played in Bulgaria and he was born and raised in the USA after his parents emigrated from the eastern European country in the early 1990s.

It looks like the USMNT have another top talent breaking through in Europe which is great news for Gregg Berhalter and potentially even better news for Villa as they badly need a forward to deliver goals in their fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Expect to see more cameos, and maybe even starts, from Vassilev in the final months of the Premier League season.