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Three things we learned from Chelsea’s defeat vs. PSG

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Chelsea lost 2-1 to Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Despite s spirited display, the Blues crashed out of the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stage to the French champions for the second-straight season.

Here’s what we learned from the clash in west London.

ZLATAN HAS THE LAST LAUGH

Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up PSG’s opener and scored the second to show he is very much still at the top of his powers.

At the age of 34, many said Zlatan was washed up. He’s not. Far from it. With just two months left on his PSG contract, you can expect the top clubs in the Premier League to come calling for him and offer huge sums of cash. He has done it in Italy, Spain and now France. Can the Swedish international striker finish his career off with a swansong in England?

Ibrahimovic has spoken about PSG being “destined to win the Champions League” and after his deadly display at Stamford Bridge — much different to how he fared last season as he was sent off in the first half when the two teams met in the second leg — it’s hard to argue with him. In previous seasons the one criticism you’d have of Les Parisiens were that they lacked cutting edge in the final third and sometimes failed to finish teams off when they had the chance. They have now made the UCL quarterfinals for the fourth-straight season and have their first win in England in the bag. PSG’s dominance of France is undeniable and led by ambitious Qatari ownership, they have their sights set on dominating Europe.

Supporting Zlatan was Angel di Maria who crossed for his goal (which came somewhat fortuitously after Blaise Matuidi’s pass was misplaced but the ball eventually found Di Maria anyway) and generally looked dangerous whenever he was on the ball. Zlatan is far from a one-man band for PSG this season, but in what could be his final campaign in the French capital, he is on course to post his best goals tally (31 and counting) and looks to have saved his best until last as they head into the UCL last eight as one of the favorites to win it all. The way the team celebrated with their away fans at the end was telling. There was jubilation but it was a little subdued. They’re hoping there’s more to come. As for Zlatan, he simply threw his shirt into the crowd and wandered off with a mundane expression on his face. Zlatan will dare to lead PSG to new heights in Europe before he leaves this summer. Whatever happens between now and then, nights like this mean he will always be a hero in Paris.

COSTA NO “FRAUD”; ABSENCE COSTLY

In the build-up to this game Paris Saint-Germain’s official Twitter account had labeled Diego Costa a “fraud.” That appeared to be coming back to haunt them as Costa coolly spun his way past Thiago Silva in the box and slotted home to make it 1-1 on the night and 2-3 on aggregate. Game on.

When Costa is in this type of form, he is unplayable and he was holding balls up, running in-behind David Luiz and Silva and linked up well with Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian. Then, just after the hour mark, Costa pulled up holding his right leg.

He had missed Chelsea’s game against Stoke at the weekend to rest up for this clash but obviously it wasn’t enough and losing him as the focal point of the attack was a huge blow. The fact that PSG took advantage of Costa’s absence so quickly was no coincidence and it gave them a boost to finish Chelsea off.

Costa has scored 11 times and added six assists in his last 15 games for the Blues and has finished the season strongly. He did all he could and proved he’s not a “fraud” as PSG suggested, but he couldn’t be the hero.

HIGH-PRESS ALMOST PAYS OFF

Alongside Costa’s dominant play up front, Chelsea put PSG under plenty of pressure by pushing up high and nicking the ball off Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot on multiple occasions. The three attackers supporting Costa worked superbly as they hunted in packs and pinched the ball in good areas. However, they didn’t go enough with it when they had a chance in and around the box, with Pedro, Willian and Hazard guilty of snatching at chances.

If there’s a positive to take out of this defeat, it’s that Chelsea can continue to surge up the Premier League standings between now and the end of the season with their top attacking talents almost back to their best. The negative is that two very similar goals undid them and you can’t help but think that if injured captain John Terry had been on the pitch that both Rabiot and Zlatan would not have been able to wander aimlessly onto loose balls which found them unmarked at the back post to tap in. Those mistakes, and not the failure to make the most of loose balls in and around PSG’s box, was the biggest factor in Chelsea letting slip their best remaining chance of qualifying for the UCL next season. It’s all but certain that for the first time in 14 years the Blues will not be playing in the Champions League next season.

They will now focus on the FA Cup and finishing as high as possible in the PL, but will the Blues really want to be in the Europa League next season? What we also saw from Hazard was slightly alarming as at half time, with the scores locked at 1-1 and 3-2 to PSG on aggregate, he swapped jerseys with Di Maria as they walked off the pitch. Really? Do it after the game. Keep your focus on the play. Sure, it may not make a big difference but in the biggest game of the season, why do you want to get a PSG shirt at half time? Perhaps Hazard’s comments about it being “hard to say no to PSG” if they came calling are closer to the truth than we previously thought. The Belgian playmaker also didn’t help himself by turning up his nose and limping off shortly after Chelsea 2-1 down. The worry for Chelsea is that Hazard has mentally checked out and some of his actions on Wednesday suggested just that.

Slow start dooms Southampton again: “We lost the game in first half”

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.

Bournemouth carried over the line by ‘fight and belief’

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It wasn’t pretty — at least not in the second half — but Bournemouth had enough “fight and belief” to get themselves over the line for a first-ever win away to Southampton on Friday.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Speaking after the game, Cherries manager Eddie Howe was obviously pleased by the victory in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry, but quickly turned his attention to a list of areas in which his team came up short and was perhaps fortunate to hold onto a 2-1 lead prior to Callum Wilson‘s gifted goal in the 95th minute — quotes from the BBC:

“It was a nice moment. We rarely get those moments in football where you get that pure emotion and joy for a few seconds. Then you start thinking about next week.

“You want the players brought down to earth because you want the focus on consistent success. In the first, half we were okay. We didn’t hit the heights we are capable of. We were scrappy and didn’t keep the ball as well as I wanted, but we had spirit and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

“In the second half, we were reactive and looked tired and that’s where we needed to show our heart to see the game out. There were some heroics from our goalkeeper too.”

As for defender Nathan Ake, scorer of Bournemouth’s first goal, it was all about digging deep for the desire and will to win. The 24-year-old has established himself as one of the first names on Howe’s teamsheet every week at this point.

“It was a very tough game. The fans are buzzing. It was a great three points. The manager said to put the ball in the box.

“It was a great ball and it fell on my head. In the second half, we made it difficult for ourselves. We didn’t keep hold of the ball and had to defend more. The last result against Everton was great so it gives you confidence, but we had to fight and believe we could win.”

Had you offered anyone associated with Bournemouth 10 points from their first six games, they would have snatched your hand off to take them. A thoroughly solid start to the season. Up next is a visit from ninth-place West Ham United next Saturday.

Bournemouth picks up first-ever win away to Southampton

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Bournemouth picked up its first-ever victory (16 visits – all competitions) away to Southampton in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry, 3-1 at St. Mary’s Stadium on Friday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Nathan Ake and Harry Wilson got goals for Eddie Howe‘s side during a wonderfully dominant first-half performance before the roles were reversed in the second half. James Ward-Prowse pulled Southampton back to 2-1 not long after halftime and Saints pressed and pressed for an equalizer but ultimately came up empty. To make matters worse, Callum Wilson put the game away on a late Saints howler.


3 things we learned

  1. Slow starts for Saints — Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. For a team that’s built around the idea of defensive solidity and limiting chances, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side appears especially limited once forced to change its plan of attack and… well, attack. In the two games they didn’t concede first, two clean sheets and two wins.
  2. Halftime adjustments — Hasenhuttl certainly got his tactics wrong from the start, but whatever was said at halftime made a noticeable difference in the second half. Given loads more freedom to push forward in attack and to win back possession, Southampton made it a game from 45:01 onward.
  3. Making few chances count a lot — Bournemouth needed just six shots to get their two goals. On the other hand, they managed just six shots in 90 minutes. Highly efficient, or lacking in overall production? Both, perhaps?

Man of the Match: Oriol Romeu


Ake put the Cherries ahead in the 10th minute, rising high above the crowd to get his head to Diego Rico‘s corner kick. It was Bournemouth’s fifth goal (of nine scored) from a set piece this season.

It didn’t take long for Bournemouth to easily cut through Saints’ four-man backline — a tactical change from the three-man operation which secured a victory away to Sheffield United last weekend — and put the ball in the back of the net again. Joshua King finished a devastating counter-attack with a sublime finish, only to have the goal taken off the board for being narrowly offside, via video review.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Once again, Bournemouth met little resistance en route to doubling their lead, only this time the goal stood. Philip Billing got to the endline down the left side of Saints’ penalty area and cut the ball back to the penalty spot where Wilson was waiting to sweep it past a helpless Angus Gunn.

Saints were gifted their way back into the game in the 52nd minute, when Steve Cook went straight through Che Adams as Southampton broke down the left side of the box. Ward-Prowse stepped up to the spot and hammered the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to cut the deficit in half.

Saints’ best chance at drawing level came in the 82nd minute, but Ward-Prowse was denied Ramsdale from close range, and though he spilled the rebound in front of goal, Bournemouth were able to clear the ball away in just the nick of time.

Gunn and center back Jannik Vestergaard ran into one another outside the Saints penalty area in the 95th minute, allowing Wilson to pick the ball up and walk it over the end line for the late exclamation point on Bournemouth’s historic night.

Bournemouth’s defensive desperation was such that they attempted just the six shots in the game, including zero between the 38th and 85th minutes. Alas, Saints couldn’t find the equalizer and Bournemouth catapulted all the way up to third in the PL, for the time being.

Watch Live: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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Southampton takes on Bournemouth in a battle of south-coast clubs at the St. Mary’s Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Both teams enter the match with seven points, and a win can, for the time being, vault either side into the top four until the rest of the weekend’s games take place.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Interestingly, Southampton have ruled the roost when it comes to matchups against Bournemouth. Southampton has won three, drawn four and lost just once in Premier League matches against Bournemouth, but perhaps this time it could be different.

Both teams are coming off wins, though Bournemouth’s 3-1 shock of Everton could be seen as more impressive than Southampton’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield United.

Watch the game with us at the link above, and stay on PST for analysis and reaction at halftime and following the final whistle.


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