Liverpool, Chelsea prove title credentials in gripping clash

1 Comment

LONDON — When all is said and done this season, both Liverpool and Chelsea will not be far off winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

That was the main thing we learned on a gripping, intense evening under the “Friday Night Lights” at Stamford Bridge.

With smoke machines, spotlights and blue lasers before the game in west London, everything was box office about this encounter. Their intense rivalry over a record-breaking 53 meetings in all competitions since 2000 has been brewing and now they both seem set to challenge Manchester City, Manchester and Arsenal for the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Slow start for Blues ]

With two talented and hungry managers in Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp passionately patrolling the sidelines on Friday, their two teams proved there is little between them. Liverpool came flying out of the traps, scoring the opener via Dejan Lovren after a defensive mix up, then Jordan Henderson scored a sublime goal (see above) to make it 2-0 to Klopp’s side.

Despite Diego Costa‘s strike early in the second half to bring Chelsea back into the game, Conte’s side couldn’t grab an equalizer as Liverpool, like Chelsea, now have 10 points from their opening five games.

Are they title contenders like most people are starting to think they are?

“I am really not interested in what people think. I had the same question the game we won here 3-1 last time against Chelsea. My answer was ‘are you crazy?’” Klopp laughed. “Everything is good, we have 10 points that is fantastic. I am really happy after these difficult fixtures but the season is not over, we have to play football. We know we can play football and we are convinced in our quality, that is all the truth. In the end we have to prove it every week.”

As for Conte, he was more reserved post-game as he bemoaned his team’s inability to defend properly as they badly missed injured captain John Terry at the heart of their defense as they lost for the first time this season.

“We conceded the goals in a strange way. They took the free-kick quickly for the first goal and it was a great shot from a long distance for the second but if we are in the right position he must not receive the ball unmarked. When you want to think like a great team you must pay attention in every moment,” Conte said. “We played with good intensity and anger in the second half. We scored a goal and could have scored another with Diego Costa. We played a good second half. I must work more to improve my players. Defeats are never good. We know this, we must work and keep our concentration.”

Chelsea won’t have a bad season like last season. They have enough going forward to beat most teams — which they showed in the second half against Liverpool — in the Premier League but the truth of the matter is that for all of Liverpool’s dominance in the first half, only a Henderson wonder goal separated these two teams.

The main reason both Chelsea and Liverpool will be closer to the title this season then last is because they have no European action to contend with. That will give them an edge over Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Man United and maybe even Man City. Looking at all 20 PL teams overall in the opening five games, Man City are the only side who have been better than Liverpool and Chelsea.

With no Eutopian games to worry about Klopp and Conte will have plenty of time to iron out these defensive mix-ups which have so far been their Achilles heel, and the intense bosses represent two managers tasked with returning their clubs to glory after transitional periods.

Liverpool are further along that route, which is expected after Klopp took charge last October and his side have already beat Arsenal, Leicester City and now Chelsea this season. Liverpool have scored 52 goals in 2016, more than any other Premier League team and Klopp’s methods are clearly working. That feeling of comfort for Klopp was also evident as Conte gesticulated wildly on the sidelines throughout as his team labored in the first half and failed to stop Liverpool’s fluid attacking machine, while his opposite number sat down for most of the first half, observing the brilliance of Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the heart of midfield.

As the game wore on Klopp beat his chest like a maniac under the bright lights as he urged his players to give their all for victory. His true colors came out and this is now truly his team. It will take a while for Conte to make his marm at Chelsea and this game was a reality check for how much work he still has to do at Stamford Bridge after a promising start.

Liverpool and Klopp won the battle against Conte’s Chelsea on Friday but when the final battle takes place in the war to win the Premier League this season, troops from both Liverpool and Chelsea will be on the front line.

This intense battle between two rivals lived up to the hype and proved both have what it takes to win it all.

Gold Cup: Mexico, Canada win to finish 1st, 2nd in Group A (video)

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group A play at the 2019 Gold Cup…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Martinique 2-3 Mexico

Mexico fought off a valiant effort from a Martinique side which was more than up for the task of taking down CONCACAF’s premier giant before falling just short of securing their first Gold Cup point since 2002 (appeared in four of six tournaments since then). Mexico secured a first-place finish in Group A with a perfect record of nine points from three games and will face the runner-up from Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

Uriel Antuna opened the scoring with a slow-rolling finish in the 29th minute, but Les Matinino drew level through Kevin Parsemain’s stunning, inch-perfect free kick in the 56th.

Raul Jimenez tapped Rodolfo Pizarro’s cross into a wide open goal to put Mexico back in front in the 61st, followed by a third from Fernando Navarro 11 minutes later.

Martinique refused to go away, though, as Seattle Sounders defender Jordy Delem headed home while left criminally unmarked inside the box to cut the lead back to one.

[ COPA AMERICA: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video) ]

Canada 7-0 Cuba

For the second time in three games this tournament, Cuba suffered a 7-0 drubbing — this time at the hands of Canada, who finished second and will face the winner of Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

19-year-old forward Jonathan David, who plays for Belgian side Gent, bagged a hat trick (3rd, 71st and 77th minutes), as did fellow forward Lucas Cavallini (21st, 43rd and 45th), to go with a measly singular goal from Junior Hoilett in the 50th.

Monday’s Gold Cup schedule

Bermuda v. Nicaragua — 6:30 p.m. ET
Costa Rica v. Haiti — 8:30 p.m. ET

Copa America: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video)

Leave a comment

A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group B play at the 2019 Copa America in Brazil…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Qatar 0-2 Argentina

Argentina bounced back from a defeat and a draw in their first two games to avoid what would have been an indefensible disaster — failing to advance from the group — by beating Qatar 2-0 in the two sides’ Group B finale.

Lautaro Martinez scored what turned out to be the game-winner after just four minutes. Qatar attempted to play the ball out of the back, but a pass from a Qatari defender was badly mishit and went straight to Martinez, who was quick to corral the ball and run it down for a one-time finish from just inside the box.

Sergio Aguero put the game to bed with a brilliant individual goal in the 82nd minute. After receiving the ball 40 yards from goal, Aguero bust forward and went past two defenders in a flash before picking out a small window to hit with his left-footed finish from 12 yards out.

Up next for Lionel Messi and Co., is a quarterfinal tangle with Venezuela.

Colombia 1-0 Paraguay

Having already secured a place in the quarters, Colombia finished group play with a perfect nine-point record and locked up first place in the group edging past Paraguay.

Gustavo Cuellar bagged the game’s only goal in the 31st minute, when he snuck the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs from an impossibly tight angle.

Colombia finished Group B with three victories, by way of four goals scored and zero goals conceded.

Monday’s Copa America schedule

Chile v. Ecuador — 7 p.m. ET
Ecuador v. Japan — 7 p.m. ET

AFCON: Senegal start with win despite missing Mane

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
Leave a comment

Senegal reinforced its status as one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations by starting its campaign in Egypt with a 2-0 win over Tanzania on Sunday.

Senegal didn’t miss forward Sadio Mane, who was suspended for the game, as it opened with a solid display in Cairo.

Playing just his second competitive game for his country, Krepin Diatta powered in a shot from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half. Senegal would have won the Group C game by much more if it had been just a little sharper in front of goal.

Tanzania goalkeeper Aishi Manula also helped keep the score down.

Keita Balde got the first goal in the 28th minute after finishing off an intricate attack – which swept from one side of the field to the other – by driving his shot into the bottom corner.

Mane missed the game with a suspension for two yellow cards he received in qualifying.

Senegal, host Egypt and Nigeria are seen as the strongest contenders for the title, although Senegal has played more African Cups (15) than any other team without winning the championship.

Senegal is the No. 1 team in Africa while Tanzania is the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament. It’s making just its second appearance at the African Cup and first since 1981.

Also in Group C, Riyad Mahrez scored the second goal as Algeria began its campaign with a 2-0 win over Kenya, which qualified for the first time since 2004.

Baghdad Bounedjah slotted a penalty for Algeria after Aissa Mandi cut into the area from the right flank and was sliced down. Mahrez added the second before halftime. His first-time shot from a cross was heading for the bottom right corner of the Kenyan net, deflected off a defender, and ended up in the bottom left.

Content with 2-0, Algeria shut the game down in the second half and had little trouble in holding off the Kenyans.

But meetings with minnows have provided early headaches for some of the other top teams in the first three days of action in Egypt. The home team struggled to break down Zimbabwe, Uganda surprised Congo 2-0 and Nigeria needed a late goal to finally beat tournament debutant Burundi, the lowest-ranked team to make it to Egypt. Guinea was held 2-2 by Madagascar, another team making its first appearance.

The trend continued in Sunday’s first game. Morocco got lucky and escaped with a 1-0 victory over Namibia in Group D when Itamunua Keimune scored an own goal in the 89th minute.

“The first game is always difficult,” Morocco’s M’barak Boussoufa said. “We are happy to win, even by a slim margin.”

Striker Keimune was at the wrong end of the field and trying to clear a free kick from Hakim Ziyech. Apparently uncertain whether to kick or head the ball, all he did was divert it into his own net with a minute to go. Bitterly disappointed, Namibia’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle and were consoled by members of their coaching staff.

“We deserved a draw,” Namibia coach Ricardo Manetti said.

The Morocco-Namibia group is arguably the toughest at the African Cup, with 2015 champion Ivory Coast and South Africa the other two teams. They meet on Monday.

Morocco plays Ivory Coast in its next game, when Morocco coach Herve Renard comes up against the country he coached to the title in 2015.

“We have to get ready for that,” Renard said.

Abraham, Chelsea youngsters ‘buzzing’ for chance amid transfer ban

Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea has never been a club known for building a first-team squad full of young players from the club’s youth academy — at least not in the Roman Abramovich era — but the Blues will have no choice other than to rely upon a handful of youngsters amid the club’s season-long transfer ban.

[ MORE: Pulisic admits hint of satisfying revenge in win over T&T ]

The prospect of regular playing time — even under such circumstances — has the likes of 21-year-old forward Tammy Abraham, among others, “buzzing” at the chance to make their mark and secure an important place at the club for the foreseeable future. There’s also the matter of hiring a new manager ahead of the 2019-20 season, which will afford every player, young or old, a clean slate — quotes from the Guardian:

“This year is the most important year for us. It is now or never. There will never be a better time to play the youngsters. Of course the transfer ban is probably not what the club wanted, but for us it is exciting. I am excited and I am sure the rest of the players are.

“There is a great chance for us young players, so we must get our heads down in training and go for it at Chelsea. I have already been talking to the club about preseason. I’m going to have a couple of weeks and then come back hitting the ground running. There is no better time for a young player to be at Chelsea. I am going to give it my all. With a new manager coming in, there is no better time to show what I am made of in preseason. I am just buzzing at the thought of the new season.”

It’s obviously a bit odd to hear a player speak so positively, and freely, about something as bleak as a transfer ban – especially when you consider the decaying state of Chelsea’s current squad — but perhaps more so is the disconnect which appears to exist between the club’s academy setup and the folks who sanction expensive transfer after expensive transfer rather than giving those young players a chance.

Abraham, who spent last season on loan at Aston Villa and scored 25 goals in the EFL Championship, sees himself, and anyone else who gets a chance due to the transfer ban, as potential agents of change for future classes of academy kids.

“Maybe it will change. Hopefully. Chelsea has always had a great academy. They have lacked playing them and taking them to the next level. You see the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who on the borderline have done that. We have excellent players still there and coming through who are still Chelsea players so fingers crossed if it all goes well it changes the mindset. I got thousands of messages from Chelsea fans on Instagram saying play him, play him. It is nice to have that behind you, knowing the supporters have your back. They believe in you as well. Clearly I was doing something right. Fingers crossed it all happens.”