Three things learned from Chelsea’s win at Bournemouth

Leave a comment

BOURNEMOUTH — Chelsea will not be stopped.

The Blues went to Bournemouth and won 3-1 on Saturday, regaining their seven-point lead atop the Premier League table after Tottenham had momentarily cut it to four.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Antonio Conte‘s men dealt with the pressure piled on them by Spurs and breezed past (in the end) a stylish yet leaky Bournemouth side to stay on track for the PL title with seven games to go.

Here’s what we learned from a sun-drenched evening down on the South Coast.


BIG BOYS DELIVER

Eden Hazard scored a sublime goal to put Chelsea 2-0 up at the Vitaliy Stadium. N'Golo Kante snapped into tackles and even had his first-ever Premier League assist. Thibaut Courtois made a stunning save early on to deny David Luiz scoring a horrendous own goal.

All of the stars who needed to step up for Chelsea did.

Bournemouth didn’t play badly, far from it. They created chances with Benik Afobe‘s shot hitting the inside of the post and coming out, plus Jack Wilshere (more on him further down) seeing plenty of the ball and creating problems for Chelsea.

Had Luiz’s nervous clearance just a minute into the game flown in, Chelsea would’ve been in for an uncomfortable encounter.

With the seven-point gap to second-place Tottenham regained for now, throughout the encounter on the south coast of England Chelsea’s fans sung”Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!”

Spurs are waiting for a Chelsea slip up but it appears the Blues will keep doing just enough to grind out wins. The magic number of wins now stands at five and it seems like Chelsea cannot be stopped. If Spurs beat West Brom next Saturday in the early game and Chelsea slip up at Manchester United next Sunday then the title race could be back on. For now, it seems over.


COSTA CONUNDRUM

Diego Costa had one of those days against Bournemouth. He’s having them a lot lately.

Chelsea’s Spanish striker has now scored just four goals in his last 13 appearances for the Blues and his slack hold up play, failure to take chances and constant tumbles seem to be infuriating Conte.

It’s true that Costa’s sublime turn set up Chelsea’s opener as he sliced his shot and it deflected off Adam Smith and in. But apart from that, a few decent bits of hold up play were the only noticeable contributions he made. Costa missed a sitter in the 55th minute as Alonso’s perfect cross from the left flank found him at the near post but he completely missed his kick. His manager stood on the sidelines holding his head in disbelief. He’s been doing that a lot lately.

With Hazard having four of Chelsea’s last seven goals in the PL, he’s carrying this team offensively. Costa isn’t contributing much and seems low on confidence following the saga which rumbled on at the end of January amid reports of a back injury, training ground bust up and a big-money move to China.

It sounds slightly harsh to say after Costa has scored 49 goals in 81 PL games for Chelsea over the past three seasons, but perhaps Conte will perhaps be eager to move him on this summer if the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata do become available.


WILSHERE WONDERFUL

Bournemouth always try to play through midfield, no matter the opposition or the obstacles before them. In midfield they have a player capable of controlling the tempo of any game on the planet: Jack Wilshere.

This was perhaps one of Wilshere’s best games in a Bournemouth shirt as he is now back in the starting lineup consistently and is at the hub of the Cherries midfield.

With his future still uncertain about next season — he’ll likely return to his parent club Arsenal but Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe wants him to stay permanently — Wilshere at least seems to be back to his best.

Flashes of brilliance throughout this game reminded us of the quality the England international possesses.

In the first half his sublime ball through to Ryan Fraser was followed up by a flicked ball with the outside of his right boot to play in Josh King for a breakaway. In the second half Wilshere clipped a ball down the line from an impossible body angle which picked out Afobe. He has the deft touches to confuse the most talented defenders and is able to caress the ball with ease, yet he does take chances in dangerous areas sometimes but is ironing out those mistakes.

Now, as has always been the case, he just needs to do it consistently and stay injury free. The next seven games will be huge for Wilshere if he can get back into the England squad this summer and then set himself up for a big season with Arsenal, Bournemouth or whoever in 2017-18.

At the age of 25 we have to stop talking about Wilshere’s potential. His class is undoubted. We just need to see it more.

WATCH: Fort Lauderdale striker scores screamer from half

Fort Lauderdale screamer
@FTLauderdaleCF
Leave a comment

Every goalkeeper could use a reminder to be wary of adventuring too far from his box, and USL League One provides us our latest lesson for backstops.

Ricky Lopez-Espin scored a terrific insurance goal for Fort Lauderdale CF on Saturday night, a marker which would stand as the difference in 2-1 defeat of Georgian outfit South Tormenta FC.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid confirms positive COVID tests ]

The win pulls FLCF, first called Inter Miami II, off the bottom of the League One table early in this restarted season.

It was quite a hit, a turnover near midfield allowing Lopez-Espin the chance to spy the keeper off his line and rip a rocket out of reach.

Miami-born Lopez-Espin played college soccer at Creighton and was a Real Salt Lake draft pick. The 24-year-old played twice for RSL and later suited up for Real Monarchs and Lansing Ignite.

Two positive COVID tests for Atletico Madrid ahead of Champions League

Atletico Madrid coronavirus
Photo by Rubén de la Fuente Pérez/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid announced two positive coronavirus tests from its crew set to travel to Portugal for this week’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

The team says it will test all of its players and staff again to assure that there are no positive COVID-19 cases affecting the tournament.

Atleti asked for extreme privacy regarding the individuals who tested positive.

The match with RB Leipzig is Thursday in Lisbon, the second of four quarterfinals on the docket.

The positive tests are a stark reminder that while the top leagues in European soccer have done a very good job at isolating and keeping tests down, an incredibly contagious virus like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the competition at any time.

From Atleti’s web site, via Sky Sports:

“Today, two positives appeared among the known results, which are now isolated in their respective homes and were reported immediately to the Spanish and Portuguese health authorities, UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Federation and the Superior Council of Sports.

“As such, a corresponding protocol planned for these circumstances has been activated, which requires new tests to be undertaken to first team players, members of the Lisbon travelling party and those who are in close contact with the positive cases, and which will result in changes in the timings of training sessions, in the structure and development of the journey and the accommodation in the Portuguese capital.”

Atalanta plays PSG on Wednesday, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich meet Friday, and Man City battles Lyon on Saturday.

It will feel like smooth sailing once the tournament begins and players hit the proverbial bubble. Until then, though, this proves that there are no guarantees.

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

Leave a comment

Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.