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Preseason Roundup: Chelsea falls, Arsenal storms, Liverpool impresses

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The preseason is soon coming to a close, and clubs are taking one final swing at getting ready for the upcoming Premier League season that begins on August 11th.

All over the world, clubs are completing tours of countries in all different time zones. First up was Chelsea, who took on Inter Milan in Singapore as part of the International Champions Cup. The Italian side handed Chelsea its second defeat of the preseason with a 2-1 win thanks to a converted penalty by former Manchester City winger Stevan Jovetic and a second-half winner from Manchester United target Ivan Perisic.

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However, the spotlight in the match was stolen by a dazzling own-goal by Inter midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, who chipped his own goalkeeper from a good 40 yards out with 16 minutes remaining. Walled off by a high Chelsea press near the mid-line, Kondogbia took a pass from Cristian Ansaldi and, facing his own net, lofted a pass meant for goalkeeper Daniele Padelli. Instead, the pass sailed, and with Padelli well out of net, he was helpless as the ball fluttered into the top-left corner.

New Blues signing Alvaro Morata started up front next to Michy Batshuyai, while fellow newcomer Antonio Rudiger came on in the second half for his Chelsea debut.


Elsewhere, Arsenal topped Benfica 5-2 thanks to a pair of goals from Theo Walcott. The Gunners took on their Portuguese opponents in London on their home turf, and saw out a topsy-turvey game. Benfica winger Franco Cervi got a brace himself, although both goals came off deflections.

Olivier Giroud also got a 63rd minute goal, with the assist coming from 17-year-old Arsenal youth product Reiss Nelson, who had a fantastic game. Alex Iwobi joined the scoring in the 70th minute The fifth Gunners score came on an own-goal by Lisandro Lopez.

New signing Sead Kolasinac was in the starting lineup and also played quite well down the left, playing a significant role in Walcott’s second. Meanwhile, the big-money buy Alexandre Lacazette began the game on the bench but came on with 15 minutes to go.


Late replacement Dominic Solanke came on the field and scored just a few minutes in as Liverpool topped Hertha Berlin 3-0 in Germany. Philippe Coutinho, despite rumors linking him to Barcelona, started the match. Divock Origi was also slated to start, but picked up an injury in warmups and was yanked for Solanke before kickoff.

The Reds new boy, who moved from Chelsea on a free transfer, looped a header over Hertha goalkeeper Rune Jarstein in the 15th minute. Giorginio Wijnaldum doubled the Reds lead with a calm, easy finish past the half-hour mark.

Mass substitutions at halftime included new signing Mohamed Salah, who continued his stellar preseason with the game’s best goal, coming in the 61st minute. Coutinho delivered a stunning long-ball from Liverpool’s own half over the top of the defense, and Salah latched on, finishing expertly with a wonderful chip.


Leicester City was downed by Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 on a goal by former Benfica and Monaco attacker Ivan Cavaleiro just a tick before the hour mark. The Foxes trotted out a strong side that featured all the regulars, including Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, and Danny Drinkwater, but were nonetheless held scoreless.


Bournemouth topped Championship side Queens Park Rangers 1-0 thanks to a goal from Jordon Ibe in the 41st minute. The former Liverpool man struggled mightily last season, but has clearly begun his preparations for the new campaign in style.

Neither new Bourmemouth signings Nathan Ake or Asmir Begovic were in the squad for the friendly.


Newcastle lost to FC Mainz 2-1 thanks to a late goal from Viktor Fisher just six minutes before the final whistle. Newcastle’s 65th minute oddity had cancelled out a 5th minute opener by Levin Oztunali. The Magpies’ goal was a weird one that came after a failed Mainz clearance and a massive deflection after Jesus Gamez’s 20-yard shot.


Later tonight, Manchester City will take on Tottenham in the International Champions Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

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It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

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The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

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Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.