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Three things we learned from Arsenal, Chelsea

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalty kicks at Wembley on Sunday to clinch the FA Community Shield in the curtain-raiser for the 2017-18 season.

Victor Moses‘ goal less than a minute into the second half put Chelsea ahead but Arsenal equalized late on with Sead Kolasinac heading home moments after Pedro was sent off for Chelsea.

The game went straight to penalty kicks, using the new ABBA system, after it ended 1-1 in normal time and Arsenal scored all four of their penalty kicks with Thibaut Courtois smashing over and Alvaro Morata scuffing wide for Chelsea.

Arsenal impressed for plenty of the game as new signing Alexandre Lacazette hit the post and Danny Welbeck also caused plenty of problems.

In the end Arsene Wenger got the better of Antonio Conte once again as Arsenal picked up the first piece of silverware of the season and beat Chelsea at Wembley just like they did in May to win the FA Cup.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley on a sunny Sunday less than a week before the new Premier League season begins.


LACAZETTE, WELBECK PROMISE PLENTY

Without Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in their squad, you could forgive Arsenal for looking lackluster in attack. That wasn’t the case.

New club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette displayed enough energy, ability to find pockets of space and ingenuity to suggest the $68.7 million Arsenal paid for Lyon is money well spent.

Lacazette know as “La Gachette” or the Trigger in France sparked a wonderful counter attack in the 22nd minute, spinning away from his marker to link up with Hector Bellerin and then Danny Welbeck in a sweeping move from right to left which ended with Lacazette composing himself before sending a curled effort which cannoned off the post and out. You could be forgiven for thinking a former French international striker was back on the pitch for the Gunners.

Thierry Henry comparisons aside, Lacazette, 26, is in his prime and appears to be exactly what Arsenal have needed ever since Robin Van Persie departed in 2012. He is more than just a pure finisher with plenty of tracking back and dropping deep to get on the ball, cutting in from wide positions, but “Trigger” also had a wiling runner alongside him in Welbeck who he could link up with and he also provided Chelsea plenty of problems with his runs in-behind.

In a summer dominated by the future’s of Sanchez and Ozil, Arsene Wenger may well have found his new strike partnership mid all the fuss. With Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott all able to play centrally too, the Gunners have plenty of fine attacking options heading into the season. On this showing Lacazette and Welbeck may provide the best balance with Ozil and Sanchez battling for places to support them. Of course they’ll both play, but adding them to the starting lineup and keeping the balance of their attack will be an intriguing dilemma for Wenger.

With Shkodran Mustafi, Sanchez, Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to come into this team, the Gunners’ squad is looking incredibly strong. With Kolasinac jumping off the bench to head home a late equalizer they have another solid option in defense too and since switching to a 3-4-3 formation seem more sturdy and have a knack of digging out results.

Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will surprise plenty this season with a squad big enough to have two different teams in the PL and the Europa League. Expectations are perhaps lower than ever among Arsenal’s fans which is a strange thing, but maybe it will help them flourish.


CHELSEA SLUGGISH

For most of the first half Chelsea struggled to connect passes, put themselves under pressure in defense and took loose touches in the final third. Antonio Conte’s lacked sharpness in the first half but soon came alive in the second with Moses gambling off Gary Cahill‘s flick to finish well.

That woke Chelsea up and just as we saw last season when opponents pushed hard to get back into the game, Chelsea began to pick Arsenal off on the counter with N'Golo Kante running the counters from midfield.

Overall it was a groggy display and far from vintage as Chelsea missed the creative spark of the injured Eden Hazard and the guile of soon to depart Diego Costa. For much of preseason that’s been the case for Conte’s side with new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata not starting on Sunday at Wembley.

Bakayoko is working his way back to full fitness, while Rudiger and Morata are slotting in after arriving late in preseason. With Bakayoko, Morata and Hazard all likely to become starters in this team, Conte knows his Chelsea side a month from now will be very different to the one which recovered from a sluggish start at Wembley on Sunday. They were perhaps aided by Per Mertesacker‘s head injury which forced Arsenal into a defensive reshuffle, but as they game wore on you could see their ruthless streak returning.

Then came a minute of madness as Pedro received a straight red card and they then switched off to allow Kolasniac to head home from a set piece situation, something which hurt the Blues during their title-winning campaign. Courtois and Morata then missed their penalty kicks with more lapses of concentration which will leave Conte wide-awake for a few nights ahead of the new season.

The reigning champs can’t afford to start the season as sluggishly as they started, and finished, the Community Shield.


MORATA’S ABSENCE TELLING

In the week Antonio Conte revealed that Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s club-record signing who is supposed to deliver the goals lost from Diego Costa’s impending departure, “has to improve his condition a lot to adapt quickly into our team.”

Morata, 24, played for Conte at Juventus and knows what the Italian coach is all about, but it appears the early signs for him at Chelsea haven’t been great.

With Michy Batshuayi a bystander for most of this game, it’s clear he will be nothing more than a second central striking option for Chelsea this season. Morata replaced Batshuayi with 20 minutes to go and received a standing ovation from Chelsea’s supporters. The expectancy on his shoulders is clear.

Conte will rely on the towering Spaniard to score at least 20 goals and he showed his penchant for that as he first peeled off Arsenal’s defense and connected with Willian‘s searching cross to the far post but he couldn’t get a proper connection on it.

In stoppage time he then won a free kick cleverly and from the resulting set piece he nodded Cesc Fabregas’ cross wide but was offside. Morata looked lively but you can understand why Conte seems concerned about his fitness.

His scuffed penalty kick summed up his slack start to life at Stamford Bridge for the $90 million man.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clarke is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clarke has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

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Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earned promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen have impressed, while both Hibernian and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998. He was also assistant coach under Jose Mourinho and played a key role in some of their most successful seasons.