Chelsea, Arsenal offer both hope and despair

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LONDON — Encounters like this are why we love this game. Joy. Agony. Hope. Despair. This had all of that wrapped into a neat 90-minute bundle in west London.

There was so much for both Chelsea and Arsenal to be happy about after their five-goal thriller in a London derby on Saturday.

There were also plenty of red flags for both Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery in their embryonic careers as Premier League managers.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

New eras have been ushered in at both clubs, with new playing styles and ideals for their players to both embrace and perfect. That produced Jekyll and Hyde moments from both teams at Stamford Bridge in a game which thrilled the neutral but had both sets of fans ecstatic one moment, then despairing the next.

Sarri’s side were the 3-2 winners and they have two wins from two to start the season and they are top of the league. But Sarri wasn’t in a celebratory mood after the game.

“I think we have done very well for 75 minutes. 15 minutes before half time was horrible,” Sarris said. “We lost distances. We were not able to recover the lost ball immediately. We were not able press in the other half as a team. Only one player or two players at the others too far. I think the players were very good in the second half. It was not easy to answer the final part of the first half from a mental point of view.”

The Italian boss wasn’t happy with the defensive display of his team, with his hallmark of pressing high up the pitch not working as well as they coughed up a 2-0 lead in the first half and could have conceded four goals. Arsenal’s direct play out way picked Chelsea’s defense apart and that will be concerning for the former Napoli boss.

After the game Sarri was asked if Chelsea are Premier League title contenders this season.

“No, not in this moment. We did very well in the last 25 minutes today. But we have to work and improve in the defensive phase. I am not talking about only the defenders. The defensive phase of all the team, all the players,” Sarri said. “If we press very high we are able to do well but in other moments when we are not able to press in the other half we are in trouble. We have to work and we need to improve.”

“We did a lot in 75 minutes but we need to continue to press, press and press the other half. Otherwise we are in trouble in the defensive phase. We need to improve and I hope we will be able to play 90 minutes like the first 25. We must.”

As for Arsenal, their boss was happy enough with their attacking play but he is also concerned with the defensive balance as they were twice opened up by long balls over the top in the first half as center backs Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis were woefully exposed.

“We spoke before the match about the need to improve. To be competitive. To learn in the match. I think today it was a very good reaction after 2-0,” Emery said. “In the first half we created more chances in the first half to score. We created more chances to score. The second half, we conceded to Chelsea more moments to score the third goal. For that we needed the balance and our result is like that. Our process is continuing, to improve things and to do more with the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. Today we finished the match with 22 years old Lucas and 19 years old Mateo. The process is clear for us. We have a big responsibility to win the match.” 

Arsenal’s manager saw his side squander several glorious chances in the first half as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of two huge misses and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had another, but they did cause Chelsea plenty of problems with their more direct style.

But old problems, especially defensive ones, remain the greatest problem for the Gunners.

“I have calm when I see my team creating chances. I want to do the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. I think we conceded a lot today for Chelsea,” Emery said. “In the second half we need to keep and hold the control in the match with the ball, with the positioning. In the second half we lost a little the positioning on the pitch and we were a little deep.”

Overall, Emery is pleased with the progress being made and is unperturbed by two defeats from two (albeit it against Man City and Chelsea) to begin his Premier League reign.

“I’m calm. I think we need to give the players calm and keep on working. I know we need to improve things. I know we need to push the players to work,” Emery said. “For me, there are many positive things in the first match against Manchester City. It is clear we are different to them. Today the team competed well. Had chances in the match. For the young player it is a process, they are playing each match, growing up with us and the quality I am demanding.”

The new process for Chelsea and Arsenal will bring plenty of joy, and heartache, this season.

Bulgaria goalkeeper, coach on racist abuse: “England overreacted”

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Bulgaria’s goalkeeper Plamen Iliev believes their fans ‘behaved well’ in Sofia on Monday, despite the game being halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

Bulgaria’s prime minister has condemned the incidents of racism and called for the Bulgarian FA president, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign with immediate effect.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Iliev praised Bulgaria’s fans and said that England’s complaints were an overreaction.

“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”

Despite England’s players, fans and staff all hearing the abuse, plus television microphones picking up monkey chants during the game, the fact Iliev has uttered these words is truly shocking.

His manager echoed the same views, while saying that the reason Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov went over to speak to home fans at half time was probably because they weren’t playing well…

During a press conference with both managers after the game, local journalists shouted “exaggeration” when questions about the racist abuse were asked.

Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, said he heard nothing and he was shown having a heated exchange with Jordan Henderson on the pitch during the second stoppage as he’d shown signs of frustration that the game was paused.

“I personally did not hear the chanting,” Balakov said. “I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behavior was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem. During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”

With UEFA launching a full investigation into the chants and England making a formal complaint, Bulgaria can expect a hefty punishment for their latest incident of racist abuse of opposition players. A section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during EURO 2020 qualifying.

We can only hope that Iliev and Balakov apologize for these comments in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Golden Boy shortlist revealed

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The top 20 players under the age of 21 in European soccer have been announced, as the famous Golden Boy award nominees for 2019 will raise a few eyebrows.

An award dished out by Italian outlet Tuttosport, previous stars to be named Golden Boy include Raheem Sterling, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba, as Matthijs de Ligt was the winner in 2018 and is nominated once again.

Nominees must be under the age of 21 and play in one of Europe’s top-flight leagues.

Four of the 20 finalists play in the Premier League with Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Matteo Guendouzi and Moise Kean all named on the shortlist.

Alongside de Ligt, the likes of Joao Felix, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all expected to be among the favorites for the award. Felix’s rise to stardom at Benfica and Atletico Madrid will likely see him win this award.

Canada’s Alphonso Davies is a finalist as the former Vancouver Whitecaps star continues to develop at Bayern Munich.

Below is the full list of nominees for 2019, with the winner announced on December 16 as media outlets across Europe vote for the winner.


Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Matthijs de Light (Juventus)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Erling Braut Haland (RB Salzburg)
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Moise Kean (Everton)
Kang-in Lee (Valencia)
Andriy Oleksiyovych Lunin (Real Valladolid)
Donyell Malen (PSV)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Rodrygo (Real Madrid)
Jadon Sancho (BVB)
Ferran Torres (Valencia)
Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)

UEFA wants to “wage war on racists”

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reacted strongly to the racist abuse of England’s players in Bulgaria on Monday.

[ MORE: England’s players react ]

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds at Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

A section of home supporters were seen leaving their seats just before half time, covering their faces with hoods and some had shirts which said “UEFA No Respect” written on them.

UEFA will investigate the incidents in Sofia after England made a formal complaint, and this comes after section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to the racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during previous EURO 2020 qualifiers.

Ceferin called on governments and other organizations to work with them to “wage war” on racists as incidents continue to crop up across Europe.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

“More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.”

Turkish players defy UEFA with another military salute

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PARIS (AP) Turkish players defied UEFA with another military salute in Turkey’s 1-1 draw with France in their European Championship qualifier on Monday.

UEFA was already looking into Turkish players’ salutes from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.

But Turkish players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several other outfield players in giving the salute toward the crowd – in apparent support of the Turkish forces involved in the country’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.

Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.

Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, which had issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”

“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports