Chelsea, Arsenal offer both hope and despair

Leave a comment

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.

Robben claims Anfield to be his “worst stadium”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What goes up must come down.

That’s essentially what Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben said before the German side heads to Liverpool to take on the Reds in Champions League play this coming week.

“You always have your favourite opponent and there always has to be a negative one,” Robben said to The Guardian. “I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool.”

Robben had a pair of Champions League heartbreaks at Anfield, both coming with Chelsea in 2005 and again in 2007. In the latter, Robben had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina in the shootout that sent the Reds to the final against AC Milan.

“At that time [Liverpool] were really capable of being this cup fighter team, also in the FA Cup or [League] Cup,” Robben said of those difficult memories. “In one or two games they could really live up to it and perform; just not the whole season, which was maybe too much. That was their biggest quality: they were there at the moment they needed to be there.”

“Now I think it changed and they developed really well. The manager has done a great job.”

Robben is a doubt to even play in the match due to a thigh injury, and that will probably help Jurgen Klopp sleep at night. The German boss saw Robben score nine goals against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund across all competitions, including the decisive goal in the 2013 Champions League final in the 89th minute.

PSG chasing another kid named Kylian Mbappe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What’s in a name? Probably a lot for the 11-year-old named Kylian Mbappe whom Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly interested in signing.

While his older namesake is hailed as the best young player in the world playing for PSG’s senior team and the world champion French national team, younger Kylian Mbappe currently plays for Roissy-en-Brie, the same youth club Paul Pogba played for as a young child before moving to Le Havre’s youth system and then Manchester United.

According to the child’s father, PSG has made an approach to add him to their youth ranks, but the family is taking its time to make a decision about Mbappe’s future.

“He will do what he wants and we will not push him at all costs to become a professional footballer,” said the boy’s father Eric, who is Cameroonian, just like the father of older Kylian Mbappe. “If it is the case that he goes to PSG, who have approached us, we would of course become closer to the other Kylian.”

“I have often been asked if I did it on purpose to call my son what his name is,” Eric added, speaking to French publication Le Parisien. “People quickly forget that there is only an 8-year age difference between the two and so obviously he was not a footballer when my son was born.”

Child Kylian said, “Since the other one became big, I have got used to it. I don’t even pay attention to it even if it generally makes me feel good. I am a PSG fan, I would like to have the same career as him.”

Wouldn’t we all, Kylian, wouldn’t we all.

Balotelli scores again for new club Marseille

OM_English on Twitter
Leave a comment

Mario Balotelli sure does love joining a new club.

Balotelli scored in just his second professional match with Inter in 2008. He scored a winner in his first Manchester City appearance in 2010 in Europa League play and bagged a brace in his second Premier League start. He scored seven goals in his first six league matches with AC Milan in 2013. He scored five goals in his first three Ligue 1 appearances for Nice. And now, after signing for Olympique Marseille in the winter transfer window, he is on a tear again.

Despite failing to find the back of the net the entire first half of the season as his Nice career came to a close, in four appearances for Marseille since joining in late January, Balotelli has scored three goals, his latest coming on Saturday as Marseille topped Amiens 2-0 to move above St. Etienne into fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

The 30-year-old Italian is clearly loving life at the Stade Velodrome, as he poked fun at his own teammate with his goal celebration. Florian Thauvin had scored the opener 19 minutes in, but pulled up lame after striking his shot, muting the celebration somewhat. He managed to stay in the game, and when Balotelli scored just six minutes later, he began to mock Thauvin’s injury by pretending his own hamstring was hurt. Thauvin was loving the joke, even joining in to poke fun at himself.

While it’s been an up and down season for Marseille as they fight for their Champions League lives, the club has won three in a row ahead of absolutely critical matches against Stade Rennais and St. Etienne on the horizon. The club then hosts Nice, Balotelli’s old club, where he enjoyed a fabulous start to his time there which served as a sort of revival for the Italian after struggles at Liverpool and AC Milan.

It remains to be seen if Balotelli can enjoy an extended stay at Marseille and prolong his success or if it is just a flash in the pan, but he’s obviously become an important figure in the moment, and Balotelli has always been about the moment.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.