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NASL roundup: NY Cosmos, RailHawks win to kick off 2016 season

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A roundup of all the action on the opening weekend of the 2016 North American Soccer League season…

New York Cosmos 3-0 Ottawa Fury

Juan Arango bagged a brace, one of which was assisted by former Columbus Crew and D.C. United striker Jairo Arrieta, as the defending champion (and winners of two of the last three years) Cosmos kicked off their defense of the Soccer Bowl crown in Sunday’s rematch of last year’s title game. Former MLS (Crew, Portland Timbers, Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas — exactly one-fourth of the league’s current 20 teams) midfielder Adam Moffat scored the other.

Carolina RailHawks 2-1 Minnesota United

Ty Shipalane and Austin da Luz scored 13 minutes apart before the half-hour mark, canceling out Christian Ramirez’s 2nd-minute opener for the future MLS side (coming in 2017) from Minnesota.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1-1 Miami FC

Former MLS (Chivas USA, Toronto FC, FC Dallas, D.C. United and Chicago Fire — another one-fourth-teamer) striker Maicon Santos converted a 94th-minute penalty kick to equalize and snatch a point in the first between two South Florida sides. Dario Cvitanich had put the expansion Miami FC, which features former Premier League (Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City) midfielder Wilson Palacios, ahead from the spot after just 12 minutes.

Elsewhere in NASL

Rayo OKC 0-0 FC Edmonton
Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-0 Indy Eleven

Next week’s NASL schedule

Indy Eleven vs. Ottawa Fury (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Miami FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)
Rayo OKC vs. Carolina RailHawks (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)
FC Edmonton vs. Minnesota United (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET)
New York Cosmos vs. Jacksonvilla Armada (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Roma goalkeeper Szczesny calls rout to Barcelona “beautiful”

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Roma was trounced by Barcelona 6-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday, and while the Italians will have to pick up the pieces and continue the battle for second place in Group E, one player is still peeking back at the destruction.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, on loan from Arsenal, played the full 90 minutes  on the losing side and while he has struggled to cope with the massive defeat, he also appreciates what he saw – what all of us saw.

“It was beautiful to watch because we played against a team from another planet,” Szczesny told BT Sport after the game. “I was in goal playing for Roma but I appreciated what I saw from Barcelona. They were ridiculously good. As hard as it is to lose 6-1 it was beautiful to watch.”

Under normal circumstances, this would not be an appropriate reaction for the losing team to have. These are not normal circumstances. This Barcelona team is anything but normal. In fact, it might be one of the most dominant teams we have seen in recent memory.

[ RELATED: How can Chelsea qualify for knockout stage? ]

Szczesny wasn’t the only Roma player to feel Barcelona’s wrath. Defender Maicon told BT Sport, “We were lucky to lose only 6-1 actually.”

Even without an injured Lionel Messi, Barcelona has torn up La Liga and the world. They suffered a 2-1 loss to Sevilla in Messi’s first game out, but went on to win their next five league games by a combined 17-3 score. Neymar scored eight of those 17, while Luis Suarez scored another eight himself. Tack on a pair of Champions League wins without Messi by a 5-0 combined score (both against BATE Borisov) and it’s been total domination.

Now with Messi back, it’s completely unfair. The Argentinian bagged a brace against Roma along with Suarez, while Neymar remained a force out on the left.

UCL roundup: Chelsea, Arsenal both fall as PL struggles continue

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The Premier League’s poor form in Europe continued today with both Chelsea and Arsenal falling in group play, as English clubs have now lost five matches out of six in the Champions League this season.

Porto 2-1 ChelseaMORE

Jose Mourinho’s return to Portugal was spoiled by his former club, as Chelsea was downed 2-1 by FC Porto. Andre Andre scored on a rebound to put the hosts ahead, but Willian curled in a brilliant free kick at the brink of halftime to level for Chelsea. However, Porto regained the lead quickly after the break as Maicon‘s near-post header from a corner kick beat Asmir Begovic to sink the Blues, who have now lost five of their first ten matches in all competitions.

Arsenal 2-3 OlympiacosMORE

Arsenal sits at the bottom of Group F with zero points through two matches following a disappointing defeat to Greek side Olympiacos at the Emirates today. The Gunners rallied in the second half to tie things up at two, but Olympiacos marched up the pitch to find a game winner just seconds after Arsenal had equalized. However, the biggest talking point of the match came in the first half, when a blunder by keeper David Ospina handed the visitors a goal as Arsenal is in big, big trouble moving forward.

Bayern Munich 5-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Bayern Munich was up 4-0 within the opening 30 minutes, and Robert Lewandowski was at it again. After scoring seven goals in two matches last week, including a five-goal haul against Wolfsburg, the Polish striker grabbed a hat-trick today to bring his total to ten goals in three games. He’s scored ten of Bayern’s last 13 goals, as Pep Guardiola’s stellar form at home continues.

Barcelona 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Barcelona managed a late comeback in their first match without Lionel Messi, scoring twice in the final ten minutes to defeat German side Bayer Leverkusen. Leverkusen took the lead in the first half through a header from Kyriakos Papadopoulos, but quick goals from Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez late in the match gave all three points to Barca.

[ MORE: Champions League standings | Schedule ]

BATE Borisov 3-2 Roma

After battling to a draw against Barcelona in the opening match of group play, Roma was stunned in Belarus today, losing 3-2 to BATE Borisov. BATE jumped out to a three goal lead in the opening half-hour, putting Roma in a massive hole. The Italians would pull back two goals in the second half, but were unable grab a share of the points.

Elsewhere in UCL play

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Dynamo Kyiv
Zenit St. Petersburg 2-1 Gent
Lyon 0-1 Valencia

Defensive woes, tinkering hurting Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea

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In truth, a 2-1 defeat away to Portuguese giants who haven’t conceded a goal at the Estadio do Dragao since December 2014 isn’t an awful result.

[ VIDEO: Willian’s stunning free kick ]

But given Chelsea’s current plight of five defeats in their opening 10 games of the 2015-16 campaign, the UEFA Champions League defeat to FC Porto on Tuesday was another nightmare for Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: UCL roundup – Barca fight back; Bayern run riot ]

Visiting his former club — where he made his name as a manager after leading Porto to UCL glory in 2004 — Mourinho tinkered with his team and left John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard on the bench.

Out of those, Hazard’s omission was the most surprising Even if the PFA Player of the Year for 2014-15 has yet to recapture the form which saw him rip apart opponents over the past 12 months, leaving the Belgian winger on the bench hurt Chelsea. His wife had given birth in the build up to this game, but Mourinho’s decision to leave out his star playmaker had an impact on his side driving forward from midfield. Overall, Chelsea looked dangerous at times in attack but it was at the back where they once again struggled.

Asked by reporters afterwards if he knew his best team, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

“When you win matches, you perform well, it is easy to know your best team,” Mourinho said. “When the team is not winning on a regular basis it is normal that you have to make changes. After games like tonight it is difficult to analyse.”

[ MORE: Arsenal in shock loss to Olympiakos ]

In defense it is rather easy to analyze. That solid block of four defenders and two midfielders in front has evaporated. Without Terry leading the Blues in to battle, too many sloppy goals are being conceded from set pieces as opponents can get at Chelsea much easier than they ever did last season. Even when the Blues didn’t play well last year, they didn’t look anywhere near as vulnerable at the back as they have through the opening two months of this season. Chelsea lost just four times in 54 games in all competitions last season. They have lost that many in their opening 10 games in all competitions this season, conceding 17 times so far. 

Quite how Branislav Ivanovic continues to start week in, week out for Chelsea is baffling. The Serbian international is going through a terrible time at right back as he was run-ragged by yet another winger. Yacine Brahimi cut in from the right, passed a dumbstruck Ivanovic, and forced Asmir Begovic into a brilliant save but the ball dropped to Andre Andre to score Porto’s opener. Ivanovic was skinned time and time again by Brahimi as he cut inside on his right foot from the left flank, and now must finally be the time Mourinho hooks Ivanovic from the starting lineup.

Terry’s absence in central defense continues to defy belief. He has now sat on the bench for four of the last five games in all competitions. When it comes to Chelsea’s skipper, you can’t help but think that the legendary defender would have organized the defense better as Porto won the game with Maicon‘s header from a set piece. It was a stunning finish from Porto’s skipper but with no player guarding the near post, Ramires not tight enough and the brilliant Begovic a little slow to react, Terry’s absence was missed on multiple occasions as Porto also hit the post with a Helio Pereira header in similar circumstances.

Speaking after the game, Mourinho slammed Chelsea’s defensive lapses.

“We watch dozens and dozens of repetitions of Porto taking corners We were completely ready for that and in a moment when the game is under control we concede a goal that is ridiculous,” Mourinho said. “They hit the post from a similar mistake. Apart from that the game was balanced. Two ridiculous moments and we were punished.”

The only bright spark was that Willian scored a stunning free kick on the stroke of half time, plus Diego Costa — able to play as his retrospective three-match ban for striking Laurent Koscielny in the face last weekend only applies to domestic games in England — looked sharp throughout as he hit the crossbar with a magical curling, dipping effort which beat Iker Casillas all ends up. Costa also should have won Chelsea a late penalty as Marcano denied the Spanish international with a handball in the box. That was something Mourinho called a “clear penalty” as the Portuguese boss defended his sides display and said two mistakes cost them on his return to his homeland.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Was it defensive mistakes or Mourinho’s tinkering which cost Chelsea in Porto? Like most of their five defeats so far this season, a combination of both would be the answer. As we enter October, the defending PL champs still can’t string a run of positive results together and it’s time for Mourinho to stop the tinkering and bring back the defensive unit (despite Kurt Zouma‘s rapid development into Terry’s long-term successor) that conceded the fewest goals in the PL last season. It was the foundation Chelsea built its success on and, right now at least, it is the Achilles heel which is hampering them at home and in Europe.