European soccer news: Chelsea striking woes on show, another Ranieri masterclass

It’s another weekend of European football and, as we edge towards the end of the season, every single game feels like it has so much on the line.

Arsenal and Manchester City bounced back from their midweek Champions League exits with wins in the Premier League and FA Cup, respectively. City’s semifinal win came at the expense of Chelsea, who were once again left to rue their profligacy up front.

An Erin Cuthbert strike gave Chelsea a shock 1-0 win over reigning champions Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League, while in Italy, 72-year-old Claudio Ranieri reminded everyone of his legendary status.

Let’s get into the action.

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The lead: Chelsea’s striking woes on show

If Mauricio Pochettino keeps his job as Chelsea manager this summer, he won’t need to come up with a clever pitch to convince the club to sign a new striker — he only needs to play the tape of Saturday’s 1-0 FA Cup semifinal defeat to Manchester City.

On a different day, Nicolas Jackson would have scored one of his three golden chances and the post-match headlines would have all been about Pochettino’s tactical masterclass out-foxing City boss Pep Guardiola. Instead, he was left to talk about another missed opportunity just two months after he was last at Wembley talking about how his team should have beaten Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final.

At 22-years-old, Jackson — with pace and strength to burn — has plenty of potential, but leading the line for a club as big as Chelsea is a job for a more experienced goal-scorer. He’s got 10 goals in the Premier League this season and 13 in all competitions, but if Chelsea have ambitions to re-establish themselves as a top-six club and genuine title contender, they need to sign someone more prolific.

Saturday’s defeat to City wasn’t all down to Jackson, and there were plenty of other examples of their wastefulness, but Pochettino would be forgiven for thinking that he won’t be able to build the team he wants until he gets a better striker. — Rob Dawson

Saturday talking points around the leagues

Ranieri on the brink of delivering another calcio miracle

Claudio Ranieri, the former Leicester City manager who led his team to an incredible and improbable Premier League title in 2016 against all odds, is about to create another kind of miracle with his Cagliari side is looking good avoid relegation in Serie A. On Friday night, they got another excellent result with a point against Juventus (2-2) at home after having led 2-0 at half-time. It puts Gli Isolani 14th in the table, five points clear of the drop zone with only five games to go.

Since January, they have beaten Bologna (fourth in the table) and Atalanta (fifth), drawn with Napoli, Internazionale and Juventus. They started the season with no win in their first nine games and Ranieri offered to leave after having taken the team back up to Serie A from Serie B last season. But the players insisted for him to stay and now the 72-year-old will add another great line to his already great CV.

What about Juventus, you ask? It was another poor performance from the Bianconeri. Head coach Max Allegri, his players, and their style of football from the ancient times were all terrible with only one shot on target in the first 45 minutes. They have now only won one of their last seven league matches, taking only seven points out of 21. Juve are still third in the league, but Bologna are now just five points behind them with a game in hand, while AS Roma are nine points behind with two games in hand in fifth.

As Cagliari and Ranieri are getting ready to celebrate at the end of their campaign, it is more doom and gloom at the moment for Juventus and Allegri, under more pressure than ever and uncertain to keep his place on the bench at the end of the season. — Julien Laurens

Hayes’ Chelsea grind to shock win in Barcelona



How Chelsea disrupted Barcelona’s home dominance in UWCL semifinal win

Sophie Lawson reacts to Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League semifinal first leg.

How do you keep Barcelona from scoring? That’s been the question posed, but left unanswered, by every team the European champions have faced since the last time they drew a blank (against Wolfsburg) in April 2022. Even on the rare occasion of a loss or draw since, the Catalans have always found the back of the net, which makes Chelsea’s 1-0 win in Montjuïc on Saturday afternoon all the more impressive.

The first leg of the Champions League semifinal was one for the purists; error-strewn from the hosts, but dogged and determined from Chelsea. The attritional style of play from the English champions left Barcelona passing into cul-de-sacs and running out of ideas. Cuthbert’s well-taken goal late in the first half was all that separated the two teams come the full-time whistle, but for Chelsea it wasn’t about the glory of the strike but rather the team ethic to keep the hosts at bay throughout the match.

While Barcelona have been flying all season, easing to every domestic piece of silverware available, Chelsea have been grinding and stuttering, having lost the league cup final and being kicked-out of the FA Cup final in back-to-back games over the last month.

As Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has been so fond of saying over the years, “it’s only half-time [in the tie]” and Barcelona won’t go out without a fight. The stage is set with all eyes already cast to the second leg in London next Saturday. — Sophie Lawson

Americans Abroad

The highlight of Saturday in Europe for United States men’s national team fans happened in Italy’s second division. North Carolina native Gianluca Busio scored the game-winner for Venezia in their 2-1 win over Lecco in what could be a very important result.

With the win, Venezia moved into sole possession of third place on the Serie B table with promotion still on the line. The top two teams in Serie B are automatically promoted to the top-flight, and the third place team can either be promoted with enough points, or be placed into a multi-round playoff.

In U.S. women’s national team news, Lindsey Horan earned the free kick that resulted in Lyon’s second goal in their 3-2 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Women’s Champions League semifinals first leg.

The second leg will be worth keeping an eye on for USWNT fans: either Horan and Lyon advance, or PSG — the club of national team newbies Eva Gaetino and Korbin Albert — will move on. That second leg at Parc de Princes will be played on April 28. — Caitlin Murray

News of the day

  • Speaking ahead of Manchester United’s FA Cup semifinal against second-tier Coventry City on Sunday, Erik ten Hag has dismissed criticism of his performance as manager, saying he has never had his first-choice team available to him since taking over in the summer of 2022. “What concerns me is that in 18 months I have never had my favourite team on the pitch, that concerns me, because players are injured,” he complained.

  • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola lashed out at the FA Cup schedule after his side reached the final by beating Chelsea 1-0 on Saturday, three days after their treble bid was ended by defeat on penalties by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. “It’s unacceptable to let us play today,” Guardiola told the BBC. It’s impossible, for the health of the players. It’s not normal. It’s unacceptable — 120 minutes, the emotions of Madrid, the way we lose, honestly.”

  • Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday was particularly pleasing, coming after his team were knocked out of the Champions League in the last eight by Bayern Munich in midweek. “It was a very good response, so proud of them,” he told the BBC. “We reacted in the right way. We deserved to win the game and got another clean sheet again.”

And finally…

It did not go all Manchester City’s way in their FA Cup semifinal win over Chelsea on Saturday.

Jack Grealish, in particular, did not seem impressed with the officiating and let the fourth official know of his concerns after he was subbed off in the 66th minute.

With City in the midst of one of the tightest Premier League title races in years, Guardiola will be relying on all of his star players to be available. If Grealish attracts a ban for his act of petulance — and that’s a big if — the Manchester City boss will understandably be furious. — Mike Wise

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