Maurizio Sarri sets sights on Liverpool after West Ham stifle Chelsea

Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Maurizio Sarri sets sights on Liverpool after West Ham stifle Chelsea

LONDON: Maurizio Sarri laughed off suggestions that next week’s summit meeting with Liverpool is a “must-win” game after seeing Chelsea’s 100 percent Premier League record ended by stubborn West Ham in a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
Chelsea had won all five of their league matches before the weekend, going toe to toe with Liverpool, who beat Southampton on Saturday to make it six wins out of six.
The visitors enjoyed 72 percent of possession at the London Stadium but failed to break down a determined West Ham side, who created enough clear-cut chances to win the game themselves.
Sarri said West Ham, who beat Everton last week after losing their first four league games of the season, had been tough opponents, adding that his team needed to find a way to move the ball more quickly.
Turning his thoughts to Saturday’s match against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, Sarri, in his first season in the job, said it would be tough to compete with a side that had been developing for three years under Jurgen Klopp.
“They are a step forward than us in this moment,” he said. “We have started to work all together 35, 40 days ago.
“So for us I think it’s a bit early. We have to work. We need to improve and then maybe in one year we will be at the same level of Liverpool.”
The Chelsea boss said he was unsure how many changes he would make for the midweek third-round League Cup tie, also against Liverpool.
Olivier Giroud won his battle with Alvaro Morata for a starting spot up front for Chelsea, keeping his place for the second Premier League match in succession.
But Marko Arnautovic, West Ham’s leading goalscorer this season, missed out after failing to recover from an injury he sustained in the victory against Everton last week.
Despite Chelsea’s control, the home side could have taken a lead against the run of play just before the half hour.
Felipe Anderson was quick to seize on a loose ball and played in Michail Antonio, who blasted over with his left foot.
That chance breathed new life into the home crowd and the players and Antonio drew a smart save from Kepa Arrizabalaga in the West Ham goal just two minutes later after a fine run from Andriy Yarmolenko.
N’Golo Kante nearly gave Chelsea the lead with a headed effort but the sides were goalless at the break.
The match fell into a similar pattern in the second half, with Chelsea dominating possession, but Giroud — picked for his more physical threat — struggled to make an impression.
The French World Cup winner was replaced 20 minutes into the second half by Morata, who went close to breaking the deadlock moments after coming on only to see Lukasz Fabianski pull off a stunning stop from close range.
With about 13 minutes to go West Ham had a wonderful chance to win the match, when the unmarked Yarmolenko headed just wide at the far post.
Fabianski pulled off another fine save as the clock ticked into injury time, diving to his left to deny substitute Ross Barkley and Willian blazed wide as Chelsea applied intense late pressure.
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has managed to stop the rot with four points from the past two matches, said his side had to make their chances count.
“When you have such clear chances against big teams you must score one of them,” he said.
“And we had three clear chances before they created one chance but you must score.”


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”