Chelsea hammer out 2-1 victory over Barcelona

Chelsea's Tammy Abraham scores a goal against Barcelona's goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen during their friendly soccer match in Saitama, Japan. (AP)
Updated 23 July 2019

Chelsea hammer out 2-1 victory over Barcelona

  • Prized recruits Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong make debut for Barca

SAITAMA, JAPAN: Goals from Tammy Abraham and Ross Barkley saw Chelsea grab a 2-1 victory against Barcelona on Tuesday in an exhibition match in Japan.

World Cup-winning French striker Antoine Griezmann and former Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong made their unofficial debut for the Spanish giants, pleasing some 51,126 fans who cheered every move during the star-studded game.

Chelsea striker Abraham opened the scoring in the 34th minute by pouncing on a mistake by Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets who attempted to clear the ball.

But with Chelsea midfielder Jorginho applying pressure, the ball rolled toward Abraham who only had to step past rushing goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and gently send it into the net.

Chelsea coach Frank Lampard was all praise for his young striker.

“Tammy, he is a goal scorer. He is hungry for goals,” he said.

Despite facing a transfer ban, Lampard said Chelsea’s two-game tour in Japan showed he had a “competitive” and “determined” team.

“What I have learned about players was that they are a good strong group, a determined group. I am very happy,” he said.

“There is more work to do but it’s been a good trip. It’s been positive in all senses,” he said.

Minutes after the first goal, Chelsea midfielder Christian Pulisic showed off his speed and footwork to infiltrate the Barca defense, but his left footer went just wide.

Barcelona went on the offensive in the second half, with substitute striker Carles Perez leading the way.

But superb saves by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga repeatedly denied Barca any attempt to equalize.

In the 55th minute Perez zipped past three Chelsea defenders but his left toe kick finish was not good enough to get past Arrizabalaga.

A few minutes later, he dashed deep into the left side to feed a high-speed cross to striker Malcom, but Arrizabalaga again denied them.

Chelsea made it 2-0 with less than 10 minutes left as midfielder Barkley picked up a cross in front of the box and curled it into the net, with substitute keeper Neto getting a touch but unable to block it.

Just before injury time, Barcelona got a free kick just outside the box but midfielder Ivan Rakitic’s shot went above the bar.

Rakitic however quickly redeemed himself in injury time, picking up a cross and firing a lightning right footer that went deep into the net for a consolation goal for Barcelona.

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, echoing Lampard, said the match was a good test that showed signs of excellence as well as areas to improve.

Valverde was tightlipped about whether they were moving to acquire Neymar from French side Paris Saint-Germain.

But he has high hopes for Griezmann, whose €120 million ($135 million) transfer was contested by Atletico.

Griezmann “needs to get used to the team and how we play.”

“But he proved himself as a dangerous player on the ball. He has a lot of ideas,” Valverde said through a translator.

“This is only his debut game. He will have to fit into Barca’s style. I am sure he will become better and better.”

Griezmann said he hoped to shine at his new club.

“Personally, I want to play in many games, score more goals than the last season, more assists than last season,” he said through a translator, adding that he had his eye on a “big title.” The Spanish giants will play a friendly on Saturday against Japan’s Vissel Kobe, who feature ex-Barca players Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper.


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."