FC Barcelona v FC Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Semi Final

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Chelsea 2 (3), at Barcelona 2 (2)

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Man of the Match: Nothing against Ramires, who gave a man of the match performance with his first half goal and stellar defending, but Petr Cech needs some recognition. He only had five saves (after 11 last week), but three of them were point blank chances that nobody would have faulted him for conceding. Over the course of two legs, Chelsea would have been embarrassed without him. But that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, and that’s why some insist he’s still amongst the world’s best at his position.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • If anybody tells you Chelsea got lucky, print this out post out, crumple it up, and invite them to consume it. Chelsea saw their right center back leave early and their left center back (and captain) commit a random act of stupidity to get excused. They played an hour down a man, found two goals within that span, and deservedly go on to Munich.
  • In addition to Ramires and Cech, Frank Lampard again stood out. Another assist (on the Ramires goal), impeccable positioning, and he always found another gear to get up and provide a ball for a counter, even though he was often dropping to be the deepest  midfielder.
  • John Terry embarrassed himself today. I’m sure he won’t see it any differently. His knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez should have cost his team the game. He deservedly misses the final. Surely, he knows he let his team down. Thankfully the hurdle he erected only accentuates the brilliance of this teammates’ performances.
  • Didier Drogba again worked himself into the ground. He couldn’t make it to 90 this week, but throughout the second half he was perpetually tracking deep into Chelsea’s third, be it to help dig balls out of the corners or to provide help in the air. If he wasn’t so willing to get back up top when Chelsea were trying to come out of their end, he might have lasted longer.
  • But for all of Chelsea’s virtues, this was still Barcelona’s game to win. They played up a man for two-thirds of it and managed to generate two goals. However, their defense failed them again on the Ramires’ goal. Pep Guardiola is left to wonder if re-inverting the pyramid cost him a chance to defend Barça’s European title.
  • Chelsea’s biggest battle might have been won before the match when they convinced somebody to step into Lionel Messi’s boots and pose as the all-world attacker. The Messi we saw on Tuesday missed a number of chances we’ve seen the real Messi convert time and time again throughout this record-setting year. Most are going to remember the penalty kick Messi put off the bar early in the second half, but there were other chances, particularly in the first, that he could have converted.
  • That is not to say Messi was terrible. He assisted on the second goal and forced Cech into two incredible stops (one on each side of half). However, his decision-making in the final 15 minutes was really poor. He always played one too many passes, invariably giving Chelsea that extra split-second to catch up to the play. The only time he ventured a speculative shot on goal, he found the post.
  • But that advice could have been given to the entire Barcelona team: Just shoot the ball, already.
  • Gerard Piqué, reinserted into the lineup after sitting on the bench in London, left early and was taken to a local hospital for tests after an early collision with Victor Valdes. He reportedly is fine, but Barcelona definitely could have used him at the end of the today’s game.
  • Barcelona couldn’t have asked for anything more from this game. Penalty kick, man advantage, and plenty of good chances – they wasted it all. Now, they’re left with the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Even if they win it, this year will not be remember for what wasn’t. The team desperately needs to find some other options if they’re to meet their expectations.
  • For Chelsea, what looked like a throwaway season after the sacking of André Villas-Boas now has Roman Abramovich within 90 minutes of his biggest prize. They’ll face either a home team (Bayern Munich) or the man who has defined their team (Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid). They’ll need to get Gary Cahill and David Luiz healthy, because John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are going to be suspended (along with Raul Meireles and Ramires).
  • Want to re-live the fun? Here’s PST’s play-by-play. Just ignore that part of the first half where Chrome locked up on my and I had to dust off Firefox.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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