Offshore drilling, Europa League final: Atlético Madrid 3, Athletic Club 0

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Man of the Match: For the second year in a row, Radamel Falcao’s team wins Europa League, and for the second year in a row, he was the most important player in the final. Last year for Porto, his 44th minute goal was the final’s only score. This year, his first half double carried Atlético to their second Europa title in three years.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Atlético goalkeeper Thibault Courtois could have gotten some Man of the Match consideration were it not for Falcao, though the selection would have been a little pinky out on the tea cup. Still, the Chelsea loanee was commanding in his area, making it clear Athletic were not going to be able to target Fernando Llorente.
  • On both Atlético goals, balls played in from the left for a right-shaded Falcao meant left back Jon Aurtenetxe had to deal with the threat. Both times, as Falcao moved the ball onto his left foot, Aurtenetxe slipped, preventing him from putting in a challenge. The first goal was a beautiful curling ball into the upper-left hand corner from 17 yards out, while the second saw Falcao hammer the ball into the left side of goal from seven yards out.
  • Autenetxe would be subbed off at halftime, as was holding midfielder Ander Iturraspe, with Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa deciding to waste no time changing a team that failed to meaningfully threaten Atletico. Often you see coaches wait a few minutes into the second half, hoping the lineup that failed in the first half have some kind of intermission epiphany. Bielsa was over it.
  • Athletic may have looked more like a team at the end of a long season than a one primed to take advantage of a rare chance at continental glory, but Atlético’s defense deserves the bulk of the credit. Even when Athletic were able to hold long spells of possession, Atlético remained disciplined and patient, waiting for Athletic to make their move into the final third before snuffing it out. The times Athletic became frustrated with trying to break them down, they’d go over the top only to see Courtois easily claim their crosses. Defender João Miranda along with midfielders Gabi and Mario Suárez led the effort.
  • That’s not to say Atlétic weren’t supplying any pressure. In the first half, Falcao and either Arda Turan or Diego ran at center halves Javi Martinez and Fernando Amorebieta, forcing the duo to play wide to the full backs, generally preventing Athletic from building through their midfield trio. As a result, midfielders Ander Herrera and Óscar de Marcos were kept relatively quiet.
  • Though Atlético played the second half on the counter, they always seemed more likely to get a third than concede. Late in the half, Diego obliged, sealing the title, though there was never really a point where the Rojiblancos looked capable of conceding.
  • Even though may had rationalized Athletic’s recent troubles by noting their Copa del Rey and Europa runs, league form ultimately carried over into the final. Atlético came into the game unbeaten in seven (counting their Europa League semifinal lega), while Athletic was winless in three, having dropped all the way to 10th in La Liga.
  • It looked like a great night for soccer in Bucharest. Large numbers of supporters for each club made the trip, giving the National Arena a more vibrant feel than previous Europa League finals.
  • Athletic still has the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. That’s still 15 days away, giving the squad plenty of time to recover and try to claim their first major trophy in 28 years.
  • Atlético has a must win match Sunday at Villarreal. Three points there coupled with a  Málaga stumble against Sporting Gíjon and Diego Simeone will have guided his team into Champions League.
  • The Champions League berth would complete the amazing turnaround Atlético’s had under Simeone. The Argentine boss was brought in at the winter break with the club in 11th place. In the 30 games since, Atlético’s won 18, losing only five. As much as Falcao will be honored for today’s victory, the most important person to Atlético’s run may have been in the coach’s box.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”