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.
Manolo Gabbiadini performed brilliantly in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, but was the Southampton striker unfairly gipped of a hat-trick?
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Saints manager Claude Puel certainly believes so.
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While the back-and-forth final between Southampton and Manchester United presented a tremendous matchup, the Saints had every right to be furious with the officiating in the early going after Gabbiadini’s 11th minute finish was called off for offsides.
“I would like, of course, video in the future for these situations,” said Puel. “It’s very hard when we see this game to lose. It was cruel.”
Gabbiadini went on to score a pair of goals at the tail end of the first half and early in the second stanza, but Puel was pleased with his side’s resilience after going down 2-0 inside the opening 38 minutes.
“We kept the good attitude and spirit to stay in the game after going 2-0 down,” said the Southampton boss. “We played since the beginning of the season every two or three days. We played to a strong and fantastic level. It’s important now to continue this work, to put away this disappointment and come back in the Premier League with this strength and this quality.”
Video replay has been a common discussion for some time now, but more leagues are beginning to examine the possibility. FIFA is prepared to introduce new experimental trials over the coming months and could present a form of replay at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…
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Villareal 2-3 Real Madrid
The Yellow Submarine did everything right to open the second half but Real Madrid proved resilient once again to earn a victory at El Madrigal. Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata each netted after the hour mark to help Los Blancos pick up three points and remain leap over Barcelona at the top of the table. Manu Trigueros and Cédric Bakambu scored within six minutes of one another to give Villareal a 2-0 early in the second half but Real began to press harder after the setback.
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
It surely wasn’t the most attractive match at times, particularly for the visitors, but Lionel Messi was up to his old tricks once again and helped lift Barcelona into the top spot in La Liga. The Argentine attacker was persistent inside the Atletico box with the match nearing the end and Messi managed to break the deadlock in the 86th minute. Both sides traded goals earlier in the second stanza, with Rafinha getting Barca on the board before Diego Godin equalized six minutes later.
Elsewhere in La Liga
Espanyol 3-0 Osasuna
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Celta Vigo
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Granada
Inter Milan 1-3 Roma
Mauro Icardi gave Inter a brief glimmer of hope, but Roma continued its fine form on Sunday against the Milan side. Radja Nainggolan’s incredible double helped provide the Giallorossi with a two-goal advantage in the second half before substitute Diego Perotti sealed Roma’s victory from the penalty spot.
Sassuolo 0-1 AC Milan
Controversy struck at the Mapei Stadium but it didn’t benefit the hosts. Carlos Bacca netted the game’s lone finish just 22 minutes in from the penalty spot but it was the Colombian that came into question for his attempt. Bacca slipped while taking his spot kick and appeared to hit the ball with both feet before it crossed the goal line, leaving Sassuolo players furious. Milan now sits in seventh place in Serie A, just four points outside of the top four.
Elsewhere in Serie A
Palermo 1-1 Sampdoria
Chievo 2-0 Pescara
Crotone 1-2 Cagliari
Genoa 1-1 Bologna
Lazio 1-0 Udinese
Plenty of changes were made to the LA Galaxy this offseason, and now injuries are also plaguing the five-time MLS Cup winners.
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New Galaxy manager Curt Onolfo this week that defender Ashley Cole suffered a calf injury in the team’s preseason friendly against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday.
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The Los Angeles Times in reporting that Cole’s injury could keep him out for around a month, which would leave him absent of the Galaxy’s first three matches against FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers and RSL.
The 36-year-old Cole joined the Western Conference side in 2016 after a lengthy and successful European career. In his debut season, Cole made 26 starts for the Galaxy and scored a goal in that span.
In addition to Cole’s injury, the Galaxy are currently without outside back Robbie Rogers and USMNT attacker Gyasi Zardes, who have both undergone surgeries in the past two months.
BERLIN (AP) Berlin police made almost 100 arrests on Saturday when Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt supporters clashed violently before their Bundesliga game.
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Police say masked fans fought with batons, bottles, beer crates, chairs and flares on a busy street corner in the neighborhood of Moabit. The first officers on the scene faced “a group of around 60 rioters” who turned on the police.
Two police vehicles were damaged with stones and bottles before 96 arrests were made – with 73 of those arrested from the state of Hessen, which has Frankfurt as its largest city.
Six supporters were hospitalized. Police say only one fan is still in the hospital and in a “stable” condition.
Police say they are investigating whether the clash was pre-arranged.