Chelsea, Manchester United secure valuable road points

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It wasn’t easy for either of the English giants, though it would be an exaggeration to say it was hard. Chelsea and Manchester United had their share of obstacles on the road against Champions League minnows, yet each earned a comfortable three points, vaulting them to the top of their UEFA Champions League groups.

Chelsea had the easier of things, showing early signs of dominating Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland. The underdogs had trouble matching the Blues’ early pressure, though by the middle of the first half, FCN were holding enough of the ball to set up in Chelsea’s end and ask a few questions. Had Chelsea not scored before halftime, this match could have been destined for a 0-0, the holders faced with a newly-confident underdog coming out of halftime. Instead, a well-executed goal eventually put in by Juan Mata gave the Blues a halftime lead.

More: Snap judgments on Tuesday’s action

In the second half, Nordsjaelland eventually broke. Chelsea got goals from David Luiz, Mata, and Ramires, leaving the final score at a deceptive 4-0.

The Danes were better than that, and Chelsea deserve credit for putting up a lopsided score against a team that was more than minnows. Ultimately, though, this is just holding serve. The Blues were expected to get these points, got them, and now move on to back-to-back games against Group E co-leading Shakhtar Donetsk. Chelsea’s well-equipped to handle Shakhtar, but as the Ukrainian champions showed today at Juventus, they’ll be formidable.

In Romania, Manchester United got an early scare, conceding an goal that sparked memories of last year’s Champions League disappointment. Take away the score, however, and the match was only slightly different than Chelsea’s. Both English giants were feeling the bite of an emboldened host. While Cluj looked more dangerous than Nordsjaelland, the challenge remained the same. Despite the deficit, United just needed to keep playing their game.

It quickly paid off. Robin van Persie headed United even before half time. In the second half, a beautiful pass from Wayne Rooney produced and unstoppable volley from van Persie. Combined with 65 percent possession, it was a well-earned win for United, 2-1.

That doesn’t mean the Red Devils won’t be in for some criticism, especially after giving Cluj a chance to draw even near the end. Nobody who criticized United before this match will be convinced. But Manchester United (and their fans) should be used to the same qualms they’ve continually heard in the post-Ronaldo era. They never look good. They never win by enough. Their midfield’s never that strong. Other teams control matches. Their defense is leaky. They need to settle on a goalkeeper. Overall, they’re very overrated.

All of which might be true, but season-after-season, the team continues to put up results. They posted 89 points in last year’s Premier League. Two years ago, they won the league and made the Champions League final. As long as the team keeps producing those kind of results, criticisms are better seen as ways to improve, not reasons United aren’t good. They are clearly a good team.

There is, however, the little detail of them missing group stage in last year’s Champions League. Today went a long way to correcting that problem. Three good points on the road give them six through two rounds. The points also make last year look less like a pattern and more like an aberration.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $68 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

Weekend soccer games called off after Mexico earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled all first-division games this weekend as stadiums are being used as relief centers after the country’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup crown ]

The federation announced Wednesday that there would be no games in the 10th round of the Apertura tournament or any other professional competition, including the women’s league.

“All the clubs are doing their bit,” Mexican league president Enrique Bonilla said in an interview on Fox Sports before the decision to cancel all matches was announced. “We would like to bring people a moment of joy, but it is a more complex decision, and we need to have all the information from authorities.”

The postponed league games will be played in mid-October, including the derby between Chivas and America.