Middlesbrough v Chelsea - FA Cup Fifth Round

How can Rafa Benítez represent Chelsea after a rant like this?

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baXOtOCMcTc]

This type of rant has come to define Rafa Benítez. The last time we heard one, his Inter Milan side had just beaten Conglese club TP Mazembe in the Club World Cup. It was an occasion when he chose not to celebrate players’ achievements but to deride detractors who had criticized his management of the club. Less than a week later, Benítez was done, Leonardo was brought in, and Inter — the reigning league, cup, and European champions — salvaged a Champions League spot in Italy.

These missives became common in Benítez’s final day at Liverpool. Whether he was hitting out at Manchester United, Chelsea, Alex Ferguson or Liverpool’s owners, Benítez used his limited successes as reason to roll out his resumé and justify his greatness. Now that resumé, a distinguished one that includes a Champions League title, is in danger of becoming an afterthought in the story of a man whose career was undone by a lack of humility.

Today, Chelsea won at Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup. Boro is a second-tier club in England. The win was more obligatory than triumphant, but in an act of farce, Benítez used the opportunity to make a statement to Chelsea fans. Those banners you make? The dissent you offer? The frustration you have that your club replaced an icon (Roberto Di Matteo) with me, somebody who faded at Liverpool before failing at Inter? All of that is completely unjustifiable, in his eyes.

Welcome to sports, Mr. Benítez. Fans voice their displeasure, especially when the team you inherited is struggling to maintain its Champions League position after showing sights of title contention at the beginning of the season. The team was too flawed to maintain that pursuit, but since being brought in November, it’s unclear Benítez has done anything to improve the team. Having been pulled into a fight for their top four lives, all indications hint they’re worse.

I can only assume Benítez doesn’t realize this; else, he wouldn’t have given this speech. Until Benítez accomplishes something at Stamford Bridge, he has no basis for saying fan criticism is unjustified. And based on the “stupid plastic flags” jab he lobbed at Chelsea fans while managing Liverpool, he can’t expect the benefit of the doubt. If he does, he’s delusional.

But Benítez’s is a strange, self-defined world where none of his failures impact his image. To him, he’s the guy that won titles in Spain. He’s the man who won Champions League at Liverpool. Every opportunity he gets, he reminds us of his greatness, just as he did today. Chelsea fans should have welcomed him as a savior instead of a man of last resort.

In his mind, he’s not the guy that lost Liverpool’s top four spot, something from which the Reds have yet to recover. He’s not the man who ran José Mourinho’s Inter Milan squad into the ground. And he’s not the man who has failed to make any progress with one of the richest squads in the world.

This is a team that still has Petr Cech. They have Ashley Cole and David Luiz. There are players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in attack, as well as the slew of complementary pieces you’d expected when you’re coaching one of the most affluent clubs in the world. Do all the pieces fit? Perhaps not, but when you’re a man of Benítez’s self-appointed status, surely you can whip up something. No man worth the resumé he keeps repeating would let this club drift this far off course.

As much as any fans have a right to complain, Chelsea’s do. And as much as any manager in the world should have refrained from using a 2-0 victory over a lower-level side as a platform for outrage, Benítez should have.

Today’s rant is the strangest moment in the now absurd career of Rafa Benítez. Roman Abramovich should reconsider whether he wants this to be the face of his club, even if it’s only for three more months.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.