Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos earn suspensions – Master tactics by The Special One?

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Master tactics or merely a coincidence?

That’s the question after Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso both earned suspensions for yellow card accumulation during their first-leg Champions League match against Galatasaray. Both players were cautioned towards the end of the match meaning they will be suspended for the second-leg of the quarter-final in Istanbul on April 9. UEFA rules state that any player who accumulates three yellow cards during the Champions League knockout stages is suspended for his next match.

The theory is that Ramos and Alonso – as directed by Mourinho – intentionally got themselves booked knowing that Madrid’s three goal cushion essentially renders the second leg a mere formality. For Galatasaray fans it’s an offensive suggestion but is nevertheless worth exploring as UEFA rules state that players who deliberately seek a booking can be handed a two-game ban.

The problem, of course, is proving that Ramos and Alonso deliberately sought the booking. At the moment the best evidence is that both players went into the book when the match was 3-0 with time nearly having expired. Alonso was booked in the 84th minute for an angry confrontation with referee Svein Oddvar Moen, who made a host of questionable decisions throughout the night. Six minutes later, Ramos followed suit as he kicked the ball away after committing a foul. While one could argue that both instances indicate a desire to be cautioned as they were innocuous occurrences transpiring outside the run of play, proving intent seems impossible unless Ramos and Alonso admit to their misdeeds.

Even assuming UEFA somehow manages to prove intent, the ramifications could be devastating as players will thereafter have to be even more convincing in their efforts to be booked. This could result in intentional fouls comitted during the run of play, which raises the potential for injury. It’s a slippery slope that UEFA is on with this rule and one that, if the governing body is not careful, could get out of hand.

In all likelihood Ramos and Alonso will not be assessed a two match ban. But a variety of penalties could ensue, as there is precedence.

Three years ago both Ramos and Alonso were sent off in a Champions League knockout stage match at Ajax. Late in that game Madrid was winning 4-0 when the duo, both one card away from suspension, wasted time during free-kicks. They were each issued second yellow cards, sent off and suspended for the irrelevant final group game. But when the next round of games came both enjoyed a clean slate. UEFA thereafter handed Jose Mourinho a two-game suspension and a £35,000 fine, while Ramos and Alonso were each fined £18,000.

If you’re sitting there reading this and thinking, ‘holy crap, that’s nuts‘, that’s because it is nuts. It’s nuts that UEFA can assess such steep penalties on an intent-heavy rule but it’s even more nuts that Mourinho is that clever of a manger. He knew the rule, recognized the loophole and did his best to access it.

And you wonder why we call him ‘The Special One’.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs:

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!