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Champions League Preview: Can Madrid launch mighty comeback vs. Dortmund?

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There’s digging yourself a hole, then there’s doing what Real Madrid did last Wednesday.

The Spanish giants imploded in the second half at the Westfalenstadion last week, as they succumbed to a rampant attacking display from Borussia Dortmund and now need a miracle in the second leg to overturn a 4-1 deficit.

This afternoon Jose Mourinho’s Real side welcome Dortmund to the Santiago Bernabeu in what promises to be a blood and thunder affair. After Robert Lewandowski’s four goal virtuoso performance swept Madrid aside, Mourinho needs Cristiano Ronaldo and his talented support acts to carve open Dortmund’s defense with regularity on Tuesday afternoon. (2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel)

What they’ve said…

Madrid

Sergio Ramos: “There is no bigger motivation than playing in a UEFA Champions League final. I’ve been here for eight years and never played in one. There is nothing better – we have to believe we can get back into it. We want revenge. We have negative memories from the first leg and we want to play. We know our fans will support us from the first minute but that won’t be of any use if we are not focused on the game. The result in Dortmund was fair – there is nothing left to say when you lose as we did last week. We just have to do our best.”

Jose Mourinho: “I feel this is the most important match in ten years for Real Madrid, but I also felt that in Dortmund and we played like [it was] a friendly. If I don’t win the Champions League nothing changes. There are many coaches who haven’t won it, so I have to thank God because I’ve done so twice. I have considered Borussia a candidate to win this competition since the beginning of the season. Sometimes football is not fair to one team, but it was in Dortmund and Borussia deserved to win. Anything is possible though.

Jurgen Klopp: “I’ve heard around 8,000 of our supporters are coming here. Back home, the supporters will also live the game intensely. We can fulfil the dream of many fans and so we must respond in the correct manner. The team needs to be disciplined and compact while also looking to be daring. We’ve had this idea of how to play for a long time, it is not mine, it belongs to the team. I didn’t invent the game. Theories are easy, it’s putting them into practice that counts.”

Key factors

Keeping Lewandowski quiet will be key to Madrid if they have any chance of recording the resounding victory required. The big man isn’t just a target player, he makes superb runs in behind the defense and his movement at set pieces is fantastic. The biggest issue for Madrid will be finding the balance between all out attack and steady possession, because Dortmund are set up in such a way that devastating counter-attacks are likely to follow if Real neglect their defensive duties.

Score early, stay patient. That should be Madrid’s mantra as they aim to come flying out of the traps. We have seen many times this season in La Liga how they’ve gone two or three goals ahead early in games, then sat back and toyed with the opposition for about 30-40 minutes, before finishing off with a flourish and racking up plenty of goals. That said, Dortmund are unbeaten against Real in three games this season, winning two. A huge task lies ahead for Los Blancos.

Prediction

3-1 to Real Madrid, which means Dortmund will win 5-4 on aggregate. My heart wants to say that Madrid will pull off one of, if not the, greatest comebacks in European history this afternoon. But I can see them coming up just short. That said if they score twice before half time, anything is possible. My biggest fear is that Real will flood forward and allow Dortmund to score the crucial away goal that will likely settle this tie and send them into the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley on May 25.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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