Europa League Final: Chelsea vs. Benfica

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This afternoon in Amsterdam, Chelsea and Benfica go head-to-head in the UEFA Europa League final.

Both sides failed to make it past the Champions League group stages and now find themselves vying to lift Europe’s ‘other’ trophy.

At times the Europa League isn’t given the credit it deserves. With the new format allowing teams that finished third in their Champions League groups to enter at the knockout round, the competition has certainly lost some of its allure in recent years.

But these two sides and others have produced some superb displays to reach the final, with goals, drama and controversy lining the route to Amsterdam.

Just twelve months ago Chelsea were preparing for the Champions League Final in Munich, against Bayern, as they aimed to lift the famous trophy for the first-time in history. They did that. But the defense of their European crown they so gloriously won, didn’t go according to plan.

Some solace would come from being the only team to ever technically hold both the Champions League and Europa League titles at the same time. Frank Lampard, John Terry and co. would certainly love to lift yet another cup when the full-time whistle sounds at the Amsterdam Arena this afternoon.

But hold your horses. This won’t be a walkover. Benfica are not in the final through luck. The Lisbon based club have stormed through to the finale, brushing off Fenerbache, Newcastle, Bordeaux and Bayer Leverkusen. They’ve had a much tougher route to the final and despite a damaging injury-time defeat to Porto in the league last weekend, Benfica will be determined to win their first-ever Europa League trophy.

Also adding a little-bit of of spice to the mix, is the fact that two Benfica old boys — David Luiz and Ramires — will be lining up against them this afternoon.

This is an amazing stat. Benfica have played in eight European Cup finals in their history. They’ve taken Europe’s highest honor home twice, way back in 1961 and 1962 when the great Eusebio led the way. However, in the six European finals they’ve reached since, Benfica have failed to win another trophy. Could it be lucky number seven?

Chelsea hope it isn’t. Their big concern is an injury to captain John Terry, with the veteran defender likely to miss out after damaging his ankle in Saturday’s win against Aston Villa.

The Blues will have David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic to choose from at center back. So they should be fine. But the London will be missing influential attacker Eden Hazard through injury. (Live on Fox Soccer Channel, 2:30pm ET)

What they’re saying…

Chelsea

Rafael Benitez: “I want to win and if I can I will be really proud as we are working hard in very difficult circumstances. For me, it is always important to win trophies, to do well and to make sure we have done a good job. When I go home. I think we are doing a good job. People realise to be here at this stage of the competition means we have done a lot of things really well.”

Frank Lampard: “I have been lucky enough to play a few finals and they are very particular games. Small things that happen, focus and concentration, dictate the game.”

Petr Cech: “Any season when you reach a European final and you win it, the season must be considered a success. We would like to make history by winning the game.”

Benfica

Jorge Jesus: “Winning the Europa League would be a very important moment in the club’s history, and for the players and staff. Getting to the final is a great achievement in itself but coming away victorious would be even greater. Benfica are always under pressure when they play and we know that in every competition we take part in, the aim is to get to the final and win.”

Luisão: “There’s been a real atmosphere in the squad all season and I’m proud to be part of it. We’ve grown and whenever anyone arrives at the club they soon realise what it means to wear the Benfica shirt. What I want is the best for Benfica. We deserve this, we’ve grown in recent years. As captain, [I say] we’re representing not just the players and their families but everyone who works at this club. We can make history for an important club like Benfica.”

Prediction: Chelsea just seemed destined to win this trophy. From late heroics against Sparta Prague and FC Basel, Benitez has utilized his squad masterfully and they seemed fired up to win the trophy. But Benfica won’t be a walk over. They want to bring home a European trophy for the first-time since 1962 and after domestic heartache at the weekend, Jorge Jesus’ side will be focused on the prize. I can see Chelsea’s experience shining through and a solid 2-1 win for the boys in blue. But it could go to extra-time and the dreaded penalty shootout in Amsterdam.

UEFA bans Samir Nasri six months for IV treatment

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Former Premier League midfielder Samir Nasri has been banned for six months by European governing body UEFA for receiving an intravenous drip treatment in Los Angeles, California in December 2016.

[ MORE: Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins ]

During the time in question, Nasri was on loan from Manchester City with Spanish side Sevilla.

Nasri reportedly received the treatment upon an initial diagnosis from his ex-girlfriend Dr. Sarabjit Anand. He later traveled to LA for the treatment, where a private medical company known as the Drip Doctors, set up the IV drip for Nasri.

The IV was said to have contained sterile water containing 50 milliliters of micronutrient components, which given in an infusion over the span of six hours is considered illegal by the World Anti-doping Agency.

Nasri is without a club at this time, after last appearing for Turkish club Antalyaspor in January. The 30-year-old left the side this winter after making just eight appearances in all competitions.

PSG suffers big blow as Neymar stretchered off against Marseille

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With an important run of fixtures upcoming, including a UEFA Champions League date with Real Madrid, the Parisians received disappointing news on Sunday.

[ MORE: Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins ]

Despite picking up a 3-0 victory against Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain suffered a massive blow in the second stanza after Neymar was stretchered off the pitch with a right leg injury in the 81st minute.

The Brazilian international appeared to twist his ankle upon landing on the ground after going in for a challenge, although there was no contact when the attacker went down in agony.

Minutes after suffering the apparent ankle injury, Neymar was carried off the field on a stretcher by medical staff, raising questions about his availability in the coming weeks.

PSG faces a crucial run of matches, including Wednesday’s French Cup match against Marseille and their second leg UCL fixture against Real Madrid.

Unai Emery and his side currently trail 3-1 against Los Blancos, as the tie heads back to Paris for the second meeting.

This season, Neymar has tallied 28 goals in all competitions for the Parisians, including six finishes in the UCL, so his potential absence would be a huge blow to PSG’s hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

La Liga & Serie A: Griezmann hat-trick paces Atleti, Milan tops Roma

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Sevilla 2-5 Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann’s hat-trick helped pace Atletico on Sunday as Diego Simeone and Co. continue to apply pressure to Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Atleti remains seven points behind the Blaugrana in Spain’s top flight, after picking up its 17th victory of the season. The visitors scored twice in the first half with finishes from Diego Costa and Griezmann, before Koke and two more goals from the Frenchman extended the lead to 5-0.

Meanwhile, Sevilla did manage to pull back two late goals through Pablo Sarabia and Nolito, however, it was too late to complete a comeback.

Valencia 2-1 Real Sociedad

A brace from Santi Mina pulled Valencia to within two points of Real Madrid for third place in La Liga. The defeat for Sociedad keeps the bottom half side in 14th place, however, the side has a 10-point cushion above the relegation zone.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Malaga
Villareal 1-0 Getafe

 


Roma 0-2 AC Milan

A big victory for the Milan side has Gennaro Gatusso’s men back in contention for a top five place in Italy. Second-half strikes from Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria helped pace the visitors, as Roma suffered a big blow in the title race. Roma now sits 16 points behind league leaders Napoli, while already having lost earlier in the week to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Crotone 2-3 SPAL
Fiorentina 1-0 Chievo
Hellas 2-1 Torino
Sampdoria 2-1 Udinese
Sassuolo 0-3 Lazio
Juventus vs. Atalanta (POSTPONED)

Usain Bolt claims he’s signed with professional team

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A former world-record sprinter is set to take his opportunity as a soccer player, however, he won’t reveal which club just yet.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s Carabao Cup triumph ]

Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt revealed on Sunday that he has signed a contract with a professional side, although the 31-year-old wouldn’t state which club or where the side resides.

The veteran runner retired from track and field last year after winning eight Olympic gold medals in his career.

Bolt has been connected with several major European clubs in the past, including Manchester United — whom he has been a lifelong supporter of — and Borussia Dortmund.

Bolt was set to have a trial with the German side next month, although it’s unlikely that the Jamaican will have that chance now that he’s signed with a team.

Last month, he also trained with South African side Mamelodi Sundown.