Late Ivanovic goal gives Chelsea Europa League glory

2 Comments

Three minutes earlier, Frank Lampard had rattled the woodwork, leaving Chelsea fans to rue what at the time seemed to like a storybook ending. What better way to win a trophy than, on the day he’s reported to have signed a one-year extension, to have an icon secure silverware.

But Chelsea fans wouldn’t have to wait long for another well-established Blue to secure another piece of European gory. With the match tied 1-1 and Amsterdam’s Europa League final looked destined for an extra 30 minutes before another, less revered part of the Blues’ core gave the Londoners another European trophy.

In second half stoppage time, Juan Mata swung a corner kick far post, allowing veteran defender Branislav Ivanovic to elevate above André Almeida and Jardel, his contact putting a long, looping header back near post, leaving goalkeeper Artur flat-footed as the Serbian center half secured Chelsea’s 2-1 victory.

The win makes Chelsea the first team to win Champions then Europa League in successive seasons, the West London club having claimed Europe’s ultimate prize in Munich 12 months ago. Combined with the UEFA Super Cup (1998) and the now defunct Cup Winner’s Cup (won in 1970-71, 1997-98), Chelsea have a full array of major European silverware, the Europa League having succeeded the old UEFA Cup.

For Benfica, there will be no consolation for coming so close. The Eagles all but lost the Portuguese Liga this weekend when a last-minute goal by Porto lifted the Dragons into first. More broadly, it’s the seventh straight European final loss for the Lisbon titans, with the club having last won a continental honor in 1962 (European Cup).

A lackluster first half ended scoreless before Fernando Torres, on the end of a Petr Cech ball, beat Luisao to go in Artur, the Spaniard’s finish from the right of the box putting Chelsea up in the 60th minute. Eight minutes later, Benfica equalized, with Paraguayan Oscar Cardozo converting from the spot after a hand ball from Cesar Azpilicueta.

In a match largely controlled by Benfica’s midfield yet often lacking inspiration, it was just that a late tally eventually separated the sides. Benfica had 58 percent of the possession but only three shots on goal. Chelsea, on the other hand – often content to let Benfica play at the edge of their attacking third – managed five shots on Artur.

The last, of course, was the most meaningful, with a team that’s relied on key goals from the likes of John Terry seeing another defender step up. Ivanovic has done it before, his two against Liverpool in the 2009 quarterfinals as well as his winner against Napoli in 2012 standing out, but with the timing of tonight’s tally, Ivanovic is unlikely to have scored a more important goal. With his looping header in stoppage time on Wednesday, the 29-year-old helped Chelsea secure this year’s Europa League.

Pardew laments firing, credits Palace turnaround to new players

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alan Pardew knows why Crystal Palace was failing when he got fired, knows he could’ve fixed it, and seems pretty bummed he’s not there any more.

Pardew emerged to make the comments after Sam Allardyce helmed another upset win for Palace, a 2-1 win over Liverpool which joins defeats of Arsenal and Chelsea.

The win moves Palace 12th, and the Eagles have a legitimate shot at a top-half finish despite their poor start to the season. But Pardew wants fans to know it was about a personnel mistake, and that Palace dropped into the relegation zone after he was fired.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

The Northeast Chronicle says Pardew aimed to bring former Newcastle left backs Davide Santon and Paul Dummett to Palace, but couldn’t get the moves over the line. Then Pape Souare was hurt in a car accident and Palace was in trouble.

Over to you, Pards (From the Chronicle’s Lee Ryder):

“We were kicking ourselves not to have any left-footed cover. We were playing right-footed players there and things were exploiting that situation. We became one dimensional.

“I was really disappointed I didn’t get to the window because Sam Allardyce followed me and the results didn’t really improve until the new players got bedded in and they made a big difference.”

Allardyce brought in Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland and Jeff Schlupp from Leicester to shore up the left side.

The story is made more amusing by the fact that Allardyce has not hesitated to make Palace’s return to form almost exclusively about his influence, while Pardew bleeds the very same blood.

Who’s on first?

Atletico Madrid at CAS to fight FIFA transfer ban

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Atletico Madrid officials are at sport’s highest court to appeal against a FIFA transfer ban that will prevent the club from signing youth players from overseas during the coming offseason.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is hearing the appeal Monday, but says a verdict is not expected immediately.

Atletico and FIFA previously agreed to seek a CAS verdict by June, before the summer trading period opens.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s advisor speaks on future ]

FIFA imposed a one-year ban on registering new players as punishment for Atletico breaking rules introduced to prevent child trafficking and luring youngsters from their home country.

Atletico denies wrongdoing, though it agreed not to sign players in January while its appeal went ahead.

Spain’s soccer federation has been criticized for its role in player registrations, with Barcelona and Real Madrid also having served FIFA transfer bans.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Chelsea won 2-0 on Oct. 30
  • Saints won fixture 3-1 last season
  • Chelsea 13W-2L at home this season
  • Blues lead all-time 40W-28D-28L

Chelsea aims to stack some wins following a momentum-restoring weekend win when Southampton visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have lost two of four inside the Premier League — home to Crystal Palace and at Manchester United — but beat Spurs 4-2 in a thrilling FA Cup semifinal this weekend, extending their season to a May 27 final against Arsenal.

Saints are coming off their first loss in four outings, a 3-0 home beatdown at the hands of Manchester City. Now to the road, where Southampton has the eighth-best record in the Premier League. And Saints boast Manolo Gabbiadini, who Chelsea boss Antonio Conte says has one of the world’s best left foots.

What they’re saying

Chelsea’s David Luiz on Antonio Conte“He’s a fantastic person before a fantastic manager, so we talk a lot, every day, because we have a great relationship,’ he explained. We try to give our best for our club and he tries to help me with his intelligence for football to improve my football so I am very happy to work with him. He did an amazing job in this game.”

Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on facing Chelsea“Of course, you say every game is important, but somehow, when you play against number one, it gets a little bit more important. I saw the game they lost against Manchester United, and now they are a little bit under pressure, and we also want to continue getting good results. Chelsea away is, of course, maybe the toughest game this year, but I think that we have the possibility to get the result.”

Prediction

Rested Southampton provides a real test, but one which Chelsea finds a way to pass thanks to a relatively rested Costa and Hazard. This is Costa’s day, with a brace in a 2-1 win.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.