Portugal Champions League Soccer

Champions League: Atlético Madrid conquer Dragão, take 2-1 win from Porto

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Saturday’s win at the Santiago Bernabéu may have been the biggest in Atlético Madrid’s recent history, but seeing Colchonero boss Diego Simeone leap into his assistant’s arms just before full-time on Tuesday, you’d have a hard deciding which result was bigger: This weekend’s 1-0 Derbi win over Real Madrid, or today’s 2-1 victory at Porto? While it’s hard to imagine a more symbolic result than this weekend’s win at the Bernabéu, an airborne Simeone, legs dangling behind his assistant as he was carried down the Dragão’s sideline, cast a compelling visage. Who would have thought a win in Portugal would evoke that kind of emotion?

[MORE: Derbi loss was so much more for Real Madrid.]

The drama certainly helped, Atlético having fought back from a one-goal deficit to claim full points just before time. Jackson Martínez’s 16th minute goal and the confidence it instilled in Porto built that tension, but after halftime, the resiliency Simeone has slowly worked into his team won out.

Off of Gabi’s restart along the right flank, Diego Godiín headed into an empty net in the 58th minute, Helton having misjudged a ball that swung away from him nine yards from goal. Then in the 86th minute, after Atlético had turned Porto’s fortress defense into a salvage operation, a clever restart allowed Ardan Turan to finish high into Helton’s goal, a game-winning score that sent Simeone airborne.

It was the first time in 19 months Porto had lost at home. No Champions League team had won at the Dragão since Chelsea in four years. In league, Porto has gone 75 games without a loss. Yet on Tuesday, Portgual’s champions fell to a team that’s playing as well as any team in Europe.

Whether Atlético stay at this level is a conversation for another place, but coming off back-to-back road wins against Real Madrid and Porto, there’s no team in Europe that’s accumulated a better résumé through the season’s first six weeks. They’re perfect in league, played Barcelona to two draws in the Spanish Supercopa, and after taking full points in Portugal, the Rojiblancos sit alone atop Group G, having won the most-difficult game of their group stage schedule.

source: AP
Arda Turan (right) celebrates after his right-footed blast clinched Atlético Madrid’s 2-1 victory at Porto. Between La Liga and Champions League. Atletíco is now 8-0-0 on the season. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Paris Saint-Germain went to Porto last year and fell. The year before, it was Shakhtar, and the year before that it was Arsenal. Not since Manchester United then Chelsea won at the Dragão four years ago have Porto been beaten at home in Champions League, but today, Atlético joined that group.

For Porto, worn down over the course of 90 minutes, left more tired than distraught as Turan’s goal was pulled from their net, the result will eventually find perspective. If Atlético maintains something close to this form, they’ll go on an win this group easily, leaving the matches between the Dragons and Zenit to decide second place. In that scenario, today’s result won’t matter, much.

But for Atlético, Simeone’s reaction told the tale. It wasn’t just that they beat Porto or have now won two key matches in a row. It’s how it happened, with Martinéz’s early goal providing a heightened test of all the qualities the Argentine boss values most.

Ultimately, all the organization, work, determination, and opportunism paid off. All of the qualities that have allowed Atlético to transcend the pack in Spain and join Barça at the top have translated onto Champions League. On Tuesday, Atletico conquered the Dragão.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.