Chelsea players warned as tough UEFA Champions League trip to Galatasaray awaits

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LONDON — The biggest city in Turkey and sitting in both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of world soccer’s greatest meccas. Passionate fans, massive clubs and fascinating cultures all clash on the banks of the Bosphorus.

On Wednesday Chelsea travel to the Al Sami Yen Stadium to face Turkish giants Galatasaray in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as a hostile atmosphere awaits. Over 50,000 fanatical supporters will pack the recently constructed stadium that sits just outside the heart of Istanbul, with the Blues in for a real tough time.

Manager Jose Mourinho knows that more than most, as last season he took Real Madrid to Istanbul and came home with nothing. Real managed to turn the tie around at home in the second leg, but a trip to face Galatasaray isn’t something the ‘Special One’ is relishing.

“Last season my team [Real Madrid] was a team ready to win the Champions League and we were in trouble against them,” Mourinho said. “We won in Madrid but lost in Istanbul and we were in trouble. The crowd is difficult too. The 3,000 Everton fans who were at Chelsea on Saturday… they have 60,000 like this. The atmosphere is really strong, we have a difficult match to play.”

(MORE:Mourinho lauds Chelsea’s defensive solidity, as title charge will come from the back)

Aside from the intense atmosphere, Mourinho also pointed out the extremely talented squad Galatasaray manger Robeerto Mancini has at his disposal.

“They have a good team, a very experienced team,” Mourinho said. “All of their players have had a long-run in the high level of the Champions League and they have got wins. They have big players, Wesley Sneijeder, Dider Drogba and after that they have very experienced players like Emmanule Eboue and Felipe Melo, they are people that have played at some of the best clubs in the world. The Turkish guys are the best players they have, Yilmaz, Altintop, Inan.”

With Mourinho dishing out plenty of respect to Chelsea’s Turkish opponents, there is one man he will be excited yet focused to face once again. Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba was Mourinho’s main man during his first spell in charge at Chelsea, with the Ivorian striker spearheading many of the Blues’ title charges and left the West London club in 2012 after scoring the winning penalty kick in the UEFA Champions League final.

(MORE: Report – Drogba linked with MLS move, as two teams battle for his signature)

There is a banner hanging at one end of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium which reads, “Drogba, Chelsea legend.” Mourinho doesn’t argue with that, but insists he and his players must be professional when facing one of Chelsea’s greatest ever strikers.

“I played against him already. When I was at Inter we played Chelsea and when I was at Real last season we played against Galatasaray,” Mourinho said. “It’s a strange feeling, we know him well. During the game from us there will no friends, before the game we will be big friends and we have big respect for a real legend of this club and after the game the same. But during the game, we have a job to do.”

Many believe Mourinho’s main reason for heading back to Stamford Bridge is to build a team capable of winning the Champions League year after year, as the Portuguese boss aims to lift the one trophy which alluded him during his first spell in charge of the Blues. Mourinho has won the UCL with FC Porto and Inter Milan, but now with Chelsea he’s aiming to clinch Europe’s elite title for a third time.

But before dreaming about titles, his side must negotiate this tricky test against a side that’s already beaten Juventus at home this season in the UCL. Mourinho believes this last 16 matchup will go right to the wire.

“I think this is a tie that will go to the end. It will go  right to the end.”

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
———————
USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.