UEFA Champions League Preview: Mourinho controversy unlikely to diminish Chelsea’s chances against Galatasaray

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After six months of playing puppeteer with the English media, José Mourinho’s found himself in the unaccustomed position of having to legitimately explain himself. Earlier this week, French broadcast outlet Canal Plus posted a video Mourinho intended to be off the record, one in which he derides the quality of Chelsea’s strikers while flippantly hinting Samuel Eto’o may be three years older than his listed age. In response, Mourinho implicitly called on the rest of the media to summon outrage at their French peers. Too enthralled as Mourinho stood at the corners of irony and Schadenfreude, the European media’s fanned a story that’s overshadowed Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League match at Galatasaray.

“I think you should be embarrassed as a media professional,” Mourinho said, “because, from an ethical point of view, I don’t think you should be happy – not you, but a colleague – is able to record a private conversation and make it public. You should all be a bit embarrassed because it’s against the ethics you have in your work. From an ethical point of view, it’s a real disgrace.”

In a world where Canal Plus decides releasing an unauthorized video of off-the-record comments in inappropriate, Mourinho’s reunion with former talisman Didier Drogba dominates the headlines ahead of Wednesday’s Round of 16 match. The tacit conflict between a Champions League winner at Inter Milan and the man who was fired his European failures with the Nerazzurri for (Gala boss Roberto Mancini) would prompt a vintage Mourinho clash of egos. And with Chelsea sitting atop the Premier League, we’d be debating whether the Blues deserved to be mentioned alongside Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona among the tournament favorites.

This is where Mourinho’s controversy and Chelsea’s Champions League reality intersect. Mourinho may not have wanted to go on record chastising his strikers, but it’s something we see every weekend. Samuel Eto’o is willing but aging. Fernando Torres remains inexplicable and streaky. Demba Be remains a footnote. The team’s deficient striker position continues to evolve into a reason to study tapes of Rudi Garcia’s Lille to see how Eden Hazard was used through the middle. The Belgian is already the undisputed focal point of Chelsea’s attack.

(MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Surging Real Madrid takes 26-match run to Schalke)

It’s why Chelsea’s striker conundrum may end up a red herring. Their position is their biggest weakness, but every team has issues. Even Bayern’s trying to get by with Jerome Boateng in central defense. Chelsea’s trying to make do with Eto’o as their lead striker, but with Hazard playing at his current level, the Blues are more than able to make up for that deficiency. Between him, Willian, and Oscar in the band of three behind Chelsea’s forward, Mourinho has enough potential to make up for his lack of power. Perhaps it’s not a team that’s going to put up a gaudy number of goals, but it is a side that can exploit any opening you give them.

“They have really good, fantastic players who can influence the outcome of a match,” Mancini said on Tuesday. “I believe Chelsea have an 80 percent chance of going through in this competition.”

source: APWith defensive midfielder Felipe Melo trying to protect a defense that lacks elite talents, Chelsea’s sure to create holes, if they want to. On the road in the first leg of a Champions League tie, Mourinho may also employ a conservative approach, knowing his team’s more than capable of both keeping a clean sheet at Turk Telekom and preventing an away goal in London. With John Terry (right), Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta having moved on from their fall stumbles, Chelsea can afford to play for a 0-0 in Istanbul.

“We are going to play to win,” was Mourinho’s customary denial of a conservative approach, “but we know they are strong and have special attacking players – even on the bench they have dangerous players like [Umut] Bulut. They have lots of goalscorers and we know they will attack us.”

In theory, Drogba is one of those threats, as is Wesley Sneijder, who teamed with Eto’o to win Mourinho the Champions League while the three were in Milan. Burak Yilmaz, one of the more prolific scorers in last year’s tournament, also represents a danger, but if the Turkish champions are going to threaten for their second consecutive quarterfinal spot, we’re just as likely to see a random scorer come through on a set piece as we are to get a high-paid stars win one-on-one battles against Chelsea’s talents.

That’s the big risk of Chelsea’s approach. If they play it too close to the vest, they risk a Sneijder free kick beating Petr Cech. They risk one piece of set piece execution putting them on their heels. They risk Drogba doing to them what he did to Bayern Munich in May 2012. There is a reason why Gala, not Juventus, made it out of their group. They’re capable.

But there’s also a reason why Chelsea’s alive and not Juventus. The Blues are a better team, making Turkish champions decided underdogs. And while Mourinho’s fears about his lack of strikers may be distracting, the problem’s not enough to make Mancini wrong about Chelsea’s chances.

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.