Preview: Atlético Madrid back on track before Champions League visit from goal-shy Milan

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Whereas it initially looked like the goals would come for an AC Milan side that’s dominated possession under Clarence Seedorf, the opposite has happened. Instead of seeing the talents of Mario Balotelli, Kaka, Adel Tarrabt, and (cup-tied) Keisuke Honda shine as the Rossoneri became Serie A’s biggest ball hogs, Milan has been shutout in three of their last four games. Sitting 11th in Italy, Milan’s progress since Max Allegri’s departure has been aesthetic but not practical.

Atlético Madrid, on the other hand, have undergone a minor awakening since their three-game, early February losing streak, even if they still don’t look like their indestructible January selves. Having moved away from the idea that Diego or Jorge Sosa can provide more than depth, Milan’s Tuesday opposition has reverted back to what worked this fall. Even the idea that Barcelona refugee David Villa can form a partnership with Diego Costa has been forgotten in favor of full faith Raúl Garcia, who was in the starting lineup when Atleti played Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw nine days ago. With only a late Cristiano Ronaldo goal keeping them from full points, the Colchoneros again looked like a team that could do damage in UEFA Champions League.

First, Diego Simeone’s side needs to finish off its Round of 16 matchup against Milan, who visit the Vicente Calderón on Tuesday. Down 1-0 after leg one, however, the Rossoneri are on the wrong end of two trends. Short on goals and facing a team that’s rediscovering a dark horse’s form, Milan needs to do more than cash in on some of the promise they’ve shown under Seedorf. They need to do so against a team that’s been among Europe’s best for most of the season.

“When you lose the first leg, it is marvellous to be able to play again in a tie of such importance on the European stage,” Seedorf said, striking an optimistic note on Monday. “We can write history once more. It is always great to play in a stadium like this. We do not have to be worried by the atmosphere. We are ready for this kind of game.”

The easiest way for Milan to transcend Atlético’s advantages is to get transcendent performances from its stars. That starts with Balotelli, who returned this weekend from a shoulder injury incurred in leg one. They’ll need Kaká, who didn’t play this weekend against Udinese, to continue using the time machine he brought out a couple of times at the San Siro. They need Nigel de Jong to be both healthy and destructive in defensive midfield, while Taarabt must make Honda’s absence irrelevant. If all of that happens, Milan has a chance.

“Great players appear in these matches,” Simeone said on Monday. “[Mario] Balotelli is a dominant player, but Milan are dangerous in many other areas. He is dangerous but needs his team-mates around him.”

But Milan also needs Costa, one of the Spain’s leading scorers this season, to go quiet. It needs Diego Godín to be exposed in defense while Thibault Courtois has an off day in goal. It needs Arda Turan to become uninterested or unwilling to create chances, and it need Gabi and Koke’s service to go awry. Milan needs Atlético to have one of the bad days it was having this time last month – the type of result that gave this matchup an aura of doubt when it kicked off three weeks ago.

Since then, Atlético has stabilized, giving Simeone’s side the appearance of a quarterfinalist. Unless Seedorf can finally put all of his pieces together, the Colchoneros will move on.

(MORE: Bayern Munich on guard ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League visit)

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

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The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

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Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

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Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016
Source: MLSSoccer.com