Two from Diego Costa help Atlético Madrid cruise past Milan in Champions League, 4-1 (5-1, agg.)

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Atlético Madrid is into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, staving off an early hint at drama from visiting AC Milan to post a 4-1 victory. The result gives Diego Simeone’s team a 5-1 aggregate win over the seven-time champions, with goals from Diego Costa (two), Arda Turan, and Raúl Garcia delivering the win at the Vicente Calderón.

Costa’s first goal came in spectacular fashion in the third minute when, at full stretch, the Spanish international redirected Koke’s cross home at Christian Abbiati’s far post. The lead proved short-lived as Kaká headed home from close range after a Andrea Poli cross to make it 1-1.

Before halftime, however, Turan’s deflected volley beat a helpless Abbiati to restore Atlético’s two-goal edge, with a header from Garcia mid-way through the second period eliminating all of Milan’s lingering hopes. Demoralized, Milan saw Costa score his seventh goal of the competition in the 85th minute, completing its disappoint night in Madrid.

The victory sends the Colchoneros into the final eight for the first time in 17 years, while Milan exit the competition at the first knockout round for the second consecutive tournament. Ensuring no Italian team will be in the final eight, Milan’s early exist adds to frustrations incurred by a 11th place standing in Serie A.

The Rossoneri entered the day with a 1-0 deficit after Costa’s 83rd minute winner three weeks ago in Milan gave Atleti a 1-0 lead. Costa doubled that lead three minutes into the second leg when Koke, cutting in from the right, vaulted a ball toward Abbiati’s far post. Reaching with his left leg shoulder-high from five yards out, the Atlético striker put his teammate’s pass into the back of the Milan goal before landing flat on his tailbone. Up two, Atlético appeared destined for an easy night.

That appearance evaporated just before the 30 minute-mark when a ball put toward the byline on the right allowed Poli to put an uncontested ball toward Thibault Courtois’ far post. The gigantic Belgian was unable to traverse the goalmouth in time to stop Kaká’s easy header, with right back Juanfran having lost track of an attacker who’s up to 30 Champions League goals.

Milan’s control of possession through the game’s next 10 minutes went for naught when a long ball chested down for Turan gave the Turkish international a chance from the top of the arc. Volleying a ball after a quick thigh trap, the Atlético midfielder put his shot off Daniele Bonera and past Abbiati, with the deflection preventing the Milan keeper from denying the hosts a 2-1 halftime lead.

When Milan couldn’t pull the goal back early in the second, the match adopted a feeling of inevitability – as if Atlético had already qualified for the quarterfinals. When Garcia headed his team’s fourth goal home in the 70th minute, all doubt left the Calderón. A goal starved AC Milan would need three to move past their favored hosts, a hope rendered mute when Costa blasted his seventh goal of the competition in from the right edge of the six-yard box.

That favorite’s status, in doubt as Atlético struggled ahead of the first leg, proved well-earned at the end of 180 minutes, with a Milan team that’s limped through its Serie A campaign proving no more capable in Europe. Atlético, conversely, has reclaimed the form that carried them through January – quality that made them dark horses in this competition.

Though potential quarterfinal opponents will prefer the Atleti to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, Atlético will be dangerous come the quarterfinals.

Mourinho “working like never before” to turn Chelsea around

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Jose Mourinho got the dreaded much-needed vote of confidence from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich last weekend, seemingly giving the Portuguese manager a temporary stay of execution despite the Blues’ worst start to a season in 37 years.

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Speaking this week, Mourinho has revealed that while he’s thankful to have been kept on at the club for which he regularly professes his love, he still thinks it was no-brainer for Abramovich. In other words, Mourinho’s not backing down from his incredible, seven-minute rant to one question following Saturday’s defeat to Southampton.

Mourinho, on what he’s doing to turn Chelsea around — quotes from the Guardian:

“It shows the confidence of Abramovich in the manager who has won three Premier League titles with this club. I thank him and I keep working.

“What’s going on? I do not know. The results with Chelsea at the moment have been really bad. I cannot hide that reality, and I don’t want to. And I struggle to find an explanation. But I assure you: I’m working like never before and we will come out of this. And there is also the Champions League that we will not neglect, for certain.”

What did you expect from Mourinho? Well, you know, I should probably be fired, but thanks to Mr. Abramovich for not realizing this and keeping me employed? It’s simultaneously interesting and the least surprising thing ever, though, that Mourinho claims to not know what’s wrong with Chelsea at the moment. Of course he has a theory (or five), and of course he’s “working like never before” to correct it.

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The most fascinating thing about Chelsea’s sluggish start to the season is to see, hear and read Mourinho speaking from a position of powerlessness. Always the clever one, the one dictating where the discussion goes, the one in charge of every press interaction, Saturday’s rant felt like watching a desperate Mourinho grasping for anything by which to pull himself back up.

Reports link Guardiola with Manchester City summer move

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There are claims out of Spain that Manchester City has a verbal agreement to bring Pep Guardiola to town when his Bayern Munich contract expires in June.

Don’t expect comment from Guardiola, who bristles when discussing his future. In the past he’s hinted he might not be the right man for the Bavarian side, but has lamented any questions about clubs other than Bayern.

Now Mundo Deportivo writer Francesc Aguilar says there’s a secret agreement between Guardiola and Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain to reunite at the Etihad Stadium this summer.

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Both Barcelona buffs and former Spanish internationals, Begiristain was Barca’s director of football when Guardiola took over for Frank Rjikaard in 2008.

Manuel Pellegrini signed a contract extension this summer and has led the club to a Premier League title, though the club has struggled in European competition. For what it’s worth, the Manchester Evening News got rumor reaction from Sergio Aguero:

On the latest Guardiola rumour, Kun said: “It has been talked about a lot. I don’t know him, but he’s a great manager and it’s wonderful to have the best managers train you.”

But he also added: “I’m very good with Manuel Pellegrini, we talk a lot. I’m happy in the team and with him, but the club will be the one who chooses who comes in.”

In other words, “I’m really good, and they pay me well enough that I’m prepared to play for any big name that arrives.”

It’s a story to keep up with, even as it intrudes on the seasons of two big, rich European clubs.