Three reasons why Chelsea can win the UEFA Champions League

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Chelsea’s domineering display against Galatasaray on Tuesday night proved Jose Mourinho’s men are the real deal in the UEFA Champions League.

Relentless pressure in midfield, clever counter-attacks and clinical finishing all played out in front of a yet another stingy defensive display.

(MORE: Chelsea cruise past Galatasaray, as Blues make Champions League quarters with 2-0 win)

The West London club are likely to be the Premier League’s only representatives in the last eight of the UCL, (barring a valiant fightback from Manchester United against Olympiakos on Wednesday) so they’ll be flying the St. George’s flag in Europe for the rest of the season.

But how long will that be for? Here are three reasons why Chelsea can go all the way and lift the ‘big eared’ trophy in Lisbon on May 24.

  • Solid defense

Chelsea have only conceded four goals in eight UCL matches this season, and have kept five clean sheets. With John Terry and Gary Cahill marshaling central defense, Petr Cech racking up 100 appearances in the UCL, plus Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic steady and dependable at full back, many of Europe’s best offensive sides will struggle to break down the ‘Blue curtain’. We all know Mourinho loves a 1-0 win and to rub it in the faces of his opposition, there will be plenty of that as Terry and co. throw themselves in front of crosses and shots until their little hearts are content. Add in the fact that Chelsea have now conceded they won’t be an expansive, glitzy side just yet, and they will play to their strengths to beat Europe’s elite. Solid defense, with clinical finishing, that should be the plan.

  • Experienced players leading the way
source: AP
Chelsea’s veteran core are augmented by a stable of young stars. Can the Blues go all the way with Terry, Lampard and Cech leading the charge?

In any walk of life, experience goes a long way. As we mentioned, Cech has 100 UCL appearances to his name, Frank Lampard has 73, then John Terry has 99 and the list goes on and on. Against Galatasaray Samuel Eto’o scored his 30th Champions League goal, just the 14th player to reach that milestone, and all of this adds up to giving Chelsea the edge when it really matters.

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Of course having too much experience (a.k.a. oldsters who are struggling to get around the pitch) won’t work, but the Blues have a great mix of youngsters who are contributing and learning from their veteran leaders. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian augment the experienced core around them, as most of these players have “been there, done that” in the UCL and lifted the trophy before. That counts for an awful lot in the last eight and beyond.

  • The ‘Mou factor’

Love him, hate him… we all know Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho is a born winner. The man who has already won two Champions League titles in two different countries (with FC Porto and Inter Milan) is eager to add a third to his collection, with many believing he’d prefer a UCL crown over the PL title. Regardless, Mourinho will set up his team to annoy opponents and pounce on the counter to devastating effect. This is the environment where the ‘Special One’ earns his corn and sets himself above the rest. With a large squad challenging for two titles, he will have to be a master of alternating lineups and using certain players only in Europe or the PL exclusively. Rallying calls aren’t really his thing anymore, so it would seem, and with a strong core of leaders Mourinho doesn’t have to give vast monologues of tactical instructions in the locker room to get his point across.

Instead it’s the finer details, as Jose knows better than anyone, which push you over the finishing line to win a UCL crown. Chelsea have a long way to go until a second UCL title arrives in West London, but with Jose on board, I like their odds of getting through two more rounds and at least reaching the final in Lisbon. In Jose’s homeland of Portugal, he may become the first manager in history to win the UEFA Champions League with three different teams from three different countries. That’s the ‘Mou factor’.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday