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Atlético Madrid breaks through, sends Barcelona out of Champions League

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For the first time in seven years, Barcelona will not be among the last four teams standing in UEFA Champions League. After Koke’s early goal stood up at the Vicente Calderón, Atlético Madrid is through to its first semifinal in 40 years, with the team’s 1-0 (2-1, aggregate) win escorting the three-time champions out of the tournament.

Atlético struck first during a dominant opening spell, with a slew of chances near the five-minute-mark allowing Koke to blast home the game’s only goal. Though the Spanish leaders produced a series of close calls on both sides of halftime, they were made to defend their 1-0 lead to the final whistle, eventually producing their first win of the season over Barcelona.

Between La Liga, Spanish Super Cup, and Champions League, the teams had faced each other four previous times this season, with each match ending in a draw. Last week’s game in Barcelona saw Atlético take a 1-1 result out of the Nou Camp, with the away goal potentially looming large in today’s second leg.

Thanks to Koke’s opener, however, Atlético didn’t need to rely on its tiebreaker edge. Finally breaking through against last year’s Spanish champions, a team that hasn’t been to the finals since 1974 is one step closer to another shot. Diego Simeone’s team joins Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and rival Real Madrid in Europe’s final four.

An overwhelming opening 12 minutes put Atlético on the scoresheet early. Unable to deal with the hosts’ high pressure, Barcelona gave up a series of chances in the fifth minute, with a sequence that started with an Adrían López shot off the right post ending with Koke slamming the opener into an empty net. In a spell where Atleti had three chances, the final one was the charm. For the third time in five meetings, Atlético struck first against Barcelona.

Throughout the first half, Simeone’s side had a number of chances to take its first two-goal lead over Barcelona this year. Moments after the opener, Atlético’s pressure produced another opportunity, with David Villa’s shot going out for a corner after Dani Alves’ desperate block. In the 12th minute, a Villa blast from the left hit the near post, while another chance for the former Barcelona striker nailed the cross-bar in the 21st minute.

source: AP
Lionel Messi had three chances to get Barcelona on the scoreboard but extended his scoreless drought to six games against Atlético Madrid. (Photo credit: AP Photo.)

By that time, Barcelona had come into the match, adjusting to Atlético’s pressure to maintain two-thirds of the half’s possession. Chances were still difficult to come by, however, even if the best opportunities fell to the team’s danger man. Shortly after Villa’s first shot off the post, Messi was given a free header from near the Atlético penalty spot, but he was unable to steer the Alves cross on goal. Later in the half, after Neymar beat two players down the left, a ball sent across the top of the six couldn’t be put on target, with Messi pushing his shot wide of the near post.

At the beginning of the second, Barcelona started looking more like their normal selves, proving more purposeful with its possession in the half’s opening moments.  In the 48th minute, a perfectly weighted Xavi Hernández through ball tested Atlético goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, with the Belgian charging off his line to get a left hand to the ball as Neymar tried to touch it into space. Moments later, as a recovering Courtois stumbled near his line, a ball falling to Messi was volleyed over the bar, with Barcelona’s biggest star missing another chance to bring his side level.

The close call served as a wake up call for Atlético, who kept Barcelona without any meaningful chances over the next 15 minutes. Once the game began opening up, it was the home side who proved more threatening. Substitute Diego blasted a chance from a sharp angle into Pinto’s gloves in the 65th minute. Gabi failed to convert a breakaway created by Villa in the 71st minute, weakly hitting a shot into Pinto’s boots. Javier Mascherano was fortunate not to draw Howard Webb’s whistle while playing catchup on Villa in the 72nd. Just as in the first half, Atlético was collecting a serious of misses that would only heighten the heartbreak, should Barcelona come back.

Even as Atlético started to recede further into its own half, it was still producing the better chances. New full-time, substitute Cristian Rodríguez was sent in on down through the left of the penalty area only to put another shot off Pinto’s gloves. Moments later, pressure on the Barcelona keeper saw Víctor Valdés’ backup send a ball back across this empty goal. Though Barcelona was pursuing an equalizer, it was Atlético that was applying the pressure.

Come full time, a matchup that had been gloriously even through 360 minutes finally had a decisive winner. With an early goal and tests of ever part of Pinto’s goal, Atlético was clearly the better side, leaving both sides no doubts as to who deserved a spot in the Champions League semifinals.

Transfer news: Renato to Man United; $50 million Batshuayi to West Ham

SEIXAL, PORTUGAL - MARCH 17:  Benfica«s midfielder Renato Sanches during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final between SL Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk at Caixa Futebol Campus on March 17, 2015 in Seixal, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images for UEFA)
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Benfica teenager Renato Sanches could cost Manchester United $60 million this summer and the Portuguese youngster is already preparing for his move.

[ MORE: Mourinho to wait? ]

According to Record in Portugal, Sanches is “prepared and excited” about a move to United and knows a deal is being discussed about a move this summer. It is believed the deal could cost in excess of $80 million when all is said and done.

The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder is one of the hottest properties on the planet and despite Louis Van Gaal‘s struggling to get into the UEFA Champions League for next season, it still won’t stop them splashing some serious cash on Sanches. Plus, it worked out pretty well for United the last time they signed a teenager from Portugal… (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).


Another big money move, and a surprising one at that, could see West Ham United move for Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

The Guardian believes that the Hammers have put in a bid in excess of $50 million for the Marseille striker who has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season. He is 22-years-old and it is believed Slaven Bilic wanted to sign him in January but was told he wouldn’t be available until the summer.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

With the 2016 European Championships coming up, Batshuayi should be included in Marc Wilmots’ 23-man Belgian squad but will face competition to get into the team from the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. Like the aforementioned trio, Batshuayi is a powerful striker who can hold the ball up but is also able to get in-behind opposition defenses.

West Ham have enjoyed great success in plucking Dimitri Payet from Marseille for $15 million last summer but they will likely face competition from Juventus, Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others for the Belgian’s signature.


The Daily Mail claims that new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has earmarked Gonzalo Higuain as his main transfer target this summer.

Higuain, 28, has been in fine form for Napoli this season, scoring 34 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. Per the report, the Argentine striker is said to be concerned of playing second fiddle to Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. However, if Costa is moved on with lucrative offers from China reportedly lined up, then Higuain could provide the goals to kick off Conte’s reign in west London.

The former Real Madrid striker has scored 223 goals in 451 career games and has 25 goals in 52 games for Argentina. It is clear Conte wants to stamp his authority on this team and with Costa scoring just 11 times this season, getting in a goal-machine will be the biggest target for the new Chelsea boss. Higuain will cost Chelsea over $60 million.

Riyad Mahrez has “50/50” chance of staying at Leicester

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Riyad Mahrez‘s chances of staying at Leicester City have been rated at 50/50.

The Algerian winger has been crowned the PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season as his 17 goals and 11 assists inspired Leicester to win the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

However, the man who the Foxes signed from Le Havre in January 2014 for just $800,000 is now being linked with a $45 million move to the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain among several other elite European teams.

Despite previously stating that he was happy at Leicester, his agent (Kamel Bengougam) is singing from a different hymn sheet as he spoke to the Guardian.

“Yes of course there is a possibility. When you have been playing the way Riyad has this season it is bound to attract attention. He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well so he would be happy to stay.

“But at his age if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”

His agent also added that they have interest “from the UK and overseas” and would “see what develops over the next few weeks” as the season comes to a close.

Mahrez is 25 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career following years of battling his way through the French lower leagues and has burst onto the scene this season as an integral part of Leicester’s success.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait?

The Algerian international winger is bound to have suitors and his ability to bamboozle defenses and score stunning goals with his supreme composure has reportedly seen Barcelona scout him constantly over the past few months.

Leicester doesn’t need to sell players and are financially set. However, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has already said that if players want to go, they can leave but has warned them they could be bit-parts at bigger clubs.

They could well be the case with Mahrez but in reality, is he ever going to have a season like this again? Should he and his agent cash in while they can?

Fellaini, Huth handed three-game suspensions

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Robert Huth and Marouane Fellaini will not play in the Premier League again this season.

The duo were both charged with violent conduct after they clashed in the first half of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City last Sunday.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Fellaini will miss United’s remaining three PL games of the season but will be available for the FA Cup final versus Crystal Palace at Wembley on May 21, while Huth will sit out Leicester’s two remaining games (he will, however, be able to participate in their title celebrations against Everton on Saturday and pick up his medal) and will also miss the opening game of next season.

The incident in question saw German defender Huth pull on Fellaini’s hair and the Belgian midfielder reacted by striking the Leicester defender in the face. Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s manager, described the incident as one of “sex masochist” in a hilarious video you can see above.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ] 

Below is the statement in full from the FA on their ruling:

Marouane Fellaini and Robert Huth will both serve a three-match suspension with immediate effect after being charged with violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Manchester United midfielder and Leicester City defender were involved in a 21st-minute incident during their fixture on Sunday 1 May 2016.

Both players accepted the charge, however, Huth contested that the standard penalty of a three-match suspension would be ‘clearly excessive’.

This claim, however, was rejected following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing today [Thursday 5 May 2016].

FA in “advanced talks” with Tottenham over move to Wembley

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur look set to play at Wembley Stadium while White Hart Lane is reconstructed.

Spurs will be without a stadium for the entire 2017-18 campaign as their current home will be demolished and a new $600 million stadium holding 61,000 will be built in its place.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]

The Chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke, believes a deal with Spurs will get over the line soon and he also claims they Spurs are also in talks about playing their UEFA Champions League games at the 90,000 capacity stadium next season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Speaking on Sky Sports News in the UK on Thursday, Dyke revealed that talks with Tottenham were at an advanced stage.

“We’re in discussions with Tottenham that they should come in for a full season when they’re building their new stadium, and we are a long way down the path on reaching agreement,” Dyke confirmed.

“I think there are some discussions about whether they will play Champions League games at Wembley next year but I don’t know much about that. But on the full season (2017-18), I think we’re quite close to a deal.”

So, as expected, Spurs will likely pay the FA a fee to rent the stadium — the FA then plan to reinvest it at the grassroots level — and play temporarily away from White Hart Lane.

That’s pretty standard and the only issue will be if Chelsea’s plans to renovate Stamford Bridge go ahead (the Blues are also looking to temporarily relocate to Wembley) but they’ll likely use it for three seasons and may not need to until 2018-19, such is the magnitude of their stadium project.

However, the real juicy bit of news here was that Spurs is looking to host Champions League games at Wembley next season.

With Mauricio Pochettino‘s men missing out on the title to Leicester, they are still guaranteed a spot in next seasons UCL and will return to play among Europe’s elite after a five-year absence.

I’m sure Spurs will get close to a sellout of 90,000 at Wembley for their UCL games and make a lot of money from it but does something about that seem a little strange? Having a season of UCL action in the old White Hart Lane stadium seems fitting and the cozy surroundings and electric atmosphere (it’s one of the loudest and best venues to watch a game in the PL) would certainly intimidate some of Europe’s big boys who may roll into town.

Yet, the fact that the Lane will only hold just over 32,000 fans next season, due to some seats being taken out for construction work, means that almost trebling crowds for big European nights makes sense. It will also give both the FA and Tottenham a chance to test out how things will work for the 2017-18 season.