Real Madrid CF v Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final

Did Chelsea get it easy vs. Atletico? Bayern Munich or Real Madrid to win?

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Following the UEFA Champions League semifinal draw on Friday, many of Chelsea’s fans are rejoicing after they were handed Atletico Madrid.

Hold your horses their guys, will facing Atletico by an easy proposition?

Many would suggest otherwise, as the dark horse for the UCL crown knocked off Barcelona in the last round. However with European giants Real Madrid and Bayern Munich squaring up in the other semi, you can forgive Chelsea’s fan for thinking a match against Atleti is the easier of three very difficult opponents.

(MORE: UEFA Champions League semifinal draw – European giants clash in final four)

Superstars will collide to reach the UCL final in Lisbon, as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben, Gareth Bale and Fracnk Ribery will do battle when Bayern face Real. Stop drooling.

Without further adieu, let’s have a quick gander at both semifinals matchups and see how things could shake up.

source:  source:  Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea

Many are suggesting Jose Mourinho is licking his lips in anticipation of Chelsea facing Atletico Madrid… I’m not so sure. Yes, Atleti last reached the final four of the European cup 40 years ago but Diego Simeone’s side are well-drilled, lethal on the counter and are improving all the time. Like Chelsea, they prefer to defend and then hit times with lethal counter-attacks and press high up the pitch. These games will not be one for the purists but the pace will be relentless, and just one small mistake of a moment of sheer brilliance will decide who’ll reach the final in Lisbon on May 24.

If Diego Costa returns to fitness in time, John Terry and Gary Cahill will have their hands full marking him, then there’s the whole Thibaut Courtois conundrum as Chelsea’s ‘keeper is on-loan at Atletico and could play against them. Subplots will rumble along, as Mourinho returns to the Spanish capital to face the fierce rivals of his old team Real Madrid. As for the Blues, the determination and togetherness they showed to fight back and overturn a two-goal deficit against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinal was impressive. I was at Stamford Bridge in the second leg and the noise levels and support from the home fans really spurred the Blues on. Chelsea are favorites but the La Liga leaders mustn’t be underestimate.

First leg: April 22, 2:45 p.m. ET, Vicente Calderon stadium, Madrid
Second leg: April 30, 2:45 p.m. ET, Stamford Bridge stadium, London

source:  source:  Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich

They meet again. In the second leg of the 2012 semifinal, Real lost to Bayern on penalty kicks as the German side made up for their heartbreak at the Santiago Bernabeu 12 months earlier, when they lost the UCL final to Inter Milan in the same stadium. After beating Real in their last semi final match up, the Bundelisga champions went on to lose the final to Chelsea on PKs in their own stadium.

Now they are the reigning European champs, Real are the team with the most European cups in history and a glitzy showpiece semifinal will take place in both Madrid and Munich on April 23 and 29. Cristiano Ronaldo is rushing to be fit for the first leg but should be okay, as the Galacticos almost came unstuck against Bourssia Dortmund on Tuesday. Leading 3-0 from the first leg, Carlo Ancelotti’s side capitulated under pressure in Dortmund and trailed 2-0 early on. Somehow that is how the game finished, as Real backed into the semis tentatively. Now they are there, the quality of their squad means they must be one of the favorites to win the crown.

Bayern’s style and panache has blossomed under Pep Guardiola this season, and many soccer purists would’ve love to have seen this game be the final. Real and Bayern both possess the best attackers in the game, as Ronaldo, Ribery, Bale and Robben will do battle to seal a place in Lisbon. Expect this to be a shootout and whichever team defends best will likely go through. Bayern have an advantage with the second leg being away from home but as we saw against Manchester United they are hugely susceptible to pace and directness in the final third. That will be music to Real’s ears.

First leg: April 23, 2:45 p.m. ET, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Second leg: April 29, 2:45 p.m. ET, Allianz Arena, Munich

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.