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

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager.”

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4

How long is Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC?

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While Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League success has largely been driven by Sebastian Giovinco — Wednesday’s final second leg not withstanding — perhaps the Reds’ brass isn’t convinced the diminutive 31-year-old can keep it up much longer (at least in terms of value).

[ MORE: Behind the scenes at NYCFC training ]

Toronto’s dynamic Designated Player says he wants to stay in Ontario, implying that he’d like to be there for the rest of his career, but TFC’s brass may not want to pony up DP dollars for the next stage of Giovinco’s career.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson:

“I already talk, but they said it’s not the moment (for contract talks),” Giovinco told the Sun. “For them, that’s not a problem, for me it is a little bit. I want to know my future. I have family. I’m 31 years old. For what I do for the city, I think I deserve it, no? … For them it’s not a problem, for me it’s starting to be a problem … I already said I want to stay here forever … If not, I have to think about other options.”

Let’s look into Seba’s success. The Italian has three goals and four assists in seven CCL matches (though scoreless through three MLS matches).

2017: 32 games, 20 goals, seven assists (6W-3L-2T w/o him)
2016: 37 games, 22 goals, 16 assists (1W-1L-4T w/o him)
2015: 35 games, 23 goals, 14 assists (0W-2L w/o him)

The assist numbers took a hit with the emergence of Victor Vazquez, but the ex-Barcelona man is also 31 years old. Michael Bradley turns 31 this summer, and Jozy Altidore is 29 in November.

Who will stay long-term? Who could general manager Tim Bezbatchenko have in mind as replacements, upgrades, or buttressing? Inquiring minds are