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UEFA Champions League preview: Atlético Madrid, Chelsea kick off the semifinals

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Particularly compared to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal, there’s a temptation to see Atlético Madrid and Chelsea as a pair of blunt objects – two teams who put on more pragmatic faces than Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Given the two sides’  talents, the temptation makes for a convenient but misleading contrast, even if the teams’ primary creators, Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Arda Turan (Atlético Madrid), could both miss out. The Blues, one of the world’s most expensive teams, will still have the likes of Willian, Oscar, and André Schürrle at their disposal, while Atleti have skilled talents like David Villa, Diego, and José Sosa to augment Spain’s second-leading scorer: Diego Costa.

At least, that’s the generous way to look at it. As Atlético head coach Diego Simeone pointed out in Monday’s pre-match press conference, the broader, reductive perception carries a kernel of truth. When Chelsea visits the Spanish leaders on Tuesday, two similar sides will begin vying for a place in next month’s Champions League final.

“We have the best defensive records in our respective leagues,” the Argentine boss explained. “We both have good defenses and play a direct attacking game. We’re both also good at set pieces. These characteristics have led to us each fighting for titles.”

After this weekend, one team’s fight is more vibrant than the others. With a 2-0 win over visiting Elche, Atlético remains on track for its first league title in 18 years. In England, however, Chelsea again slipped against one of the teams in the Premier League’s bottom half, its 2-1 loss to Sunderland taking the team’s title destiny out of its hands.

It was a performance that feeds into a quiet theory about the Blues, one that, if true, does not bode will for Chelsea’s chances against Atlético. Chelsea, the thinking goes, is most effective against teams that are willing to try to play through them, an approach that opens opponents up to a practically patented Mourinho counter. Against teams the Blues have to break down, however, a defense that is by far the best in England gets exposed, leading to upsets like the ones they’ve endured against Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, and Newcastle.

source:  It’s a weakness that would play into Atleti’s hands, if Chelsea had to pursue them. But unlike league play, where the Blues need to collect full points from the circuit’s weaker sides, Chelsea doesn’t have to chase Atlético, particularly in Tuesday’s road leg. Instead, the former champions can be patient, force Atlético to try to break them down, and hope for their own opportunities to counter.

“No team arrives in a UEFA Champions League semifinal without being a very good team, and they are no exceptions,” Chelsea boss José Mourinho said on Monday. “To be here they have to be a very good team … (we) have studied and analysed them.”

If Atlético tries to press them, as they do all each opponent, Chelsea can just kick the ball away. We’re fine playing without possession. When Atlético retrieves it, the Blues can sit deep and be patient. If you’re not going to take chances, we’ll wait you out. If Atlético can’t create something independent of Chelsea mistakes, this matchup could be decided by set pieces. Or penalty kicks.

“This is a semifinal, and as such it will be a very tight match,” Simeone said. “It is a game that will be decided by very small details. Teamwork will be all-important in helping to bring out the individual qualities that can decide games. Whoever can do that best will be closer to winning the first leg.”

Maybe Costa, able to score when opponents aren’t gifting goals, can make Chelsea pay for that approach, but as the Blues showed while claiming Europe’s crown two years ago, 90 minutes of mistake-free soccer is not beyond their talents. And as Atleti showed through February’s slump, they’re not above making mistakes of their own.

Particularly in leg one, when Chelsea may look to limit damage on the road, the matchup’s main question will be laid center stage: Can Atlético break down Chelsea before Chelsea breaks on Atlético?


source: AP1. Thibault Courtois will play for Atlético – Under contract to Chelsea, Courtois has spent the better part of two seasons with Atlético, where his loan stints have established the Belgian international as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. By the terms of the teams’ loan agreement, the 21-year-old shouldn’t be able to play, but after the teams were drawn against each other just over a week ago, UEFA quickly said it considered such a clause unenforceable.

Quietly, the Blues have agreed to let their goalkeeper play against them, and while Chelsea fans would rightly see that as unconscionable, the decision reveals a previously unspoken reality. After two years in Madrid, Courtois is more Atleti than Chelsea. His true employer seems more of a technicality than a reflection of his spirit. On Tuesday, Atlético’s keeper’s unlikely to play with mixed emotions.

2. Fernando Torres faces his original club – Even though his role with Chelsea continues to wane,  Torres matching up against his former team is important in the same way Didier Drogba facing his former club had meaning in the Round of 16.

Torres is a legitimate legend at Atlético, having come through the club’s youth ranks before spending parts of seven seasons with the first team. Even if he’s with the opposition, that he’s present while the club plays in its first semifinal in 40 years has emotional value. It will be strange to see him play against Atlético in such an important match at the Calderón.

source: Getty Images3. José back against Atlético – The last time Mourinho faced the Colchoneros was last year’s Copa del Rey final, with Atlético’s upset of Mourinho’s Real Madrid confirming a rare trophy-less season for the coach. Mourinho would go on to call 2012-13 the worst year of his career.

One year later, Atlético have another chance to leave Mourinho without silverware. Unless Chelsea can win at Anfield, they’ll be out of the Premier League title race, with next week’s second leg in London set to decide whether the Blues also bow out of Europe.

4. An unwilling semifinal specialist – Mourinho has made two Champions League finals, winning them both (2003-04 with Porto; 2009-10 with Inter Milan). Those triumphs have been the exceptions in Mourinho’s seven previous semifinal appearances, with the 51-year-old unable a final with either Chelsea or Real Madrid.

On Tuesday, Mourinho sets the record for most semifinal appearances by a manager: eight. If he can’t get past Atlético, however, six exits at the penultimate step start to look look like a stumbling block. Even if there’s a good reason for the exits — even if Mourinho may be getting quarterfinal-quality teams one found too far — he be seen as a kind of inverse specialist – somebody who hasn’t entirely solved the semifinals.

Spain’s Lopetegui open to recalling all-time scorer David Villa

David Villa, New York City FC
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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For all the glossing of Major League Soccer as a retirement league for European stars, David Villa’s performance in MLS may’ve rebirthed his international career.

Villa, 34, has 97 caps and 59 goals for Spain but has not played for La Furia Roja since scoring against Australia in his only appearance of World Cup 2014.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule set ]

He retired after the tournament, but that doesn’t mean new coach Julen Lopetegui won’t be trying to call him back into the fold.

From The Daily Mail:

“The truth is that I saw him very well and playing with a lot of intensity,” Lopetegui told Onda Cero.

“Villa continues to play at a very good level and in the future we will see if he can return. We don’t close the door to any player and we always have consideration for players that can help the national team.”

He’s Spain’s all-time leading scorer by a 15-goal margin, and Villa’s prolific rate .6 goals per national team game is second only to Alfredo di Stefano amongst the nation’s Top Ten scorers.

Would he be interested? We like to think so, and Villa has been dominant for NYCFC in a potential MVP season. NYCFC faces Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 10

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Week 10 of the Premier League is here as we are a quarter of the way into the season. It’s still ridiculously tight across the league.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


West Brom 1-2 Man City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-2 West Ham – (Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 2-1 Swansea City – (Monday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 3-2 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]


Middlesbrough 1-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 12 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


Man City’s Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Manchester City manger Pep Guardiola reacts on the side line during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola hasn’t been humbled by Manchester City’s tough run, mostly because he’s kept his expectations grounded.

The celebrated manager, 45, has overseen three losses and three draws since his red-hot start to life in the Premier League.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule set ]

Those matches have come against strong competition, not a lower table team in the bunch. Losses to Barcelona, Manchester United, and Spurs join draws against Southampton, Everton, and Celtic.

Not a lot of shame in that. And Guardiola knows it’s a process, albeit one his players may not understand right now.

“For the players, they don’t deserve this,” says the City boss. “We are in this period like it is but it will make us stronger in the future, I am sure about that.

“There are many things that have changed. I need time to learn, to improve. I’m still in that process.”

Up next: West Brom and newly-extended manager Tony Pulis, followed by a return leg with Barcelona.

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 10

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Week 10 of the 2016-17 Premier League season as the games continue to come thick and fast. And remember, the clocks go back in England on Sunday morning so there are a few tweaks to kick off times.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

It all kicks off with Sunderland hosting Arsenal (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC at the Stadium of Light as David Moyes‘ side look to grab their first win of the season. Meanwhile Arsenal is seven games unbeaten and Arsene Wenger‘s sit joint-top after six wins in the last season.

Then Manchester United host Bunrley (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC with Jose Mourinho aiming to get back to winning ways after a heavy defeat at Chelsea last time out. Burnley is yet to pick up any points on the road in the PL this season. At the same time Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City clash at White Hart Lane  (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC as two title contenders from last season collide. Should be an epic encounter.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games

Rounding things off on Saturday, Crystal Palace welcome Liverpool to Selhurst Park (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC with Christian Benteke aiming to show his former club exactly what they’re missing.

On Sunday Everton host West Ham United at Goodison Park (9:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC with Ronald Koeman‘s Everton looking to bounce back from three games without a win in the PL against a West Ham side who is now four unbeaten and buoyed by two-straight PL wins. Later on Sunday there’s an intriguing clash at St Mary’s as in-form Southampton and Chelsea collide (12 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Will Conte or Puel prevail?

Next Monday Stoke City host Swansea City at the bet 365 Stadium (4 p.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC with Swans boss Bob Bradley still waiting for his first win as a Premier League manager. Stoke has won two on the spin and are four games unbeaten, so it will be a tough ask for Swansea.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.



7:30 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham vs. Leicester City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Hull City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Manchester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool – NBC [STREAM]


9:30 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Ham United – NBCSN [STREAM]
12 p.m. ET: Southampton vs. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]


4 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]