Three things we learned from Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea


Following Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday at the Vicente Calderon, the Blues grabbed exactly what they wanted from the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal.

Jose Mourinho set his side up to defend and frustrate Atleti, and the boys from West London did that superbly. The Special One is a master at manufacturing these kind of performances.


It is all square heading into the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, as both teams will be happy with a winner-takes-all battle.

Here are three things we learned from a tight first leg of this Champions League semifinal.

Chelsea revert to Plan A: Defend

The best defense in the Premier League stuck to what it knows best away in Madrid: defend, defend, defend. Analyzing Jose Mourinho’s lineup before kick off, you could see what his intentions would be. David Luiz and John Obi Mikel (who incidentally were both celebrating their 27th birthday’s on Tuesday) both sat in front of the back four, as Chelsea’s water-tight defense became virtually impassable. Diego and Rui Garcia were starved off space in front of Chelsea’s backline, as Mikel and Luiz snapped at the heels of Atletico’s attackers. In a week where they lost at home to Sunderland, then have a massive clash against Liverpool at Anfield, Mourinho’s men went back to basics. It worked, handsomely. The Blues let Diego Simeone’s men have it wide and congested the space in the box, which suffocated Diego Costa’s ability to wriggle and writhe between central defenders. Chelsea showed no real intent going forward, as long balls pumped aimlessly towards Fernando Torres the entire game were too easy for Atleti to handle. Defensively, it was the kind of performance you would show to youth teams on tape time and time again.

 MORE FROM SOCCERLY: Tactical match puts onus upon next week

Lampard, Mikel out of second leg, Cech and Terry injured

After just 18 minutes Petr Cech was heading towards the sidelines, a push from David Luiz saw Rui Garcia bundle into Cech as the Chelsea ‘keeper fell awkwardly (reportedly dislocating his shoulder) and had to be replaced by Mark Schwarzer. In the second half Frank Lampard was handed a yellow card that rules him out of the second leg, then John Terry hobbled off after his ankle was trampled on by Diego Costa and then against Luiz’s foot to end his night. Then Mikel was booked, as he’ll miss the second leg too with suddenly a whole host of players potentially out for the Blues. Jose Mourinho can’t be ultra-defensive at home, so whether Mikel or Lampard would’ve played next Wednesday at Stamford Bridge is doubtful. What is more concerning are the injuries to Cech and Terry, especially with the game against Liverpool to come on Sunday, as it looks like both men face lengthy spells on the sidelines. Progress into the UCL final should be the main priority, so expect to see Chelsea leave out a few of their key players when they head to Anfield this weekend.

Experience rules

It’s not that Atletico’s team aren’t full of experienced players, because they are. Most are in their late 20’s, they only had three players 25 or under (Diego Costa, Koke and Thibaut Courtois) and most have been around the block a few times. Yet never in the Champions League semifinals. Chelsea’s players looked at ease in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Vicente Calderon. John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard… they have decades of Champions League experience between them and their calm persona proved vital against Atletico. Little flicks around the corner here, shirt pulls and arms cleverly placed around the shoulders there, JT and co. did a job on Atletico. Chelsea knew they had to counter-attack Atletico’s exuberance by plugging gaps, running themselves into the ground and staying tight and compact. They did just that, as Atletico were left frustrated, while Chelsea were happy to thwart their Spanish opponents.

Joint World Cup bidders: Trump hasn’t sparked voter concerns

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Organizers of the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup insist FIFA members have not expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s harsh words about foreigners or the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting corrupt soccer officials.

[ MORE: Digging into the latest USMNT roster ]

“Look, this is not geopolitics,” new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said Monday during a conference call. “We’re talking about football and what fundamentally at the end of the day, what’s the best interests of football and our footballing community, and we’ve had no backlash. We’re very focused on the merits of our bid.”

A joint bid by the United States, Mexico and Canada was submitted to FIFA on Friday along with a proposal by Morocco. The 207 other members of the international soccer governing body will vote on June 13 in Moscow.

Cordeiro, Mexican Football Federation President Decio de Maria and Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed spoke from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they were meeting with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, a subset of the Asian Football Confederation.

A solo bid by the U.S. for the 2022 World Cup was favored going into the 2010 vote but lost to Qatar. FIFA then changed the vote rules to give the decision back to the entire membership, which chose hosts prior to 1986, when the choice started being made by the roughly two dozen members of its executive committee.

“We believe that the member associations are going to judge us on the quality of the bids, on the merits of our bid, and that’s it,” Reed said. “We’re very confident about what we’re putting forward, and I don’t think that we’re concerned about politics.”

Sixty games would be played in the U.S. under the bid plan, including all from the quarterfinals on. Three cities were included from Mexico and Canada, and both of those nations would host 10 games.

Holding a tournament in the U.S. would subject many of the documents generated to subpoena by U.S. federal prosecutors, who have secured numerous guilty pleas to corruption charges from soccer officials since 2015 and obtained convictions at trial last year against Juan Angel Napout, the former president of South American soccer’s governing body, and Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.

“We haven’t had any of those concerns raised by any of the members that we’ve met so far,” Cordeiro said. “The reforms that FIFA undertook some years ago I think were spot on and we feel very confident that ultimately the right decision will be made.”

Morocco’s bid envisions spending almost $16 billion, including $3 billion to construct nine new stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

[ MORE: Brazil to face Austria in final World Cup tune-up match ]

The North American bid proposed venues be selected from among 23 stadiums that exist or already are under construction, including three each in Mexico and Canada. Sixteen of the U.S. stadiums are sites of NFL teams.

“The split of matches that we have proposed to FIFA frankly reflects the resources of the three countries,” Cordeiro said. “We in the United States are blessed with some very substantial resources in terms of stadium infrastructure, of cities and so on, and that reflects the 60 matches that we have on the table. But at the end of the day there is a reason why FIFA have asked for or have encouraged joint bids and we do think that our joint bids taken together provide for a vastly superior bid than our competition.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.

Ailing LA Galaxy could miss as many as 10 players this weekend

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We’re less than a month into the new Major League Soccer season, and one club is already left scrambling to find players for its next match.

[ MORE: A deeper look at the USMNT roster ]

Between injuries, international call ups and a suspension, the LA Galaxy could be without as many as 10 players this weekend.

Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos are among the notable names likely to be absent for Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but seven more players could be left unavailable for Sigi Schmid’s squad.

Kamara was the latest player to be named to his respective national team, with the striker being called up to Norway on Monday.

Meanwhile, both Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have earned call ups to Mexico, and Emrah Klimenta has been selected by Montenegro for its next friendlies against Cyprus and Turkey.

Both Dos Santos brothers are battling injuries of their own, so they may not feature for El Tri, but that won’t necessarily help the Galaxy either as they are kept sidelined.

Of the ten players possibly missing the Whitecaps match, five of them (Michael Ciani, Cole, Gio dos Santos, J. dos Santos and Kamara) started in the Galaxy’s last game — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC.

Report: Chelsea, Real Madrid could make sensational swap

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Real Madrid’s interest in a certain Chelsea star has been well-noted for some time, and with the World Cup nearing this summer, Los Blancos may finally be able to get their man.

[ MORE: Brazil to play Austria in final World Cup tune-up ]

Eden Hazard has long been a Madrid target, and with the Belgium international seemingly more and more interested by a move away from Stamford Bridge, the veteran attacker could see himself join Real after the World Cup in Russia.

According to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real could secure a move for Hazard this summer, while sending young attacker Marco Asensio to Chelsea.

While hypothetical at this point, the move makes sense for both clubs, particularly from a Blues perspective as they look for young attacking players.

The 22-year-old Asensio has been seeking regular minutes at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale regularly included in the starting squad, that has been nearly impossible for the Spanish international.

Meanwhile, Real would be gaining another incredibly talented attacking piece to go along with Ronaldo and Bale, although the latter has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for some time.

Real has also been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain winger Neymar, who has spent less than a season in France.

It’s a ways away from happening, but a front three of Hazard, Ronaldo and Neymar would certainly make El Clasico even more intriguing than usual, with Real facing off against a Barcelona squad that currently boasts Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.