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Champions League: Trying to find room between Chelsea, Atlético

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After seeing Real Madrid romp through Munich, it seems a bit disingenuous to, for the second day in a row, discuss a switch in venue as if it may be decisive. Certainly the move of Champions League’s other semifinal from Madrid to Stamford Bridge could have an impact, but the Merengues’ Tuesday dismantling of the former champs showed focusing on venue has its limits. Better to consider whether the change will affect either team’s approach.

On Tuesday, we knew it wouldn’t. Bayern was going to dominate the ball, while Real Madrid was going to look to hit them on the break. On Wednesday, however, the game plans aren’t so clear. While some suspect the Chelsea we’ve seen over the last two games will again show up on Wednesday, José Mourinho’s approach against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals tells a different story. At home, chasing two goals, Chelsea opened up and beat PSG, 2-0.

The Blues had a huge incentive to change last round, an incentive that doesn’t exist on Wednesday. The teams enter tomorrow’s second leg having drawn 0-0, giving Chelsea reason to believe staying the course tactically could get them to the final. The second PSG performance still serves as a proof of concept, though. Those who don’t watch Chelsea regularly might be inclined to assume the current narrative, that they bunker all the time, is true, but this is a team that averages 55 percent possession in the Premier League, a number they duplicated in Champions League’s group stage. Getting nine behind the ball is only one of the gambits José Mourinho can play.

“Against Paris we were in a position where we had nothing to lose and no one really expecting us to turn the result around,” Mourinho explained on Tuesday. “At the moment, it is a ‘clean’ result, it is 0-0 and the chances are equal.”

The Chelsea could very well employ a different plan on Wednesday, particularly with Eden Hazard likely to return. The problem, however, is Atlético. Just as Chelsea’s personnel and natural tendencies leave them best served playing a more conservative style, so does Atleti’s, albeit in a noticeably different way. When playing against a team that wants the ball, Atlético’s high press is the most relentless (and, effective) in Europe. Under ideal circumstances, Chelsea may want to control play at home, but a match against a Diego Simeone team is never an ideal circumstance.

It is the nightmare scenario that surfaced when these teams were drawn together. Both talented yet risk averse, each capable of playing with or without the ball, what would happen to this tie if both lost the incentive to take risks?Atlético tried to score in leg one but couldn’t. They’re now in a situation where the best possibility of reward could be to lie in wait. Chelsea, on the other hand, has reason to believe being more aggressive could be rewarded, but that also plays into its opponent’s hands. What if both of these teams take a “let’s see what happens approach?”

“I respect different ways of setting out your team,” Simeone explained. “It’s about what’s the best way for a specific game or a specific opposition … There is no ‘best way’.”

The attitude hints leg two could play out like last week’s opener at the Vicente Calderón. Even if it doesn’t, the goalkeeping of Thibault Courtois and potentially Petr Cech — two of the best keepers in Europe — could keep the game at a stalemate. Though attacking threats like Hazard, Diego Costa, Óscar and Arda Turan are littered throughout the squads, the team’s combinations of talent, organization, and approach gives the defenses the upper hand. With strong back fours protected by defensive-minded midfield pairs in front, these teams look set to take this one past 120 minutes.

What could change this course? The obvious. One of these teams could have a bad day. Or one could go Real Madrid, play their best game of the season, and blow their opponents off the field. Diego Costa, averaging a goal-per-game (seven) in this year’s Champions League, could win this with one set piece conversion or finish off a perfectly served long ball. Or maybe an Atlético player will slip while on the ball, allowing Chelseato recycle its fortune fromAnfield.

“For the 90 minutes the players are more important than the manager,” Mourinho said. “I trust them a lot and that helps me to be calm.”

As much as any semifinal in recent memory, this one’s impossible to call, and as the first leg in Madrid showed, there’s little in the play, matchup, or philosophies that gives us a clue as to who’ll emerge victorious. But in a game that’s likely to be decided by one goal (probably the first), every moment will prove crucial. Onlookers my bemoan a match that lacks chances, but the scarcity of those opportunities means Wednesday’s game can be decided at any time.

Vertonghen to miss 2 months with ankle ligament damage

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur receives treatment from the medical team during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jan Vertronghen is expected to miss at least two months while recovering from ankle ligament damage, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Tottenham Hotspur currently second in the Premier League, seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Vertonghen suffered the injury in the 65th minute of Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion, when he went full-stretch to clear the ball along the sideline before landing on the outside of his left foot, causing the ankle to roll violently. The 29-year-old Belgian international was in clear, visible agony as he sat on the field at White Hart Lane and eventually limped down the tunnel.

The Guardian described the injury as “a tear lying between grades two and three, damage which had left Vertonghen in tears as he departed the turf at White Hart Lane and would normally rule him out at the very least until mid-March.”

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

In the meantime, Kevin Wimmer and Ben Davies will be tasked with filling the void for a Tottenham side which has conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League this season (14 in 21 games). (As a small aside, 19-year-old American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers is likely set for a handful of appearances as well, perhaps in the Europa League round of 32 and FA Cup fourth round, with Wimmer and Davies called upon for additional PL service.)

Wimmer filled in for Vertonghen for nearly three months last season, at the exact same point of the campaign (Jan. 20 through April 2). In Wimmer’s 10 PL starts during that stretch (Vertonghen out with knee ligament damage), Spurs conceded seven goals (seven wins and two draws). The loss of Toby Aldeweireld, for nearly two months back in October of this season, proved a far greater blow (two wins in six PL games), and Spurs should once again manage just fine for as long as Aldeweireld remains healthy alongside Eric Dier, Wimmer and Davies.

MLS SuperDraft Rounds 3 & 4: Thierjung to SJ, all picks

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Major League Soccer put the finishing touches on its four round SuperDraft of (mostly) college player with the third and fourth rounds on Tuesday.

[ MORE: First and second round wrap ]

Here’s how they played out:

  1. Colorado Rapids – Jaime Saij, Pfeiffer
  2. Atlanta United – Andrew Wheeler-Ominu, Harvard
  3. Chicago Fire – Brandt Bronico, Charlotte
  4. Real Salt Lake – Andrew Putna, Illinois-Chicago
  5. Columbus Crew SC – Connor Maloney, Penn State
  6. San Jose Earthquakes – Christian Thierjung, California
  7. Vancouver Whitecaps – Jorge Gomez Sanchez, Temple
  8. Toronto FC – Robert Moewes, GK, Duke
  9. FC Dallas – Austin Ledbetter, SIU-Edwardsville
  10. New York City FC – Chris Wingate, New York City FC
  11. Philadelphia Union – Chris Nanco, Syracuse
  12. Seattle Sounders – Doug Goodman, Georgetown
  13. Real Salt Lake – Pass
  14. Sporting KC – David Graczek, Rutgers
  15. FC Dallas – Dakota Barnathan, VCU
  16. New York City FC – Michael DeGraffenriedt, Louisville
  17. New York Red Bulls – Jordan Scarlett, Iona
  18. FC Dallas – Wulito Fernandes, Mass-Lowell
  19. Montreal Impact – Pass
  20. Orlando City SC – Danny Deakin, South Carolina
  21. Toronto FC – Oyvind Alseth, Syracuse
  22. Seattle Sounders – Jake Stovall, Wright State

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

Round 4

  1. Minnesota United – Tanner Thompson, Indiana
  2. Atlanta United – Alex Kapp, Creighton
  3. Chicago Fire – Matej Dekovic, Charlotte
  4. Houston Dynamo – Robby Sagel, Penn State
  5. Columbus Crew SC – Logan Ketterer, GK, Bradley
  6. San Jose Earthquakes – Auden Schileder, GK, Washington
  7. Vancouver Whitecaps – Nazeem Bartman, USF
  8. Real Salt Lake – Pass
  9. New England Revolution – Joshua Smith, San Francisco
  10. Portland Timbers – Russell Cicerone, Buffalo
  11. Philadelphia Union – Jack Elliott, West Virginia
  12. DC United – Pass
  13. Real Salt Lake – Pass
  14. Portland Timbers – Romilio Hernandez, Louisville
  15. LA Galaxy – Pass
  16. Philadelphia Union  – Santi Moar, Pfeiffer
  17. Toronto FC – Lars Eckenrode, Michigan
  18. FC Dallas – Marco Carrizales, Furman
  19. Montreal Impact – Pass
  20. Colorado Rapids – Peguy Ngatcha, Wright State
  21. Toronto FC – Juan Pablo Saavedra, Virginia Tech
  22. Seattle Sounders – Kyle Bjornethun, Seattle

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FOLLOW LIVE: Three PL sides face FA Cup replays

Burnley's Andre Gray, right, and Sunderland's Lamine Kone battle for the ball as Burnley's mascot Bertie Bee looks on during their English Premier League match at Turf Moor, Burnley England Saturday Dec. 31, 2016. (Richard Sellers/PA via AP)
Richard Sellers/PA via AP
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Five Premier League sides face FA Cup third-round replays this week, with three of them in action on Tuesday.

Most in-focus will be Sunderland’s visit to Burnley. Usually a match like this would be considered an unnecessary obstacle, but the Black Cats need to find some semblance of form.

If David Moyes‘ group could nab a win, just their second in 10 outings, maybe they could drag those good vibes into the Hawthorns for a weekend PL match against West Brom.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: FA Cup third round replays ]

Burnley has surged into the top half of the Premier League table, 10 points above the drop, and can consider the idea of a Cup run.

The other PL match sees Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace hosting Bolton.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Full FA Cup third-round replay schedule

Burnley vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET
AFC Wimbledon vs. Sutton United — 2:45 p.m. ET
Barnsley vs. Blackpool — 2:45 p.m. ET
Fleetwood Town vs. Bristol City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crystal Palace vs. Bolton — 3 p.m. ET
Lincoln City vs. Ipswich Town — 3:05 p.m. ET

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Premier League Power Rankings: Tight at the top… and bottom

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea pulls on the shirt of Harry Kane of Spurs during the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Chelsea’s 7-point lead atop the Premier League table still feels relatively safe, even if Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United continue their table-surging form.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

That makes a set of Power Rankings, designed to combine table situation with form, even tighter, and Spurs have really made life difficult for our rankers.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

The bottom of the table is even closer, with four teams within a single point of the final spot of safety in the Premier League.

Here are this week’s rankings.

TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (19) Sunderland: “Hello darkness, my old friend.
I’ve come to talk with you again.”
source: 19 (18) Crystal Palace: Big Sam Allardyce has famously “never been relegated”, but at this point it looks like he may go down with a better squad than he’s had at a lot of other stops. We’ll see.
source: 18 (17) Swansea City: Reinforcements are coming, but the back line is still wobbly.
Hull City logo 17 (20) Hull City: Tigers looking a lot better under Marco Silva, even in a 2-0 EFL Cup semi loss to Manchester United.
source: 16 (15) Watford: The Hornets have not won a league game since Dec. 10, its only PL win since mid-November.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 15 (16) Middlesbrough: Aitor Karanka‘s side looks like a group that can beat the drop, but Boro needs to turn a draw into a win at some point soon.
source: 14 (11) Southampton: Claude Puel‘s unit is struggling, losers of four-straight in Premier League play. Saints are, however, a result away from the EFL Cup final.
Leicester City logo 13 (14) Leicester City: The Foxes’ 3-0 loss to Chelsea feels worse than it is, as Leicester has looked better in recent weeks.
source: 12 (9) Bournemouth: The 3-0 lead against Arsenal turned into a draw, and the Cherries backed it up with a 3-1 loss to Hull City. Down they go.
source: 11 (10) West Ham United: The Dimitri Payet saga keeps the Irons from rising even higher in the Power Rankings. Michail Antonio is fantastic.
source: 10 (12) Stoke City: The Potters haven’t made the leap to a top-end club, but continue to win most games they should.
source: 9 (8) West Bromwich Albion: No shame in getting crushed by red-hot Spurs, though it may serve as a reality check for Tony Pulis and Co.
burnley fc crest 8 (13) Burnley: Three wins in four, with the outlier being a close loss to Man City. Enjoy the high life, Clarets!
Logo_Manchester_City 7 (6) Manchester City: The mighty have indeed fallen, and how bad might it look after another match against Spurs?
Source: Everton FC 6 (7) Everton: That win over Man City is going to linger for a while, and don’t forget the Toffees took care of Arsenal not too long ago. Six with a bullet?
source: 5 (4) Arsenal: It remains hard to get a read on the Gunners, who are still aching for a statement win since back-to-back losses against Man City and Everton.
source: 4 (3) Liverpool: The EFL Cup setback doesn’t push them in our rankings, but the Reds were second-best — not by a ton — to United on Sunday. That’s enough for a flip-flop.
source: 3 (4) Manchester United: The better team in the draw against Liverpool.
source: 2 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: Took everything in our power not to boost them, but a 7-point gap is a lot. Beat Man City this week and we’ll revisit the issue.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Costa situation is a problem, but you wouldn’t know it from the steadied ship that ushered hosts Leicester to a 3-0 defeat.

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