Is Jose Mourinho set for a date with destiny?

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Jose Mourinho has already won two UEFA Champions League titles in his managerial career.

One with FC Porto in 2004, one with Inter Milan in 2010 and the Portuguese gaffer has guided Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea to eight UCL semifinals in total, a record.


Ahead of his latest UCL semifinal, this time Atletico Madrid stand in his way, Mourinho may want to win this one more than most. This season the Champions League final is in Jose’s home country of Portugal for the first time since 1967. It will be against the team he just left acrimoniously last summer, Real Madrid, plus he wants to go down in history as the first manager to win three UCL titles with three different teams from three different countries. Only the great Liverpool manager Bob Paisley has won the European Cup on three occasions.

Can the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ guide his makeshift Chelsea side into the final and create history in the process?

Much has been made about Mourinho’s ‘anti-football’ tactics of late, as Chelsea ground out a 0-0 draw away at Atletico in the first leg of their UCL semi and then beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield last Sunday. The man from Setubal knows how to get results when it matters, that’s why he is one of, if not the best, manager in the world right now.

“If I want to win 1-0, I think I can. One of the easiest things in football is to win 1-0,” Mourinho said earlier this season.

With the series evenly balanced at 0-0 following the first leg at a feisty Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, a 1-0 win would see Chelsea through to their third UCL final in club history. How will Mourinho’s men approach their dangerous opponents on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge?

If Chelsea make it to the final, Mourinho will face his old club Real Madrid.

Atleti has their own charismatic, opinionated and often broody manager: Diego Simeone. There will be a clash of Latin flair on the touchline in West London as both teams pride themselves on a blue collar image, yet also thrive off devastating counter attacks to finish off the opposition. The similarities are striking as Simeone has defended Mourinho’s defensive tactics before the clash after much hype in the media and the soccer community. That said, something has to give.

Mourinho and Chelsea can either shut up shop then pounce to punish Atletico on the break, or they can come flying out of the traps early on with the likes of Willian, Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard doing the damage. Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Nemanja Matic will be missing from midfield due to suspension and ineligibility, so that is where Mourinho will have a massive headache.

Rumors of veterans John Terry and Petr Cech rushing back from injury are filtering through. Both trained on Tuesday and on Sunday Mourinho admitted Terry could play against Atletico after previously ruling the duo out for the rest of the season. If those two could make the showdown, it would be a huge boost. As for Atletico, they’ll have Diego Costa primed and ready to sniff out any half chances Chelsea hand him as they stumble towards the Spanish league title. Their 1-0 win over Valencia last weekend was anything but convincing, yet the one thing Mourinho won’t be doing is underestimating the side from the Spanish capital. That is not his style.

Meticulous planning, breaking the game down minute-by-minute and making sure his troops are ready for every eventuality, Mourinho is this thorough for every game. However he’ll be desperate to make sure he hasn’t missed anything in his pregame preparation as he aims to reach his third UCL final as a boss, his first with Chelsea and book a trip back to his homeland to try and finish of the season in style. If Chelsea can negotiate their similarly well-drilled opponents from Madrid on Wednesday, they’ll face a showdown with Madrid’s other team, Real, who Jose knows well after managing them for three seasons.

A chance for revenge and an opportunity to scupper Real’s chances of UCL glory awaits; so does a shot at the only trophy Jose has never won at Chelsea. The scene is set for the ‘Special One’ to have a special night in the capital city of his homeland on May 24.

Can he set up a storybook finale?

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”