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.

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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?

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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?

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.