Atlético through to all-Madrid final, eliminates Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

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This year’s final will be an all-Madrid affair after Atlético Madrid’s win at Stamford Bridge set up the biggest Derbi Madrileño in history. With goals from Adrián López, Diego Costa, and Arda Turan reversing Fernando Torres’s first half opener, La Liga’s leaders marauded into next month’s final, with the Colchoneros’ 3-1 win leaving Atlético to battle rival Real Madrid for this year’s UEFA Champions League  title.

Torres opened the scoring in the 36th minute after his shot from 10 yards out found a defender’s leg on its way toward goal. Just before halftime, Atlético responded through Adrían López, with a second half penalty conversion by Diego Costa putting the visitors in front. Just under 20 minutes from time, Arda Turan’s goal from just outside the six-yard box eliminated all doubt Diego Simeone’s side would reach its first final in 40 years.

Having eliminated the 2011-12 champions, Atlético is one step away from the team’s first European title, with only the club’s biggest rivals standing in its way. After a 4-0 win yesterday in Munich, Real Madrid earned its right to compete for a 10th European title, doing its part to set up the first inner-city matchup in a Champions League final.

More: Three things we learned from Atlético’s win in London

Atlético nearly claimed its away goal in the fifth minute when the second ball in from a corner saw Koke test Mark Schwarzer’s woodwork. Attempting to play a cleared ball back into the six-yard box, the Atleti midfielder’s chip cleared the Chelsea keeper and went off the crossbar. After coming down and hitting Gary Cahill, the ball sailed back over the bar, leaving the match scoreless.

After a half-hour of Chelsea control in an otherwise even game, the Blues got on the board. With a run from the middle of the field, Willian streaked behind the defense’s left and onto a through ball rolled toward the corner. Cesar Azpilicueta, getting a surprise start at right wing, ran into the vacated space and onto his teammate’s pass, where the Spaniard found Torres 10 yards from goal. The former Atlético striker declined to celebrate after his one-timed shot deflected into the left of goal, leaving Thiabult Courtois no chance to prevent the tie’s opening goal.

The home side’s lead would only last eight minutes, however, thanks to a lapse by Eden Hazard. In the 44th, the Colchoneros moved the ball from deep on the left back toward the middle, where Tiago found Koke racing past Hazard toward the far post. A cross volleyed across the six by Koke found Adrián at the other upright, with the forward’s shot bouncing into the top corner for the away goal.

More: Jose Mourinho blames “injuries, suspensions” as Chelsea come up short

source: AP
Chelsea players wait to kick off after Diego Costa gave Atlético Madrid a 2-1 lead at Stamford Bridge. (Photo: AP Photos.)

Eight minutes into the second half, Chelsea nearly went back in front when a restart from Willian met John Terry near the penalty spot. The captain’s header was hit well toward Courtois’ line, but the Chelsea loanee was able to get down to his left to maintain Atlético’s edge.

In the 59th minute, Samuel Eto’o committed the error that sealed Chelsea’s fate. Taking down Costa just inside the penalty area, the Cameroonian, who had just come on five minutes earlier, gave the Spanish international a chance from the spot. After drawing a yellow card while having trouble placing the ball, Costa finished high into the left side of goal, giving Atlético a 2-1 lead.

Five minutes later, David Luiz’s header off another Willian restart went off Courtois’s right post, giving the Bridge faithful hope their side was prepared to respond. In the 71st minute, however, Atlético was able to recreate its first goal, with a Juanfran’s run behind Hazard producing an opportunity for Arda Turan, who put the day’s final score into the right side of goal.

More: Your Champions League Final: Real Madrid goes for No. 10; Atlético goes for No. 1

With the 3-1 win, Atlético Madrid completes the first ever Champions League final between clubs from the same city. It’s also the second time two Spanish clubs have played for Europe’s title and the fifth time teams from the same federation will play for club soccer’s most prestigious honor.

On May 24 in Lisbon, however, most of those finer details will be irrelevant. The battle for Madrid will be in focus, as will Real Madrid’s quest for its coveted decima at its rival’s expense.

For Atlético, however, Lisbon will give the club a chance to finish its quick rise to European elite. Beat their rivals at the Estadio da Luz, and Atleti will claim their first Champoins League title.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday