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

Leave a comment

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.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
1 Comment

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

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

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.”