After raw deal at Chelsea, Ancelotti’s 5th Champions League is redemption years in the making

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By the fifth time, even winning the European Cup can get to be a little routine.

That’s what Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti did yesterday by defeating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final yesterday, cementing himself at the very top of not just managerial history, but soccer history altogether.

However, it seemed that in the waning hours of Madrid’s victory night, as the dust settled on his third Champions League title as a manager, this could be Ancelotti’s most important of them all.

The 54-year-old Italian won two European Cup titles as a player, captaining a legendary AC Milan team in the late 1980’s that destroyed the competition.  He’s used to domination.

So once he left his comfort zone after managing AC Milan to two more titles, it was clear he was headed for greatness. But even Ancelotti isn’t immune to bumps in the road.

Roman Abramovich hired Ancelotti in 2009 still trying to replace the gaping hole he had created after his falling out with Jose Mourinho, a void that Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, and Guus Hiddink all failed trying to plug.

But Ancelotti was the man for the job, leading Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2010 in his first season on the job, becoming the first Italian manager to win the Premier League and proving he wasn’t just a one-team band.

Winning outside a comfort zone is a difficult thing to do, and after a total of 13 years at AC Milan, he proved his worth at not just another club but another league altogether, the mark of a man at the top of his profession.

He won the FA Cup as well, making him only the second-ever non-British manager alongside Arsene Wenger to lead an English team to the domestic double.

The next year Chelsea struggled somewhat, falling to fifth place after a poor run of form. He engineered a remarkable turnaround, as Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, but once again Abramovich couldn’t help himself.

source: AP
Ancelotti’s ability to adjust to Atletico’s neutralization of Cristiano Ronaldo is a token of his genius.

The Russian hammer came down again, and Ancelotti was left out in the cold, brutally sacked for the second time in his managerial career.

It harkened back to his short time at the helm of Juventus, when word of his firing came down at halftime of their final Serie A game of the year while he still had an outside shot at winning the title.

But the Italian, just like his club last night, didn’t wallow in his misery, but immediately began laying the groundwork for building himself back up.

“Sometimes I make mistakes,” Ancelotti admitted following last night’s game. “The team bounced back and we have been able to do what we set out to do at the start of the season.  This feels like something even bigger than winning the World Cup.”

After last night’s managerial masterpiece, one must sit and wonder if Chelsea, who haven’t exactly done poorly since he left, would be sitting atop the European landscape had he remained.

Instead, Real Madrid are instead the ones benefiting from his genius, as he struck oil thrice with his substitutions.  The true stroke of brilliance came on his first two, bringing on Isco and Marcelo for the ineffective pair of Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira.  The double change came with a half-hour yet to play, and against a team that had neutralized so many of Real’s threats all season long, they had time to settle in.

Marcelo was brilliant down the left, key because Cristiano Ronaldo had been silenced. Isco brought instant life to the midfield in an area where Khedira had become a black hole. The German holding midfielder looked uncomfortable going forward, completing a horrid 68% of his passes, giving away nearly half of the 28 he attempted. His replacement, in half the time, connected on 43 of his 48 pass attempts and created two chances.

His third substitution of Alviro Morata for Karim Benzema was less hailed, as Morata didn’t exactly have an obvious impact on the game, but the physicality he brought was an unheralded addition.  At a time in the game when Atletico’s legs looked ready to fall off, Morata committed five fouls in his short time on the pitch, creating space for his brethren on the ball.

But Ancelotti’s most genius move of all came in the form of a player he didn’t substitute. Having been chopped down by analysts for his atrocious finishing, Gareth Bale had actually been one of Real’s best players aside from in front of goal. He was slicing up defenders both on the ball and off it, and it was only a matter of time before the world’s most expensive player found the back of the net.

Ancelotti’s refusal to remove Bale in a match where Atletico focused much of their energy on their hack-a-Ronaldo strategy paid off tenfold.  While he flubbed three brilliant chances in regulation, it took extra time before a bit of luck plopped him in the perfect position to finish Di Maria’s deflected shot.

Real Madrid have themselves a gem at the helm.  His calm demeanor and ability to adjust to any given situation was evident during his time quarterbacking AC Milan’s midfield, and now again proves vital on the Champions League stage.

Ancelotti still has plenty of work to do, still without a La Liga title in his two years at the Bernabeu, an especially painful void after essentially throwing away the table’s top spot down the stretch this year.  But it was obvious the Champions League – not the domestic titles – was the club’s top priority this season.

And while Chelsea aren’t dead in the water without the Italian leading the way – they themselves won Champions League glory in 2012 after his departure – let me finish by handing you this little nugget to chew on. Real Madrid brought in seven new players last summer, and it showed early.  The club took a bit of time to settle in.

However, it’s those that left Madrid that tell the story.  Each of the four players that left won a trophy with their new club – Mesut Ozil at Arsenal, and Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, and Raul Albiol at Napoli.  The only one who failed to win a trophy after leaving Real Madrid last summer: Jose Mourinho.

And that, my friends, is revenge served up cold, the only way Carlo Ancelotti likes it.

Three key battles in Man City vs. Man United

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Ahead of the massive Manchester derby on Thursday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) both Manchester City and Manchester United have some massive absentees through injury with Paul Pogba and Zlaan

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That being said, there are still plenty of stars who will be out on the pitch and both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will be sure to surprise many with their team selections. With City in fourth place but just one point and one place ahead of United, this game will be crucial in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification.

[ MORE: Manchester derby, team news ]

Below is a look at three key battles on the pitch which will determine the outcome of the game.


Vincent Kompany vs. Marcus Rashford

This will perhaps be the most pivotal individual battle on the pitch. With Vincent Kompany back fit, Man City’s defense has looked incredibly solid. The Belgian star will have his hands full with a fired up Marcus Rashford though. The local lad scored the winner at the Eithad last season and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out injured the 19-year-old has stepped up big in recent weeks. Kompany will look to step high and intercept balls into Rashford early but we all now have deceptively strong Rashford is and if he can turn Kompany early then there’s no way City’s skipper will catch him in a straight race.

Kevin De Bruyne vs. Ander Herrera

In the 2-1 win for City at United back in September (man, that seems like a long time ago) Kevin de Bruyne tore United’s midfield apart. In the first half of that game he scored the opener and his shot off the post fell to Kelechi Iheanacho for City’s second as Guardiola deployed KDB in a slightly unfamiliar central role. He was much more attacking at Old Trafford and kept winning the ball back in key area in front of United’s defense. Ander Herrera started that game on the bench that day and Mourinho brought him on at half time to quell the threat of KDB, which he did. Guardiola may play De Bruyne deeper, as he did against Arsenal recently, but the Belgian will have to get by Herrera. The Spaniard has been a terrier in Mourinho’s midfield and is having a fine season. Herrera did a wonderful man-marking job on Eden Hazard last weekend and after shaking off an injury, don’t be surprised if Mourinho puts him up against De Bruyne.

Sergio Aguero vs. Eric Bailly

Guardiola had an injury concern about Aguero but the Argentine is fit and ready and that’s bad news for United. He took his goal superbly well in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend and Aguero is now second all-time in City’s goalscorers, scoring in his last five PL games on the troy. Eric Bailly has been been forced to play a lot of games this season and he went the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht last Thursday and then the full 90 against Burnley on Sunday. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo out through injury, Bailly will have to play again (Daley Blind will likely partner him) and his battle with Aguero will be crucial. Not to mention Aguero has eight goals in 10 appearances against United

Transfer rumors: De Gea out, Oblak in; Van Dijk to Liverpool

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We are edging towards May and that means two things: the Premier League season is almost over and the transfer rumor mill is about to switch back into overdrive.

[ MORE: Manchester derby team news ]

The latest reports from Spain state that Manchester United are willing to let David De Gea leave this summer if the right deal can be reached with Real Madrid.

Spanish radio station Onda Cero state that Jose Mourinho is ready to listen to offers for De Gea and Real Madrid are in pole position to sign the goalkeeper they came so close to acquiring in the summer 2015. I wonder if that fax machine has been replaced…

Anyway, with DDG reportedly on the move, who would United bring in? The Manchester Evening News states that Jan Oblak’s agent has flown into Manchester for meetings and although the Slovenian stopper (La Liga’s goalkeeper of the season in 2015-16) has a release clause of $109 million, it is reported that a deal can be struck for the 24-year-old who is close friends with Atletico teammate, and another United target, Antoine Griezmann.

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Elsewhere in England’s north west, the Liverpool Echo state that Liverpool are willing to pay a club record $64.1 million for Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk.

VVD, 25, is among the best center backs in the Premier League and has been named Southampton’s team captain in just his second season at St Mary’s following his $18 million move from Celtic in September 2015.

Per the report, and pretty much common knowledge, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are all said to be interested in signing Van Dijk this summer.

Van Dijk has been out with a foot injury since January but his impressive displays over the past two seasons mean he is a prime target for several of the PL’s top teams. With Liverpool’s woes clear and Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to hang on for a top four finish in the PL this season, securing UEFA Champions League action will surely be crucial in landing Van Dijk.

Saints have stated many times that Van Dijk is not for sale but every player has his price. If Chelsea and other get involved, the bidding war for Van Dijk could get out of hand very, very quickly.

Manchester derby: Pogba out, Gabriel ready, Zlatan update

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Ahead of the massive Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday between Manchester City and Manchester United (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) there has been some significant team news.

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Jose Mourinho has confirmed that midfielder Paul Pogba will not play for United after hobbling off late on against Burnley on Sunday, while Pep Guardiola has confirmed that star midfield David Silva is a serious doubt.

Speaking in their respective press conferences ahead of the massive clash between the bitter rivals both managers played down the importance of the match despite their being just one point and one place between the teams with City sitting in fourth place, the final UEFA Champions League spot.

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Mourinho simply confirmed that Pogba would not be fit but also stated that Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia would be available while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain out. Mourinho also gave an update on Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s future at Manchester United as the 35-year-old has flown to the USA to undergo knee surgery to try and salvage his career.

Zlatan only had a contract until this summer at United and has been linked with signing another deal, moving to China or heading to Major League Soccer. Mourinho said he wasn’t sure if Ibrahimovic would be at United next season and instead praised his fighting spirit.

“I just want the difficult surgery to go, for him to recover from the injury and prepare for the next step,” Mourinho said. “I think the next step will be something that he really wants, which is what I was saying before the injury in the period of doubt about his future.”

Guardiola stated that Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus is ready to be in the matchday squad after recovering from a broken metatarsal but he said it would be tough for Silva to play but did confirm Sergio Aguero is fit.

“David Silva real, real doubt – I don’t know if he will be ready to play after what happened in the first minutes in the semi-final,” Guardiola said. “Gabriel has no pain at all so is ready but [after] three months out his physical condition is not optimal. Sergio is much better. Today he make a part of the training session. Tomorrow he will be ready.”

At this hectic time of the season both City and United have struggled with injuries to key players throughout the campaign and it is perhaps United who have dealt better with those absences. There’s no doubt that losing top scorer Ibrahimovic for the rest of the season was a huge blow but Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford are ready to step up in his absence with Martial and Rooney scoring in the 2-0 victory at Burnley last time out.

Who will come in for Pogba? Expect Herrera and Michael Carrick to start in central midfield in perhaps a 4-2-3-1 formation with Lingard, Rooney and Mkhitaryan ahead of them and Rashford up top.

For City, they will likely start Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph in central midfield in Silva’s absence but Guardiola must be worried about losing Silva as the Spaniard has made City tick all season long. Coupled with the long-term absence of Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany (who returned to action recently) City’s midfield and defensive unit has struggled to cope with injuries all season long.

Expect this Manchester derby to be a slugfest between two ailing teams.

David Moyes charged by FA for “slap” comments

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Sunderland manager David Moyes has been charged by the English Football Association after he was filmed telling a female BBC reporter “you still might get a slap even though you’re a woman,” and warned her to “be careful” the next time she came to their Stadium of Light home.

[ MORE: Barton banned 18 months ]

Moyes, 53, has since apologized for the outburst which occurred after a post-match interview following Sunderland’s 0-0 draw with Burnley. He believed the cameras had stopped rolling but his comments were filmed on a cell phone.

The Sunderland manager has his team rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, 12 points off safety with six games remaining.

Below is the statement in full from The FA:

David Moyes has been charged in relation to comments made after the game against Burnley on 18 March 2017.

It is alleged the Sunderland manager’s remarks were improper and/or threatening and/or brought the game into disrepute, contrary to FA Rule E3(1).  He has until 6pm on 3 May 2017 to reply to the charge.