Is Mandzukic on his way to England?

Atlético Madrid confirms signing of Mario Mandzukic

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PST’s Nicolas Mendola hinted at this one yesterday, but today, the reports have finally been confirmed. Spanish champions Atlético Madrid, in search of a replacement for the departed Diego Costa, have signed Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich, the club announced today. The 28-year-old, who just finished playing for his country at the 2014 World Cup, moves to Spain with a four-year deal.

The club confirmed the signing on its website this afternoon:

“Atlético de Madrid and Bayern Munich have reached an agreement for the transfer of Mario Mandžukić. The Croatian striker successfully underwent the medical examination in Madrid before signing a contract for four years with our Club.”

The transfer fee was undisclosed.

Acquired by Bayern two years ago, Mandzukic was a part of two Bundesliga titlists and one European champion, scoring 33 league goals during his time in Munich. With the acquisition of former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowki, however, Mandzukic was in for a sharp downturn in playing time, part of the reason he’s on his way to Madrid.

From Atlético director and Spanish soccer legend José Luis Caminero:

“He’s a strong forward, with a great high ball control and a powerful shot. It allows us to start pressuring behind the rival from the beginning, because he works hard on playing the ball out of defence. He fits well with his attacking teammates and is used to competing at the highest level. He’s a winner, a player used to win titles. He’ll contribute very much.”

For all those reasons, this was an ideal fit for Atlético, particularly given that undisclosed fee is likely to be reasonably low, allowing the cash-strapped club to absorb most of Diego Costa’s fee.

With that tradeoff, Atleti are sacrificing some goal scoring but acquiring a series of traits Diego Simeone will love. Mandzukic is the hardest working forward you’ll find at the top of Europe’s club game.

It allows Atlético to stay close. While asking for a return of 2013-14’s magic may be too much, Mandzukic gives Simeone a player he can work with – a player who allows Atleti’s ethos to remain unchanged. If this year’s success was built on sacrifice, discipline, and belief, the team’s new forward may actually be a better fit than his predecessor, albeit a less prolific one. With Arda Turan, Gabi, and Koke, Atlético have talents who can get the most out of their new, relentless teammate.

The question is whether all of those talents will stick around. Even if they do, it’s unclear the extent to which the club has replaced departed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Where retaining a title is difficult for any club, the task will be even more so for Atleti.

Mandzukic gives them a chance, though. He may not challenge for a Pichichi like Costa did, but he can generate goals. And when Atleti go head-to-head with Real Madrid and Barcelona, they’ll remain the stubborn, disruptive force that stole La Liga from the top two.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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