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Three things learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in a fiery clash on Monday at Stamford Bridge to reach the FA Cup semifinals for the first time since 2013.

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N'Golo Kante‘s second half strike was enough to see Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea past a stubborn United outfit who were tough to break down despite Ander Herrera being sent off for two yellow cards after just 35 minutes.

With Conte and Jose Mourinho clashing on the sidelines — plus Chelsea’s fans giving Mourinho plenty of less than friendly “banter” throughout — it was a lively encounter as United gave up their FA Cup crown and Chelsea kept their hopes of doing the double alive.

Here’s what we learned from the Bridge.


CONTE AND MOURINHO ARE NOT FRIENDS

It’s safe to say Conte and Mourinho will not have shared a glass of wine at Stamford Bridge on Monday after the game. They seemed to ignore each other at the final whistle too.

A feud is brewing and it has all the ingredients to be an explosive one. This is the perfect storm for a managerial battle for the ages.

In the first half they clashed on the sidelines with Conte charging towards Mourinho after he felt Marcos Alonso made the most of a challenge and was obviously still incensed that Herrera had been sent off moments earlier. The duo were separated by the fourth official and referee Michael Oliver had to intervene to calm things down.

These actions were left over from the words they had at the end of Chelsea’s 4-0 win in October, where Mourinho felt they need to say something to Conte after he was whipping up the crowd in the latter stages of that match with United down and out and Chelsea cruising. They were then fueled further by Mourinho insinuating that Chelsea were a counterattacking team in the build up to this match. Conte didn’t like that. He and Mourinho don’t like each other, even if after the game word got out they shook hands in the tunnel area.

[ MORE: Conte is becoming what Mourinho was ]

Mourinho didn’t have the playing career Conte had (he was a key member of several stunning Juventus teams, winning five Serie A titles, an Italian Cup and a UEFA Champions League to his name) and now Conte is challenging Mourinho’s dominance of the managerial game. Charging up and down the touchline, Conte roared his team onto a cup semifinal. Mourinho spent most of his time complaining to the officials.

Conte has taken over largely the same squad Mourinho had for the first half of last season which failed him so badly. He was fired in December 2015 and Conte eventually arrived in the summer to transform Chelsea’s fortunes as they lead the PL by 10 points.

Mourinho was a god like figure at Chelsea for so long but now he’s not. The fans reminded him throughout the game. Chants of “you’re not special anymore!” and “Judas!” came his way. He responded by holding up three fingers to show how many PL titles he led Chelsea to.

Conte now has that hero status as he punches the air and his name is sung by the entire stadium. He is well on the way to delivering his first Premier League title at Chelsea this season and could now add the FA Cup to his collection after ousting Mourinho in yet another embarrassing occasion for the man who used to run the show at Stamford Bridge. Not anymore.


CHELSEA MORE THAN COUNTERATTACK

Before the game, that talk about Chelsea being a counterattacking team seemed to hurt Conte.

In fact, I asked him about Eden Hazard — who was sublime once again with a phenomenal turn on Chris Smalling in the first half which then led to a run and shot which David De Gea saved superbly — last Monday following the win against West Ham and about how deadly the Belgian has been on the counter this season. He made a point of stating how important Hazard has been in-between the lines and his overall play.

Conte said “I never, ever, ever train for the counterattack. Never prepare for the counterattack. Never.”

Kante’s goal was not on the counter and came from a sustained period of pressure. Of course it helped Chelsea had a one-man advantage for over 55 minutes in the victory against United, but they also came up against a team which set up in a 5-3-2 formation at times in the first half and settled well.

Chelsea turned the screw with Hazard getting Herrera sent off for two cynical fouls, plus Willian, Kante and Diego Costa causing countless problems. Costa missed two glorious chances in the second half with a clear header from a corner and then when Willian pulled a cross back. They weren’t at their clinical best but it didn’t cost them.


RASHFORD READY

The major bright spot for United was Marcus Rashford.

He wasn’t meant to be fit for this game and with Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial out injured, plus Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, that was a major selection issue for Mourinho.

Rashford, still just 19, miraculously started and looked like a kid man on a mission as Paul Pogba struggled to impact he game. Rashford was United’s biggest threat all night long. He chased down David Luiz and Gary Cahill throughout and made life incredibly difficult for Chelsea. It looked like he was capable of running faster than his body could, almost bursting from the seams.

In the second half his big moment to equalize arrived.

A rare miscue from Luiz saw the United academy product pounce. He raced free with Cahill sent one way, then the next, before he smashed a low shot on goal which Thibaut Courtois saved superbly with his legs. In that instance, that was a snapshot of the raw pace and enthusiasm Rashford possesses.

If he can regain the clinical finishing he showed in his debut season in 2015-16 when he burst onto the scene, he has all of the other attributes to start for United whether or not Ibrahimovic is around next season.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.