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Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win v. Juventus

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CARDIFF — Real Madrid secured back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles in style as the Spanish giants beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday.

[ MORE: Cardiff delivers stunning final

Real have now extended their own record of being crowned Champions of Europe with 12 titles to their name and they’ve won three UCL crowns in the last four seasons as well as becoming the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan 1990.

Make no mistake, this is a dynasty.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mandzukic scores stunner ]

Cristiano Ronaldo scored first and last, while Casemiro’s deflected effort put Real Madrid 2-1 up after a moment of sheer magic from Mario Mandzukic leveled the game for Juventus. Late on Marco Asensio made it 4-1 with a tap in.

Zinedine Zidane has now delivered two Champions League trophies in his first two seasons as a manager. Not bad Zizou, not bad.

Here’s what we learned from the final in the Welsh capital.


RONALDO COMES UP WITH THE GOODS, YET AGAIN

For the opening 20 minutes Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of the game falling down and asking for free kicks.

Then, like he always seems to do in the big moments, he pounced. Real launched a rapid counter as Toni Kroos found Karim Benzema who found Ronaldo and he then played in the overlapping Dani Carvajal who returned the favor for Ronaldo to sweep home. Bang. 1-0.

It summed up this Real team who had started slowly and Juventus looked sharper, more focused and more capable in attack, but then their talisman struck and the entire mood of the game changed.

Ronaldo has now won four UEFA Champions League trophies, equaling Lionel Messi. The lines blurring the debate between who is greater, Ronaldo or Messi, have once again been further muddled.

The 32-year-old struggled in the run of play with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini marshaling him, and although he had an off day, like the vast majority of his teammates, Ronaldo came up when it mattered.

Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo were Real’s star performers but Ronaldo, as he always seems to do, stole the headlines as he was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the game.

Ronaldo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to come up with big goals in big games to win big trophies time and time again, the man is a machine. In the past 12 months he has won two UCL trophies, a La Liga crown, EURO 2016 with Portugal and individual honors with the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player award.

With four Champions League trophies to god name and now 42 goals in the 2016-17 season, Ronaldo has proved he is once again the man for the big occasion.


A FINAL LIVES UP TO THE HYPE

I would’ve been fine if this game never had to end.

The first half was frenetic but composed. Tense yet fluid. Full of quality but also toughness. It had everything you’d want from a final.

Following Ronaldo’s fine finish after a flowing team move, Mandzukic came up with a wonder-goal to level things up.

In the second half tackles flew in as Juve tried to slow down the pace and disrupt Real’s flow. That only fired the Spaniards up and they never looked back after Casemiro’s shot deflected off Sami Khedira and in to make it 2-1.

Ronaldo flicked home at the near post three minutes later to make it 3-1 to all but end the encounter with 25 minutes to go. Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale both went close for Real and Alex Sandro flicked a header just wide for Juve with Gonzalo Higuain having a good chance from close range. Juan Cuadrado was sent off as Juve finished the game with 10-men as Sergio Ramos was up to his old tricks.

The game had everything and the quality of play on the pitch, despite Real finishing things off with over 20 minutes to go, was a joy to watch.


MANDZUKIC HAS CONTENDER FOR BEST-EVER UCL FINAL GOAL

This goal is a genuine contender for the best goal ever scored in a European Cup final. Even if Keylor Navas could’ve probably done a little better…

Zinedine Zidane’s volley for Real against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2001 is one of the best, as is Hernan Crespo’s dink for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 in Istanbul, but the audacity of Mandzukic’s strike at such a pivotal time stunned the Millennium Stadium crowd.

The fact that the ball didn’t touch the ground from Dani Alves cross-field ball to Alex Sandro’s ball in to Higuain who chested it down teed up Mandzukic made his miraculous finish even better.

Aesthetically it had everything. Adventurous play from full backs, a center forward playing in another attacker superbly and then Manduzkic with a ridiculous chest and finish to make it 1-1.

The only way this goal could be below Zidane and Co. is due to Navas’ positioning. The Real goalkeeper was caught out by the lack of power on Mandzukic’s shot and it looped over his head. Would a taller goalkeeper have got fingertips on it? Perhaps.

Juventus lost a seventh UCL final out of nine, but at least they have this gem to remember from another disappointing display as Gianluigi Buffon’s wait for a European title goes on.

Mourinho on Conte feud, facing Chelsea again

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Jose Mourinho will meet Chelsea once again on Sunday as the Manchester United manager welcomes his former club to Old Trafford (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Mourinho, 55, has been involved in a public spat with Antonio Conte in recent months but the Portuguese refused to dredge up any more abuse for the current Chelsea manager ahead of this crucial top four clash.

The duo traded insults earlier this year as Mourinho suggested Conte and other managerial rivals “acted like clowns” on the sidelines, while Conte said Mourinho perhaps had “demenza senile” and Mourinho hit back with a quip about Conte’s four-month ban for not reporting alleged match-fixing in Italy. The spat ended when Conte said Mourinho was a “little man” and “fake” and said he would not forget the comments.

“The real meaning [of this game] is two of the best teams in England, two of the biggest clubs, are playing a match,” Mourinho said when asked about Conte.

Mourinho has lost three of the four games he’s played against Chelsea since he became United’s manager and in the first defeat, a 4-0 hammering in the league in October 2016, he reacted angrily to overzealous celebrations from Conte on the sidelines.

Speaking to the media about Chelsea, Mourinho played down any sentimental feelings he has for the club he led to three Premier League titles over two spells in charge.

“To play against Chelsea will mean less and less and less with the years,” Mourinho said. “So of course I left already a couple of years ago, and next season [it will be] three years ago, so step by step that feeling of: ‘I was the Chelsea manager’ or ‘I was their manager’ for them I think disappears. I have a good relation with the [Chelsea] board.

“I don’t forget how nice they were to me in a difficult period with the departure of my father. They show me in that moment they feel me as a friend that did his best for the club and always respects the club. So the board know the relation with me is always good. With the players, I don’t have any problem, any regret, any stone on my shoes, no problem at all. And the fans are fans. With many of them in the street I feel that empathy and that relation that normally should be a connection and feeling forever. When I play at Stamford Bridge some reactions from the fans are just reactions.”

Mourinho is still admired and thanked by the vast majority of Chelsea’s fanbase but there is always going to be a small contingent who hurl abuse at Mourinho simply because he isn’t their manager anymore.

Since he was fired as their boss in December 2015, the “Special One” has been complimentary of his time at Chelsea but when he managed United in 2016 at Stamford Bridge, he wasn’t subjected to chants of “you’re not special anymore!” from the home fans, to which he held up three fingers to signify how many league titles he delivered.

Mourinho isn’t talking about his spat with Conte ahead of this game, but let’s see how things play out on Sunday. If Chelsea stroll into Old Trafford and win to throw United’s top four hopes into doubt, Mourinho will likely come out swinging.

Watch Live: Leicester City v. Stoke City

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Leicester City host Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the King Power Stadium.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Leicester currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League table and have one eye on finishing in the top six, while Stoke are second from bottom in the table but are just six points from the top 10.

In team news Leicester start Riyad Mahrez with Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton in an attacking lineup, while Stoke bring in USMNT man Geoff Cameron in midfield with Stafyldis and Martins Indi coming into defense.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Chilwell, Ndidi, James, Mahrez, Albrighton, Gray, Vardy. Subs: Jakupovic, Dragovic, Fuchs, Iborra, Silva, Diabate, Iheanacho.

Stoke City: Butland; Bauer, Martins Indi, Zouma, Stafyldis; Cameron, Badou, Allen; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting; Diouf. Subs: Grant, Pieters, Jese, Johnson, Adam, Ramadan, Campbell

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.