Getty Images

Boosted by stadium blessing, Atletico takes on Real Madrid

Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid’s president and club officials looked on as its new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was blessed in a private pitch-side ceremony this week.

Cardinal Carlos Osoro led the blessing which may have come at the right time for Atletico ahead of this weekend’s city derby against Real Madrid – with the team needing all the help it can get to overcome its struggles at the new 68,000-capacity home.

Diego Simeone’s team has only two wins in six games since the Metropolitano was inaugurated this season, losing once and drawing three straight going into Saturday’s match.

“We want to win the first ever derby at the Wanda Metropolitano,” Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann said in an interview with La Liga’s website. “It’s a very important match for the fans, for the club. It’s a match every player wants to be a part of.”

The inaugural derby at the new stadium could be decisive for the teams’ title hopes this season, as Barcelona has already opened a significant advantage at the top of the league standings.

The loser this weekend may find itself facing an 11-point deficit against the thriving Catalan club.

Barcelona plays at mid-table Leganes on Saturday. Second-place Valencia, four points behind Barcelona and four points in front of both Madrid clubs, plays at Espanyol on Sunday to try to extend its seven-game winning streak in the league.

Atletico remains unbeaten in La Liga but has won only two of its last nine matches in all competitions.

“It’s been difficult to score goals and to win matches,” Griezmann said. “We are solid on defense, we just need to turn things around on offense. We have to keep working hard to try to improve.”

Real Madrid is coming off a home victory over Las Palmas in the league, a result that helped restore order after two consecutive losses sparked a wave of criticism against Zinedine Zidane’s team.

“Focused,” was Cristiano Ronaldo’s message on Instagram this week along with a photo of him training for Saturday’s match.

Atletico got off to a good start after moving from its beloved Vicente Calderon Stadium to the modern Metropolitano on the outskirts of Madrid. It made its debut in the new venue with a 1-0 win against Malaga, and followed it with a 2-0 victory against Sevilla.

But things started going wrong when Atletico made its European debut at the stadium in a Champions League match against Chelsea. It scored first but ended losing 2-1 after conceding in the last minute of injury time.

In its next league game, Atletico was ahead of Barcelona until late in the match, but conceded an equalizer by Luis Suarez and ended with a disappointing 1-1 draw. It also was held by Villarreal to a 1-1 draw, then endured its worst setback yet – a 1-1 draw against 10-man Qarabag in a result that practically ended its hopes of advancing from the group stage of the Champions League.

And with its title chances hanging by a thread in Europe, only a home victory on Saturday may keep Atletico in contention for a significant trophy this season.

The team’s faithful haven’t given up.

“I’m sure that we will eventually have the same success at the new stadium that we used to have at the Calderon,” Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We will see how it goes this weekend, but hopefully there will be a happy ending for us.”

More AP Spanish soccer coverage:

Tales Azzoni on Twitter:

Southgate praises rising star, possible no. 1 Pickford

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With fewer than three months to the start of the 2018 World Cup, the majority of Gareth Southgate‘s England squad has largely sorted itself over the course of the current Premier League season.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

With everyone healthy and available — a big ask, granted — the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane practically pick themselves for the starting 11, with Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy having secured significant roles off the bench.

One position, however, which remains far from set in stone is the man in goal. Joe Hart has long since fallen from his former place as the cemented no. 1, meanwhile Jack Butland and Fraser Forster failed to make the most of their sporadic chances over the course of the last couple years.

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Enter: Jordan Pickford, who started and played all 90 minutes — and massively impressed Southgate — in the Three Lions’ 1-0 victory over Holland. Southgate singled out the 24-year-old Everton goalkeeper for praise following the game, remarking that Pickford’s ability to start the process of playing the ball out of the back “allows [England] to play in a different way” — quotes from BT Sport:

“He transferred what we know he can do into an important game, a game away from home, so that was good for him.

“I think (it was) not the test that we faced in November (friendlies against Germany and Brazil) in terms of the pressure on our defense and the experience of the players.

“But, nevertheless, I think that’s 11 clean sheets from our 16 games and that gives us a good base to build from.”

“I think it allows you to play in a different way. There are moments where the goalkeeper or a defender can come and put the ball into the stand or play it forward hopefully.

“But if you can play with composure and play through and out of pressure then it (eases) off the opposition in terms of their pressure and eventually they stop running and you have more time in different areas of the field. The profile of all of that defense and goalkeeper allowed us to do that.”

Don’t look now, but this appears to be the most settled and established England side heading into a major tournament… well, probably in my lifetime. What if England are good — or, worse — really good?

Like clockwork, top goalkeepers criticize new World Cup ball

Photo credit: adidas
Leave a comment

It’s a tradition as old as time — the union of top goalkeepers from all over the world, no matter the continent from which they hail, complaining about the new ball to be used at the upcoming World Cup.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

By the end of this summer’s tournament in Russia, you’ll reflexively twitch every time you hear the words “Telstar 18.” Goalkeepers will tell you that it’s designed to deceive them, to boost goalscoring numbers during major tournaments.

Below you’ll find the critical, but restrained so as not to offend, assessments of goalkeepers David De Gea (Spain’s no. 1), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany’s no. 1b) and Pepe Reina (De Gea’s wily backup) — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“It’s really strange. It could have been made a lot better.”

“The ball could be better; it moves a lot. But I think we’re just going to have to get used to working with it — and try to get to grips with it as quickly as possible before the World Cup starts. We’ve got no other option.”

“They should change it. There’s still time.”

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Unsurprisingly, top attacking stars — those who presumably stand to benefit from a ball that unpredictably moves on goalkeepers — have given their seal of approval for Telstar 18.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: NYCFC come back vs. NE; FCD, POR stalemate

Photo credit: NYCFC / Twitter: @NYCFC
Leave a comment

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Ismael Tajouri scored two goals and Sean Johnson had five saves to help New York City FC play the New England Revolution to a 2-2 draw Saturday.

The 23-year-old Tajouri, who has appeared in four MLS games, has three goals in the last two matches while filling in for the injured David Villa.

Yangel Herrera threaded a pass between two defenders to Tajouri, who turned and blasted a rising left-footer into the net to cap the scoring in the 76th minute.

Diego Fagundez bent a shot from well outside the box off the post to give New England (1-1-1) a 1-0 lead in the 11th. Tajouri tied it early in the second half, first-timing a cross from Saad Abdul-Salaam past a diving Matt Turner from near the penalty spot and Juan Agudelo’s header in the 63rd put the Revolution back in front. Cristian Penilla played a perfect cross from the left side to Agudelo who finished from the top of the 6-yard box.

NYCFC (4-0-0) is off to its best start in history and has won a franchise-record five in a row, dating to the 2017 playoffs.

FRISCO, Texas (AP) Roland Lamah scored his third goal in two games and Jimmy Maurer had a career-high five saves in FC Dallas’ 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers on Saturday.

Lamah, who had two goals and an assists in FC Dallas’ 3-0 win over Seattle on Sunday, opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Jacori Hayes evaded two defenders and then tapped it to Lamah, who rolled a left-footer past a diving Jake Gleeson into the net from the top of the penalty arc.

Sebastian Blanco side-netted a left-footer from the top of the box to tie it in the 47th.

FC Dallas (1-0-2) is unbeaten in its last nine home matches.

Lawrence Olum, who was shown a yellow card for unsporting behavior in the 44th minute, drew a red for a hand ball in the 75th for Portland (0-2-1).

Report: PSG pressing Conte to leave Chelsea this summer

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

First, Paris Saint-Germain (reportedly) wanted Mauricio Pochettino; then it was (reportedly) Diego Simeone; now it’s Antonio Conte who’s (you guessed it — reportedly) been targeted for, and pitched, an exit from Chelsea this summer.

[ MORE: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team ]

According to a report from the Guardian, PSG executives have held talks with Conte’s agent in recent days and/or weeks, as the winners of four of the last five Ligue 1 titles prepare to move on from current manager Unai Emery this summer.

The belief in the French capital is that Conte, who’s made no bones about his frustrations at Chelsea dating back to last summer, would be a far more realistic target for that reason. According to the report, PSG are willing to offer Conte an annual salary in the neighborhood of $14 million. The Italian is currently paid nearly $13.5 million per year at Chelsea.

Conte has been at odds with the Chelsea hierarchy, largely, over the lack of funds made available to him to rebuild the squad in the transfer market.

“I have great ambition but I don’t have money for Chelsea. The club knows very well what is my idea, what is my ambition. That is very clear. When you decide to work with this type of coach, you must understand that you take a coach with great ambition. Not a loser but a winner. And that ambition must always be shared.”

[ MORE: Man City, Man United reportedly chasing Neymar ]

Talks are said to have been “positive” between Conte’s representative and PSG.

PSG’s motivation to fire Emery stems from the Spaniard’s failure to impress in European competition — two round-of-16 exits from the Champions League, one either side of the massive spending spree of last summer which resulted in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe moving to the Parc des Princes.