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Arsenal to meet Atletico Madrid in Europa semis

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Diego Costa will get to tangle with an old London rival for a berth in the UEFA Europa League Final.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

Arsenal will meet Atletico Madrid in a match-up of the top remaining teams in the Europa League draw.

Arsene Wenger remarked before the quarterfinals that he hoped to avoid the Spanish powers, and gets them one round later.

The first leg will be at the Emirates Stadium before moving onto Madrid for the second.

Marseille will meet Red Bull Salzburg in the other semifinal, with the first leg in France.

The semis will be staged April 26 and May 3. The final will be hosted at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on May 16.

Conte insists he isn’t worried about Chelsea future

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Antonio Conte cut a despondent figure on the sidelines and in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at home against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

During the loss he saw his side give up a 1-0 lead and squander several chances to score, then make basic defensive errors as he kicked a water bottle in disgust as his time is running out at Chelsea, a club renowned for giving managers a short leash when things start to go wrong.

That defeat all but confirmed Chelsea will not be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season with the Blues eight points off the top four with seven games to go following a disastrous run of five defeats in their last seven Premier League games.

What now for Conte and Chelsea?

Asked if he feared for his future at the club beyond this season, the Italian coach remained defiant despite many believing he will depart at the end of the current campaign.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know about this, but we didn’t speak about a project,” Conte said. “I don’t know, you have to ask the club, not me. I repeat, my task is to work, and I know that I work, 24 hours, for Chelsea, me and my staff. This is our task. Then the club has to take the decision. But I repeat, I am not worried about this.”

The way Conte nonchalantly shrugged off those questions about his own future is nothing new. He’s been doing it for months.

That’s what happens when you question the direction of the club and the player recruitment policy at Chelsea (which he has little to do with) time and time again.

Conte is, first and foremost, a coach. He is there to get the best out of this squad of players and without any European distractions he did that superbly last season by securing an unlikely Premier League title. Chelsea had an edge to them last season and didn’t suffer from fatigue as they always seemed to find a way to defend resolutely or be clinical when it mattered. That winning mentality has evaporated almost as quickly as Conte produced it.

This season it has been very different and Conte’s demeanor has been in stark contrast to the fiery, charismatic Italian coach who led Chelsea to glory in his debut season in England. He has had issues with Diego Costa which saw his elongated departure from Chelsea cause plenty of unrest, plus veterans Gary Cahill and David Luiz have both found themselves out of favor under the Italian and rumors about the futures of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois continue. Add into the mix his apparent displeasure that more money wasn’t spent last summer and Nemanja Matic was sold over his head and this has been brewing for some time with Conte chipping away at the hierarchy whenever he can and also trying to protect his own legacy whenever possible.

If Conte wins the FA Cup (his side face Southampton in the semifinal later this month at Wembley) and finishes in fifth place, a few points out of the top four, it is still not a bad campaign for the Blues. They still made it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and Lionel Messi was the difference as they fell to Barcelona in the Round of 16. If he leaves at the end of this season, Conte will be able to hold his head high and his reputation won’t be tarnished. Chelsea could be set for another few seasons of struggling to finish in the top four but Conte will be fine.

Asked if he has been able to get the best out of the squad at his disposal this season, here was Conte’s intriguing response.

“Yeah. I am sure about this,” Conte said. “We are working very well, very hard and the commitment of the players is top. Despite this you stay in this position… we must be a bit worried about this.”

Chelsea’s defeat to Tottenham was perhaps the final nail in Conte’s coffin as he will likely get his wish to depart the West London club at the end of this season, but whether or not it’s on his terms remains to be seen.

Conte has one more season left on his current deal and insists he will honor that contract. But with his mind clearly elsewhere and the likes of PSG and the Italian national team said to be lining him up, Chelsea know he will not resign and forfeit a sizable compensation package (around $9 million) that would come his way if he was fired by Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board.

The waiting game for who will flinch first is well and truly on and there seems to be no way that Conte will walk away on his own accord.

Chelsea’s issues run deeper than just another PL club facing a slump the season after winning the title. Conte won’t be around to figure out exactly how his, and Chelsea’s, bubble has burst.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to end a 28-year wait for a win at their London rivals.

Alvaro Morata put Chelsea ahead in the first half but Christian Eriksen‘s stunner saw Spurs equalize right on half time and two calm finishes from Dele Alli in the second half set Spurs on their way to a historic win, their first in the Premier League era at Chelsea.

Here’s what we learned from a pivotal day in the top four race in a London derby at the Bridge.


DELE ALLI TAKES OVER FOR KANE

Both Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son had helped fill the void left by Harry Kane before Sunday. At Chelsea it was Dele Alli who stood tall as he scored twice in the second half to turn the game on its head.

Dele, 21, scored a sublime first goal on his 100th Premier League appearance for Tottenham as he collected a long ball over the top as delicate as an ice sculptor chiseling the final detail of their latest masterpiece before finishing with aplomb.

His second was a predatory strike, straight out of Kane’s locker, as he hung around in the box and waited for a loose ball to break to him before finishing to make it 3-1.

Eriksen’s equalizer right on half time was crucial as the Danish playmaker spanked home from distance and helped drag Spurs back into the encounter. But it was Alli who did the most damage as he regained the form which saw him win the PFA Young Player of the Year award in each of his first two season in the PL.

After being left out of England’s starting lineups for their recent internationals, Alli seems to have got the message loud and clear. He delivered a timely reminder why he is rated as the top attacking midfield talent 21 and under in Europe.

He stood tall when Tottenham needed him most to all but secure their top four spot as Spurs are the only PL team who remain unbeaten in 2018 with eight wins and three draws. On course for a third-straight top four finish as they will now certainly bring Champions League action into the new White Hart Lane next season, Kane’s goals have been a big part of their success. But Dele Alli, Eriksen and Son have all stepped up when Kane has been missing and on Sunday it was Alli’s turn.


TOTTENHAM RUB SALT IN CONTE’S WOUNDS

This wasn’t the final nail in Antonio Conte‘s coffin at Chelsea, but it was one of the final nails.

Chelsea have now lost five of their last seven games and although they impressed in the first half against Tottenham, they squandered several chances with Marcos Alonso and Willian denied and seemed to be in total control of the game until Eriksen’s stunner on half time.

As for Conte, the Italian coach hasn’t wanted to be around in West London all season long and this defeat for fifth-place Chelsea means they are now eight points off the top four with seven games to go. In other words, Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top four are over.

Chelsea’s season is now all but over as their focus will switch to winning the FA Cup. Of course they will try and win their remaining games but this was a massive blow for Conte and should only accelerate either his own departure from Stamford Bridge or at least the plans for life without him from this summer on.

Just under 12 months on from securing the PL title, Conte’s second, and probably his last season, at Chelsea is descending into a huge disappointment.


MORATA REGAINS MOJO

Early on he lost a few aerial challenges against Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen and there were rumblings of discontent among the home supporters. Overall, Alvaro Morata has his mojo back.

The Spanish striker made the most of a mistake from Hugo Lloris to calmly nod Chelsea ahead as he continued his good run of form following a back injury and a dip in confidence which threatened to derail his debut Premier League season.

When Romelu Lukaku went to Manchester United and Morata went to Chelsea in the summer, the debate was around who got the better deal. There’s no question that Lukaku has had a better season than Morata in terms of goals (he has 25 in all competitions to Morata’s 14) or his importance to his team.

But long term, could Morata deliver more than Lukaku?

His hold up play, like Lukaku’s still needs to improve, but he was winning flick ons and making much more of a nuisance of himself than he had done previously. He could have got a shot away early in the second half before Spurs and Dele Alli turned on the magic as a lack of confidence reared its head again, but Morata is showing signs of recovery which will be a positive for Chelsea next season.

With two goals in his last two games, Morata is back to the player Chelsea and Conte thought they had signed to not only replace Diego Costa up front but to improve in that area.

International friendlies: Isco tortures Argentina; VAR at Wembley

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There were some high-profile friendlies across Europe on Tuesday, with a major Messi-less blowout of Argentina and a VAR-inspired controversy at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pogba stars for France ]

England 1-1 Italy

VAR is in focus after Italy grabbed a late equalizer from the spot following an incident between Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa.

Tarkowski landed on Chiesa’s foot, and the Italian hit the deck. It was a penalty but made far worse by the fact that VAR is what gave the kick and that Chiesa rolled around a bit. Lorenzo Insigne finished his chance.

To be fair, England had gone ahead on a bit of legal trickery, using a quick restart to send Jamie Vardy in on Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Spain 6-1 Argentina

Lionel Messi gets unfair grief from some for his record with Argentina — Messi has played 27 games for Argentina since the start of 2015. They’ve lost three of those, and two were in PKs — and the Atomic Flea’s absence in Spain was glaring for the visitors.

Isco had a hat trick, while Diego Costa, Thiago Alcantara, and Iago Aspas also scored as Spain flummoxed La Albiceleste with the exception of Nicolas Otamendi’s 39th minute goal.

Germany 0-1 Brazil

It’s only a small measure of revenge from 7-0, but Gabriel Jesus‘ goal ended the Germans’ long unbeaten run. Jesus scored a diving header to hand Joachim Low’s side its first loss in 23 matches.

Elsewhere
Russia 1-3 France — RECAP
Switzerland 6-0 Panama
Hungary 0-1 Scotland
Japan 1-2 Ukraine — RECAP
Armenia 0-1 Lithuania

Five things learned from internationals

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With a plethora of international friendlies taking place across globe on Friday, we learned plenty about where the teams heading to the 2018 World Cup are it in their preparation for the big dance in Russia this summer.

[ MORE: International wrap

In case you weren’t scouring the globe at obscene hours to stay in touch with all the action, we were.

Here’s what we learned.


South American teams in fine fettle

CONMEBOL went five for five on Friday with wins for Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia. There is no doubt that South America will once again dominate at the World Cup this summer. Brazil dealt easily with Russia without Neymar as Miranda, Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho scored in the second half as they continue their fine run. Argentina didn’t start Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero against Italy at the Etihad Stadium but ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Maneul Lanzini (his first for his nation) and Ever Banega getting the job done. Plenty of starters were rested at the 2014 runners up look incredibly strong. Plus, they don’t have to worry about losing out to Chile like they have in the last two Copa America tournaments.

Uruguay’s stars shone against the Czech Republic with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani on target in China, while Colombia’s fine comeback in France stole the show. Trailing 2-0 with 26 minutes gone, Colombia scored two late goals via Radamel Falcao and Juan Quintero to grab the victory in Paris. A fit Falcao will make a huge difference to Los Cafeteros’ chances of getting past the last eight this time out. Peru, who will be at their first World Cup since 1982 this summer, completed a fine showing for the five CONMEBOL teams who qualified the World Cup this summer as they beat Croatia 2-0. For those who are still shocked that Chile won’t be going to the World Cup this summer, these results prove just how strong South America has become.


England mature in 3-4-3 formation

Okay, the 1-0 win in Amsterdam was against a very poor Netherlands outfit who are in transition, haven’t qualified for the last two major tournaments and Ronald Koeman has a massive rebuilding job on his hands. But still, England were extremely impressive. The way Gareth Southgate‘s men moved the ball around in a 3-4-3 formation proved they are developing well and Kyle Walker as a right-sided center back was a revelation. Without the injured Harry Kane, the Three Lions did lack a bit of cutting edge up front but Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were so dangerous on the break and the main takeaway was the balance of this team and the composure on the ball of the defenders. Jesse Lingard (who scored his first international goal), John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford all staked their claims for a starting spot this summer as England are unbeaten in seven games and haven’t conceded in their last five, including the last three against Germany, Brazil and Holland. Whisper it: England could be the darkhorses this summer.


Germany, Spain the real deals

The class of these two teams suggests that they will go far this summer. The reigning World Cup champs equalized through Thomas Muller’s stunning goal after Rodrigo popped up (after Andres Iniesta’s perfect pass) to put Spain ahead early on in a high tempo, high quality encounter. This is just the kind of tune-up both teams needed as Joachim Low and Julen Lopetegui have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Both teams were close to full strength and this underlined their status as favorites to win the World Cup this summer. Germany haven’t lost in their last 22 games, while Spain hasn’t lost in 17 as the past two World Cup champs have not only got veterans in fine form but are also bringing through the next wave of talent. Also, Germany have Manuel Neuer to return from injury, while Spain will rely on Diego Costa getting back to his best to spearhead their attack this summer. Still, this was a hugely impressive display from both teams as Spain host Argentina in Madrid next week and Germany play Brazil in Berlin. Those four teams are surely the current favorites to win it all.


Ronaldo remains red-hot as Egypt impress

23 goals in his last 12 games for club and country. 23. Cristiano Ronaldo is in fine form after a slow start to the season where many questioned if he had turned the corner and had entered the final stretch of his legendary career. Not so fast. Portugal’s man main throughout his career, Ronaldo, now 33, popped up twice in stoppage time in Zurich, Switzerland to seal a comeback 2-1 win against an impressive Egypt side. Mohamed Salah (of course) got Egypt’s goal as the Pharaohs look forward to their first World Cup since 1990 and are set to be the darlings of the tournament this summer. Yet Ronaldo spoiled their party on Friday as he scored two bullet headers for the reigning European champs, with the winner looked at by VAR but correctly allowed. Will Ronaldo retire after the World Cup this summer? Portugal will hope he can go on for at least another four years and at this rate he will continue to deliver up until, and during, the 2022 World Cup.


Mexico ticking over nicely

El Tri beat Iceland 3-0 on Friday as an experimental side proved just how strong they are with Juan Carlos Osorio making plenty of changes as Mexico strolled to victory in front of 68,917 fans in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Marco Fabian struck a beautiful free kick in the first half and Miguel Layun added two goals after the break to beat Iceland, with The Vikings heading to its first-ever World Cup this summer as the smallest nation to ever quality. For Mexico, they will be hoping to continue their development under Osorio as the oft-maligned coach has won 30 of his 45 games in charge since taking over in 2015. Not bad, Juan Carlos. El Tri had Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela all on the bench as they will all likely play against Croatia on Tuesday in Texas. For Mexico, their World Cup opener against Germany is their toughest game of the group stage but Osorio must be pleased with the options at his disposal and the performance of goalkeeper Jesus Corona to keep out Iceland, who did create chances with direct play, was impressive. Mexico is humming along nicely as it heads to the World Cup aiming to make the knockout rounds once again.