Shipped from abroad, Mexico: “So [Monterrey and Santos Laguna] meet again.”

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One of the problems with Mexico’s format is good teams end up playing each other far too often, particularly in the Clausura. The league’s January-to-May tournament runs in parallel with CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stage. If two teams get hot, there’s a good chance they’ll meet for two-legged ties in both tournament’s knockouts. Added to the league’s qualification stage games, that’s five games in as many months. If you saw that in Football Manager, you’d report it as a bug.

Just over 24 hours ahead of the first leg of the Clausura’s final, there’s a slightly different feel engulfing over Monterrey and Santos Laguna (who you might know better by the unintentionally ironic “Hercules Gomez’s Santos Laguna”). There’s some actual anticipation, a bit surprising given how often these two have occupied the same field.

Over the next four days, Mexico’s top two finishers will wage their fourth and fifth battles of 2012, though after last month’s Champions League final, nobody’s complaining. Then, Monterrey took a 2-0 lead after the first leg at the Technologico (where the Clausura final begins), but in the second half in Torreon, Santos drew even within six minutes of intermission. The Rayados salvaged the final eight minutes from time, Neri Cardozo’s left foot giving Monterrey their second consecutive Champions League:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCYlSW1UN4I%5D

The result only furthers the idea this match pits bridesmaid against bride. Santos has finished runners up in four of their last five competitions dating back to the 2010 Apertura. By contrast, Monterrey sits as the most successful team in this quadrant, if you focus on recent results. In addition to their pair of Champions Leagues, the Rayados have collected league titles in the 2009 and 2010 Aperturas.

A deeper look a history is no more kind to Santos. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Rayados and Guerreros have met 24 times. Santos has only won five times, with one of the wins (last month’s in Champions League) ending with Monterrey celebrating the confederation title at the Estadio Corona – hardly a victory. The last time Santos have been able to leave a Monterrey match smiling was December 2010, six matches back.

Clearly, nobody will be tuning into this one to see the next chapter of an unclaimed rivalry. It’s the opposite feeling that’s providing the intrigue: The idea that a team of Oribe Peralta, Carlos Darwin Quintero, Christian Suarez and Daniel Ludueña (and yes, Gomez) can only be contained for so long. This was the top-finisher in Mexico. They had the league’s best attack. Surely there isn’t some kind of Rayado voodoo (Rayadoo) that’s keeping the Guerreros from greatness. It’s time for the Warriors to renounce their obligation to the crown.

That crown goes beyond Monterrey’s nickanme. In these big games, Monterrey have played like the chosen ones. As evidenced by their performance last year at Rio Tinto and their result this spring in Torreon, Monterrey has a gear the rest of the region’s teams lack. There is a balance to their team enabled by Humberto Suazo – the man who can give the Rayados so many different looks – that others can only envy. He can play Luis Suárez to Aldo Di Nigris’s Andy Carroll. He can also be Robin van Persie to Ángel Reyna’s Mikel Arteta, or Suazo might play Wayne Rooney to Cesar Delgado’s Antonio Valencia.

That’s what really separates Monterrey from everybody else, especially Santos. The Guerreros have a lethal playbook, but it’s a thin one. They can spread the field and pick you apart with their spread, but when matched up against defenders Jose Basanta and Hiram Mier, they may need to provide a second look.

Monterrey has their own strong central defense to contend with, but with a playbook that would make Mike Shanahan blush, the have a number of ways to worry Aarón Galindo and former Rayado Felipe Baloy. There is, after all, a reason Santos hasn’t been able to stop Monterrey.

Red-hot Rebić scores again as AC Milan tops Torino

AC Milan
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MILAN (AP) Ante Rebić kept up his scoring form to lead AC Milan to a 1-0 win over struggling Torino in Serie A on Monday.

The Croatia international beat his marker to redirect a cross from the center of the area midway through the first half at the San Siro.

The score raised Rebić’s tally to six goals and an assist in eight matches since he earned his starting spot – a move that coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s return to the Rossoneri.

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Bouncing back from a derby loss, Milan moved up to eighth and just beyond the Europa League places. The seven-time European champion is hoping to return to continental competition after voluntary withdrawing from this season’s Europa League to pay for UEFA financial fair play breaches.

Torino, meanwhile, lost its fifth straight, with new coach Moreno Longo still unable to turn things around in his second match in charge.

Ibrahimović narrowly missed a curling shot shortly after the break.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Simeone: Liverpool intensity “makes me admire it as a rival”

UEFA Champions League
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The UEFA Champions League returns at long last on Tuesday, and two of the greatest managers in the game will match wits for the first time.

No we’re not talking about Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel, the meeting of the minds in Tuesday’s other kickoff between Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in Germany.

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Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will go head-to-head with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone in Spain, and the fiery German thinks it will be “absolutely interesting.”

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People say I emotional on the sideline,” Klopp said. “I am only on level 4, Diego is level 12. Really I am the kindergarten cop against him. He is so impressive after all these years, after so many years at the club – eight years. That is really long and having still this emotional level, still, wow. So impressive. I say, his teams are always organized world class.”

The admiration is mutual.

Simeone expects a huge challenge from a Liverpool team he regards on a historic plane.

“We are facing a magnificent team, really well-trained by a coach who is different and has different alternatives in his team,” he said, via The Independent. “We have always spoken about great teams throughout time and I have no doubt this Liverpool is going to go down in history as a great team because it is different to teams that we have admired. This team is much more intense, more adaptable, and it makes me admire it as a rival.”

The bettors say Liverpool is the heavy favorite in the first leg despite the match’s location at the Wanda Metropolitano. With football geniuses like Klopp and Simeone, however, either could have a plan to throw the other for a loop.

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Five MLS sides eye history

CONCACAF Champions League preview
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Once the Premier League and La Liga had taken their final bows of the day on Saturday, there felt was a particular absence, one soon-to-be filled by domestic soccer.

Yes, MLS is coming soon, and the CONCACAF Champions League is even closer.

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Five MLS sides begin their Round of 16 ties over the next three evenings, some with easier paths than others to elusive CCL glory.

The competition may not have burned itself onto the mainstream, lagging behind continental competitions in Europe and South America, but those who’ve embraced it (hint: this guy) love the thing.

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in its quarter-century, it’s yet to find much success in dealing with Liga MX powers in the fight to qualify for the Club World Cup.

MLS sides have not won the competition since it was rebranded the CCL. Only three MLS sides have made the CCL final this decade, with Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal Impact (2015), and Toronto FC (2017) all coming up short at the last step.

The CCL provides everything you love and hate about World Cup qualifying, and those dicey pitches with sometimes worse lighting mean the favorites aren’t guaranteed much.

The top half of the bracket sees three MLS teams — Montreal, Seattle, and NYCFC — and just one Liga MX side, while the bottom half gives us a Liga MX v. MLS match-up straight away.

That’s Leon v. LAFC, and it begins Tuesday night in Mexico. That tie carries the added intrigue of MLS superstar Carlos Vela bringing his act back to his home country for the first time… ever.

Bracket

Saprissa (Costa Rica) v. Montreal — 8 p.m. ET Weds.
Olimpia (Honduras) v. Seattle — 10 p.m. ET Thurs.

San Carlos (Costa Rica) v. NYCFC — 8 p.m. ET Thurs.
Alianza (El Salvador) v. UANL Tigres — 8 p.m. ET Weds.

Leon v. LAFC — 10 p.m. ET Tues.
Portmore United (Jamaica) v. Cruz Azul — 8 p.m. ET Tues.

Comunicaciones (Guatemala) v. Club America — 10 p.m. ET Weds.
Montagua (Honduras) v. Atlanta United — 10 p.m. ET Tues.

The 2 Robbies podcast: VAR carnage at Stamford Bridge

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect a crazy game at Stamford Bridge that saw Chelsea on the wrong side of several VAR decisions (00:45).

The gents also recap the big moments from the weekend; Liverpool beat Norwich (18:30), Son’s late winner against Aston Villa (24:45) and Arteta‘s attackers thrash Newcastle United (30:15).

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To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]