Málaga see off Porto, advance to first Champions League quarterfinals

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A season that began in disarray is turning into the most successful in club history, with Málaga’s 2-0 victory at the Rosaleda putting the Andalusians into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. The Spaniards advance on aggregate, 2-1, turning around their loss at FC Porto three weeks ago.

Momentum from that result seemed to carry over onto the beginning of Wednesday’s match, with Porto dictating play early. Just after the half-hour mark, Málaga came into the game, with a disallowed goal from Javier Saviola nearly equalizing. Minutes later Isco put a 19-yard shot over Helton and into the upper left hand corner, sending the teams into halftime tide at one.

For what had been a cagey tie from its kickoff in Porto, 1-1 not only seemed right but inevitable. The most evenly matched pairing of the knockout round was all square after 135 minutes, and if form held, it would stay that way through extra time. The styles employed by Porto’s Vitor Pereira and Málaga’s Manuel Pellegrini may have been distinctly different, but the combination left the teams at a standstill.

That’s why it’s intriguing to consider what could have been had Steven Defour not been sent off. After a first half that saw three Defour fouls put referee Nicola Rizzolo’s judgment to the test, Deforur continued pressing his luck in the second half. Finally, the official’s patience ran out, and Defour was dismissed in the 49th minute.

Some ejections define matches. This one didn’t, though it did limit Pereira’s options. The Porto manager burnt one substitution at half time and elected to use his second in the 58th minute, bringing off forward Silvestre Valera for defender Maicon. When he reversed that switch, bringing on Christian Atsu for Alex Sandro in the 70th minute, Pereira was down a man and out of subs.

When Roque Santa Cruz scored for Málaga in the 77th minute, Porto were locked in. After the Paraguayan put his side up 2-1, Porto couldn’t make any no adjustments. Meanwhile Pellegrini was able to bring on the quicker Lucas Paizon for Javier Saviola and the more defensive-minded Ignacio Camacho for Joaquin.

Defour’s ejection may not have decided the game (Malaga only outshot Porto 6-4 after his dismissal), but the adjustments Pereira had to make left him without any flexibility. When Santa Cruz headed home Málaga’s go-ahead goal, Porto were ill-equipped to chase the game.

(MORE: Arsenal push Bayern to the brink.)

If that meant Málaga received a little bit of luck, it can be forgiven in light of what the team had to endure to start the season. Effectively abandoned by an ownership group that once aspired to spend Málaga to the top, the Andalusians lost their best player (Santi Cazorla) this summer in a financially motivated move. Pellegrini nearly left the team amid the uncertainty. Málaga were on the verge of being torn apart.

Now, despite their financial situation earning them a ban from next year’s competition, Málaga is in the final eight, and while they’ll be one of the teams favorites would prefer to draw in the quarterfinals, there are a couple of qualities to recommend the Andalusians.

Their defense can be as stalwart as any teams’ in Europe, with their ability to press through the middle having already frustrated the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But perhaps most importantly, Pellegrini has been here before (with Villarreal), and this Málaga side carries the same determined attitude that’s characterized the Chilean’s other teams.

The resulting pragmatism means that as long as Málaga’s defense holds up, a resourceful and experienced group will have a puncher’s chance in the next round.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

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

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.