Cardiff City 0-0 Aston Villa: Villans denied by battling Bluebirds (video)

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Cardiff City grabbed a crucial point at home on Tuesday against Aston Villa, as the away side dominated for large periods but came up against a stubborn Bluebirds defense in the 0-0 draw.

Fabian Delph, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor all came close to scoring but Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall was in inspired form to keep Villa’s attackers at bay with a last gasp stop salvaging a draw for the home side.

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Bluebirds struck the woodwork twice in quick succession in the first half, as Fraizer Campbell and Craig Noone were both denied an opener, but in truth the Welsh outfit will be pleased to take a point home from this one.

With the draw Cardiff stay in 19th but are just two points from safety on 22. While Villa are 11th on 28 points.

(Latest Premier League Standings)

Villa started the better of the two sides, as the Villans young squad looked pacey on the break and caused Cardiff plenty of early problems.

But the home side settled down well and in the 12th minute they came agonizingly close to opening the scoring, as Campbell dinked his effort over Brad Guzan but the USMNT ‘keeper got a touch as the ball clipped off the post and away. Then Villa failed to clear and the ball came back to Noone moments later, but the the winger saw his shot deflect onto the crossbar and over.

Cardiff were unlucky not to get a penalty soon after, as Nathan Baker grabbed hold of Kenwyne Jones but appeals were waved away, then moments later Villa fought back as Christian Benteke headed goalwards but failed to work Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall.

After 30 minutes Cardiff were forced into a change as Magnus Wolff Eikrem replaced the injured Jordon Mutch in midfield. Minutes later a corner was met by Ben Turner and Manchester United loanee Wilfried Zaha controlled and finished superbly… but the goal was chalked off as Zaha was in an offside position.

The rest of the first half played out evenly, in a tense affair between two teams battling for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

At the start of the second half Villa tried to pin Cardiff back, but Campbell was lively up front for the Bluebirds and created a chance for himself by turning Villa’s defense inside out but then dragged his shot wide after 52 minutes. However Villa were beginning to take a stranglehold on the game as Marc Albrighton and Leandro Bacuna saw plenty of the ball out wide as the Bluebirds dropped deeper and deeper.

Villa should have been 1-0 up just after the hour mark, as a lovely one-two saw Bacuna raced clear but instead of slotting the ball across to a wide-open Christian Benteke, the Villa midfielder dragged his shot wide. Up the other end a brief foray forward saw Jones head a great cross from the right goalwards, but Guzan saved comfortably.

In the 77th minute it was Marshall’s turn to make a save, and it was a spectacular stop as Delph’s effort was deflected by Steven Caulker and Cardiff’s ‘keeper reacted superbly to push the ball wide of the post. In the 80th minute Gabriel Agbonlahor was the latest Villa player to spurn a good chance, as he dawdled on the ball and Cardiff were able to clear.

The best of Marshall’s saves came in stoppage time, as the ball found itself to Weimann at the back post and a deflection looked to have the ball going past Marshall, but somehow the Cardiff ‘keeper sprung to his right to tip the ball over and grab his team a vital point.

LINEUPS

Cardiff City: Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, John; Zaha (Daehli, 61), Mutch (Wolff Eikrem, 32), Medel, Noone; Campbell, Jones

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett (Weimann, 70), Bertrand, Westwood, Albrighton, Delph, Benteke, Agbonlahor

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

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It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

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The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

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Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.