Three things we learned from Atletico Madrid’s win over Chelsea

2 Comments

LONDON — After Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night, the Blues crashed out of the UEFA Champions League in devastating fashion.

Jose Mourinho’s men were outworked, outplayed and outclassed by Atleti. The La Liga leaders were worthy winners as they set up an all-Madrid Champions League final against cross-city rivals Real.

Chelsea led through Fernando Torres’ opener but a hammer blow on half time from Adrian Lopez turned the tie on its head, then Diego Costa’s second half penalty and a tidy finish from Arda Turan settled the tie.

There were quite a few things that stood out in the clash at Stamford Bridge. Here are three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Atletico.

Diego Costa’s persistence pays off

For the opening 60 minutes of the match Costa didn’t produce many moments of breathtaking quality but he was constant thorn in the side of Chelsea’s defense. In the first half he forced the usually ice cool Gary Cahill into three errors and his constant harassing of the boys in Blues finally bore fruit for the man from Brazil. When the ball dropped to Costa on the edge of the box in the 60th minute, his exquisite first touch took the ball past Samuel Eto’o who scythed the Spanish international down for a clear penalty. Costa dusted himself off and stepped up to score his eighth goal in eight UCL appearances this season. The 25-year-old was a warrior up top as he battered the Blues and delivered the killer second goal as the powerful forwards lead the line with ease as his bustling forward play helped Atleti to set up their attacks. Efficient, workmanlike and exceptional.

More: Jose Mourinho blames “injuries, suspensions” as Chelsea come up short

Not parking the bus causes problems for Mourinho

When the team sheets arrived in the press room at Stamford Bridge, puzzled looks adorned the faces of most. ‘He’s not playing five at the back, is he?’ Mourinho didn’t nut he probably should of. Deploying Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta as a right winger, it worked for quite some time. Yet there was no bus parking from Chelsea, as they had done away at Atletico and then again at Liverpool last weekend. The Blues went 1-0 up through Fernando Torres’ opener in the 36th minute and that energized the Stamford Bridge faithful. That goal proved to be Chelsea’s downfall, as the home crowd was baying for blood. Mourinho’s men went for it and switched off defensively. Something they would have never done had they parked the bus. Mourinho would’ve been criticized had he set up too defensive at home against Atleti, yet his side just didn’t have the nous to shut down the La Liga leaders when it mattered most. Botched clearances, not tracking runners and second to the ball on many occasions, Chelsea’s defense had a rare night off at the worst possible time. Plus with the game tied at 1-1 after 54 minutes, Mourinho then brought on a second forward, Samuel Eto’o, and pushed both full backs on. He went for it too early and should’ve been patient.

More: Your Champions League Final: Real Madrid goes for No. 10; Atlético goes for No. 1

Atletico work out Chelsea’s flank trap

Time and time again Atletico tried to get in down their own left side and eventually, it worked out for them. Focusing all of their attention on the left in the first half, right back Juanfran pushed forward and with Ashely Cole out of position, the defender set the ball back across and both John Terry and Cole failed to clear before Adrian Lopez slotted home the equalizer. Eden Hazard was at fault for failing to track Juanfran as the Belgian winger switched off and it had consequences for the Blues. Atleti looked to get the ball wide as early as possible and it worked again in the second half too as Turan was found by Juanfran’s delightful right-wing cross and the Turkish international slotted home after his initial header was saved. Chelsea aimed to shut off the flanks with Mourinho’s lineup, yet that is exactly where Atletico put a dagger into the Blues’ hearts.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

Getty Images
1 Comment

Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 2-1 Switzerland win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

Getty Images
Leave a comment

England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

AP Photo/Michael Sohn
1 Comment

Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.