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.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

USMNT
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

Photo by Martin Rickett/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

Racism in football
Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

Transfer rumors
Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.