Chelsea 0-0 Norwich City: No goals, no consequences (yet)

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Chelsea have put their destiny in others’ hands. By failing to beat relegation-threatened Norwich City at Stamford Bridge, the Blues’ title hopes rest on Liverpool dropping points against Crystal Palace on Monday. And should that happen, Chelsea will need to root for Aston Villa to beat Manchester City come Wednesday.

As for Norwich, they survive to see another day – but safety still looks unlikely. They’ll face Arsenal on the final day, and the Gunners have nothing left to play for, but the problem is Sunderland. The Black Cats have two games left, against West Brom and Swansea, and considering the Canaries’ -32 goal difference, almost certainly need just a point.

In the first half, Chelsea simply didn’t look like a team set for a challenge. Rather, they looked like a side broken by being knocked out of the Champions League midweek. Understandable, but it didn’t help that José Mourinho decided to rest the likes of Eden Hazard and David Luiz.

André Schürrle had a go in the third minute, but it was Norwich who could very well have been up before 15 minutes were out. Martin Olsson had no trouble slipping past an oblivious Ashley Cole to get on to the end of a pass from Bradley Johnson. Rushing in to save Cole’s blushes, John Terry tripped up Olsson, bringing him down inside the area. Neil Swarbrick waved away penalty appeals, while Neil Adams was absolutely livid on the sidelines.

Shortly thereafter, Demba Ba messed up a glorious chance to put the home side in front. The forward, free on the left, had two blue shirts available inside the area. However, the cross from Ba was terrible, and the ball collided with goalkeeper John Ruddy.

Around the half-hour mark, the woodwork declared itself a Canaries fan, doing its part to keep out a curling shot from Schürrle. Minutes later, Ruddy saved another shot from the German.

Johnson very nearly gave his side the lead going into the break. In the 40th minute, Terry just barely got a piece of a shot from the midfielder, but it was enough to deflect it out for the corner. The sides went into the locker rooms locked in a goalless draw.

Mourinho, having apparently remembered his side was still in the title race, made a double change to start the second half. Off came Mohamed Salah and Frank Lampard, on came Eden Hazard and David Luiz.

The change was immediate, with Chelsea having a much greater spring in their step. After just three minutes, the post had to bail out Norwich once more, this time denying a shot from David Luiz.

Then came Chelsea’s time to shout for a penalty…twice. First Branislav Ivanović and Schürrle both went down inside the area. A few minutes later, it appeared that Ryan Bennett went in recklessly on Hazard, who tumbled over. But with the offside flag already up, Swarbrick barely blinked.

Chelsea continued to ramp up the pressure, but somehow, Norwich held on. A rare advance on Mark Schwarzer’s goal looked like it might end with the ball in the back of the net, but an excellent challenge from Gary Cahill stopped Robert Snodgrass from getting his shot in.

The Blues kept coming, attacking in waves, but for once, luck was on Norwich’s side. A brilliant shot from Hazard prompted a terrific save from Ruddy. Moments later, a first-time volley from Schürrle was deflected out for a corner.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Schwarzer; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Lampard (David Luiz), Matic (Torres 73); Salah (Hazard), Willian, Schurrle; Ba

Norwich City: Ruddy; Martin, R Bennett, Turner, Whittaker; Tettey; Snodgrass, Johnson, Howson, Olsson; Elmander (Redmond 69)

Subs: Bunn, Bassong, van Wolfswinkel, Fer, Hooper, E Bennett, Redmond

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.