After raw deal at Chelsea, Ancelotti’s 5th Champions League is redemption years in the making

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By the fifth time, even winning the European Cup can get to be a little routine.

That’s what Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti did yesterday by defeating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final yesterday, cementing himself at the very top of not just managerial history, but soccer history altogether.

However, it seemed that in the waning hours of Madrid’s victory night, as the dust settled on his third Champions League title as a manager, this could be Ancelotti’s most important of them all.

The 54-year-old Italian won two European Cup titles as a player, captaining a legendary AC Milan team in the late 1980’s that destroyed the competition.  He’s used to domination.

So once he left his comfort zone after managing AC Milan to two more titles, it was clear he was headed for greatness. But even Ancelotti isn’t immune to bumps in the road.

Roman Abramovich hired Ancelotti in 2009 still trying to replace the gaping hole he had created after his falling out with Jose Mourinho, a void that Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, and Guus Hiddink all failed trying to plug.

But Ancelotti was the man for the job, leading Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2010 in his first season on the job, becoming the first Italian manager to win the Premier League and proving he wasn’t just a one-team band.

Winning outside a comfort zone is a difficult thing to do, and after a total of 13 years at AC Milan, he proved his worth at not just another club but another league altogether, the mark of a man at the top of his profession.

He won the FA Cup as well, making him only the second-ever non-British manager alongside Arsene Wenger to lead an English team to the domestic double.

The next year Chelsea struggled somewhat, falling to fifth place after a poor run of form. He engineered a remarkable turnaround, as Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, but once again Abramovich couldn’t help himself.

source: AP
Ancelotti’s ability to adjust to Atletico’s neutralization of Cristiano Ronaldo is a token of his genius.

The Russian hammer came down again, and Ancelotti was left out in the cold, brutally sacked for the second time in his managerial career.

It harkened back to his short time at the helm of Juventus, when word of his firing came down at halftime of their final Serie A game of the year while he still had an outside shot at winning the title.

But the Italian, just like his club last night, didn’t wallow in his misery, but immediately began laying the groundwork for building himself back up.

“Sometimes I make mistakes,” Ancelotti admitted following last night’s game. “The team bounced back and we have been able to do what we set out to do at the start of the season.  This feels like something even bigger than winning the World Cup.”

After last night’s managerial masterpiece, one must sit and wonder if Chelsea, who haven’t exactly done poorly since he left, would be sitting atop the European landscape had he remained.

Instead, Real Madrid are instead the ones benefiting from his genius, as he struck oil thrice with his substitutions.  The true stroke of brilliance came on his first two, bringing on Isco and Marcelo for the ineffective pair of Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira.  The double change came with a half-hour yet to play, and against a team that had neutralized so many of Real’s threats all season long, they had time to settle in.

Marcelo was brilliant down the left, key because Cristiano Ronaldo had been silenced. Isco brought instant life to the midfield in an area where Khedira had become a black hole. The German holding midfielder looked uncomfortable going forward, completing a horrid 68% of his passes, giving away nearly half of the 28 he attempted. His replacement, in half the time, connected on 43 of his 48 pass attempts and created two chances.

His third substitution of Alviro Morata for Karim Benzema was less hailed, as Morata didn’t exactly have an obvious impact on the game, but the physicality he brought was an unheralded addition.  At a time in the game when Atletico’s legs looked ready to fall off, Morata committed five fouls in his short time on the pitch, creating space for his brethren on the ball.

But Ancelotti’s most genius move of all came in the form of a player he didn’t substitute. Having been chopped down by analysts for his atrocious finishing, Gareth Bale had actually been one of Real’s best players aside from in front of goal. He was slicing up defenders both on the ball and off it, and it was only a matter of time before the world’s most expensive player found the back of the net.

Ancelotti’s refusal to remove Bale in a match where Atletico focused much of their energy on their hack-a-Ronaldo strategy paid off tenfold.  While he flubbed three brilliant chances in regulation, it took extra time before a bit of luck plopped him in the perfect position to finish Di Maria’s deflected shot.

Real Madrid have themselves a gem at the helm.  His calm demeanor and ability to adjust to any given situation was evident during his time quarterbacking AC Milan’s midfield, and now again proves vital on the Champions League stage.

Ancelotti still has plenty of work to do, still without a La Liga title in his two years at the Bernabeu, an especially painful void after essentially throwing away the table’s top spot down the stretch this year.  But it was obvious the Champions League – not the domestic titles – was the club’s top priority this season.

And while Chelsea aren’t dead in the water without the Italian leading the way – they themselves won Champions League glory in 2012 after his departure – let me finish by handing you this little nugget to chew on. Real Madrid brought in seven new players last summer, and it showed early.  The club took a bit of time to settle in.

However, it’s those that left Madrid that tell the story.  Each of the four players that left won a trophy with their new club – Mesut Ozil at Arsenal, and Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, and Raul Albiol at Napoli.  The only one who failed to win a trophy after leaving Real Madrid last summer: Jose Mourinho.

And that, my friends, is revenge served up cold, the only way Carlo Ancelotti likes it.

Rodgers not-too-bothered by VAR as Leicester City back in Top Four

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Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers is keeping his cool about the Foxes’ decent start to the Premier League season.

The Foxes beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on Saturday to move back into the Top Four, four points behind leaders Liverpool.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pochettino reacts ]

Leicester has now beaten Spurs, Bournemouth, and Sheffield United, drawn Wolves and Chelsea, and lost away to Manchester United last week (in a match it was arguably superior to the hosts).

Rodgers loved his team’s day, which was challenged by VAR taking away goals from both sides, but knows the big picture is a big challenge.

“A brilliant team performance,” he said. “Very early days, we have had a tough start. We will get into the New Year and see where we are February, March.”

As for VAR, Rodgers saw an early Leicester goal pulled back for offside, but the system also determined that Heung-Min Son was offside by the finest bit of his rotator cuff before Serge Aurier made it 2-0 to Spurs.

Back to 1-0, Leicester equalized within moments through Ricardo Pereira before James Maddison scored a wonder-strike to win it for the hosts.

“It’s what happens with VAR, you have to get your head round it. It works for you and against you. Worked both ways for us today. … We spoke with the players in pre season about VAR. You have to deal with it, sometimes for you and against you. Have to accept it and move on. It was a very important three points.”

Pochettino says VAR call inspired Leicester; Twitter has knives out

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Mauricio Pochettino worked a marvel with the English language in describing how VAR affected the late stages of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 loss to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Spurs looked to have doubled its home lead with 20 minutes to play when Serge Aurier belted a far post shot past the reach of Kasper Schmeichel, but a lengthy video review showed Heung-Min Son‘s shoulder was maybe possibly offside.

[ RECAP: Leicester City 2-1 Tottenham ]

Clear and obvious? Mehhhhhhh.

Pochettino, oddly enough, chose not to debate the call but instead focused on the momentum he believes it provided to Leicester City en route to Ricardo Pereira‘s near-immediate answer and James Maddison‘s late winner.

“After 80 minutes, the game was going to be over. You gave massive belief to the team that was already dead. After we conceded the goal 1-1, we had some chances to score the second goal, but that’s what makes the Premier League the most beautiful league. You can never stop.”

He was optimistic on the overall performance following a disheartening 2-2 draw with Olympiacos at midweek, as Spurs threw away a 2-0 first half lead over the Greek hosts.

“Very disappointed because we lost the three points but in thinking the big picture I am very optimistic because the team showed great reaction after Olympiacos.”

Meanwhile, much of the rest of Twitter’s soccer world was a bit less forgiving of VAR. Even Leicester City legend Gary Lineker sent venom to the Video Assistant Referee.

Man City scores five times in first 18 minutes v. Watford (video)

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What a start. Emphasize it, bold it, underline it.

Manchester City scored five goals in the first 18 minutes of play on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, relegating Watford to also-ran status before the match was a quarter finished.

[ STREAM: Man City v. Watford ]

It took 54 seconds for De Bruyne to assist David Silva with an outstanding opener, but Gerard Deulofeu nearly answered when he danced around Nicolas Otamendi to force a conceded corner out of Ederson.

Silva, marked for Inter Miami in a mid-week report, was the finisher for the 55th time in his Premier League career and 72nd for his club.

Ben Foster then gave away a useless penalty when he slapped a through ball out of bounds before felling Riyad Mahrez for an easy penalty. Aguero stepped to the spot calm as you like and dispatched the No. 2 to the scoreboard.

That was hardly the end to Watford’s woes, as Mahrez dazzled with a dribble through the heart of the field to earn a free kick atop the 18. There was only one destination, given the series of events. 3-0.

Bernardo Silva then got in on the act, when Otamendi nodded a De Bruyne corner to the back post for a prone finish and 4-0.

Not to be outdone, Otamendi was back post for a finish of his own, giving City its fifth goal off an Aguero assist.

Watch Live: Man City v. Watford headlines 10am ET games

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Three Premier League games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, as potential upsets are the focus.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Manchester City aim to get back on track as they play Watford, while Norwich head to Burnley and Everton host Sheffield United.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Man City v. Watford – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley v. Norwich – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton v. Sheffield United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]