Rampone, other US veterans met with Ellis at midway point of Women’s World Cup

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The World Cup is a funny thing. It goes by in a flash yet it seems to last forever. Thirty days. Lives change. Legacies are made. Teams make adjustments. And they get better.

The World Cup is long enough, and there is enough travel, that Christie Rampone does not even remember what city she was in when she talked to Jill Ellis about the state of the United States team at the approximate midway point of the tournament.

“Jill actually told us before leaving New Jersey (for the World Cup) that she wanted to meet halfway and kind of recap,” Rampone said Friday during a media session at the team hotel. “See where we’re at, see what the pulse is, how’s the energy, do we need to rest more.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Rampone said the meetings were informal and individual with different members of the team. “It’s all individual. I had met with her, I’m sure Carli (Lloyd)’s net with her and Abby (Wambach)’s met with her.

“She’s more of a one-one-one than having big groups. She’ll just grab you in the hallway like, ‘alrigt give me five minutes.’ So it’s never really planned which is probably better. It’s more spur of the moment. All the meetings are in her room.”

Rampone stopped short of saying it was the players who asked for more freedom. “Yes and no,” the now 40-year old veteran of five World Cups said.

However and who ever made the call to change things up, if the U.S. beats Japan on Sunday it will likely be remembered as the decision that saved the World Cup. The team went from a somnambulant 4-4-2 setup with Lloyd and Lauren Holiday playing as tandem holding midfielders to a dynamic arrangement with Lloyd sitting off Alex Morgan and Holiday combining with Morgan Brian to press underneath them. Once the formation altered against China, that team never had a chance. Germany was outplayed in the semifinal as well.

“I’m not saying I’m one of the best defensive mids out there, but I played there (in the) 2012 Olympics. And I can do it,” Lloyd said. “But at the same time for me to have more of an impact and try to gett he attack going it’s obviously my natural position.”

Lloyd also spoke of meeting with Ellis during the tournament after she played below her standards during three group matches. “Jill and I have sat down with one and other numerous times and looked at film. She’s always been in my corner. She told me after the group games ‘you’re fine, we’re going to get you going.’ It’s great to have the freedom to be able to create and impact the game.”

[MORE: Lloyd among eight up for Golden Ball]

Asked what she appreciates most about Jill Ellis, Rampone said it is the U.S. coach’s openmindedness to accepting feedback from her assistants as well as her attention to detail about each U.S. opponent.

“I think she embraces their knowledge,” Rampone said of the assistant coaches. “They are constantly meeting and constantly watching video and analyzing the team. I think she’s taken a step back where it’s not always about the U.S. team. She is breaking down the other teams and giving us that feedback. I’ve seen that in the past but just not to the extent that Jill has done.”

Rampone also made reference to the turf which has silently put a beating on those who have done 90 minutes over it throughout the World Cup.

“It was the unexpected playing on turf of how the bodies were going to respond. Do we need more rest? Can we keep pushing? It was more of that communication between players and staff to revisit and then gear up for the knockout phase.

“I think (Ellis) was holding the reins off. It’s all about coaching. It’s all about timing. I think her preparation and the coaching staff’s preparation has been brilliant.”

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).