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Costa reveals root of conflict with Conte, banishment from Chelsea

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If any Chelsea fan out there were still holding out hope that the conflict between star striker Diego Costa and manager Antonio Conte could be resolved and the Spanish international could return to the field at Stamford Bridge, it’s probably time to move on.

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In an explosive interview with the Daily Mail, from his childhood home in Brazil, Costa has held back absolutely nothing in telling his version of events which led to him being told to train with the reserves and held hostage as he waits for a move away from Chelsea to materialize.

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According to Costa, it all started in January, when he was set to renew his current contract and further commit his future to the club, at which point he believes Conte intervened and betrayed his player — quotes from the Daily Mail:

“In January, things happened with the coach. I was on the brink of renewing my contract and they put the brakes on it. I suspect the manager was behind it. He asked for that to happen.

“His ideas are very fixed and clear. I have seen the sort of person he is. He has his own opinion and that will not change. I respect him as a great coach. He has done a good job and I can see that, but as a person, no. He is not a coach who is very close with his players. He is very distant. He doesn’t possess charisma.”

“I am waiting for Chelsea to set me free. I didn’t want to leave. I was happy. When the manager does not want you, you have to go. If you were to ask all my team-mates, they’d say the same. They send messages saying “I miss you” and that they love me.

“I am always talking with the boys — particularly Cesc Fabregas, David Luiz and Willian. We have banter over WhatsApp. They ask how I am. They really love me for the person I am. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be saying they miss me and love me.”

“Why won’t they let me go if they don’t want me? I have to do what I have to do. I have to think of myself. I’ve been a good boy here and tried to do the right thing.

“My desire is to go to Atletico [Madrid]. I’ve spoken to Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia. I said, ‘If the manager doesn’t want me, I want to go to Atletico Madrid.’ I have rejected other offers. They want to sell me to China or other teams. The language is better for me in Spain. If I’m off, I’m going to the club I want to go to — not the club that’s paying the most.

“Diego Simeone wants me. It is very clear. I have always had a bond with him. The fans and people love me there. They respect me.”

“They want me to be there training with the reserves. I wouldn’t be allowed access to the first-team dressing room and I would have no contact at all with the guys. I’m not a criminal. I don’t think it is fair after all I have done to be treated like that.

“They gave me a week extra off but since then it’s fines all the way. They want me training with the reserves. I am not going to do that. I am not a criminal and I am not in the wrong here. So, if they need to fine me, let them fine me. I take the hit every week but I’m not driven by money. The important thing is to be happy with how I live.”

18 days remain in the summer transfer window in Spain. Costa would almost certainly have to accept a sizable pay cut in order to leave Chelsea and return to Atletico Madrid, something he appears wholly willing to do, based on the above quotes.

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus

Late goalkeeper strike seals knockout spot in UEFA Youth League

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Club Brugge goalkeeper Senne Lammens may just be 17 years old, but he just lived every goalkeeper’s dream: to score a dramatic equalizer in the dying seconds of a game to send the club through to a European competition’s knockout stage.

The young goalkeeper came forward on a corner in the 94th minute of a game against Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League Wednesday morning in Belgium. With the visitors leading 2-1 and added time just about expired, Brugge needed to score an equalizer to secure passage to the knockout stage, lest they be left at the mercy of Galatasaray’s match against PSG.

Lammens delivered. The corner swung in to the top of the six-yard box and the youngster was on hand to head home a pinpoint effort inside the far post.

The header was quite literally the last act of the game, with stoppage time already creeping more than 60 seconds past the minimum three added minutes.

Lammens has shuttled back and forth between the youth squad and the senior squad this season serving occasionally as an emergency third goalkeeper behind Simon Mignolet and Ethan Horvath. Mostly, though, he’s been with the youth squad appearing in five of their six UEFA Youth League games, with three wins and a draw.

Report: Arsenal not interested in Ancelotti “profile”

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According to The Athletic reporter David Ornstein, Arsenal is not interested in a manager of Carlo Ancelotti’s “profile.”

The Italian was recently let go by Napoli after a disappointing first half of the season despite qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage.

Ancelotti has won a Premier League title, three Champions League titles, and a Scudetto during his career but apparently a manager with his resume does not interest the Gunners, who may be looking for a more youthful boss with a longer-term strategy and potentially stronger club or domestic ties.

At 60 years old, Ancelotti has been fired from posts at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and now Napoli over the last four years. Over those four seasons, he has just one league title, the 2016/17 Bundesliga crown he won with Bayern in runaway fashion, and has exceeded expectations in very limited capacities, instead seeing things turn sour at each job relatively quickly. This season at Napoli, the club sits seventh in the Serie A table, mired in a horrible seven-match winless run that has seen them tumble further from the Champions League places.

Ornstein’s report also touched on the timeline of a potential hire, with the club apparently still deciding on whether to see out the season with interim manager Freddie Ljungberg or make a mid-season appointment. He states that the club “want situation settled asap” but also prefer “right man over quick decision.” He does not identify who the number one target is, but suggests that if that person is available at this point in time, they will make the hire mid-season, otherwise there will be a waiting game.

Jorge Sampaoli resigns as Santos boss

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Brazilian club Santos confirmed Tuesday evening that manager Jorge Sampaoli has resigned as boss.

Sampaoli, who won the 2015 Copa America in charge of Chile but could not recreate that success with the Argentinian national team, signed on with Santos a year ago and guided them to a second-place finish in the Brazilian top flight, 16 points behind runaway champions Flamengo. His contract had another year, expiring in the winter of 2020, but with reports of offers from multiple clubs, he has stepped down.

The most widely reported destination is fellow Brazilian club Palmeiras, whom many believe Sampaoli has already entered talks with. He has also been linked with Argentinian club Racing, and his name has cropped up on occasion with the Arsenal vacancy, although that seems like a longshot. It was said in late October that Sampaoli had an offer from an unnamed La Liga club, but those rumors have cooled.

His reason for leaving Santos after just one successful season in charge is unconfirmed, but rumors are circulating that Sampaoli had incredibly ambitious transfer plans for the offseason, and when club president Jose Carlos Peres could not guarantee his support, the relationship became strained.

The 2019 season was mostly successful for Sampaoli at Santos, finishing second in the league table, but the secondary competitions were somewhat disappointing. They received a tough first-round draw in the Copa Sudamericana, falling to River Plate on away goals. They were also ousted from the Copa do Brasil in the Round of 16, falling 2-1 to an Atletico Minero side that finished 13th in the league table.