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Doubts about Simeone surface after Atleti’s defensive tactics fail

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MADRID (AP) For quite a while now, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has been able to count on some of the best players in the world.

Stars like Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin have stayed with the club despite big offers from rivals, and Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata have been added.

The financial gap between Atletico and the top European teams has been reduced significantly in recent years, and the club has gradually grown into one of the continent’s main forces, providing Simeone near-perfect conditions to do his job.

Long gone is the time Atletico was just a mid-level team trying to sporadically surprise the European powerhouses.

But one thing that hasn’t changed as Atletico evolved was Simeone’s vision of soccer and how it should be played. No matter the circumstances and no matter the players, Simeone’s teams will always have a defensive-minded footprint. His teams will always rely first on defense before making any consideration about attacking.

It’s a formula that has worked most of the time – that’s how Atletico made it to two Champions League finals and won the Spanish league over Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But the team’s embarrassing performance in a 3-0 loss to Juventus on Tuesday, a result that eliminated the club in the round of 16 of the Champions League, gives some fuel to those who think Atletico could be playing differently and succeeding more often than it is under Simeone’s tactics and his current players.

With a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, it was expected for Atletico to fall back on defense in Turin. But the way it happened was demoralizing, with Simeone’s team barely getting near Juventus’ area and never having a realistic chance of withstanding the onslaught brought on by the hosts. Cristiano Ronaldo, who so often hurt Atletico while playing with Real Madrid, scored a hat trick to eliminate the Spanish club from the competition.

After reaching at least the quarterfinals in four straight seasons, Atletico was eliminated early for the second consecutive year. It didn’t even make it past the group stage last season.

Atletico had no shots on goal the entire game on Tuesday, with Alvaro Morata’s first-half header over the crossbar being the closest the team came to scoring. An away goal by the Spanish club would have made it much harder for Juventus to overcome the first-leg deficit.

“I don’t think it was lack of commitment or lack of character,” Simeone said. “They were just better than us and we have to congratulate them. We have to put our heads down and try to understand how we can improve for the future.”

The only thing left for Atletico this season is the Spanish league, and it trails leader Barcelona by seven points with 11 matches left. It was eliminated by Girona in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey in January.

The 48-year-old Simeone, who last month had his contract extended until 2022, arrived in December 2011 and led Atletico to the Europa League title that same season.

Sticking to his defense-first formula, the Argentine eventually helped Atletico win two UEFA Super Cups, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish league, the Spanish Super Cup and another Europa League. The team lost in the Champions League final to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, and was eliminated by the same team in the 2017 semifinals.

The recent setbacks are not likely to change Simeone’s style, and fans don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, if ever.

“What I can tell Atletico fans is that we will keep working hard,” Simeone said. “We have to pick ourselves up and try to keep improving.”

Everton season restart preview

Everton season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Everton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Toffees when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Located six points back of the top seven, Everton will hope their long pause allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s system to sink deeper into the minds of his Toffees players. A three-match challenge of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea which yielded a lone point would’ve left Everton feeling burnt and sour for a good, long time. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s strong attacking seasons are ready for the rebound.

[ MORE: Ranking every Everton player in 2019-20 ]

The return to the training ground hasn’t come without worry; Yerry Mina suffered a quad tear and may be out for the season, while summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin has experienced another setback and won’t be able to pitch into the fight for Europe.


Tactical analysis: Whether it’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin alone up top or partnered with Richarlison, Ancelotti likes power in the final third. He’s deployed Gylfi Sigurdsson a bit further back at times, trusting that Fabian Delph or Tom Davies could handle the lion’s share of the dirty work. Everton’s full back pair is one of the best in the game, so much so that back-ups Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman would start an awful lot of places. The crosses will be whipped into the mix. The biggest questions remains in goal, as Jordan Pickford is an excellent shot-stopper who hasn’t been very good at that this season but can distribute at a very high level. That part of his game is why he’s still there, and could be a big part of the 2019-20’s conclusion.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Pickford —–

— Sidibe— Keane — Holgate — Digne —

—– Gomes —– Delph —–

— Bernard — Sigurdsson —  Richarlison —

—– Calvert-Lewin —– 

There are still plenty of questions here, with Alex Iwobi, Tom Davies, Seamus Coleman, and Theo Walcott would love to get their places in this XI. Mina’s injury means Micheal Keane will need to find his form of last season or even the one before that (or the one before that).


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth
Away: Norwich City, Spurs, Wolves, Sheffield United

Predicted finish: Presuming a start versus Liverpool, Everton has a chance to make a major statement to anyone who’d fathom listening. There are 12 points of the remaining 27 that really should be in the bag and another three (Leicester at Goodison) that look solid. Leave the derby out of it and the remaining three away tilts (Spurs, Wolves, Blades) are European six-pointers. Everton has one of the more interesting stories to tell when the PL resumes.

Premier League social media wrap: Antonio, Pereira urge unity

Premier League social media
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The Premier League’s social media world was again focused on activism on Wednesday.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

West Ham forward Michail Antonio’s mind is understandably still on the racial issues which have gripped the world in a particularly strong way the past nine days.

A day after all 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism, Antonio wants to make sure that people don’t think one day of speaking up is enough to change a historical struggle.

He’ll appreciate another statement from Leicester City’s squad.

The Foxes gather center circle to take a knee, with Ricardo Pereira saying “humanity coms first” and echoing Weston McKennie’s “Enough is enough” video.

A huge number of Premier League players have donated shirts for a raffle to raise funds for the National Health Services’ charities as part of their #PlayersTogether campaign.

It’s a challenge to find more Premier League stars that have not posted about #ShirtsForHeroes than those that have, so we’ll choose should-be PFA Player of the Year midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

It must’ve been chilly in Manchester.

Odion Ighalo is clearly happy to be back with United through January after it looked like the Nigerian striker was going back to Shanghai Shenhua.

But, man, both Ighalo and Luke Shaw in the wool hats/toques/skullies/whatever you want to call them.

Christian Benteke was none-too-pleased with the hassle he got from teammate Jordan Ayew at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

The Belgian striker’s words were in jest, no doubt, after Palace gave him photos of the club’s leading scorer taking advantage of being allowed full contact in practice.

Benteke hasn’t been scoring and will always be judged by his price tag(s), but he’s been better this season as a hold-up man and pest up top. Let’s see if he can lead the Eagles onto something special.

Eintracht nears safety with second-half surge past Bremen

Werder Bremen v. Eintracht Frankfurt recap
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Andre Silva and Stefan Ilsanker sent Eintracht Frankfurt to Bundesliga safety and sent Werder Bremen crashing to a new reality in a 3-0 at the Weserstadion on Wednesday.

Eintracht’s 35 points put it eight points clear of the bottom three with five matches to play, while Bremen’s three-match unbeaten run ends with it standing three points back of 15th-place Mainz.

Silva has scored 12 goals on loan from AC Milan, eight coming in the Bundesliga and four in the five matches since the league returned from the coronavirus pause.

For Ilsanker, his goals mark his first ever in the Bundesliga over 87 appearances, and first in any competition since scoring for RB Leipzig in the 2015-16 2.Bundesliga season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The first half was very cagey, with little to report aside from a penalty denied Bremen, who again looked nothing like the side that’s been in the relegation places for so much of the season.

Eintracht thought it’d gone ahead with a Dominik Kohr goal before the hour mark, but either a slight offside or handball by the passer counted against his hopes.

The visitors scored as the clock struck 60:00. Makato Hasebe starts the play and Filip Kostic crossed for Silva to head inside the near post.

Bremen boss Florian Kohfeldt responded by putting USMNT striker Josh Sargent in for Davie Selke.

Davy Klaassen wasted a 78th minute counter attack as Bremen showed some desperation and Leonardo Bittencourt hit a wayward attempt a minute later.

Ilsanker made it 2-0 within moments of subbing into the match, a Bas Dost-redirected corner kick landing in his path for a close-range finish. Fellow sub Jonathan de Guzman then spun a free kick around the fray for an emphatic Ilsanker header.

Americans Abroad: Sargent’s half-hour was non-descript. Dost flicked the corner kick before Sargent could head clear. He was eight-of-eight passing on 11 touches and completed his lone long ball. Sargent won 2-of-3 duels and drew a foul. Judging by what we saw from Davie Selke, Sargent could get another turn in the Starting XI versus Wolfsburg.

Timmy Chandler was an unused sub for Eintracht, a little over a week after playing super sub with a match-winning goal.

Crystal Palace season restart preview

Crystal Palace season restart preview
Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Crystal Palace is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Eagles when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Palace has navigated injuries and a disappointing season from superstar Wilfried Zaha to sit within striking distance, or at least hoping distance, of a place in the Europa League. The journey won’t be easy, with six of nine matches coming against top five hopefuls, but Roy Hodgson’s done a good job at Selhurst Park despite limited contributions from the center forward position.

[ MORE: Ranking every Palace player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The club can line up in what looks to be either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 depending on what Roy Hodgson is asking of his Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew, and/or Andros Townsend. Zaha hasn’t lived up to his standards this season but remains the club’s best threat, with Ayew enjoying his most productive season since leaving Ligue 1 in 2015 (or Swansea two seasons ago if you’re being generous).

A lot of of what Palace has done well this year revolves around center midfielder James McArthur and the two men who join him (some combination of Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and James McCarthy).


Possible XI (4-1-4-1) 

—– Guaita —–

— Ward — Dann — Cahill — Van Aanholt —

—– McCarthy —–

— Ayew — McArthur — Kouyate — Zaha—

—– Benteke—–

McCarthy had played quite well in the three-match streak leading into the pause, and was much, much better in 2020 than he’d been while struggling for starts in the first half of the season. Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have been steady if unspectacular in front of Vincente Guaita, while Van Aanholt’s best days are still elite, if fewer and farther between. Pretty solid side and good work from Hodgson with plenty of injuries to handle over the first 29 matches.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Burnley, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs
Away: Bournemouth, Liverpool, Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolves

Predicted finish: The only thing certain is that Palace would have to fall all over itself to finish anywhere near the bottom three, even given a tricky schedule. Really, it depends upon the intensity of the competitors, because Palace is safe from relegation barring something traumatic but needs a number of signature wins to be involved in the top seven fight. And how will the Eagles react if Arsenal and Sheffield United get points from their June 17 matches-in-hand and the Europa League looks more and more an unlikely dream? Tenth seems the place, but anything can happen when eighth may be a Europa League place.