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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.”

Mark Clattenburg heads to China as head of officiating

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Mark Clattenburg left England last year at the peak of his refereeing career for a big-money move to Saudi Arabia, and it appears he has his next high-profile move sorted as well.

The recognizable referee announced he has signed on to become Head of the Referee Division and Future Development of Referees for the Chinese Super League after the expiry of his contract at his previous role. He will return to the field in this new role, refereeing Chinese Super League matches as well as overseeing the league’s officials.

“I am excited by the new challenge,” Clattenburg said in the announcement. “The Chinese Super League has grown markedly in recent years and they want the standard of refereeing to grow with it.”

The Chinese Super League has been a popular destination for big-name players nearing the end of their peak years and looking to cash in on one final contract, with players like Javier Mascherano, Paulinho, Graziano Pelle, Oscar, Hulk, and Yannick Carrasco all currently plying their trade in the Far East. Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele both just recently moved from Premier League clubs to the Chinese league. “I’m looking forward to being part of [the league’s growth],” Clattenburg said. “You look at the quality of the players, so many in the peak of their career, and it is clear to see the ambition of the league and the clubs within it.”

Clattenburg was considered the top Premier League official when he retired from on-field duties in 2017, having previously taken charge of both Champions League and Euro finals, and was in line to represent England at the World Cup before abruptly calling time on his career. He transitioned to an overseer role in Saudi Arabia where he replaced Howard Webb and was able to coach officials and also give his opinion on on-field matters. He will now return to the field as part of his new role in China, a surprising development given it seemed he was finished with active refereeing when he departed the Premier League. That leaves the door open to a possible return to officiating in England down the road, and maybe in continental competitions as well.

The move also opens the door to foreign officials refereeing domestic matches outside their home country, not something previously thought of as a common occurrence.

Watch Live: Tottenham-Brighton, Watford-Southampton

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Two Premier League matches with European implications take the field on this Tuesday afternoon as Tottenham hosts Brighton & Hove Albion while Watford welcomes Southampton to Vicarage Road.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

Spurs will look to rebuild its lead in the race for the Champions League places in the table’s top four. With Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United all neck-and-neck vying for two spots, the other 3 teams all dropped points this round, leaving Tottenham with a brilliant opportunity to gain ground in third. They’ll go against a desperate 17th-placed Brighton, fighting for its life at the bottom of the table. The Seagulls sit as the last team safe, three points above Cardiff City looking for any kind of a result in a tough road matchup to build the lead over the drop to two games.

Watford, meanwhile, will look to keep pace with Everton in the race for the final Europa League position. The Hornets could guarantee themselves a spot in Europe should they finish seventh, knowing that they would qualify either via the FA Cup or their position in the table. They currently sit eighth, level on points with the Toffees, but back on goal differential. A win or draw against Southampton would restore the slim lead over a red-hot Everton side that is finishing the season strong and pressuring Watford for that final European spot. Southampton sits in 16th on 36 points, five above the relegation zone, and a win today would all but ensure Premier League survival.


Tottenham Hotspur v. Brighton & Hove Albion — 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Tottenham: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose, Wanyama, Eriksen, Dele, Son, Lucas, Llorente.
Bench: Gazzaniga, Davies, Foyth, Sanchez, Dier, Skipp, Janssen.

Brighton: Ryan, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Stephens, Bissouma, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, Andone, Locadia.
Bench: Button, Burn, Bong, Balogun, Kayal, March, Murray.


Watford v. Southampton — 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Watford: Foster, Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Masina, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes, Deulofeu, Pereyra, Gray.
Bench: Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Success, Femena, Chalobah, Sema.

Southampton: Gunn, Bertrand, Bednarek, Yoshida, Stephens, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Long.
Bench: Forster, Vallery, Ramsay, Lemina, Sims, Ings, Austin.

Newcastle focused on extending Bentiez despite interest from others

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According to a report by the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle United is desperately trying to lock down manager Rafa Benitez before the expiration of his contract at the end of June, and is rejecting any and all contact from interested parties in a show of good faith to the club’s current boss.

The report states that the latest interested party to have intermediaries make contact has been former United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but the club has to this point turned down his advances while it continues to push towards an extension with Benitez. The report by the Newcastle Chronicle followed up an earlier report by France Football stating the same.

Sporting director Lee Charnley has been attempting to sign Benitez to an extension for nearly two years, but the Spaniard has reportedly turned down all advances to this point. However with Newcastle United over the 40-point threshold usually required for safety, talks have restarted. Benitez has been reportedly asking for more control over the club’s transfer and recruitment process and wants assurances on financial backing in that department.

Still, should talks break down and Benitez moves on, a number of individuals including Klinsmann have made their interest known. Also linked with the position are David Wagner, Bruno Genesio, and Jorge Jesus.

The relationship between Benitez and the front office has not always been rosy, and Mike Ashley’s stinginess has repeatedly been a point of contention for the Spaniard. Still, Benitez is rightly seen as one of Newcastle’s most valuable assets, and if they can convince him to stick with the club through a season in the Championship, they can certainly figure out a way to keep him aboard as they target a top-half finish in the future.

How will Man City and Man United line up for critical derby?

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There is as much on the line in Wednesday’s Manchester derby than anyone could have hoped for, and the enormous stakes will only feed the excitement on the pitch.

Whereas these big matches often end in cagey draws in the first half of the season with little incentive for the teams to do anything other than avoid losing, a draw won’t do for either side this time around, and there could be goals on the cards. So with everything on the line, how will these teams line up on the field?

[ MORE: Hudson-Odoi injury renews contract talks ]

There are injuries to consider on both sides. Pep Guardiola confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne will not be available tomorrow for Manchester City after his injury against Tottenham left the rest of his season in doubt. Manchester United, meanwhile, will reportedly be without defender Phil Jones after he was withdrawn in the heavy defeat to Everton last time out. Other than that, both squads are fully healthy minus the long-term injury to City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

The biggest question for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be how to deploy his back line against the vicious Manchester City attack – particularly on the flanks. He left Ashley Young on the bench each of the last two matches, with natural center-backs Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo deputizing at full-back, but that experiment could come to an end with Luke Shaw returning from suspension. In Jones’ absence, Rojo or Lindelof could be moved back to the middle, or Solskjaer could bring Eric Bailly back into the fold after failling to see the field in the last two months. The midfield has also been a conglomeration, with the third spot up in the air next to Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Fred and Juan Mata have both seen time, but Ander Herrera will be reportedly returning from his injury and could see the field.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hoping for turnaround ]

For Manchester City, Guardiola’s headache will be constructing his midfield without De Bruyne. He has had Fernandinho in and out of the lineup over the last few weeks due to nagging injuries, and it remains to be seen if he utilizes the defensive midfielder to anchor the formation. Ilkay Gundogan has played deeper when Fernandinho has been absent, and he’s played well in that spot, but at times they still seem to be missing a natural anchor, and it was Fernandinho who came in to replace De Bruyne after his injury.


MANCHESTER UNITED

—– De Gea —–

— Dalot — Rojo — Smalling — Shaw —

—- Matic —- Herrera —-

—- Martial —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


MANCHESTER CITY

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — Laporte — Zinchenko —

—– Fernandinho —–

—- Gundogan —- Foden —-

— B Silva —- Aguero — Sterling —