Mark Schwarzer

Louis van Gaal admits Chelsea far superior, but “next year it can be different”

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Barring a nearly unprecedented collapse from Chelsea, the Premier League title race is over and the chase for second is the main storyline moving into the final four weeks of the season.

The Blues’ 13-point lead means only Arsenal can catch them, and even that would require the Gunners finishing 5-0 with the Blues losing as many — or more — matches in their final four as they have all season.

[ MORE: Should Di Maria leave United? ]

This, of course, leaves Manchester United’s best finishing position as second, which isn’t what the massive club ever wants to accept from a season. And manager Louis van Gaal says his side isn’t good enough to keep pace with Chelsea this year, but that will change next season.

From the BBC:

“This year we have not challenged Chelsea but we are very close to second position. Chelsea are far above the other clubs. Next year it can be different. Next year we shall be better prepared.”

Maybe.

There’s little doubt that, talent-wise, Manchester United can find itself on level terms with Chelsea after another transfer window closes, but it takes time for a side with new players to find its stride.

Only Didier Drogba is out of contract for Chelsea this summer, and the Blues may not have a lot of new integral pieces to fit into the squad next year. As we saw with United this season and Tottenham last, it takes time for talent to adjust to a new league.

[ MORE: Wenger fires back at Mourinho’s “boring” comments ]

Assume United adds 2-3 expected starters. Even if David De Gea and other curent starters stay around, will preseason be enough to help the Red Devils get off to a better start? That’s the main challenge for Van Gaal, as Mourinho’s boys have lost just a pair of matches this season.

No team has lost less than 5 Premier League games in a season since United in 2010-11, and the last time a team lost just two was 2008-09. Remarkably that team, Liverpool, finished second to United due to drawing 11 matches.

Van Gaal also announced that the knee knock picked up by Wayne Rooney won’t keep him out of Saturday’s match against West Bromwich Albion.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City: Ozil’s happy return keys Gunners win

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Leicester City remains rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table after a 2-1 loss at Arsenal on Tuesday.

Mesut Ozil was the key figure in goals from Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott, as the Gunners moved ahead of idle Manchester United and losing Tottenham for fourth in the PL.

Andrej Kramaric scored for embattled Nigel Pearson’s Leicester side, who sit five points back of safety, dead last with 17 points. Pearson was widely-reported to have been fired on Sunday, but kept hold of his position.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

The Foxes had the most danger to start, as Riyad Mahrez kept Arsenal under pressure and, most notably, had no one back to post to receive his searching cross-six pass in the 15th minute.

The Gunners’ first chance came in the 16th minute, as Mesut Ozil found Theo Walcott. But Mark Schwarzer was there to save Arsenal’s first shot on goal.

And off a spell of strong possession earned a free kick, Arsenal scored when Ozil’s free kick found Koscielny for a low finish past Schwarzer.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

source: Getty ImagesThen Walcott made it 2-0 when he blasted an Ozil rebound past Schwarzer just before halftime.

Gunners keeper David Ospina made a couple tough saves when called upon twice by Kramaric, the second ending with Koscielny heading over the bar.

But the ensuing corner resulted in Kramaric smashing home a headed clearance from Koscielny, and it was ‘game on’ at the Emirates, as they say.

Santi Cazorla hammered an attempt at Schwarzer in the 67th minute, but the Australian keeper turned it away.

Kramaric tried an audacious chip of Ospina on a 1v1 chance in the 79th minute, but the keeper snared it.

Lineups

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Walcott (Ramsey, 73′; Flamini, 83′), Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez (Giroud, 68′)

Goal: Koscielny (27′), Walcott (41′)

Leicester City: Schwarzer, James, Upson (Wasilewski, 59′), Morgan (Ulloa, 81′), Huth, Konchesky, Simpson, Mahrez, Cambiasso, Schlupp (Nugent, 86′), Kramaric

Goal: Kramaric (61′)

2014 World Cup Team Preview: Australia

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Getting to know… Australia
The Socceroos came into the 2014 World Cup cycle expecting to make an impact in Brazil. Reality has provided a wake up call. After back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France last year, the FFA fired Holger Osieck and appointed Melbourne Victory manager Ange Postecoglou. Expectations were reset.

With 11 players 23 or younger on his preliminary squad, the Greece-born boss is bringing along in a new generation of talent, with young attackers like Tommy Oar, Matthew Lewkie, Ben Halloran, and Tom Rogic given their chance to augment Tim Cahill. Though they’re unlikely to help Australia meet last year’s inflated expectations, the new core will gain valuable experience for Russia.

Record in qualifying

After taking Asian qualifying by storm ahead of South Africa 2010, Australia came back to earth. Though they went 5-1-0 in third round qualifying, the Socceroos won only three of eight matches in Asia’s final round. The four-point gab between themselves and Japan defined the ground they’ve lost.

Group B

Australia has the worst draw of any team at the 2014 World Cup. Defending world champions Spain and 2010 finalists the Netherlands headline the packet, while the toughest South American team that didn’t get seeded (Chile) ended up in the true Group of Death. Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes are likely to dead on arrival.

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. ET: Chile vs. Australia (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Wednesday, June 18 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Netherlands (Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Spain (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)

Star player
Tim Cahill is both the oldest playing on Postecoglou’s preliminary roster and the player most likely to get goals, particularly with a formation change having dropped striker Joshua Kennedy. At 34, this will be the New York Red Bull’s final World Cup, one which could prove demanding as he tries to provide pressure as his team’s one striker. His talents in the air as well as his work ethic could prove valuable for a team that will have trouble retaining the ball against talented opposition.

Manager
Postecoglou is Greece-born, but he’s considered one of Australia’s own. As a five-year-old, he emigrated to Melbourne along with his family and eventually went on to make four appearances as a defender for the national team in 1986.

Ten years later, Postecoglou’s managerial career began. After debuting with South Melbourne, the now 48-year-old went on to run Australia’s U-20s before a brief spell in Greece (Panachaiki). In 2009, he was named head coach of Brisbane Roar, eventually winning back-to-back A-League titles.

Secret weapon
Postecoglou’s transition from the now-retired Mark Schwarzer sparked a competition in goal, one that was eventually won by 22-year-old Mathew Ryan. Coming off his first full season with Club Brugge in Belgium, Ryan has the skillset to succeed at a much higher level, with interest from Spain having already been reported. He’s also a plus-distributor out of the back, something that’s of particular value as Postecoglou tried to implement a more possession-sensitive approach.

Prediction
Australia may not be the worst team at the World Cup, but with the tournament’s toughest draw, they could end up in last place. The Socceroos’ best chance for a point will be against another young, transition squad: the Netherlands. Unfortunately for Australia, Louis van Gaal’s side still has the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder. It may be a long two weeks (and a short tournament) for the Socceroos.

Chelsea 0-0 Norwich City: No goals, no consequences (yet)

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Chelsea have put their destiny in others’ hands. By failing to beat relegation-threatened Norwich City at Stamford Bridge, the Blues’ title hopes rest on Liverpool dropping points against Crystal Palace on Monday. And should that happen, Chelsea will need to root for Aston Villa to beat Manchester City come Wednesday.

As for Norwich, they survive to see another day – but safety still looks unlikely. They’ll face Arsenal on the final day, and the Gunners have nothing left to play for, but the problem is Sunderland. The Black Cats have two games left, against West Brom and Swansea, and considering the Canaries’ -32 goal difference, almost certainly need just a point.

In the first half, Chelsea simply didn’t look like a team set for a challenge. Rather, they looked like a side broken by being knocked out of the Champions League midweek. Understandable, but it didn’t help that José Mourinho decided to rest the likes of Eden Hazard and David Luiz.

André Schürrle had a go in the third minute, but it was Norwich who could very well have been up before 15 minutes were out. Martin Olsson had no trouble slipping past an oblivious Ashley Cole to get on to the end of a pass from Bradley Johnson. Rushing in to save Cole’s blushes, John Terry tripped up Olsson, bringing him down inside the area. Neil Swarbrick waved away penalty appeals, while Neil Adams was absolutely livid on the sidelines.

Shortly thereafter, Demba Ba messed up a glorious chance to put the home side in front. The forward, free on the left, had two blue shirts available inside the area. However, the cross from Ba was terrible, and the ball collided with goalkeeper John Ruddy.

Around the half-hour mark, the woodwork declared itself a Canaries fan, doing its part to keep out a curling shot from Schürrle. Minutes later, Ruddy saved another shot from the German.

Johnson very nearly gave his side the lead going into the break. In the 40th minute, Terry just barely got a piece of a shot from the midfielder, but it was enough to deflect it out for the corner. The sides went into the locker rooms locked in a goalless draw.

Mourinho, having apparently remembered his side was still in the title race, made a double change to start the second half. Off came Mohamed Salah and Frank Lampard, on came Eden Hazard and David Luiz.

The change was immediate, with Chelsea having a much greater spring in their step. After just three minutes, the post had to bail out Norwich once more, this time denying a shot from David Luiz.

Then came Chelsea’s time to shout for a penalty…twice. First Branislav Ivanović and Schürrle both went down inside the area. A few minutes later, it appeared that Ryan Bennett went in recklessly on Hazard, who tumbled over. But with the offside flag already up, Swarbrick barely blinked.

Chelsea continued to ramp up the pressure, but somehow, Norwich held on. A rare advance on Mark Schwarzer’s goal looked like it might end with the ball in the back of the net, but an excellent challenge from Gary Cahill stopped Robert Snodgrass from getting his shot in.

The Blues kept coming, attacking in waves, but for once, luck was on Norwich’s side. A brilliant shot from Hazard prompted a terrific save from Ruddy. Moments later, a first-time volley from Schürrle was deflected out for a corner.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Schwarzer; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Lampard (David Luiz), Matic (Torres 73); Salah (Hazard), Willian, Schurrle; Ba

Norwich City: Ruddy; Martin, R Bennett, Turner, Whittaker; Tettey; Snodgrass, Johnson, Howson, Olsson; Elmander (Redmond 69)

Subs: Bunn, Bassong, van Wolfswinkel, Fer, Hooper, E Bennett, Redmond

Atlético through to all-Madrid final, eliminates Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

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This year’s final will be an all-Madrid affair after Atlético Madrid’s win at Stamford Bridge set up the biggest Derbi Madrileño in history. With goals from Adrián López, Diego Costa, and Arda Turan reversing Fernando Torres’s first half opener, La Liga’s leaders marauded into next month’s final, with the Colchoneros’ 3-1 win leaving Atlético to battle rival Real Madrid for this year’s UEFA Champions League  title.

Torres opened the scoring in the 36th minute after his shot from 10 yards out found a defender’s leg on its way toward goal. Just before halftime, Atlético responded through Adrían López, with a second half penalty conversion by Diego Costa putting the visitors in front. Just under 20 minutes from time, Arda Turan’s goal from just outside the six-yard box eliminated all doubt Diego Simeone’s side would reach its first final in 40 years.

Having eliminated the 2011-12 champions, Atlético is one step away from the team’s first European title, with only the club’s biggest rivals standing in its way. After a 4-0 win yesterday in Munich, Real Madrid earned its right to compete for a 10th European title, doing its part to set up the first inner-city matchup in a Champions League final.

More: Three things we learned from Atlético’s win in London

Atlético nearly claimed its away goal in the fifth minute when the second ball in from a corner saw Koke test Mark Schwarzer’s woodwork. Attempting to play a cleared ball back into the six-yard box, the Atleti midfielder’s chip cleared the Chelsea keeper and went off the crossbar. After coming down and hitting Gary Cahill, the ball sailed back over the bar, leaving the match scoreless.

After a half-hour of Chelsea control in an otherwise even game, the Blues got on the board. With a run from the middle of the field, Willian streaked behind the defense’s left and onto a through ball rolled toward the corner. Cesar Azpilicueta, getting a surprise start at right wing, ran into the vacated space and onto his teammate’s pass, where the Spaniard found Torres 10 yards from goal. The former Atlético striker declined to celebrate after his one-timed shot deflected into the left of goal, leaving Thiabult Courtois no chance to prevent the tie’s opening goal.

The home side’s lead would only last eight minutes, however, thanks to a lapse by Eden Hazard. In the 44th, the Colchoneros moved the ball from deep on the left back toward the middle, where Tiago found Koke racing past Hazard toward the far post. A cross volleyed across the six by Koke found Adrián at the other upright, with the forward’s shot bouncing into the top corner for the away goal.

More: Jose Mourinho blames “injuries, suspensions” as Chelsea come up short

source: AP
Chelsea players wait to kick off after Diego Costa gave Atlético Madrid a 2-1 lead at Stamford Bridge. (Photo: AP Photos.)

Eight minutes into the second half, Chelsea nearly went back in front when a restart from Willian met John Terry near the penalty spot. The captain’s header was hit well toward Courtois’ line, but the Chelsea loanee was able to get down to his left to maintain Atlético’s edge.

In the 59th minute, Samuel Eto’o committed the error that sealed Chelsea’s fate. Taking down Costa just inside the penalty area, the Cameroonian, who had just come on five minutes earlier, gave the Spanish international a chance from the spot. After drawing a yellow card while having trouble placing the ball, Costa finished high into the left side of goal, giving Atlético a 2-1 lead.

Five minutes later, David Luiz’s header off another Willian restart went off Courtois’s right post, giving the Bridge faithful hope their side was prepared to respond. In the 71st minute, however, Atlético was able to recreate its first goal, with a Juanfran’s run behind Hazard producing an opportunity for Arda Turan, who put the day’s final score into the right side of goal.

More: Your Champions League Final: Real Madrid goes for No. 10; Atlético goes for No. 1

With the 3-1 win, Atlético Madrid completes the first ever Champions League final between clubs from the same city. It’s also the second time two Spanish clubs have played for Europe’s title and the fifth time teams from the same federation will play for club soccer’s most prestigious honor.

On May 24 in Lisbon, however, most of those finer details will be irrelevant. The battle for Madrid will be in focus, as will Real Madrid’s quest for its coveted decima at its rival’s expense.

For Atlético, however, Lisbon will give the club a chance to finish its quick rise to European elite. Beat their rivals at the Estadio da Luz, and Atleti will claim their first Champoins League title.