Oh my God – I have missed Champions League Soccer – round of 16 – OMG – first the Juventus vs Tottenham game with Juve taking the 2 – 0 lead then Tottenham battling back to tie my team in the 88th minute. I still can’t believe my Juve blew the 2-0 lead – what should have been 4-0?? Then Wed – the CLASSIC – Real Madrid and Renaldo (2 time defending champs – having a terrible club season) hosting PSG in a 3-1 instant classic that had the Beurnabea rocking as loud as I have ever seen it. Up and down action, controversial no calls on both sides – WOW – the drama was dripping !! My how the English teams looks good – with both Liverpool and Man City cruising. How powerful did Liverpool look?! Can’t wait for Chelsea hosting Barcelona Tues and Man United on the road at Sevilla Wed.
Tues, Feb 20 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Bayern Munich vs Besiktas
2:45 pm FS 2 Chelsea vs Barcelona
Weds, Feb 21 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Sevilla vs Man United
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Roma vs Shakhtar
And of course Thurs was Europa League since many of my teams are out – Dortmund, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid to name a few. Great to see US youngster Pulisic starting and providing another assist in Dortmund’s 3-2 win vs Atalanta. I’ll be tuning in next week.
Thurs, Feb 22– Europa League
11 am FS2 Loko Moscow 3 vs Nice 2
1 pm Fox Soccer Atalanta 2 vs Dortmund (Pulisic) 3
1pm FS2 Atletico Madrid 4 vs FC Copenhagen 1
3 pm FS2 Arsenal 3 vs Ostersunds FK 0
So I am hearing some possible good stuff from the new US President of soccer – talking about reaching out to the masses, hiring a Soccer General Manager for both the men’s and women’s game and all. I’ll reserve opinions until I see more. The USMNT has announced some tough European games vs France and Ireland in June after a March 27th home game in Cary, NC. Speaking of US Soccer – the defending World Champion US Ladies team comes to Columbus, OH to play Germany in the She Believe’s Cup on Thurs, Mar 1 at 7 pm. Honestly assuming The Columbus Crew are probably moving to Texas next year – this might be your LAST CHANCE to See a US Team play in the GREATEST HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE IN US SOCCER HISTORY – in Columbus. Until last year when the men lost to Mexico – The US had never lost in this mecca of US Soccer registering multiple 2-0 wins over Mexico in THE Game of each Men’s Qualifying Cycle. Anyway a Thursday night won’t be easy – but it might be worth the drive over. Tickets are in the $35 to $50 range behind the goals. And you get both games – the England vs France game kicks off at 4 pm and the US Game follows at 7 pm. Anyone interested in Traveling over – I have a hook up with American Outlaw tickets behind the US Goal.
OK – Pet peeve of mine – Why don’t teams/coaches put players on the post of corner kicks. Again today 2 goals on corner kicks- both of them would have been saved with someone / anyone on the post. The players now not on the post are standing in box – covering no one – playing center field – what the hell. Isn’t the concept on corners to not give up a goal. THEN PUT SOMEONE ON BOTH POSTS YOU IDIOTS!@$%&! I guess I need some rocket scientist coach to explain to me why having no one on the posts and giving up goals on corner kicks in less important than having another useless player in the field doing nothing.
Hard to believe the Indy 11 are just over 1 month from the season kickoff and actually have their first scrimmage next Thursday Feb 22 at Grand Park @ 1:30 pm vs FC Cincy. I am considering going out if the weather is nice (I’ll have to tape Dortmund of course. Speaking of Dortmund (Christian Pulisic will get a chance to match up against fellow American Fabian Johnson and Borrusian Mochengladback on Sunday at 12 noon of FS2. Its honestly the only decent game on TV this weekend with FA Cup play on Sat & Sunday in England. (See full schedule below).
GAMES ON TV
Sat, Feb 17
7:30 am FS1 Sheffield Wednesday vs Swansea – FA Cup
9:30 am FS2 Wolfsburg vs Bayern Munich
10 am Fox Soccer West Brom vs Southhampton – FA Cup
10:15 am beIN Sport Eibar vs Barcelona
12:30 pm Fox Soccer Schalke vs Hoffenheim
12:30 pm FS2 Huddersfield Town vs Man United
Sun, Feb 18
6:30 am bein Sport Torino vs Juve (Italy)
7 am Gol TV Barcelona vs Athletic Club
7:30 am FS1 Sheffield Wednesday vs Swansea – FA Cup Weekend
11 am FS1 Rochdale vs Tottenham – FA Cup Weekend
12 noon FS2 Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
2:45 pm beIN Sport Milan vs Sampdoria
Tues, Feb 20 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Bayern Munich vs Besiktas
2:45 pm FS 2 Chelsea vs Barcelona
Weds, Feb 21 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Sevilla vs Man United
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Roma vs Shakhtar
Thurs, Feb 22– Europa League
11 am FS2 Loko Moscow vs Nice
1 pm Fox Soccer Atalanta vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
1pm FS2 Atletico Madrid vs FC Copenhagen
3 pm FS2 Arsenal vs Ostersunds FK
Thurs, Mar 1
Tues, Mar 6 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 PSG vs Real Madrid
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Liverpool vs Porto
Weds, Mar 7 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS2 Man City vs Basel
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Tottenham vs Juventus
Tues, Mar 13 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Man United vs Sevilla
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Shakhtar vs Roma
Weds, Mar 14 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Besiktas vs Bayern Munich
2:45 pm FS 2 Barcelona vs Chelsea
Imperfect Real Madrid Earns Relief vs. PSG, Liverpool Makes Another EPL Statement in UCL
By JONATHAN WILSON February 14, 2018 SI
The first round in the battle of the superclubs belongs to Real Madrid.Two late goals gave Real Madrid a surprising edge over PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League as the two-time reigning winners persevered to a 3-1 triumph.Adrian Rabiot put PSG ahead, but Cristiano Ronaldo leveled from the penalty spot with his 100th Champions League goal for Real Madrid just before halftime. And then when Marcos Asensio’s 82nd-minute deflected cross was pushed out by Alphonse Areola, the ball hit Ronaldo on the knee and bounced in. Another Asensio cross was slammed in by Marcelo four minutes later to give Real Madrid the final edge.Elsewhere in the competition on Wednesday, Sadio Mane struck for a hat trick, as Liverpool all but confirmed its place in the quarterfinal with a 5-0 win at Porto, with the other goals coming from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.ere are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
RELIEF FOR REAL MADRID, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN UNANSWERED FOR BOTH SIDES
The names were glamorous, but for all the pre-match claims that this was a match-up that would have graced the final, both sides began with serious doubts about their credentials. Neither really answered them. For all the potential skill on display, this was a weirdly poor game, disjointed, disfigured by dives and cynical fouls, lacking much in the way of control or cohesion.For Real Madrid, the questions are relatively straightforward ones. It is not playing well. It trails Barcelona, the league leader in Spain, by 17 points. Cristiano Ronaldo, although he scored a hat trick against Real Sociedad over the weekend, has looked out of sorts for most of the season and he snatched at two first-half chances before converting a penalty and getting lucky with his second. Karim Benzema’s form has been even worse. Since beginning the season with wins over Manchester United in the European Super Cup and Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, Real has often been sluggish and lacking in inspiration.For PSG, meanwhile, the concern is more existential. Given the way it dominates in France–it is 12 points clear at the top–how can it ever develop the defensive excellence and capacity to battle that would make the side truly competitive in the latter stages of the Champions League?A strangely shambolic game did nothing to answer that worry. Real Madrid was a long way from its best, lacking a spark after an intense early press, and yet PSG’s carelessness still allowed the hosts to create chances. Giovani Lo Celso, never comfortable in a defensive role, needlessly conceded the penalty from which Ronaldo leveled, while PSG never got to grips with Asensio once he entered off the bench. For the second successive season in Spain, PSG lost its shape and its heads in the closing minutes.From an attacking point of view, PSG was more impressive, although without a great amount of fluidity. Neymar, operating almost exclusively on the left, got the better of Nacho, the Madrid right back, and yet still allowed himself to be sufficiently rattled by a couple of cynical fouls, including one when he got himself booked for a petulant hack. He was extremely lucky not to receive a second yellow card for simulation just after the hour mark. Not for the first time, the sense with him is that he tried to do far too much himself.
REAL MADRID STILL SLOPPY IN THE BACK
It’s not just a lack of zip to their passing and a tendency to over-elaborate in attack that should concern Real Madrid. In one sense, Madrid’s poor domestic form shouldn’t impinge on its hopes in Europe. It has won the league 33 times and the European Cup/Champions League 12, yet last season was the first time in 51 years it had won both in the same season. But in another, Madrid sits fourth in La Liga for a very good reason, which is that it simply is not that good.This was the eighth successive game in which Madrid had conceded, and it could have let in far more than the one it did concede. That was an issue at times last season, and the inability to control a game has been a general feature of Zinedine Zidane’s reign as manager. Madrid’s success last season was based on outscoring opponents, and although it eventually managed that again, it is much harder to do when Ronaldo’s flood of goals has slowed to more normal levels.PSG’s opener was a perfect example of Real’s sloppiness. The defending was fine up to the point at which the ball bounced out toward Rabiot. Nobody had picked up the midfielder. Luka Modric made a belated attempt to get back, but Rabiot had time, even on his weaker foot, to line up a finish. And there were other opportunities as well. Real may be feeling confident and relieved, but a two-goal lead heading to Paris is not insurmountable.
LIVERPOOL DELIVERS ANOTHER STRONG PREMIER LEAGUE STATEMENT
It’s too early for English football to make too many assumptions, but after a long spell of underachievement, this is looking increasingly as though it will be the season in which the Premier League will finally make its economic might start to tell. After Manchester City’s demolition of Basel and Tottenham’s comeback to draw against Juventus on Tuesday, Wednesday brought another excellent away result for a Premier League side, with Liverpool’s thrashing of Porto in Portugal. The 12 goals Premier League sides have scored in the Champions League knockout ties this weekequals or surpasses their total in the knockout stage for each of the past three seasons.Perhaps Liverpool got lucky with the opening goal, as Jose Sa let Mane’s shot squirm under his body, but once it had sniffed blood, Jurgen Klopp’s side took full advantage adding a second four minutes later thanks to a remarkable finish from Salah. He seized on a loose ball after James Milner had hit the post, casually lifting the ball over Sa, controlling it on his head and poking the ball into the empty net. Two second-half goals from Mane and another from Firmino meant they matched City’s result the previous night.Two Premier League sides are golden for the quarterfinals, and more could easily follow.
Tottenham Shows Impressive Mettle at Juventus, Man City Coasts Again in UCL
By JONATHAN WILSON February 13, 2018
Tottenham made waves on the opening day of the Champions League knockout stage, coming back from 2-0 down to force a draw in the first leg of its last-16 series vs. Juventus in Turin. Even in a season when it has matured in European competition, this was a remarkable performance–and all the more so given that Spurs had gone 2-0 down within the opening nine minutes.Gonzalo Higuain volleyed Juventus ahead after two minutes and added a second from the penalty spot seven minutes later, but, as Juve sat back, Tottenham recovered its composure and proceeded to dominate the game. Harry Kane pulled one back and then, vitally, Higuain struck the bar with another penalty on the stroke of halftime. Christian Eriksen leveled the score with a low free kick that caught Gianlugi Buffon flat-footed with 19 minutes remaining to force the draw.Manchester City, meanwhile, as good as secured its place in the quarterfinals with a 4-0 victory at FC Basel. Ilkay Gundogan headed in a corner, Bernardo Silva converted Raheem Sterling’s cross and Sergio Aguero fizzed in a low shot–all within the first 23 minutes of the game. Gundogan curled his second of the night after an Aguero run eight minutes after halftime to put the match–and series–to bed early.Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
TOTTENHAM REBOUNDS TO CONTROL PLAY AT JUVE
For 10 minutes, Spurs were awful. It wasn’t just that the defensive structure fell apart, it was that their nerve seemed to have gone entirely. Simple passes were misplaced, cul-de-sacs were run down regularly. But with Juve sitting surprisingly deep, Tottenham gradually rallied and began to take advantage of the space Juve, with its narrow set up, left on the flanks. Spurs remained open at the back, with Federico Bernadeschi particularly threatening, but Juve wobbled even more alarmingly and Buffon had made two fine saves from Harry Kane before the Spurs striker latched onto Dele Alli’s through ball to pull one back 10 minutes before halftime.Juve was on a run of 10 straight wins, had conceded only one goal in its previous 16 games and had made a habit of beating the big teams in Serie A 1-0, but Tottenham clearly rattled the hosts, the ferocity of its press forcing a series of mistakes. Mousa Dembele, continuing his form off last weekend’s North London Derby, was a colossus in the center. Spurs dominated possession to the tune of 62 percent and caused so many problems that by the time the equalizer arrived through Eriksen’s 71st-minute free kick, it felt almost overdue. Juve surely will not be so ragged at Wembley, but with two away goals the advantage is clearly with Tottenham.
THE ALDERWEIRELD ISSUE
Much has been made of how improved Tottenham has been in European competition this season, but in its two wins over Borussia Dortmund and the two games against Real Madrid, from which it took four points, Mauricio Pochettino set up with a back three. Although he stuck with that formation for three games after Toby Alderweireld damaged his hamstring midway through the first half of the 3-1 win over Madrid, he has essentially abandoned the shape since November.Alderweireld returned last week in the FA Cup replay against Newport County but was left out of the win over Arsenal on Saturday, and he didn’t travel to Turin. Pochettino insisted it was because he doesn’t want to rush the Belgian back, but his oddly sharp reaction when asked about his absence on Saturday has prompted suspicions that there is an issue behind the scenes with Alderweireld’s contract.Whether Pochettino would have used a back three had Alderweireld been available is impossible to say, but what was clear was that the two-man central defense was ruthlessly exposed early on. Right from kickoff it was clear there was an issue at the heart of the back line, with space opening up in front of Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen. That was what led to the panicky foul that conceded the second-minute free kick from which Higuain, sneaking away from a dozing defense (and slightly offside), volleyed Juve into the lead.Seven minutes later, a simple move down the left led to Ben Davies being isolated, and he clumsily conceded the penalty from which Higuain added his second. It’s very hard, of course, to be sure, but with a back three, the move may have been stifled earlier by Serge Aurier playing higher up on the right, and the probability is that Higuain, who was fouled, would have been outnumbered by Vertonghen and Davies together.The second penalty, meanwhile, was the result of Sanchez being dragged forward to try to make a challenge he couldn’t win, leading to Aurier’s rash challenge on Douglas Costa. Again that space in the inside-forward channel would probably have been blocked by a third central defender, and again there was a sense that the rearguard could have been better protected by the deep midfield. Then again, with a back three the press may not have been quite so aggressive, and Spurs may not have shaken Juve in quite the same way.
ANOTHER BOX TICKED FOR MAN CITY
Nobody at Manchester City is talking about the quadruple, or at least that’s what their players keep saying. Yet it’s 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, in the final of the League Cup, in the fifth round of the FA Cup and now, surely, in the quarterfinal of the Champions League. Man City has been too good for everybody in England, and it was little surprise it was too good for Basel, even with David Silva and Leroy Sane restricted to the bench.There was some shakiness at the back, particularly early on, and that could be a concern as the competition goes on, but once City settled into its rhythm it was, as it has been so often this season, unstoppable. The second leg will be a mere formality.
Spurs deserve praise for comeback, but Juve are no strangers to adversity
2:30 PM ETJames Horncastle
Daniele celebrated Juventus’ goals in a bar on Tuesday night. They’re his team after all. But before the game he felt conflicted. “My heart is divided in two,” he told the Corriere Torino. Daniele believes it is “very probable” he is related to Mauricio Pochettino. They share the same surname and on Monday he drove into town to pay the Tottenham manager a visit at Turin’s Golden Palace hotel.The family tree isn’t complete and the paperwork needs verifying. “It’s a long job,” Daniele admitted. But it seems as though Pochettino’s great-great grandfather was from Virle, the village 40 kilometres outside of Turin where Daniele is now deputy mayor. “He was very nice and open about it all,” Daniele said. “[Mauricio] assured us he’ll come and see us sooner or later, it would bring us immense joy.” The hope of an invitation to the second leg at Wembley did not go unexpressed either, and understandably so.For the neutral sitting in front of the TV, Tuesday’s first leg definitely lived up to the hype, and exceeded expectation from a Tottenham perspective. Juventus, on the other hand, traipsed back to the dressing room with the whistles of a demanding and evidently disapproving home crowd ringing in their ears.The commentators on Mediaset described them as unfair and you can see why. Massimiliano Allegri couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Both from the sideline and in his seat during the postmatch news conference. It’s been a long time since he was this angry. Why is everyone so depressed, he wondered. OK, a 2-2 draw leaves Juventus up against it but it is by no means a disastrous result coming as it did against a side that has already defeated Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund this season.”The Champions League is a dream and an objective,” Allegri snapped. “But winning it is not easy. I think some perspective has been lost. Juve play to win but is not the favourite. You can’t get to the final every year. The lads are having a great season. But to go from that to thinking we should be winning the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie 3-0 is a big leap. And it annoys me because it’s as if you have no idea of the dimension of the other teams [at this level] … A 2-2 draw cannot depress the ambiance [around the club]. I will not accept it.”
And if you are one of those depressed by it, Allegri has the following piece of advice for you: go and see a doctor for a dose of realism. Have some respect for Spurs prescribed.The sense of entitlement offends Allegri. As does how Juventus winning the league is taken for granted when they are currently second in the tightest title race in Europe’s top five leagues. Making the extraordinary look ordinary on the domestic front and reaching the Champions League final in two of the past three years despite being the continent’s 10th richest club — Spurs, incidentally, rank 11th — has not helped. It has created the false impression this is normal when it is not.Allegri’s line of argument is shared by Marcello Lippi. “I completely agree with him,” the former Juventus and Italy manager told Tuttosport. “Max is right. And he did well to completely reject all of the negativity coming from the outside. Victory is by no means assured in the Champions League.”Nevertheless the criticism hasn’t stopped. Allegri’s decision to deviate from the system Juventus have found balance in and play 4-2-3-1 backfired. But it’s not hard to understand why he made that choice.Clearly he wasn’t confident in Claudio Marchisio or Rodrigo Bentancur’s ability to do the job the injured Blaise Matuidi does for Juve in a 4-3-3. The starting XI he named looked brave at the time and, while it feels like a long time ago now, we shouldn’t forget that when Juve raced into a 2-0 lead there were some people prematurely declaring it a stroke of genius. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the selection now looks foolish for its top-heaviness.That said, the actual composition of Allegri’s team is as good a counter-argument as you will find to this idea that Juve chose to sit back and defend their advantage. The team he picked was far too attacking for that.Credit instead should go to Spurs, Allegri insisted, for pushing Juventus back and pinning them there. Not that the papers saw it that way. For La Gazzetta dello Sport, Juventus were “too Italian”. While they recognised Spurs’ merits, particularly how they kept playing at 2-2 as if they were still 2-0 down — a lesson Juve could learn — it deeply disappointed the pink to see that “the champions of Italy left a team ranked fifth in England and 20 points off the league leaders 66.6 percent possession [at home].”Juve’s “attitude was” in their opinion “indefensible.” And here’s the thing: the Old Lady still had the chances to score a third; once at 2-0 up and again at 2-1. It was also as quintessentially a Gonzalo Higuain performance as you’re likely to see. While the Argentine managed to score twice, hold the ball up really well and start some very promising counterattacks, his performance will instead be remembered for the two opportunities he missed, one of which came from the spot. If he’d put either of them away, maybe the fight in Spurs would have died.”It’s easy to be critical from the sofa,” Higuain complained.Sure, and mitigating factors are not in short supply for the Old Lady. Matuidi’s absence was a big one. Bigger even in the context of this season than that of Paulo Dybala, the most talented player at the club, whose performance against Barcelona in Turin a year ago elevated him to the status of one of the best players in the world.You then have the injuries to underrated but tactically important pieces like Andrea Barzagli and Juan Cuadrado, who one imagines Allegri would have turned to as he has so often in the past when he needs to see a game out in Europe. The two of them give Allegri the chance to switch in-game to 3-5-2 and lock things down. But Allegri wouldn’t hear it. When Juventus’ lengthy casualty list was put to him as a palliative he said they had “no excuses,” feelings that were echoed by Giorgio Chiellini on the eve of the game. “The strength of this team,” he said, “is coping with absences from [Gianluigi] Buffon and Higuain, to Dybala.”In short, they only had themselves to blame and Spurs should be applauded. It’s a delicate phase of the season. One in which Juventus’ famous resilience finds itself undergoing a stress test. After the grudge match with Fiorentina down by the Arno last Friday, it’s the Derby della Mole this weekend, a fixture that won’t be easy. Torino are unbeaten under Walter Mazzarri and perfect at home. Then come the back-to-back games with Atalanta in league and cup, followed by Lazio and Spurs. A gauntlet that will go a long way to deciding their season.Can they come through it? This team has been there and done it before. It was this time two years ago that they came back from 11 points behind to overtake Napoli. And the 2-2 with Spurs won’t faze them either. Juve have qualified in similar circumstances before. Go back to Dortmund in ’95, Dynamo Kiev in ’98, Barcelona in ’03. Juve almost did it against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich two years ago. Those precedents should serve as a warning to Spurs not to get too confident on the back of their display in Turin. The Old Lady is prone to mood swings but she remains a femme fatale.
Ronaldo’s determination delivers him a brace and Madrid a win vs. PSG
6:44 PM ETRob Train
Real Madrid put a firm foot in the Champions League quarterfinals against one of the pre-tournament favourites with a 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a brace and Marcelo added the coup de grace five minutes from time as the home side cancelled out Adrien Rabiot’s opener.
What better day for the Bernabeu to fall in love with their team again? The result means a single away goal will leave PSG requiring four at the Parc des Princes to progress after Madrid produced a performance reminiscent of the best of last season.
There is a time and place to put the ball into the stands, and there were several in the second half, when Zinedine Zidane’s side invited unnecessary danger during a 15-minute period of PSG dominion. Real rode their luck occasionally and had the visitors been more effective in front of goal, the result might have been different — a warning for the return leg.
Manager rating out of 10
10 — Zidane needed a result as much as he needed a tactical flourish to silence observers who have accused him of lacking in-game management. He provided a masterclass. When PSG switched to 4-4-2 after the withdrawal of focal point Edinson Cavani, forcing Dani Alves and Yuri Berchiche to push forward, Zidane threw on Gareth Bale to counter Emery’s bet. Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were then added to exploit the spaces offered. The former provoked two goals in the final 10 minutes and the latter muddied Emery’s tactical water further by tracking Neymar’s runs after a lengthy pep talk from his boss. Voila.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Keylor Navas, 8 — His first save on 30 minutes was a regulation job from Neymar. His next two were wonderful stops to deny Kylian Mbappe when it seemed the France international was destined to score.
DF Nacho, 8 — Put down an early marker on Neymar and largely had the better of his duel with PSG’s star man. Unfortunate on the Rabiot goal as he was shadowing the Brazilian without any support. Eventually went in the book for scything Neymar down on the break but performed his task to the letter.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 — Colossal in the air and put in a vital block in the 54th minute in a true captain’s performance. When Madrid went 1-0 down, Ramos took his team by the scruff of the neck and dragged them through a tricky period of the game.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 — Made an excellent block to deny Cavani in the first half but was often second best against the bustling Uruguayan and failed to track Rabiot’s unmarked appearance in the box when Nacho was covering. Otherwise, stuck in some tackles and got his head to a few crosses.
DF Marcelo, 9 — Jogo bonito, backed up by defensive solidity? It must have been some chat from Zidane. An incredible ball for Ronaldo, a slaloming run through the PSG defence and a ruleta to leave Alves looking the fool capped a wonderful showing. A first-time volley late on handed his side a considerable advantage in Paris.
MF Casemiro, 9 — Wonderful control and poise to escape three PSG players in his own half showed the Brazilian can play a bit, but a providential block on Cavani with his side a goal down is his real purpose. Typically, almost doubled the tackle rate of everyone else on the pitch.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Won a vital penalty somewhat dubiously in a performance where he inevitably topped the pass success standings.
MF Luka Modric, 6 — Found himself isolated at times and lost Rabiot for the goal in a game spent dragged out to the right, from where he could offer little on the front foot. Did pull off a chest-shoulder control worthy of Zidane, though.
MF Isco, 7 — A combative performance with a solid shift in defence, Isco lost possession as many times as he recovered it but not many players can wriggle out of the holes the Malagueno can and none can thread such incisive passes. When Real needed a foot on the ball, Isco’s was available.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 — Off to more cheers than jeers and deservedly. A nice backheel to tee up Modric and drawing a sprawling save from Alphonse Areola were the highlights but Benzema’s innate ability to link midfield and attack and provide an extra threat on either flank helped to wear PSG down.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 9 — His 100th and 101st Champions League goals for Madrid made it eight consecutive games scoring in Europe. A one-on-one with Areola, which smacked the PSG keeper in the face, might have been better hit low but his determination in the move for 2-1 reignited a lost cause to force the chance and he buried his spot kick expertly under no small amount of pressure.
FW Gareth Bale, 6 — On for Benzema, Bale probably doesn’t fancy the tag of the world’s most expensive impact sub, but did his bit to throw PSG off their stride.
MF Lucas Vazquez, NR — On for Casemiro, filled in for the Brazilian in defensive duties.
MF Marco Asensio, NR — On for Isco, provoked the second goal with a fizzing cross and found Marcelo with a deft delivery to make it 3-1 in a potentially tie-deciding cameo.
Liverpool counter-attack perfectly suited for Champions League football
10:21 AM ETDave Usher
Champions League football clearly agrees with Liverpool.Jurgen Klopp’s side completely dismantled FC Porto on Wednesday night and, although the Reds’ boss is far too professional to declare the tie over, not even the most wildly optimistic Porto fan would give their side any hope of overcoming a 5-0 deficit at Anfield in three weeks’ time.Liverpool are now the top scorers in the competition, having overtaken PSG: in seven games they have plundered 28 goals. They score plenty domestically too, but they’ve gone goal crazy in Europe where the more open nature of the games suits their counter-pressing and counter-attacking style.
Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal colourfully explained recently how his side pulled off a shock victory over the Reds just one week after Klopp’s men had ended Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the season. “If you put a Formula 1 car in London in 4 p.m. traffic, the car will not run very fast,” he said. “And that is exactly what we had to do against Liverpool. Put them to play the way they don’t like.”In football terms that translates to sitting deep in numbers and denying Liverpool’s lightning quick attackers room to run into. It doesn’t always work, but it’s the best chance most sides have of achieving any success against Klopp’s team.Most sides in the bottom half of the table play that way against superior opposition and Liverpool often have great difficulty with it. Europe is different, however, and the Champions League especially so. While many of the teams in the competition are nowhere near the level of Liverpool and the other top English sides, they are the best their own country has to offer and are therefore unused to playing in the defensive manner that works best against the Reds.
Porto are currently the best team in Portugal and they have a rich and proud European pedigree, so there was simply no way they were going to completely abandon how they play and try to copy what Swansea did.Playing that way when you’re bottom of the Premier League is common practice but teams in the Champions League are accustomed to dominating the opposition and therefore tend to play much more on the front foot. Even if they wanted to “park the bus,” Porto probably wouldn’t know how to as it would be completely alien to what they do each week in their own league.It’s the same throughout the Champions League and it plays right into Liverpool’s hands. Group opponents Maribor and Spartak Moscow are successful sides in their own domestic leagues and are used to playing football a certain way. If you play like that against Liverpool though it usually doesn’t end well. Both were hit for seven goals by Klopp’s team.Porto didn’t seem to know whether to stick or twist on Wednesday night. They didn’t press Liverpool but they didn’t sit deep and try to frustrate them either. They were barely able to pose any threat to the Liverpool goal and any time they tried to get numbers forward in attack they were ruthlessly exposed on the break.No surprise there; this is what Klopp’s team do. Porto will have been well aware of that too, but they will also have been hoping to expose Liverpool’s often vulnerable defence. For all their goalscoring exploits, the Reds were held to three draws in the group stages due to defensive lapses.Liverpool’s defending was outstanding against Porto though, and goalkeeper Loris Karius had virtually nothing to do. Virgil van Dijk swaggered his way through the contest, marshalling his backline and spraying the ball about from side to side with the kind accuracy usually associated with midfield playmakers. The rest of the defensive unit all caught the eye too, while the midfield three were excellent both with and without the ball. It was a close-to-perfect all-round team performance but understandably it was the front three who again dominated the headlines afterwards.For once it was not the name of Mohamed Salah on everybody’s lips though. The Egyptian recorded his 30th goal of the season with an impudent finish that (not for the first time this month) drew comparisons with Lionel Messi, but he will no doubt have been delighted to see his good friend Sadio Mane take the spotlight after bagging a much needed hat trick.Salah is on course to possibly have the greatest goalscoring campaign in Liverpool history, while Roberto Firmino is finally earning the recognition and plaudits he deserves. But the only discussion about Mane in recent weeks has centred around his indifferent form. It has been a struggle for him and hopefully this can be a turning point.Some caution is required as spectacular goals against Burnley and Manchester City failed to spark a return to his best form, but it was noticeable after his second goal in Porto that Mane looked much more like his old self. His play in the build up to the fourth goal was exceptional, as was the emphatic finish to complete his hat trick.Klopp declared afterwards that the Senegal winger was now “back.” That remains to be seen, but if he is indeed about to show his best form then you can be sure that Porto will not be the last team to be taken apart by this Liverpool side before this season is out.
U.S. announces friendly vs. Paraguay 3/27 in North Carolina, June Games in Europe
Feb 12, 2018ESPN staff
The United States men’s national team will face Paraguay in a friendly in Cary, North Carolina, on March 27.The game will mark the USMNT’s first game at the WakeMed Soccer Park, the 10,000-capacity home of North Carolina FC, since 2006.The sides have met seven times in the past, with the U.S. winning three while losing two and drawing two. The last meeting came in the 2016 Copa America, when the U.S. won 1-0.The game falls during an official FIFA international break, so clubs will be obligated to release players ahead of the game.The federation also confirmed a pair of June friendlies against Republic of Ireland and France, both of which had previously been announced by their opponents.The U.S. will travel to Dublin to face Ireland on June 2, before a trip to Lyon a week later to face Les Bleus.The confirmation of the June games also means an end to plans for a mooted tournament featuring other countries who failed to qualify for the World Cup.
New USSF president Carlos Cordeiro must bring about positive change
Feb 11, 2018 Jeff CarlisleSoccer
ORLANDO, Fla. — Carlos Cordeiro’s victory in the U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election saw him convince voters he was an agent for change.
Now he has to prove it.It’s the single biggest priority for Cordeiro as he succeeds Sunil Gulati. On Tuesday he will be in New York for a meeting related to the bid to win the co-hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup, a quest that has immense long-term implications for growing the sport in this country. And he also must quickly fill the newly created general manager roles on both the men’s and women’s sides, with the men’s job having a bit more urgency about it, given that there isn’t a full-time manager at the moment.But this is a fractured, toxic soccer community and there seems to be a disconnect between those within the national council who voted and those on the outside clamoring for more change. It’s a community that needs some healing and Cordeiro will need to reach out to those feeling disaffected, even if they’re disinclined to return the favor. Some links might have to be reforged several times.”For those who didn’t vote for me, I’m going to have to work even harder to convince them that I will be a good president,” Cordeiro said.The best way he can do that is by keeping his word. He doesn’t need to complete every last item on his campaign platform all at once, but there needs to be some tangible signs of progress in the coming months.He needs to follow through on his stated aim of creating a technical department to manage on-field matters especially since, by his own admission, he isn’t a soccer expert. He needs to keep his promise that he’ll put more focus on the state associations that keep the game at the youth and adult levels moving and that he’ll make the game more affordable.Most of all, Cordeiro must govern in a style that includes rather than excludes. The sight of him sharing the podium with U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn at a post-election press conference made for good optics. Now, Cordeiro will need to continue that approach with Flynn, the board of directors and the USSF staff.”A lot more can be done, and I think you’ll see over the next couple of years a much more engaged leadership, a board that actually is taking responsibility and is more engaged with Dan and his colleagues in Chicago,” Cordeiro said. “To me, we’re only as strong as the team is. Not that it was lacking, but I think we can do a lot better.”There is understandable cynicism regarding Cordeiro’s reformer credentials. He has been a USSF insider for the better part of a decade, having first been brought in as an independent director in 2007. Eleven years on, he is a fixture within the USSF hierarchy, serving as treasurer and then, two years ago, being elected vice president.During that time, Gulati amassed considerable power within the USSF and didn’t hesitate to wield it; Cordeiro stood by his side throughout. Yet during the election, he wore the seemingly contradictory hats of steady hand and change agent and it catapulted him to the presidency.”I think all the candidates recognized that we needed change,” athlete council member Brian Ching said. “Carlos is very intimate with the organization, and I think he was committed to change. I think that he will be able to bring about that change and inclusion.”There already are initial signs that some ideas are being implemented. The creation of the GM positions counts as at least some first steps toward the USSF evolving, but more is needed. Cordeiro also will need to take on a more public profile, for example.He benefited during the election from the presence of Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter, who seemed to be on the receiving end of an inordinate amount of flak. It allowed Cordeiro to take more of a run silent, run deep approach. There still is plenty he can do in the background, but now he is the face of the federation. He will not only need to sell his ideas to the board, but also to the public.Cordeiro still has some work to do in this area and gave his doubters ammunition on Saturday when he called the 2026 World Cup rights “the most important priority for the federation,” given the money involved.He’s right in many respects but the emphasis on money unsettles those, who have grown tired of being told of the USSF’s great financial position in the wake of a World Cup qualifying failure. At a minimum, the skepticism will keep Cordeiro on his toes as he settles into the job.And if he isn’t the proponent of change he professed to be? The USSF will muddle along, unable to pull out of the muck in which it finds itself.But looked at another way, this is an immense opportunity. The appetite for reform is there and, if he is successful in pushing some through, it can serve as springboard for greater things, as well as a belief that better days are ahead.
Julian Green on U.S. hype, fighting at Bayern, life at Greuther Furth
Feb 12, 2018Stephan Uersfeld
FURTH, Germany — On July 1, 2014, Julian Green had the world at his feet. Coming off the bench for the United States in the World Cup round of 16 against Belgium in extra time, the then-19-year-old scored moments later, cutting in from the left and firing past Thibaut Courtois to cut the deficit to 2-1. However, his goal wasn’t enough to secure progress, and just under four years later, the USMNT are picking up the pieces after missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.It hasn’t gone much better for Green: the attacker last featured for his country during the final days of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2016 and has now retreated to Germany’s second division to restart his career.Once heralded as the U.S. national team’s next big thing, Green vanished from the headlines when swapping Bayern Munich for VfB Stuttgart in early 2017, and last summer, he took another step back to join Greuther Furth on loan until the end of the season. Yet for the first time in his career, Green is getting regular playing time in a senior team, and although the club are battling to avoid relegation to the third tier for the first time in more than 20 years, the 22-year-old is pleased with his decision.”I feel good about how things are,” Green told ESPN FC at the Shamrocks’ training ground. “I always want to improve myself and have great goals. It’s not my goal to play in the second division but rather in the first league. That’s what I work towards.”Green has already been in the “first league.” He’s been at Bayern Munich and already been a star. Having made it to the 2014 World Cup without playing a minute of Bundesliga action, even seemingly pushing Landon Donovan out of the door on the way, a lot of pressure suddenly rested on Green’s young shoulders. Expectations were high, and in 2013 Klinsmann said: “We believe we could help him grow into a special player.”In late August 2014, Green left his nest under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich to join Hamburger SV on loan. The idea was to take a step back in a bid to get regular playing time, something that had proved impossible in Bayern’s star-studded squad.”I trained with the best players in the world at Bayern,” Green, who rarely played in Munich aside from a few appearances during a preseason tour of the United States, said. “You could learn from everyone, starting with Philipp Lahm to Arjen Robben. From those players on my position. Robben, Franck Ribery and even Robert Lewandowski. They gave me advice, and to see them in training made me stronger.”But just training wasn’t enough and Green left for Hamburg, a club already descending into chaos at that time. One game into his loan, coach Mirko Slomka, the one who had convinced him to head north, was sacked. Green would go on to make just four more appearances as a substitute, and in the winter, he was sent to the under-23s where he played just once. And that was that.
“I had about four coaches that year. It was an experience, and you’re always smarter in hindsight. But I wouldn’t even say it was bad for me,” Green said of that lost year. “I no longer look back. I talk about things ahead, and no longer about Hamburg.”Returning to Bayern in 2015, Green looked to get a boost in the club’s under-23 and as he returned to form and trained with the first team, he picked up more confidence.”I always had a good relationship with Pep Guardiola. He didn’t say much, but every now and then we talked. I played in one Champions League match [a meaningless game vs. Dinamo Zagreb in December],” Green said. “But I was more focused on the U-23s; I scored 10 goals that season. And when Carlo Ancelotti came [in 2016], I was part of the pro team again.”As he had been in 2014, Green was again given run-outs during Bayern’s U.S. tour and despite scoring a hat trick against Inter, when the 2016-17 season kicked off, he was sat on the bench again. Yet it was enough to win his return to the USMNT and the German-American won his last two caps against Cuba and New Zealand — “I owe a lot to Jurgen Klinsmann. He was a good coach. But he is no longer there” — but under Bruce Arena, Green was cast aside.With the end of his Bayern contract nearing, the winger moved to Stuttgart in January 2017 but after a good start, he lost his place on the team.”We won promotion. It was a good year, but in the summer my chances of getting into the team weren’t that good. And that’s why I joined Furth,” he said.If the United States men’s national team didn’t notice, the U.S. media certainly did with one Deadspin article headline reading: “Former USMNT ‘Savior’ Julian Green Sent Away To A Last-Place Club With No Manager.” It wasn’t the type of headline that Green was used to generating but he understands it’s all part of the sport.”It’s normal, especially in the United States,” said Green. “You get hyped so much and if things don’t go so well, then it’s in the other way. You must handle that if you want to play at a high level.”When Green joined, Furth had no points after four games. They picked up four in the next five games but are now back fighting against relegation.Green’s loan spell at Furth will end this summer — he’s played 13 league games so far, scoring one goal. But most importantly, for the first time in his career, he has become a regular starter. The 22-year-old is not sure what is next for him but he is enjoying his time on the pitch, away from the spotlight.”My plan is to return to Stuttgart in the summer,” Green said. “But you will see. A lot can happen. My focus is on now, and I don’t think about what will be in seven, eight months.”While there is one dream he continues to chase — “I think in the future you will me see gain in the national team” — for now, Green has found some peace. He is ignoring the critics and focusing on the future, while he will always have that one goal from 2014 to look back on.”To score this goal, was a dream come true for me,” he said. “And I am very happy for this time at the World Cup. Now I am looking forward to the rest of my career.”
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